Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Of telephone kiosks, dodgy bedsits and Piccadilly Gardens

If there is one place in the city guaranteed to generate a debate along with many bittersweet, backward memories its Piccadilly Gardens.

Picadilly Gagrdens, 1969
Once an open space with a pond, and then the site of a hospital, it became after much discussion the sunken gardens so many people remember with fondness.

But its redevelopment at the beginning of this century was met with a mix of sadness at what was lost and anger at what many feel was a soulless expanse of grass, and grass for that matter which didn’t work.

But leaving aside that controversy, I have become fascinated by this picture of the Gardens.

It isn’t one of the usual shots, and you can see, why…………. It doesn’t show the sunken garden or the floral borders, and unusually it has been taken in the winter.

One Piccadilly, 2019
But I like it, partly because it commands fine views of the buildings in the distance which are now lost forever behind One Piccadilly, but also for those telephone boxes.

You have to be of a certain age to appreciate the importance of a telephone box.  In that faraway pre mobile time the public phone was the way of getting in touch with other people.

And no more so than on property day when the Manchester Evening News published the list of vacant flats and bed sits.

The first edition hit the newsstands at midday and within minutes the kiosks around the gardens were filled with people trying to secure a property.

Those telephone boxes, 1969
It always amazed me how quickly the lines were engaged and how any one managed to secure a property, given the headlong scramble to talk to landlords.

Of course, back then much of the accommodation was for more basic, and we put up with some dreadful places, of which having a shower in the kitchen and the lavatory in the cellar were regarded as quite normal.

I remember the acres of woodchip on the walls, if you were lucky, but more often the landlord had used liberal coats of magnolia over the existing patterned wallpaper.

Added to which, every room smelt of a different deodorant, and the bone cold hall was always awash with junk mail, and election material, addressed to residents who had long ago departed.

One Piccadilly, and a tram, 2019
All of which makes my memories of the Gardens just a little different from those of warm mid days sitting on the benches with sandwiches taking in the sun and the passersby.

Location; Piccadilly Garden

Pictures; Looking across at the gardens, 1969, Courtesy of Manchester Archives+ Town Hall Photographers' Collection,, and One Piccadilly, 2019 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

No comments:

Post a comment