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FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: Piccadilly Gardens used to be home to a huge ‘lunatic asylum’

Unsurprisingly, the area has a somewhat unsavoury past…

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@manchestersightseeing / Instagram & manchesterhistory.net

Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens have long been well-renowned across the country – though perhaps not for the most complimentary of reasons. 

These days, the area is recognised for its ongoing issue with Spice, homelessness and anti-social behaviour and, sadly, its vast history fares no better.

Hundreds of years before the infamous ‘Berlin Wall’ was built and before it became the drug hotspot of Manchester, the UK’s first ever ‘lunatic asylum’, which adjoined the Manchester Royal Infirmary, was located there.

Back in the 1700s, the MRI had already been treating a number of mentally unwell patients but, thanks to laws in place at the time, they were barred from admission as in-patients. So, out of concern for the abuse that was known to take place in private mental institutions at the time, a new hospital for these particular patients was built.

manchesterhistory.net

‘The Manchester Lunatic Hospital’ – as it was officially named – opened its doors in 1766 and immediately began accepting its first patients. The eighty-bed institution was known for treating its patients remarkably well for its time, with no reported instances of beatings or questionable restraint methods.

Historian Michala Hulme noted of the hospital: “The Manchester Lunatic Hospital tended to treat their patients better than other mental hospitals. They did not agree to any ill treatment of their patients.”

In 1773, the trustees passed a resolution stating that there would be ‘no stripes or beatings. No painful coercion whatsoever, more than what is necessary to restrain them from hurting themselves or others.’

However, there was something a little less ethical happening outside of the MRI’s walls – the formidable ‘daub holes.’

Piccadilly’s daub holes – wet pits and ponds used for clay extraction – were used for the act of ‘ducking’, a very public punishment reserved for the most unruly and troublesome of women. Their ‘crimes’ could be vary from ‘scolding’ – being quarrelsome or noisy – to not behaving as a dutiful maid or wife was expected to behave, to having a child out of wedlock or working as a prostitute.

Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives

As for the punishment itself – the accused women would be dragged through Manchester’s streets to the infamous daub hole, where they would then be strapped to a chair attached to the end of a long wooden pole. Then, they would be lowered into the filthy water below.

Michala said on the ritual: “Religion was key. Ducking was thought to wash away their sins. It was very easy to be accused of being a prostitute or a witch during this period.

“Any woman who was a bit strange or anything that couldn’t be explained was called witchcraft. They would stick these women on the ducking chair and dunk them until their sins were washed away. People at this time were used to public hangings and the duckings would have been a big spectacle.”

Thankfully, the barbaric act of ducking would die out in the coming years, and The Manchester Lunatic Hospital continued to grow and, almost seventy-five years later, the trustees noted that the original founders of the hospital were ‘quite in unison with the mild, merciful and enlightened measures now adopted by the medical practitioners in our modern lunatic hospitals.’

Welcome Collection Gallery

Yet as the mid-nineteenth century arrived, Victorian Manchester was growing rapidly and the Piccadilly area had become overcrowded and noisy – not the most ideal environment for those being treated for and recovering from mental illnesses. 

So in 1845 the trustees bought a site in Cheadle, Stockport and moved the hospital there four years later. It was renamed The Manchester Royal Hospital for the Insane and continued its ‘mild, merciful and enlightened’ approach with patients, something which Michala praised as ‘groundbreaking.’

She said: “The treatments they were using were way ahead of their time. Treatments in other mental hospitals at the time were brutal but the committee pledged that they would do nothing that caused harm to any of their patients.

“At the time mental health and depression wasn’t really understood. You could be locked up for mental illness.”

Today, The Manchester Royal Hospital is known as Cheadle Royal Hospital.

Feature

The inspirational story of Kirsty Howard on what would have been her 26th birthday

Through her tireless campaigning, Kirsty secured the future of Francis House Children’s Hospice

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francishouse.org.uk

On September 20th 1995, Kirsty Ellen Howard was born in a Wythenshawe hospital and – little did she know at the time – would go on to change the future for thousands of children.

Her start to life was a turbulent one; Kirsty was born with an extraordinarily rare condition in which her heart was positioned back to front, causing the misplacement of her internal organs.

The condition, a form of ‘situs ambiguus’, is inoperable and requires extensive treatment, including a constant external supply of oxygen. The condition is so rare, in fact, that new-born Kirsty was the only person in the UK – and just the second in the whole world – to be diagnosed with it.

The first four years of her life were spent in and out of hospitals and at the age of four doctors gave Kirsty and her family the devastating prediction that she had just six weeks left to live.

But, astonishingly, Kirsty defied those odds and went on to not only live for another sixteen years, attend school and achieve GCSE’s, but to raise millions of pounds for Francis House Children’s Hospice in Didsbury.

francishouse.org.uk

Kirsty initially gained national attention when she was appointed as England’s mascot during their 2002 World Cup game against Greece. Aged just six, Kirsty walked out onto the pitch with her 20kg oxygen tank and holding the hand of then-captain David Beckham, prompting commentator John Motson to call her ‘the bravest person on the pitch’.

