Tag: Manchester

Story of the week: A walk around literary Manchester


Literary types gather soon for the annual Manchester Literature Festival.

They’re in for a surprise. Manchester has a host of hidden-gem treasures and a slew of new openings for bookish types keen to explore the city’s rich literacy legacy – from Karl Marx observing working life in the mid 19th century to the UK’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

“Manchester always had an edgy, radical feel as a city,” says Blue Badge Guide Kate Dibble of Manchester Tours, who leads literary tours of the city.

“Great authors through the ages have always tried to capture it.”

Walking tour

I joined a walking tour to trace a route around the modern-industrial city, following in the footsteps of the writers who have documented its evolution.

We started by Oxford Road train station where the Cornerhouse arts centre – moving to the new HOME development in May next year – remains one of the city’s best bookshops for art and cinema literature.

The short stroll along Whitworth Street West leads us past The Ritz, the gig venue where the performance poet John Cooper Clarke famously met Salome Maloney:

“In lurex and terylene, she hypnotised me.”

The nearby International Anthony Burgess Centre, dedicated to the Manchester-born author of the dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, houses an eccentric collection of possessions, including letters to the film director Stanley Kubrick and his personal copy of A Clockwork Orange with doodles by the author.

The upstairs performance space hosts author Blake Morrison for the Burgess Lecture during the MLF on October 16, while the guided Unlocking the Archive tour is on October 22.

Heading towards St Peter’s Square, Manchester Central Library reopened in March this year after a £50m refurbishment to open up the library as a living-room space for the city.

It has welcomed some 300,000 visitors since, combining a high-tech media lounge, contemporary exhibition space and an interactive children’s library with the faithful restoration of the original architectural flourishes to their 1930s glory.

Neil MacInnes, Head of Libraries, Information and Archives, says:

“It’s the library as the street-corner university, a place to engage with knowledge and wisdom.”

Hushed reverence

By contrast, a visit to the Portico Library and Gallery, the Neo-Classical newsroom and library accessed from Charlotte Street, is like stepping back in time.

The 19th-century collection of dusty tomes, including travel literature, biographies and first-edition fiction, offers an insight into the mindset of Manchester in the industrial age. The genteel Reading Room is for members only but the café and gallery is open to all, as is the programme of literary events.

Cutting through the sidestreets towards Deansgate, the John Rylands Library, named after the 19th-century cotton magnate, is the third largest academic library in the UK.

Transformed by fusing a modern wing onto the existing neo-Gothic structure, new exhibition space and a study centre now complement the hushed reverence of the historic reading room. The John Rylands has a tour of the building and its collection on the third Thursday of each month.

Chetham’s Library, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, traces Manchester’s literary legacy back to the medieval period.

The 17th-century Manchester textile merchant Humphrey Chetham established the library in his 1651 will as a free library for the use of scholars and the rambling space of cloisters and courtyards has been a haven for study ever since.

Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx researched here and their desk is now a place of pilgrimage in the 16th-century, wood-paneled reading room.

Writing in The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels describes industrial Manchester:

”If anyone wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither.“

Literary legend

I finish my tour in the city’s Ardwick district where Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the family home of the Cranford author, reopens on October 5 after three years, restoring the Grade II-listed Regency villa as if the family had just popped out and left the table set for dinner.

The opening is timed to host two MLF events, the Manchester Salon exploring Gaskell’s 1855 novel North and South on October 8 and a walking tour of Gaskell’s Manchester, culminating at the house, on October 15.

Gaskell documented Manchester’s burgeoning industrial revolution from her writing desk at 84 Plymouth Grove after the family moved to the house in 1850 and her views contrasted starkly with the ideals of the Victorian era.

“As a female voice, few were as courageous as hers,” says Janet Allan, Chair of the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust [pictured above].

“Her greatest skill was to use storytelling to address the social issues of the era.”

A walking tour of Manchester proves the city may have evolved but its penchant for speaking out remains a constant source of literary inspiration.

