Oh Manchester, so much to answer for

I was in Manchester at the weekend, visiting a friend. Having graduated from Manchester University in 1996 but not having visited since 1998, it was quite an eye-opener walking around the old place now. The massive redevelopment programme that took place after the IRA bombing ten years ago, plus the considerable investment in preparing the city for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, has resulted in a city centre bearing little resemblance to the one that I remember. The grotty old Arndale Centre has been totally refurbished and extended with a fancy new atrium. Exchange Square is a totally new development: pedestrianised, with a big outdoor screen, water features, all overlooked by new residents Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. It’s a bit like Covent Garden, but nicer, minus the tourists and tedious street ‘artists’. When I was a student, Piccadilly train station stank of piss, lager and fag butts. The walk to the station would involve doing the ‘tramp slalom’, where you would try to avoid scary looking beggars with missing teeth and ginger hair hassling you for change so that they could “get their train fare home”. (One chap in particular must have been very unfortunate with losing his train fare, because he was there every time I went to the station.) But now, with its glass exterior and abundance of shops, Piccadilly is more like a smart new airport terminal. Hulme has probably changed the most of all. In my day (“Aye, in my day, it were all fields round these parts”), it was like a cross between London’s Elephant and Castle and Dresden after the bombing of 1944. Imagine a run-down council estate the size of a town, where virtually every deserted building has had all its windows broken and every wall is daubed with crude or illegible graffiti and you’re starting to get there. But now, smart new low-level housing has sprung up all over. There are now bars, restaurants and delicatessens where, less than ten years ago, the only culture was that growing in the broken beer bottles dropped onto the pavement. Meanwhile, the University, my old alma mater, has ambitious plans to eclipse Oxford and Cambridge in terms of academic excellence. This is probably unrealistic, but they could certainly give them a run for their money.

So all in all, I was very impressed. It struck me as a confident and affluent city, quite European in style (but then it always was, with its canals, narrow winding backstreets, public squares and Gothic architecture). For so long Manchester had an inferiority complex. It would often make bold claims to being a great international city, on a par with London – claims that were once really quite laughable. But from what I’ve just seen, such proclamations are no longer ridiculous: it can offer pretty much everything that London has, but on a smaller and more manageable (not to mention affordable) scale.


Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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13 comments on “Oh Manchester, so much to answer for
  1. tafka PP says:

    ten years ago, the only culture was that growing in the broken beer bottles dropped onto the pavement

    Great post! I never fail to be amused/overwhelemed/confused by urban regeneration sweeping all of Britain’s wonderful cities…

    …tenuously, can I look forward to The Realist’s guest out-of-retirement post about how fantastic Brum is looking these days?

  2. Citizen Sane says:

    Ha! I’d love it if he did. But alas, I think we would be wise to hold our breath on that one.

  3. ph says:

    I finished Manchester University in ’86 and have not been back since. They seemed to start sprucing the place up just around the time I departed.
    I am sure the place is much better, but I found its slightly grimy gritty northeness quite attractive, but then again I am a grimy northerner myself.
    Tell me is the Cypress Tavern still in existence.

  4. Citizen Sane says:

    The Cypress Tavern….not sure. Where was this particular establishment?

  5. The Realist says:

    I was in Manchester at the same time as Citizen Sane. Loved it up there despite the rough (oh, so rough) edges – I’d have stayed up there if our little gang hadn’t all wanted to come down to London Town… They’re doing the urban regeneration palaver in the East End where I live, but that’s going to take a lot longer than tarting up Platt Fields!

  6. ph says:

    sackville street i think. it was a popular music venue of the grubby kind. very popular with students
    I think it was Cyprus and not cypress

  7. the thin white duke says:

    I was also at Manchester from 83-86. I have spent the last couple of hours trying to remember why the name cypress/cyprus tavern is so familiar.
    The fact that I can only draw a complete blank would suggest that I was “Very very drunk at the time”

    It certainly existed but I doubt it does now

  8. Citizen Sane says:

    I’ve looked on beerintheevening.com and manchesterbars.com, using both spellings. Nowt I’m afraid….

  9. ph says:

    Yes, its seems the the Cyprus Tavern is gone and forgotten. A lesson for us all. Maybe it never existed?
    Tell me C.S. did the Plaza curry house on Upper Brook street still exist when you were there. It was behind the hospital, luckily and served fiercely hot inedible currys

  10. Citizen Sane says:

    The Plaza curry house…. It rings a bell, but I cannot say for sure. It was always Rusholme for us when it came to curry. Oh, the Curry Mile. Mind you, most of those establishments were bloody awful. Not a surprise when you could order a ‘meat’ curry for £2.95 or something ridiculous.

  11. yiannis kitromilides says:

    The Cyprus Tavern was legendary in Manchester . It was the first night club to allow students in the late 70s . It was a bit of a rough and ready place and became a focal point for Manchesters football hooligan scene in particular Man Citys “young guvnors” .In 1991 it became the Granby, Manchesters first late night bar . It was frequented by many celebrities including Steve Coogan It finally closed its doors in August 2000 a victim of its own success as all the big beer companies had cottoned on to the idea of late night bars . The reason I know so much about the Cyprus Tavern, my father opened it in 1967 and I became owner manager in 1989 having completed my degree at the toast rack in Fallowfield

  12. sparkymcfc says:

    Oh my God I remember both The Cyprus Tavern AND (Charlies) The Plaza Cafe where I used to buy curries named Killer and Suicide..usually drunk at 3am lol

    I am talking late 70’s early 1980’s

    Mind you I also went to MCFC away games with The Cool cats and later The Guvnors

    The bad old days of Manchester lol

    Mark McCracken

  13. sparkymcfc says:

    oh and by the way The Cyprus was on Princess Street just before Upper Brook Street


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