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…
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.”
Mother describes the night she frantically searched for her daughter during the Manchester Arena attack
‘It was the worst fear you could ever imagine’
A mother has spoken of how she frantically searched for her daughter on the night of the Manchester Arena attack.
It was just like any other summer evening in the city, six years ago, when groups of young Ariana Grande fans flocked to the Manchester Arena, to enjoy an evening watching their favourite pop star perform live.
Parents dropped their excited kids off at the steps as they joined their friends to sing along to songs, dance and have a good time.
Watching on as their young ones were growing into young adults and telling them to ‘have fun’ but ‘be safe’ too — no one expected the horrific events that would unfold.
Lisa, a mother of two daughters, waved her youngest off as she went to the concert with her friend — she was 14 at the time — and worried just as any mother would, knowing her daughter was about to go to her first concert without her.
She said: “The concert itself was the first that she could go to on her own. I’d been to every other Ariana Grande concert with her. They got dropped off by her friend’s mum, and then we [Lisa and her eldest daughter] were picking them both up.
“Me and my eldest daughter sat in the car waiting for her. And my eldest was going to meet my youngest daughter on the steps as they came out.”
Lisa waited in the car as her eldest daughter went over to wait for her younger sister and her friend on the steps near the main entrance. Lisa was sitting in the car wearing her pyjamas after just having a bath, and was listening to music.
Her eldest daughter was on the phone to her friend but she couldn’t hear anything so she moved away from the entrance and down the steps just moments before the explosion — close to where the bomb went off.
“And the next thing, my eldest phones me, ‘mum, a bomb’s gone off!’, and then her phone died,” Lisa said.
She frantically tried to call her daughter back but there was no signal and her eldest daughter’s phone was completely dead. She tried to call her youngest daughter and her friend — who were both still inside the arena — but calls wouldn’t go through. Panic set in.
Lisa continued: “ At this point, I’m thinking the worst. I’m thinking they’re all dead. I started running towards the arena as everyone was coming out. Crowds of people were coming out; some were injured, some were crying.
“Parents collapsed when they saw their kids and were just hugging them in relief on the floor.
“I still tried to call the kids but couldn’t get anything so I phoned my daughter’s friend’s mum and explained what had happened, and she said, ‘right, I’ll track them and see where they are’.
“Luckily, she tracked her daughter to be running towards one of the hotels, so she told me [where they were]. At that point, I bumped into my eldest daughter and we both ran together to try to find them.
“It was only five or 10 minutes that I couldn’t find my kids. But, in those five or 10 minutes, I thought they were dead. Those five or 10 minutes felt like hours, running around the place crying, looking for my kids. It was absolutely horrific.”
Lisa found her daughter and her friend — who had both ran to safety at a nearby hotel.
“You can imagine the relief when I found my daughter and she was scratch-free. I managed to get the girls to the car.” They then went home and put the news on to find out about what had just happened.
Lisa’s daughter and friend were at on the opposite side of the arena when the bomb went off. She still feels guilty about letting her daughter go to the concert without her. She went on to describe that even though her youngest daughter did not suffer any physical injuries, she has suffered greatly mentally from the ordeal.
She said: “Her telling me what she had to run past to get out — that would have been avoided if I’d have been there. As a mother, that’s how I felt.
“My daughter unfortunately developed an eating disorder after it. She was scared of crowds, loud bangs and a lot of things. She became very withdrawn.”
Lisa described that night as ‘the worst fear you could ever imagine’, adding: “I can’t remember anything other than just pure panic and thinking, ‘I just need to find my girls’.” Despite the trauma of that horrific night and the effects it has had on her youngest in particular, Lisa went on to talk about the bravery and determination her daughter has shown since.
After that dreadful night, her daughter went on to set up a support group to help survivors of the attack and allow them to talk with one other. She also helped set up a small group of 22 people who meet up every anniversary to remember and honour the 22 victims. Each year, they light candles, release 22 balloons and be just be there for each other.
Her daughter is also now finishing her second year at university, where she is training to become a paramedic. She was inspired after the events of that night and now wants to go on and help others.
Remembering Lee Rigby ten years on from the devastating Woolwich terror attack
Ten years ago today, Lee Rigby lost his life in a sickening terror attack that haunts the nation to this day
It was an attack that shook the nation: On May 22nd 2013, Fusilier Lee Rigby was brutally murdered in a violent onslaught as horrified passersby watched on.
