Superlative Walks

Urban and rural trails, each with something very special


Directions with Added Information

This walk starts and ends at Piccadilly Railway Station.  It visits over 30 statues or public works of art around the City Centre, mostly with shared themes of Cotton, Free Trade, Liberalism and Nonconformism. The walks is entirely on urban roads and footways and is mostly flat. Two quotations to start us off:

I lived so far north of the city centre the postman was Norwegian.  You can tell people in Didsbury are posh, they have grapes on the table when no-one’s ill.  There is an energy about Manchester that seems lacking in other cities, and if you see what the pigeons can do to a statue in Albert Square, the birds have it too.  People think it always rains in Manchester.  Not true, though I admit it’s the only town in the country with lifeboat drill on the bus routes.

Les Dawson

I would like to live in Manchester.  The transition between Manchester and death would be unnoticeable.

Mark Twain

1. We set off from Piccadilly Station down Station Approach, onto Piccadilly. 

Number 77-83 on the right has two lazy workmen sculpted either side of the corner turret on the roof.

2.  At the top of Piccadilly, opposite St Margaret’s Chambers and Clayton House, turn left into Piccadilly Gardens.

On the right, beyond the modern red brick development, the Piccadilly Plaza development encapsulates the best and worst of the 1960s.  The City Tower of 107 metres, originally the Sunley Building from 1965, is still an iconic part of Manchester, well restored, with concrete mouldings of circuit boards on the end panels.  The hotel on the left is a reminder of the 1960s plan to divide access between pedestrians at ground level and high level roadways, with its reception on the car park level.  On the right is a newish and poor replacement of the original building, which had a swooping concrete roof.

3.  Continue down Portland St to the Britannia Hotel. 

This was formerly the S&J Watts warehouse, and was the largest of the city’s sole occupancy textile warehouses (dodgy superlative – not included), costing £100,000 in 1857/58.  Each floor has a different architectural treatment, with Egyptian at the base, rising through Italian Renaissance, Elizabethan and French Renaissance to four great roof projections lit by rose windows.  Just inside the doors is a magnificent iron cantilever staircase.  Outside the doors, and mostly hidden from the street, is a memorial to employees killed in the World Wars, including Charles Jagger’s moving bronze statue “The Manchester Sentry” from 1921.

4. Cross the road and walk along New York St. 

On the corner of George St is a 1967 building now called “The Exchange.”  About 60 metres beneath this are two generators named Marilyn (Monroe) and Jane (Russell). These are within a network of tunnels to maintain links with NATO should the UK be attacked by Soviet atomic weapons.  The network is now used by BT for cables.

5.  Walk to the end of New York Street and turn right into Moseley Street, to return to Piccadilly Gardens. Cross the road, busy with passing buses and trams. 

Here we pass the Berlin Wall, part of a redesign of the gardens in 2000, none of which really works.  The wall is to be removed, but the redesign of the rest of the gardens will have to wait. Number One Piccadilly was built on part of the gardens to fund the rest of the work.  On both counts, they really shouldn’t have bothered.

6. Walk through the gap in the wall.

Here we come to The Tree of Remembrance by Wolfgang and Heron (2005).  It marks the civilians who died in the Nazi bombing of WWII, particularly the ‘Christmas Blitz’ of 22nd and 23rd December 1940 when around 500 bombers dropped 467 tons of high explosive and 2,000 incendiary bombs on the city and almost 1,000 people died.  Around the trunk are metal rings which have the names of Manchester people who were killed.

7.  Cross the gardens diagonally from the Tree of Remembrance toward the far end of the red brick development “Number One.” Here is the start of a row of Victorian and Edwardian statues.

Firstly, the Duke of Wellington (1856).  Following his military career he turned to politics and became Prime Minister in 1827.  He also served as chief secretary for Ireland, ambassador to France, commander in chief of the British army and as foreign minister.

The second statue is described by Jonathan Schofield thus: 

The remarkable neo-Baroque canopy of white limestone containing the terrifying statue of Queen Victoria in full regalia – the stern matriarch of nation and Empire – is notable for the insults it’s always attracted.  Designed by Edward Onslow, one contemporary called it, ‘At once the most pretentious, the most incoherent and the most inept of any sculptural monument one has ever seen in England.’

