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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The Gunchester Era

I am due to release my second novel, “A Gangster’s Grip”, in the next few months, and it is currently with my beta readers. It will be the second part in “The Gunchester Trilogy”; Slur is the first part. All three books are set during the Gunchester era, an infamous period in Manchester’s recent history when gang-related gun crime escalated. This was, in fact, the reason why the press dubbed Manchester, “Gunchester” during the 1990s.

Slur features many of the same characters as the following two books and takes place at the beginning of the Gunchester era, in the 1980s. However, the 80s was the prelude to what was to become Gunone of the most dangerous periods in Manchester’s recent history. It was during the 90s when things really got out of control. My second book, “A Gangster’s Grip”, is set at the height of the Gunchester period and I will be giving more details about the novel in a future blog post. Firstly, though, I would like to tell you about the Gunchester era, which provides the backdrop for “A Gangster’s Grip”.

Manchester, like any major city, has always had its share of crime and organized violence. Even in the 19th century there were gangs such as the Scuttlers and the Bengal Tigers who would be involved in fatal knife battles.

Since the 1970s, Moss Side, an inner city area of Manchester, has been known as a place to purchase illegal drugs such as cannabis. The drug scene changed during the 80s though when heroin started to arrive on the streets of Manchester. At the beginning of the same decade, the police received reports of a gang war between rival gangs from Moss Side and Cheetham Hill. Up until that point the gangs had maintained good relations but something had caused a major rift.

At the start of the hostilities the weapon of choice had been the machete. Gang members also used knives to settle disputes. However, as time went on guns were increasingly being used in gang violence. The incidents of gun related crime soon escalated, reaching a peak in the 1990s. During a five year period when gun violence was at its worst there were 27 gang-related deaths and 250 injuries.

MacheteApart from the rivalry between Moss Side and Cheetham Hill, there was also rivalry between two Moss Side gangs whose members lived in close proximity to each other. Youths as young as 15 became victims of the violence and, as well as the nickname of “Gunchester”, Moss Side was also dubbed “The Bronx of Britain”.

In an attempt to rid the area of gangs, the authorities redeveloped the estate in Moss Side where the two local gangs were based. However, as a result, some of the gang members moved to other areas where they formed new gangs in places such as Longsight and Rusholme.

At the same time the city was experiencing problems with gangs from other parts of the city, mainly Salford, which controlled nightclub security in the city centre, and demanded a percentage of the income from nightclubs. At one point no nightclub was safe, and gangs loaded up with weapons would move in as soon as they heard about a new nightclub opening.

Eventually the police managed to bring the problems under control by carrying out ‘stop and search’ operations on cars entering the city centre on Friday and Saturday nights, and confiscating weapons. Manchester also set up a multi-agency task force to tackle gang-related problems. Nowadays, there is still gang related violence but the number of casualties has been vastly reduced since the figures reached their peak at the height of the Gunchester period.

“A Gangster’s Grip” features three rival gangs. Although I have set the book during the Gunchester era, and based the gangs in Moss Side, Cheetham Hill and Longsight, the gangs featured in the novel are fictitious, as are the pubs that are mentioned. The book is scheduled for launch around September/October and I will be including further details on this blog in the lead-up to the launch.

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