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Friday, 23 May 2014

Friday Blog: A Revealing 'Netwalk' of Manchester


By Jo Preihs - Digital & Social Media Manager, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

On a sunny lunchtime this week, donning a decent pair of flats, I headed out of the office to do a spot of ‘netwalking’. Not familiar with the term? Neither was I, but actually it’s quite self-explanatory and involves, well, networking whilst walking, funnily enough!

Philippa Cave (pictured below), Manchester Green Badge Tour Guide-extraordinaire and founder of Reveal Manchester, was the lady quite literally in the know, and was to be our guide around Manchester city centre. Twelve of us, from a number of different professions, met outside the Opera House on Quay Street where the netwalking session was to start. Our tour was intriguingly entitled ‘Campfield and Castlefield’ and promised: ‘Tales of Romans, canals, corpses, war, bollards, eyes, potatoes as well as plenty of Manchester firsts.’ And it didn’t disappoint…

The first stop was a little way down Quay Street at the Cobden House Chambers, which is actually a Georgian building. I realised at this very early stage of the tour that I clearly walk around with my eyes closed. Philippa pointed out a big blue plaque on the side of the building (which had previously gone unnoticed by me) that told us this was the first home of Owens College – the institution that later became Manchester University. She told us all about the College’s founder, John Owens, and his history, and it was obvious from the off that Philippa not only has a phenomenal amount of knowledge, but was able to deliver the information in a style that got us all giggling and relaxed. In fact, her only two pieces of advice to us at the start of the tour were: “Try not to get run over or fall in the canal.” Duly noted – glad I wore the flats.

We rounded the corner on to Byrom Street where the old Manchester and Salford Hospital for Skin Diseases used to be situated – a lovely thought just before lunch. Here, we paid rather close attention to a pot hole… but not just any pot hole. Beneath the tarmac, wooden setts were visible which apparently were employed by the road maintenance teams of the early twentieth century to dampen the sound, so as not to disturb patients. Take a look next time you’re passing! 

Further up Byrom Street, there are Grade II listed bollards – who knew?! – which are said to be upturned canons. Legend has it that they were left by the armies of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 as they were passing through Manchester. Here we also heard about some of the things done to Mancunian traitors at that time, which included pickling heads; a sight you don’t see so much these days. 

Passing the gothic-style door frames of some of the houses at the top of Byrom Street, our next stop was St John’s Gardens, where St John’s church used to stand. It’s an old burial ground too and Philippa told us there are the remains of 22,000 people here, including the aforementioned John Owens.  

It’s worth mentioning that between stops is when the networking happens, so naturally members of the group move around and get to chat with different people. From finance professionals to PR folks, there really were a wide range of fellow netwalkers (pictured below) to talk to and learn about. Some, like me, were newbies, and a couple had been on Philippa’s previous tours so were familiar with the format. Everyone, though, was there to learn more about Manchester, and of course, to meet some new people in a really relaxed way. Without wanting to rub it in, we also had perfect weather too, which certainly helps!

So, round to the Great John Street Hotel, which, built in 1912 is actually a former school. It is situated across the road from the old Granada Studios and Coronation Street set, which has now moved to Trafford Park, and Philippa told us it was actually named after the region in Spain (Granada Studios, that is, not Costa del Coronation Street).

We ventured past the Museum of Science and Industry, which (another gruesome fact alert) apparently houses the eyes of English Chemist, John Dalton, who produced a lot of pioneering research into colour blindness. Anyone who has been to MOSI will also know that this is the site of the world’s first passenger railway station, and Philippa told us that within two weeks of its opening, the Manchester Guardian published the first letter of rail travel complaint. (Twitter wasn’t invented in the early 19th century.)    

Further up Liverpool Road, Philippa told us the history of the Oxnoble Pub, named after a potato. This area also used to be the site of St Matthew’s Church, which has now been demolished. The church was designed by the same architect who designed the Houses of Parliament, Charles Barry, so it’s a shame it’s no longer here. The Campfield market buildings are still in existence though, one of which is the Air and Space Hall of MOSI. Philippa told us about the Knott Mill Fair which used to take place in the 1840s and 1850s on part of Deansgate and down Liverpool Road, which the Manchester Guardian described as having ‘glaring evil on every side’, and was full of pick pockets and peep shows! 

We finally headed over to Castlefield and the reconstruction of the Roman fort that resides there, and Philippa told us that it was the Romans who originally gave Manchester its name, Mamucium, which actually means ‘breast-like hill’. On that note, we walked down to the Castlefield Basin and heard about the origins of the Bridgewater Canal which was built in the 1760s to get coal from Worsley into Manchester. Deemed to be the first modern canal in Britain and also the fastest, Philippa pointed out that through its canals and rail networks, Manchester has been the forerunner in the development of transport infrastructure over the centuries. 

Having met some really lovely people, feeling a pride in our city and nicely warmed by the sunshine, I walked back to the office brimming with interesting facts. The networking, for some, carried on in the pub. I’m hoping someone bought Philippa a drink or two!

For more information about the range of netwalking tours available, corporate/team building walks, treasure hunts, guided pub crawls and social events, contact Philippa on 07932 041217. The next netwalk in Manchester takes place on Wednesday 2nd July. 


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