Over the years, Spinningfields has earned itself the reputation as one of Manchester’s most vibrant and flourishing destinations.
Regarded as one of the swankier ends of town, Spinningfields plays home to many of Manchester’s most exclusive office developments and priciest apartments, as well as one of the UK’s busiest and largest civil courts.
The area has become a thriving hub for both work and entertainment, mainly with thanks to a handsome £1.5bn cash injection from Allied London in the 2000s.
However, things weren’t always this way for Spinningfields, with the area once upon a time being plagued with crippling poverty.
If you rewind a couple of hundred years back to the 1800s, technology and economic need had turned the once quaint market town on the banks of the Irwell into the spearhead of England’s Industrial Revolution, with vast slums and chemical factories churning out dyes used in the textile industry lining the river’s banks.
As a result of the boom in job opportunities, overcrowding became a major issue in the area around this time, with three or more families reportedly sharing one room.
This led to a drop in hygiene and sanitation; slaughtered pigs and chickens were kept out in the streets, and there was a near-constant flow of human filth unchecked by sanitation, all where thousands of people lived, worked and, tragically, died.
Friedrich Engels was the man to expose this dire poverty gripping the area; in 1842 and at the age of twenty-two, the budding journalist was sent from his home in Germany to England to help operate the family-run cotton mill.
And while his father, a wealthy businessman, had hoped the move would draw him away from his ‘growingly radical beliefs’, a young Friedrich instead became witness to the suffering and exploitation of Manchester’s working class.
According to American socialist publication Jacobin Mag, Friedrich described a public bathroom in the Old Town district as being so squalid that ‘the inhabitants of the court can only enter or leave the court if they are prepared to wade through puddles of stale urine and excrement’.
He wrote: “Here are long narrow lanes between which run contracted, crooked courts and passages, the entrances to which are so irregular that the explorer is caught in a blind alley at every few steps, or comes out where he least expects to, unless he knows every court and every alley exactly and separately.
“The most demoralised class of all Manchester lived in these ruinous and filthy districts, people whose occupations are thieving and prostitution.”
He also described the streets of Spinningfields as been filled with ‘filth and disgusting grime’ and ‘foul pools of stagnant urine and excrement’.
And it wasn’t just Spinningfields stricken with poverty; Engels also reported what are now the bustling districts of the Arndale and the Printworks as also being ‘overrun’.
He described how the tiny public squares were being rented out by ‘pork-raisers’, recalling how the atmosphere, which was ‘confined on all four sides’, was ‘utterly corrupted by putrefying animal and vegetable substances’.
Engels’ investigation into Manchester’s poverty was eventually chronicled into his book The Condition of Working Class England, where the working conditions in the factories during the Industrial Revolution were deemed as unsafe, unsanitary and inhumane.
It was concluded that workers – men, women, and children alike – spent endless hours in the factories working, with the average hours in a working day varying between twelve and fourteen.
Interestingly, Engels repeatedly used the phrase ‘social murder’ to describe the bleak conditions in which the working class were forced to live.
It took nearly 100 years for Spinningfields to begin rebuilding its reputation, with the slum buildings reportedly being demolished in the 19th century.
Since then, the district has undergone a number of iterations, most recently in the 2000s when Allied London injected £1.5bn into creating the commercial and retail space, which is today a thriving part of Manchester’s economy.
And, as a nod to the impact Friedrich Engels had upon Manchester, there is now a statue of him in the city centre, though it is some distance from Spinningfields outside the Home cinema and theatre complex.
Travel back in time through Manchester in the ‘90s with these 30 photos
Fashion shows, bombings, Maine Road, buses, cars, the Metrolink and the Hacienda…
Here’s 30 nostalgic photographs of what Manchester looked like in the 1990s.
The city centre has changed a lot over the decades, which probably comes as no surprise with the amount of construction going on – it’s changing by the day.
But as the years go by and buildings you once knew are torn down and replaced with new apartments or office blocks, it’s left to your grainy memory of how places used to look and the times you may have once had there.
The nineties was a great era for music in Manchester and saw the birth of bands including Oasis, The Doves and Take That. It was the decade of hope after the recession of the 1980s, but there were ups and downs also.
On April 1st 1990 prisoners in Strangeways (now HMP Manchester) took control of its chapel, and quickly spread throughout most of the prison to begin a riot which lasted 25 days.
Hundreds of inmates got up onto the roof, with the incident claiming the life of one prisoner and injuring 147 prison officers and 47 prisoners.
The riot was followed by similar disturbances at other prisons across the country and sparked a conversation about reform for prison conditions.
The decade was also blighted by the IRA bomb of 1996. The Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated a 1,500-kilogram lorry bomb on Corporation Street on June 15th.