The following year, Kirsty and Beckham handed the baton to the Queen at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

And in 2003, Kirsty started the first Great Manchester Run and took part in the race, wearing the number one vest in her wheelchair. She took part in the race every year following. Kirsty was subsequently awarded the Helen Rollason Award by the BBC in 2004 for her courage and determination, as well as the Child of Courage award and the Pride of Britain award.

While all of these achievements may seem incredible enough to most of us, for Kirsty, they didn’t even begin to scratch the surface because her most notable act came in the form of a charity appeal for Francis House Hospice, a Didsbury-based hospice originally opened by Princess Diana in 1991.

Named ‘The Kirsty Club’, Kirsty’s campaign was launched to expand and improve the services the hospice offered – primarily support for families with terminal or life-threatening illnesses – with celebrity supporters of the appeal including Gloria Hunniford, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Davina McCall, and opera singer Russell Watson.

David Ireland, the Chief Executive of Francis House, said of Kirsty’s fundraising: “Francis House had struggled to meet its running costs for many years, Kirsty’s fundraising changed that and gave us a measure of security that allowed us to expand and develop our service. 

“Hundreds of children, young people and their families owe a tremendous debt to the young lady whose face made Francis House a household name.”

Over the years, Kirsty’s fundraising totalled to a staggering £7.5 million, which helped to give thousands of Manchester’s children, teenagers, young adults and their families the help and support they needed in their times of greatest need.

francishouse.org.uk

In the final years of her life, Kirsty was a proud auntie and had been studying childcare at college with the hopes of one day becoming a teacher for children with special needs. However, one month after her twentieth birthday on October 24th 2015, Kirsty passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Tributes poured in for Kirsty after the news of her death broke, including from the then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who wrote on Twitter: “I’m sad to hear Kirsty Howard has died. She was an amazing person with boundless passion who did so much good.”

David Beckham also posted a tribute, sharing a photo of him with Kirsty and writing on Instagram: “Words cannot describe how amazing this young lady has been over the years. Kirsty has been defying doctors for many years and whilst doing that she has been raising millions of pounds for terminally ill children.”

And lastly, Francis House, whom Kirsty raised so much money for over the years, shared their own tribute, writing simply: “We cannot express enough our humble thanks and gratitude to an incredible young woman.”

Rest in peace, Kirsty Howard.

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Feature

The future of Mother Macs: How the iconic Northern Quarter boozer is embracing its gruesome past

We caught up with Mother Macs’ current landlady, Lauren Grimshaw, who detailed her plans for the future of the historic pub

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Nestled down a back alley in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Mother Macs and its bloody history has somehow managed to stand the trying test of time. 

In perhaps the most perilous period ever experienced by pubs and restaurants, the extraordinary boozer has managed to survive and reopen its doors, despite numerous lockdowns, social distancing measures and, perhaps most poignantly, a rather murderous past.

This is why, for many, its unwavering popularity among locals is somewhat of a surprise – as the plaque on the front of the building states, on June 18th, 1976, the pubs landlord Arthur Bradbury went on a murderous rampage after receiving an eviction notice. He killed his wife Maureen, his six year old daughter Alison, his step-sons James and Andrew, and the cleaner, who happened to stumble upon him in the act.

Then, he set fire to the pub to cover his tracks, only to kill himself in the blaze.

For many establishments, this kind of horrific event would signal an end to not only trading, but to the desire to ever set foot through the premises again.

But for Mother Macs’ newly appointed landlady, Lauren Grimshaw, it was one of the many things that drew her to the new role. Lauren, a mother of two from Clayton, is studying a degree in criminology and psychology, so it would seem she and the pubs dark history go hand in hand. She told Proper Manchester: “The history was the main thing I wanted it for. People do come in occasionally after hearing about what happened with ‘Mother Macs and the killer landlord’ or reading about it on the sign outside.”

Lauren, who was given the opportunity to take over the pub and the ten-room hotel upstairs by its former owner just six weeks ago, admitted that she does believe in ghosts, but it yet to experience any paranormal happenings. She explained: “I’m all about ghost hunts and all things paranormal. When I walked in on my first shift, I made it clear that I wasn’t there to cause trouble, I wasn’t there to offend anything that might be there.

“There hasn’t been many ghostly happenings, apart from the television sometimes switching itself on and the door closing by itself.”

But putting murderous landlord hauntings to one side, Lauren noted that the most prominent feature of Mother Macs is the clientele. She said: “My favourite thing about the pub is the people. It’ll always be the people. They’re what make Mother Macs. All my regulars who have been drinking in here for forty years still come in.

According to Lauren, Mother Macs stands out in the Northern Quarter – which is undisputedly cluttered with bars and pubs – because it doesn’t fit in with the general ‘norm’ of the area. She explained: “There are so many ‘trendy’ bars these days, whereas Mother Macs is a proper little boozer, a proper little pub, and I think Manchester is missing that. People don’t want to go and drink wine and cocktails, people want to come in and just have a cold pint.”

