I’m currently studying at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) which means that I travel into Manchester at least twice a week. On my regular stomp between Piccadilly Station and All Saints campus, I see the construction of lots of new buildings alongside buildings and landmarks from my childhood.
I like new buildings. They’re cool. They stand out and make the city look modern, but I’m always sad when somebody changes or demolishes an old building that I remember going past on the bus as a little girl.
Over the last few years there has been a campaign to force some activity from the owners of London Road Fire Station. An enormous building near Piccadilly Station, with ornate stone carvings that has been boarded up for a very long time. In the days before firemen had cool looking uniforms and sexy calendars, London Rd was a working Fire Station and when I was very small I could see them doing their drills in the courtyard as I went past on the bus. My mum didn’t drive, so anywhere that wasn’t within walking distance meant a bus journey complete with little yellow tickets. I see the building on my way to and from uni and I like to think that eventually they’ll do the right thing and start looking after it. The rest of my journey takes me past various buildings some I care about and others I barely even notice.
Manchester University has a building on Grosvenor Street called Oddfellows Hall. Apparently it is one of the university’s language centres, but the only reason I care about that building is because the gable end wall used to have a huge wheel and a brightly coloured mural.
As a youngster my journey into town on the number 50 bus meant that I went past that mural every few weeks. I didn’t know what went on in the building, only that I liked the look of it and went past it on my way to town. After “my” wheel the bus turned left. At some point they took the wheel down and painted over the mural, probably when Oddfellows stopped being the home of the Museum of Science and Industry. Strangely, even now I feel a little bit sad whenever I see the cream wall that my memory tells me should be brightly painted and propping up an oversized wheel. I know its ridiculous but that cream painted wall is a tiny part of my childhood that has gone forever.
After my wheel the bus made its way to All Saints park. When I was little I didn’t know that there was a University next to the park but I did know that the shop over the road had musical instruments outside. Johnny Roadhouse has been a feature on Oxford Road for as long as I can remember. It’s one of my landmarks and as such is never allowed to change. I’m less nostalgic about the university buildings they are currently destroying because I didn’t discover them until I was already a grown up.
During my teens I knew what a university was but didn’t regard them as anything to do with me. Universities are for people who are very clever and quite posh and students were a bit of a nuisance because the bus always ended up at All Saints for too long whilst dozens of them got on and off. Teenage me got bored of waiting for them. Tiny me had more tolerance because I was distracted by the music shop.
As I got older and discovered nightclubs, the list of places in the city centre that became a part of my youth grew. Some of them were places I only saw from the outside as they were before my time. Places like Rotters which closed before I was old enough to even think about going and an upstairs club called Tropicana that wouldn’t let me in because they didn’t think I looked 18. I’d love to have lots of cool stories about nights in the Hacienda but I only went there once. It was a soul night and I ended up in a fight with a rough looking girl who accused me of spilling her drink. Luckily there was a lot less drama on most nights out.
I’m not particularly good with road names so if I’m ever required to give directions it usually involves shops or old nightclubs which is becoming more and more problematic. If you are a similar age to me I can navigate you to Lever St by telling you that its the road that starts at 21 Piccadilly, which was of course upstairs from the old Woolworths. None of which is any use to people in their 20s. Thankfully somebody invented Google maps.
For me the most important club in Manchester was Gallery. Gallery wasn’t much to look at and, as venues go, it didn’t have very good facilities but the music was amazing. It hasn’t existed for years, the building simply isn’t there anymore but the memories aren’t going anywhere.
Nostalgia is a funny thing, it makes you care about things you don’t really care about. You can count on one hand the number of times I visited the Dutch Pancake House near Central Library but I was still annoyed when it closed. I also feel nostalgic about the Kentucky Fried Chicken that used to be near it. It was one of the few takeaways open at 2.00 am when the clubs closed. (back when nightclubs used to shut at 2) rockers from Jilly’s on Oxford St and soul divas from totally different clubs, all queuing up for fried chicken. Some of that nostalgia makes sense but some of it is nonsense. I’m sure I’ll love the amazing new buildings near Central Library but I still miss the Dutch Pancake House. There is no logic behind it. As exciting as the new buildings are, I don’t want to lose any of the old ones.
Both MMU and Manchester University have been creating amazing 21st century buildings but amongst the shiny new ones are beautiful old ones built in the 1800s. The new ones have cool features, but the old ones have beautiful stone carvings and stained glass. Developers are making over Manchester and making changes to people’s memories.
Memories are one way to tie ourselves to our past. To the people we used to be and the people we were with. Nightclubs were about more than music and dancing. They represent a time when I was a lot cooler than I am now. A time before I was a grown up and the inherent uncoolness that comes with it. Nightclubs are about the people you were with on those nights out. They’re about hearing Soul to Soul’s Keep On Moving in Legends (5th Avenue) with Simone and being in Gallery with Jane, Carol and Nikki from school the first time we heard Steve Silk Hurley’s Jack Your Body and talking about it on the way home. Nightclubs are also about the places you wanted to go to but couldn’t get in. They are the funny stories I still share with friends I’ve known since I was a teenager. Thanks to the internet it is possible to rebuild the music collection but the shared experiences of those nights can only live within us.
The missing mural on the side of Oddfellows Hall is different. The Manchester buildings I claimed as mine as a very small child are tied up in my memories of going into town on the bus with my mum. I don’t get to do that anymore so my special buildings are one of my ties to her. Looking out of the bus window on my way to Lewis’s. Wandering around the Underground Market and in later years moaning about Clarks school shoes and begging for Adidas trainers and Farah pants. The most mundane things that weren’t important then, now feel as though they were, simply because I dont get to do that anymore. I guess that’s part of growing up, but my buildings take me back to a time when my mum was still here to go shopping with. So no matter how I feel about the new buildings I will always feel sad about losing the old ones.