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.
A thread on Reddit this week 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 i 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.”
The iconic nightclubs that Mancunians would most like to see reopen
A real blast from the past…
Here in Manchester, we love a good night out and our city has certainly delivered on the party front over the years.
But sadly, all good things must come to an end; a massive number of Manchester’s trademark night clubs and evening venues have been forced to permanently closed their doors over the years, whether it be down to financial issues, a change of music scene across the city or, as is the case with many 80s establishments, the overwhelming presence of drugs and gangs.
Yet despite their closures, many of these venues remain firmly in the hearts of Mancunians to this very day. So, when we asked you lot which nightclubs you’d like to see return, we were quite rightly inundated with replies (over ten thousand of them, to be precise).
Here’re the most popular answers…
Legend – or Legends, as it was known by many seasoned nightclubbers – is credited today as being the birth of the jazz-funk scene in the North of England.
DJ Greg Wilson performed at the club for two years from 1981 to 1983, and recalled how the crowd ‘weren’t really interested in the microphone patter, which was the DJ norm back then in the UK.’ He wrote: “For them it was all about the music, so with this in mind I made what would turn out to be a pivotal decision.”Wilson also described the environment as ‘out of this world’, reminiscing how the club had a space-age metallic decor with lasers bouncing off all the surfaces.
As the funk-jazz and electronic scene died off, however, Legend was forced to close it’s doors and today stands as the student hotspot Fifth Avenue.
The historic Theatre Royal used to play host to a whole array of club nights, and the Discotheque Royale was certainly one of the most memorable.
In a later transformation it became the M-Two nightclub, with the owners describing the event as ‘Manchester’s biggest and most well known late night venue featuring live music as well as big name DJ sessions’.
Their fond description continued: “The perfect location for a top night out for both students and clubbers alike, M-Two boasts an impressive sound system delivering anything from electro to drum‘n’bass to indie. With its two-tier dance floor and chill out area, M-Two draws an energetic and fun crowd who are out for a good time.”
Located at 255 Oldham Road, the Thunderdome was home to Manchester’s somewhat edgier crowd back in the 1980s and 1990s, the height of the Madchester scene. While the Haçienda was famously difficult to get into and operated a strict dress code, the ‘Dome would welcome people from all walks of life, regardless of their image and their dress sense.
Initially, the Thunderdome remained peaceful despite it’s drug dealer-heavy clientele, though football hooligans and gang members gradually made the majority of its crowds, leading to a spike in violence, police raids and a notorious reputation that has stuck to this very day.
The exact closing date of the Thunderdome remains uncertain, but the building was demolished in 2010 and today, the site remains unoccupied.
Piccadilly 21s was the 90s party paradise every city needed. Located in the heart of Piccadilly Gardens, the club had a reputation for being very loud, very messy and very sticky.
The venue also offered notoriously cheap drinks and there were famously chandeliers in the toilets. And who said 90s Manchester had no class? Unfortunately, 21s gained a somewhat sinister reputation as gang members and other unsavoury figures became a solid part of it’s clientele, something that eventually lead to its permanent closure in 2004.
These days, it lives its life as a Premier Inn and a Nando’s. If that doesn’t depress you, I don’t know what will.
The Twisted Wheel
Made famous as one of the birthplaces of Northern Soul, Twisted Wheel opened its doors in 1963 and would showcase rare and imported US soul records for Mancunians to dance their hearts out to.
The legendary Saturday all-nighters were also famous for having soul artists perform, including Ike and Tina Turner, Jimmy Riffin and Edwin Starr.
Sadly, the club was forced to permanently close in 1971 because of a bylaw which prevented premises from staying open more than two hours into the following day. The premises were sold and then demolished in 2013, but an epic final event took place on December 30th 2012, with over a thousand soul fans descending on the club for one last party.
Known among regulars as ‘The Goth Room’, Jilly’s Rockworld was arguably the most popular rock and metal nightclub in the whole city.
For over twenty years, Jilly’s Rockworld gained a reputation for its sweaty oasis welcoming goths, rockers, skaters and punks for weekly nights of chaos and mascara-wearing, fishnet-ridden mayhem. One of the most well-known nights at Jilly’s was the infamous All Nighter, taking place every Friday until the unthinkable hour of 7am. It was this event that spurred the club to famously start selling Pot Noodles for revellers to snack on in the wee hours.
Sadly, Jilly’s wasn’t to be and it closed permanently in 2010, with owner John Bagnall blaming the indoor smoking ban and competition from new music venues.
An obvious one, but it needs to be said that the Haçienda is perhaps the most famous and iconic nightclub to exist in not only Manchester, but the whole of world.
