Castlefield is Manchester's regenerated canalside district.
Once a derelict and abandoned no-go area it has been developed into
an upmarket waterside district of offices, apartments, galleries, bars
and visitor attractions.
The best aspects of Castlefield are its mix of old and new, its views
over shimmering water, its bridges, viaducts and walkways and its proximity
to the city centre.
Media and high tech industries are based here, including software developers
and radio stations. Residents of apartments in both restored warehouses
and newbuild developments enjoy panoramic views over water and restored
industrial buildings. With its open public spaces, including an outdoor
events arena, Castlefield is ideal for festivals, which take place throughout
While the southern part of Castlefield is centred around water, the
northern part, by Liverpool Road off Deansgate, is dominated by the
Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, with its remarkable exhibits
on the theme of Manchester's industrial history.
At the heart of the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park is the Roman Fort
- not a real one but a reconstructed version of what the original might
have looked like. Enough of the fort has been recreated to enable visitors
to imagine how it must have looked 2000 years ago.
What you see around you in Castlefield reflects changing
attitudes towards heritage. In the late 19th century ambitious railway
companies built viaducts to bring trains into the city centre. Anything
in the way was swept aside or buried, including the foundations of the
Roman Fort. Manchester's industry and railways went into decline during
the 20th century, and it was only in the 1980's that the tide turned
and regeneration began to change things. Since 1992 Metrolink trams
have been running through Castlefield on the viaduct once used by steam
trains from Central Station, now GMEX. Main line trains use the older
railway viaducts as they make their way into and out of Manchester.
A key figure in the redevelopment of Castlefield was property developer
Jim Ramsbottom who saw in the murky waters and derelict warehouses of
Castlefield an opportunity for regeneration. Proposals to fill in the
canals and tear down the warehouses thankfully came to nought. The Central
Manchester Development Corporation, a body set up under the Greater
Manchester Council and Manchester City Council, oversaw the development
and created the basis for what we see today. Work on the regeneration
of Castlefield began in the 1980's.
Castlefield continues to evolve but evolution is never perfect, and
Castlefield is no exception. New apartment developments overlooking
the water have tended to diminish the sense of light and space that
is one of Castlefield's most precious features. And many new and recent
buildings show an 'off the peg' approach to design, though a new apartment
building by Ian Simpson Architects aims to break the mould. Daytime
parking restrictions and warning signs strike a less than welcoming
note. Not so long ago, most Mancunians wouldn't want to live in Castlefield.
Today most Mancunians couldn't afford to live there. Where men worked
long hours loading and unloading barges full of coal and potatoes, today
the young and affluent sit out in the sunshine sipping pints and cocktails.
It would be nice to see more acknowledgement of the area's chequered
history, though the tourist signs do a good job of telling us the historical
Regeneration is a slow process. It has taken 20 years to bring about
what we see today. It may be another twenty years before the development
of Castlefield and its neighbouring districts can be said to be complete.
Other canalside schemes are going ahead in other parts of the city,
but Castlefield will remain as the first of its kind and the pride of
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