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Forgotten Manchester: The lost street and flats on top of the Arndale Centre

The somewhat unknown story of Cromford Court…

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MMU Visual Resources Centre

While Manchester’s famed Arndale Centre is known these days for its abundance of shops and  mind-bogglingly confusing lay out (or is that just me?), it was once known as home to a number of residents living on its roof.

Yep, when the Arndale opened in 1975, it did so with a number of three-storey apartment blocks, collectively containing sixty individual studios, two bedroom and three bedroom flats hidden away up on the roof. The complex even had communal gardens with trees and hedges, something known at the time as an ‘oasis in the city.’

Now, it’s no secret that city centre living can come with many flaws – tiny studios, nightmare landlords, sky high rent, you get my gist. But have you ever fathomed living directly on top of town’s busiest shopping centre? This was actually a reality for many city-centre dwellers back in the 1980s, a time when only 1,000 people lived in the centre, a stark comparison to todays estimate of 60,000. 

MMU Visual Resources Centre

Cromford Court, known to tenants as ‘the podium’, was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh on July 20th, 1981, and was named in tribute to the area that existed prior to the shopping centre which housed it above the city.

One person who can offer a rare insight into life aloft the Arndale is former Hacienda DJ Graeme Park, who previously recalled: “Not long after I started DJing at The Hacienda, Mike Pickering moved to one of the flats above the Arndale Centre in Manchester. 

“In 1988, I’d roll up to Mike’s every Friday and park my car in the Arndale’s multi story car park and get the lift from the street up to the roof.

“It was weird, because you’d expect a great view, but the flats weren’t as high up as people thought.  You could see some of the city and look down at people on the street whilst walking from the lift to Mike’s flat but once inside you couldn’t see anything but the lift.”

Guinness Northern Counties

He went on to describe the rooms in the property, recalling how the flat itself was ‘very dark downstairs but bright upstairs.’ On one occasion, Park got stuck in the lift between floors, so would frequent the ‘foul smelling stairs’ when he visited instead.

However, life for Cromford Court tenants changed forever on Saturday June 15th, 1996 – an IRA bomb was detonated from a vehicle just yards away on Corporation Street. A surveyor for Manchester City Council, Mr. Larmett, and his colleagues were assessing the damage when they heard there may be someone still in the flats.

Mr. Larmett said, as per the BBC: “Effectively, the Arndale had been cordoned off, so we met police at the entrance and picked our way up to the flats. Sure enough, there was an older chap still living in his flat.

MMU Visual Resources Centre

“He said that he had had a spot of flu and had gone to bed, ill. He’d been a rear gunner in a Lancaster in the war, which was much more dangerous than the situation he was in now and said he was buggered if he was going to let a small bomb affect him.”

Thankfully, no one was killed in the explosion, but it did signal the end of an era for the Arndale’s rooftop dwellers. 

While the flats remained unscathed, the bomb triggered a new renovation vision for the Arndale and, for all the ideals the rooftop location presented, it certainly had its downfalls – the financial handling of the company was peculiar and often unfair, the area was lively and thus the go-to spot for parties which, although not a problem in itself, left the area open to crime.

Seven years later in 2003, Cromford Court was demolished and the residents relocated to various locations across the city. 

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FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: The mysterious underground tunnels and passageways below the city centre

There’s more to Manchester than meets the eye…

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Keith Warrender & True British Metal / Flickr

It’s no secret that, below the surface of the hustle and bustle of the city, Manchester houses a number of underground tunnels, passageways and deserted bomb shelters. 

For decades now, rumours and speculation surrounding this mysterious underground world have been rife, with many even venturing into the depths themselves.

There’s even an interactive ‘Hidden Manchester Map‘ – created by Mark Crossfield – which allows you to browse through the catalogue of tunnels and passageways hidden beneath the surface; if that won’t sort you out for those 2am internet binges, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, the map has opened my mind to a whole new underground world, so I thought I’d share it with you lovely lot…

Below and Beyond

The Deansgate Tunnel

The eerie Deansgate Tunnel was discovered all the way back in 1911 when a row of houses were demolished on Cumberland Street (where the elusive Spinningfields neighbourhood now stands).

The tunnel was supposedly big enough to fit a horse and cart through, and featured a massive arched roof and exposed brick walls – evidently, it wouldn’t look out of place in the Northern Quarter property market today.

It remains unknown as to who actually built the tunnel, which runs right down the length of the Cathedral to Pomona at the Ship Canal, with some believing it could date all the way back to Roman times. 

