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Feature

The mysterious story of the phantom hitchhiker of Stockport

Have you ever seen the phantom?

Jamie Roberts

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Clem Rutter / Wikimedia

If you’ve ever seen a ghostly figure roaming the streets of Stockport as you drive through, you’re not alone.

That’s because an eerie hitchhiker supposedly haunts the town centre, with numerous tales and sightings of the mysterious woman.

According to eyewitness accounts, the woman appears near Mersey Square on Wellington Road South and thumbs down a lift.

Wellington Road South, Stockport, from the air – Credit: Mike Pennington / Geograph

One sighting featured in a book called Supernatural Stockport by Martin Hills. The story goes that a biker picked up the woman and gave her a lift to her home in Hazel Grove – but when they arrived, she had completely vanished.

This is where it gets really creepy, as the biker knocked on the address he was given and was greeted by a couple, who revealed their daughter had tragically died in a crash on Wellington Road several years earlier.

Another eyewitness, Harold Smith, recalled his early 1990s run-in with the hitchhiker, saying: “As I came down the long hill, I saw a figure on the left-hand pavement. She was slim with dark, straight shoulder-length hair, wearing a short jacket and trousers and holding a helmet.

“As I approached, she walked to the kerb and stuck her thumb out. People don’t usually thumb lifts from motorcyclists. When I stopped in the lay-by and looked back over my shoulder, I couldn’t see her any more. I waited, revved the engine, but gave up and rode home. The whole thing was very strange.”

Shops on Wellington Road South – Credit: Gerald England / Geograph

The mystery has intrigued many paranormal experts, including doctor Rob Gandy, 64, who became fascinated by the phantom woman five years ago.

He told the Manchester Evening News in 2015: “I have always had an interest in strange things. I take urban legends with a pinch of salt but they are great stories. But there have been several reports about the phantom hitchhiker in Stockport and I want to get to the bottom of it.”

Rob says he was contacted by another man who claimed to have experienced something similar to the biker while researching another project.

Mersey Square and The Plaza – Credit: David Dixon / Geograph

He said: “It’s intriguing but I always take a sceptical line and look for something natural that may have caused it. For example, if you are driving in stressful conditions your imagination can go into overdrive.

“But the guy who contacted me was very genuine and level-headed. You have to keep an open mind and not have any preconceived ideas.”

At the time Rob was looking into patterns of locations, times and dates, and promised to publish his findings – but it seems his investigation didn’t come to anything, as there’s no article to be found online.

As it stands, the mystery of the phantom hitchhiker of Stockport remains unsolved.

Feature

How the Trafford Centre became one of Manchester’s most iconic landmarks

How it became our favourite place…

Alex Watson

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Seth Whales

The Trafford Centre has been a landmark in Manchester for 22 years now, full of nostalgia for most of us, and the luxury of a ‘big day out’ to the land with fountains and a weird giant indoor ship.

With the recent sad news that the company who own the centre, Intu, has gone into administration, threatening the future of the Trafford Centre, we thought we’d take a look back at how it became the famous domed palace we all know and love.

Let’s kick it off with the initial building work, way back when Trafford Park was a huge industrial estate.

It might shock you to know, but a lot of people were against the idea of a whopping American-style capitalism-eat-your-heart-out mall in their beloved borough of Trafford.

Actually, maybe it won’t come as a shock to you…

The Trafford Centre, Manchester

Anyway, the proposals for the Trafford Centre flitted around for nine years amid concerns regarding traffic and what it would mean to the retail hub in the city centre.

By 1993 the Trafford Centre got the green light and was given full planning permission, but even that recieved a backlash that ended up in the high court. Eventually, in 1995, the House of Lords gave the go-ahead.

Construction took just 27 months and cost a whopping £600 million, and like any bit of building work it was over budget – only by a mere £350 million though.

Right, let’s move onto the design of the thing. It’s unforgettable, what with its giant blue domes that make you wonder whether it’s some sort of holy place of worship.

It’s pretty evident to see the Trafford Centre was designed with opulence in mind, the central dome is claimed to be bigger than St Paul’s Cathedral and cost a whopping £5 million to construct – and serves no real purpose but design.

Trafford centre

The palm trees on Peel Avenue are imported all the way from California, and The Great Hall is even home to the world’s largest chandelier, made from Chinese crystal and weighing a huge five and a half tonnes. That chandelier even has a staircase inside. 

The largest food court in Europe, The Orient, has a colour changing ceiling that you’ll find will be pink at dawn, blue in the afternoon, red and purple at dusk and features twinkling stars at night – just to really trick you into staying in the Trafford Centre all day.