Lee, twenty-five, was a drummer in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and had served in Cyprus, Germany and Afghanistan before becoming a recruiter with ceremonial duties at the Tower of London.
The father-of-one, from Middleton, had been an avid supporter of charity Help 4 Heroes, and was even wearing one of the foundation’s hoodies when he was targeted in an unprovoked and savage attack.
He was outside his barracks in Woolwich, London at around 2pm, when he was hit by a car driven by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, both said to be influenced by extremist group al-Muhajiroun.
The pair didn’t have any former knowledge of Lee, and it was believed to be his Help 4 Heroes hoody that alerted them to his connection with the military.
After hitting him with their car, the men leapt out and unleashed a brutal attack on the defenceless Lee, before a brave passer-by – later identified as Ingrid Loyau-Kennett – attempted to shield him from any further harm.
Ingrid was later nicknamed the ‘Angel of Woolwich’, but revealed that witnessing the attack had ‘ruined her life’.
Speaking to The Sun three years later in 2016, Ingrid said that while she was glad she stood up for Lee, she could feel nothing but ’emptiness around me’.
And Ingrid wasn’t the only passerby to get roped into the atrocity; another member of the public was approached by Adebolajo, who instructed him to start filming on his phone as he attempted to give an explanation for the brutal murder.
In the now infamous footage – which was controversially aired by ITV News later that day – Adebolajo can be seen soaked in blood and brandishing a meat cleaver as he blamed the British military’s murder of innocent muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Adebolajo was heard saying: “The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one…”.
Nine minutes after the first 999 call, armed police swooped upon the scene and opened fire. London Ambulance Service later confirmed that a man had been found dead at the scene, while two other men were taken to hospital, one of them in a serious condition.
In September that year, Adebolajo and Adebowale were found guilty of the murder of Lee Rigby, and were both sentenced to life imprisonment. They remain behind bars to this day.
In the wake of his death, Lee’s parents Lyn and Ian founded the Lee Rigby Foundation in his honour to support other grieving families of deceased military members by paying for holiday breaks and excursions.
They also worked tirelessly to open the Lee Rigby House in Staffordshire as a permanent retreat for bereaved Forces families and veterans.
Lee’s family told the Manchester Evening News on their grief: “It doesn’t get any easier with the passing years.
“But we are more determined than ever before to do right by him and honour his life, his memory and his enduring love and spirit.”
For more information on the Lee Rigby Foundation’s mission and to donate yourself, visit the official website here.
Memories of Maine Road from the Man City fans who were there
Manchester City: a journey of peaks and troughs
Let’s take a nostalgic look back on memories of Maine Road from the people who were there.
Concealed within the heart of a housing estate in Moss Side, sat the former home of Manchester City Football Club, Maine Road — named so after the road that ran past its western boundary.
Manchester City lived there for 80 years, from 1923 – though the club was founded in 1880 and was originally based in Gorton and Ardwick. The final game before the closure of the stadium took place on May 11th 2003, with a Premiership match against Southampton Football Club.
These days the site that once held many great games — and plenty of shit ones too — with goals to remember, many great footballing legends, and heard the echoing chants from home and away fans, has now been completely bulldozed and replaced with a modern housing estate.
Before a number of infamous rough years, City were a huge and successful club, as Dr Gary James a football historian and City fan recalls: “I was born when City last won the league title, and they won all sorts of trophies in the late sixties and start of the seventies.
“And so, my very early years were: Manchester City was a giant club. I remember the 1976 league cup final. It felt as if this was always going to be this major, prominent club.
“And then, we had to wait from 1976 to 2011. There were relegations, there were struggles, things fell apart.”
For long-standing City supporters, it’s been one hell of a rollercoaster ride to be on, as he continued: “When City was first relegated in 1983, I was devastated. But it made me want to support my club even more.
“There was always a thing about City; it was peaks and troughs. City represented life; we have great moments in our lives and we have some pretty awful ones.”
Now City reside in the Etihad Stadium, just east of the city — but we’ll get to how they got here later. As Dr Gary James says: “The history of football is important so that we know where we are today and how we got here, and perhaps learn from the past and so on.”
Growing up in Manchester, you have to pick a side and stick with it. Are you a Red or are you a Blue? From then on it’s ingrained into your very being and you remain loyal to your side no matter what.
On the geographical boundaries of Manchester and how it adds to the rivalry between City and United, Dr Gary James said: “I feel sorry for those cities that don’t have two prominent clubs, it’s like they’re missing something. If you’re from Manchester, you know where the border is.
