Piccadilly East is on the way to becoming one of Manchester’s coolest new neighbourhoods, but the once little-known corner of the city has a fascinating hidden history.
Like Castlefield, the Northern Quarter and Ancoats before it, the district – set between Piccadilly Station and Great Ancoats Street – is making waves as one of the up-and-coming places to live for people wanting to get ahead of the property curve.
The team behind Ramona and The Firehouse recently revealed plans to transform Piccadilly East’s Diecast building into a massive beer hall and night market, alongside creative workspaces and gardens.
This spring will also see the opening of the striking Leonardo Hotel – the brand’s first spot in the city, with bar, restaurant and wellness spaces.
Add to that plans for more homes, pocket parks and community events and a proper buzz is building, with Piccadilly East being named by The Times as one of the ‘next great places to live’.
But those calling it home will be the latest in a rich and colourful history. From rival gangs and gritty industrial slums, to a former life as a red light district, the streets echo with the stories of the past.
It might seem mad today, but most of the area surrounding Crusader Mill on Chapeltown Street was slum housing and back-to-back terraces.
Sometimes nicknamed The Dardanelles or, more locally, The Commune, the communities housed workers from Crusader and the surrounding mills.
The tiny houses were often home to around nine people living in poverty, including local workers, their kids and lodgers.
It’s where machinists, carters, and railway labourers rested their head after their shifts, alongside cotton spinners and reelers, tailors, packers, stay (corset) makers, and paviers who were working on the rapidly expanding city’s infrastructure.
The success of the neighbourhood played out in the local pubs, mostly lost to slum clearance. Whilst their daily life and celebration likely played out in these boozers, sadly it’s the stories of strife and sorrow that are usually logged in the history books.
Gangs and scuttling
The area was once rife with crime, with young boys making up the gangs of Manchester. The Scuttlers and The Quality Street Gang (the inspiration for the Thin Lizzy song ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’) ran the streets around Piccadilly East and Ancoats.
Like George Moran, described in records as ‘a rough’, who lived there in the 1890s and was part of the gang that served as the influence for TV smash series Peaky Blinders. By the time George was in trouble for scuttling it was their peak time in history, with more young people in Strangeways prison for scuttling than anything else.
Scuttling – involving groups of young men fighting – all but vanished when the slums in the area were cleared in the following decades.
Loads of colourful characters make up the very human history of the neighbourhood.
Tales like that of Elizabeth White, who lived on Travis Street. She met a man – George Craven – that summer in Blackpool, and he began lodging with her. It turned out Craven was a wanted burglar who had cut a hole in the ceiling of a jewellers so he could wriggle in and raid the joint.
Police tracked him down to Elizabeth’s home in 1872, where he shot a Detective Rowbottom, who survived a bullet that passed straight through his wrist.
Or the likes of the McGlynns, two local performers believed to have been part of Hengler’s Grand Cirque, a circus that stood for only four years before it was demolished to make way for the Hippodrome.
Performances included an early incarceration of the living statues now common on Market Street, and ‘Siberia’, which saw soldiers and horses plunged in water ten feet deep.
The McGlynn family vanished from the records around the time the circus was demolished – some believed they went to Paris to join the era of the Moulin Rouge.
Or the people who kept the community going, like knocker upper Rueben Holland, lamplighter Thomas Kennedy, fireman Thomas Taylor, Alice Baths the umbrella maker, and a pickle packer named Elizabeth Grice.
A new chapter
Social impact developer Capital&Centric are leading the re-birth of the neighbourhood, with projects including the restoration of the historic 200-year-old Crusader Mill into homes and the neighbouring new-build Phoenix, industrial loft apartments. Their new-build community Ferrous, featuring ground floor cafes, bars and outside event space has also just been given the go ahead.
Crusader dates back to the 1840s, when it was the home of manufacturing company Parr, Curtis and Madeley and a key cog in Manchester’s Cottonopolis past.
A huge fire destroyed much of the mill, then known as Phoenix Works, in 1861, with the weight of the machinery and the damage brought by the flames causing the floors to collapse.
It was rebuilt, and by the 1920s was known as Crusader Mill, occupied by creative industries like the arts and publishing.
Thankfully, the days of slums and Scuttlers are long gone. A new chapter for the building and neighbourhood has already begun, with residents living where hundreds of people once worked.
But whilst the next era of Piccadilly East will be one buzzing with community life, the Mancunian stories that have shaped its past will always be a part of its heritage.
Visit the Crusader and Phoenix websites to find out more or call 0161 222 0204 to arrange a viewing.
Stockport’s landmark £60m Weir Mill neighbourhood beneath viaduct hits major milestone
Weir Mill, a major new neighbourhood in Stockport, has reached a milestone this week, with its towering 14-storey apartment block reaching its full height.
The £60m transformation of the area beneath the viaduct in the town centre is being taken on by social impact developers Capital & Centric, who plan build 253 design-led apartments, as well as green outdoor space, independent bars, restaurants and shops.
Capital & Centric are already receiving interest from indie operators for the commercial spaces, ahead of kick-starting their hunt in the new year.
Weir Mill will bring life back to historic mill buildings that date all the way back to the 1700s.
