Thursday 26 February 2015
Something In The Air
I'd managed to cross off quite a lot of South Manchester's extensive rail network. The Stockport line, the Airport line, Rose Hill and Marple. Yet somehow, and I'm not quite sure how, Levenshulme and Heaton Chapel sat in the middle, uncollected. Isolated dots in a sea of red.
This was really quite irritating. It's a bit of a faff to go all the way to Manchester just to collect two stations. There weren't any others close by that I could combine them with. What I needed was to have an actual reason to be in Manchester, and an hour or two to spare.
One train to Stockport from Lime Street and a slinky electric Northern later I was in Heaton Chapel. The reward for my efforts was a great Victorian station. Red brick and covered staircases.
Better still, it's loved. The Friends of Heaton Chapel Station are clearly a dedicated, passionate crew, and they've made this little halt in the suburbs a bit of a treat. There's a mural featuring the history of the station, a book exchange in the (still functioning) ticket office, historic posters lining the staircase from the platform.
Up top there's a tiny newsagent built into the side of the building, as all good railway stations should have.
There's also a brown plaque, just below the station sign, commemorating the time the Queen boarded the Royal Train here in 2013. I hope they checked her ticket. You know what pensioners are like, swanning around like they own the place.
I headed for the Stockport Road for the mile or so walk to Levenshulme. I had to be in the city centre by eleven, so I absolutely had to be on a certain train to get there, and so my normal casual stroll was backdropped by the incessant beat of a tense drum. The A6 was strung with shops and businesses, including a bakery called "Cake That". I'm sure that was a lot more amusing when Take That actually paid their taxes. On the other side were stout red brick homes, their gardens paved over for driveways, and a constant stream of double deckers poured past me.
Further up the houses gave way to a large factory. Newer, steel and tin blocks had been welded onto the stout Victorian brick building. It was McVities.
I kept an eye out for Oompa-Loompas, but there was no sign. As I walked by though - it's a very large complex - I noticed something. I could smell chocolate digestives. The factory was pumping the smell of chocolate digestives into the atmosphere. It was so strong, when I licked my lips, I could taste chocolate digestives. How do the people of Heaton Chapel manage to get through the day? I'm not a big biscuit eater, but right there and then I wanted a big mug of tea and packet of choccy digestives to tear through.
Sadly, as I crossed over the border into Levenshulme, the smell faded away to be replaced by the more usual scents of the city - petrol, Subway sandwich shops, an overriding sense of despair. Terraces appeared on the road, still a cut above your two up two down - little gardens out front, bay windows - but showing a definite slide in wealth.
Levenshulme has a high mix of ethnic minorities, and the shops began to reflect it. One row of takeaways offered a series of cuisines from across the globe - the Afro Mixed Grill, Biryani and Qabli Pilau, Peshwari Chapli Kabab. There were electronic shops offering supercharged satellite set ups to enable you to watch the tv from back home. And there was an old railway station.
That was the original Levenshulme station, renamed Levenshulme South in the early 1950s. There used to be a loop line running around the south of Manchester, from Central station to Gorton, but its relatively indirect route into town meant it wasn't well used. British Rail closed the station in 1958, pre-empting Beeching, and now it's mainly a cycle path, though parts of it have been given over to Metrolink trams. The remarkably grand station building remains though, complete with its very cute onion dome.
I passed a man selling fish from the back of a van; he was wearing a white coat and it looked legit, but personally I'd walk right past him to the Tesco. Yes, yes, I'm sure he was selling fish so fresh a firm whack could resuscitate the haddock, but I like to at least pretend to myself that there's some kind of hygiene inspection going on.
I'd reached Levenshulme station now, anyway, just in time for my train. It's located on what's known as "The Street With No Name"; someone realised in the early 2000s that the road alongside the station building had never been adopted by the Council and had never actually been named. Manchester City Council are now considering taking it over, but personally I hope it remains a bizarre little quirk. A sign has been put up on the station building to commemorate this oddity; does that mean The Street With No Name now actually has a name, i.e. The Street With No Name? It's one for the philosophers I feel.
The actual station sign, meanwhile, still had Network North West branding on it, despite that whole experiment ending twenty odd years ago. Perhaps they're hoping if they leave it long enough it'll become historic, like LNWR signs on preserved railways?
Up a staircase to the stark platforms, where four lines threaded their way through the station. The centre two were fast ones, so every few minutes a noisy Pendolino or Cross-Country service from Piccadilly would burn by, leaving us on the slow lines feeling inadequate.
There's been a token effort to gussy the station up; signs have been erected in the languages of the locals. In some places this works:
In other places, it doesn't:
I'm not sure what language that is, but the grey writing on the white makes it look like someone's just scribbled on a random board. The signs aren't the same size or format as the Northern ones so they end up looking like afterthoughts.
I stood on the platform and took a deep breath. I had an appointment to go to, an appointment with the real Manchester.
Before you start going, "so you went on the Coronation Street tour? So what?", look upstairs at the Rovers. There are two windows. Do you know what that means? I wasn't on the common or garden, open to any old Tom Dick or Harry, tourist attraction. That is the real Rovers, the one at ITV Studios in MediaCity, and I was getting a special poke around as a reward for writing bitchy things about Maddy the Tramp on the Coronation Street Blog.
I shan't bore you with the details, but here are 10 highlights of my trip to Weatherfield:
1) Gail Potter-Tilsley-Platt-Hillman-McIntyre's porch:
2) The Blessed Sally Webster's legendary conservatory:
3) A Bond/Corrie crossover:
4) That creepy picture from inside the Barlow's:
5) The Imperial War Museum poking its head over the top of the tram viaduct:
6) The Rovers Return, where sadly they don't serve real booze:
7) Roy Cropper's railway themed place mats:
8) The slightly underwhelming back view of the warehouse:
9) Joe McIntyre's grave, abandoned at the side of the set - clearly Gail can't be bothered maintaining it now she's marrying Les Dennis:
10) and my little potato head just visible behind Kevin Webster. I can report that he is very short but has a very nice arse for a man pushing 50.
Many thanks to Glenda and all at ITV for letting us poke about. The only way they could have made it better would have been to pump in the smell of chocolate digestives.