About this blog

This blog was created primarily to support a one-day  symposium of talks on post-war urban transformations in Manchester. The symposium took place on the 8th May 2013 and was a successful event.

The aim of the symposium was to narrate the changing social and physical development of the city during three crucial decades from 1945. The presentations considered events, such as ‘smokeless zones’, the building of the first computer, and large scale built projects of the era, including Mancunian Way and the University expansion, in relation to civic plans, infrastructural initiatives, local and national government policies, technological innovation and the wider fiscal climate.

You can read about the presentations and the speakers in posts below. We have provided access to the speaker’s slides where possible.

Infra_MANC exhibition catalogue


People might be interested in the catalogue of our spring 2012 exhibition Infra_MANC: Post-war Infrastructures of Manchester. For the first time the full catalogue is available online as a free pdf download.

The catalogue examines four major post-war infrastructure projects: the Mancunian Way motorway, the unbuilt Picc-Vic railway tunnel, the Guardian underground telephone exchange and the speculative designs for a city centre heliport. The catalogue runs to over two hundred pages and is richly illustrated.


Martin Dodge / Richard Brook

Half Memory – Interchange

Forth BanksByker ViaductByker ViaductByker ViaductA Tunnel ShieldMen entering a Metro Shaft
The lowering of a tunnelHaymarket Metro Station escalator shaftHaymarket Metro Station escalator shaftNorth South line to JesmondSouth bound tunnel to HaymarketSouth bound tunnel to Haymarket
Metro Rail gang Test TrackA group of men in a Metro shaftA Metro North bound JunctionA Metro shaft in GatesheadInside the rail gang test trackGateshead Metro Station
Four Lane Ends Metro InterchangeRegent Centre Metro Interchange Car ParkRegent Centre Metro InterchangeRegent Centre Metro Tender DrawingFour Lane Ends Tender DrawingFour Lane Ends Metro Interchange 3D model

A fantastic set of images showing the construction of Tyne and Wear Metro.

Social Housing in Post-war Manchester: Change and Continuity

Peter Shapely

SONY DSCSchool of History, Welsh History and Archaeology, Bangor University


From the end of the First World War to 1979, municipal housing promised to sweep away the old slums and to replace the exploitive slum landlord with a public body to be trusted. At different periods throughout most of the twentieth century, progressive policies attempted to provide new homes that would meet general needs on a series of new estates, and to sweep away and redevelop Slumland.

The local authority faced a series of problems. Legislation, the economy and resources, the land-trap and the scale of the housing crisis faced by the council provided a number of complex challenges. On one level, their efforts can be applauded. Slums were cleared and Manchester managed to curtail the high rise horror that proved a disaster for other cities. Yet, on another level, in the end municipal housing policies re-created the same problems which they had inherited. They built estates, cleared entire areas and, in central areas, redeveloped old communities. In doing so, they used new modern designs and building techniques. However, many of these were not only wasteful, unattractive, badly designed and deeply unpopular but they reinforced social segregation. The buildings changed but the social problems and cultural perceptions remained. Although economic problems and changes underpinned the process, housing policy did nothing to challenge the social divide. Rather, it combined with the social and economic issues to reinforce resident isolation through association and negative stereotypes.

This paper will consider public housing policy across the post-war period. It will look at the problems faced by the local authority, their attempts to frame the building programme as an extension of civic pride and the reality which soon unfolded as the ‘inner city’ replaced ‘Slumland.’

[Download Talk and Presentation Slides]


Peter Shapely is modern and contemporary British urban historian.
Previous research has focused on voluntary charities, urban power
relations, policy creation and implementation and local governance.

Health and Hospitals in Post War Manchester: What Difference Did the NHS Make?

John Pickstone

SONY DSCCentre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester


Without WWII, British health services would probably have continued to be run largely by the Local Authorities, as Manchester Council had hoped. Without the Labour victory in 1945, the City would probably have retained its big (ex poor-law) hospitals, and the teaching hospitals would probably have gained state funds, distributed through a local/regional co-ordinating body, as pioneered in Manchester in the 1930s. So what did happen in terms of ownership and control? Who ran the early NHS in Manchester, and what were they able to do in a period of shortages, when increases in expenditure went mainly to education and housing, and then from the early 1960s when hospital building became a priority? For a city/region with some powerful national players, we will explore the ground level consequences of formative national politics.