It was the biggest bomb detonated in Great Britain since the Second World War, injuring 212 innocent people and causing £700 million worth of damage to the city centre.
The event kick-started the regeneration and modernisation of the city which has evolved into the Manchester we know and love today.
The city already began planning on improvements as part of its campaign to hold the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics. However, the bid was ultimately unsuccessful and Manchester was beaten to it by Sydney, with Beijing coming in as runner-up.
But Manchester did go on to hold the 2002 Commonwealth Games, with The Commonwealth Games Stadium becoming the new home of Manchester City after the club vacated Maine Road – which was then demolished and turned into new homes.
The Hacienda, which opened in 1982, became the nightclub at the forefront of the acid house scene. The club was owned by record label Factory Records and was famous for playing a major part in the Madchester movement.
Unfortunately, the club gained a reputation for drug use and after enjoying its heyday throughout the best part of the ‘90s, it fell victim to crime issues and financial troubles which eventually led to its closure in 1997.
The club was subsequently demolished and replaced by apartments.
The newly built Trafford Centre opened in 1998, the year after the film Titanic was released, which its themed food court paid homage to. Since then, Trafford Park has transformed from the derelict marshlands it once was and into a centre of retail, leisure and entertainment.
Manchester United were the most successful football team of the city during this era, and the club won numerous domestic and international titles under manager Alex Ferguson.
David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes were just some of the players who played for United during the club’s golden era – playing in the newly formed Premier League, which was founded in 1992.
For the first time in English football history the Reds secured the Treble in 1999 – the League, FA Cup and Champions League.
Meanwhile, the Blue side of Manchester – Man City – went through many ups and downs. In 1998 City were relegated to the third tier of the English Football League. The club regained promotion to the top tier in 2001-02 and have remain in the Premier League since.
Manchester was once home to the iconic Strangeways Boddingtons Brewery, which owned pubs throughout the North West.
The brand was best known for its ‘Boddies’ – a straw-golden, hoppy bitter which was one of the first beers to be packaged in cans containing a widget, giving it a creamy draught-style head.
In the 1990s, the beer was promoted as The Cream of Manchester in a popular advertising campaign credited with raising Manchester’s profile. Model and actress Melanie Sykes was the Boddington’s girl star of the ads, which saw her take a swig of a pint and say ‘by ‘eck’, with a creamy moustache.
The brewery shut down in February 2005 and its workers clocked off their final ever shift, never to return, following its 227-year history.
Got a story to tell?
Have you got a story or video you think our audience will love? We want to hear from you, drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you.
Man who worked draining Manchester’s canals reveals grimmest things he found
Inflatable penises, designer handbags, guns, dead bodies and a pet puppy
We spoke with a man who worked draining our city’s canals, as he shared some interesting photos and stories about his work.
Mike Sheldon lives in East Manchester and is retired now, but he used to work for British Waterways where he said he had the time of his life – and would even call it the best job he has ever had.
“There was something to do every day,” he told Proper Manchester.
He worked for the company for 15 years, where he maintained the canals along with his brother Shaun.
As you can expect, Mike and Shaun discovered many strange and unusual things lurking at the bottom of our inner city canals, including some pretty grim and sad discoveries.
Shaun sadly passed away from throat cancer five years ago, as Mike spoke of the great fun they had working together maintaining the canals and how he misses their time together.
Here’s what he said…
About the work he carried out, Mike explained: “It was just general maintenance. Everything really; painting, replacing lock gates, anything and everything.”
He continued: “When we would work, especially Deansgate Locks and Canal Street, we’d find all sorts like handbags, designer bags, keys, bank cards, phones, driving licences, laptops – you name it we found it.”
When Mike and Shaun would drain the canals, a lot of the time they would often find tables and chairs and ‘all sorts of scrap’.
“I think at the end of the night, after a few drinks, customers would think ‘what can I throw over these fences?’ And they’d be throwing over tables and chairs,” he said.
In one picture (at the top of the page) the pair set up a table and tea party scene out of some of their finds, as they waded through the murky silt and laughed at the assortment of items they would come across.
About the photograph, Mike went on: “That is a picture of my brother who was working with me.
“We put it on Facebook because we thought it was quite funny but [work] called us in the office to say they didn’t want it on there, they didn’t want anyone to see it.
“But it was a bit too late by then because everyone would have already seen it.”
Other things the brothers would find were designer handbags, jewellery and even engagement rings, as Mike joked about couples having a row.
But the brothers also sometimes stumbled across guns that had been slung into the canals.
“We’d hand them in at the police station,” Mike said. “But we didn’t like going because whenever we handed one in we felt like they’d treat us like a criminal.”
One time, the pair even came across an inflatable penis, which they tied to their boat and got many laughs and cheers from revellers outside the rows of bars as they passed by.