The statue was built in 1901.  The monarch sat for the sculptor, but it wasn’t unveiled until 10 months after her death.  It is not clear whether seeing the statue hastened her demise.

Then we find James Watt (1857) who developed the concept of horsepower, and the SI unit of power.  The watt is named after him.

Robert Peel (1853) is the last of the statues on this side.  He was Conservative Prime Minister twice, 1834-35 and 1841-46.  His reforms included repealing the Corn Laws (although most of his party opposed him and it brought down his government), introducing the Mines Act of 1842, which banned women and children from working underground and the Factory Act of 1844 which limited working hours for children and women in factories.  The large bronze statue, created by sculptor William Calder Marshall, was erected three years after Peel’s death.  The crowned figure flanking Peel’s statue is a representation of Manchester and the other figure represents the arts and sciences.

8. As we leave Piccadilly Gardens, the Portland stone building on the corner of Moseley Street and Market Street is the Royal Buildings.

This was built on the site of the Royal Hotel, where the world’s first professional football league was ratified in April 1888.  A red plaque on the wall recognises the event.  Another round the corner is too high to be readable!

9.  Opposite the Royal Buildings turn right along Tib Street. 

Along the street is the prominent Tib Street Horn.  The Northern Quarter Association were looking for a prominent piece of public art to stand as a gateway to the quarter and represent the creativity of the area.  David Kemp, a Cornwall based sculptor, was commissioned and it was completed in 1999. The “Big Horn” wraps itself around the remnant of a former hat factory at the junction of Tib Street and Church Street.  David Kemp said of it that, ‘It’s not really a saxophone, nor a dragon, coiled on the gothic stump of a Victorian hat factory. Perhaps it’s a listening device, filtering the left-over sounds from the street corner below, where the past bumps into the future, shooting the lights.’

10.  Continue up Tib Street.  Turn left into Hilton Street and then continue into Thomas Street.  Cross the road by Shudehill Transport Interchange and follow the tram tracks down hill. Where they bend to the right cross the tracks to Victoria Station, carefully avoiding trams. 

11. Turn left outside the station entrance and cross the road then pass to the right of the “Urbis” building which houses the National Football Museum. Walk up the right hand side of the open area, with an artificial stream on your left.  Ahead is the Corn Exchange. walk to the right of the Corn Exchange along Cathedral Street. Just past the Cathedral, turn right into Cathedral Yard and walk towards Deansgate.

Here, low down on the left in a small garden, are the arches of a medieval bridge from the 1400s that crossed Hanging Ditch and led to the cathedral.  

12.  Cross the (mostly) pedestrianised road and cross the new footbridge, for the first of two brief excursions into Salford. 

Near where the ‘ford’ of Salford lay, is the new Greengate Square, with fountains and curious metallic shards, rising from the ground.  

13. Return across Victoria Bridge, which runs parallel to the footbridge.

This was built in from 1839, with royal orbs decorating the centre of each side.  A typesetter at the Times was dismissed when he couldn’t resist amending the line ‘Her Majesty passed over the bridge and duly declared it open’ by one letter.

14. Turning right onto Deansgate, cross back to the far side and turn right, with the massive Number One Deansgate apartment building on the left. Go straight on at the junction with St Mary’s Gate then turn left into Barton Arcade.

This was built in 1871, with a light, airy roof and iron balconies that seem to float above the shops.

15.  Walk straight through the arcade and exit along a short narrow street then turn right Into St Ann’s Square. 

The Last Shot memorial recognises those who died during the Boer War between 1899 and 1902.  It shows two soldiers, one standing holding a rifle with a bayonet and his injured comrade seated below, handing over his ammunition.  It was created by sculptor Hamo Thornycroft and erected in 1908. The inscription reads: ‘To the memory of the following officers, non-commissioned officers, and men who fell in the war in South Africa, 1899-1902/ (names)/ and others whose names cannot be ascertained’.

In the centre is the Cotton Bud fountain from 1996.  Tony Blair, as leader of the opposition, was in the party for its unveiling.  When the fountain started, he said ‘Is that it?’  It is pretty underwhelming, especially when the fountain isn’t running.

