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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you know the NHS was born in Manchester 74 years ago today?
Happy birthday to the NHS!
Today, as our treasured National Health Service marks its 74th anniversary, we’re taking a look back on its extensive history and the substantial role Manchester played in its creation.
Life before the NHS was a bleak one; before 1900, healthcare was typically provided by charities, poor law (the local welfare committees who operated workhouses) and a criminally unregulated private sector.
Others, including many in the lower middle class, struggled to afford treatment, relying on hospital casualty departments, kind-hearted doctors or dubious folk remedies – as a result of these archaic conditions, women frequently died during childbirth and the life expectancy for men was just forty-eight.
But in 1911, that was all set to change.
The National Insurance Act of 1911, something that many regard as the original groundworks for the NHS, was introduced and, for the first time, provided access to general practitioners for manual labourers and lower paid non-manual workers earning under a certain income.
However, this groundbreaking new system wasn’t without its flaws – fees for GPs were increasing for the middle class and wealthy who were outside the system, and the wives and children of National Insurance members were excluded, as was hospital treatment, meaning that many had to pay further fees or rely on older workers’ society insurance schemes or free, less reliable clinics for mothers and children.
Something needed to change.
Nearly two decades later, the Local Government Act 1929 gave authorities the power to transform Poor Law institutions and develop them into the modern hospitals we know today. And, fast forwarding another two decades and another world war, Aneurin Bevan was appointed as the minister of health and thus, the wheels for the UK’s first National Health Service were set in motion.
On July 5th 1948, after years of hard work from various medical and political figures who felt the current healthcare system was insufficient and needed to be revolutionised, the first NHS hospital offering free healthcare for all, regardless of class, was launched at Park Hospital Manchester – known today as Trafford General Hospital.
On that historic day, Bevan arrived to inaugurate the NHS by symbolically receiving the keys from Lancashire County Council. Nurses formed a ‘guard of honour’ outside the hospital to meet him and, from that day forward, the healthcare of the nation changed forever.
In the early days, there were of course some teething problems – not long after its launch, expenditure was already exceeding previous expectations and charges were considered for prescriptions to meet the rising costs. However, by the time the 1960s rolled around, these early adjustments were altered and it was considered to be a strong period of growth for the NHS, characterised by new developments in the availability of drugs.
Since its birth here in Manchester, our NHS has gone through many changes, improvements, updates and modernisation processes, with no one back in 1948 ever fathoming the way in which the service has developed, pioneered and expanded from Manchester across the entire country.
However, there’s still room for improvement.
Today, the NHS continues to face a national crisis – the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the impact that years of underfunding has had upon our health care service and the long-serving staff members and medical professionals that continue to hold it together.
In October 2020, it was revealed by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) that as many NHS nurses died from Covid than were killed during the entirety of the First World War.
But regardless of the hurdles thrown in its path, the NHS continues to valiantly serve the British public – the idea of a National Health Service once upon a time would have been unheard of, yet today we cannot imagine a life without it.
Happy 74th birthday to our wonderful NHS!
FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: The rise and fall of Tommy Ducks
From coffins as tables and knickers stapled to ceiling, there wasn’t a lot that didn’t happen at Tommy Ducks…
Out of all of Manchester’s weird and wonderful institutions, the legacy of Tommy Ducks remains today as one of the all-time greats.
But what exactly happened to this infamous boozer?
Tommy Ducks stood proudly down what is now Lower Mosely Street, and is known to have roots dating all the way back to the 1800s.
While it is widely believed that it was originally named The Prince’s Tavern, the pub underwent a name change at some point in the 1870s after its egotistical landlord Thomas Duckworth wanted to name it after himself.
But rumour has it that the painter-decorator hired to replace the pub’s sign either ran out of paint and supplies or found he didn’t have enough room to fit in the full name, so improvised and come up with the name Tommy Ducks, instead.
Of course, there’s no solid evidence for this mishap actually happening, but it is certainly one of the more believable rumours about the pub’s namesake.
Anyway, the pub settled with its abbreviated name and went on to quietly serve the good people of Manchester throughout the 1900s.
But then the 1970’s arrived, and Tommy Ducks started to gain a different kind of reputation, with it quickly becoming one of the most sought after boozers in the city – quite the accomplishment considering it was stood in the middle of a recently-demolished estate.
One of the pubs more popular legacies is its makeshift tables – for reasons unbeknown to most Mancunians today, someone had the bright idea of using glass-topped coffins as tables, one of which was kidnapped by a rival pub for a while.
