Alexandra Park, Moss Side, Manchester – An Historical Landmark

Alexandra Park in Moss Side, Manchester is another of the locations featured in my forthcoming novel “A Gangster’s Grip”. Its reputation has suffered in recent years due to violence and crime in the vicinity. As recently as 12th May 2015 there was a report of a stabbing in a street next to the park, which left a man in his 20s in a critical condition.

It’s sad to think that Alexandra Park hits the headlines due to violence in the surrounding streets because, actually, the park has a rich and significant heritage. Not only is Alexandra Park the home of the Manchester Caribbean Carnival, a colourful, vibrant event that has been taking place for over 40 years, it is also Grade 2 listed and has been declared a place of national importance because of its heritage.

ParkThe Park was opened by the Mayor of Manchester on 6th August 1870 and was named after Princess Alexandra. It covers an area of more than 60 acres and is one of the most complete Victorian parks in Manchester. In fact, it was considered the showpiece of Manchester’s Victorian parks, boasting a lodge designed by Alfred Darbyshire, male and female gymnasia, a cricket ground, the Serpentine lake, a walkway and terrace designed for promenading, and Manchester’s first sunken bowling green. Later additions to the park included a bandstand, propagating houses and refreshment rooms.

Alexandra Park also has connections with the Suffragette Movement. Emmeline Pankhurst was born on the Alexandra Park estate only yards from the Park. Thousands of suffragettes marched to Alexandra Park on 24th October 1908 where they held a political rally called the “Great Demonstration”. In 1905-6 a large glass house was built inside the Park to house the impressive cactus collection bequeathed by Charles Darrah upon his death. The bombing of the cactus house in November 1913 was attributed to the famous Suffragette, Kitty Marion.

In December 2012 a programme of restoration began for Alexandra Park after decades of neglect. A total of £5.5 million has been invested using money granted to Manchester City Council by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Big Lottery Fund and various sporting bodies in addition to some funds from the council itself. The improvement work has now finished and includes:

  • Restoration of Chorlton Lodge to be used as a community area downstairs and office space upstairs.
  • New cricket pitches with markings for two lacrosse pitches.Football
  • Restoration and extension of the pavilion to encompass changing rooms for the cricket pitches, a larger community space, public toilets and a café.
  • Four new tennis courts.
  • Renovation and/or demolishing of depot buildings to provide views into the park and a community room, and improvement of the existing depot changing rooms for the tennis courts and football field.
  • Extensive landscaping including a flower garden, flower beds, the planting of additional trees, repair and/or replacement of footpaths, replacement of street furniture, improved drainage and restoration of the drinking fountain and flagstaff.

Following completion of the work Alexandra Park now looks stunning. You can see some images of the Park, including some taken during the refurbishment phase, at: http://www.alexandraparkmanchester.com/.

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Cheetham Hill – Manchester’s Most Culturally Diverse Suburb

This is the second of my blog posts, which explores the background to my forthcoming novel, “A Gangster’s Grip”. For this post I thought I would focus on Cheetham Hill, a suburb to the north of Manchester, which is featured in the book.

Here is a quotation from “A Gangster’s Grip” describing Cheetham Hill:Church

“…this vibrant multi-cultural area where new architecture mixed with old, and industrial units, furniture stores and car showrooms stood alongside churches, mosques and synagogues.”

In 2013 a newspaper article described Cheetham Hill Road as “Britain’s Most Diverse Street”. Its eclectic mix includes Irish pubs, Arab sweet shops, Polish delis, Jamaican hairdressers, Asian wholesalers, fast-food outlets and many others. Information from the newspaper report stated that English was a second language for 48% of the residents, and that Cheetham Hill Road has the most nationalities of any road in the UK.

It has long been known as a place for Sunday trading, which took place even before the Sunday licensing laws were passed. Many wholesalers are based in the area and it isn’t always necessary to be a registered business in order to buy from them; therefore many people are attracted by the low prices. The area has also become renowned for the sale of counterfeit goods as highlighted on TV documentaries including the recent “Kyle Files”.

To explore the roots of the town’s ethnic and cultural diversity, it’s interesting to take a brief look at the history of Cheetham Hill. It has been an industrial district for a long time and has attracted groups of immigrants since the 19th century. The Irish arrived in the middle of the 19th century after fleeing the Great Famine.

GlobeThe next group of immigrants to arrive were the Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Amongst them was Michael Marks who, together with Thomas Spencer, opened the first branch of Marks and Spencer in 1893, which was originally situated on Cheetham Hill Road.

During the 1950s and 1960s people from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent settled in the area. Since then there have been various groups of immigrants from the Far East, Africa and Eastern Europe. This mix of nationalities and cultures is what gives the area its great diversity.

There is evidence of the town’s rich history in some of its monuments such as Manchester Jewish Museum and The Museum of Transport. Cheetham Hill also continues to be a wholesale and retail area with a modern shopping complex as well as the traditional wholesalers and multi-cultural retail shops that have existed for decades. It is certainly a place with plenty of selection and somewhere you can find goods that you would have difficulty finding elsewhere.

Sunday mornings are a good time to visit, when the centre of Cheetham Hill is lively and full of enthusiastic shoppers on the lookout for bargains. With the colourful shop fronts and aromas from the many cafes, restaurants and delis in the area, it’s a place where your senses can really come alive. During the week it’s still a busy area but people are more focused on carrying out business then catering to shoppers. I used to work in the accounts offices of a leather goods manufacturer about 25 years ago on the edge of Cheetham Hill, which was an area with an abundance of wholesale warehouses.

Sale

In the 1980s and 1990s a Cheetham Hill gang became involved in a gang war with another gang in Moss Side. The two gangs had previously been on good terms but for some reason they had a major disagreement, which resulted in an escalation in gun violence in certain areas of Manchester. This is only one facet of Cheetham Hill though. I worked in the area during the Gunchester period and didn’t see any evidence of gang culture so I suppose it would depend what part of Cheetham Hill you visited. It’s quite a large area; Cheetham Hill Road is 8km in length and Cheetham Hill had a population of 22.5 thousand according to the 2011 census.

My group of novels called “The Gunchester Trilogy” covers the Gunchester period. Book 1: Slur is currently available from Amazon and Book 2: A Gangster’s Grip, which covers the inter-gang rivalry between Cheetham Hill and Moss Side, will be available from September/October 2015.

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