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Feature

Piccadilly Gardens used to have a massive Lunatic Asylum there

The area has a sinister past…

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Peter McDermott / Geograph

We’ve all seen a few dodgy figures lurking around Piccadilly Gardens – but maybe, just maybe it’s the spectre of something more than the shady drug dealers who frequent it these days, perhaps a ghost of the areas past.

Piccadilly Gardens has gone through a lot of changes over the years, and having a couple of beers on the grass in summer – well, not this summer – is a far cry from how the area has been used throughout its dark past.

Maybe we wouldn’t complain as much about the concrete eyesore of a wall, if we compared it to the state of the site in its earliest days.

Wellcome Collection gallery

First up, let’s talk about the Daub Holes.

In the 1700s, Piccadilly Gardens was home to boggy, clay pits known as Daub Holes (‘Daub’ was mud, clay, or ‘excrement’, used in 18th century construction). Women that were suspected of scandalous behaviour were dunked into these 615-foot-long pits (like ‘Get Your Own Back’, but less fun).

The Lord of the Manor – who owned the land – eventually grew bored of hanging dishonourable women out to dry, and replaced the soggy holes with an ornamental pond. For the first time, in 1755, Piccadilly Gardens became an area for public use.

However, the space was occupied by more than just a pond, as the newly built Manchester Royal Infirmary took up most of the site. The 80-bed hospital was opened in 1755, and had 85 inpatients by 1764 (meaning patients had to share beds).

A year later, the Manchester Lunatic Asylum opened its doors. This was an era in which rehabilitation for the mentally ill didn’t exist – most patients were admitted and then confined to an asylum for the rest of their lives.

It’s almost unbelievable now, but women would be institutionalised by husbands, brothers and sons for having ‘strong opinions.’ Asylums not only alienated the mentally ill, but became an easy way to muzzle the vulnerable.

Mike Peel / Wikimedia

The Lunatic Asylum stood in Piccadilly Gardens for a grim 85 years, before moving to Cheadle, where it became the Cheadle Royal Hospital that we know today (no straitjackets included). The Infirmary moved to Oxford Road in 1908 and is now part of the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, alongside Saint Mary’s.

So what happened in Piccadilly Gardens before the big move? Well, that public-access pond, first suggested by The Lord of the Manor (remember him?), became home to some suspicious activity.

Wellcome Collection gallery

In 1892, passers-by kept noticing a dog barking at the pond. It went ignored, until a coach driver finally went to investigate and found a body lying in the water.

Somehow, this dog had sensed the presence of Winifred Hughes, a young woman who had committed suicide in the Piccadilly pond. Hughes had weighed herself down to the bottom of the water, filling her pockets with rocks, after discovering she was pregnant out of wedlock.

There was a silver lining, however. The dog, who was a stray, was given a permanent home in Leeds and was cared for by a Reverend for the rest of its years.

After a dark history full of abuse, 1914 saw Piccadilly Gardens turned into the largest green space in the city centre, which included an on-site public library (finally, something good). The hospital’s old basement was transformed into a ‘sunken garden,’ patching up its not-so-benevolent past with flowers and trees.

Then 2001-2003 saw yet another redevelopment. This controversial change was praised by some, slated by others, and it gave Piccadilly Gardens a couple of new features – like the much-hated Berlin Wall.

LGIM Real Assets

Back to present day, the council is in talks to redevelop the space yet again – with part of the wall set to be demolished.

The landscape architects at LDA Design have been passed the torch, set with the task of continuing the development that began with the watery, woman-punishing pits of doom.

Whatever the future holds for the Gardens, it’s safe to say anything is an improvement on that.

Feature

Incredible old Coronation Street photos give rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of the soap in the ’60s

A trip down memory lane…

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Mirrorpix

There were some extraordinary sights to behold when photographers gained access to the hallowed set of Coronation Street half a century ago.

Not least was prim and proper Annie Walker, landlady of the Rovers Return, lying down on a bed with husband Jack – in broad daylight too!

Campaigner Mary Whitehouse would have had a fit!

But it was all perfectly innocent. Actress Doris Speed was taking a break from filming to brush up on her script while fellow actor Arthur Leslie was catching up on forty winks.