“Visitors to Manchester just don’t understand it but if you’re from Manchester you absolutely understand it.” In club rivalry, even the finer details matter.
During the Maine Road days, supporters would find a place to park on the streets of the residential area that surrounded the ground — lined with rows and rows of Victorian terraced houses — as legions of fans on foot and donning blue scarfs would be cutting through entryways and up streets.
As Blues pulled up in their cars filled with friends and family members excited and nervous but ready to watch a live game, young lads on bicycles would approach drivers and ask for a quid to ‘mind your car’.
It was a fair exchange, after all, this was the housing estate they had to live on and it must’ve been frustrating having hundreds of fans parking their cars outside your house and filling your streets every week. It was also a great way to earn a bit of pocket money for local kids in a working class area.
Dr Gary James remembers: “My dad used to work for Coca-Cola, and when you parked up anywhere on one of the side streets and, ‘Can I mind your car mister?’ — it always happened.
“He had a van from Coca-Cola, with logos all on the side. We got out of the van and inevitably loads of kids were waiting, ‘can I mind your car mister?’. So my dad actually said, ‘If you’re here when I come back, you can have some Coke’.
“So, we went to the game and normally, when my dad said something like that then nobody would be there when we got back. You know what it’s like, you get the money at the start and you’re not going to hang around.
“When we got to the car, this lad — he was only about four or five — he just stood there, ‘I minded your car mister.’ So my dad got a bottle of Coke out and gave it to him.”
Inside the ground, Maine Road was made up of four different-sized stands built over a number of eras. There was the Main Stand, the North Stand, the Umbro stand and the Kippax. Each stand attracted a different kind of supporter looking for a certain match day experience.
“When I was a kid we used to sit in the Platt Lane stand, it was behind the goal and it was wooden benches that had been put onto the original terracing,” Dr Gary James said. He described it as having very shallow terracing so it was difficult to see anything, but ‘there was a weird excitement about the place’.
About the Kippax Stand, Dr Gary James said: “It sort of became the place where you had to be if you wanted to make some noise. There was a particular area of the Kippax which was known as Chanter’s Corner.
“I remember the first time I experienced that mass of people and it was passionate, it was noisy, it was incredible.”
Anthony — known by many as ‘The Ginger Wig’ — started going to games from 1991. When he was 12, he was classed as an ‘adult’ and so was able to finally sit in the Kippax Stand with his friend.
He described some funny memories in the stand, saying: “There was a famous chicken guy. I think he was a chef. He would pull a raw chicken out and start whirling it around and putting it on his head.”
Speaking about how he earned his nickname, he said: “Last match of the season was always fancy dress. I wore my hat and would go like Braveheart with a painted face and kilt.”
He bought the hat while on holiday to Scotland in 1998, a season in which City didn’t win very often, he continued: “But first game of the ‘98/99 season I wore it and we won 3-0. All the season ticket holders around me said, ‘you’re going to have to wear that again’. I’ve worn it for every match for 24 years.”
As well as fond memories, there were some dark days too. Dr Gary James continued: “For many years, we were demonstrating against the chairman, Peter Swales, because to be frank, when Peter Swales took over, all plans to invest in the stadium… went.
“As time went on the club was put into debt, the opportunity to win trophies vanished, the stadium started to fall apart and managers were just sacked, or walked out. From 1983 onwards, for me, demonstrations became a key part of going to Maine Road.
“So, you’d be watching the game, City would lose, and then you’d leg it off the Kippax Stand, round the stadium to the forecourt in front of the North Stand, for a demonstration — not every game, but a lot of games.”
After much disillusionment with Swales, City legend Francis Lee, who was also a successful businessman, came in and took over the club. He made some positive changes for the club, but many fans believed that his big error was sacking Brian Horton and bringing in his friend, Alan Ball. Dr Gary James said: “None of us were encouraged by that.”
The Ginger Wig recalled some dark but funny memories from those times, saying: “The season we got relegated from the Premier League — that was my first relegation. Steve Lomas took it [the ball] to the corner because everyone had heard that we only needed a draw.
“Niall Quinn had been taken off. He was 6ft 4in and gangly. You saw him galloping up the touchline saying, ‘No! We need to get a goal!'”
On weekends, players could be seen training at Platt Lane. Fans would go down to watch their idols participating in a session, kicking a ball around with other teammates. Paul Walsh’s long hair blew behind him as he ran for the ball. Niall Quinn was easy to spot, being so tall.
