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Discover Manchester

by Henk Harskamp in Travel and weekendtrips , 23 september 2009

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Manchester doesn’t immediately conjure up images of a flourishing gay community and nightlife. We usually go to London or Barcelona for that. Why is it that so few people are aware of the fact that Manchester has a rich gay history, a gay-friendly local government and a very extensive gay scene? You will most definitely not be “the only gay in the village” in Manchester.

It has a neighborhood filled with bars, restaurants, hairdressers, hotels et cetera run by gays and lesbians, appropriately called “Gay Village.” I think that’s actually rather unique in Europe. Of course there’s more to Manchester than just the gay scene and that’s why it’s good to know something of the history of this city.


Over the past centuries Manchester had a flourishing textile and cotton industry. The working conditions however, were very poor. On the 16th of August 1819, 60,000 people rallied on St. Peter’s Field demanding reforms. The magistrates freaked out by the large crowd and had them surrounded by the army.

They were completely trapped, fifteen people died, six hundred were injured. People soon referred to it as “Peterloo,” Waterloo had only taken place four years earlier. The location still has a memorial to the event.

As Liverpool charged a fortune for the transport of the cotton, Manchester decided to open up an alternative trade route: the Manchester Channel (1894), which provided the city with a direct connection to the sea.

In 1830 the first steam train connection in the world started between Liverpool and Manchester and from that moment the flow of trade was wide open.

The workers formed the successful Union and improved their situation. As practically all the cotton in the country came from Manchester, and about 95% of the population worked in the industry, it was called “Cottonopolis.”

Abraham Lincoln to Manchester’s Laborers

On December 31, 1862 the Union wrote a letter to president Abraham Lincoln in name of the population (the American Civil War was in full swing and the Southern States were under economic ban). On January 19, 1863 Lincoln answered and thanked them for their support in the battle against slavery.

A statue at Lincoln’s Square commemorates this events: on the left side it shows the letter of the people, on the right side it shows Lincoln’s answer. Right opposite the statue you’ll find a memorial for Princess Diana.

The historic cotton industry is visible everywhere, there are many buildings and monuments as it was an important source of income until the end of the sixties of the last century.

On the fourth of May 1904 the gentlemen Charles Rolls and Frederic Henry Royce met at the Midland Hotel Manchester and decided to start Rolls Royce Limited.

In Manchester Peace Garden the Anne Frank Tree, planted on the 12th of June 1998, commemorates Anne Frank and all the other children who have died in the wars of the last century. Here there’s also a memorial to all laborers killed.

Homomonument and Aids Memorial

On World Aids Day the community gathers in Sackville Park at the monument The Beacon of Hope, referring to HIV/AIDS. The beacon describes the journey of life and offers room for remembering, reflecting and celebration.

A little further is the site of Manchester’s Homomonument. A statue of a man eating an apple on a bench. It depicts Alan Turing (1912–1954), mathematician and IT expert, who was crucial in ending the Second World War by breaking the secret codes of the Germans. He was arrested in 1952 for his homosexuality and found guilty in a trial (it was still illegal at the time). He was found dead in 1954 holding a poisoned apple. I was told that this is also where the symbol of Apple computers comes from, something the company denies.

Rainbow colored tiles in the street mark locations of special gay interest; the Out in the Past Tour is a great idea. You get to hear all the ins and outs of two hundred years of gay and lesbian history of the town.

At all the tourist centers you can find leaflets on Guided Walks and Tours. You can approach the guides personally and I can recommend Jean Bailo. Her English is without accent, which makes it easier to understand, and a pleasure to listen to.

The John Rylands Library, marvelous from the outside as well as the inside, was built between 1890 and 1899 by Enriqueta Rylands to pay tribute to her husband John, at the time one of the largest cotton dealers.

The library is free to get in to and boasts a unique collection of rare books and manuscripts. It’s one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

The tourist signage boards in the city are very clear and otherwise the people are very friendly and helpful.


When you take the tram from Saint Peter’s Square in the direction of Harbour City you get to Salford Quays, this is where you’ll find the Lowry Museum and the Imperial War Museum.
In Salford Quays they’re still working on a project called “Media City”, a gigantic center which has to be ready in 2011. It will also be the new home for the BBC.

In arts center The Lowry you’ll find work of Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887–1976), a famous painter from Manchester, who was only recognized as such at quite an old age. Until his death in 1976 he suffered mainly from the fact his mother never acknowledged him. Much of his work shows the city’s grayness. Manchester pop group Oasis used Lowry’s work for their video of “The Masterplan.” Before you go to the exhibition I recommend you go to the twenty minute documentary first. The center also has room for theater and concerts. The design of The Lowry is a true piece of art by Michael Wilford, seen from the other side of the channel it looks like a ship in the harbor. Open since April 2000, no cover charge.

