Saturday, 6 May 2017

Trenches in Piccadilly ............ a New Use for the Old Infirmary Site June 1917

Looking across to the old Infirmary site, date unknown
Now Piccadilly Gardens continues to excite a wealth of feelings from those who miss the old sunken gardens and have no love for that concrete slab to those who dwell on the seedy last days of the old park and point out that in these cost cutting days the present space is pretty low maintenance.

Of course before 1914 there were no gardens just the site of the Royal Infirmary which when it was demolished left a debate on what to do with the site.

It took a few years before the Corporation decided that this was a perfect place for a park in one of the busiest parts of the city.

This much I knew but what I didn’t know was that in the June of 1917 according to the Manchester Evening News the Red Cross “found a practical use for the old Infirmary site in Piccadilly ....[turning] it into a miniature sector of the Western Front.

Manchester Evening News, June 1917
The front line trenches and their equipment are said to be perfect in every detail.  There are grim touches of realism here and there, - like the torn and tattered heap of clothing nearthe terrible barbed wire entanglements to represent a dead Boche.  Some rare and valuable war relics may also be seen, including some fine specimens of enemy guns.

With infinite labour the trench diggers who were the convalescent soldiers from Heaton Park, have passed right through the heavy masonry and substantial brickwork of the old Infirmary foundations.”

There is no record of what the "convalescent soldiers from Heaton Park" thought of the task and I have yet to dig deeper to discover what the public made of the “miniature sector of the Western Front” in the heart of the city.

But once they had explored the trenches they could go on to visit the adjoining museum which “was wonderfully interesting.”

All of which just begs the question of why the display was produced.

Given that it had been produced by the Special Effects Committee of the East Lancashire branch of the Red Cross I suspect that along with its propaganda value it was linked to the organisation’s campaign for volunteers and funds.

I do know that Heaton Park had had its on set of trenches which were open to the public and no doubt so did other parts of the country.

Pictures; the site of the Infirmary, date unknown from the collection of Rita Bishop and Trenches in Piccadilly ............ a New Use for the Old Infirmary Site June 1917,  the Manchester Evening News from Sally Dervan

*Now I know what Father was doing in the Great War ...... trenches in Heaton Park in 1916,

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