When the spring of 1990 rolled around, inmates had grown sick of the Victorian conditions at Strangeways. On the 1st April they launched a revolt; fighting off the guards and climbing onto the roof to stage a protest.
Not for the first (or last) time, every eye in Britain was on Manchester.
And one man watching the city vibe permeating prison walls was David Nolan – a young journalist covering the story for Piccadilly Radio.
“Madchester was the perfect backdrop for the riots; if you were to get the footage of the guys on the roof, you could cut it to a Happy Mondays song,” David tells The Manc.
“The whole thing had this psychedelic, surreal weirdness. It was quite rock and roll – and very much of its time.”
“It was weird how quickly you got used to the surrealness of it all; this carnival atmosphere.
“There were people selling weed, beer, even Strangeways t-shirts. Helicopters used to fly over and cast shining lights. Fire engines would be hosing down the rooftops.
“When the prisoners would shout messages they wanted to get to the outside world, the home office would try and stop them by playing music at a deafening level, and their favourite song of choice – this is the British government – was ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO.
“The prisoners were forever taking their clothes off and getting naked on the roof, too – you never saw on that on the tele, of course.
“Can you imagine that as a mix: The drugs, the beer, the water jets, the light and the music?”
David was stationed at Strangeways morning, afternoon and night, but he and his fellow journalists were never alone.
This was the biggest show in town – and every man, woman and child seized each opportunity to come and take a peek.
“You’d have waves of people just coming down to watch,” David explains.
“Some would come before work, then bring their sandwiches and watch the rioters at lunchtime. At half past three kids would visit after school, then you’d have people visiting when the pubs kicked out at eleven o’clock.”
Whilst the public came and went, journalists were compelled to stay put as long as the prisoners roamed freely on the rooftops – scrambling to make notes whenever movement occurred above.
“It was a bit like lockdown in a weird way,” David recalls.
“Occasionally we’d go to a press conference, but for the most part journalists were stuck there.
“We saw a lot. Some it quite funny. There were so many bizarre things happening in and out of that jail.
“Sometimes they’d unfurl these daft banners – like one that said ‘Ken Dodd is innocent’.”
Dozens of prisoners set up camp atop of Strangeways throughout the month – but two quickly became the faces of the riot.
“Out of all the men on the roof, there were a couple that were most visually distinctive and easy to spot,” David tells us.
“Paul Taylor was seen as the ‘ringleader’, although he didn’t like that term. He was an extraordinary guy in some ways; very articulate with this flowery way of communicating.
“I remember him shouting from the roof: ‘This is my decision and I am steadfast in my decision.’ What a peculiar way of putting it.
“He would scrawl out all these long messages and some were quite lyrical. He was almost Shakespearean sometimes.
“When I interviewed him years later he told me the riot happened because he’d ‘decided it was going to happen’. So this must have been in his mind for some time.”
Taylor has since repeated this claim when interviewed by the BBC, but admitted he was “regretful” the protest had turned into a full-scale riot.
“As well as Taylor, there was also Alan Lord,” David explains.
“He was this big, muscular, good-looking guy who was serving a long sentence at the time.”
Lord was often caught on the cameras due to his sheer physique, and became well-known among the press after taking responsibility for carrying messages between the inmates and the Home Office.
The protest ran out of steam when Lord was captured en route to a negotiation on 23 April.
Two days later, the remaining protestors called it quits and descended the roof via cherry picker – bringing the curtain down on the 25-day “carnival.”
But of course, it wasn’t just three weeks of fun and games. The prisoners hadn’t battled their way to the summit of Strangeways just to put on a party for those below.
“We use the word ‘rioters’, but we could reframe it and change it to ‘protestors’,” says David.
“Conditions were bad in there. The jail was horrifically overcrowded and they were still ‘slopping out’ (defecating in a bucket).”
There were several explosions of violence during the riots that resulted in almost 200 injuries and even one death. But despite the prospect of larger sentences the longer they protested, many inmates couldn’t face returning to the squalor that waited for them down below.
The prisoners were up on that roof because they had something to say – although the authorities were reluctant to let them articulate it to the press; proceeding to crank the music up to eleven whenever Taylor began to reel off one of his infamous speeches.
At times, David said the scene was extremely sinister.
“One evening it was very loud. All these horrible noises were erupting in the middle of the night and as it started snowing I got quite upset.
