The handsome red brick building of Salford Museum and Art Gallery overlooks Peel Park and is within the Salford University campus. The building started out as a private house, a mansion known as Lark Hill, and opened as the UKs first unconditionally free public library in 1850, the museum and art gallery following a few months later. The facility was quickly popular and received an astonishing 1,240 visitors a day in its first year.
Today the library is no longer here but, as well as permanent exhibitions, the Museum and Art Gallery has changing exhibitions of works of arts and stories of the history of Salford, so it is always worth a visit. The exhibition spaces are light, airy and uncluttered. The entrance is always welcoming and has something interesting to browse thorugh.
The Victorian Gallery with its stunning ceiling has art works collected from that era. The Pilkington Gallery showcases items from Pilkington’s, a local firm that created decorative tiles and pottery. The company was formed by four Pilkington brothers in 1893 and in 1904 they began making pottery in the art nouveau style and their work rivalled that of famous pottery firms from Stoke-on-Trent [or The Potteries]. Salford Museum’s Pilkington collection contains a wide range of the ware Pilkington’s produced between 1900 and the 1970s and when the factory closed in 2010 the museum acquired the Pilkington archive. This gallery is full of vases, bowls, plates and tiles that are vibrant and beautiful.
Bringing the outside in, Lark Hill Place is a recreation of a Victorian northern shopping street, with gas lamps, a chemists, blacksmiths, toy shop and the Blue Lion Pub [this is recreated from a number of Salford pubs and the original Blue Lion was on Cook Street by the brewery] . Many of the shop fronts were originally in the streets of Salford and were saved as the city developed and the old shops were demolished.
Our tram route is the Eccles Line which was phase two of the Metrolink development in Greater Manchester. Phase one was the Altrincham to Bury line which opened in 1992 and it wasn’t until 2000 that the line reached Eccles at a cost of £160 million. Phase one had constructed tram routes on the under-utilised suburban rail network and the plans had been to continue with this process; however, as Salford Quays developed, transforming the old docks with housing, retail, offices and leisure, it was clear the area needed improved public transport and in 1995 the four mile route around Salford Quays to Eccles was agreed and work began in 1997.
When completed, the blue and grey trams initially struggled to compete with the bus route from Eccles. The direct bus from Eccles, the number 33, ran every ten minutes could beat the tram which takes a meandering way around the quays to reach the city centre. The new branding and pale yellow and grey trams were introduced in 2008 and for those on or near the Quays, the new yellow trams have become a clean and efficient way to travel and the trams are now often full. The tram is cheaper than the bus and much more scenic and it is always my public transport of choice.
We chose our home in Salford as much because of the easy access to the tram stop as anything else. Using the Metrolink network we can now travel around Greater Manchester easily, making the most of day and weekend tickets as the network has expanded. We like the real time information about when to expect the next tram [on the rare occasion that we have a ten minute wait for the next tram we can always walk to the next stop] and we like the Get Me There app that makes buying tickets easy.
Whenever I travel on the tram in to Manchester I will always look to see what is happening on Ontario Basin where the water sport centre is, there are often people messing about in boats here but I might have my head in a book and miss this attraction. Whatever is distracting me, my personal rule is to always take the time to look at the view as the tram crosses The Manchester Ship Canal between Exchange Quay and Pomona station [this is a station of many jokes as it is rare for anyone to get on or off at Pomona and if they do the passengers will joke that they must be lost]. As the tram crosses the bridge you have a fantastic view along the canal in to Manchester, in a morning the sun will be rising behind the city, there might be swans on the water and nothing is ever so important that you cannot take a minute to enjoy it. Pomona island, straggling Salford, Trafford and Manchester, is then laid out before you, still a wildlife haven in the city although its days are numbered as development has now started at the Cornbrook end. Work has now started on the new Trafford Centre line. This will join the network at Pomona and I am sure in a few years this station will be as busy as any other and those days of stopping at the ‘ghost’ station will just be a memory.
The river Irwell winds its way around Salford in deep meanders. I think that a river can make or break a city, they are great places for strolling along and sitting beside and messing about on. Salford [and Manchester too] certainly doesn’t make enough of its river until it becomes the Manchester Ship Canal at Salford Quays where it is celebrated, used for recreation and enjoyed. The Irwell is only 39 miles long, rising near Bacup in Lancashire, the river comes in to Greater Manchester in Bury and makes its way through Salford from Clifton Country Park.
Rivers are interesting because they are always changing. We have walked along the river in spring and summer, watching the Canada Geese, the black-headed gulls and the various ducks and stood and watched the boats on the quays. On Christmas Day a few years ago we followed the Irwell from Salford to the Manchester boundary and back to the Quays and on Boxing Day in 2015, horrified, we watched the swollen river as it flooded large areas of Salford, including people’s homes.