The toilets are even grand, winning ‘Loo of the Year’ – a national award – for 17 years in a row. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Trafford Centre without some (read: a lot) of marble. Imported from across the globe, the Trafford Centre houses 45,000 square metres of marble and granite flooring that in 1996 was worth around £5.8 million.

The marble floors and 3.5 miles of brass found on the handrails and other detailing are cleaned and polished every single night.

intu Trafford Centre

The design was a collaboration between Chapman Taylor, an architectural practice, and Manchester-based Leach Rhodes Walker. In total, 24 architects worked on the project full time, monitoring the construction and interior design. That is after they produced over 3,000 separate shop drawings.

The Trafford Centre was even built equipped with an additional fourth floor during construction to make it ‘future proof’.

The whole building is stuffed full of little nods to important figures and places. The ship in The Orient nods to the Manchester Ship Canal and the industrial revolution, and in the window panes and interior cornices you’ll find the Lancashire Rose.

You’ll also find portraits of the owners along the walls and even the Mercedes that belonged to the mother of the Peel Holdings’ chairman.

FerdyMayne1/Twitter

In the early naughties, there were a lot of rumours that the Trafford Centre was home to thousands of body bags in its basement. Have a see for yourself here – we’ll let you come to your own conclusions about that one!

In 2013, Trafford Centre got its very own Sea Life Centre aquarium, adding to the cinema, Laser Quest, mini-golf, dodgems, bowling alleys and even the adjacent Chill Factore and indoor skydiving centre making it once and for all, a one-stop-shop for everything.

Since 2018, the Trafford Centre’s Barton Square has been getting a multi-million-pound redevelopment. Inside the square is a new dome, constructed of over 1,800 pieces of glass and weighing an impressive 250 tonnes. It also features 22 bees as a tribute to the 22 lives lost in the Manchester Arena Bomb.

There are also 33 detailed Roman murals and around the square are gold-leaf embellished columns, pilasters and the Grecian key cornices.

You’ll also find 43 bronze busts, 120 marble statues and most importantly a brand spanking (and massive) Primark store.

intu Trafford Centre

So what’s next for the place that welcomes over 30 million visitors in a (normal) year?

Well, things look set for a period of uncertainty due to majority shareowner Intu’s file for administration.

Some rumours are suggesting that the Peel Group will buy back it’s ownership of the Trafford Centre. It has been confirmed that TraffordCity and City Gateway developments are still going ahead, which also includes the brand new one of a kind Therme wellbeing spa!

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Feature

The rise and fall of Boddingtons, a proper Manchester institution

Where did it all go wrong?

Proper Manchester

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Literature & Libation

Boddingtons went from a roaring success to almost impossible to find, so what happened?!

Boddington’s became known as The Cream of Manchester in the 1980s, but to understand how it became such a huge part of the city’s history we need to go back to a time when people drank beer instead of water.

Hundreds of years ago, water was a huge cause of serious sickness and unfortunately a lot of death. And as communities and civilisations grew the water got dirtier and even deadlier as sewers flooded into open water sources.

This is where beer came in, fermented and brewed making it healthier than water to drink. It was much thicker and a lot weaker than we know it to be now. But even back then you would regularly find the whole family chugging a few glasses at the dinner table, even the kids.

Keith Williamson/Wikimedia

Mostly, beer was brewed within households. But as families got bigger and the need for space over a spot for brewing became more important.

Monasteries and schools started to lead the way for larger scale brewing operations. Manchester Grammar School used their ‘free’ workers to create beer under the guise of education and by the mid-1700s the school had a huge monopoly on the grinding of grain in the city.

As workplaces grew in the city, the desire for a nice place for a swift pint after work became huge. Hundreds of small brewers began setting up shop, including Strangeways Brewery.

In 1831, Strangeways Brewery employed John Boddington as a clerk. From a poor, large family down South, his family got wind of the job opportunities in prosperous Manchester and quickly followed suit chasing that northern dream.

In Memoriam: rattypete/Flickr

Surprisingly, it wasn’t John who set up Boddington’s as we know it. It was actually his brother, Henry.

John pursued a career in Corn & Provisions, emigrating to America and dying penniless over there 20 years later.

Henry on the other hand, got a job at his brother’s old workplace and quickly made a name for himself, becoming a partner in the firm just 10 years later. He borrowed some money and became the sole owner in 1877.

By this point, they were the biggest brewery in Manchester, with their output growing from a mere 10,000 to 100,000 barrels a year.

Dunk/Flickr

Henry, as you can imagine, died a very rich man in 1886. His fortune equates to around £19.2 million in today’s monetary terms. His son William Slater took over, made the company public, doubled its value and so Boddingtons Breweries Ltd. was born.