“I was thinking: ‘‘What on earth is going on inside that jail?’ It doesn’t even bear thinking about.
“At times it was incredibly frightening.”
“Maybe it was coming. Twenty-four hours before Strangeways were the poll tax riots in London – which saw wooden polls being shoved through police car windows.
“Did that possibly tip it over the edge? I just think it’s a really interesting coincidence that it happened the day before.”
Whilst David has retold his experience of Strangeways on multiple occasions during a long writing career, he also used the setting as inspiration for the backdrop of his Manc Noir novel ‘Black Moss’.
“I cannot remember doing any other story of any description during Strangeways. Everyone was looking at that one place,” he tell us.
“That was partly behind the idea for my book. A child murder happens during a riot, and with the media, police, public all over in one spot, something horrible happens elsewhere.
“I also heard a story about a murder taking place during 9/11. Someone saw an opportunity to do something when everyone was looking the other way.
“It’s about distraction. But all the Strangeways stuff in the book is all absolutely accurate.”
On April 25, the Strangeways Riots ended. In the months and years that followed, Madchester, as a movement, fell into decline. Factory Records went bankrupt, and the scene gradually blurred into the ‘baggy’ vibe of the nineties, before the emergence of Britpop at the backend of the decade.
As David attests, the madness of the 1990 riots can be attributed to how it represented an uncanny little time capsule of a chaotic era in history.
“If the riot had happened in Gloucester or something, I just don’t think it would have had the same vibe or attention,” he says.
That infamous pandemonium at Strangeways was Madchester in the sky.
The award-winning cocktail bar hidden beneath the old Coronation Street cobbles
Unbeknownst to many, there is an award-winning cocktail bar hidden beneath Coronation Street‘s original cobbles serving up some of the best drinks in the city.
Recently named ‘one to watch’ at the UK’s Top 50 Bar awards 2023, Project Halcyon has also just won the Best New Bar award – voted for by a community of some 17,000 hospitality staff at this month’s Manchester Bar Awards (MBAs).
Brought to Manchester by the team behind Zymogorium distillery, it originally opened in early 2020 – launching just weeks before the Covid 19 pandemic hit.
Like many other operators, the secret speakeasy – which is connected to the working distillery for Manchester gin makers Zymogorium – closed its doors during lockdown, then quietly relaunched in late October last year beneath Old Granada Studios.
Since reopening, it’s been flooded with accolades. General Manager Adam has just been named amongst the UK’s top 100 bartenders by World Class UK, whilst house bartender Reah Owen recently won the Rising Star award at the MBAs.
And yet, somehow, it’s still managing to fly under the radar as one of Manchester’s best-kept secrets – although, considering all the awards the team is winning, we expect this won’t remain the case for long.
The bar is something of a labyrinth with numerous corners to explore within its underground warren. As well as housing a large bar at its entrance, it’s also home to a dedicated absinthe parlour, Salon Vert, which has been painted to look like a woodland scene and features vintage crystal absinthe fountains.
Elsewhere, there’s a still room and laboratory where the team uses chemistry equipment to create all the insane ingredients that go into their cocktails.
Add to this a self-playing grand piano and a rare collection of expensive spirits, and it’s safe to say Project Halcyon is very much up there with the city centre’s best cocktail bars.
As for its current drinks menu, open it up and you’ll discover that each signature cocktail is accompanied by a stunning illustration of a rare bird.
Choices include ‘Fourteen Days’, a long, tart drink that nods to the Halcyon days of Ancient Greece, and ‘Phoenix Down’, a smoky combination of smoky, nutty bourbon with bitter back notes that symbolises rebirth and eternal life.
Elsewhere on the list, you’ll find the brilliantly-named cocktails ‘Act of Vanity’, a combination of melon liqueur, blueberry and Veuve Cliquot champagne, and ‘Murder of Crows’, a moody and short mix of spiced spirits that promises to be both dark and funky.
The bar also serves up a list of six house classics, all of which are prebatched, prediluted and kept at -14 degrees ready to be poured at your table. Interestingly, though, because the drinks are already kept at the right temperature they aren’t diluted with water but rather with a variety of house-made concoctions.
General Manager Adam told The Manc that the most famous of these is the house vodka martini, made with Boatyard vodka, Cocchi Americano vermouth and clarified banana juice as the dilute.
“It makes for this insanely creamy, flavourful martini that’s classic but approachable,” he said, adding: “Our approach to the bar is that the science is for us to worry about, the hospitality is for the guests.