Mr BOTRA would cross the Irwell on his way to work in Manchester and he usually stopped on the bridge to see what wildlife was around. On many days he would spot a bright blue and green kingfisher flitting along the river bank. The Irwell was once a salmon river but pollution in the 19th century and in to the first half of the 20th century left a river that was lifeless. As industries have closed and the cleanup of the river undergone and restocked, the Irwell is now able to sustain many fish eating birds and we often see cormorants and herons on our walks along the banks.
I have a dream that one day Salford City Council will decide to make more of its riverside location beyond Salford Quays and they will close off Chapel Street to traffic, creating a huge square between The Old Pint Pot and Salford University. In my dream this square will have open views with steps down to the river and Peel Park and a bridge crossing the Irwell over to the meadow. People will gather here on sunny evenings and fine weekends, sit outside cafes enjoying the view accompanied by good food or a drink, young people will sit on the steps or practice on their skateboards, families will promenade around the paths, children gleefully running up and down the steps and they will all feel lucky to be living in such a beautiful city.
Time was when you had to travel to the USA to get Reece’s sweet peanut butter cups, Poland to find Polish curd cheese or Ireland to buy Tayto crisps but today in Salford our local supermarkets all have a ‘World Food’ aisle or two and you can buy these delicacies, as well as large bags of red lentils and basmati rice and goodies from Spain, Caribbean islands and other Asian countries. Much as I love trying the local food when we travel I also love being able to get some of my favourites when I am at home and I am truly grateful to all those people who have been prepared to leave their own country and move to the UK and created the demand for food from other countries.
In the 2011 census 1.6% of the Salford population spoke Polish. These people and those from other countries add new and interesting flavours to our city and different outlooks. Of course, since the Brexit vote, many of these people are feeling insecure and even friends who moved here decades ago are concerned about their ability to stay.
But for now I am able to enjoy shopping in our local Polish shop. I walk in and I am always greeted with ‘dzien dobry’ and I like to confuse the staff by replying in Polish, although in truth that and thank you [Dziękuję] is pretty much the extent of my Polish. We visited Poland in 2007 in our campervan and at the time I could manage some of the language needed to book us in to a campsite but most of this has been forgotten in the haze of other languages.
I love that many of the items the shop sells are a mystery to me; I might as well be in one of the gloomy small grocery shops we found in Poland. Mostly I just buy the delicious rye bread, although I sometimes return with other delicacies such as paprika crisps and cream cheese with chives. I drool over the large jars of gherkins but know that with Mr BOTRA having no interest in pickled vegetables I would struggle to get through so many.
This is the sacred mountain of Greater Manchester! It was on a trip to a Saturday afternoon match at Salford City Football Club that I first spotted Kersal Moor and added it to my list of Salford places to explore in retirement. Google maps and research revealed that this is a Local Nature Reserve and an area of moorland and perfect for exploring on a sunny day. I walked to Kersal Moor, climbing the hill from the Irwell, following the straight and narrow Blackfield Lane from Bury New Road, a lane that can be seen on the 1848 map when Kersal Moor was not the peaceful spot it is today but was the busy Manchester Race Course. What is now Moor Lane cut across the centre of the oval course. My route bought me out in front of St Paul’s Church, which isn’t on the 1848 map but is shown on the 1894 map, along with a school further west on Moor Lane which has since been demolished. This church community first met in the old grandstand of the race course in 1850, as the race course was no longer in use, and a fund was set up to build the church which was consecrated in 1852.
I wandered through St Paul’s graveyard first, enjoying the hint of spring in the air and failed to find the grave to the chemist Robert Angus Smith, an environmentalist who is known as the ‘father of acid rain’ after he made the connection between industrial pollution and acidity of urban rainfall in the 1850s.
Leaving the graveyard by an old gate I was on Kersal Moor and soon climbing up to the viewpoint across the sand and gravel soil that was formed from glacial deposits at the end of the last ice age. Kersal Moor is covered in heather, gorse and birch trees and is lively with bird song. The reward for my uphill walk was views over the trees with Manchester to the south and Prestwich to the north.
I followed the well-marked paths above Singleton Brook that is the boundary between Salford and Bury, looking down on the site of a former dye works and found some of the remains of the school that was on Moor Lane. Returning back to St Paul’s I found the plaque telling me that the race course was here for around 160 years, from 1687 to 1846. Manchester Confidential wrote about some of the goings on at the races here. Whitsuntide was the main race meetings with crowds of over 100,000 gathering to enjoy the racing, betting and drinking and it was a profitable time for pick-pockets.
The plaque also remembers that this was the site of Chartist rallies in 1838 and 1839 when over 30,000 workers met to demand the right to vote and for parliamentary reform. It was this history of public gatherings that caused Friedrich Engels to refer to Kersal Moor as ‘Mons Sacer’ [sacred mountain] of Manchester, referring to the hill in Rome that the common citizens withdrew to in 494 BC as part of their civil protest that led to political representation for the common citizens through the offices Tribune of the Plebes.
If you have never visited Kersal Moor take the time to get there and think about the layers of history here, from the Neolithic people who left tools here, the riotous race meetings, the worshippers, reformers and school children playing games.