As Mike puts it, ‘we found a massive big cock and balls’ – they also found plenty of other funny phallic objects and adult toys over the years too.
But the worst discoveries the brothers made while draining the canals were dead bodies. Mike said he discovered a few bodies lying at the bottom of the water in the 15 years he worked maintaining the waterways.
Mike said: “There was a thing about a pusher; someone pushing people into the canals, but I think it’s all rubbish.”
He said he thinks a number of people fall in the canals in central Manchester because they are lined with bars where lots of people will have been on a night out and drinking, then hanging around outside or using the canal paths to walk home.
“Sometimes people were captured on CCTV walking along and stumbling,” he added, saying that all the bodies were identified ‘straight away’.
“There was one lad from Newcastle and he was only young, god bless. I think it was the coldest day I ever worked and we were working alongside police divers.
“I had to drain it [the canal] for them because it was too cold for them to dive in that. I drained it down so far for them and they were linking each other as they walked through the sludge.”
Mike and Shaun each took something home from their time cleaning up our waterways. Mike found a Casio watch that he kept, as he said: “I mean, I’ve got a watch – which was still working when I found it after being under the water.
“I love it, it still works now. It’s a Casio and one of the best watches I’ve ever had. I’ve only had to take it to replace a battery. When the guy replaced it he said ‘it’s soaking wet’.
“I said, ‘believe it or not, I got this out of a canal’ and he just couldn’t believe it.”
Meanwhile, Shaun found a puppy which he brought home and named Willow. “We drained a lock and there was a puppy dog in a bag, but it was alive. Someone had thrown it in. We pulled it out and my brother kept that dog.”
Got a story to tell?
Have you got a story or video you think our audience will love? We want to hear from you, drop us an email on email@example.com and we’ll get back to you.
Memories of Manchester’s long lost but not forgotten club nights
Before the face of the city centre underwent a glow-up, seeing the gentrification of its different districts with the building of numerous city centre apartments and the addition of many boujee restaurants and bars, Manchester had a number of really great dives.
In the days before social media, people would instead meet up in social situations and dance the night away to great music, get totally steaming and have a laugh with mates while making plenty of new ones – it’s what it was all about.
These absolute dungeons held club nights legendary enough to be written into history books, and many eventful nights took place in them – with some former revellers still around to tell the tale.
Those were the days; when your mate would ask you, ‘what are you wearing?’ and you’d reply, ‘jeans and a nice top’.
As rituals in preparation for the weekend would begin… The girls would get their stilettos re-heeled at the cobblers, after a few weeks of stomping them right down to the metal.
The guys would buy a new tea-towel print shirt and apply far too much hair gel, with neatly separated strands at the front of their short back and sides.
Brothers would steal their sister’s hair straighteners, making them pong of sweaty hair, but still deny using them. Sisters would steal each other’s clothes and replace them the next day, with more than a hint of cigarettes and booze, sprayed over with cheap Exclamation from the local Superdrug.
Fancy coats were a hassle, it didn’t matter if it was raining cats and dogs or snowing outside, you didn’t need a jacket because you were Northern.
There were no smart phones, so you either took a Kodak out with you or you paid for a keyring containing a group photo of you with your mates, taken by photographers who would be doing the rounds.
Some nights were so great that you would dance until the sun came up and the lights went down. Sweaty, red-eyed clubbers would spill out onto the streets hunting for crap food and a cab to take them home. And to top it off, you could go out and have a belting night on a tenner.
Here’s some of the gone but not forgotten club nights around Greater Manchester and tales of the shenanigans that went on there – from the partygoers that were there.
Based on the old Castle Irwell student village for University of Salford students, this hell hole contained drunken carnage like nowhere else and was an iconic part of student life in Salford – a rite of passage.
Built on the site of a former race-track which became student halls sometime in the 1970s, The Pav was the student dive bar that was said to be slowly sinking into the ground over the years.
Former student Louise Patton remembers the ’15-hours of drinking’ nights being ‘the most memorable’ where student boozers wore themed T-shirts – pretty impressive memory skills after all that alcohol!
Louise Thompson, who worked behind the bar for more beer money, recalls ‘drinking out-of-date vodka mudshakes after hours, until the cleaners would arrive in the morning’.
Drunken students would call ‘Alan the taxi driver’ to take them into Manchester and bring them back to the halls at the end of the night.
Chris said: “Jeez, I’ve countless memories! I worked and drank there for three years from 2003. I met my wife and made so many friends. Been in some states in that place!”
The Pav no longer exists as Castle Irwell closed in 2009 and was sold off so a new housing estate could be built.
This club was the place to go to hear all your favourite indie-rock bangers. But, club-goers soon got to know that if you went up to request a song from the DJ, it wouldn’t get played.