Finally, Richard Cobden, who was a famous businessman, manufacturer and radical and liberal statesman.  This statue of him (1865) was created by sculptor Marshall Wood.  Cobden, once MP for Stockport, was known for being one of the founders of the Anti-Corn Law League along with John Bright, who we will see soon.

16.  Leaving St Ann’s Square turn right to reach Deansgate, cross the road then pass to the right of the House of Fraser along St Mary’s St and come to one of the few green spaces in the city, Parsonage Gardens.  

References to this parcel of land go back to the Domesday Book.  St Mary’s church was nearby, but was demolished, rebuilt to the north and is now Manchester Cathedral.

17. To the rear of the department store turn left into Southgate St and pass below pedestrian bridges linking a car park to the store.

This was the site of the office of Ermin and Engels, textile agents.  Friedrich Engels spent 22 years in Manchester, and considered the office his ‘personal prison’, but he was committed to providing enough subsidy for his friend Karl Marx to continue his studies in the British Library.

18. Turn right into King Street West, right into St Mary’s Parsonage then left into the path down to Santiago Calatrava’s white Trinity Bridge.  

Calatrava is an engineer, architect and sculptor, and is known for his sculptural structures all over the world.

19.   Cross the Bridge towards the Lowry Hotel, above empty shop/restaurant space.  Turn left at the far side of the bridge down a ramp and then follow the river towards the Albert Bridge.  

Just before the bridge on the right is a statue of Joseph Brotherton (1858) by Matthew Noble.  Schofield describes Brotherton as:

One of the nineteenth century good guys.  A cotton manufacturer and Salford’s first MP from 1832, Brotherton campaigned against child labour and for improved working conditions in factories… [and] the creation of public parks, museums and libraries.  He was… anti-slavery and considered the death penalty barbaric.  He also argued eloquently the case for free non-denominational education… His wife Martha wrote the first widely used vegetarian cookbook from 1812.

Albert Bridge (1844) was built by the Victorian engineer Jesse Hartley, who was also building Liverpool’s Albert Dock at the time.  Note the “visible boundary” inscription on the left parapet.

20.  Cross over the bridge, and on the right on Bridge St, just after the bridge is the People’s History Museum and the Civil Justice Centre. Cross the road to the Civil Justice Centre.

This is  the biggest court complex to be built in the UK since 1882. After having bags checked take the lifts on the right to the 10th floor for a spectacular view to the west.

In front of the centre is ‘Doves of Peace’ commemorating Manchester as a nuclear free city from the mid-1980s.

21. Return to pass the People’s History Museum and, just before the Bridge, turn left down steps to follow the river on the Manchester side, past several bars and restaurants to Irwell Bridge. 

This iron arched bridge, has the coats of arms of Manchester and Salford at each end.  

22.  Go left up New Quay St and, after a slight bend to the left, Quay St to the Opera House (1912). 

A young actor called Harold Leek came there with the first European tour of Oklahoma in 1947, the programme writer got his name wrong, and for the rest of his life he was known as Howard Keel (*myth alert*).

Further up Quay St is Sunlight House (1931), a fine white Portland stone art deco building by the architect Joe Sunlight.  In the space between this and the Opera House (now a car park) was planned to be the city’s first skyscraper, at 35 storeys and 350ft.  The plans fell foul of the 1948 city authorities and Joe Sunlight never forgave the faint-hearted planners.

Sunlight’s family (named Schimschlavitch, and from Belarus) are believed to have taken their new name from Port Sunlight.  He  was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury in the 1923 general election and introduced a Private Member’s Bill on the standardisation of bricks.  It was passed, but then fell when he lost his seat in 1924. 

On the corner opposite the Opera House is a fine Georgian building that was the home of Richard Cobden.  

23.  Turn right into Byrom St and walk about 400 metres to two bollards on the right.

These were real cannons, marking the spot where, in 1745, the Jacobite Charles Edward Stuart (aka the Young Pretender, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, aka Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart) practised with his artillery – part of his attempt to wrest the throne from the Hanoverians.  He appears to have been something of a military genius; Wikipedia describes his tactics at Culloden in 1746: 

Ignoring the advice of his best commander, Lord George Murray, Charles chose to fight on flat, open, marshy ground where his forces would be exposed to superior government firepower. Charles commanded his army from a position behind his lines, where he could not see what was happening. 

