The story behind the maisonettes that once sat on top of the Arndale
The rooftop houses of Manchester's Cromford Court continue to fascinate years after their demolition
For some years, rows of tidy little maisonettes sat on top of the Manchester Arndale housing some of the first pioneers of inner-city living.
Built in 1981 and named after a Victorian backstreet that had been demolished to make way for the mammoth shopping centre, Cromford Court nodded to days past whilst also looking to the future.
At the time, only around 1,000 people actually lived in the heart of Manchester – mostly caretakers and other people who felt it practical to be close to the city for their jobs.
There was just a handful of communities dotted around the centre back then, despite Manchester City Council’s best efforts to try and persuade people to move into an area where they could live, shop and work all without having to commute.
In a way, the residents of Cromford Court were pioneers. Counted amongst their numbers was none other than Mike Pickering, one of the regular DJs at the Hacienda and the man responsible for signing the Happy Mondays to Factory records.
Speaking to Manchester researcher and tour guide Hayley Flynn, better known as Skyliner, on her blog Pickering’s friend and fellow Hacienda DJ Graeme Park remembers:
“In 1988, I used to stay at Mike’s and I had my own room. I’d roll up to his every Friday and park my car in the Arndale’s multi-storey car park and get the lift from the street up to the roof.”
“We had some great nights in there after finishing The Hacienda,” he added.
Apparently, the view wasn’t as great as you might expect because the flats weren’t actually that high up. However, according to Graeme, you could see some bits of the city and there was a decent view down into the street below whilst walking from the lift to the flats.
After getting stuck in the lift once, though, he reportedly always took the stairs for fear of a repeat.
The flats did have their own direct access for residents, and according to Eric Larmett – a surveyor for Manchester City Council who visited the trio of six-storey blocks several times for his job – it was its own little oasis up there, away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
“They were private residences which only the tenants could reach,” he said, speaking to the BBC back in 2011.
“As a result, it was like having a gated community right in the middle of the city.”
Although the maisonettes were initially described as “expensive ‘penthouse’ units” in the 1986 Domesday Book, in reality, they were far from it – rented out to tenants of the North Country Housing Association.
Known as ‘the podium’ to its residents, neat little communal gardens added to the allure of the place – although apparently, these same gardens caused a few headaches for the shops below who were reportedly ‘plagued’ with ‘mysterious leaks’ as a result.
Inhabited on and off from 1981 until 2003, the little community on top of the Arndale finally came to an end in the early noughties – seven years after the IRA bomb that led to the shopping centre needing to be almost entirely rebuilt.
It’s often said that that bomb explosion was so powerful it only left a red postbox behind, but in fact, Cromford Court wasn’t too badly damaged.
Notably, one resident – a 77-year-old RAF veteran suffering from the flu at the time – didn’t even bother to get up when the telephone warning to evacuate hit, considering himself to have survived much worse feats during his time in service.
In subsequent years, Danny O’Neill has become a part of an urban legend as the story of the man who ignored the bomb because he didn’t want to get out of bed has been told time and time again.
Having been a rear gunner in a Lancaster in the war, he reportedly told police and authorities “he was buggered if he was going to let a small bomb affect him.” What a guy.
Feature image courtesy of the Manchester School of Art Slide Library at Manchester Metropolitan University Special Collections.