Sunday, 7 May 2017

Piccadilly Gardens ....... the early years nu 1 The YMCA Hostel 1917

Now if you are of a certain age the old Piccadilly Gardens will be a special place and even now generate a lot of heated debate about the present site.

The YMCA Hostel, 1917
So here over the next few days are stories of the early years of those gardens.

In the Middle Ages it was nothing more than a site used to excavate clay for building and was simply known as “daub holes,” but in 1755 it became the home of the Manchester Royal Infirmary which continued to offer up medical care until 1910 when the hospital relocated to Oxford Road.

And then for the next twenty years the debate raged about what to do with this hole in the ground at the very centre of the city.

Detail of the hostel
And it was indeed a hole in the ground which had been left over from the demolition of the old MRI leading one journalist to comment “the place has remained year after year a good imitation of a rubbish heap or the ruins of some volcanic upheaval.”*

But more about that new civic addition later for now it is this building which has caught my easy.

It comes from a picture postcard which was sent by George to his mother who lived in Peckham in south east London.

George writes home
As yet I know nothing more about George or his mother but I given that my early years were spent not too far away from their family home I shall going looking for them.

I know That George's father was a corn seed dealer and young George worked in te business, but what was doing in Manchester is unclear.

And George doesn’t give too much away.

He writes that he “will be writing a letter to you tomorrow” and that he had been to two theatres last week and was planning to visit another.

And that  takes us back to the picture of the YMCA hostel.

I had no idea that it existed on the site and must have been an additional one to the large and impressive YMCA on Peter Street which opened in 1911.

It must date from after the demolition of the MRI and had gone by 1920, so it will be down to Central Ref and a trawl of the directories to pin down its short history.

Interior of the hostel, date unknown
But Bill Sumner has saved me a visit to the archives, because almost soon after the story was posted he came back with the information that this YMCA was also known as the Khaki Club and "although meant for soldiers recuperating from wounds and/or shell shock, any servicemen at home on leave were welcomed and it became a popular club."

Now I knew that the YMCA had a presence in Heaton Park where battalions of the Manchester's were camped so this makes perfect sense.

Detail of the interior
And once again shows just how shared knowledge helps tell the story of the past.

And Bill also found a fascinating article about the club and a story both of which I leave you to read by following the link.**

All of which just leaves me to report that the sign to the right of the picture reads "Manchester City YMCA Khaki Club and Hostel."

Location; Manchester

Picture; the YMCA Hostel, 1917 courtesy of David Harrop and interior of the hostel from the collection of Bill Sumner.

Tomorrow; a war time use for the Gardens

*After Sixteen Years : A Garden for Piccadilly; Manchester Guardian, October 23 1920, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

**100 years ago: Canadian chancer jailed for ‘posing as Royal Navy Captain to pull women’Tony Flynn Salford Online


  1. Interesting photo. Is that The Rylands building in the distance or The Watts Warehouse?

  2. It will be the Watt's building P J and apologies for losing all your fine comments, alas I thought I was being clever and although Blogger told me I was saving them I seem to have lost them