Why Manchester should be called: ‘City of Libraries’

They incorrectly call Manchester the city of rain, but I think it should be called City of Libraries, as there four major historic libraries in the city centre. They are open to visitors and I went to all four libraries in one day in order to research this feature and take the photos.

John Rylands Library Manchester

At first sight, the John Rylands Library looks like an ancient cathedral but it is a relatively modern building.

in the first year of the twentieth century and was one of the first buildings in Manchester to be fitted with electric lights. After John Rylands died in 1888, Enriqueta Rylands founded the library in memory of her husband.

A modern extension was added to the rear and as you walk from the entrance up the stairs and into the original building, there is an interesting transition from bright modern to dark neo-Gothic. Many exhibitions are held at the John Rylands Library and anyone can go in and work there, I sometimes do.

It’s part of the University of Manchester Library. One of the locations in my Anglo-Chinese novel Stargirl of the Edge is a library inspired by the John Rylands.

There is unfortunately one negative aspect: The modern low energy light bulbs are less photogenic and atmospheric than the clear light bulbs that were used from the early years of the library until around 2013.

www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/

John Rylands Library facade

Interior of Chethams Library, Manchester

Chethams Library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and is housed in a 15th century building that’s part of Chethams School.

The library is a perfectly preserved time capsule from centuries ago, and is full of the atmosphere of the past, with its dark wooden walls and corridors. It’s not difficult to imagine Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sitting in one of the alcoves by the window.

The Chethams website showcases many of the hidden treasures of Chethams Library. It is a remarkable place. Anyone can visit during opening hours. You just need to go to the main entrance to Chethams school. It’s best to check the opening times on the website and to phone up to make sure there are no events happening.

Go to www.chethams.org.uk

Chethams Library 2004

Interior of the Portico Library Manchester

The Portico Library is located on Mosley Street in a building with a Greek style portico which gives the library its name.

I’m impressed with its mission statement ‘The Portico Library is open to all and aims to enhance and develop life-long learning by providing and promoting access to knowledge and education in Art, History, Literature and Science.’

The Portico Library is located on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street. To enter, just ring the bell on Charlotte Street. You go up the stairs and when you get to the top, you will be amazed at the beauty of the interior. It’s virtually unchanged since the early 19th century.

The Portico Library has a friendly, homely atmosphere. The staff are welcoming and very helpful. It’s possible to become a member, and support the work of this institution, that has been a part of Manchester for over 200 years.

www.theportico.org.uk

The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street, Manchester

Restored reading room in Manchester Central Library

The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester and like many, I used it during my schooldays.

It was opened in 1934 and apart from the cleaning of the exterior, remained mostly unchanged until the renovation of 2011-2014, which transformed the interior. The magnificent main reading room was restored but the book stacks below it were taken out to make way for a circular reception area with a cafe which is now a regular haunt of mine.

The Archives+ area is a high tech facility combining the local history collection with the North West Film Archive and other resources. The reading room has been restored and looks almost exactly as it did before the renovation.

The new Central Library has lost some of its 1930s character and eccentricity, its distinctive smell and the tiny lift. Now there are fast lifts housed in a glazed lift shaft. The building meets present day standards and is a striking mixture of old and new. The floorspace is much bigger than it was, extending under Library Walk into the neighbouring town hall extension. There are meeting rooms and spaces for events.

The only negative aspect of the renovation is the controversial modernist-style glass link building, which in spring 2015 is not yet open.

Apart from that, the Central Library is in my opinion the best public library in the UK and remains my favourite building in Manchester.

www.manchester.gov.uk/centrallibrary

Manchester Central Library exterior

So there we are, four major, historic libraries in one city centre, all open to the public and free for everyone to use. Definitely a reason to visit Manchester.
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Why I’m proud to be Civic Champion Number 2

At last! Finally! After all these years of documenting Manchester in photos and words, highlighting, writing, campaigning, I have finally gained some recognition!

On Thursday 7 July I found out that I had won second prize in the Manchester Shield Citizen Champion Award. In the number one position was Maxine Peake, Coronation St actress, and in third place, tour guide and writer Jonathan Schofield.

Manchester Shield Best and Worst

Manchester Shield Best and Worst – Aidan O’Rourke Second prize Civic Champion

 
I was very happy to receive this honour from Manchester Shield, a grassroots collection of people who care deeply about the development of our city, and are not afraid to express their views.

In summary what I have done is to use photography to document and showcase the city with the aim of providing a record for the future. By doing this I’ve also put the spotlight on how the development of the city has gone well in some respects but badly in others.