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This story first appeared in The Guardian in 2014. Liked this? Try also A weekend in Manchester’s Chinatown.

Copywriting: Your British Journey campaign for Marketing Manchester and Visit Wales


Manchester and North Wales are two places where I always enjoy spending time.

So, when I was asked recently to do some copywriting work for a tourism project around the theme of ‘Two destinations. One British journey’ (catchy, if I do say so myself), then I was delighted to get involved.

This campaign was aimed at American visitors to the UK, so it was all ‘vacations’ not ‘holidays’.

The brief was to write copy to entice visitors this spring to explore both the essential and less-well-known sites, combining the two locations in a week-long itinerary.

The resulting microsite went live this week and you can read read my copy at Your British Journey. The work will also appear via American Airlines.

Emma Gordon, Marketing Manager at Marketing Manchester, who commissioned the work from me in collaboration with the Visit Wales office in New York, said of my contribution to the project:

“It was great to work with David. He listened to our needs, developed a perfect strapline and delivered inspiring copy for our marketing campaign.”

Do you have a copywriting project and need a professional writer with an eye for a story? Please get in touch. 

Story of the week: A weekend in Manchester’s Chinatown



Lan ‘Maggie’ Ye greets me with two teas, a fragrant jasmine and a more herbal guan yin, accompanied by a plate of crushed-almond teacakes from Macau.

Escorting us to seats amid flickering candles and Asian figurines in the residents-only Sutra Lounge, she explains the history of Chinese tea ceremony, known as Kong Fu, meaning ‘brewing the tea with great skill’.

“Chinese tea ceremony is a way to show respect to favoured guests,” explains Maggie, whose family hails from China’s Hubei province.

“I learnt the ceremony by watching my grandfather prepare tea for the family every Sunday afternoon.”

By the end of the 40-minute ceremony, I am feeling not only calmed but culturally immersed, having learned to tap the table with two fingers to show our appreciation as Maggie pours from a dainty blue-flower teapot into tiny, thimble-like cups, and pick up the saucers with both hands.

The tea ceremony is one just of the extra services available to guests checking in at the Yang Sing Oriental, the latest boutique hotel opening in Manchester.

There’s a charge for afternoon tea, but many of the extra touches, such as a free minibar, free in-room films and a consultation with a scent sommelier to choose a fragrance to be diffused in your room to suit your mood, are included in the room rate.

Checking in 

I check in on a sunny afternoon in Manchester’s vibrant Chinatown district, the hotel has been open just two weeks. The property is awaiting a few final touches to the decor and the last fittings to be imported from China, but it’s already running with an air of quiet efficiency.

To work up an appetite for dinner, I take advantage of one of the other complimentary services: a rickshaw ride.

This alternative taxi is available to guests for short hops across town, such as to the theatre or a meeting. I opt for a rickshaw tour of Chinatown and start free-wheeling through the streets past signs with Chinese characters and colourful shopfronts.

Our Malaysian-born driver, Freddy, peddles furiously through the rush-hour traffic and, as we pass under the elaborate Chinese Imperial Arch, a gift from the Chinese people in 1987, it feels more like Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district than England’s reborn second city.

Local supermarkets sell exotic produce, gift shops sell Hello Kitty merchandise and roasted ducks hang in the windows of restaurants, headless and resigned to the imminent dinner rush.

Room with a view 

Back at the hotel, my suite is from the mid-price Grand Oriental category, roomier than the standard Mandarin and Oriental suites, but still modest by the standards of the Grand Emperor Suite with its £739 per night rack rate.

It is divided between a small lounge and a more spacious sleeping area behind a black screen, and features a mix of modern and oriental influences.

A low, leather-trim bed, offset by cherry blossom-design scatter cushions, dominates the rooms, while the desk is graced with three dipping bowls of fresh fruit and a display of white orchids.

The latter is a recurring feature found throughout the whole hotel from the distressed brown-and silver bathroom to the dark-wood and leather seats of the reception bar.