So you’ve got an image of Salford. This might include cobbled streets of terraced houses, the tower blocks and bright lights of Media City and maybe green public parks if you have read all of my #surprisingsalford series, but a beautiful Tudor manor house is probably not featuring in your mind’s eye and yet Salford is where you will find Ordsall Hall. Today Ordsall Hall is in many ways the jewel in the crown of Salford. It had fallen in to disrepair and when we arrived in Salford it was covered in scaffolding being refurbished. Over two years the building was fully restored and re-opened and it is now a place for visitors and as a venue for weddings or meetings.
Ordsall Hall is a Grade 1 listed building that is timber-framed and parts of it date back to the 14th century. From the outside Ordsall Hall is a handsome combination of brick and timber-frame set in lawns and restored gardens. Inside the building has many treasures including a Great Hall, medieval stained glass and a rare Italianate plaster ceiling from the 1500s.
With a history spanning over 800 years, Ordsall Hall has seen many dramas and lives and there is talk of ghosts that haunt the building. The house came in to the ownership of the Radclyffe family in 1335, who made their mark on the building. By 1380 Sir John Radclyffe had extended the house to include a great hall, five chambers, a chapel, stables and a dovecote. In the 16th century Sir Alexander Radclyffe became the High Sheriff of Lancashire and he built the current great hall and a brick house on the west end of the house, which is thought to have been the home of the bailiff. The cost of this extension and the English Civil War left Alexander, a Royalist, in prison and in financial hardship and his son and heir sold Ordsall Hall to Colonel John Birch in 1662. There is a legend that Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby plotted to overthrow King James in 1605 at Ordsall Hall.
The house changed ownership many times over the years; from 1872 until 1875 the artist Frederic Shields lived at Ordsall Hall. He was friends with John Ruskin and in a letter to Ruskin described the house as ‘the happiest refuge I have ever nested in’. But Salford changed after this period and the fields and woodland that had surrounded Ordsall Hall were replaced with factories and terraced housing, the Hall was on the edge of Manchester Docks and would have been surrounded by noise and bustle. Amazingly, the hall stayed and was used by Haworth’s Mill, a cotton spinning factory on Ordsall Lane, as a working men’s club with a gym, skittle alley and bowling green. A men’s social club survived through a major restoration and the building was used as Manchester Theological College until 1940.
Salford Council purchased Ordsall Hall in 1959 and it was opened to the public in 1972 as a house and local history museum before undergoing the renovation and reopening in 2011. It is now a building Salford is justifiably proud of.
Chapel Street is a truly delightful, as well as an historic part of Salford. The street runs from Blackfriars Bridge which crosses the river Irwell in to Manchester and cuts across a wide meander in the Irwell until it merges in to The Crescent where it meets the river again at Peel Park. Chapel Street is packed with historical buildings and has long been an important street for both Salford and the nation, as the street is also part of the A6 London to Glasgow road. The street runs through what was the heart of Salford in medieval times and back in 1806 it was the first street in the UK to be lit by gas lights. Walking down Chapel Street there is always something I haven’t spotted before among the religious buildings, pubs, public buildings and relics of Salford’s industrial past.
The name Chapel Street comes from the lovely Sacred Trinity Church surrounded by garden and Salford’s oldest church, its name was formerly chapel. Lowry painted Sacred Trinity in 1925 along with the Flat Iron Market that was in front of the church until the 1930s. Further along Chapel Street is St John’s Cathedral and the neo-classical St Phillip’s Church with its semi-circular columned portico and clock and bell tower.
Strolling along the recently improved pavements of Chapel Street you can spot the old Town Hall , the former Gas Works Offices, the old Education Offices and various court buildings, as well as the old Salford Royal Hospital which is now apartments. It was on Chapel Street that Vimto, that fantastic sweet and fruity cordial that is a treat served hot, was made from 1910 to 1927.
The small tree-lined Bexley Square in front of the old Town Hall is a pretty spot today but it was the site of the Battle of Bexley Square on 1 October 1931 when the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement demonstrated against the cuts in unemployment benefit. After the crash of 1929 unemployment was out of control in Britain and in austerity measures that mirror those of today, the National Government under Conservative leadership implemented cuts of 10% to unemployment benefit and introduced the means test which put many people in to extreme hardship. Thousands marched on the Town Hall to have their voice heard. Walter Greenwood was present at the demonstration and included it in his novel Love on the Dole and Jimmy Miller was involved in organising the demonstration, he later became well known as a folk singer and actor under the name of Ewan MacColl. The unemployed people marched peacefully but they were obstructed and then brutally attacked by the police.
Chapel Street is pretty good for a Salford pub crawl and some old characterful pubs still survive here. Good beers are available at The New Oxford, The Kings Arms just off the main drag with comedy nights and music and at the top end of the street nearer to the University is The Crescent, previously called The Red Dragon and reputedly a haunt of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels when they were here. Salford Council produce a heritage trail of Chapel Street which is fun to follow in between your visits to the pubs and gives more information about the buildings and the history of the street.