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Feature

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

If only these walls could talk…

Alex Watson

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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.

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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

What the chancellor’s summer statement will mean for you and your family

Everything you need to know…

Alex Watson

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Bill Boaden / Geograph

Rishi Sunak has announced today the economic schemes for post-coronavirus, and they include some pretty big changes.

Mr Sunak announced a £2bn kickstart scheme designed to create jobs, incentives for businesses to bring people off furlough, VAT cuts, a stamp duty holiday plus more.

Details of how this package will be paid for – by tax increases and borrowing – are expected to be unveiled in the chancellor’s Autumn budget.

Here’s a breakdown of his main points:

Furlough

Members of the public who have been placed on furlough as part of the government’s Job Retention Scheme are aware that this is coming to end in October, but many people have been concerned for the future of their jobs.

Mr Sunak today announced an incentive for businesses to bring back those employees that are on furlough, with a £1,000 bonus for every person they bring back into the workplace.

He said: “So for businesses to get the bonus, the employee must be paid at least £520 on average, in each month from November to the end of January – the equivalent of the lower earnings limit in National Insurance.”

Employment

The chancellor has also announced a £2 billion kickstart scheme that will pay employers to create jobs for people aged between 18 and 24. The government emphasised that they need to be ‘good jobs’, and the government will pay six months of wages plus an amount to cover overheads. The grant for a 24-year-old will be around £6,500. 

There will also be a new £2,000 payment to firms who take on apprentices. This is alongside an unspecified amount of funding for career advisors.

On top of that, there’ll be traineeships to get young people ready for work, including work experience placements and work preparation for 16-24-year olds. 

Tourism & Hospitality

The chancellor has cut VAT for the tourism and hospitality sectors on food, accommodation and attractions from the usual 20% to 5%, which will come into effect from next Wednesday and last until January 2021.

Mr Sunak has also announced that everyone in the country will be given 50% off meal and drinks for the whole of August through a ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme.

This scheme sees a 50% reduction up to a value of £10 per head on sit down meals and non-alcoholic drinks Monday to Wednesday.

The chancellor hopes this will get 1.8 million people who work in the hospitality industry back in jobs and ‘customers back in restaurants, cafes and pubs’.

Businesses can claim the money back from the government and the funds will appear in their bank account within five working days.

More details on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme are yet to be confirmed.

It is currently being debated as to whether the reduced VAT will be passed onto the consumer in lower prices as many in the sector will consider this as an opportunity to shore up their finances and ail their business.

Buying a Home

If you’re in the market for house-buying, the chancellor announced a stamp duty holiday which could save you thousands.

The rate at which stamp duty will be placed on a home has been increased from the usual £125,000 to £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland, with immediate effect until March 31st.

The stamp duty holiday hopes to get people buying houses again, a sector which suffered a big drought throughout coronavirus.

The chancellor explained that on average people buying a home could save £4,500, and current homeowners moving on could see savings as big as £14,999.

Many people have expressed concerns regarding how this will help first-time buyers. Around 16% of housing sales in England are not liable for stamp duty as is the case with first-time buyers.

Currently, first-time buyers only pay a 5% stamp duty on houses between £300,000 and £500,000 which means this scheme will not affect new buyers directly.

Those buying a new home or second home will reap the benefits of this scheme.

Green Home Grant

Mr Sunak has announced a budget for home improvements that will help your home become ‘greener’, for instance, double glazing, eco-friendly boilers, low-energy lighting, energy-efficient doors and loft, floor or wall insulation.

The scheme will start in September and will see the government pay for at least two-thirds of the cost of home improvements that save energy, up to a value of £5,000.

Low-income households are expected to receive a larger contribution of up to £10,000.

This is expected to create new jobs and enable the UK to achieve its 2050 goal of net-zero carbon emissions. More information can be found here.

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Feature

Jack the Ripper ‘grew up in Ashton and went to University of Manchester’

Ashton – home to Ikea, PG Tips and… Jack the Ripper..?!

Alex Watson

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Zboralski / Wikimedia

It’s widely agreed that we do not know the true identity of Jack the Ripper, but one author has claimed that he was actually from very close to home.

This claim comes from an author called Richard Patterson, who wrote a book titled ‘Jack the Ripper: The Works of Francis Thompson’ – with Francis hailing from Ashton.

