Superlative Walks

Urban and rural trails, each with something very special

Manchester HOME

Directions with Added Information

This walk starts and finishes at HOME, a centre for international contemporary art, theatre and film in Manchester that opened on 24 April 2015 as part of the First Street development. HOME was formed by the merger of two Manchester-based arts organisations, Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company.
Enter HOME by the doors at the front and enjoy the Galleries, café and restaurants on offer. HOME also houses five cinema screens and two theatres, providing a key venue for the arts in Manchester.

1. When you have explored HOME, turn left to walk along Jack Rosenthal Street to Whitworth Street West through a railway arch. 

Jack Morris Rosenthal CBE (1931 – 2004) was a playwright, born in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, who wrote 129 early episodes of the ITV soap opera Coronation Street and over 150 screenplays, including original TV plays, feature films, and adaptations, such as London’s Burning, Bar Mitzvah Boy and The Knowledge. He married actress Maureen Lipman in 1974.

2. Turn right after the arch.  Cross the road by the traffic lights at the junction with Cambridge Street and continue up the right side of Whitworth Street to the junction with Oxford Rd, where you will see the buildings formerly known as  Cornerhouse, one of the elements merged into HOME.

Cornerhouse, (not, as many believe,“The Cornerhouse”) was a centre for cinema and the contemporary visual arts. It had three floors of art galleries, three cinemas, a bookshop, a bar and a café bar.  It occupied two buildings. The main building 70 Oxford Street, was built in the early 1900s as a furniture store until it closed in 1985. The building on the other side of the approach to Oxford Road station was built as a cinema and went through many changes of name (News Theatre, Essoldo, Classic, Tatler Cinema Club).  Cornerhouse hosted the UK premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and was the first UK public gallery to commission work from Damien Hirst.

3. Turn right into Oxford Rd (the A34) and continue for over 1 mile to the Whitworth Art Gallery, clearly visible on the right opposite the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

The route passes many significant Manchester institutions including, in order:

a. The Refuge Building, designed by Waterhouse and built in 1891-5 as the Refuge Assurance Company’s HQ, notable for its lavish materials and fine tower. It is now a hotel.

b. The Dancehouse Theatre. The building was built for property developer Emannuel Nove in 1929-30. It was originally two large meeting halls over a parade of shops. Nove’s initials may be seen set on the central pediment. Before the halls were completed, they were converted into two cinemas (The Regal Twins) with Art Deco interiors. These were converted in the 1960s to a five screen complex before closing in the 1980s.

A lease for the derelict property was obtained in 1990 by the Northern Ballet School which, together with its sister company The Dancehouse Theatre, restored the building to its former Art Deco splendour. One previously derelict 750 seat cinema was converted to create the Dancehouse Theatre, opened in 1994. The rest of the building was converted into the five dance studios and associated facilities that now house The Northern Ballet School.

c. All Saints Square  is surrounded by buildings of Manchester Metropolitan University,

established in 1970 as Manchester Polytechnic and granted university status in 1992. The university has its roots in the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution (1824) and the Manchester School of Design (1838). MMU receives approximately 52,000 applications every year, making it the second most applied-to university in the UK after the University of Manchester. It is the fifth largest university in the UK in terms of student numbers. Notable alumni include Steve Coogan, John Mayall, Julie Waters, Mary Whitehouse and Tom Ellis.

d. Johnny Roadhouse music shop. John “Johnny” Roadhouse (1921 – 2009) was a musician who specialised in saxophone. He was born in Sheffield, but lived in Manchester from an early age. Originally an aircraft fitter with Metropolitan-Vickers at Trafford Park, he began to play with local dance groups during his spare evenings. He became a member of the Teddy Fosterorchestra in 1948 and joined the BBC Northern Variety Orchestra in 1953. His music store, opened in 1955, became a cornerstone for Manchester music and was used by famous musicians including Paul McCartney, Oasis and The Smiths. In his retirement he passed the running of the store over to his son, John Roadhouse. He was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Lord Mayor of Manchester in 2005

