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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

The story behind Manchester’s mysterious Withy Grove Stores

It looks like it’s not been touched for 40 years, so what’s really going on in there…

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Surrounded by chicken shops and takeaways sits an oddity in modern Manchester, the Withy Grove Stores.

At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s abandoned, a relic from the 1980s that time and gentrification forgot, confusingly located round the back of the Printworks.

In fact, the safe and office supply store is very much still active, although you can’t just walk in off the street and have a browse – the whole thing raises so many questions, like who owns it? Why hasn’t it been bought and turned into a chicken shop? Is it being used as a front?



Well, the guys over at Manchester’s Finest had a bit of a dig around into the history of the building, and we now have some answers to your questions.

They spoke to a safe and office interior company called Withy Grove Office Interiors, who explained that the company began on Withy Grove in Manchester all the way back in 1850.

However, the history goes even further back, when the Richmond Safe Company was set up by John R Solomon back in 1799, supplying iron-branded and ironclad strongboxes for ships.

The Richmond Safe Company continued to operate until around 1840, at which point they located to offices on Withy Grove and renamed themselves Withy Grove Stores. From here the company expanded, eventually running three sites in the North of England – Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds (the company still operates from Leeds now).


For over 130 years the shop on Withy Grove flogged safes and furniture, impervious to the rapid change and development around it – the Withy Grove Printing House, which printed the Daily Mirror among other titles, closed down in 1985, while the Arndale popped up over the road in the late 1970s.

During the 1980s, it appears the Solomon brothers all fell out over something and each site was broken up and given to one of them to look after. The Leeds site was sold off to private owners by Casper Solomon, but the Manchester location is still very much owned by a Solomon to this day.

A quick check on Companies House shows the Directors of the company are Brian Solomon and Anthony Solomon, and both still own and run the Withy Grove Stores on Withy Grove. Financial statements show the company ran at a substantial loss in both 2018 and 2019, which isn’t really surprising.


So what do they do there and why is it never open? Manchester’s Finest rang up the store’s phone number – found on their still active website – and this is what happened: “The phone was answered by a lovely woman, and we were told that the shop is indeed open and she proceeded to bang out some rather erratic opening times for the week ahead.”

So there you go, if you are in the market for a safe or office chair, give them a ring and grab yourself a retro little number when lockdown is over.

A thread on Reddit also delved into the mystery of Withy Grove Stores, and some people revealed their own experiences with the shop, including actually buying stuff from it.

A user called MR_EXCELLENT wrote: “I rang Mr.Solomon myself a few years ago to ask if I could rent a bit of space in the building, he declined stating he gets dozens of calls every week asking him to ‘sell up’. He told me his dad built the building and he’ll never sell, I told him how much I like the building and how much I’d hate to see a big company ruin it, he told me he thought it would make an excellent Italian restaurant. Good chat! He seemed to be happy to talk to someone who appreciated the building but he could have just been too polite to tell me to fuck off.”

Redditor asidonhopo added: “I went in about 8 years ago or so. Wanted a nice comfy computer chair and it looked like they had some interesting old school office stuff in there, so I rang and the lady said she’d be around that Saturday and to knock on. Her dad used to own the place apparently, she was dead happy for me to just root around through all the old stuff and chat away.”

Pedro-a-go-go actually bought something from there: “I’ve bought stuff in there before, admittedly about 15 years ago. Needed a load of office ‘in trays’ for work. There was a lot of standing about as the bloke was dealing with someone buying a safe, and couldn’t work out how it to change the combination on the safe he was demonstrating. He ended up snapping a teaspoon and jamming it in the lock to try to get it to change. The person didn’t buy the safe. Also office in trays are REALLY expensive….”

And so did Redditor scottynoble: “I bought a safe from there in 2008. Still have it. Friend who recently passed away was a big deal at printworks recommended the place and got me a discount. Was like stepping into 1971, lovely people.”

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Feature

If you’re having really weird dreams this lockdown here’s why

(Don’t worry, you’re not the only one)

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Matthew Henry / Unsplash

If you’re finding yourself having super weird dreams and actually being able to remember them in the morning, don’t panic, you’re not alone.

Tonnes of people across the country have been reporting the exact same thing during lockdown. Luckily a scientist has given us a clever explanation that will calm down all our fears that self-isolation might be getting to us.

There are a lot of contributing factors that stem from being in lockdown that are changing our dream patterns. One of the biggest one is increased stress and anxiety levels due to the uncertainty of the world right now.

Credit: Stephen Oliver / Unsplash

Many, in fact, most people are finding themselves with financial worries and pressures like never before.

Cabin fever is also a huge factor to our unconscious thinking patterns and a lot of people are having dreams of being stuck, whether that formulates as a room with no doors or a shipwreck you’re stuck on – it all comes down to a feeling of being stuck inside. Which is pretty self explanatory.

We’re all also spending more time than ever with the same few people which will be having an effect on your dreams.

Other reasoning comes down to the fact that our homes are physically warmer because we’re all in it, potentially with the heating on. When we’re asleep and warm we have more vivid dreams.

Credit: Kate Stone Matheson / Unsplash

Some people’s dreams might not be that spectacular – finding themselves down the local having a frosty pint of their favourite beer (which does actually sound spectacular tbh) – and that’s completely fine too.

Life has become monotonous, what with ‘going to work’ including rolling out of bed and walking the 10 steps to the dining table. Basically we’re just missing normality and craving the things we would do in an average week.

There’s even a reason as to why we’re all remembering our dreams like they’re a blockbuster movie too.

Credit: Damir Spanic / Unsplash

As we’re all having a little lie-in in the morning, with some of us not even setting an alarm, we can move into that REM sleep.

While we’re in REM sleep our brains are more active, dreams get longer and more vivid. With our alarms not going off, we stay in this type of sleep for longer, dreams extend, get weirder and we can then remember them when we get up.

So whatever your dreams involve, you’re not crazy just isolated!! Keep dreaming kids!

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Feature

Who remembers Manchester’s hugely popular Granada Studios Tour?

Ahh the memories…

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cantwont & Markus Schroeder/Flickr

It was Manchester’s answer to Universal Studios, but with the Coronation Street set…

After a successful decade-long run of providing fun for Manchester, the demise of the Granada Studio Tour began after visitor numbers dwindled – meaning the tour sadly shut up shop for one last time.

One of the biggest reasons as to why can be put down to poor businesses practises at ITV, which saw the company lose millions.

The main culprit was the Sky-like service called ‘ONDigital’, which launched in 1998 and was forced into administration just four short years later.

Granada Studios Tour, Manchester
davekpcv / Flickr

It was pretty much the exact same concept as Sky, only the exclusive shows were essentially rubbish and the whole thing flopped.

At this point the Granada Studios Tour was seen as a large and unnecessary expense, and unfortunately closed down.

The tour was the brainchild of Granada producer David Plowright, who proposed to create a ‘Hollywood-on-the-Irwell‘ – and that he did. Sort of, anyway.

The tour first opened its doors in 1988, expecting to welcome 250,000 in the first year, but in the initial eight months alone 600,000 people visited to take in the sights.

Arguably the most popular attraction was the Coronation Street set which in 2013 moved to MediaCity, built on an even bigger scale with the chance to go inside too!

In 2018 Victoria Street was added, which features a garden and memorial bench paying tribute to the Manchester Arena bombing 22 victims and Coronation Street super fan Martyn Hett.

The old Granada Studios Tour might not have been the bright lights of LA or Hollywood, but you don’t get much more Mancunian than that cobbled street! 

What are your favourite memories of the tour? 

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