The Once Green Oasis of Manchester

2 Sep

This is a postcard of Piccadilly Gardens from 1949 viewed from Portland Street. Courtesy of R.Jones.

This is a postcard of Piccadilly Gardens in 1949 viewed from Portland Street. The printer or maker is unknown.

Piccadilly Gardens after Tadao Ando’s design and development. Courtesy of P. Stanley.

For most Mancunians, Piccadilly Gardens has traditionally been the centre of Manchester. This is due to Piccadilly Gardens being at the centre of public transport and also as it is a rare and much treasured green oasis in and amongst all the stone and brick and in 2012 concrete that enwraps it.

Unlike London which developed many large and impressive inner city parks, the relentless march of industry in Manchester throughout the 18th and 19th century saw most of Manchester’s inner city green space decimated and torn up to be replaced with factories, mills and warehouses. Buildings of round-the-clock toil and sweat, commerce and business and billowing chimneys; the pillars of industry that once proliferated the landscape and drove and transformed Manchester into world renowned metropolis of cotton – Cottonopolis has it was known worldwide.

Within this transformation, where once green space and open fields were plentiful, land was now carved up and sold off to industrialists and men of ambition. This was the birth of the modern city and the defining separation from the countryside where our ancestors had worked and lived their lives for centuries.

Concrete now enwraps the gardens in 2012. Courtesy of P. Stanley.

With the march towards the modern, the once innate sense of nature and understanding of the country was lost forever and now it became like everything in the industrial age, commodified, something to be bought and traded. Access to countryside was now something which was no longer the domain of all, but those who could afford it, something which would only begin to be reversed with the continuing expansion of the railways and wider public access to them.

Before Piccadilly Gardens had been created after the end of WW2, it was the site of the  Manchester Royal Infirmary, which had been built in 1755 on what had previously been water filled pits, the Daub Holes.

In 2012, Piccadilly once more stands has a testament to not only the often conflicting and uneasy relationship between Manchester’s  industrial legacy and its even more ancient humble rural past.

Architects Allies and Morrison’s One Piccadilly Gardens. Courtesy of P.Stanley.

Following redevelopment in 2001, led by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando which saw  approximately one third of the gardens lost to a new commercial office development (One Piccadilly Gardens)designed by London architects Allies and Morrison in 2003, with it 150,000 sq ft of office space over six floors now overshadowing and dominating the once tranquil oasis of greenery.

The development brought retail and restaurant space at a cost; many established trees were removed along with the unique lowered terrace design which allowed a momentary  escape from the chaos, congestion, noise and pollution that seems engrained in the history of Piccadilly.

Strangely the minimal brutalist concrete design now raises you up to street level so you have no doubt that you are in one of the most polluted areas in Manchester.

Many Mancunians lament the loss of  ‘their’ gardens and hark back to a time not that long ago that many cherish as a rare beautiful sanctuary; a quiet oasis far removed from the modern toil of busy city life.

Many believed it only needed a little TLC  and not wholesale demolition which it got.

It was a sad loss for Manchester and Mancunians alike to see their sacred green space ripped up, trees destroyed, benches scrapped, unique sculptures removed and peaceful paths replaced in favour of commercialised walkways past which increasingly dominate the urban space in Manchester and instead of the densely packed flora that use to be there.

The last two buildings that stood elegantly at either end of the gardens and remnants of the old post-war gardens were also demolished and lost forever and ironically acted as further barriers from the hussle and bussle; now the grey brutalist concrete attempts to do the same.


7 Responses to “The Once Green Oasis of Manchester”

  1. historyme February 24, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    Your completely right and thanks for pointing this out.


  2. Anonymous February 24, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    ::shakes head::


  3. bakersfieldlad September 18, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    If my history knowledge of Manchester is correct the once green oasis that was Piccadilly Gardens was actually once the site of Manchester Royal Infirmary. So it was never planned to be a park / open space but did become one. Manchester does have some other city centre green spaces ,agreed they are not very large but are quieter. The nearby Sackville Gardens springs to mind……………


    • historyme September 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      Completely right. Sackville Gardens is a very nice and peaceful gardens and certainly a welcome retreat. Its just a shame so few were built and personally I think one at St Peters Square with the partial loss of Piccadilly Gardens would have been a great addition to the City.


      • Anonymous February 24, 2013 at 7:22 am #

        What are you talking about ? The infirmary in piccadilly gardens or Levers Row as it was closed in 1908, the air raids of the forties played no part in the closing of this building, it was flat by 1914, the basement of the hospital was used as the sunken garden



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