In Grosvenor Street on the left of Oxford Road are two interesting buildings. 

e. The former Grosvenor Picture Palace on the corner was opened in 1915 and described as “Roman-Corinthian of the later Renaissance influence.” It seated almost 1000 people. The last films shown were The Passionate Demons and Attack of the Crab Monsters on 18 May 1968, after which the building was used for bingo, then as a snooker club and now a pub.

f. The Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute, adjoining the Grosvenor, was built in 1878. It now operates as a music venue called “The Deaf Institute” as the original name was thought to be offensive, although it still appears on the front of the building.

g. The Aquatic Centre  was built in 1999-2000, designed by Newcastle Architects FaulknerBrowns, for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The curving roof profile presented to Oxford Road is intended to recall the attitude of a diver.

h. The Royal Northern College of Music is a world-leading conservatoire and one of the UK’s busiest and most diverse public performance venues. The RNCM dates back to the the establishment of the Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM) in 1893. In 1920, the Northern School of Music was established and for many years the two institutions peacefully coexisted. In 1972 they merged to form the RNCM, moving to its purpose-built home on Oxford Road in 1973 built in 1968-1973 and greatly extended 30 years later.

i. Manchester University’s Owens Buildings were built in the 1870s. The University of Manchester traces its roots to the formation of the Mechanics’ Institute (later UMIST) in 1824. Scientist John Dalton, together with Manchester businessmen and industrialists, established the Mechanics’ Institute to ensure that workers could learn the basic principles of science. In 1846, John Owens, a textile merchant, left a bequest of £96,942 (around £5.6 million in 2005 prices) to found a college to educate men (sic) on non-sectarian lines. His trustees established Owens College in 1851 in a house on the corner of Quay Street and Byrom Street, which had been the home of the philanthropist Richard Cobden. In 1873 the college moved to new premises on Oxford Road designed by Waterhouse. The university gives us many superlatives: it was established and granted a Royal Charter in 1880 becoming England’s first civic university. Manchester is the largest single-site university in the UK, with the biggest student community; a series of computing firsts: the first stored program computer; the first floating point machine; the first transistor computer and the first computer to use virtual memory. The new material Graphene (a 2-dimensional solid) was created at Manchester University.

j. Holy Name Catholic Church  was built in 1869-71.In 1860, Manchester was home to a large and expanding population of Irish immigrants who migrated to work in cotton manufacturing, especially after the Great Irish Famine. William Turner, the first bishop of Salford, was keen to have a church staffed with priests “who could meet the intellectual, apologetic and controversial needs of Manchester.” Holy Name was made a parish church to serve the growing population. It is Manchester’s largest church. Manchester band The Smiths referred to the Holy Name church in the lyrics in Vicar in a Tutu, “I was minding my business lifting some lead off the roof of The Holy Name church”. The funeral of locally born actress Pat Phoenix, best known for her role of Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street, was held at the church in September 1986.

k. Manchester Royal Infirmary was founded in 1752. It is now part of Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, sharing buildings and facilities with several other hospitals. Discussions about moving the infirmary to its present site in Oxford Road started in 1875, and a plan was finally agreed in 1904. The new building cost £500,000 and was opened on 1 December 1908. It has been much extended and adapted since then.

4. Enter the Whitworth Art Gallery by the main entrance. The gallery includes many fine paintings and exhibitions, a wonderful café-restaurant and is notable for its fine architecture, old and new.

The gallery was founded in 1889 by Robert Darbishire with a donation from Sir Joseph Whitworth, as The Whitworth Institute and Park.   The Grade II listed gallery was built between 1895 and 1900 in a free Jacobean style to the designs of J.W. Beaumont.   In 1958 the gallery became part of the University and in 1995 the mezzanine court in the centre of the building was opened.   The gallery was refurbished and extended in 2013 /15 at a cost of £15million.  The project won a RIBA National Award in 2015 and was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize.