I have used photography to document and campaign. That’s different to most other photographers who use photography to help promote commercial clients, or who focus on newsworthy events or take photos with an eye to winning competitions.

I focus on the city, the skyline, the streets, the transport routes, bridges, canals and everything else you see around you. My photographs are not stock images and most wouldn’t win any competitions. They are just my view of the city. As a spinoff, many have been used commercially – most recently a photo of the Victoria Baths in the Observer newspaper. But most are taken just to capture what’s there today and might not be there tomorrow. My photos are always accompanied by words, which are often overlooked.

I have experimented with all kinds of photographic genres but the one I’m known for is photographs of the city, Manchester, also Liverpool and other locations.

My photos have been used in the media, including the Manchester Evening News, magazines, publications and many websites. If you go into Waterstones, you’ll find several local interest books with my photos on the cover and inside. A lot of people have told me they have followed my work over the years. I’m always pleased to hear those words.

I’ve been interviewed a number of times on radio and TV. But I’ve never received any official recognition from the authorities, least of all from Manchester City Council, but that’s not surprising, is it?

I’d like to say many thanks to Manchester Shield for nominating me and also to the people who voted for me. I hope to use this impetus to push ahead with some new projects – I’m not sure what – in order to continue to highlight local development, what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well, maybe with a stronger and more confident voice than before.

In the pictures are 20 of the buildings / locations I’ve highlighted over the years. How many more will there be in the years to come?

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Movie locations in Manchester and Stockport

Stockport Railway Viaduct, 1980s

Stockport Railway Viaduct, captured on Ilford HP5 black and white film around 1987. I developed the film myself and made prints. Later I scanned the  negatives and optimised them in Photosohp.

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Friday 12 February 2016. Many movies have been made in the Manchester area but few are set there. Images from films can be a big inspiration for photography. Not many films have been made in Manchester but all of the movies mentioned here have a strong visual impact.

For me, A Taste of Honey (1961) remains my number one locally made movie. It was filmed mostly in Stockport, Manchester and Salford. Hell Is A City (1961) is a racy police thriller that reaches a climax on the roof of the Refuge building, now the Palace Hotel. Alfie (2004) and Captain America (2011) are set in New York but used the Northern Quarter as a location, due to its similarity to Greenwich Village and parts of Brooklyn. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) is a cult classic with some great city centre footage. Cliff Twemlow made films in Manchester in the 80s. Read the fascinating book about him by C. P. Lee. 24 Hour Party People is set in 80s Manchester but filmed twenty years later. The Iron Lady and Victor Frankenstein are recent projects but are not set here. That’s why after 55 years, ‘A Taste of Honey’ remains my number one as it’s a great story with wonderful characters and celebrates life here in the North. So come on filmmakers, it’s time for a modern classic movie to be made and be set around here, and I would like to be the stills photographer!

Staircase, Manchester Town Hall

Staircase near the Lloyd St entrance of Manchester Town Hall, completed 1877

Manchester Palace Hotel clock tower 2003

Manchester Palace Hotel clock tower 2003

Manchester Northern Quarter during the filming of 'Alfie'

Part of Manchester’s Northern Quarter was turned into New York in September 2003 for the film ‘Alfie’.

Langley Buildings, Dale St

The Langley Buildings on Dale St have little or no modern additions, making them an ideal setting for a historic film.

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Images along Manchester’s Princess Road – not Parkway!

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Night view of the Hulme Arch and Princess Road looking north

Night view of the Hulme Arch and Princess Road looking north


First of all, let me get one thing straight: The name of Manchester’s main dual carriageway south out of Manchester city centre, the A5103, is called Princess ROAD, not Princess Parkway. This name is valid as far as the bridge over the Mersey, several miles to the south. Then for less than a mile it is Princess Parkway until Northenden Road where it becomes the M56 motorway.

Princess Road street sign

Princess Road street sign – Princess Road runs from the Mancunian Way to the bridge over the Mersey

Princess Parkway sign

Princess Parkway runs the short distance from the Mersey Bridge to the junction with Northenden Rd where the M56 begins

Unfortunately many journalists, councillors and members of the public are not aware of the correct name of this very important road, which they call ‘the Parkway’ or ‘Princess Parkway’. Princess Parkway was planned in the late 1920s as a separate section of the road. The name was approved by Shena Simon and it was intended to be an attractive, tree-lined avenue leading to the new suburb of Wythenshawe. In later years Princess Parkway was covered over by the M56 motorway and the junction to the north, with its slip roads.

I know about these things! I took a great interest from childhood onwards. Another point of uncertainty: Why is the highway named after a princess and who was she? No one seems to know!

Here’s the article that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Monday 25 January 2016.