It will form a major destination in Stockport’s Town Centre West masterplan, a 130-acre regeneration district which will include 4,000 new homes, local amenities, green spaces, workspace, and transport improvements.
To celebrate Weir Mill reaching its full height, members of Stockport Council and the Stockport Mayoral Development Corporation, along with local young people from the not-for-profit Regeneration Brainery bootcamp, were invited for a tour of the site.
Views from the top of the tallest apartment block look all the way across Stockport and beyond to the Peak District, with the towers of Manchester city centre visible too.
The development is being built right on the banks of the River Mersey and beside the city’s iconic red-brick viaduct, a stone’s-throw from the train station.
Stockport has in recent years been named as one of the best places to buy your first home, as well as getting a name-check in the Sunday Times’ coveted Best Places To Live annual round-up.
Adam Higgins, from Capital&Centric, said: “Weir Mill is such a historic site but it was in need of some major TLC. Since day one, our mission has been to restore and repurpose the stunning heritage buildings and create a destination neighbourhood that furthers Stockport’s standing as one of the best places to live and spend time. Not only are we well underway with delivering more design-led homes at a key brownfield site, we’re also on with creating outdoor hangouts and food and drink spaces that will all be open to the public and help draw a crowd into the town centre.
“Reaching the highest point is a massive moment and a visible sign of the change that’s happening here. It’s a privilege to give a glimpse of what’s happening on site given much of it has been shrouded in scaffolding for months. It really is a testament to the level of collaboration underway with the Council and MDC – with a shared desire to see Stockport create an identity it can be proud of for years to come.”
More than 150 people are now working to deliver the project, with significant focus on preserving and celebrating the original features of the historic Grade II listed landmark.
Cllr Mark Hunter, from Stockport Council, said: “This is a huge achievement and testament to the drive and ambition of everyone involved to bring this historic building back to life and greatly improve this area of the town centre, providing much needed, good quality homes.
“The pace at which change is happening across the town centre is quite staggering, with work at the nearby Transport Interchange and new urban park due for completion next year, it’s a really exciting time for Stockport.”
Eamonn Boylan, Interim Chair of Stockport MDC, said: “The structural completion of the new residential blocks for the Weir Mill development puts us another step closer to delivering the 4,000 new homes that our regeneration masterplan will achieve.
“The latest chapter in our town centre’s £1billion transformation, Weir Mill is setting a new benchmark for brownfield regeneration. One that celebrates and reinvigorates the town’s industrial infrastructure and heritage for a new age, in turn delivering essential new homes, creating a new cultural and leisure district and enhancing connectivity in the town centre.
“As we look ahead to 2024, which will see the completion of a major new transport hub alongside amenities and new public realm, Stockport is undoubtedly on track to becoming one of the best connected and most liveable towns in the UK.”
Once complete the £60m Weir Mill project will feature:
Chestergate and King Street West: A new gateway into the town centre, with ground floor spaces for independent shops, cafes or delis and plenty of lush greenery.
Water Front: A new public space looking out across the River Mersey, providing a place for riverside chilling in the evening sun.
Weir Mill East: Sensitively designed new buildings featuring a mix of homes, drawing inspiration from the site’s manufacturing history.
Weavers Square: What will become the heart of the scheme and a new destination for Stockport. The old cast iron columns of Weavers Shed are being retained to create a vibrant new outdoor space for riverside street markets, DJ sets, live music events and performing arts.
West Shed: A striking indoor space with exposed brick vaulted arches and cast-iron columns, creating a relaxed space to take your laptop, grab a coffee and while away the day.
West Courtyard: The former working courtyard to the mills, this will be a quieter, more contemplative garden space for residents and the general public to chill out, with plants, trees and secluded spaces to explore, as well as amenities for residents including rooftop terrace, BBQs and private dining spaces.
Manchester secures £5.2m funding to build ‘supported accommodation’ for rough sleepers
Manchester has secured a whopping £5.2 million in funding to build new ‘supported accommodation’ designed to house rough sleepers.
After an application submitted to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ Single Homelessness Accommodation Programme (SHAP) has been approved this week, Manchester City Council says it’s eager to help the former homeless “rebuild their lives”.
This means that, by working in partnership with housing and support providers Humankind, Jigsaw, and Great Places, the Council will oversee the creation of 42 units of supported housing across three different schemes.
The schemes are for single people with a history of rough sleeping and longer-term support needs.
According to the Council, these people will stay in this accommodation and receive personalised support until they are ready to “take the next step to independent living”.
This new £5.2 million funding allocation from the Government covers both the cost of creating the accommodation – which must be completed by March 2025 at the latest – and revenue funding to help run it for its first three years of opening.
“We are working with a range of partners to tackle the homelessness challenge on all fronts, from prevention in the first place to helping people into permanent, settled homes,” explained Cllr Joanna Midgley, who is the Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council.
“Securing this £5.2m funding for the city will help us create much-needed extra accommodation for those being helped off the streets who need significant long-term support before they are ready to live independently.
“It’s only part of a wider response but it will be a welcome addition to the accommodation and support available.”
The news of the successful application comes after the Council published its plan to get rough sleepers off the streets of Manchester and into temporary accommodation this winter back in early November.