When you’re on a trip, the most typical of mornings will seem special, perhaps because most days you’re busy at home thinking of the next task, meeting, item to worry about and get through with. Looking back at journal entries from other travels, I’ve often described mornings as crisp or resplendent, as if such a morning couldn’t exist in Toronto any day of the week. So this morning, the quiet Sunday, the sun was out and the cool air was clear and brisk, just like mornings in Bolzano, Copenhagen or Xian or…well come to think of it the air probably wasn’t clear in Xian.
Siobhan and I took a walk through the Manchester city center to the town hall. Its cobblestones outside temporarily obstructed by construction, with banners proclaiming they’d be pushed aside for Pride Week. Pride is all around us during our visit, with the train station, stores and restaurants hanging rainbow flags in anticipation. The streets were exceptionally quiet, save for a few random tourists, who, like us, felt the need to visit the civic seat of government on a Sunday morning.
Manchester, the first city of the Industrial Revolution, was once referred to as the “belly and guts of the nation” by George Orwell. As a center for the trade, processing and manufacture of cotton and textiles, it became one of the first modern cities. The growth of the cotton trade fueled city transport, sanitation, and soon socioeconomic systems. Perhaps it is fitting one of the things recommended to visit while in town is the Museum of Science and Industry, which features working textile mill machines along side other Victorian era implements like a steam locomotives and an exhibit on the underground tunnels of Manchester.
Splitting the museum is a small rail spur which volunteers operate a small shunting tank locomotive with a rake of two small carriages to take passengers to the other end of the property, the world’s oldest railway station. The piercing whistle of live steam cut through the early morning, though not many patrons were up yet to take the short rail journey.
I correctly identified the Museum’s Rolls Royce RB211 turbo fan and it’s primary application, the Lockheed L1011 Tristar. The RB211 core eventually set up Rolls for later Trent series engines that power modern airliners like the Dreamliner and A380, though the company went insolvent and had to be nationalized in the process.
The Air and Space Hall next door features a number of preserved aircraft, although it also included a curious set of commercial models, including an old house liveried A380, an Air Canada 747 classic with 1980’s styling, and a Boeing 757 in British Airways colours. Also peculiar was the Trident fuselage with it’s offset nose gear.
We had lunch at a local pub, the Oxnoble, enjoying our second British pub meal of Sunday roast. I didn’t actually eat dinner tonight, as I was fairly full from the ample portions.
The Castlefield area features old industrial canals, now graced with bars and restaurants instead of the old warehouses for the textile trade. Under the Victorian ironwork of three huge rail bridges, we walked through to this area lured by the strains of a solo guitar playing Oasis and other 90’s pop hits in front of a crowd of Sunday lunch patrons.
The waterways here are now filled with leisure craft, narrowboats which people rent or own to live on. As we walked through this newly redeveloped land, a couple came alongside with their canal boat and I wasn’t sure if the proper etiquette was to catch their line and help pull them close to the side so they could tie off.
The real purpose of visiting Manchester, however, was not to learn about textile manufacture or visit the winding canals, but instead to visit the set of the British television show, Coronation Street. For the past fifty odd years, this British soap opera has been filmed in Manchester, its famous cobblestone street home to hundreds of deaths, weddings and dramatic plots. Earlier this year, the show moved from it’s downtown city studio lot to a new production facility, so the owners opened it up to fans for tours. Siobhan is a fan of the show, having watched it since childhood, so I thought it was a treat to go and visit its home.
The tour seemed pretty authentic, with real sets and props brought out for fans to enjoy. Much of the facility was left in place, down to the Leitch broadcast clock mounted in the edit bay and the scene lighting controller still warm. Still tacked to the walls include crew party flyers, wardrobe sketches and filming call sheets, and while you couldn’t take pictures inside, they did seem to curate a display which treated fans of the show. Like the time I visited the smart car factory in Hambach, I quietly stepped back, partly to let the rest of the tour get a good look, and partly because I didn’t want to be singled out like the lady who proclaimed she’d never watched an episode and was dragged there.
The jewel of the tour is the actual Street itself, a Disney-esque three quarters forced perspective scale set which as you walk through it must feel like being on the show in real life. Of course, having never watched the show, none of the houses or stores make sense to me, although many of the tour participants were absolutely delighted being able to stand next to the real thing.
Coronation Street is embedded in the British nation’s memory, or least evident from the people coming to visit the studio today. One man visiting with his two children and wife, when trying to remember who lived at each address, said, “Of course, I’ve only watched it for the past forty years of my life.”