Category Archives: Manchester

Urbis, of the city of Manchester


In 1996 an IRA bomb hit the area of Manchester around the old Print Works and Arngate. Fortunately, although 300 hundred people were injured, there were no fatalities and happily, the destruction was limited, in the main, to a car park. As it rebuilt in the aftermath of the bombing, Manchester became an international model of city centre development, with innovative buildings, malls, monuments, and spaces. But the star of this showpiece of urban development must surely be Urbis, Manchester’s state of the art exhibition centre.

Urbis, which is Latin for of the city, was the result of a design competition. The winner was local architect Ian Simpson.

Urbis shares one edge of a triangular garden space with Chetham’s Music School and the old Corn Exchange, which now houses the trendy Triangle Shopping Complex. It is a tall cylindrical concrete building coated in 200,000 panels of glass with emerald lights at their centre. There is a 3 foot insulation clearance between the concrete of the building and its glass exterior. At one end an external spire stretches like a bird towards the old city, while below it, the inside is like the prow of a ship.

The core focus at Urbis is Manchester – what makes up this fantastic city and how its citizens and visitors interact with it. The local television station, Channel M is housed here, promoting performers, producing shows and broadcasting uniquely Manchester events.

Urbis is a centre for workshops and tours, like the City Sights Regeneration Tour, exploring Manchester after the bomb, the Faith Tour, exploring city churches, or the Behind the Scenes at Urbis Tour, which looks at the history, the architecture and the organization of Urbis.

The Urbis  foyer is marketplace for local artists and craftspeople as well as an information centre on city life and history. Its shop offers a great range of books on Manchester and its people as well calendars, posters, prints, crafts and souvenirs of the city and the region. Urbis café is a meeting place, a place for Mancunians and visitors to socialize. Urbis’ three floors of show space house exhibitions about city life.

Urbis is a fascinating place to visit, not just as an introduction to the city of Manchester, or as an exploration of its story, or of its latest productions but for its own sake as a unique example of architecture and as a unique centre of city life and art.


The Making of modern Manchester

With the sweeping progress of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester became the world’s first modern city.

Urbis and the Printworks
Urbis and the Printworks

Soft water from the nearby Pennine Ranges made it the perfect place for cotton manufacture and by 1830, 80% of the world’s cotton was processed here. The city mushroomed as factories sprang up and eager workers flooded to them.

The wealth and prosperity of 19th century Manchester have left a legacy of great monuments, streets, squares and buildings, like Picadilly Gardens with its statues Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington, the grand old Corn Exchange, the stunning Midland Hotel, the Majestic Town Hall and lovely Albert Square with its Thomas Worthington statue.

The first modern industrial city gave birth to many other world firsts. The Manchester Guardian was the world’s first workers’ newspaper, produced in the largest print works in the world. The world’s first passenger rail trip ran between Manchester and Liverpool. The Manchester ship canal was the first to link ocean-going ships to a British city. Finally, at this time, the church at the end of Deansgate became Manchester Cathedral under the name of the Cathedral Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George and the Victoria Porch, with a figure of the Queen sculpted by her daughter, Princess Louise was added. Sadly but inevitably, slums, social problems and pollution followed in the wake of the great industrial growth of the period.

After the Blitz of World War II, much of the heart of Manchester was rebuilt, including the beautiful circular library and St Peter’s Square with its Cenotaph. At this time too the stained glass of the Cathedral replaced the windows shattered in the Blitz.

The last fifty years in Manchester have seen great development and growth, with such greats as the giant 1960s Arndale Shopping Centre, one of Europe’s largest. Work continues to reverse the environmental damage of the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. Run-down areas, such as the Salford Docks have been re-developed and the city has adjusted to accommodate new kind of urban dweller and to cater to their 21st century life-style. This has prompted many people to move into the Manchester area. A look at man and van hire in Manchester will show that the logistics of making the move happen couldn’t be easier.

However the catalyst for the most important changes of the last fifty years was the 1996 IRA bombing which destroyed much of the area surrounding Arndale and the Print Works. From the ashes of the destruction has come Manchester’s most exciting development yet. The old print works is now a buzzing neon entertainment centre, facing a square where the Manchester eye turns against a background of little mediaeval buildings. Behind them, the spire of Manchester Cathedral stands against the sky. It faces onto a small square of green bounded by Chetham’s Music School and the Corn Exchange, now home to a complex of smart shops. Last but not least, there’s the sensational Urbis exhibition Centre, which points like a giant glass and steel phoenix back towards the old city.

Manchester is a great city with great vibe. It is an exciting place to pass through, to pause for a some time and, I should imagine, to live in. It is vibrant, dynamic and alive with promise.

A brief history of Manchester, from Roman to Mediaeval times

The Roman invasion, the Danish marauders, the Saxon settlers, the Norman Conquest, the Industrial Revolution, the World War 2 blitz and the IRA bombing, Manchester has endured and survived them all, rebuilding and reinventing itself for over almost two thousand years, to become the vibrant modern metropolis that it is today. Its streets and its architecture tell its long and fascinating story.

Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral

Manchester’s first century AD Roman past can be mainly seen in the reconstructions of walls, stables, barracks, granary and gardens at North Gate, although excavations have uncovered defensive ditches and Salford’s Camp Street marks the site where the first tents were pitched.

The only relic of Saxon times is the Angel Stone, which is mentioned in the Doomesday Book and was the foundation stone for the Church of St Mary, built at the end of Deansgate in the 8th century. The Danes 9th century legacy is found only fragments of language like “gat”, Danish for “street” found in today’s Millsgate and busy, commercial Deansgate.

The Norman Conquest and settlement of 1066 has left more behind it. The historic area of Castlefield, where the Norman town was established, still remains as a vibrant and picturesque part of the new city.

In the lands surrounding Manchester, Norman manors and castles still stand. The names of those early Norman settlers are prominent in the establishment of early Manchester, like Thomas de Gresley, whose son was granted the Great Manchester Charter, in 1301. It was De Gresley’s medieval successors who built the 15th century Hanging Bridge, founded the Chetham’s Music School library and established the Collegiate Church, in 1421. The Arch and the west wall of the Mediaeval Collegiate Church still stand within the tower of the present Manchester Cathedral.