In case you’ve got no idea what or who ‘Jack the Ripper’ is – I’m not entirely sure how you’ve got this far in your life without knowing – I’ll clear some things up for you.

Essentially, Jack the Ripper is what we now know as a serial killer. Jack famously stalked the streets of Whitechapel in London in 1888, and brutally murdered five sex workers.

Illustrated London News/Wikimedia

The true identity of Jack the Ripper was never discovered. Even back then people were desperate for fame and claimed to be The Ripper, but nothing was ever concluded.

It was the level of gruesome horror of the murders that was shocking at the time – and now – with the killer removing internal organs, and mutilating the genitals, face and abdomen of the women.

What was often noted was the intricate surgical skill and knowledge of the killer which indicated they knew what they were doing, perhaps they were a surgeon or even a butcher?

Well, Richard certainly thinks so. He claims that Francis Thompson was a poet that grew up in Ashton, attending Owens Medical College in Manchester as a surgeon, before moving down to London, living on the streets in Whitechapel and then becoming famous for his ‘works’.

essaysinhistory/Wikimedia

Richard makes a few main points in his book to argue his case; the childhood of the Ripper; the skill required; and finally, fame and fortune.

So we’ll kick off with the skill because we’ve already touched on that.

The accuracy, speed and expertise required to do the horrendous acts the Ripper did means they needed to have some pretty high skills with a knife or a scalpel.

The poet Francis Thompson, Patterson is very keen to note, would have been very proficient in the use of knives and scalpels. Thompson also had extensive knowledge of the human anatomy due to his six-year long medicinal studies at Manchester’s Owens Medical College.

jtrforums/Wikimedia

Next, the Ripper’s childhood and how the heck he became a dab hand with a surgical knife.

It’s now known that serial killers often are categorised as ‘psychopaths’ and have a very particular set of behavioural traits that often show from a young age.

Of course, Patterson has got good reason to believe that Francis Thompson had all these behavioural characteristics.

From bed wetting to animal cruelty and arson – which even made it to the Ashton Reporter newspaper – Thompson had all of these.

National Police Gazette/Wikimedia

He also had an unhealthy attitude to women and has been quoted as writing the following about a doll: “With another doll of much personal attraction, I was on the terms of intimate affection, till a murderous impulse of scientific curiosity incited me to open her head, that I might investigate what her brains were like”.

The book concludes that Thompson’s childhood ‘that included fire-starting, mutilation of dolls and refusal to communicate’, showed he was unsound and most likely a psychopath.

And finally, fame. Thompson completed his studies at Owens Medical College and headed for the bright lights and big city to pursue a career of writing in London.

Many argue that he pretty swiftly had a ‘mental breakdown’ when he discovered that the streets of London were pretty unkind to a Northern poet.

He became destitute and homeless, living in shelters in the East End. During this time he became outrageously addicted to opium, he also entered a relationship with a sex worker whose identity was never revealed, who looked after him.

Robert Lamb/Geograph

Patterson attributes the later breakdown and failure of this relationship as the main motive for Thompson killing sex worker on the streets.

What was also important, Patterson points out, is that Thompson was similar to his victims, i.e. ‘destitute and undesirable’ so he would be ‘invisible’.

The book states: “They needed to be like Francis Thompson. When the murders happened, Thompson, then an ex-medical student, lived just a 15-minute walk to where all five women were knifed. The bed of this man, whose writing shows a hatred of prostitutes, was only 100 metres up the road from the last victim. At this time Thompson was carrying, under a long coat, a knife, which he kept razor sharp. All while he was hunting for a prostitute after their failed relationship.”

The Ripper murders ended abruptly with little fanfare but Patterson has got a reason for that too.

Around the time of the murders in 1888, Francis Thompson sent his poetry to a magazine, Merrie England, and was somewhat ‘discovered’.

From there, Thompson was off the streets and writing, out of trouble and less likely to get caught.

There are about five other people that it could be according to this blog, but Patterson makes a pretty convincing case for Jack the Ripper being Francis Thompson from Ashton-Under-Lyne.

You can get his book here and come to your own conclusion, I’ve got it on good authority that it’s an interesting read (It’s also only £3.50 on kindle – bargain).

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Feature

How the Trafford Centre became one of Manchester’s most iconic landmarks

How it became our favourite place…

Alex Watson

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Seth Whales

The Trafford Centre has been a landmark in Manchester for 22 years now, full of nostalgia for most of us, and the luxury of a ‘big day out’ to the land with fountains and a weird giant indoor ship.