Princess Road is an enigma. Manchester’s grand highway to the airport, Wythenshawe and the south was begun in the 1920s but only completed in the 70s. It’s a wide, busy dual carriageway, but designated A5103, more suggestive of a minor A road. It’s called Princess Road but which princess was it named after? People call Princess Road ‘the Parkway’ but only the section south of the Mersey is Princess Parkway. The route was to have been a motorway all the way into the city. That’s why buildings were demolished on the west side. Greenheys Lane intersection is very wide. This was to have been the junction of two motorways, but they never materialised. Offices, apartments, churches, Southern Cemetery and several educational institutions are next to it including the striking MMU Birley campus building. Another enigma is why the new Metrolink stop was named Withington, a place that to my reckoning is at least a mile away. In my humble opinion it should have been called Princess Road Metrolink stop. And so who was it named after? I believe it might have been Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (1897-1965) but I can find no proof. Can anyone help?
Demolished Princess Road bus depot

Demolished Princess Road bus depot

 

Princess Road looking north from the Loop Line bridge

Princess Road looking north from the bridge over the former South Manchester Loop Line

 

MMU Birley building on Princess Road Hulme

MMU Birley building on Princess Road Hulme

 

"Withington" Metrolink stop

“Withington” Metrolink stop. It should have been named Princess Road

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Architectural towers on the skyline of Manchester

Eyewitness blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right


 
This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News dated Thursday 14th of January, 2016. I have always loved rooftop views whether in Paris, Berlin or Manchester. I still have a vivid memory of the stamp that I discovered on a letter to my mother from her Polish friend, Janina Ciesielska. Though it was tiny, it seemed densely packed with architectural details. It depicted a mysterious idealised eastern European city but in my mind, I transformed it into Manchester. Prague, Kraków, Dresden and other central European cities have many architectural towers. Manchester has only a few but they are a striking and often overlooked feature of the city skyline.<
As a child I was captivated by a stamp on a letter to my mother. It displayed a tiny line drawing, packed with buildings and towers. I thought it was Manchester but then I found out it was a city in Poland. Manchester has architectural features on its skyline comparable with a grand city in central Europe, though there are not as many as in Budapest or Kraków. Overshadowed by newer, taller buildings, these ornate and beautiful structures are often overlooked. The towers of Manchester town hall, HMP Manchester (Strangeways) and Manchester University John Owen Building on Oxford Rd – all the work of Alfred Waterhouse – need no introduction, but what about the lesser known ones, at least in the eyes of visitors? The east tower of Manchester town hall is as impressive as many civic buildings in smaller cities and towns. Manchester’s classic architecture is a connection with Europe. It’s featured in the work of emigré painters such as Adolphe Valette and Georg Eisler. If you’re lucky enough to live or work at roof level you may be familiar with them. If not, look high above the rooftops! My next photo walk is on Saturday 13 February. www.aidan.co.uk
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Sights along the A62 from Manchester to Oldham

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Seed sculpture by Colin Spofforth, Central Park Manchester

Seed sculpture by Colin Spofforth, Central Park Manchester

Here’s my editorial and photo feature on Oldham Road that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 7 January, 2016. It was the first article of the year. On Monday 4th, I took the bus to Oldham and then walked from the town centre back down the A62 as far as Failsworth. It was an interesting journey. On foot you notice a lot more than you do in a bus or car. I discovered the Music Rooms in Werneth Park, currently awaiting restoration, and the excellent statue of Ben Brierley next to Failsworth Pole It was created by artist Denise Dutton. There is history all around us, offering hidden stories and glimpses into a local area that felt very different in past times.

The A62 to Oldham is like a barometer of the times. In old photos we see a busy road, with shops, trams, industry and working class homes. Today it’s a post-modern mix of regenerated flats, new offices, and housing from the 19th and 20th centuries. Off to the left, Central Park is futuristic with its Metrolink stop and ‘seed’ sculpture. At the municipal boundary, Oldham Road becomes Manchester Road and soon we see the timeless tableau of St John the Evangelist church, the Royal Oak pub and Failsworth Pole. There’s a garden with a statue of the weaver and writer Benjamin Brierley (1825-1896). At Hollinwood we cross the M60 and the land rises. To the right is Werneth Park, where the mid-19th century Music Rooms are to be restored. From here there are magnificent views down onto the plain and over the West Pennine moors. On the top of the hill stands Oldham with its modern Civic Centre. The town centre offers an interesting mix of old and new. There’s always something new to discover when you go out and explore. Why not come on one of my photo walks, next date Saturday 13 February, full price £35, MEN readers, £25.