I remember my mum laughing as she overheard Michel Vonk saying ‘I have nothing to lean on’ in his Dutch accent, while signing autographs, and so a fan offered their back for him to scribble on. Before players left to enjoy the rest of their weekend, Georgi ‘Kinky’ Kinkladze could be spotted getting into his sports car to drive off — like a total superstar.
City stars from years gone by could be seen training the next generations of City players including the likes of Asa Hartford — who was assistant manager during the Franny Lee and Alan Ball era in ‘95.
John Burridge aka ‘Budgie’ was a well-loved goalie who only had a short stint at the club (1994-95). I remember my dad took my brother and me to Maine Road to pick up some match tickets and then over to watch the players train at Platt Lane — something we would sometimes do.
One particular day it was raining heavily and on the way after collecting the tickets, dad spotted John Burridge carrying a huge bag filled with footballs — the rain was bouncing off him.
He pulled over, in the black Seat Ibiza we had at the time, and shouted: “Budgie! You going to Platt Lane? D’you want a lift?” Budgie stopped and looked over: “Oh, yeah mate. I wouldn’t mind,” he said, relieved. I couldn’t believe we had a City goalie in our car.
City moved into the then-named City of Manchester Stadium in August 2003 and Maine Road was no more — after plans of its expansion were abandoned in favour of the move to the new site. The Ginger Wig said: “I remember the man in front of me took his cigarette lighter out and burnt his seat off, and took it with him.”
My mum and dad described how while fans were leaving the ground after the last ever game, they would stop to look back at it for one last time. “It was just a weird feeling,” my dad said.
In 2007, the former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra announced his take-over of the club from John Wardle, and brought in Sven-Goran Eriksson to manage the team. Many fans were hopeful that things could be looking up, though there were mixed feelings.
Then, in a bigger shock, on September 1st 2008 Manchester City were taken over by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).
Dr Gary James recalled: “I got a phone call from Gary Cook to come down to the stadium because he wanted me to talk to someone about the history of the club. He wouldn’t tell me who it was.
“I went down there and after ages, Gary Cook arrived. He said, ‘I’m gonna take you to meet someone. This guy is called Khaldoon Al Muburak and he’s going to be the new chairman of Manchester City, and he wants to ask you some questions. Tell him the absolute truth. Tell him how bad things are’.
“Khaldoon got a notepad out and a pen and he said, ‘I want to ask you some questions’. He said, ‘the first question is how and why was this football club created?’ I thought, ‘wow’.”
The Ginger Wig said: “It was crazy. On Sky Sports News it said we were in for getting all these players. I was thinking, ‘where’s all this money coming from?’ I was glued to Sky Sports News that day. We went from having no money, to being like the richest club in the world. It was just amazing.”
Since the the Abu Dhabi takeover, City have morphed into the ‘super club’ everyone knows today, under manager Pep Guardiola. They’ve won a number of trophies including the Premier League (six times in recent years and twice in the old league). Just recently, the club submitted a planning application for a £300m expansion of Etihad Stadium, to increase the current capacity from 53,400 to 60,000.
It’s great to see the Blues taking home silverware after years of not winning anything at all. To see life-long supporters, including your parents, finally get to witness glory years for the club is just amazing.
But looking back through the years, even when things were bad, it was still a great feeling to be a City supporter. I guess we had something to fight for, never really knowing we’d some day finally get there.
Asked if he’d still support City if we went back to having no money, The Ginger Wig said: “Yes. The fact that they’re rich and have the best players in the world is just an added bonus. If they were playing in the park across the road, I’d still watch them. It’s just ingrained in you.”
Asked who his favourite all-time player is, Dr Gary James said: “Pablo Zabaleta. A legendary figure in my eyes. Before Pablo Zabaleta it was Dave Watson.” The Ginger Wig agreed, saying: “Pablo Zabaleta. He was just hard as nails, and just the stories of him coming in and learning English by watching Coronation Street.”
For my dad, it’s Dennis Tueart: “He was fiery and he scored goals. He could turn a game.”
For my mum it’s Shaun Wright-Phillips, because, she says: “He was the one skilful pass, goal-scoring player. He was like a ray of hope and he came from the youth, and he hung on to us for a long time.” — Shauny Wright is mine also.
You can follow Dr Gary James on Twitter @GaryJamesWriter. He has written numerous books about the history of football. You can also follow Anthony @thegingerwig on Twitter. He sells City memorabilia and gifts — look out for him wearing his ginger wig to the game on match days!