I was in Manchester today, and had two very different experiences in the space of one day. I won’t give you a general spiel on Manchester itself, because there are plenty of people who blog about the city already (to name but a few Manchizzle, Manchester Blog, Manchester Is Ace), but what I am going to do is talk about the two places I visited that sit at opposite ends of the cultural and social spectrum – the Trafford Centre, and the new People’s History Museum.
The Trafford Centre is the northwest of England’s vast monument to consumerism. Opened in 1998 it has almost 1.5 million square feet of retail space. It’s unlike a lot its large cousins around the country because it is boldly themed throughout (that gives the place a curious Disneyland feel), with the main shopping area based around classical Italianate architecture (the annex housing the furniture stores even has a campanile tower that serves no purpose other than to look pretty on the skyline). The vast food court, the Orient, is a confusingly mixed bag of themes – New Orleans on one part of the upper level, with the large open middle section meant to resemble an ocean-going liner, and Moroccan, Egyptian and Inca architecture seemingly scattered at random around the edges. The newer rear ground floor area reverts back to the Italian theme with a huge sweeping staircase with hundreds of metres of marble, and also features the world’s largest chandelier!
The reason we were over there earlier today wasn’t actually to shop though (no, that isn’t a Hollister bag in my hand…), it was to visit the Krispy Kreme doughnut factory that sits on an outparcel in the middle of one of the carparks. M has a bit of a thing for these little confections, and at the factory store you can see doughnuts being baked, cooled, dusted and packaged up in a huge Heath Robinson-like contraption behind a long glass wall. Stick around and you can also see the extent to which consumerism and gluttony often meet – I find one Krispy Kreme doughnut a bit sickly, but we watched 3 people sit down to tuck into a box of 12 of these evil little sugary things. Ugh!
In order to shake off a dizzy morning of shopping we went to the new People’s History Museum in the afternoon, which has as it’s slogan, “There have always been ideas worth fighting for”. The museum is dedicated to the history of the struggle to achieve worker’s rights in the UK and abroad, looking at the revolutionaries, reformers, workers and voters who have fought since the 1700s for their right to be represented, and illustrated in colourful union banners, pamphlets and other topical objects and displays. Located just to the west of the city centre, this ultra-modern museum building is attached to the refurbished shell of an old Engine Hall which is dedicated to displays from local groups. It was empty and obviously being dressed for a new exhibition when we went today, but the special exhibition space on the ground floor currently houses “Carried Away”, documenting the forced removal of protestors involved in a range of campaigns – the CND movement, the miner’s strikes of the ’70s and the anti-fascist movement. There was even a mocked up ‘protest camp’ set up in the middle of the floor, which reminded me that the semi-permanent one in Parliament Square is due to get its marching orders later today…
|From Manchester July 2010|
So, whatever takes your fancy, Manchester is certainly capable of catering for it. I might be visiting again soon, so watch this space.