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.”
Lorry driver who helped stop man jumping from M62 bridge says police were the real heroes
‘I’m glad [the story] brought awareness to a problem that’s been ongoing for far too long’
The lorry driver who gained viral fame last week for parking his vehicle under a motorway bridge to stop a young man from jumping off has spoken out about the incident.
Last week, a striking image showing a young man sitting on the edge of a bridge on the M62 as police officers stood either side of him went viral after a community support group in Leeds posted it onto their Facebook page.
Thankfully, a lorry driver had seen the incident unfold as he approached and went on to park up underneath the bridge to prevent the man from jumping. Police were eventually able to talk the man out of jumping, and he was safely escorted away from the bridge.
Ever since the story broke, people have been hailing the driver of the lorry a ‘hero’ and applauding him for his quick thinking.
However, the driver of the famed lorry doesn’t quite see himself as a hero.
Speaking to Proper Manchester, Tom, a dad of three from Kendal, recalled the moment he realised something ‘wasn’t quite right’ with the three figures on the bridge.
He explained: “Thanks to truck spotters and photographers, seeing people on bridges isn’t too uncommon, it isn’t anything out of the ordinary. But from the distance, something didn’t look right.
“As I got closer and as I could start to see clearly, I realised that with the three people on the bridge, two were stood on either side of the one in the centre. I realised the one in the middle was sat on the opposite side of the barrier with his legs hanging down.”
Tom explained that he immediately put his hazards on and started slowly weaving between the lanes and the hard shoulder – a move amongst truckers to communicate that they haven’t broken down, but there’s an issue ahead. From there, he was able to bring his truck to a controlled stop under the bridge where the man was sitting.
He remained there for around an hour and a half to two hours while the officers above coaxed the young man down from the bridge.
Tom and his wife Kayleigh were inundated with messages following the incident, with Tom being widely praised for his actions and even dubbed a ‘hero.’ However, Tom doesn’t see it this way.
He explained: “I was a guy in the right place at the right time. I spotted something and I did my good deed for the day. All I did was park a truck under a bridge, and I somehow managed to get 100% of the praise, which seems wrong.
“To me, it almost seems fraudulent because the police were the ones to do all the work.”
Tom revealed that the police officers on the scene were actually subject to abuse from frustrated drivers who were caught up in the delays: “It took me minutes to do what I did – not even that, just one minute – the police were the ones taking abuse from members of the public because the incident had disturbed their day.
“The police were the ones who talked with him the entire time and the negotiator came in without having to grab him, and got him to willingly come across to the other side of the barrier, get into the car, and go with them.
“And after that, once I’d gone and was tucked up in bed that night, they were still working. They were still helping this lad. I categorically do not think I was the hero in this story.”
Tom, who has suffered from anxiety for most of his life, was delighted to hear that the young man on the bridge saw a doctor after the incident and is now receiving help.
He said: “I suffer from anxiety myself – I actually have my own mental health issues, I’ve been to some dark places previously. I’m glad [the story] brought awareness to a problem that’s been ongoing for far too long but no, I’m not the hero.”
If you or anyone you know has been suffering with mental health issues, you can call the Samaritans at 116 123, or CALM at 0800 58 58 58. Alternatively, you can find local mental health services and more info here.
You can follow Tom’s trucking vlog series here.
It’s been 25 years since the IRA bombing and victims are still waiting for justice
Why was no one ever arrested for the attack on our city?
Twenty-five 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, it was the Saturday before Father’s Day, 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 – received 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. In the confusion, some fallen shop mannequins were briefly mistaken for bodies while, over at Manchester Royal Infirmary, they were treating dozens of casualties within minutes.
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.
But now, 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.”
Stringer, who’s own mother was injured in the explosion, added: “Justice should be seen to be done. If bombers are going to be let off then we should at least know who is being let off and why and what the greater benefit of that is… I do think somebody should have been [prosecuted] even if they never got sent to jail.”
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.”
Celebrating Manchester’s proud history of support for the LGBTQ community
Happy Pride Month, Manchester!
With Canal Street having dominated Greater Manchester’s LGBTQ+ scene for decades, you’d be forgiven for overlooking the monumental role the region has played in the growth and establishment of the community.
Outside of London, Manchester plays home to the UK’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGB&T) community – but quite predictably, the sparkling lights and rainbow flags of its Gay Village centred down Canal Street have continuously remained at the forefront of the entire movement.
The recognised street found its fame back in 1999, when three and a half million people tuned into Channel 4 to watch Queer as Folk; the series showed Canal Street to have both a vibrant nightlife and an amazing atmosphere, thus making it internationally renown. The area remains an overwhelmingly popular destination today, and continues to be somewhere for LGBTQ+ people to feel safe and express themselves.
But what happened before the explosion of Canal Street?
Well, decades prior, Greater Manchester was already setting the wheels in motion for a more inclusive region, and would eventually become the birth place of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality – starting in Manchester as the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee (NWHLRC), it initially worked for the removal of laws against gay sex between men.
After this aim was partially achieved in 1967, it changed its name and broadened its scope to include the provision of social facilities for gay men and lesbians. In 1971 it then adopted its present name, and had expanded to setting up local groups in London and elsewhere, as well as continuing to campaign for full equality. At its peak, CHE was the largest LGBT organisation this country has ever seen, with 6,000 members and over 100 local groups spanning across the country.
Just four years on from that in 1975, the LGBT Foundation was established, and today continues to support the needs of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans; each year, the foundation serves over 40,000 people, as well as providing information to over 600,000 individuals online.
As a result, they serve more LGBT people than any other charity of its kind in the UK, according to their website.
But that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Manchester City Council played an integral role in campaigning against Section 28, a controversial 1988 addition to the Local Government Act 1986 that stated local authorities must not allow the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ or allow the ‘acceptability of homosexuality’ to be taught in schools.
This archaic act prevented teachers from tackling homophobic bullying and permitted them to openly oppose homosexuality in schools. It also assumed that LGBT people were inherently dangerous to children and implied a link between homosexuality and pedophilia.
After Manchester City Council spearheaded the opposition against Section 28, it was eventually repealed by the Labour government in November 2003.
And fast forwarding to today, the region is continuing to make waves in LGBTQ+ communities all across the country.
Greater Manchester Police recently pledged to serve and protect the region’s LGBTQ+ community, with Assistant chief constable Garry Shewan, the GMP’s lead on hate crime, telling Buzzfeed: “The public now has increased confidence in our ability to deal with these offences.
“We have improved training for officers so they are able to provide better support for victims and risk-assess the potential for repeat victimisation, and our Pride Network has also done a lot of work to raise awareness of homophobic hate crime, particularly during Manchester Pride.”
Annual events like The Sparkle Weekend – two whole days dedicated to the celebration of gender identity – and the Penguin Weekend – an evening showcasing queer authors and writers – are also unique fixtures here in Manchester’s city centre, and just one part of the bigger machine working to make the world a safer, more inclusive place for those who identify as LGBTQ+.
For more information on LGBTQ+ charities, foundations and events in Greater Manchester and how to get involved, visit the LGBT Foundation website here.
Happy Pride Month everyone!