Prepare to be shocked. Prepare to be appalled. Prepare to be just a little disturbed by some of the facts I’m about to give you.
I’ve been living in Manchester for while now and I can safely say I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Manchester is great, industrial, revolutionary, chock full of history with so many firsts happening every day. Manchester has boasting rights on the grounds of being the first city in the world to industrialise, the city where Ernest Rutherford split the atom, the city where Rolls met Royce, the city where the first programmable computer was designed…I could go on.
However, within the underbelly of Manchester’s history there are a few secrets that have been very carefully swept under the rug of all this success. Some have been flattened by layers of new news and history, others a still fairly known but forgotten with the passing of time. They are all, however, true. And with a little unearthing, can be excavated made fresh.
A warning before you begin, some of these facts might be triggering. Read with caution.
1. The IRA Bombing Of The Arndale
According to sources, in 1996 the Provisional Irish Republican Party (IRA) detonated the largest bomb ever to be blown up in Britain since World War II. It weighed around 1500 kilograms and was disguised as a lorry. The damages done by the bomb cost over a billion pounds to repair and weren’t finished until 2005, nearly a whole decade later.
Thankfully, the IRA issued a warning call about 90 minutes prior to detonation and were targeting the city’s economy and wealth rather than civilians. While many were injured, no deaths came out of this incident.
But the most chilling aspect of this fact isn’t to do with the potential death, it isn’t even to do really with the IRA. It’s to do with the fact that a small faction from Ireland were able to come in to a British powerhouse city and plonk a lorry’s worth of explosives in the city centre before anyone realised.
Imagine if they were aiming for civilians. Imagine being there, with an ordinary looking lorry to your left. Little did you know that that lorry was brimming with explosives. Now that is terrifying.
2. Piccadilly Gardens Used To Be A Mental Asylum
This took some digging and a lot of rumours to filter through. At first, the rumour was that Primark (which used to Lewis’s Department Store) used to be a mental asylum for the Manchester City Hospital. But that turned out to be false, but not as far from the truth as you might think.
While Primark was a dead end, there was in fact a mental ward within the vicinity. It turns out that the psychiatric hospital now in Cheadle wasn’t always located there but relocated from Piccadilly Gardens in 1849. From looking over old photos I found that there was a building slap bang in the centre of the Gardens that doesn’t exist today. While I have found no evidence to support that this was the old psychiatric wing, it definitely connected to the old Manchester Royal Infirmary.
I wonder how many people walking through Piccadilly Gardens today are aware that they might be standing on what used to be the old site for the Hospital’s lunatic asylum. Could you go on happily shopping if you knew this?
3. Lowest Survival Rate For Heart Attacks In UK
A recent study conducted by the British Heart Foundation proved that the worst place in the world to have a heart attack was Manchester. The story was picked up by Manchester Evening News and soon spread like wildfire. Manchester has the highest rates for premature deaths from heart disease in England with 6,900 people in Greater Manchester alone dying from heart disease yearly. They also rank 2nd in the entirety of the UK for the same statistics and are only narrowly beaten by Glasgow.
If you live in Manchester long enough, you’ll see that the university and the city centre are littered with fundraisers and charity causes in support of the British Heart Foundation, to rally people to urgently help fund research into heart disease.
Why are they so low you ask? For those of us not living with hereditary or genetic illnesses, it mostly has to do with a sadistic cocktail of lifestyle choices and terrible ambulance response times. While this data is now outdated by two years, it is a chilling reminder that there is still much to be done to reduce the number of victims each year.
4. It Is The Original Inspiration for Communism
Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx came to Manchester from Germany in the 19th century in the name of sociological research. Since then, Marx became a frequent visitor in Manchester and Engels went on to write one of the most famous and influential sociological books ever written: The Condition of the Working Class in England.
Engels in particular was inspired by his time in Manchester and went onto condemn capitalism before writing The Communism Manifesto. You can now take walking tours around Manchester and view the statue of Marx and Engels.
It’s a weird, and slightly disturbing thing to think about- that Manchester was the key inspiration for a philosophy that ran rampant throughout the 20th century, that was pioneered by people like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, who were responsible for so much terror during their reigns.
5. Manchester Has A Massive Underground Network
Manchester might as well be labelled half a bustling city, half an abandoned network of underground tunnels that stretch from across the city centre.
Sources have found tunnels that span for several kilometres from China Town to Ardwick have been used for countless different reasons over the previous century. The first tunnels were created to be routes out of the city for Catholics escaping persecution. Other reasons were projects for underground shopping centres and railways that fell apart due to flooding. At other points in time the tunnels were effectively used as air raid shelters during World War II.
Sitting in your home and thinking about the complex network of tunnels that lay right beneath our feet is a surreal experience to say the least. The tunnels, although out of use now, are still very much a part of Manchester and have been fully mapped out by keen historians. It makes you think about what they might be used for in the future. Or will they just fall into myth, or be forgotten about by the next generation of Mancunians. Only time will tell.