We are having a day in town today. After breakfasting in the hotel room we went out to look for our first destination of the day, the Transport Museum. We walked down from the hotel to Queen’s Road and caught a bus which we thought would take us there.
As you can see from the photo it was a rather dull day and the setting rather desolate. The presence of two unmatched abandoned shoes seemed to emphasise the mood somehow. In the event, the bus didn’t go where we thought and we ended up going into town and starting again from there.
As is usual with this sort of enterprise, there is never enough space, and the Manchester Transport Museum has had to pack its exhibits in tightly. They have tried to allow maximum access to the vehicles and have done quite well in this respect but the crowding makes it difficult to get good photos of individual exhibits. I do not blame the museum for this in the least as they have done the best possible with the available space.
As the above vehicle demonstrates, the exhibits, no matter what the age, have all been carefully restored and maintained. Some are too fragile to allow public access but others can be explored at will.
This Leyland Titan belonged to Stockport Corporation between 1969 and 1981. It was later converted to an open top and used for promotional purposes including a trip to Monaco in support of Manchester’s failed bid to host the 2000 Olympics.
Looking across the roofs of buses from the open top of the Titan shows how tightly packed the museum is. It is to their credit that they have managed to accumulate such a range of vehicles of different ages.
Though we are not “anoraks”, we nevertheless found things to interest us here and admired the work that had gone into restoring these vehicles and in providing useful information on them for visitors.
“Anoraks” would no doubt have been interested in this bus chassis given to the Hyde Road training school for demonstration purposes.
The above is a prototype of one of the models of Manchester trams still running today. It was interesting to compare it with the actual trams. You can sit in the driving seat but of course there are no controls! (Disappointing, that!)
There is a cafe which somewhat resembles a bus depot canteen (which is quite appropriate, really) and a museum shop. The latter is well stocked with relevant books and scale models of various sizes without any sign of the rubbishy goods that so often appear in other museum shops.
Generally speaking, the museum was well presented and the facilities (e.g. the toilets) though basic, were well maintained and spotlessly clean. The staff were all of mature age and I am guessing they are retired persons having an interest in transport or, like the gentleman we spoke to in the shop, ex-transport personnel. The contribution provided by their knowledge and experience adds greatly to the value of the exhibition.
The atmosphere was relaxed and informal, admission free, and photography was allowed, as you can see. Anal-retentive directors of museums and the National Trust might like to reflect on this.
After the Transport Museum, we went to the city centre where I found myself face to face with this statue of Robert Owen. We visited New Lanark, the community that Owen based on his cotton mills, during our visit to Glasgow in 2008 (see Glasgow 2008, the entry for August 28th). For more information on this remarkable man and his achievements see here and plentiful other sources on the Web.
It is no coincidence that the statue stands in Balloon Street which is largely occupied by massive buildings belonging to the Co-operative Wholesale Society, the famous CWS. Indeed, the statue was unveiled in 1994 by the President of the 1994 Co-op Congress. This ties in neatly with our pilgrimage yesterday to Rochdale in search of the Rochdale Pioneers.
Not very far away is another example of philanthropy and social-mindedness, the house left by Thomas Mynshull (1613-1698), apothecary, for the training of poor boys to give them a chance of making their way in life. It is a shame that so few industrialists have seen the light lit for them by people like Robert Owen and followed the path that it illuminated.
The next place we visited was that shown above. You may wonder why I would show you a piece indifferent modern architecture. That is because it conceals a surprise. The sign tells us that this is the John Rylands Library, now of Manchester University. The entrance leads you into a library shop and cafe. The wonder starts when you go through a doorway into the older part. I might just add that the public is admitted and photography is allowed.
Here is a sample of what you see: a most remarkable Victorian Gothic building, designed and executed in exquisite detail, in remembrance of the man whose statue seems to survey the scene, John Rylands.
Nearby stands the statue of John’s wife Enriqueta, looking as formidable as she no doubt was in life. She bought what must have been an expensive plot of land in the Deansgate area of the city in 1889 and commissioned the architect Basil Champneys. There were a number of planning problems to solve but the library opened on January 1st 1900, surely a symbolic date.
If this long hall reminds you of a cathedral with reading rooms leading off it like chapels, then I think it is not an accident. Ecclesiastical buildings where borne very much in mind at the design stage. Fortunately, there is a lack of religious symbolism.
My photos cannot do justice to the building and what is not clear is the vast size of it: it extends over six floors including the basement. Space and lighting are cleverly used to make large or small rooms with light for reading or darkness to preserve old manuscripts. It was one of the first public buildings to be lit by electricity and possessed its own generators.
The scale is huge too. Everywhere you look there are vistas – corridors, monumental staircases, vaulted ceilings of immense height.
While feasting on the walls and horizontal vistas, the eye is also drawn upwards to admire the ceilings with their tracery of beams and intricate carved figures.
The building has been extended and the new parts are of modern design – it would have been impossible to continue the Victorian Gothic. Their design is functional and the quality extremely good but my eye, at least, was always drawn back to the Victorian original.
The foregoing does not of course exhaust the wonders of the John Rylands Library. It would take many visits to catalogue it all photographically and even to gain a familiarity with its layout. I think anyone who studies here will carry its imprint with them for a lifetime.
After a further stroll around the city, we stopped off for dinner at a branch of Bella Italia and discussed what to do next. Should we go back to the hotel or…?
The bus had carried us through Chadderton at one point and we had seen the town hall. It looked worth a closer look and so we decided to visit it before going back to the hotel.
Despite its small size and age (the foundation stone was laid in 1912) there is an elegance about Chadderton Town hall, from its pillared entrance to the well proportioned dome topped by a clock. I know next to nothing about Chadderton but the quality of its town hall suggests an interesting history. Another time, perhaps.
We have had a good day, what with the Transport Museum and the splendours of the John Rylands Library. Chadderton Town Hall was a pleasing discovery too.