The Manchester Local Image Collection contains over 80,000 online images of Manchester’s people, streets and buildings stretching right back to the nineteenth century. It’s a great way to access our local history and get a glimpse into what life in Manchester looked like many years ago. One of the local history Facebook groups recently posted up a photograph (above) they had found in the Local Images Collection which prompted much discussion about where and when it was taken and I was interested to try to find some answers. The photograph was titled as “Royal Street Bridge” but when I tried to locate it in the  Local Image Collection a search on this brought nothing back.

An online map resource, created by Dr Martin Dodge of the University of Manchester, provided some clues to help progress the search. The collection of twenty old Manchester maps (dating back to 1772) have an overlay feature so that old maps can be superimposed onto contemporary maps or other old maps to make spotting changes easier.

Historical Maps of Manchester
Bartholomew’s 1900 Map overlaid onto the current OS map

// maps (above) showed that “Royal Street Bridge” is also known as “Royle Bridge” (which is clearly confusing as there is a Royal Street adjacent to the bridge). It’s location today is in Miles Platting, just outside of Ancoats, on the Rochdale Canal.

The maps were quite fascinating in revealing the changes to the road plans and street names. In the photograph the street sign reads as Whalley Street (as it is on Kelly’s 1920 map) but other maps either don’t show it or show connecting or alternative street names including: Bridge Street (as you can see above on Bartholomew’s map of 1900) and Davies Street. Today the nearest road to this location is Marcer Road but this starts further back from the bridge.

At this point I decided a trip along the Rochdale Canal was needed to find out what had become of this bridge and the streets surrounding it and this is what I discovered:
Royle Bridge 2016

Amazingly the bridge has barely changed over the past century but the surrounding area couldn’t be more different. In the background Victoria Mill (built in 1869) is still standing today and I guess this was the chimney to the left in the background of the 1908 photograph.

Back in the Local Image catalogue a search on “Royle-Bridge” revealed that the photograph was taken on 6 April 1908 by J Jackson (an official photographer for the City Engineers Department) and also that two other photographs had been taken on the same day from other vantage points, here’s the first from the other side of the bridge:
Ancoats, Royle Bridge, over Rochdale Canal 1908
And this what it looks like today:

Royle Bridge 2016

Jackson also photographed across the bridge:

Ancoats, "Royle Street Bridge", over Rochdale Canal 1908

And this is taken from the same location today:

Royle Bridge 2016

Looking at the 1908 photographs on my smart phone, whilst standing in the spaces that they were taken, made me feel really connected to the place and the people who lived in the area at that time. The research experience was similar to when investigating family history in that every discovery leads to another question and another search. I was left with a curiosity about the buildings in the photographs: the corner shop, the Bridge Inn and the mill (or factory building).

A search for Whalley Street in the 1907 Manchester Directory (accessable from the archives at Central Library) listed the area as “Newton” at that time and the owner of the corner shop was Mr William Millington. Neighbouring shops in that year included a fish and chip shop, a clogger (a clog maker), a brazier (a brass worker), a pawnbroker and a hardware store. The Facebook group have helped with information about the mill which was known locally as “Mellor’s” and a 1961 photograph in the Local Images Collection shows that the mill was still standing then but that the Bridge Inn had been demolished.

Ancoats, Royle Bridge, over Rochdale Canal, 1961

A map from the time shows that there was a Mellor Street directly behind the mill so there’s a new lead to progressing my investigations.

Historical Maps of Manchester
Geographica Map 1960

If you’re interested in exploring Manchester in this way then here is a summary of things to help you:

  1. Search the catalogue in the Local Image Collection:use the detailed search and click on the keyword icon on the right of the keyword field to find recognised terms
  2. Try different search terms and spellings
  3. For help with locations, consult old Manchester maps
  4. Make use of local history groups on Facebook or elsewhere: great for information and sharing your discoveries
  5. Visit the ground floor of Central Library and take a look through the local studies section and digitised maps or search the archive catalogue for more information
  6. Explore the locations for yourself and experience the spaces as they are today
  7. We would love to hear about your discoveries: tweet to @archivesplus; message us on Facebook at archivesplus or tag us in your Instagram photos: @manclibraries_archivesplus
Royle Bridge 2016
Royle Basin and Royle Bridge, 2016

Thanks to: Ancoats Forever members for inspiration and information: Tony, Sheila, Bob, Elvin, Collette, Philip, Nick, Kenny and Maggie; and Dr Martin Dodge for his digitised map resource.