By the turn of the century, Boddingtons were the 12th largest tied estate in the UK, owning over 200 public houses across the country.

But then there was the English Beer Scandal in 1900.

Over 6,000 people were poisoned and 70 people died from arsenic in the beer of many of the city’s breweries. While the illness was prevalent across the Midlands and North West England, Manchester was the most heavily affected by it.

It turns out hundreds of Boddingtons’ barrels were poisonous due to the sugar in the fermentation process – the beer market by then was very competitive, and high-quality barley malt was replaced with low quality in efforts to reduce costs.

Mikey/Flickr

This meant the barley was supplemented with sugar, a sugar that was made by heating starch with acid to form glucose. The acid was unpurified sulphuric acid used by Bostock & Co. which contained arsenic.

The poison remained in the sugar, and then subsequently poisoned the beer and thousands of people.

There was a significant decline in the birth rate in 1901 in Manchester, Salford and Liverpool, with an investigation later concluding that the arsenic epidemic was to blame.

A subsequent investigation into the mass poisoning later revealed that arsenic had been present in beer for decades – unknowingly poisoning thousands.

However, Boddingtons managed to get over this blunder and actually continued to be prosperous for the next century.

Keough/Flickr

In World War II Boddingtons’ brewery was smashed to bits by the Luftwaffe in the Manchester Blitz, and they were forced to close for several months.

As a result, the the brewery was modernised and improved, becoming the first in Europe to install stainless steel brewing vats and getting all of the best mod-cons of the age.

During this time the Boddington family were selling shares and by 1930 only owned around 40% of the business. Then in 1961, Whitbread bought a 13% stake in the company.

In 1969, an attempted hostile takeover of the company took place, with Allied Breweries trying to force out the family and strip away its independence.

Whitbread actually raised the Boddington family’s stake to 23%, and by 1971 Allied Breweries had sold their 35% stake – leaving the family with 10% and Whitbread with 25% of it.

CrossingTheLineDVD/Youtube

The ’80s saw huge growth for Boddingtons Bitter. The brand expanded outside of Manchester for the first time and people became enamoured with the cheap and distinct beer.

By 1986 they had 580 tied pubs and were producing over 500,000 barrels a year (while only maintaining a 50% capacity at the brewery). Finally, though, Boddingtons was sold to Whitbread for £50.7 million in 1989.

It was during the Whitbread era that Boddingtons became an international brand and a household name.

Much of the success of the brand is attributed to one of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time, ‘The Cream of Manchester’.

The style, swagger and colours highlighted perfectly the iconic taste of Boddingtons, and helped put Manchester on the map.

After the ’90s soaring success came the ‘fall’ of Boddingtons. It moved away from Manchester, the taste changed and the sales reflected that.

By this point the company had been acquired by Belgian brewer Interbrew, who are now known as InBev. By 2004 production had moved to South Wales and Lancashire.

The brewery had a huge send off in 2006 hosting the first ever Warehouse Project before the building was knocked down completely, and replaced by a car park – which it remains to this day.

The beer, however, remains the sixth best-selling bitter in the UK despite its sales falling by three quarters and it disappearing from the taps of many pubs.

If you do fancy a pint of it though, you can grab a draught pint at The Bay Horse in the Northern Quarter. And good news folks, it’ll be set to open its doors very soon now Boris has given the green light!

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Feature

Stunning rooftop photos show what Manchester looked like before the Arndale

Who remembers town looking like this?

Alex Watson

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Manchester History / Facebook

A series of freshly released photos show what the city looked like in the early ’70s, before the Arndale was built. 

Dave Williams shared the amazing pictures, which he took of the city back in the early 1970s, in the Facebook group Manchester History.

The images have been very well received, with plenty of comments commending them – and it’s easy to see why, as they give a fascinating insight into what the city used to be like.

Many people have expressed admiration for a look back at the city they remember growing up in! 

Manchester History/Facebook

The images were shared in the Manchester History group, and are mostly taken from the roof of what was then called Highland House in Salford, opposite Manchester Cathedral, where Dave used to work. This is now the North Tower and is a residential building. 

The cityscape looks a lot different without the iconic Arndale towering over the centre, and many people noticed the ‘gaps’ ahead of making space for the Arndale.

More of Dave’s pictures are below:

Manchester History/Facebook
Manchester History/Facebook
Manchester History/Facebook
Manchester History/Facebook
Manchester History/Facebook
Manchester History/Facebook

For more about the history of the Arndale, you can see how much it has changed over the years in these amazing pictures here

Do you have any old pictures of the city? Share them with us in the Facebook comments, we’d love to see them! 

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