The Northern Quarter could arguably be described as the ‘hippest’ area of Manchester with its cool cafe’s, trendy watering holes, music venues and quirky shops. It is a place that inspires and breeds creativity and whilst exploring the Archives + Flickr page I came across an album of images titled “Pre ‘Northern Quarter’”. These photographs are part of the Manchester Local Image Collection (from Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives). After browsing through this, I became very intrigued to delve into the history of the area before its regeneration.
The first images that I came across were of Smithfield Market. You can gauge from the busy scenes in the images below how many people the market would have attracted to the area, both traders and buyers alike. Following the wish of Sir Oswald Mosley to have all stalls contained in one area, it expanded into a place where you could purchase all sorts of things, such as meat, fish, cheese, fruit and flowers. It enhanced the Northern Quarter as a commercial centre, which was beneficial to the area as hard times had recently hit, mainly caused by the loss of work for handloom weavers (Manchester’s Northern Quarter, The Greatest Meer Village, 30-32).
Images of Oldham Street were the next to catch my attention, these also show that the Northern Quarter had gathered momentum as a commercial area in the mid 19th century continuing into the 20th century. The first images are from the early 1900’s and as you can see, the street is bustling with very smartly-dressed people (hats were definitely on trend)!
The next set of images were taken during the 1940’s, these reminded me (if you look past the clothing) of a scene on a typically busy Saturday afternoon on Market Street.
The next set of images that I found were again, of Oldham Street, this time taken in the 1980’s. They show the street once home to household names such as FW Woolworth, Boots and Marks & Spencer, as a shadow of its former self. This is said to have been due the closure of Smithfield Market in 1973 and the introduction of the Arndale Centre to the city in the 1970’s which significantly impacted trade in the Northern Quarter (Manchester’s Northern Quarter, The Greatest Meer Village, 61-69).
You can also see the deserted scene of Smithfield Market following its closure, in the images below.
Scrolling further on through the Flickr Album, images of Tib Street in the late 1950’s also caught my eye. The first of these was captured on a Saturday afternoon in 1959, you can see the amount of people enjoying the window display at R Groves and Son- the famous pet shop. James Middleton in his ‘Book of Recollections’ remembers that it was ‘always a temptation to turn into Tib Street…’ ‘…where natural history was taught by living examples. Bird, dogs, rabbits, poultry displayed in the windows or outside the shops were an external delight…’ (The Old Road, A Book of Recollections, 4).
Looking at the next set of images taken of Tib Street in the 1980’s, as with Oldham Street, you can see the decline in the amount of people around. The image below is taken outside the same shop as in the image mentioned earlier, but there are no longer crowds of people relishing at the window displays, instead the street seems eerily empty.
After discovering images which showed the commercial side of the Northern Quarter, I then went further back in time to research how it had served as a residential area. Properties in the Northern Quarter had at first been built out of a need to house workers of the cotton industry in the 18th century, so they didn’t adhere to any sort of plan and there are still some original features that can be seen today. (Manchester’s Northern Quarter, The Greatest Meer Village, 11)
If you happen to be walking through the Northern Quarter, have a wander down Tib Street towards No’s 47-53, looking up you will notice that the windows at the top of this row of houses are unusually ‘wide but shallow’. This was because the housing was built for weavers and the light from these windows would have lit up their loom shops. These houses also contain a ‘taking in door’ which ‘allowed the movement of goods into the workshop and the removal of the woven cotton cloth directly to the street below’ (Manchester’s Northern Quarter, The Greatest Meer Village, 13-14).
Another building that is definitely worth stopping to have a look at is No. 8 Lever Street, as it also still retains its original features. This was built under the supervision of William Stevenson, who bought land from Lord Lever in 1780 to develop the area. Standing across the road at the bus stop, taking in this grand, three storeyed-house, you can envisage what William Stevenson had in mind for his development. However, his vision never fully took off due to a ‘building boom’ in other parts of the city which ‘undermined the intended middle-class development’ in the Northern Quarter. (Manchester’s Northern Quarter, The Greatest Meer Village, 20).
Nowadays, the Northern Quarter has combined aspects of its past to become the lively neighbourhood that it is today, the non-uniform feel to it only adds to the charm of the area. It is now home to residents, large businesses and independent retailers, who all contribute to its unique character.
You can also have a read of the secondary sources that I used:
‘The Old Road, A Book of Recollections’, James Middleton
‘The Shudehill and Northern Quarter Area of Manchester, ‘An Outgrowth of Accident’ and ‘Built According to Plan’,English Heritage
‘Manchester’s Northern Quarter, The Greatest Meer Village’, English Heritage