“We don’t put all this crazy techy stuff at the forefront of what we do. We prioritise good, classic, personal hospitality first and foremost.”
The bar also boasts a vast collection of rare and expensive spirits – and amongst the usual suspects, such as Louis XIII cognac, sit some interesting pieces like the latest seasonal release from Nc’nean and Elena Wright, the latter a close friend of the bar and an award-winning Manchester bartender.
It also serves up a strong selection of wines and beers, not to mention a cracking gin and tonic. Of course, being run by one of Manchester’s original craft gin distilleries, we’d expect nothing less.
Feature image – Project Halcyon
The Torrs Millennium Walkway – a stunning Peak District walk that hovers above a huge gorge
On first glance, New Mills may seem like any other Peak District town: small, picturesque with little-much-to-do. Venture just a few steps towards the River Sett, and you’ll find yourself in another landscape entirely.
Just below the hustle and bustle of the main shopping centre lies New Mill’s (not so) hidden gem – The Torrs Millennium Walkway.
Having done this route a few times, each time we’ve been amazed at the natural gorge that lies below.
The spectacular gritstone gorge was previously impassable to walkers, but the walkway built at the turn of the millennium, nicknamed the ‘steel spider’s web’, has transformed the dramatic landscape.
The Torrs Millennium Walkway is a 175-yard aerial walkway spanning the cliffsides above the River Goyt and River Sett, with links to many walking and cycling routes across the area.
If you’re new to the area, the heritage centre provides maps and guides for several nearby walks, including the iconic Kinder Trespass Trail.
Below, Getlostmcr has mapped out a couple of walking route options, one of which soaks in all the best bits of Stockport’s forgotten history.
And if you plan your walk to finish in New Mills, you can nip in to the dog-friendly, traditional local pub, The Pride of the Peaks, for a swift pint of Guinness by the real fire.
For those short on time, we recommend this route by Getlostmcr – a short, four-mile, out-and-back loop around the walkway and along the Sett Valley Trail. This route starts in the town of New Mills, easily reached via train or by car, with ample parking space at Market Street Carpark in the town centre.
And for those looking to get the extra steps in, why not extend the route by starting at nearby Marple?
History buffs, this one’s for you: Getlostmcr have mapped out a lengthier walk that takes in the best of Stockport’s forgotten history.
Starting from Marple, you’ll head towards The Roman Lakes, past the site of Mellor Mill Ruins: once a shining start of the Oldknow Empire. Back in its heyday, Mellor Mill was the biggest spinning mill the world had seen.
What remains of the site has since been taken over by the natural world, making a perfect pitstop on the first leg of your walk.
From here, you’ll make the ascent to Mellor Cross close to Cobden Edge. Mellor Cross was originally erected in 1970 by a group of local church goers who carried the individual pieces up the steep hill to ensure the cross overlooked the community.
Once you’ve marvelled at the size of this landmark, it’s time to head towards Mellor Moor where you’ll be rewarded with views right across the western edge of the Peak District and the Cheshire Plain.
The moor’s umpteen tracks date back to prehistoric Old Mercian trackways, said to be the route of monks and pilgrims way back when. Next, you’ll follow the trackways until you reach New Mills, where you can stop off to marvel at the walkway above. As for the return? That’s up to you!
You can follow Getlost’s out-and-back route here, or simply get the train back to either Piccadilly or the starting point in Marple if you drove down. For those following the half route, this is the link you need.
We parked in New Mills’ Market Street Carpark, £2 for 4 hours. 44 spaces.
New mills Carpark: Market Street, New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire, SK22 4AA.
For those starting in Marple, there is ample free street parking near Hibbert Lane, SK6. There is also a carpark just off Hibbert Lane.
Marple carpark: Marple Memorial Park, Hibbert Lane, Stockport, SK6 6BD.
There are plenty of cafes in both New Mills and Marple. For those following the short loop from New Mills, Sett Valley Café is en route and have a 10/10 selection of homemade and vegan drinks and snacks.
We went to Pride of the Peaks in New Mills, but there are plenty to choose from in both New Mills and Marple, depending where you choose to start.
There are various options to suit different walking abilities. For those wanting to do the out and back from Marple, we’d recommend walking boots.
It’s also worth noting the ascent is all in one short stint so decent level of fitness is required. The short loop from New Mills is perfect for a Sunday dog walk.