It was just one of many insights into everyday life on the set at the nation’s favourite soap in April 1968.

Street stars were snapped in the canteen, in make-up, relaxing in the rehearsal room and even at home.

Doris Speed (Annie Walker) and Arthur Leslie (Jack Walker) relax between takes, May 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

The front of the Rovers Return – part of an inside set, May 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

We saw what the wooden sets looked like from behind the TV façade. Even the famous front of the Rovers was an inside prop without a cobblestone in sight.

The front doors and twitching curtains on the Street were shown to be little more than flimsy panels bolted on to scaffolding.

It was just about enough to look convincing on low resolution black and white TVs. But at least the curtains were real!

The outdoor set was only built in 1968 – eight years after Coronation Street was first aired in December 1960. Before then, everything was on the inside.

To mark the occasion, Granada organised a cast publicity shot celebrating the wedding of Dennis Tanner (Philip Lowrie) and Jenny Sutton (Mitzi Rogers).

Included in the line-up with the newlyweds were Annie Walker (Doris Speed), Ena Sharples (Violet Carson), Emily Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire), Valerie Barlow (Anne Reid), Ken Barlow (William Roache), Len Fairclough (Peter Adamson) and Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix).

Coronation Street’s new outdoor set – wood and scaffolding – in May 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

The cast line up for Dennis and Jenny’s wedding, May 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

All the TV shots were on a tight angle, so it was impossible to see the end of the scaffolding clearly visible behind the happy couple on the small screen.

Originally the houses on the interior set were built to three-quarters scale. Actors had to walk more slowly than usual to make the houses look normal.

Everything was shot inside because early production techniques made it difficult to record and edit sequences filmed in different locations.

The studios at Granada were not big enough for the entire street to be built in one section, so it had to be split into two halves.

The pavements and cobbled street were painted on to the studio floor!

In spite of the limitations and cramped conditions, some the Street’s most dramatic scenes were filmed there – including the collapse of Number 7 due to a faulty beam in 1965.

There was more tension two years later when Ena Sharples was buried under the rubble of a train crash. There was an agonising wait to see if the Street stalwart was alive or dead.

Fortunately she was dug out by Dennis Barlow and later discharged herself from hospital to stride back into the Rovers as bold as brass.

Margot Bryant (Minnie Caldwell) in the Granada canteen, April 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

Interior shot of the corner shop and lounge, May 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

The new outside set was built on railway sidings near the Granada studios. The TV storyline said it was due to the demolition of the Mission Hall and Elliston’s raincoat factory, and the building of maisonettes opposite the terrace.

The actors called the new set ‘the coldest place on earth’ because the wind was naturally funneled directly down the street. Filming outside was rare anyway as it was far more expensive than interior shots.

It was a lot more cosy inside in the corner shop counter and lounge, complete with a battery of stage lights and cameras.

It was cosier still in the canteen where Margot Bryant, who played the wonderful Minnie Caldwell, was pictured queuing up with her tray.

Taking her turn in make-up was Eileen Derbyshire who played Emily Nugent, the longest-standing female character in the serial.

Eileen Derbyshire (Emily Nugent) in make-up, April 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner) runs through her script, April 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

Philip Lowrie (Dennis Barlow) and Mitzi Rogers (Jenny Sutton) rehearse their lines, May 1968. CREDIT: Mirrorpix

Emily first appeared on screen in January 1961 and only left in January 2016 after a stint of 55 years.

The 1968 set fared less well. It became the New York Street on the Granada Studios tour but resurfaced occasionally in Coronation Street.

The first time was in 2004 when it doubled as the Davenports car dealership where Sally Webster had an affair with her boss Ian Davenport.

It was also the strip club where Lloyd Mullaney met Cheryl Gray and the nightclub where Kylie Platt was working in 2012.

An almost full-size street exterior was finally built in the Granada backlot in 1982 – and was officially opened by the Queen.

If you enjoyed this head over to the iNostalgia website here for more interesting tales about Manchester’s history.

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Feature

Artist creates haunting post-apocalyptic images of Manchester

This is so spooky…

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James Chadderton Art

We’ve probably never been as close to an actual ‘apocalypse’ than this shoddy year…

James Chadderton is a British mixed-media artist who works consistently on creating apocalyptic landscapes.