With the recent sad news that the company who own the centre, Intu, has gone into administration, threatening the future of the Trafford Centre, we thought we’d take a look back at how it became the famous domed palace we all know and love.

Let’s kick it off with the initial building work, way back when Trafford Park was a huge industrial estate.

It might shock you to know, but a lot of people were against the idea of a whopping American-style capitalism-eat-your-heart-out mall in their beloved borough of Trafford.

Actually, maybe it won’t come as a shock to you…

The Trafford Centre, Manchester

Anyway, the proposals for the Trafford Centre flitted around for nine years amid concerns regarding traffic and what it would mean to the retail hub in the city centre.

By 1993 the Trafford Centre got the green light and was given full planning permission, but even that recieved a backlash that ended up in the high court. Eventually, in 1995, the House of Lords gave the go-ahead.

Construction took just 27 months and cost a whopping £600 million, and like any bit of building work it was over budget – only by a mere £350 million though.

Right, let’s move onto the design of the thing. It’s unforgettable, what with its giant blue domes that make you wonder whether it’s some sort of holy place of worship.

It’s pretty evident to see the Trafford Centre was designed with opulence in mind, the central dome is claimed to be bigger than St Paul’s Cathedral and cost a whopping £5 million to construct – and serves no real purpose but design.

Trafford centre

The palm trees on Peel Avenue are imported all the way from California, and The Great Hall is even home to the world’s largest chandelier, made from Chinese crystal and weighing a huge five and a half tonnes. That chandelier even has a staircase inside. 

The largest food court in Europe, The Orient, has a colour changing ceiling that you’ll find will be pink at dawn, blue in the afternoon, red and purple at dusk and features twinkling stars at night – just to really trick you into staying in the Trafford Centre all day.

The toilets are even grand, winning ‘Loo of the Year’ – a national award – for 17 years in a row. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Trafford Centre without some (read: a lot) of marble. Imported from across the globe, the Trafford Centre houses 45,000 square metres of marble and granite flooring that in 1996 was worth around £5.8 million.

The marble floors and 3.5 miles of brass found on the handrails and other detailing are cleaned and polished every single night.

intu Trafford Centre

The design was a collaboration between Chapman Taylor, an architectural practice, and Manchester-based Leach Rhodes Walker. In total, 24 architects worked on the project full time, monitoring the construction and interior design. That is after they produced over 3,000 separate shop drawings.

The Trafford Centre was even built equipped with an additional fourth floor during construction to make it ‘future proof’.

The whole building is stuffed full of little nods to important figures and places. The ship in The Orient nods to the Manchester Ship Canal and the industrial revolution, and in the window panes and interior cornices you’ll find the Lancashire Rose.

You’ll also find portraits of the owners along the walls and even the Mercedes that belonged to the mother of the Peel Holdings’ chairman.

FerdyMayne1/Twitter

In the early naughties, there were a lot of rumours that the Trafford Centre was home to thousands of body bags in its basement. Have a see for yourself here – we’ll let you come to your own conclusions about that one!

In 2013, Trafford Centre got its very own Sea Life Centre aquarium, adding to the cinema, Laser Quest, mini-golf, dodgems, bowling alleys and even the adjacent Chill Factore and indoor skydiving centre making it once and for all, a one-stop-shop for everything.

Since 2018, the Trafford Centre’s Barton Square has been getting a multi-million-pound redevelopment. Inside the square is a new dome, constructed of over 1,800 pieces of glass and weighing an impressive 250 tonnes. It also features 22 bees as a tribute to the 22 lives lost in the Manchester Arena Bomb.

There are also 33 detailed Roman murals and around the square are gold-leaf embellished columns, pilasters and the Grecian key cornices.

You’ll also find 43 bronze busts, 120 marble statues and most importantly a brand spanking (and massive) Primark store.

intu Trafford Centre

So what’s next for the place that welcomes over 30 million visitors in a (normal) year?

Well, things look set for a period of uncertainty due to majority shareowner Intu’s file for administration.

Some rumours are suggesting that the Peel Group will buy back it’s ownership of the Trafford Centre. It has been confirmed that TraffordCity and City Gateway developments are still going ahead, which also includes the brand new one of a kind Therme wellbeing spa!

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