August’s mighty weather has taken over Manchester this week, and I am bound to talk about some of the great streets of Manchester. I am presently a volunteer for Archives+ and have chosen to document my interest in the wonderful streets which everyday we drive on, walk by and stare at without thinking…that street has more to say. Well, I am  one for letting them speak and  will be taking a new approach to blogging, where I will post weekly blogs about different streets. My first in this series will be Portland Street, I see this as a face for business in Manchester, and over time the face of business for this street in Manchester has changed. In later series of my blog and closer towards Manchester Pride 2013, I will be speaking about Canal Street. I then plan to look at Corporation Street, Market Street, Oxford Road, Deansgate, Hyde Road & London Road. I’m certain that throughout your read of those roads, I’ll be taking you through a journey of memories, and great history. Throughout my series of blogs, I will also be discussing the nature of how streets come to be named, be that through development decisions or through council minutes. Upon our quest to unearth the great history of the streets and roads of Manchester, I am pleased to announce that I will be following my newly loved trend of comparing Old v.New.

So now, I feel it’s time to move onto my street of interest, Portland Street. This street currently houses some of the leading businesses in some of the most glamorous air conditioned offices. A bit easy to read, right? But when you stand by Portland Street, you will see cars racing, taxis beeping and hear the relaxing sound of a bus stopping. It is a true artery into the heart of Manchester and is a truly beautiful place to discuss. An image I took of the street below, shows the street in 2013 which is  filled with traffic and business.

Portland Street
The street truly brings to life the capitalism of our city. Businesses such as the Watts Warehouse which is now the Britannia Hotel was formerly a textiles warehouse and Bank Chambers (Bank of England building) gives you a real sense of the history this street has had and continues to have. I found yet another image, from 1914 of Portland Street. Take a look and see the comparison to my image below (Courtesy of Manchester’s Local Image Collection)

Portland Street May- 1914

In the above image, we see how business now has taken on a completely new face. We used to carry goods with horse and carriages instead of 16 tonne trucks and the way we used to travel was with trams. Metrolink can now clearly show that we are trying to return to our original transportation ways, which involved moving on trams as it compliments the environment and reduces what we are now aware of as carbon emissions. The trams that we see in the above image were a part of Manchester Corporation Tramways. These tramways were part of an electric tram service in Manchester and operated between 1901 and 1949. At its peak in 1928, the organisation carried 328 million passengers, on 953 trams, via 46 routes along 292 miles. (Now those are a few numbers you won’t forget quickly). In comparison to the current rail travel in Manchester, Metrolink has some way to go on its journey. Metrolink runs 25 million passengers annually on 6 lines such as Bury & Altrincham to a totality of 69 stations. The scheme by Metrolink was approved by Government in 1988, and so we can really show how this reflects on the previous might of Portland Street and how business has changed its image over the last century.

The name of Portland street probably falls into the same inspirational category as Piccadily. Portland street was originally a leafy country footpath called Garret Lane- a name which echoed a now long vanished fourteenth century mansion called Garrett Hall. Like other street names before and after, the original and more appropriate name was replaced with an alternative which bears no relation to the history of its locality and merely serviced to reflect the self-importance of the commerical classes. The members of the commercial classes (read widely as ‘wealthy business men’) renamed the street in the 19th century. I question that the commercial classes may possibly have chosen this street name in rememberence of Great Portland Street located in London.

Map 4: Tinker, 1772

In future, I’ll be  mentioning how streets come to be named, I will be looking into council minutes, landowners and businesses as inspiration. I will be posting regular blogs as part of this series in future, so keep an eye out.

This blog post was written for Archives+ by one of our volunteers as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project.