The same set played week-in, week-out as you started the night with The Charlatans and ended it jumping and shaking your head around to Faithless. Fifth Ave held epic foam parties that would get very messy. Louise remembers how the ‘bank holiday foam parties were brilliant’.
Once the place to go if you liked R’n’B, this venue was huge. So popular, it would have queues along the front, around the corner and all the way up the side street – in any weather.
Hundreds of shivering girls would persevere through the pain of frost bite just to be able to get inside the club. Lads would separate from their mates and ask to join groups of girls to hopefully get accepted entry.
It wasn’t easy to get inside – if the door staff didn’t like what you were wearing or there were too many of you, you would likely be turned away.
The layout inside had balconies overlooking the dance floor area – after all, it was an old amphitheatre. Located inside the Theatre Royal building on Peter Street, it became Discotheque Royale in the ’70s, before it was rebranded as Coliseum and later, M-Two. The club closed its doors for good in 2009.
About M-Two, Dave McLaughlin remembers: “There was loads of bouncers always on the door and the queue was huge. The dance floor was brilliant and the music was really good in there as well. They had like R’n’B and Hip Hop.”
Reminiscing of his misspent youth, he continued: “We’d go to a friend’s house first for pre-drinks, then get the bus into town and drink pitchers at Paramount before the club.”
He added: “Back then, the music influenced the way that you dressed and the places you went. Music was important.”
Circoloco at Area 51
Laura Jayne, who worked for some of the club nights and liked to rave the night away at others, recalls: “I loved all the Electro house nights: Studio One 11 at Venus, Ampersands, Sankey’s but most especially Area 51’s Circoloco night.
“That [Circoloco at Area 51] was the best night we ever had in there after a crazy bidding war with Sankey’s to host the night.
“Working for the club, I always remember the politics between the venues to get the bookings – the rivalry was very real. I miss those days; of being out for the vibes and the music. Making new friends each time and dancing my a*se off for hours on end.
“Area 51 was absolutely rammed and the roof [would be] pumping off with the tunes. Venus was mint – I think it was the connection to strangers. You don’t get that in the same way anymore. I’m glad we had the times we had before Instagram.”
This club had three floors which each played different genres of music. The lower level played all the feel good cheesy tracks from the time. The next level up played R’n’B and Hip Hop tunes, and the top floor played dance and trance tunes.
Revellers would drink bottles of alcopops and dance the night away. When it was time to leave, navigating the metal stair case after a few too many drinks was pretty tricky.
Especially as it was made extra slippery from all the clubbers who had wandered between floors throughout the night to sample the different music on offer, while clumsily spilling their drinks along the way.
It felt like a weekly basis that someone would land on their backside and go flying down this staircase. Walkabout shut in 2015 and later reopened as Blues Kitchen.
It played pure dance music all night long and had a huge dance floor – so big, it also held roller discos. Ex-party-goer Dana takes us back to an era before social media as she shares her clubbing experience throughout in the early noughties. This club had metal detectors on the way in.
She reminisces of the times she would borrow her friend’s ID who looked nothing like her to get into clubs. “There were no camera phones, it wasn’t about going out for the pictures, it was about dancing the night away, ” she said.
“You’d have to look through sites like Tillate.com to see the fun everyone had or take your disposal camera and have belly laughs at the non-edited photos.”
Dana remembers: “Going out with just £10 and getting drunk and not coming home until the sun came up. And hoping to see the guy you fancied or meet new people as there wasn’t any social media.”
Cha Cha Boudoir
Ali Saeedian fondly remembers outrageous club nights in Manchester’s Gay Village before the pandemic. He says: “Nights such as ‘Cha Cha Boudoir’ that elevated the standards of club performances to new levels where nothing was impossible and a spectacular show was put on no matter what, and in turn launched countless drag careers in Manchester.
“If waiting a month or three for the next event was too long, Aftershock at club Sub101 was the place to be. No matter where you started, everyone used to end up in Aftershock dancing and sniffing poppers with [drag artist] Anna Phylactic.
“There was such a buzz around these events every time they were on. The dilemma of what to wear, when to go, where to meet, what time the performances were on, who was Queen of the night (the winning performer that night) was honestly playing on a loop in my head everyday.”
“The aim was always to shock and stand out, in contrast to today’s post pandemic neutral and humble sense of living.
“Or is it just that no one has the same energy? Maybe I was just younger.” Ali has created his own event night called Your Dad Sells Avon to give clubbers a chance to re-live the days before Covid.
“I started YDSA because I missed the pre-pandemic days of clubbing in Manchester. Every aspect of this club night is sampled, or paying homage to past Manchester club nights or venues,” he added.
You can follow @YDSAEVENTS if you’re interested in attending the club nights and re-living your pre-Covid party days.
What’s your favourite Manchester clubbing memory?