Founded by Tony Wilson in 1982, the Haçienda went on to define the whole Madchester era and really put the city on the map. It is also credited to bringing Acid House and rave culture to life, as well as spearheading the careers of music icons like Madonna, the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. Oh, and it was known to be a bloody fantastic night out, too.
Sadly, the club closed in 1997 and was demolished eighteen months later. In its place now is a block of flats and an estate agents called the Hacienda… Again, too depressing for words.
Bier Keller Piccadilly
Opening in 1967, the Bier Keller was a six-nights-a-week venue that attracted all the big names of the era, such as 60s and 70s powerhouses Marti Wilde, Billy Fury, the Bay City Rollers and The Grumbleweeds.
However, after thirty-five years of celebrity parties and good times, the famous venue was forced to close for good in 2013. Long-serving Bier Keller disc jockey Alan King blamed the club’s failure on the 1996 IRA bomb.
He said: “The downturn really started in 1996 after the Manchester bomb. Until then the place was amazingly busy. Sometimes we would have 1,200 in there, which was far too many really. If you didn’t book six weeks in advance then you wouldn’t get a seat. It was like that for eight or nine years before the bomb, it was so busy.”
The inspirational story of Kirsty Howard on what would have been her 26th birthday
Through her tireless campaigning, Kirsty secured the future of Francis House Children’s Hospice
On September 20th 1995, Kirsty Ellen Howard was born in a Wythenshawe hospital and – little did she know at the time – would go on to change the future for thousands of children.
Her start to life was a turbulent one; Kirsty was born with an extraordinarily rare condition in which her heart was positioned back to front, causing the misplacement of her internal organs.
The condition, a form of ‘situs ambiguus’, is inoperable and requires extensive treatment, including a constant external supply of oxygen. The condition is so rare, in fact, that new-born Kirsty was the only person in the UK – and just the second in the whole world – to be diagnosed with it.
The first four years of her life were spent in and out of hospitals and at the age of four doctors gave Kirsty and her family the devastating prediction that she had just six weeks left to live.
But, astonishingly, Kirsty defied those odds and went on to not only live for another sixteen years, attend school and achieve GCSE’s, but to raise millions of pounds for Francis House Children’s Hospice in Didsbury.
Kirsty initially gained national attention when she was appointed as England’s mascot during their 2002 World Cup game against Greece. Aged just six, Kirsty walked out onto the pitch with her 20kg oxygen tank and holding the hand of then-captain David Beckham, prompting commentator John Motson to call her ‘the bravest person on the pitch’.
The following year, Kirsty and Beckham handed the baton to the Queen at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
And in 2003, Kirsty started the first Great Manchester Run and took part in the race, wearing the number one vest in her wheelchair. She took part in the race every year following. Kirsty was subsequently awarded the Helen Rollason Award by the BBC in 2004 for her courage and determination, as well as the Child of Courage award and the Pride of Britain award.
While all of these achievements may seem incredible enough to most of us, for Kirsty, they didn’t even begin to scratch the surface because her most notable act came in the form of a charity appeal for Francis House Hospice, a Didsbury-based hospice originally opened by Princess Diana in 1991.
Named ‘The Kirsty Club’, Kirsty’s campaign was launched to expand and improve the services the hospice offered – primarily support for families with terminal or life-threatening illnesses – with celebrity supporters of the appeal including Gloria Hunniford, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Davina McCall, and opera singer Russell Watson.
David Ireland, the Chief Executive of Francis House, said of Kirsty’s fundraising: “Francis House had struggled to meet its running costs for many years, Kirsty’s fundraising changed that and gave us a measure of security that allowed us to expand and develop our service.
“Hundreds of children, young people and their families owe a tremendous debt to the young lady whose face made Francis House a household name.”
Over the years, Kirsty’s fundraising totalled to a staggering £7.5 million, which helped to give thousands of Manchester’s children, teenagers, young adults and their families the help and support they needed in their times of greatest need.
In the final years of her life, Kirsty was a proud auntie and had been studying childcare at college with the hopes of one day becoming a teacher for children with special needs. However, one month after her twentieth birthday on October 24th 2015, Kirsty passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Tributes poured in for Kirsty after the news of her death broke, including from the then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who wrote on Twitter: “I’m sad to hear Kirsty Howard has died. She was an amazing person with boundless passion who did so much good.”
David Beckham also posted a tribute, sharing a photo of him with Kirsty and writing on Instagram: “Words cannot describe how amazing this young lady has been over the years. Kirsty has been defying doctors for many years and whilst doing that she has been raising millions of pounds for terminally ill children.”
