Picadilly > Gorton. Gorton is a place that isn’t known as a tourist destination. It is mostly residential, but full of architecture that was once stood tall in the life of a Victorian Mancunian. Some of my favourite buildings lie on the 205 bus line, unaware until I needed to go to the council buildings, on Wenlock Way, a few days ago.
If you get on at Piccadilly, you’ll quickly pass the beautiful, intricate, overwhelming structure that is London Road Fire Station, stretching across the road, and consuming my sight with familiar red brick. It shines bright in the sun, yet flattened by the lack of life, or use. Inside is quiet, and waiting for change. Hard working activists fight for the building, to prevent it from being forgotten. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, they cry. Their voices are starting to be heard.
Head out of the centre, and briefly pass the art deco building, Apollo. Once a cinema in the 40s, now a music venue on the outskirts of the city.
Pass London Road, and Downing Street and you’ll be greeted with old mills, some derelict, and some turned into other things such as army training bases, and furniture warehouses. Squint into the distance, you’ll see them everywhere. Ardwick used to be a wealthy area, as it had been heavily industrialised, but when the industry fell, so did Ardwick, becoming one of the most deprived districts in Manchester.
You’ll pass the old Nichol’s Hospital on Hyde Road. Once blackened by the soot of Manchester’s industrial legacy, but cleaned up, and now enjoyed in its colourful glory. The overtly neo-gothic architecture, dreamt up by Thomas Worthington is satisfyingly symmetrical, sitting on the side of a busy road that leads into the city centre, a monument in the canon of Manchester’s fine architectural history.
Further on, and my favourite part of the route, there are glimmers of Belle Vue, a thriving zoological gardens a few miles from the city centre where bears, lions and kangaroos once roamed, only to close in the 70s after financial troubles. The sweet scents of amusement park treats, and the excited cries of children on rollercoasters, are now replaced with traffic. When it closed, Belle Vue left a gaping hole in the heart of the region that has never been completely replaced.
A little further on, near the towering council buildings on Wenlock Way, is Gorton monastery, a quietly imposing friary built in the mid 1800s. It sits within the 100 most endangered sites in the world, known as Manchester’s Taj Mahal.
It’s worth investing the time to stroll these sites that were once inundated with the sick, the museos, the thrill seekers, and the religious. Now, a bit of a ghost of its prime, filled with succulent treasures, but without the crowds or the wealth that roamed these parts. Yet, regeneration projects are transforming Ardwick, addressing the reactions to its post-industrial struggles. Conscious efforts are being made to restore the district to its former glory. In the space of a 20 minute loop, you’ll pass some of the most important structures that Manchester built before the 20th century, maybe loop round a few times, just to soak it all in.