 

Statue of Ben Brierley by Denise Dutton

Statue of Ben Brierley by Denise Dutton

 

Failsworth Pole

Failsworth Pole

 

The Music Rooms, Werneth Park awaiting restoration

The Music Rooms, Werneth Park awaiting restoration

 

View of the West Pennine Moors from Oldham Road,, Werneth

View of the West Pennine Moors from Oldham Road,, Werneth

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Manchester’s magnificent Old Fire Station – soon to be renovated

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

The Old Fire Station, London Rd Manchester in sunny weather

Over a period of many years, London Road Fire Station has been without doubt Manchester’s most magnificent disused building. Every day, thousands of people pass by it on the bus or going in and out of Piccadilly Station, but not everyone notices its faded grandeur.

To me it has been a potent symbol of Manchester’s failure to make the best of its architectural heritage. It was given Grade II* listed status in 1974.

At night I often visualise how it would look if its shiny, butterscotch-coloured exterior were illuminated by floodlights. There would be an upmarket restaurant behind the doors that were once used by fire engines. Inside the main entrance would be a hotel reception by the main entrance and there would be an art exhibition inside the inner courtyard.

The exterior of the Old Fire Station in afternoon sunlight

The best time to photograph it is on a sunny morning when the sun is shining from the south east along Fairfield Street, lighting both its main facades. It’s also possible to take it in the afternoon when the light reflects off the smooth, reflective surface of its tiles.

London Road Fire Station was built in 1906 around the same time as the Victoria Baths. The Victoria Baths is often called Manchester’s Water Palace. The fire station also looks like a palace but it’s devoted to another element – fire. On the exterior there above the door there is a frieze with women symbolising the elements fire and water.

Fire Maidens - sculptures on the exterior of the Old Fire Station

It served Manchester for most of the 20th century, including two world wars and the uncertain post war years.

It was vacated by the Fire Service in 1986 and most of the building has been empty since then.

Former owners Britannia Hotels had planned to redevelop the building but for various reasons they were unable to proceed. They were criticised for allowing the building to deteriorate, though I have heard that they carried out some work on parts of the building to prevent further damage.

In late 2015, the building was purchased by Allied London who have plans for restoration. Shortly after purchasing it, they announced a new name: ‘Manchester Fire House’.

The Friends of London Road Fire Station have been campaigning for long time to save and restore the building, and are said to be very happy that the building has been sold to Allied London. As I understand it, the Friends would like it to be restored as a combination of a hotel and perhaps an arts centre, with other possible community uses. Manchester City Council would like it to be re-opened as a hotel.

Manchester coat of arms Old Fire Station

Standing in the shadow of the Old Fire Station is the site of the building that from the early 70s to 2012 was the home of the legendary Twisted Wheel night club, famous for Northern Soul. Club nights took place in the basement with its arches, similar to the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

With their irregular facades, the buildings reminded me of Amsterdam. With the approval of Manchester City Council the buildings were demolished in 2012 to make way for a modern style hotel. In my opinion, they should have been retained.

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - After

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – After

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Scenic wonders along the A664 Manchester to Rochdale

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Misty sunset over Salford from Collyhurst 2001

Misty sunset over Salford from Collyhurst 2001


 
Here’s my editorial and photos that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 17 September 2015. Recently I’ve been tutoring at a company in Castleton, the town that lies in the Borough of Rochdale to the north of Manchester. It’s not a tourist spot and yet it’s a very interesting place. I used to travel to the assignment by train but I switched to the number 17 bus, operated by FirstBus, as it’s cheaper and more frequent. I became interested in the sights along the way, and came up with the idea of an article showcasing the interesting sights along the way. I realised a sunset photo I took back in 2001 would be ideal for the piece, and presented it alongside some old and newly taken images.

Like spokes on a wheel, the main roads around Manchester extend to the surrounding towns. I like to ride on the top deck of the bus, observing landmarks along the way. This week I feature the A664 from Shudehill to Rochdale, around 10 miles along the 17 bus route. People may not think of Collyhurst as scenic, but this misty Salford sunset from Rochdale Rd railway bridge proves otherwise. Past Harpurhey on the left is a quaint Victorian post box, and down the hill on the right, mysterious Boggart Hole Clough. After Middleton Town Centre, look out for St Leonard’s Church on the top of the hill. The Rochdale Canal crosses under the A664 in Castleton, a town with a fascinating hidden heritage. Hopefully soon the East Lancs Railway will be extended to Castleton Station. As we approach Rochdale, we see Broadfield park, restored to its original glory a few years ago. Other attractions include the newly uncovered bridge and the Pioneers Museum. People need to open their eyes to the hidden attractions all around. Photography is a good way of doing it. Why not come on a 3 hr photo walk around the city centre? £25 for MEN readers, standard price £35. www.aidan.co.uk