And the ‘proper little boozer’ approach is clearly working – just last weekend, a group of men from Bedford had booked to stay one night in the newly refurbished hotel upstairs, named The Avenues and Alleyways, only for them to extend their stay by two nights after falling in love with Mother Macs and the regulars.

She said: “The amount of connections I’ve made with the people who come into the pub is just unreal. Weekends in particular are amazing – some people come in on their own because they know as soon as they walk in, they’re made to feel comfortable. It’s not a pub, it’s a family, and that’s how I want it. I want every single person to feel comfortable and at home.”

And feel welcome they do – the watering hole hosts people from all walks of life, with Lauren vowing for every customer to feel welcome and included, regardless of where they’re from or who they are.

And even now, the pub continues to get people talking; earlier this week, Mother Macs went viral after we shared a photo of its beer garden, which consists of a couple of table and chairs thrown together next to a huge industrial bin down Back Piccadilly – ‘the most Manc beer garden ever’, as we called it.

So, what’re the plans for the future? Lauren told us that Mother Macs has a massive focus on football and, despite it historically being a Manchester City pub, she’s working hard at making it an inclusive space for all football fans (United fans, basically.) She said: “When I took over, I didn’t want it as a predominantly City pub as not to exclude any other fans. City home game, City fans come in. United home game, United fans come in. And on Derby days, well if they can sit amicably together, they can.”

Lauren’s also organising a karaoke and DJ for weeknights to get the place lively throughout the week – at the moment, the sound system operates on a strict Spotify playlist system, which has proven to be a huge hit with locals and weekend revellers alike.

For updates and news, follow Mother Macs’ official Facebook page.
Mother Macs, 33 Back Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1HP
020 8089 8579

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Feature

Black Shuck: The ghostly dog who haunts Manchester Cathedral

There have been numerous sightings over the decades…

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edwin.11 / Flickr & ed_needs_a_bicycle / Flickr

Over the decades, there have been repeated rumours of strange going ons within the historic walls of Manchester Cathedral, and the spirit of a ghostly dog roaming the corridors. 

Now, here at Proper Manchester, we love a good haunting story – whether it be paranormal sightings in an old Liverpool hotel or the haunting of the infamous Blackpool Pleasure Beach Ghost Train, we’re all over it like a rash.

So, when the ghostly rumours of Manchester Cathedral were brought to our attention, we got stuck straight in. But first, let’s start with the basics: Grade 1 listed and dating back to 1421, Manchester Cathedral is a vast Medieval, Gothic structure complete with crypts and stunning stained glass. It’s a truly astonishing building, regardless of your religious status and, in it’s 600-year life, it has welcomed millions of visitors from all over the world. 

Dom Crossley / Wikimedia Commons

However, putting the beautiful interior and rich history to one side, there’s something a little more sinister about the Manchester city centre building – according to a number of people, the it is actually haunted.

Now, there are many great ghost stories from this ancient cathedral, for example; a man was once said to be praying in the building after all other churchgoers had gone home. Mid-prayer, however, he was shocked to see his sister, Fanny, standing at the top of the cathedral as he believed that she was many miles away. Assuming his sister had come to Manchester to surprise him, the man rose to his feet and called out to her, only to see her vanish before his eyes. The following morning, he was informed that Fanny had passed away the previous evening. Anyone scared yet?

However, there’s one story that is told more than others, and that’s the tale of an old demonic dog known commonly as Black Shuck.

edwin.11 / Flickr

Now, Black Shuck is a whole new story in itself – Black Shuck is the generic name for a giant black greyhound type dog that would haunt villages back in the day and basically cause a whole load of havoc. One town legend from 1577 says this giant hellhound killed two people who were kneeling in prayer after knocking down the church doors amid a flash of lightning. Spooky stuff, I know. 

The first known written text describing a Black Shuck in England goes all the way back to 1127 in the town of Peterborough, with witnesses said that around twenty to thirty of these hellish hounds lurked in the area through Lent all the way to Easter, a period of about fifty days.

And they weren’t mistaking it for a wild pack of actual, real-life dogs – anyone who has claimed to have witnessed a Black Shuck described it as a large dog with black, mangy fur and much larger-than-normal, with some even as big as a horse. Some report Black Shucks to have also been foaming at the mouth, just incase you weren’t spooked yet.

ed_needs_a_bicycle / Flickr

But while the Black Shuck is believed by many to be a creature of the underworld and a sign of impending death, you need not worry – legend has it that Manchester Cathedral’s own Black Shuck was actually exorcised under the bridge crossing the River Irwell a couple of decades ago. 

And I think the exorcism worked because today, the Manchester Cathedral is quite the opposite of it’s ghostly, demonic dog adorned state – today, the cathedral stands as a place of solace for people from all walks of life. Just this year, it launched a ‘listening post’, an initiative that aims to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health and loneliness. How lovely is that?

So yeah, try not to stress too much about getting chomped by a demonic dog from the underworld when you’re next walking by.

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