The Imperial War Museum shows the history from World War I till now with numerous objects and personal stories in audio and video. At the hour all the lights dim and they project photos on the walls, the sound of bombs and artillery is chilling. This 360-degree audio-visual “Big Picture Show” offers three different films and is also free.

When you walk back to the tram, go via the Lowry Bridge. This narrow bridge is adaptable in height and it’s said to be a spectacular sight when it goes up a couple of meters.

The Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) is a former orphanage from 1880 in Castlefield. There’s so much to see here, you might as well take out a whole day for this. It’s great to see what the first computer, nicknamed “The Baby,” looked like. (Manchester had the world’s first computer in June 1948.)

One room is completely taken up by two hundred years of scientific development. There’s a lot of room for the history of the cotton industry. The museum has five floors and it’s free again!

Restaurant with Entertainment

I can really recommend Sapporo Teppanyaki, a sushi restaurant (but they also have an extensive menu). The style of cooking and presenting are so unique, you have to have experienced that at least once. The cook juggles with the sharp knives; chops and dices like an artist and throws food at his guests, who are supposed to catch with their open mouths. You get two chances; afterwards you get your food on your plate. Sapporo Teppanyaki is diagonally across from the MOSI.


The spanking brand new Velvet Hotel has just opened its doors on Canal Street. The outside tables on this side of the street, right in front of the hotel, are always filled first. The hotel also has a restaurant and a bar. There’s an elevator so everything is also accessible for the physically challenged. The restaurant is very pleasant, with good service and the food is simple but ample and of good quality for just ten pounds. Note the fish tank in the staircase of the restaurant.

The rooms of the Velvet Hotel are unique when it comes to design and are supplied with all modern comforts (stereo, TV, DVD). Lovely beds and reliable wake-up service. Forgot to bring an electricity adapter? No problem, they have them at the reception. The bathrooms are supplied with shampoo and various skincare products. All rooms have wireless internet.


If you’re after a great relaxation massage or in need of a slight tan after your nights out in this vibrant city? Around the corner from the Velvet Hotel you’ll find Le Petit Spa where you can choose from several treatments: mini facials, head massages and spray tans. They even have day arrangements with dinner included. Le Petit Spa is in the Malmaison-Manchester. With the elevator you go to the bottom floor and as soon as the doors open you find yourself in a Buddhist oasis of peace and quiet.

The Nightlife

Unlike some other cities you don’t have to wander around looking for this or that bar.

Everything is also located quite conveniently close to each other in the Gay Village, and especially on Canal Street, where they recorded many an episode of the original “Queer as Folk.”

In the Village you can basically walk in everywhere because even the straight businesses are very queer-friendly. You can’t smoke inside anywhere and just like in Amsterdam you can’t take your drink outside.

The list of cafes and discos is too long to include but I give you a few examples to illustrate the diversity of the nightlife.

-The Company – (semi) leather bar with a slightly older audience,
-Via Via - popular and busy with a mixed audience of all ages,
-The Rembrandt - bar with slightly older gym-frequenting audience,
-AXM - bar/disco with drag shows and a young crowd,
-Napoleons – the oldest bar of Manchester, with lots of drag.

Bar prices are not much different from here. Not many places ask for cover charge at the door, except at AXM but that was just one pound and I got a raffle ticket and a drag show for it. Napoleons is one of the very few other bars to have a cover charge, unless you’re in drag, then you get in for free.

The outside tables on Canal Street are usually busy in Summer from ten in the morning till eleven at night, after that you have to take your drink inside. Nice to observe the crowd as well as how the lock functions when a boat wants to get through.

Manchester has a lot of festivals in summer and in winter. July has the Manchester International Festival and in August Manchester Pride (August 21 to 31) is organized.


You can fly to Manchester from like 20 bucks onward on Bmibaby (it’s usually the taxes that make it much more expensive). At this moment it’s € 88,36 for a round-trip Amsterdam - Manchester during Manchester Pride. From the airport, always at gate 3, you can take the train directly to the center of the city (Piccadilly).

Do you have plans for visiting Manchester, surf to You’ll find a lot of this information and more. You can book cheap flights online with
As I write this the Velvet Hotel still had a few vacancies during Manchester Pride, if you want to be smack bang in the center of the action in the Gay Village. The Velvet King Room costs ₤99, Balcony King ₤129, and the Penthouse Suite costs ₤179. Visit for more info, photos and bookings.

Velvet Manchester
2 Canal Street
Manchester, M1 3HE
Tel: 0161 236 9003

Sapporo Teppanyaki
91 - 93 Liverpool Road, Manchester, M3 4JN

Lowry Museum
Pier Eight, The Quays

Imperial War Museum
The Quays, M17 1TZ

Le Petit Spa in the Malmaison Manchester
Piccadilly, M1 1LZ

Museum of Science & Industry
Liverpool Road

John Rylands Library
Deansgate 150



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