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ARDWICK - For thousands of commuters travelling by bus, train, bike or car, Ardwick is an area you pass through quickly on your way into or out of the city centre. Only if you need to take your car to the garage or if you're going to a rock concert at the Apollo would you normally choose to stop off here, or so people think.

But there's more to Ardwick than what we glimpse from the bus or train, and what we see today is only part of the story. Yes it's an inner city area and it has its fair share of crime and urban decay, but it also has one of the oldest churches in Manchester and a magnificent mid-Victorian mansion-style building which looks as if it belongs in a country estate.

200 years ago Ardwick was a picturesque hamlet set in the countryside south of the River Medlock on the London Road. Georgian style houses and a brick chapel overlooked a long rectangular garden with an elongated pond or 'canal'. It was a desirable place to live, home to Ancoats mill owners and wealthy folk.

100 years ago Ardwick had been absorbed into the vast , smoky industrial city called Manchester, full of factories, warehouses, and various types of 'works', with a busy railway viaduct to the north east, overlooking some of the worst slum housing anywhere. It was also an entertainment centre with shops, theatres and a roller skating rink.

Today the industry, the slums, the steam engines, the theatres, the skating rink, the pond and most of the shops have gone, but the church and some of the Georgian houses are still there, and new houses are being built along the Green.

Maybe soon, Ardwick will regain its status as a fashionable place to live - the Sloane Square of Manchester, perhaps - Who knows? On these pages I present some images of Ardwick gathered on recent visits.

NICHOLLS HOSPITAL was opened in 1881 as an institution dedicated to the education of poor local boys It was designed by Thomas Worthington, who also designed the Albert Memorial. In later years it became Ellen Wilkinson School and has been renamed Nicholls Centre, part of MANCAT. A new roof was added on the left hand side around 2002, after fire damage, and the exterior now looks almost new.

EWM says: Victorian architects liked to draw on the styles of earlier centuries - this building recalls the medieval towers and castles of Prague. To draw on the styles of earlier eras is anathema to today's architects.

NICHOLLS HOSPITAL now Nicholls Centre of MANCAT was built in 1881, to provide hospital and schooling facilities for poor boys of the neighbourhood. Later the building became Ellen Wilkinson School, named after a local MP active in the 20's and 30's. The brick and stone building with its commanding tower looks as though it belongs in the middle of a country estate rather than inner city Manchester.

EWM says: You don't expect to find a building like this in a run-down area like Ardwick, but that's what makes Manchester so surprising and interesting.

ST THOMAS'S CHURCH AND THE CHURCH INN overlook the eastern side of Ardwick Green.

EWM says: Though we are close to the heart of the city, there is a village-like atmosphere.

ST THOMAS'S CHURCH ARDWICK is of a plain design with brick walls and a square tower. The church was built in 1741. We are looking over the railings from inside the Green.

EWM says: At first sight the plain style with the square tower looks almost contemporary, but St Thomas's is one of the oldest churches in Manchester.

ST THOMAS'S CHURCH TOWER is a central landmark in Ardwick, and is built in a style reminiscent of churches in northern Italy. The clock tower has three arched openings, and a flat, pyramid shaped roof topped by a wind vane.

EWM says: This style of tower was emulated architects of the 1980's - e.g. the shopping centre in Wigan.

ST THOMAS'S SCHOOL (now no longer a school) and church, Ardwick, are silhouetted against a blue February sky. Soon the branches will be covered in leaves, obscuring the view. From this spot we get a glimpse of how Ardwick must have seemed in the 18th century. The tranquil scene is disturbed by the sound of traffic from the busy Mancunian Way directly behind us.

EWM says: It's a shame the building no longer echoes to the sound of children.

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