Most striking of all are two soft-focus artworks on the walls of the sleeping area. They have a 1950’s-Shanghai feel and could almost be stills from a film by the celebrated Chinese film director Kar Wai Wong, who directed the atmospheric In The Mood For Love.

Downstairs the primarily Asian staff busy themselves serving drinks in the hotel’s Oku Champagne Bar, a clean white space dominated by a sweeping curve of a bar.

Dinner buffet

The hotel has no restaurant per se, so for dinner we head next door to the buzzy Yang Sing restaurant, Manchester’s best-known Cantonese eatery, which is owned by the same family as the hotel and works closely with the new property.

Opened in 1977, the restaurant has become something of a Manchester institution with its easy mix of businesspeople and local families treating their children to some real Chinese food.

The basement restaurant feels businesslike but stylish with dark-wood fittings and the same 1950’s-Shangai artworks that feature in the hotel next door.

The menu is bewilderingly extensive but the most popular way to order is to simply tell the waitress what you like and let her design a bespoke banquet for you.

I take her advice and tuck into a mixed place of fried and steamed dim sum as an entree, small bowls of wanton soup, followed by spicy duck with fried rice and Chinese pak choi vegetables.

The food is excellent with the softness of the steamed dim sum complementing the tangy spice of the duck.

For breakfast the next morning, served in the low-lit Oku Bar, I go continental with fresh fruit, muesli served with Green yoghurt and pastries, accompanied by fresh juice and coffee. The menu may be less traditional but the service doesn’t disappoint – attentive, not overbearing, I feel looked after rather than pressurised to finish.

Future plans

The Yang Sing may be the new kid on the block but it is already carving its niche.

It feels like a business hotel during the week and local businesspeople seeking to brush up on cultural tips before a working trip to China are a natural audience. At the weekend, however, it has a more relaxed feel and, despite the elaborate surroundings.

So is this the start of a new chain of hotels buoyed by the post-Olympic glow and burgeoning fascination with the motherland?

The Yang Sing Oriental’s owner, Hong Kong-raised and Manchester-based businessman, Gerry Yeung, certainly thinks so, and harbours plans to roll out a portfolio of hotels across the UK and Europe.

“I see myself as a cross-cultural person and the style of the hotel reflects this,” says Gerry, who cites The Peninsula in Hong Kong and Raffles Hotel Singapore as his favourite destination hotels.

“Yang Sing is east meets west, service meets style. It’s modern, classical and yet oriental.”

* This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2008 – the hotel has since closed. Liked this? Try this story published this week: A literary tour of Manchester.

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Story of the week: 50 years of Coronation Street in Manchester


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The TV flickers into life.

I settle down to watch a compilation of clips of Coronation Street through the decades, starting with a black-and-white sequence of Florrie Lindley’s corner shop from the first-ever episode.

To my left a display case has a 40th anniversary Monopoly set and signed scripts from the show. Sadly, Hilda Ogden’s curlers have been returned to the Granada archive.

I’m at the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI; pictured above), where the Connecting Manchester Gallery tells the story of communication from the evolution of a 1930s Baird Televisor to the early days of Granada Television as a maverick new kid on the block in 1956.

“The gallery is a great place for people to reminisce about watching Coronation Street during their childhood,” says Curator for Community History, Meg McHugh.

“Coronation Street was a ground-breaking programme when first commissioned as it actually reflected everyday life.”

Sure enough, the compilation of classic footage brings memories flooding back.

I’m too young for the 1961 confrontation between Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharples, the latter resplendent in her spider-web hairnet, and I was in short trousers for an episode celebrating the 1977 Silver Jubilee with Annie Walker, Bet Lynch and Alf Roberts.

But I do remember Hilda Ogden’s leaving party from 1987 with Vera Duckworth and Mavis Riley in attendance. It remains the show’s most-watched episode and I was one of the 27m viewers that night.

Birthday party 

Coronation celebrates its 50th birthday on December 9.