[Download Presentation Slides]


John Pickstone is the Wellcome Research Professor in the Centre for
the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, in the Faculty of Life
Scinces of the University of Manchester,
Born and raised in Burnley, Lancashire, he studied Natural Sciences,
especially physiology at Cambridge and at Queen’s University,
Canada. He held fellowships in History of Medicine at the University
of Minnesota (1971-3) and at University College London (1974),
before moving in 1974 to the Department of History of Science and
Technology, UMIST, Manchester, to work on the history of hospitals in
the Manchester region. His long-standing interest in the regional history
of science and medicine has been renewed in edited volumes, and
through recent studies of Manchester since WWII, including work on
Manchester Public Health, the Central Teaching Hospitals, and the
development of biology and medicine in the University.

From Industrial City to Industrial Archaeology: Manchester and Industry, 1945-74

Michael Nevell

Centre for Applied Archaeology, University of Salford


This talk will look briefly at the decline of the port of Manchester and the textile industry within the city, and the impact of new commercial developments on the city townscape (such as the Arndale). This period also saw the beginnings of interest in Manchester’s industrial past. This will be reviewed from the first industrial archaeology dig and the retention of the Shambles, to the saving of the Liverpool Road Railway Station site.

[Download Presentation Slides]


Dr Michael Nevell is Head of Archaeology at the University of Salford. He is an industrial Archaeologist with more than 25 years experience, is co-editor of the international journal Industrial Archaeology Review, has written many books on the archaeology of the North West, and has occasionally appeared on Channel 4’s Time Team.

Clearing the Skies: Air Pollution Problems in Post-war Manchester

Stephen Mosley

SONY DSCSchool of Cultural Studies & Humanities, Leeds Metropolitan University


In 1950, the sight of sulphurous black smoke billowing out from industrial and domestic chimneys still dominated the skylines around Greater Manchester. Coal smoke was responsible for blackening urban architecture, blocking out sunlight, destroying vegetation and, not least of all, damaging people’s health. It was closely associated with high levels of mortality from bronchitis and other respiratory diseases, particularly during the cold winter months when demand for domestic coal fires was at its peak. Manchester’s ugliness, as J.B. Priestley put it, was ‘so complete’ that it was ‘almost exhilarating.’

Manchester, however, was also a catalyst for change (albeit slow). Mancunian Charles Gandy, chairman of the National Smoke Abatement Society (NSAS), came up with the concept of the smokeless zone following a winter smog episode in 1931 that resulted in over 450 ‘excess deaths’ in the city. In advance of national legislation, the NSAS worked together with the City Council’s Health Department to create one of the first experimental smokeless zones. But planning was disrupted by the Second World War, and the commercial centre of the city did not become an operational smokeless zone until May 1952. Manchester’s smoke control programme would not be fully completed until the 1980s, by which time most of its blackened buildings had been cleaned.

(Pre-war postcard celebrating Manchester’s smoke.)

(Pre-war postcard celebrating Manchester’s smoke.)

Clearing the skies of smoke, however, was to have unintended consequences, as a new air pollution problem soon arose. As sunlight penetrated Manchester’s streets it reacted with automobile exhaust emissions to create hazardous photochemical smog, especially during the summer months. In January 1995, The Guardian claimed that Manchester had the ‘foulest air in Britain’ as 65,000 cars crawled into the city centre during the rush hour. In June the same year, as asthmatic admissions to hospitals increased, the Manchester Evening News alleged that because of choking traffic fumes living and working in the city and its conurbation could ‘seriously damage your health’. Manchester’s skies have now cleared, but its air is not yet clean.


Stephen Mosley is Senior Lecturer in History in the School of Cultural Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. His publications include: Common Ground: Integrating the Social and Environmental in History (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011 with Geneviève Massard-Guilbaud); The Environment in World History (Routledge, 2010); and The Chimney of the World: A History of Smoke Pollution in Victorian and Edwardian Manchester (Routledge, 2008). He is also the editor of the journal Environment and History. He is currently working on a global-scale history of pollution problems for Reaktion Books.

‘We used to the walk the Mancunian Way’: A short history of the Mancunian Way

Steve Millington

Department of Geography & Environmental Management, Manchester Metropolitan University

SONY DSCAbstract:

The Mancunian Way (A57M) is a mainly elevated running 0.6m in an East-West direction, located just south of Manchester city centre. Planning for the route began with the 1945 City of Manchester Plan, which envisaged the Mancunian Way, or Link Road 17-7 as it was initially known, forming part of a new system of arterial routes and ring-roads linked to a regional communications network. The route was later incorporated into SELNEC’s 1962 Highway Plan and construction began in 1964. Promoted as the Highway in the Sky, the Mancunian Way was to solve problems of traffic congestion. Cutting a swathe through the Victorian industrial landscape, the road was to be a symbol of a progressive and modern city.