And lastly, Francis House, whom Kirsty raised so much money for over the years, shared their own tribute, writing simply: “We cannot express enough our humble thanks and gratitude to an incredible young woman.”
Rest in peace, Kirsty Howard.
The future of Mother Macs: How the iconic Northern Quarter boozer is embracing its gruesome past
We caught up with Mother Macs’ current landlady, Lauren Grimshaw, who detailed her plans for the future of the historic pub
Nestled down a back alley in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Mother Macs and its bloody history has somehow managed to stand the trying test of time.
In perhaps the most perilous period ever experienced by pubs and restaurants, the extraordinary boozer has managed to survive and reopen its doors, despite numerous lockdowns, social distancing measures and, perhaps most poignantly, a rather murderous past.
This is why, for many, its unwavering popularity among locals is somewhat of a surprise – as the plaque on the front of the building states, on June 18th, 1976, the pubs landlord Arthur Bradbury went on a murderous rampage after receiving an eviction notice. He killed his wife Maureen, his six year old daughter Alison, his step-sons James and Andrew, and the cleaner, who happened to stumble upon him in the act.
Then, he set fire to the pub to cover his tracks, only to kill himself in the blaze.
For many establishments, this kind of horrific event would signal an end to not only trading, but to the desire to ever set foot through the premises again.
But for Mother Macs’ newly appointed landlady, Lauren Grimshaw, it was one of the many things that drew her to the new role. Lauren, a mother of two from Clayton, is studying a degree in criminology and psychology, so it would seem she and the pubs dark history go hand in hand. She told Proper Manchester: “The history was the main thing I wanted it for. People do come in occasionally after hearing about what happened with ‘Mother Macs and the killer landlord’ or reading about it on the sign outside.”
Lauren, who was given the opportunity to take over the pub and the ten-room hotel upstairs by its former owner just six weeks ago, admitted that she does believe in ghosts, but it yet to experience any paranormal happenings. She explained: “I’m all about ghost hunts and all things paranormal. When I walked in on my first shift, I made it clear that I wasn’t there to cause trouble, I wasn’t there to offend anything that might be there.
“There hasn’t been many ghostly happenings, apart from the television sometimes switching itself on and the door closing by itself.”
But putting murderous landlord hauntings to one side, Lauren noted that the most prominent feature of Mother Macs is the clientele. She said: “My favourite thing about the pub is the people. It’ll always be the people. They’re what make Mother Macs. All my regulars who have been drinking in here for forty years still come in.
According to Lauren, Mother Macs stands out in the Northern Quarter – which is undisputedly cluttered with bars and pubs – because it doesn’t fit in with the general ‘norm’ of the area. She explained: “There are so many ‘trendy’ bars these days, whereas Mother Macs is a proper little boozer, a proper little pub, and I think Manchester is missing that. People don’t want to go and drink wine and cocktails, people want to come in and just have a cold pint.”
And the ‘proper little boozer’ approach is clearly working – just last weekend, a group of men from Bedford had booked to stay one night in the newly refurbished hotel upstairs, named The Avenues and Alleyways, only for them to extend their stay by two nights after falling in love with Mother Macs and the regulars.
She said: “The amount of connections I’ve made with the people who come into the pub is just unreal. Weekends in particular are amazing – some people come in on their own because they know as soon as they walk in, they’re made to feel comfortable. It’s not a pub, it’s a family, and that’s how I want it. I want every single person to feel comfortable and at home.”
And feel welcome they do – the watering hole hosts people from all walks of life, with Lauren vowing for every customer to feel welcome and included, regardless of where they’re from or who they are.
And even now, the pub continues to get people talking; earlier this week, Mother Macs went viral after we shared a photo of its beer garden, which consists of a couple of table and chairs thrown together next to a huge industrial bin down Back Piccadilly – ‘the most Manc beer garden ever’, as we called it.
So, what’re the plans for the future? Lauren told us that Mother Macs has a massive focus on football and, despite it historically being a Manchester City pub, she’s working hard at making it an inclusive space for all football fans (United fans, basically.) She said: “When I took over, I didn’t want it as a predominantly City pub as not to exclude any other fans. City home game, City fans come in. United home game, United fans come in. And on Derby days, well if they can sit amicably together, they can.”
Lauren’s also organising a karaoke and DJ for weeknights to get the place lively throughout the week – at the moment, the sound system operates on a strict Spotify playlist system, which has proven to be a huge hit with locals and weekend revellers alike.
For updates and news, follow Mother Macs’ official Facebook page.
Mother Macs, 33 Back Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1HP
020 8089 8579