24.  Turn right at the blue bollards then on the left enter St John’s Gardens.

This was the site of a church, demolished in 1931.  The cross in the centre states that 22,000 people were buried here: recent research says 24,113.  The only gravestones that remain are those of John Owens and his father.  John Owens left £96,000 for the founding of a non-denominational university, now the University of Manchester.  

25.  Turn right at the cross.  After 30 metres on the left is a small garden.

There is a small garden here called “A Stitch in Time,” moved here from the RHS Tatton Park Garden Show in 2011, but now poorly maintained. 

26.  Return to the cross and leave the gardens back on to Byrom Street.

On the far side, to the right, is a short row of four houses with Gothick doorways.  

27.  Walk up St John’s St, opposite the park entrance. 

This has perhaps the finest 18th century terraces in the city.

28.  Turn left onto Deansgate.

On the right, pass the Great Northern Railway Company’s Goods Warehouse (1898) which had road, rail and canal access – an early transport interchange.  The ‘streaky bacon’ frontage advertises the places with which the company traded.

29.  Turn right onto Peter St and we come to the Radisson Hotel on the right of the street.

Formerly the Free Trade Hall (1856), this was built on part of the site of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 The main façade is decorated with the coats of arms of Lancashire towns that fought against the Corn Laws. Manchester’s has three stripes, representing the city’s three rivers – the Medlock, the Irwell and the Irk.  Above the 1st floor windows are figures representing the arts, commerce, agriculture and the continents.

30. Turn left along Southmill St to Albert Square, where there are numerous statues.

At the junction with Albert Square, on the right, is the former Methodist meeting house, the Memorial Hall, in Venetian Gothic style inspired by such buildings as the Ca’ d’Oro on the Grand Canal.  Between the ground and first floors an inscription appears to say ‘Erected in Commemoration of the Year ICC2’.  It was built to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the 1662 Act of Uniformity, when the secession of some 2,000 Anglican clergy led to the birth of Nonconformism.

Starting at the southern end of the Sqaure, we have William Gladstone (1901), a British Liberal politician who was Prime Minister four times, and was Britain’s oldest Prime Minister, resigning for the final time when he was 84 years old.  The sculptor, Mario Raggi, has given Gladstone back the forefinger he shot off as a young man, and the statue is popularly known as ‘man hailing a taxi’.

Oliver Heywood (1894) ran the Heywood Bank during the Victorian era, creating a large amount of wealth from the business.  This allowed him to dedicate time to philanthropy and he supported and financed projects such as working men’s colleges.   An inscription says: ‘Erected by the citizens of Manchester to commemorate a life devoted to the public good.’

Next is the Albert Memorial (1866).  The people of Manchester thought it was important to build a memorial for the former Prince Consort who was a proponent of public education and the arts.  The Grade 1-listed structure was the first monument to commemorate the Prince and it has an elaborate Gothic enclosure which protects the marble statue.

John Bright (1891) was a British Radical and Liberal statesman and a promoter of free trade policies.  Born in Rochdale in 1811 he is perhaps most famous for his part in helping to abolish the Corn Laws in 1846.  He sat in the House of Commons from 1843 to 1889 where he promoted free trade, electoral reform and religious freedom.

The Jubilee Fountain (1897) commemorates Queen Victoria’s 60th year, and replaces an earlier structure placed here to commemorate the opening of the Thirlmere Aqueduct bringing fresh water from the Lake District to Manchester along the longest gravity-fed aqueduct in the country at 96 miles, taking a day to reach the city at 4 mph. 

Finally, Bishop James Fraser (1888), who has turned his back to the Town Hall, looking towards the Cathedral.  On the pedestal of the statue are three bronze panels that show Fraser in his three roles: bishop, citizen and man of charity.

31.  Leave the Square via Princess St, to the left of the Town Hall, to reach the recently relocated Cenotaph (1924) by Lutyens.  