One of the coffins even featured a skeleton, which many people were adamant was a real one.
Tommy Ducks was also renown for having ladies knickers and bras stapled to the ceiling above the bar, with female punters allegedly been invited to remove their undies upon arrival (yes, before their first drink!).
The pub played home to these kind of shenanigans for the next couple of decades and, by the 1990s, it was one of the last standing buildings in the area, which lay in ruin following a mass demolishment.
However, in 1993 the pub’s temporary preservation order – arranged by punters and supporters back in the 1970s – expired, plunging its future into uncertainty and doubt.
Greenalls Brewery, which ran the pub, was also coming under increasing pressure by fat cat developers to sell up and shut shop.
Tragially, the temporary preservation order expired on a Friday, meaning that the council offices were closed for the weekend. And because the order couldn’t be renewed until Monday morning, demolition began in the early hours of Saturday.
While Greenalls was eventually fined £150,000 for their act of destruction, it was still too late – Tommy Ducks and its abundance of coffins and bras was gone forever.
It’s 26 years since the devastating IRA bomb and the people of Manchester are still waiting for justice
Why was no one ever arrested for the attack on our city?
Twenty-six years ago on this date, Manchester fell victim to one of the biggest bombs ever exploded in the United Kingdom.
It was a beautiful, unusually sunny morning in Manchester on June 15th, 1996 – England were about to take on Scotland in Euro ‘96, football fans were swarming the city centre for the next day’s Russia v Germany fixture at nearby Old Trafford, and the Arndale Shopping Centre – built just twenty years prior – was heaving with weekend shoppers.
However, the festivities of the warm summer’s day were all set to change when a security guard on the other side of the city received an anonymous tip off.
Sometime after 9:38am, Gary Hall – a security guard at ITV’s Granada Studios – took a phone call from a man with a ‘very calm’ Irish voice, as per The BBC.
The anonymous man went on to inform Gary that he had planted a bomb in the city centre and it would be exploding in one hour. Following the phone call, the police were immediately notified and they sprung to action locating the bomb and evacuating 80,000 people from the area.
However, this proved to be quite the task. At first, people were not keen to go; it was the 1990s and Mancunians had become seasoned to bomb scares.
One hairdresser allegedly refused to let his clients leave because they still had chemicals in their hair, arguing it would be ‘too dangerous.’ Alternatively, a group of workmen wanted to stay put because they were on weekend rates.
Slowly, though, the severity of the situation began to sink in, and authorities were able to successfully evacuate the centre, with some people screaming and running for their lives.
Amid the chaos, police spotted a stationary white lorry parked on double yellows outside of Marks & Spencer with wires running from its dashboard. A bomb squad was swiftly dispatched from Liverpool; however, their attempt to dismantle the device using a remote-controlled robot failed.
At precisely 11:17am, the 3,300lb device exploded.
Smoke mushroomed above the city as the explosion shattered glass windows and rained building debris onto the people below. In the aftermath, emergency services scrambled to deal with the injured civilians – around 220 of them, to be precise – and fire crews searched shops and offices for casualties.
Yet despite the horror and the devastation, not a single person was killed in the explosion.
Nevertheless, Manchester’s city centre lay in ruins. Historic landmarks such as Manchester Cathedral and the Royal Exchange Theatre needed what has been estimated to be billions of pounds worth of repairs and renovations and, most gravely, hundreds of people were left with life-changing injuries, both physically and mentally.
And yet, over a quarter of a century on from the devastating attack, the people of Manchester are still waiting for justice.
Quite remarkably, an arrest for whoever was responsible for the bomb was never made – it is widely believed that, while both Greater Manchester Police and Special Branch investigations identified the prime suspect, he was never actually arrested because of fears it could derail ongoing peace negotiations in Northern Ireland.
Graham Stringer, who led the council between 1984 and 1996 and who is today MP for the city’s Blackley and Broughton constituency, told The Independent: “I am sure the security services know who did this and I think it got caught up in the peace process.
“It’s appalling. In a democratic society, for someone to blow up the centre of a major city and injure hundreds of people, and then get away with it? It is wrong.”
In a 2006 review, GMP said there was no longer any ‘realistic possibility’ of a prosecution.
Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Mole said: “The Manchester bomb affected many people which is why the case has remained open and has been kept under constant review. As the 20th anniversary of the incident approaches, it is now the right time for another assessment of the case in order to identify and explore any possible potential investigative opportunities.
“If new information comes to light it would be considered, and I would urge anyone with information relevant to the investigation to get in touch with police.”