University of Manchester

Piccadilly to Victoria Underground Railway 

Disclaimer: There aren’t any actual tunnels from this… But there very nearly was. That’s close enough, isn’t it?

Anyway, over forty years ago, ambitious plans for an underground railway system not unlike London’s was well underway for Manchester; in fact, there have been at least six attempts to build a fully-functioning rail network beneath the surface.

However, despite the projects being far along with their developments, each attempt failed miserably, including a proposed line that would run from Victoria, underneath the Royal Exchange, under the Central Library, down Princess Street and finally onto Piccadilly.

The whole idea of an underground link was eventually shelved in the late 70’s, with four projects being eventually passed and transformed to above-surface roads, known today as Mancunian Way and the ‘Guardian’ a network of tunnels through the city to Salford.

The Manchester Cave

Nestled beneath the buildings along the River Irwell just a stone’s throw from Parsonage Gardens there lays the ‘Manchester Cave’, a mysterious and somewhat daunting underground abys. 

There’s not a great deal known about this so-called ‘cave’, though going by the YouTube video of some daredevil climbing down into it, it looks like the remains of an old underground construction site. 

Both unsafe and unnerving but, still, it made the Hidden Manchester Map so that’s all that counts.

Keith Warrender

Guardian Underground Telephone Exchange

The Guardian Underground telephone exchange was built way back when in 1954 as a result of ongoing fears regarding the Cold War nuclear destruction (we have it easy these days, don’t we?), intended to act as a safe communications network that could link with similar ones in Birmingham and London.

The GUTE is located a whopping 112ft below the city and, at one point, even managed to have it’s own supply of drinking water, as well as a number of bunkers to house people in the event of a nuclear war breakout.

The GUTE was never used (down to the lack of nuclear attacks, probably), but the tunnels still remain to this very day and are actually used by broadband companies like BT and Nynex. 

True British Metal / Flickr

Cathedral Tunnels

According to the Hidden Manchester Map, there are plenty of rumours regarding some undiscovered tunnels beneath the Manchester Cathedral that lead to a number of locations across the city and its outskirts.

A number of the passageways allegedly connect the Cathedral to pubs (God wouldn’t have approved of that) and, according to Keith Warrender’s Underground Manchester, a heavy door was discovered in the tunnel leading to the Castle & Falcon Pub in 1975 which contained a pile of skeletons and a passage which led to the cathedral.

Who else is going to have nightmares tonight?

Make sure to check out the Hidden Manchester Map for yourself here – it’s well worth an hour’s scrolling time out of your day, I promise.

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Artist creates incredible micro sculpture of Tyson Fury on top of a nail

Dr. Willard Wigan used a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush to create the sculpture

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@gypsyking101 / Instagram & Paul Ward Photography

A talented micro artist has created a minuscule sculpture of Tyson Fury in a ‘smallest biggest tribute’ to the boxer following his historic heavyweight championship victory over the weekend.

Dr. Willard Wigan MBE, sixty-four, has produced an impressive catalogue of miniature sculptures throughout his life – we’re talking fourteen camels fitting inside the eye of a needle, kind of miniature –  and considers himself to be ‘officially the greatest micro artist of all time’.

Willard prides himself on making the ‘most wondrous’ microscopic art in history and holds down an impressive fan base which includes Her Majesty the Queen, who invited him to Buckingham Palace after he sculpted her her very own miniature crown. 

But where did this unusual passion for miniature sculpting come from? 

Fundação Dionísio Pinheiro e Alice Cardoso Pinheiro / Facebook


Paul Ward Photography

Willard, who was diagnosed with autism later in life, was excluded from his classes as a result of his learning differences and, after constant humiliation from both his teachers and his peers, closed himself off, fully immersing himself in the world of sculpting.

His first sculpting masterpiece came after an experience with an ants nest in his back garden; using just his dad’s razor blade, a five-year-old Willard sculpted, built and constructed a whole miniature village – complete with tables, chairs and a fully-functioning playground – for ants using only twigs.

Recalling the moment his talent was discovered, Willard told Proper Manchester: “When my mum saw what I’d created, she brought it all into the house and said to me ‘If you make them smaller, your name is going to get bigger.’

“From there, my journey to create the smallest sculptures in the world began and I became possessed with it. My mum kept telling me I was the best, and that encouragement made me truly believe it.”

Paul Ward Photography


Paul Ward Photography

And fast forwarding nearly six decades, Willard has dedicated his entire life to the art of micro sculpting, creating an array of sculptures such as a tiny Mona Lisa and a minuscule London Bridge, some of which have sold for up to £200K.

