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Feature

Manchester’s Primark building has an incredible secret history behind it

If only these walls could talk…

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Gerald England / Geograph

Before Primark became the shining beacon of cheap, it was Lewis’s – and until around 10 years ago my mum still called it that.

It’s like how House of Fraser is still called Kendals or Starbursts called Opal Fruits, and I’m ‘just supposed to know’ what the heck she is on about.

The first Lewis’s to open outside of Liverpool – where it originated – selling men’s and boy’s clothing, was the Manchester branch, which opened its doors way back in 1877.

The company was known for its large, elaborate corporate events and they spent a huge amount on promotions, sales and definitely Christmas.

Lewis’s bought Selfridges in 1951, which was struggling back then. It became a part of the US retail giant Sears, and opened Miss Selfrige in 1996. From then, Lewis’s pretty much went downhill and ended up in the high street graveyard alongside C&A, Woolworths and most recently BHS.

KEN232G Greater Manchester PTE 6392 Mosley Street

One of the original entrance ways to the store, which was long and curved, can still be seen today if you notice the glass-covered walkways that extend from Burger King to Caffè Nero.

This sort of explains how you can go into Primark from the bus station and end up on Market Street, wondering what magic happened in between the aisles and aisles of cheap clothing that made you teleport to another street.

Lewis's Arcade
testchamber.net

As a kid this was as mind bending as cinema complexes are to this day. I just don’t understand how they all fit ok?!

Anyway, if you’ve ever wondered why Caffè Nero looks like it’s just been plonked between two buildings, it’s because it was. Around the back of the coffee shop is the original glass walkway in all its glory.

Another impressive feat of the Primark building that it owes to Mr Lewis, is the massive dome on the top. It’s a huge and incredible bit of architecture that is pretty well hidden.

On the fifth floor of the building you’ll find what was once the grand ballroom, complete with a sprung dance floor and the concave side of that dome roof.

goneeightyfive.com

The ballroom was home to massive staff parties, summer balls and Christmas get-togethers, as well as being used as an exhibition hall for whatever was going on at the time.

Quite literally everything happened in this ballroom from football player autograph signings to dance contests.

It’s pretty much been left for decades now – mostly asbestos is to blame, and the fact that despite Strictly’s efforts no one ballroom dances anymore.

If you scuttle down the stairs to the basement of Primark, and I don’t mean the kid’s section, there’s a whole other floor below that.

28dayslater

The sub-basement floor, believe it or not, was once flooded as part of an elaborate effort to create a Venice-themed area complete with gondolas.

The story goes that the basement was flooded (probably still is now) and the good folk of Manchester were charged for a thrilling and yet simultaneously incredibly slow ride on a gondola. It didn’t stick around for too long as you can imagine.

In 1975, this basement became the location of an IRA bombing that targeted key points of Manchester and the rest of the UK in a vicious 3-week campaign.

In total, 19 people were injured by this, and the basement was boarded up and has been forgotten about ever since. You actually can’t find any pictures of it, it lives only in the memories of a very small population of Manchester.

Google Maps

Or at least you’d think it was boarded up.

At some point in the ’70s, Peter Stringfellow opened up Millionaire Club – a disco venue that was popular amongst all flare-wearing, flop-haired Mancs.

The club was located in the basement and pretty swiftly got a risqué reputation, from topless staff to regular strippers, as well as one bloke who robbed a Fiesta and tried to ram it through the entrance after being refused entry.

So next time you head to Primark to get some one quid knickers, think about all the tales that will be lurking in those walls, from gondola rides to nightclubs, ballrooms – and I can only imagine many ghosts…

Feature

Take a look inside the creepy abandoned Belle Vue Showcase cinema

Who else has great memories of this place?

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Mark Gardener

The Belle Vue Showcase cinema was somewhat of an iconic venue in Manchester, however, it is set to be demolished and replaced. 

The news came late last year that the cinema would be demolished to make way for a new secondary school.

The school, ran by the Co-op, is planning on having its first year sevens students in by September, although they’ll be placed in temporary buildings.

Sir Robert McAlpine / Space Architects

The new Co-Op Academy Belle Vue school is set to be finished in 2023, and a first glimpse of what it will look like has now been released. 

Newly released documents show a modern L-shaped building, which will be split into three different ‘zones’, including a two-storey sports block – complete with a sports hall, auditorium, and drama studio.

Mark Gardener
Mark Gardener

The iconic cinema first opened its doors in 1989 boasting a huge 14 screens in the entertainment complex.

Closing its doors back in March 2020, the cinema had been left abandoned all last year and started to look seriously creepy. 

Mark Gardener
Mark Gardener

The timeline for demolition hasn’t been given yet, and parents had to have applied for their child’s place in the new school by November 2nd last year – in case you were wanting to. 

Once the grounds of Belle Vue zoo and amusement park, the area will definitely have some stories to tell.

Mark Gardener
Mark Gardener

The Belle Vue Showcase cinema was one of the first multi-screen complexes to open up, bringing American films, no queues and car parks to fit a 1,000 cars – it was unlike anything that had ever been seen before when it first opened back in 1989.

Back in February last year when rumours began to circulate the cinema would be closing, Mark Barlow, general manager at Showcase Cinemas UK, said: “As the leader in UK cinema innovation, Showcase Cinemas remains committed to operating a cinema in Manchester and as such are in active discussions about future opportunities for a new, state-of-art cinema in the city.”

If you’re going to miss this iconic venue, the company are said to be looking into a new unnamed location for another cinema. They added that they ‘remain fully committed to the city’. 