They often show nightmare-inducing scenes of cityscapes that blend the line between reality and fiction.

James takes inspiration from dystopian films and video games, drawing the viewer into a crazy alternative reality. 

James Chadderton Art
James Chadderton Art

Using famous Manchester landmark he turns the urban landscapes into haunting post-apocalyptic scenes. 

Not only does it give us an insight into what the world might look like after an apocalypse, it gives you the chance to let your imagination run wild and wonder how and why. 

James’ portfolio includes work for Manchester legend Peter Hook, who he designed the cover of his EP 1101/2011 for. He’s also even worked with EA on the Battlefield franchise. 

His work has been displayed up and down the country but now you can have it in your very own home. 

James Chadderton Art
James Chadderton Art

He’s also done images of London, Liverpool and even the iconic Blackpool tower. 

You can see more images here and even buy one for your house! 

 

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Feature

What the stars of legendary ’90s show Gladiators are up to these days

Including prison, drugs and religion.

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gldiatorstv/Instagram

It’s been 20 years since the hit ’90s show Gladiators graced our screens for the last time, but where are all the muscly stars now?

The fun-filled show was packed with dramatic battles, HUUUUGE muscles and too-tight lycra.

Let’s begin with Michael Ahearne, aka Warrior, who started life as a junior England rugby player before joining the hit show and earning up to £100,000 a year. 

In 1998 Ahearne was sent to prison for perverting the course of justice in a famous firearms case involved Phillip Glennon Jnr, an associate of former international cocaine baron Curtis ‘Cocky’ Warren. He was found guilty, and Ahearne served six months of his 15-month sentence.

Then in 2018, he was subject to a police raid of his home in the Wirral where officers uncovered a stash of anabolic steroids. He was arrested on suspicion of possessing Class C drugs with intent to supply but wasn’t charged in the end – however, Ahearne was charged for possessing CS spray and received a six month sentence suspended for 12 months.

Sharron Davies, otherwise known as Amazon, was a successful swimmer before the show, even winning a silver medal at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. She’s now a TV presenter.  

Mike Van Wijk, aka Wolf, was one of the most popular Gladiators, starring on the show for seven years in which time he became the main villain.

He’s now 67 and in the ‘best shape of his life’ with arms bigger than my head – he lives in New Zealand and owns his own business called Wolf’s Gym. This year, he announced on Lorraine that he’s begging producers to bring the show back. 

Diane Youdale, or Jet on the show, bowed out of the programme after four seasons due to a neck injury. She’s now a psychotherapist and pilates instructor. 

James ‘Hunter’ Crossley started on the show when he was just 19, and ended up secretly dating the show’s presenter Ulrika Jonsson between 1996 and 1997. Since Gladiators ended he spent years pursuing an acting career, but has consistently kept up with fitness. He’s now a personal trainer. 

Kim Betts, aka Lightning, was one of the toughest Gladiators. After bowing out of the Gladiator ring she took to property development and also has her own beauty parlour. She has maintained her physique and regularly posts gym photos on social media. 

Michael Wilson, known as Cobra, struggled with drink while on the show and by his own admission was sometimes ‘bleeding drunk’ while on the show. He admitted last year to press that he ‘didn’t take it too seriously’, adding: “There were end of show parties, when we had international Gladiators come over, we would be up all night boozing.”

Now, he is a motivational speaker attending schools and clubs up and down the country. He suffered with pneumonia last year and became seriously ill, blaming the tough workouts on the show for it. 

Jefferson ‘Shadow’ Kin found himself at the centre of a drug scandal in 1995. At the time he said: “There is no excuse for cheating. I was mixing with drugs before Gladiators and when I was tested during the show there were no traces of cocaine but they found steroids.”

He spent the best part of 20 years battling with drug addiction. He got clean and now works in a rehabilitation centre helping others with drug issues. 

Mark Smith, aka Rhino’, has made multiple TV appearances including a stint on EastEnders and in shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and NCIS: Los Angeles.

Warren Furman, known as Ace, became most well-known for his two-year engagement to Katie Price – who was then known as Jordan – before they broke up in 1999. However, he turned his back on show business, found god and now lives in York with his wife and two kids. 

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