And most recently, the artist decided to use his talent to pay tribute to a very new victory; Tyson Fury’s Heavyweight Championship victory last weekend. 

A huge boxing fan himself, Willard has long regarded the Wythenshawe-born Tyson to not only be the greatest boxer of all time, but a mental health advocate, an inspiration and a philosopher in his own right. He said: “He’s an example at what can be achieved when you’re going through a dark tunnel. He inspires people to believe in themselves. He’s not just a boxer, he’s a philosopher as well.”

He also sees similarities between himself and the boxer, noting that he and Tyson are both the best at what they do, and both have inspiring stories to tell.

Paul Ward Photography

Using a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush, Willard worked on the sculpture – which features a set of green boxing gloves and black shorts emblazoned with ‘Gypsy King’ – for four weeks in his Birmingham workshop.

He eventually titled the piece ‘Hard as Nails’, noting that not only is Tyson hard as nails, but he has ‘nailed mental health, he nailed Deontay Wilder, and he’s also nailing the World Heavyweight Championship, and he will keep that nailed down’.

‘Hard as Nails’ is now on display at the Birmingham Contemporary Art Gallery, though you can view more of Willard’s pieces over on his website.

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HEROES OF MANCHESTER: Meet the firefighter who ran Manchester Marathon in full kit to raise money for Alzheimer’s UK

A video of Andy crossing the finish line seven hours after the marathon began went viral over the weekend

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Andy Ball / Facebook & JustGiving

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service firefighter managed to raise thousands of pounds for Alzheimer’s UK after running a marathon in his full fire fighting kit.

The annual Manchester Marathon took place over the weekend and, as is the case every year, thousands of people used the 26.2 mile run as an opportunity to raise money for a charity close to their hearts.

But one ambitious marathon-runner decided to take the challenge to the next level; Andy Ball, a fire fighter for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), and his friend and colleague Ryan Jones ran the marathon in full fire kit – complete with a breathing apparatus cylinder – all in order to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK and Dementia UK.

The organisation is the UK’s leading dementia research charity and funds world-class pioneering scientists to find preventions, treatments and a cure for both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Andy Ball / Facebook

Andy, a dad of two from St. Helens, has run two marathons in fire kit in the past, both to raise money for charity and other good causes. But this year, his motivation was a little closer to the heart; his grandad Derek suffers from dementia and having experienced first-hand the impact the disease can have upon both the individual and their families, Andy wanted to make a difference.

He told Proper Manchester: “I’ve had a lot of personal experience with dementia in my own family – my Grandad Derek suffers from the disease, so I’ve seen first-hand not only the awful effects it has upon the sufferer, but the impact it has on loved ones and relatives, too.”

Andy explained that his decision wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, however; preparation for the marathon was gruelling, with him training for months in advance. After he cut down on beer – arguably the most difficult task of them all – he started going on regular runs with his dogs, adding more weight to his clothing each time to prepare his body for the weight and the heat of his fire kit.

Andy explained: “The oxygen tank is approximately 15kg, and the rest of the kit comes in at around 10kg, so we had a good 30kg of extra weight.”

And in the rare Mancunian sunshine experienced over the weekend, this extra weight proved to be quite the challenge, with Andy recalling how difficult the marathon became as a result of the layers and weight.

He said: “It took us over seven hours to complete the marathon. But the intention for me was to get over that finish line on that same day… It was the hardest marathon I’ve run so far. It was very hard, very challenging. It didn’t help that the sun was out, either.”

Andy also challenged himself to complete the last mile of the marathon using the oxygen from his oxygen tank, known as being ‘on air’ in firefighter speak, something that only made the task all the more gruelling.

However, he noted that the atmosphere throughout the run was ‘brilliant’, saying that the people of Manchester were the ones to get him through. He said: “The atmosphere throughout the whole marathon was brilliant – the people of Manchester were just amazing and that’s what got me through to the very end.”

And, speaking of the moment he was greeted by his wife and children at the finish line – a moment captured on video and viewed by thousands of people across the country – Andy said: “If there had been no one at the finish line, there’d be nothing for me to carry on for. That was everything to me, having my wife and kids waiting for me there. It was just fantastic.”

And perhaps in even more miraculous news, Andy isn’t in any pain from his marathon today and is instead spending his day off ‘having a couple of beers with the dogs’ – I’d say that’s well deserved. 

Across two different GoFundMe pages, Andy and Ryan set a goal of £6,000 – but they have completely smashed that today with a combined sum of £10,372 at the time of writing.

To donate to their cause, visit the Dementia UK GoFundMe and the Alzheimer’s Research UK GoFundMe.

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