Sunday, February 22, 2009

Secret Manchester.

In Manchester where there glass towers are held erect on scaffold

and the remains of something older and medieval nestle warily between the stones of something later

and the mock-up of the entrance to a Roman fort lines up with the shimmering walls of the Hilton tower

a beautiful girl poses for the camera, and draws my eye

almost as much as the mirrored Urbis centre; its walls apparently transparent but really reflecting the skies, while a camera keeps a watchful eye on assembled goths and other city-dwellers.

That is the world above but underneath it all there is this:

a disused workshop, a mine-shaft, a cemetery and whole streets. Abandoned canal junctions connect the functioning waterways

and culverts, and there are drains, coal mines, sewers, cathedral-sized spaces for telephone exchanges, cold-war shelters, secret hideaways for priests in times of persecution, half-finished and never used reservoirs, and mysterious brick-lined tunnels with elaborate arches large enough for a horse and cart...

For instance, the Manchester City News in 1911 described the discovery of a large tunnel that, according to one old man, was part of a network, and was then thought to be 200-300 years old. It is intriguing to think that the centre of the city is riddled with such passageways connecting cathedral to river, and even, in the middle of the eighteenth century allowed the escape of a man wanted for murder. He was trailed to a house on Cumberland Street, and was seen to enter it, but never to have left it, but had evidently made his escape underground arriving at a point 'beyond the ken' of his pursuers.

I discovered all this in Underground Manchester by Keith Warrender, a book I bought at the Urbis Centre after seeing a photographic exhibition there by Andrew Brooks called Hidden Manchester.

The photographs are remarkable and just the sort of thing I love - tunnels leading somewhere, lit by some unknown but promising source; and views of the city at night from the cathedral - the lights focused at some burning focal point. They are enhanced and skilfully composed, sometimes with a cubist manipulation of image so that the roof of a bell-tower is seen on the same continuous plane as the walls and floor. I now have a signed one of my favourite - an underground culvert called Big Humpty. You can see all of the pictures here.

Labels: , , , ,


Blogger BarbaraS said...

I love underground worlds; I think I've watched too many post-apocalyptic films or maybe it was Christopher Lambert in Subway, making it seem 'sexy.' Or maybe those bunkers that people turn up from time to time, or even those secret tunnels that pass into legend in the weirdest of places.

Mon Feb 23, 12:39:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, I do too, Barbara! There's something really enticing about them. I wonder if it's something primeval. When I was researching shamanism there were always three kingdoms - the one we're in, the one in the heavens and the one underground. Stone-age shamans often went underground in trances - according to what I read - and drew their pictures on cave-walls that were almost inaccessible. Perhaps we have a collective memory of this.

Mon Feb 23, 06:26:00 pm  
Anonymous Ian D Smith said...

This is a brilliant photo tour of my home city which I fully endorse. If you ever feel like extending your journey a few miles south, I've successfully taken my southern partner on an alternative English heritage trip that includes Stockport, parts of which have been abandoned and untouched for years and there's no entrance fee. It has caves in the sandstone that go under the town too, and Cobden's statue.

Tue Feb 24, 12:35:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thank you Ian! For both the very kind words and also the recommendation. I shall certainly do so - I think I am getting slightly addicted to investigating underground places.

Tue Feb 24, 03:54:00 pm  
Blogger jem said...

I like the thought of what might be going on beneath you. It reminds me of the human body a bit, the processes that take place beneath the skin, the blood, digestion etc. And of course add in the dimension of time to cities and bodies too and you get another layer. Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing.

Wed Feb 25, 02:30:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Oh, I agree very much, Jem! Last year I found out a lot about the immune system and that was incredibly exciting. I just wanted to go round telling everyone about it - and did!

Wed Feb 25, 09:32:00 pm  

Post a Comment

Comments are subject to moderation.

<< Home