Monday, 21 July 2008


this investigation, perambulation and rediscovery of a sadly languishing ‘Jewel of Manchester’ was prompted, as is all too often the case, by an accident. always be suspicious of discoveries purporting to be the result of slavish perseverance and dedication. history repeatedly confirms that so much we know is mere happenstance, a fact i find both consoling and life affirming.

venturing into bodyworlds, a veritable cabinet of curiosities for the disconcerting yet strangely underwhelming ‘world famous plastination’ of willing but misguided cadavers by the self proclaimed professor van hagen, entailed venturing into the bottom end of deansgate to the museum of science and industry, currently busy reinventing itself as a sort of ‘blockbuster’ entertainment centre of the printworks variety where booking in advance is highly recommended and entry is timed to maximise visitor numbers.

walking up to the museum and into the heart of castlefield it occurred to me that i simply no longer go there. its status as conservation area and urban heritage park has rendered it somehow separate from other living sections of the city and that despite feeling much affection for the idea of it, has turned it into a museum space, albeit huge and outdoors, or worse, as i confess to visiting the manchester museum almost weekly! somehow it has become forgotten, a space detached from the ordinary and everyday, its canals, warehouses and historic railways one giant mausoleum, a place so successfully ‘preserved’ for posterity that we have actually made it invisible.

out of the 'atrocity' exhibition i spent an edifying afternoon nosying about revisiting favourite nooks and crannies, remembering old haunts and reminiscing about past adventures, but was dismayed at so much change and neglect in an area so recently declared of historic importance and afforded sympathetic protection and status. i realised that i had taken for granted that this meant i could assume all was well in castlefield and worry about other sections of the city instead.

the shock of rampant decline, dereliction and disappearance of much that is unique about the area was amplified by telltale signs of unchecked new builds – cranes, placards and banners at every turn, erstwhile ‘flagship’ developments already boarded up or bulldozed. over the next few weeks i took to wandering about the edges of deansgate and knott mill, poking around, flagging up changes, reading up on new developments and abandoned plots, compiling questions...

as robert musil noted in his posthumous papers of a living author,

'monuments are so conspicuously inconspicuous. there is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument. you never look at them and havent the slightest notion of whom they are supposed to represent.'

his point is well known to any self respecting student of the city and public space and has beleaguered artists working in the public realm to this day - that memorials or monuments, sites of a supposed collective heritage, become inevitably absorbed into the backdrop of the city, indistinguishable in their familiarity from the everyday street furniture and therefore largely redundant in their aim.

now it would appear that whole sections of the city can become invisible, overlooked once the spotlight of fashionability and urban renaissance is turned away towards pastures new. so a futile cycle of regeneration continues unabated and unchallenged.

but as musil contends in the same essay,
'you would be momentarily stunned were they to be missing one morning...'

for castlefield that morning has arrived...

Sunday, 20 July 2008

a long long time ago in a land far away…

once upon a time before the present era of METROPOLIS, glittering mecca of glass and steel, spectacular wall of mirrors, its shimmering shards of glass reflecting the unique, original and pioneering way of life of we its fortunate inhabitants, there was, they say, another city - a shabby mundane town of brick and stone, filthy and derelict beyond repair, its centre barely accessible to tourists and pleasure seekers, obstructed and obscured by acre upon acre of industrial decline, putrid rivers and disease carrying canal ways with vast concrete jungles to traverse at every point of the compass. its citizens lived in despair and destitution, no holy temples to worship and adore or guide their path to materialism, no big wheel of fortune to enlightenment, no luminous metropolis, incandescent beacon to pilgrims and visionaries everywhere…its name they say was manchester.

some say this pitiful 'manchester' is merely a gothic fable, a grimm’s fairytale to frighten the children, but others maintain that its remnants can still be discerned in far off corners of our great metropolis, in the badlands beyond the glass and steel, out beyond our city guardians the giant cranes, where no-one now goes. a few claim that there was perhaps another settlement before the unfortunate manchester, but the truth remains lost in the mists of time – the names granadaland, mamuciun, or castle-in-the-field cropping up in the sagas of this mythical island, that doomed realm.

this journal if you find it, dear reader, is a record, an archive of my humble endeavours to locate this mysterious land behind the waterways, beyond the cranes, beneath the shards of glass...

…read on dear friend but beware, for beyond this point i cannot vouch for your safety or indeed my own…

Monday, 14 July 2008

snapshots, mooching and scene setting...

the romans in manchester

the oldest railway station in the world opened 1830

dereliction or redevelopment opportunity - controversy over proposed new plans

whatever happened to the castlefield visitor centre, its heritage walks and park rangers?

castlefield arena and amphitheatre, but the annual summer festival long abandoned

narrow boats moored up around castlefield's canalways and basins

another castlefield mystery..?

two icons

beethams tower dominates every angle

barca one of the bars to kickstart the '90's fashion for 'quarters' and inner city gentrification

victorian superhighways...

Sunday, 15 June 2008

a project for artranspennine08

the castlefield basin is the original mamucium, largest single contributor to the prosperity and growth of Manchester, its influence spanning 2 millenia – home of the Roman fort, the world’s first passenger railway station, the Museum of Science & Industry, as well as epicentre of our very own Granada TV!

the transpennine railway was the last element in the economic and industrial infrastructure that gave the region its global importance in the 19th century. the castlefield basin connected the Leeds - Liverpool canal to this new ‘superhighway’, making the region one of the most densely populated and urbanised places in the world: its network of warehouses, canals and viaducts a vivid palimpsest of the city, its cobbled streets a rich repository of 2000 years of enigmatic lives, escapades and adventures, unknown heroes of the industrial revolution.

until recently hailed as the Jewel of Manchester on the city’s tourist websites, boasting a dedicated Castlefield Visitor Centre and with teams of specialised urban rangers on hand to guide visitors and tend the upkeep of this precious archaeological heritage park, its future seemed secure and bright. bustling with al fresco restaurants, loft apartments in listed warehouses, its own annual carnival and boat rally and a community of narrowboat owners, it was a mini venice or amsterdam, a model for Manchester’s cosmopolitan aspirations.

now, once again faced with neglect, dereliction and an uncertain future as developers close in and for sale signs proliferate, the shortcomings of similarly acclaimed flagship developments are put under the microscope. the predicament of castlefield is symptomatic of prevailing policies of urban branding and regeneration, effectively taking the cityscape out of the public sphere and into a precarious privatised realm.

my aim for artranspennine this summer is to embark on a series of walks and explorations around castlefield and its surroundings, starting with an intriguing article by phil griffin in manchester confidential called killing castlefield?
in which a number of concerns about the future of this vital and historic section of the city were raised, with a view to rekindling a much needed debate and dialogue about the relentless pace of change both in manchester and increasingly other cities as they rush to compete in an investors free for all...