In contemporary Manchester, however, the Mancunian Way, occupies a very different discursive space. Rather than a symbol of optimism, it has a signifier of urban problems. Within 15 years of opening, Manchester Docks closed and the industrial hinterland it served was largely derelict, undermining the primary functionality of the highway. Rather than a fluid space for car drivers to effortlessly traverse the city, the Mancunian Way is acongested obstacle. But as our empirical observations, drawn from a series of tours that counter-intuitively attempted to walk the route of a motorway, show that this environment also produces affordances in terms of creativity and unconventional use. Utilizing Ritzer’s (2002) assertion that rationalised systems also produce irrationality, this paper therefore, maintains that scientific planning based on principles of calculability and predictably, will also produce apparently irrational decisions and unintended, sometimes random, consequences.

[Download Presentation Slides]


Dr Steve Millington is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is co-author of two edited collections, Cosmopolitan Urbanism and Spaces of Vernacular Creativity: Rethinking the Cultural Economy, both published by Routledge. His current research focuses on the relationship between light, space and society. Steve is also a member of the Manchester Modernist Society.

Private Places in Public Space: Commerce, Community and Computers in Wythenshawe’s Civic Centre

Ian Martin

Leeds Metropolitan University


Faced with further industrial decay, Manchester in the 1960s desperately tried to shake off its dour northern heritage in order to recast itself as a commercial centre. Wythenshawe, eight miles south of the city centre, was an important part of this vision of commerce. Its fringe location and satellite garden town design set it apart from the rest of the city and the promise of free-flowing traffic, greenfield sites and generous grants incentivised a number of businesses to relocate. Three businesses that moved operations to the area – Shell-Mex British Petroleum, Barclays Bank, and the Trustee Savings Bank – created large computer centres in Wythenshawe’s newly-built civic centre. The buildings’ Brutalist designs, typical of building projects at the time, dominated the surrounding area and architects rose to the challenge of humanising the buildings’ visual identity by setting them in open landscaped grounds. In this paper, I examine the relationship between these buildings and the community in which they were situated to understand why, despite the computer centres’ planned open outlooks, the buildings were increasingly fashioned as very private places.

(Courtesy of Barclays Group Archives)

(Courtesy of Barclays Group Archives)


Ian Martin is a senior lecturer in Business Information Technology at Leeds Metropolitan University. His research interests include spatial and temporal perspectives on the history and sociology of technology. His PhD thesis from the University of Manchester in 2010, Centring the Computer in the Business of Banking: Barclays Bank and Technological Change, 1954-1974, is a labour history of early computing work.

Rebuilding Manchester: The Wartime Debate on Post-war Reconstruction, 1941-5

Alan Kidd

Department of History, Manchester Metropolitan University


The Manchester Blitz of December 1940 destroyed or seriously damaged hundreds of commercial and residential buildings within a mile radius of Albert Square. Within days of this devastation plans for the post-war reconstruction of Manchester were being discussed. But the scope of these plans and the future they envisaged went far beyond making good the damage caused by the Luftwaffe. The eventual result was the wide ranging and ambitious City of Manchester Plan of 1945 prepared under the jurisdiction of city surveyor and engineer Rowland Nicholas. This paper will explore the wartime debates over reconstruction that culminated in the Nicholas plan of 1945.


Alan Kidd is Emeritus Professor of Social & Regional History at MMU and among my publications is Manchester: A History, published by Carnegie.

Slum Clearance in Manchester: Making Space for Modernity

Alistair Kefford

SONY DSCHistory Department, University of Manchester


Slum clearance has often been viewed by scholars through the prism of national policy objectives and the supposedly unified priorities of the planning profession. In practice, this paper argues, the delegation of slum clearance powers to local authorities provided an opportunity to formulate locally-determined visions of urban modernity. In Manchester in particular, clearance powers provided a mechanism through which conceptions of Mancunian modernity were negotiated and enacted. This process reflected the city’s previous experience of planning and the established priorities of councillors and officials, but it also demonstrated an engagement with contemporary debates about the form and functions of the city. Such debates were mediated by local newspapers, which tended to privilege a somewhat sectional vision of the city and of the modern citizen. The paper argues that the way that Manchester was re-imagined and reshaped in the 1950s and 60s had long term implications for urban policy in the 1970s and beyond.

(Courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection, ref. m26264)

(Courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection, ref. m26264)


Alistair Kefford is a PhD researcher in the History Department at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on the relationship between spatial planning and urban social policy in Manchester and Leeds in the post-war period.