Sunday, 23 October 2016

When East Manchester became Eastlands


Now there will be those who accuse me today of just taking a few pictures of east Manchester and coming up with some not very subtle sentences to connect them together.  

And that is not so far off the mark.  Yesterday I was reflecting on the changes that overtook the area in just over a decade and half and today I want to continue the theme.

We washed up on Butterworth Street in the January of 1973 and I suppose made a little bit of history.  We and the other five couples were all students or husband and wives of students who attended Manchester Polytechnic which had taken over six flats in the complex that had once housed the Mill Street Police Station, Fire Station and Ambulance Station.  Only the police remained and the six flats which had once been home to the families of fire fighters were now the first residential accommodation run by Manchester Poly.  So in a sense we were making history, while all around us something of a bigger bit of history was unfolding.

East Manchester was one of the centres of industrial production.  Here was the colliery, gasworks, chemical plants, and iron and steel foundaries bounded by the canal and railway lines, and because all these places of enterprise needed a work force here too were the rows of terraced houses, corner shops and pubs.

We arrived just as the area was changing.  Bradford Colliery had closed in 1968 and at the same time many of the old terraced houses were being cleared to make way for the large block of flats close to Grey Mare Lane.

Gazing out across the market at the decks of flats at night was I have to say an impressive sight and reminded me of ocean liners out at sea.  But Fort Beswick had a much shorter life than the terraced houses it had replaced and came down just twenty or so years after they had gone up.  Even at the time they presented a grim appearance in daylight and the idea that families with very young children would be comfortable or safe on the top decks of the block now seems a little absurd.

But there were still plenty of the old traditional houses around and what contributed to their demise was the swift deindustrialization of the area.  In 1951 72% of Britain’s working population was engaged in manual labour* and here in east Manchester they had their pick of places to work.

Just up the New Road was Clayton Aniline, with its tall chimney which belched out different coloured gasses at different times and turned the sky different shades.  Then there were the wireless works up by Philips Park, the canal, the railway lines and countless small lock workshops along with the gas works and the big engineering factories down through Openshaw and into Gorton.

Despite the closure of the colliery in 1968 there was much still working when we arrived five years later. But just a decade and a bit after that much of it had gone. The area was renamed Eastlands and ambitious plans were drawn up to make it the centre of our bid for the 1996 and 2000 summer Olympic Games.  Neither submissions were successful but it was where Manchester hosted the 2002 Commonwealth Games with its exciting new stadium on the site of the old Bradford Colliery.

In a rather odd twist of coincidence my eldest son found work during the Commonwealth Games at the stadium which had been built almost on the spot where just thirty years earlier I had lived.  Nor was this all, for his journey to work along the Ashton Old Road took him close to where I had worked.

I went looking for both sites recently.  The scaffolding yard on Pottery Lane is an open space, and Butterworth Street and our block of flats is just hardcore under Alan Turing Way.  Although I did find a tiny stretch of the road that ran between Mill Street and Butterworth Street along the side of our block, not a blue plaque I grant you but all that is left of when we were there, and of course in a bigger way a little bit of what was there when Eastlands was East Manchester and there were factories, and foundries and much else that was industrial.

Pictures; Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, Butterworth Street, Luft M 1991, m55776, Grey Mare Lane, 1962 Hotchin, F, m15440, Grey Mare Lane, Hotchin, F, m15450, Grey Mare Lane flats, Milligan, H, 1971, m12519, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass

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