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Feature

The 12 retro chocolate bars that need to be brought back immediately

Nostalgia guaranteed…

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Sadly many of the chocolate bars we were once delighted to see in our lunchbox no longer exist, snatched from us way before their time.

And I’m not the only one upset. Hundreds of petitions have been set up to bring back some retro classics and a handful have even been successful.

Last year, Cadbury announced it’s bringing back the Marble bar (only in Australia, unfortunately), proving that nagging works.

We’re still upset about a few other discontinued chocolate treats though…

White Maltesers

These delicious honeycomb and white chocolate balls were last tasted in 2014 and Mars have confirmed they have no intention of bringing them back. It’s a crime against humanity.

Poundland does its own version if you can’t go another minute with eating one. Sure, it’s not the original but they are almost as good.

Credit: Cadbury

Cadbury Dream

This white chocolate revelation from Cadbury was taken from us too soon. It first graced the shelves back in 2002 and fizzled away just a few short years after.

You can still get the original in Australia and New Zealand and import it over if you’re that dedicated to the cause. Personally, I’d like to see this in corner shops all around the UK.

Credit: Galaxy

Galaxy Truffles

There was nothing quite like the feeling of dunking your hand in a box of Celebrations and pulling out a Galaxy Truffle.

That feeling was pure happiness and frankly, we all need it back. They’ve released some sort of knock-off Nigel version but I’m not buying it. We want the originals.

Credit: Cadbury

Time Out

It wasn’t until I started researching this that I discovered Time Out bars had sneakily been taken off our shelves and replaced with a single wafer version called Time Out Wafer.

Clever but you’re not fooling me with this smaller alternative.

Credit: Cadbury

Cadbury Snaps

Two words we didn’t know we needed putting together; chocolate and crisps. Essentially these bad boys were chocolate Pringles and how iconic were they?

We lost these to the discontinued pile back in 2010 and things haven’t been the same since.

Credit: Mars

Mars Delight

The Mars Delight led a short life, just 4 small years. In part due to the fact that it was one of the most calorific bars ever made and it was released just when we were all getting fit – unfortunate timing.

6,423 signed a petition to bring these back in 2016 but there was no luck.

Credit: Cadbury

Flake Snow

She is beauty, she is grace! Another bad decision from Cadbury was to remove the Flake Snow from our lives.

Nothing beats the promo of this either, a sponsored photoshoot at Anthea Turner’s wedding?! ICONIC.

Credit: Fox’s

Echo

Fox’s Echo bars were classic lunch box biscuits. They were discontinued and replaced with an inferior bar that we won’t even give any limelight.

Absolutely partial to a mint one but nothing could beat that mix of white and milk chocolate that would just melt in your mouth.

Credit: Cadbury

Cadbury Marble

Cadbury Marble is only back in Australia so it is definitely going in the list of things we need back in the UK.

Marble is quite possibly one of the most missed creations of Cadbury, complete with swirls of milk chocolate, white chocolate and hazelnut praline. Dribbling already. 

Credit: Cadbury

Wispa Mint

These rivalled Aero Mint (easily) but unfortunately never proved popular enough, being taken from our shelves back in 2003. Something about that velvety chocolate though… 

Credit: Cadbury

Cadbury Taz

The best thing you could get with the spare change you’d find down the sofa was a Cadbury Taz or a Freddo. The Taz has been replaced with a caramel Freddo instead, and I’m sorry but it’s just not the same.

Credit: Cadbury

Cadbury Spira

This is like an ’80s version of a Twirl. Because I was born in 1996 I can’t comment on this bad boy, but I’ve heard good things and there is a petition to bring it back so they must’ve been popular enough to create an army of fans.  

Have we missed any? Let us know in the Facebook comments…

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Feature

There’s an abandoned bar hidden underneath Manchester’s Victoria Station

Would you dare explore underneath Victoria Station?

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Finest Media & 28dayslater.co.uk

The Urban Collective search cities and urban landscapes for hidden, unexplored derelict sites, filming the process so we get to see. 

Recently, The Urban Collective headed underneath Manchester’s Victoria Station to see the inner workings beneath the station.

Manchester’s Victoria Train Station opened all the way back in 1844, and was designed to help connect Leeds with the port city of Liverpool via train. 

The initial building was designed by the ‘Father of Railways’, George Stephenson, who was heavily involved in the UK’s early rail networks. 

Finest Media
Finest Media

The original building was a long, single-storey structure that you can still see just next to the large Arena steps. 

By the early 1900s, the station had 17 platforms and a huge façade, designed by William Dawes, which still exists today.

The Urban Collective headed underneath the station via the old station offices in the main building, and descended into the now derelict B.R.S.A club.

Finest Media

28dayslater.co.uk

The club was an underground bar owned by the British Railway Staff Association, and operated as a typical working men’s club during the ’70s and ’80s.

It’s tucked away below the station and the street itself, with punters heading down for a pint near the top station entrance. 

28dayslater.co.uk
28dayslater.co.uk

You could also get in via the glass building over the road, which later became a barbers.

The bar, topped with glass, as well as wooden floors and other original features are still intact. There’s even a creepy cellar full of crates and thousands of discarded lager bottles.

Old posters are still on the walls, plus there’s even electricity still supplied which makes the fan above the dance floor occasionally spin. 

Members nicknamed their fave spot ‘The Vic Bars’, and train staff regularly attended day and night to see organists and cabaret acts throughout the week. 

28dayslater.co.uk

The club was eventually closed in 1992 and has remained derelict and forgotten ever since. 

However, the club unit is now under offer as a potential new club, pub or retail unit, despite the considerable amount of work that needs to be undertaken. 

You can check out The Urban Collective on YouTube here.

 

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