When: 28th March 2014
Where: Manchester City Centre
£: Walk cost £6
What was it?
Contrary Life decided to take a guided walk in Manchester as part of the Manchester Histories Festival. The walk began at Manchester’s swish Visitor Centre and cost £6 per person. The tour was titled Manchester’s Hidden Gems, so it sounded right up our street. It was run by New Manchester Walks and our guide had a good line in cheesy jokes which surfaced frequently when informing us of some historical titbits.
The walk began well with a visit to the Portico Library, one of a dying breed of old-fashioned subscription libraries. It is an interesting place to have a look around and is open to the public at certain times (usually between 11am and 2.30pm). There is a small café in the library, so it’s well worth popping in to enjoy some coffee and cake in lovely surroundings.
The walk then proceeded to the Town Hall and down into a central courtyard area which was a little gloomy and grimy but quite fascinating. It was almost like stepping back in time as we ventured into this unique space. This particular part of the Town Hall is not often visited by the public and it would seem it is mostly used for filming purposes, due to its characterful and old-fashioned look.
Next on the agenda was a building actually called the Hidden Gem. St Mary’s Catholic Church is off the beaten track to some extent but we would say in terms of exciting architecture or history it is stretching it slightly to call it a gem; but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Our tour group moved onto the modern Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel, the only five-star hotel in Manchester apparently. A hotel as a hidden gem you say? Yes, that is what we thought too! So what makes this place so special? Well, the original Grade II listed building has a great history. It was, until 1996, the Free Trade Hall. Built in 1846 to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws and in more recent history, home to some memorable political speeches and notable music gigs. Inside the hotel on the first floor there is a wall of autographs boasting an odd combination of people who have played at the hall and those who have slept at the hotel. If celebrity culture and modern (dare we say garish) decor doesn’t do it for you, then you would find this part of the tour quite disappointing. Contrary Life is all for historic moments in Manchester history but not so much for loitering in a hotel lobby pretending to care about the rich and the famous.
The final building on our tour was the Masonic Hall. Now, entry into a secret society’s meeting place did hold an element of curiosity for us. The interior of the hall was not how we expected it to be from the outside, and it was interesting to have a look at. We certainly wouldn’t have seen it if not for this tour. However, no offence to any Masons out there, it was not particularly exciting in terms of architecture or heritage.
The tour group was quite large on the day, much bigger than on the company’s usual tours. This seemed to slow the walk and perhaps hinder the interest a little. Possibly there is nothing better for really finding the great hidden spots of a city than doing the legwork yourself. Nothing beats doing a bit of research beforehand and then arming yourself with a map and just wandering around. It can take a while though to really explore a place, so if you don’t have that much time on your hands, then a guided tour like this one can be useful. Still, next time we’re going to head out on our own and just get lost!
More info: There are tours of Manchester most days of the week, covering various topics, for dates and times visit www.newmanchesterwalks.com