 

Victorian post box Harpurhey Manchester

Victorian post box Harpurhey Manchester


 

Gates to mysterious Boggart Hole Clough, Manchester

Gates to mysterious Boggart Hole Clough, Manchester

Middleton St Leonard;s Church

Middleton St Leonard;s Church


 

Rochdale Blue Pits Highest Locks no 51

Rochdale Blue Pits Highest Locks no 51


 

Rochdale Broadfield Park and town hall clock tower

Rochdale Broadfield Park and town hall clock tower


 
Here’s how the article looked in the Manchester Evening News, dated Thursday 17 December 2015. The headline reads ‘Bus journeys – A window to our worlds’. The headline, introduction and layout are done by staff at the Manchester Evening News.

MEN Thursday 17 Dec 2015

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Visions of old and new in Greengate Salford across the Irwell from Manchester

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke 

Whilst massive new construction proceeds, historic buildings lie derelict in Greengate

Whilst massive new construction proceeds, historic buildings lie derelict in Greengate


 
One day in November 2015 I had an appointment on Bury New Road and I took a short cut across the Greengate district of Salford. I was astonished by what I found there. I’ve known the district over many years and remember seeing it from a steam train as a child. In late 2015 there is huge construction work going. Many of the older buildings remain including quite a few derelict ones. Sadly some have disappeared, including the industrial building with the words Greengate and Irewell 1950. An industiral icon of the post war period in Manchester that was demolished around 2004. I took a few photos – the light wasn’t very good – and put together this piece, which appeared in late November in the Manchester Evening News.

Last week, by chance, I took a short cut across Greengate, the district across the Irwell from the Cathedral, home of the restored war memorial featured in last week’s MEN. I remember Greengate as glimpsed from the window of a steam-hauled train carriage leaving Exchange Station: a grimy industrial quarter by the murky River Irwell, an area of small factories, workshops and chimneys pouring out smoke, watched over by a strange-looking brick tower – the tower of Strangeways prison. Today things have changed. Greengate is being transformed. A new mixed used development with state-of-the-art towers is under construction on the site of Exchange Station. Thoughtfuly, they’ve incorporated the bridge and sections of the walls. It’s part of the expanding city centre, now referred to as the regional centre. But as you explore the streets beyond you find a curious mixture of futuristic and faded. Point your camera one way and you are in 1950, shift a little to the right and you’re in 2050. Glitzy apartments stand cheek by jowl with derelict buildings. The most remarkable is Collier Street baths, an abandoned relic of the mid-Victorian era propped up by scaffolding. If this were Vienna, it would be a tourist attraction. When will we be able to say the new Greengate is ‘finished’? Not for a while yet.

The iconic Greengate & Irwell 1950 industrial building in 2003. It has since been demolished.

The iconic Greengate & Irwell 1950 industrial building in 2003. It has since been demolished.


 
Abito Apartments Greengate Salford next to Manchester

The curved walls of Abito apartment building echo the shape of the abandoned building next door.


 


 

Greengate construction on site of Exchange Station

Greengate construction on site of Exchange Station


 
Stone plaque on Collier St Baths, the year MDCCCLV - 1855

Stone plaque on Collier St Baths, the year MDCCCLV – 1855


 
Collier St Baths 12 November 2015

Collier St Baths 12 November 2015

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Manchester’s Oxford Road – chaotic but fascinating

Eyewitness 2015 photos and editorial published in the Manchester Evening News

Oxford Manchester 3 July 2015

Oxford Road begins at the River Medlock under the rail bridge and extends to Moss Lane East by the Curry Mile.

Oxford Road and the area on either side has a remarkable assortment of facilities: Four third level educational institutions, five hospitals, a strangely shaped theatre, two Catholic churches, one of which looks like a French cathedral, two parks, one of which is the site of an Anglican church after which surrounding area is named, several music venues, two former cinemas, a neo-Gothic Victorian building containing a natural history museum and opposite it, a thing that looks like a fuel storage tank.

There are two bridges over Oxford Rd and a 50m swimming pool. It’s said to be Europe’s busiest bus corridor and possibly its smokiest, as there are still many older diesel buses in operation. The BBC was here but now the site is a car park.

Oxford Road is chaotic but fascinating, a piece of pure Manchester and I love it just as it is. But soon general traffic will be diverted away to make more room for bikes and buses. Will it retain its character? We’ll see. In mid-2015 my Victoria Baths videos are still showing on the Corridor Manchester Digital Screen opposite Grosvenor Street.

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