The Whitworth has notable collections of watercolours, sculptures, wallpapers and textiles. The gallery focuses on modern artists, and the collections include works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ford Madox Brown, Eduardo Paolozzi, Francis Bacon, William Blake, David Hockney, L. S. Lowry, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, and a fine collection of works by J. M. W. Turner. One of its most famous works is the marble sculpture Genesis (1929–31) by Sir Jacob Epstein.

5. On leaving the Gallery, turn left to walk back along Oxford Road towards the City Centre. After passing the junction with Dilworth Street, take the next left into Devas Street.  Ahead is the Contact Theatre.

Contact is a multi-disciplinary arts venue. Originally a traditional theatre, Contact was founded in 1972. Following a £5 million investment from Arts Council England, Contact was reopened in 1999 as an arts venue for young people. Diversifying its work away from traditional theatre, Contact’s remit now covers dance, music, poetry, spoken word, hip hop and art. Contact’s distinctive building was designed by Alan Short as part of the venue’s 1999 redesign. The main 320-seat auditorium (Space 1) was refitted and an 80-seat studio (Space 2) was added in the newly built turret. The nine huge stacks crowned with H-shaped chimney pots assist with the building’s natural ventilation.

6. Follow Devas Street round to the right past the theatre. Then turn left and first right passing the Samuel Alexander Building on the right and the Stephen Joseph studio on the left. 

The Stephen Joseph Studio, was formerly the German Protestant Church. It was founded in 1853.  It was first occupied by the university in 1949 and had various uses before its use by the Department of Drama. It is named after Stephen Joseph, the pioneer of theatre in the round.

7. Cross the open space diagonally to the right to enter the Old Quadrangle. Leave this through the archway on the right to rejoin Oxford Road and turn left to continue towards the City Centre. The turn left into Bridgeford Street. On the right of the street is the Arthur Lewis Building.

The Arthur Lewis Building, is named after Sir William Arthur Lewis (1915 – 1991) a Saint Lucian economist well-known for his contributions in the field of economic development. In 1979 he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. When he joined Manchester University in 1948, he became Britain’s first black professor.

8. Continue along Bridgeford Street and turn right at the end into Higher Cambridge Street. Continue towards the City Centre.

In an area of mostly modern University buildings, note the red brick Church Inn (1900) on the left.

9. Just before the massive concrete flyover carrying the Mancunian Way, take the pedestrian subway down to the right, with the modern MMU Faculty of Business and Law on the right.

New premises costing £75 million for the Faculty of Business and Law were built on All Saints Campus and the Business School re-located to this building in 2012. It houses more than 5,000 students and 250 staff. The new building is an original architectural concept with three towers under a single glass roof.

10.  Walk under the Mancunian Way and enter the large open central area surrounded by busy roads and colourful street art.  Cross diagonally to the left to enter another underpass then up right to rejoin Cambridge Street Walk along Cambridge Street towards the City Centre.

A number of former mills adjoin Cambridge Street and surrounding streets, now mostly in residential use.  On the right, at the junction with Chester Street is Marsland’s Mill – built in 1813. Adjoining that is Chorlton Old Mill, built in 1795 for Robert Owen, before he moved to his New Lanark development. This, and other mills, were taken over in the 1830s by the Birley family, who produced here their Macintosh’s waterproof fabric. On the right, just past the junction with Hulme Street is Chorlton New Mill, built in phases for the Birley family between 1815 and 1845. The large chimney was built in 1853. Opposite Chorlton New Mill, on the left of Cambridge Street are the Macintosh buildings built between 1825 & 1851. Further on, just North of the River Medlock is a jumble of buildings based on Medlock Mill, with the Hotspur Press sign prominent.

11. Continue around a slight bend to the right, under the railway bridge and reach the traffic lights at the junction with Whitworth Street.  Turn left and return to HOME.