ITV will mark the landmark with the most expensive shoot in soap history, a dramatic denouement to a storyline involving a tram crash, which will claim the lives of several key cast members.

I’ve come to Manchester to explore the cult of Corrie. I want to see how the story of Britain’s favourite soap opera reflects Manchester’s urban renaissance since those gritty, monochrome days of industrial decline in the early Sixties when three TV producers first cooked up the idea for a new TV series – then named Florizel Street.

From my room at the city’s ABode hotel, which blends the original features of the erstwhile cotton warehouse with funky, modernist furniture, I can see how the cityscape has evolved from industrial powerhouse to cultural capital of the north.

Following the 1996 IRA bombing of the city, the subsequent regeneration helped Manchester to secure the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The city was reborn.

Today the Beetham Tower, Europe’s tallest residential building, is the new symbol of Manchester, MediaCityUK at Salford Quays will generate a life of its own when the BBC moves into new premises in May next year and the Manchester International Festival returns next summer, attracting a global audience to its high-profile cultural events.

Walking tour

For devotees making a Coronation Street pilgrimage, the Castlefield area of the city, birthplace of Manchester in Roman times, and an area whose canals and railways were crucial to the Industrial Revolution from the late 18th century, is the spiritual home.

The area features heavily on the itinerary of walking tours arranged by Ed Glinert of New Manchester Walks. Ed leads guided walks around key locations, often accompanied by excited groups of Street fans from Canada and New Zealand, where the show is equally popular.

“Coronation Street doesn’t really reflect how much Manchester has changed. The show still feels vaguely northern but Weatherfield (the make-believe suburb where it is set) is a rather cosseted world,” says Eds.

“It’s still compulsive viewing but I yearn for the great characters.”

We meet at the Midland Hotel, where Messrs Rolls and Royce first came together to talk torque in 1904.

For fans of the Street, the stately old hotel is best known as the place where Mike Baldwin arranged two of his weddings, and where Stanley and Hilda Ogden went for their Silver Wedding dinner.

In real life, the actress Jean Alexander (who played Hilda Ogden) would eat fish and chips every Friday night in its restaurant, The French.

At each stop, Ed regales us with some with some juicy nugget of Corrie-inspired trivia, relating the development of the show to the urban regeneration of Manchester and revealing showbiz secrets from what he describes as the “golden age of Coronation Street” – that’s 1975 to ’85.

For example, when the actress who played Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix) was buried at the Catholic Church of The Holy Name of Jesus on Oxford Road in the mid Eighties, a fledgling young Labour MP, one Anthony Blair, was amongst the mourners.

But as we approach the current TV studios with its Art Deco-style Granada sign, it becomes quickly apparent that Granada Studios operates under a security regime more rigorous than Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie at he height of the Cold War.

The set is completely blocked off to the public. The only way to currently steal a glimpse of storylines being filmed on set is to book out room 29 at the nearby Great John Street Hotel, which overlooks the set.

The former Granada Studio Tour has long since stopped, but there is speculation that Granada may relocate to new premises at MediaCityUK and reinstate on-set tours. For now, Ed’s walking tours are the only way for Corrie fans to get close to their favourite characters.

Swift half 

We finish just off Deansgate at The Old Grapes, the pub co-owned by Liz Dawn (the actress who played Vera Duckworth). Over pints of local ales, we peruse the memorabilia from framed magazine covers to pictures of her and on-screen husband, Jack (Bill Tarmey), with various visiting dignitaries.

Back at the Connecting Manchester Gallery, I’m watching an interview with William Roach, the actor who plays Ken Barlow, and the only original cast member still in the show after 50 years of kitchen-sink dramas.

In 1961 he attracted 83 complaints for uttering the first expletive on the Street – “bloody”.

He says, as more fans join me for a trip down the memory lane of Coronation Street through the ages:

“Acting isn’t pretending. It’s believing,”

“For me, Coronation Street,” he adds, “is acting in its purest form.”

* This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2008. Liked this? Try A city guide to industrial-heritage Manchester.

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