On top of the monument is a fallen soldier covered in a greatcoat, a Tommy’s helmet at his feet.  

32.  From here, pass the Town Hall Extension (1934), with its attractive colonnaded walkway, and go through the Rates Hall via the controversial new glass and chrome development across the previous right of way.

At the far end, across Mount Street, is what was the first purpose-built Inland Revenue building in the city, with the lion and unicorn above the door, symbols of Crown authority.  The Friends’ Meeting House to the left reminds us of the importance of Quakers in the city’s history, such as the anti-slavery campaign, one of the most notable being John Dalton, pioneer of atomic theory and discoverer of colour blindness.  His eyeballs are preserved in a glass jar in the Museum of Science and Industry.  

33.  Turn left along Mount Street towards the Midland Hotel.  

To the left, at the Junction with Peter Street, is Adrift (1907), intended to illustrate the changes and sorrows experienced by human beings.  It started its life as the centre-piece in Piccadilly Gardens, was moved and put into storage when the gardens were ‘improved’, reappeared on the other side of the library in 2009, and was recently moved here.  Perhaps moving it back to Piccadilly Gardens would symbolise most people’s feelings about the current gardens.

34.  Pass the Midland Hotel on the right and then turn right into Lower Moseley Street. Ahead on the left is the Bridgewater Hall.

In front of the Hall is Barbirolli Square has the marble “Touchstone” and a bust of the man known locally as Bob O’Reilly.  Inside the Bridgewater Hall, a modern concert hall, is an artwork by Derryk Healey representing the warp threads on a giant loom.

35. Continue past the Bridgewater Hall along Lower Moseley Street and then turn left onto Great Bridgewater St.

On the far side of Great Bridgewater Street is the Briton’s Protection, over 200 years old and featuring over 300 whiskies and murals of the Peterloo Massacre.  

36.  Continue along Great Bridgewater Street to reach the Peveril of the Peak tiled pub.

Just inside the door is the world’s oldest remaining table football game.

37.  Continue along Great Bridgewater Street, which bears right c50m after Peveril of the Peak and walk to Oxford Street. Turn left and cross the road. After the Palace Theatre turn left into Whitworth Street. 

Along Whitworth Street, we find India House, Bridgewater House and Lancaster House, all originally cotton warehouses, decorated with a fine mix of terracotta reliefs, sculptures etc.  

38. Turn right through the art nouveau gate of Lancaster House (which is a perfect circle when closed) to reach the River Medlock below us.  

To the right is an arch, where a canal once took goods towards Piccadilly.  

39. Walk down the cobbled street  and round the bend to the left.  Then cross Princess Street. Diagonally opposite, by the Garratt pub walk along Granby Row

Orient House has a façade that Schofield says ‘could be from a Hollywood blockbuster of the 1930s based in ancient Rome’.

40.  Turn left onto Sackville St, we go up to Sackville gardens, on the far side of Whitworth Street.  

Alan Turing’s statue by Glyn Hughes (2001) is sitting on a bench in Sackville Street Gardens.  He is best known for helping to crack the Enigma code during the Second World War. Winston Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.

After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the ACE, among the first designs for a stored-program computer.  He is considered the father of computer science, working in Manchester on one of the world’s earliest computers, the Manchester Mark 1.

Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952. He accepted treatment with oestrogen injections as an alternative to prison.  He took his own life in 1954.  

41. Returning down Sackville St, we turn left into Granby Row. 

Here are the Vimto sculpture, Technology Arch (1989) and finally Archimedes springing from his bath under the arch.

42.  Turn left along the path after Archimedes.

Note the red magnets sculpture – “The Generation of Possibilities by Paul Frank Lewthwaite beside the white Barnes Wallis Building.

43.  Turn left up Echo Street through a railway arch, go straight along South Pump Street and turn right into Whitworth Street. 

On the corner is the London Rd Fire and Police Station, a fine building (at the end of the Whitworth Street ‘Terracotta Trail’) paralysed into decline by 30 years of planning battles between the owners, Britannia Hotels, and the City Council. The latest plans are for a luxury hotel.

44. Piccadilly Station is on the far side of London Road.