Today the sun is shining and it could turn out to be a scorcher. We caught the bus to town where we arrived around 9:30.
Tigger wanted to go to Bury as that is where here grandfather came from. The best way to go there was by tram so we bought day tickets, as these will allow unlimited tram travel throughout the day. We have been on trams in other cities but this will be our first experience of Manchester’s variant. Trams have the advantage that they came move slowly through the town like buses and travel at speed like trains in the suburbs. As cities expand and acquire satellites or connect with neighbouring towns, this seems an ideal transport system.
We managed to occupy front seats and thus see the track ahead and the driver’s actions – all interesting and instructive. As we left the centre of Manchester, the tram tracks ran along with the railway lines but then diverted onto a dedicated path where stops were spaced out and the tram ran at speed.
The tram network seems to me very efficient and a speedy way to travel. Like the London Underground, having dedicated tracks means that, unlike buses, trams have no traffic to contend with, at least when away from the town centre.
Leaving the tram at Bury, almost the first building we saw was the Art Picture House, once a cinema and now a pub. The interior retains much of the luxurious – not to say luxuriant – decor of the cinema, though the circle and the boxes today accommodate spotlights, not spectators.
To their credit, Wetherspoons have preserved much of the original fabric and decor. Despite the inevitable clutter of tables, chairs and other furnishings, the proscenium arch still stands, resplendent in bright paint and gilt work.
The boxes with their splendid chandeliers are no longer used for seating. They hold an array of lamps and projectors which illuminate the old cinema to best advantage.
Similarly, the circle, its front decorated with gilded garlands and cherubs, is dark and empty.
An effort has been made even in the toilets (usually not the most enjoyable part of a British pub) which though modern, have gilding around the mirrors reflecting that in the theatre. (Ignore the plastic bin!)
As we explored, we caught sight of an advertisement for the East Lancashire Railway and transport museum. We sought out their premises, the old Bury Bolton Street station, thinking we might visit the museum and even ride the steam train. No chance. Both the railway and the museum are closed on Monday and Tuesday, a pattern that we find often repeated in these parts. To be fair, I imagine that running an organization with volunteers does mean that you cannot always run a full-time programme.
As we went about, we caught glimpses of what looked like a castle and so, fresh from our disappointment with the East Lancashire Railway, we went to take a look at the castle. Unfortunately, it is not a real castle but a Victorian and Edwardian mock-up on the site of the original fortified manor house built by Sir Thomas Pilkington in 1469. Sir Thomas backed the wrong side in the Wars of the Roses (i.e. he supported the Yorkist cause) and in punishment lost his house in 1489. Thereafter it fell into ruin and was pillaged for building materials. A drill hall was built on the site and this mock castle added in the Victorian era.
Sir Robert Peel, famous for creating the first police force, was born in Bury and is commemorated in this monument. He was also active in politics during a fairly turbulent period and if that sort of thing interests you, you will find details here.
Though not born in Bury itself (he was a son of Walmsley, a little to the north), John Kay has achieve a place of honour in the town. This striking monument, by the sculptor John Cassidy (1860-1939), was erected in 1908.
John Kay (1704- c. 1779) took out a patent in 1733 for what became known as the fly-shuttle or flying shuttle for use with weaving frames. Hitherto, working the shuttle had required two weavers who tossed it back and forth between them. The new device required only one worker.
John Kay did not invent the power loom – this was patented in 1785 by Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823) – but it is claimed that the John Kay’s shuttle was one of the technologies that helped Cartright create that machine. A panel to the power loom thus appears on the memorial.
Having had lunch in a cafe in a street picturesquely named The Rock, we decided it was time to move on. We felt that Tigger’s grandfather who had left Bury to fight in the First World War and had spent the rest of his life in the south of England, would recognize little or nothing of his town in modern Bury.
Not that Bury was devoid of interest, as I hope the foregoing demonstrates. As well as historical traces and memorabilia there were imaginative ideas such as the council flower beds of which the above is an example.
We took the tram back to Manchester and sought caffeine-based comfort in Caffè Nero, where we hatched a plan to go to Altrincham. Why? Well, for one thing, we had never been there…
The clock tower (built in 1880 and now listed) was an early promise but what we found was a town, like so many, that are pleasant enough if you are satisfied with shopping “precincts” dominated by the usual suspects and buildings that are brick boxes devoid of character and in which the label “historic” is affixed to areas from which all traces of history have been carefully expunged.
The highlight of the visit was the discovery of the County Galleries, an art shop run by an amiable gentleman in what was once the premises of the County Bank.
As an ex-employee of the same he was able to give us some interesting details of the bank’s history and he kindly allowed us to take photos of the interior even though we made no purchases. Such people are a pleasure to meet and add greatly to the enjoyment of our explorations.
The original bank counter which originally ran down the middle of the room has been taken apart, moved to the back and reassembled.
This sculpture of two geese stands in the middle of Goose Green, to which we made a brief foray before taking the tram once more. (We were determined to get the most from our tickets!)
Altrincham did possess some interesting old buildings whose size and design suggest that there was once commerce and plenty of money here. To judge from boarded up premises, though, it is no longer as affluent as it once was. Somehow, the town as a whole failed to impress me.
This is where we arrived, at Eccles. There is, or rather was, an actual cross dating from Anglo-Saxon times which was destroyed, as rumour has it, by a lorry.
Today’s cross is a curious artifact which incorporates a (non-functioning) drinking fountain. I don’t know the origins and age of this cross.
The town of Eccles became famous for the cake named after it which was first made by James Birch in 1793. Since then “Eccles cakes” are made all over the world but true enthusiasts of course only accept those made here as the genuine article. Sadly, James’s shop no longer exists and even the position of the blue plaque is approximate.
The church incorporates parts of an original Norman forerunner. It has a rather nice clock though I find the church as a whole has a rather brooding look.
In the churchyard is this unusual urn-shaped sundial. I don’t know it’s history and, as you can perhaps see, it’s broken.
Time was getting on and even though we hadn’t explored Eccles completely we felt it was time to take the tram back to Manchester.
Back in Manchester, we walked from the station, looking for somewhere to have supper. Along the way, we could not help admiring the wonderful buildings that are to be seen there, such as the Midland Hotel, built between 1898 and 1903.
The intricately patterned glazed tile work is magnificent and has withstood the ravages of over a century of Manchester weather with barely a mark. The building, by Charles Trubshaw, is of course listed.
There is a set of panels celebrating the arts of which the above, honouring architecture under the names of Palladio and Wren, is one. All in all, it is a building that deserves to be counted among the jewels of Manchester.
At the other end of the scale is the tiny (at least, tiny in comparison to the surrounding buildings) Mr Thomas’s Chop House, an elaborately styled late Victorian pub. You cannot walk through this city without being struck at every moment by some intriguing sight.
For supper, we were lazy and went to Frankie & Bennie’s which, if the food isn’t all that good, were at least giving a 25% reduction for Monday. It was now raining but we bravely went to Tesco to replenish our stock of breakfast instant porridge before finding our way to Oldham Road and catching the bus back to the hotel.
Our "tram day" had been a busy one and we had kept moving, travelling over the greater part of the tram network. The service is impressive and an encouragement to other cities thinking of bringing back the tram in a new incarnation. All of the towns visited had something to offer and made the day a full but interesting one.