Friday, 4 August 2017

Manchester in the September of 1969, memories from the new boy

Manchester sky line the old and new, 1970
Now had I been born just a decade earlier the chances were I would have done my time as a conscript in the army.

As it was at the tender age of 19 in the September of 1969 I arrived in Manchester with a suitcase and an address in Withington and the promise of an academic career at the newly formed Manchester Polytechnic.

There were those at the time and since who have bemoaned the end of National Service, but not I suspect many of the young men who for eighteen months marched and drilled.

Three years after the last world war the Government decided to retain conscription which meant that healthy young men aged between 17 and 21 years old were expected to serve in the Armed Forces for 18 months, and remain on the reserve list for four years.

They could be recalled to their units for up to 20 days for no more than three occasions during these four years. Men were exempt from National Service if they worked in one of the three "essential services": coal mining, farming and the merchant navy for a period of eight years. If they quit early, they were subject to being called up.

The future College of Commerce, 1965
But all that I missed and instead a year later than most of my friends I left home with all that brash confidence of youth to do three years with John Donne, William Shakespeare the odd romantic poet and lots of dead historians.

And forty-four years later I am still here and hence this occasional series of reflections on the city that adopted me and in particular the places I remembered as a young Londoner in the September of 1969.

Not that this will be one of those sentimental journeys into a comfortable world which was better than now.

Just a few miles from where I read Wordsworth and explored the events of the Industrial Revolution and the complexities  of the French Fifth Republic, the Corporation was sweeping away a century of sub standard housing and coffee meant a lukewarm brown liquid with a hint of beans and a mass of frothy milk.

But there was a buzz about the place.  It was there in those bright new buildings of glass and steel which were going up around the city, the modern station concourses at Oxford Road and Piccadilly and the Mancunian Way.

For me it was the contrasts.  Sitting in the old Milk Maid facing the gardens, there was a panorama of the old Victorian city with its mix of elegant show warehouses, offices and shops while above us was the impressive Piccadilly Hotel.

And yet just a few minutes away were the tiny side roads dominated by shabby industrial buildings where somehow the light and warmth of the sun rarely penetrated.

The Cty Barge, Rochdale Canal, 1970
Now many of these places I discovered on long walks around the city when we should have been in the library.

I guess Canal Street pretty much sums up those walks.  I was drawn to it because it was close to the college and was bounded by the Rochdale Canal.

Back then both the canal and the street were drab, non descript and a little tired looking.  The attempt at something more exciting was summed up by the City Barge Restaurant in the stretch of the canal from Chorlton Street to Princess Street.

It was of course out of our price range but had the promise of something new and exciting and something to aspire to.

Still we had those wonderful three course meals offered at lunch time in the city centre Chinese and Asian restaurants for just 6 shillings a head.  Even now forty years on I smile at how sophisticated I thought I was when eating Banana Fritter and captivated by the Chinese version of custard.

Looking at the City barge from Princess Street, 1970
Which I suspect is just beginning to border on nostalgic tosh, so I shall close with that more serious reflection that in that drive to bring Manchester into the 1960s there was a serious attempt to sweep away all that Victorian heritage.

And so between new office developments, shopping precincts and traffic flow schemes some fascinating buildings and important bits of our history disappeared.

And more of that serious stuff another time.

Pictures; the new College of Commerce in construction, W Highham, 1965, m64167, and City-Barge-Restaurant Canal-Street, Dawson-A, 1970, m49402, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

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