The Greater Manchester Marathon Tour Guide
Greater Manchester is full of firsts. So it is apt that Trafford, the largest of its boroughs, should host the first annual Greater Manchester Marathon of the twenty-first century.
Returning to the area after a ten year break, the route will pass through areas of Greater Manchester which are closely associated with some of the city’s most iconic and historic events and sites - one of its two world famous football teams; the home of International Test Cricket; it’s passenger railway system, canals and industry. Spectators and participants will have the opportunity to experience the atmosphere of the places which put (and continue to put) the ‘great’ in Greater Manchester.
The original Manchester Marathon was run in 1908, the year that Great Britain first hosted the Olympic Games, and it returns this year, when Britain again has the privilege of raising the Olympic torch. Trafford is the only designated Olympic Borough in the Greater Manchester area and it is appropriate that, with its sporting history, it should hosts the largest marathon of its kind seen in the area since the 1984 Piccadilly Radio Marathon, twenty-eight years ago.
The Marathon starts in Longford Park in Stretford, originally the home of one of Manchester’s great industrialists, John Rylands. Known as the “Cotton King” because of his legendary wealth made from Manchester’s world famous cotton trade, he moved to Longford Hall in 1857 and used his wealth to provide the people of his adopted home town of Stretford with a town hall, a public baths, a church, homes for elderly women and a coffee house. Some of these buildings still stand today. His estate became a public park in the early twentieth century.
The passing years have seen the Park used for a number of important local and national events, including a Royal Garden Party in 1977, and it celebrates its Centenary this year.
Heading out of the Park, the race passes over Talbot Road, the home of the Manchester branch of Henshaws Society for Blind People. One of the race’s official Charity Partners, Henshaws was founded by another Victorian businessman, a hat manufacturer, called Thomas Henshaw. He bequeathed £20,000 for the establishment of an asylum for the blind and so today’s charitable work owes its start to the philanthropy of another wealthy industrialist, who wished to help his fellow men.
Next the race passes the first of two sporting institutions located in this area. Trafford has a longstanding connection with sports and outdoor activities due to the belief in Victorian times that it was a place with clean, wholesome air. An endorsement by the renowned scientist, John Dalton, led to a Botanical Garden being established in this location (sadly no longer in existence) and the area quickly became a favourite with sportsmen.
Lancashire County Cricket Club moved to its current location in the 1860’s and is the home of International Test Cricket in the Manchester. Currently in the midst of a massive refurbishment, it has seen the likes of Freddie Flintoff and Michael Atherton gracing its pitch, as well as acts such as Take That and Morrissey performing for thousands of fans. Eagerly anticipated, the Ashes return to the venue in 2013, for the first time since 2005.
Staying in Stretford, the route cross the old Roman Chester Road, which runs from Deva (Chester) in the south to Eboracum (York) in the north, passing through the heart of Mamucium (Manchester). Manchester’s Roman name stems from the phrase “breast-shaped hill”, describing the geography of the area, and was first settled in AD 79; the year that Vesuvius erupted and cover Pompeii in ash.
Our next major sporting venue on the route is Manchester United’s stadium, “The Theatre of Dreams”. Founded as the Newton Heath railway team, Manchester United moved here in the late 1800’s. Current stadium capacity is around 76,500 (equivalent to the number of workers in Trafford Park during the height of its industrial production) and the team has the highest average league attendance in the World. Including its overseas fans, it has approximately 90 million followers (equating to 1% of the World’s population).
Its Museum offers tours every day except match days and its ground have three iconic memorials. The first to the United “Trinity” (Dennis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton); the second to Sir Matt Busby and the Munich Air Disaster clock, commemorating the loss of eight young team members who died in a plane crash in 1958.
As the race passes the Manchester United grounds, it moves into Trafford Park, the World’s first, purpose built, industrial park. The view to the right takes in The Quays, home to The BBC at MediaCity, and also the Lowry Theatre and Museum. Shaped like a ship’s prow, the building is the only centre in the World which is named after, and dedicated to, a single artist, in this case LS Lowry of “Matchstick Men” fame.
The body of water which you are looking across is the Manchester Ship Canal, opened in 1894, now used for recreational purposes, but in a prior life the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean, thirty six miles away in Liverpool. This in-land port was Manchester trade artery, bringing raw materials and food into the city and shipping out cotton until it became obsolete in the1980’s.
The next place of note on the route is the Imperial War Museum of the North (IWMN). A striking building, clad in aluminium, it represents the World shattered by war. Its collection focuses on the effects of war on mankind. The architect, Daniel Lieberskind, is renowned for his challenging work, having been responsible for the building of the Holocaust Museum in Berlin and currently working on the Twin Towers memorial project in New York.
The industrial heart of Trafford Park has been home to such notable manufacturers as Ford Motorcars, Guinness and Metro-Vickers, who produced Lancaster Bombers here during World War Two. The Kellogg’s factory is the biggest cereal manufacturing plant in the world. For the UK alone, it makes enough Corn Flakes to fill a billion bowls a year.
This industrial area has an unexpected haven in Trafford Ecological Park. Formerly a boating lake and at one time used as a foundry tip, it re-opened to the public in 1990 and is now one of only two Local Nature Reserves in Trafford and offers a sanctuary for wildlife as diverse as newts to kestrels.
The route continues into Sale, a Victorian railway suburb, whose expansion was largely due to the arrival of the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway in 1849. The railway made Sale easily accessible for those working in Victorian Manchester and gave them a home away from the dirt and grime associated with city centre manufacturing. Only nineteen years after the World’s first passenger railway line opened in1830, linking Manchester to Liverpool, the rise of these suburbs is an example of how quickly railway mania took hold in Victorian England.
The modern equivalent of the commuter train, Metrolink light rail system runs from Manchester through Sale and on to the end of the line at Altrincham. Running on the same track as the original railway, many of the stations retain their old world charm, including Sale, whose original Victorian station remains largely untouched. The Metrolink tram system was opened in 1992 and was the first of its kind to be re-installed in an English city. It is currently run by RATP, who also runs the Paris Underground system.
Parallel to the Metrolink is the Bridgewater Canal. Commissioned by the last Duke of Bridgewater and opened in 1761, it was known as “The Duke’s Cut”. The first canal to be dug by hand, its purpose was to bring coal from his estate into Manchester to fuel the Industrial Revolution. It is often called “England’s first canal” and provided a model for all canals that came after it, inspiring the golden age of this form of transportation. The canal engineer was James Brindley (best known for his Birmingham canals), who had engineered the Duke’s mines before moving onto waterways.
The race passes through Sale Moor, a ward of Sale, created in 1805 from common land as part of the Land Enclosure Act. In 1804 Captain John Moore mustered a troop of 3,000 volunteers here to fight Napoleon. Moore was later to be involved in the infamous Manchester Peterloo Massacre of 1819, where during a peaceful protest, 15 people were killed and up to 700 were injured.
Moving along Brooklands Road, named after Samuel Brook, a Manchester banker, the route turns left into Timperley Village. The original settlement was founded in the seventh century by the Anglo-Saxons and its name means “clearing in the woods“. In the Victorian period, this area developed into market gardens to feed the nearby city and, as a by-product, also processed the city’s nightsoil by using it as fertiliser for the crops! Timperley’s most famous son, Frank Sidebottom, an Eighties alternative comedian, is soon to be commemorated with a statue in the village centre.
The next town on the route is Altrincham, a Saxon settlement that developed into a thriving market town during the Medieval period. The town holds a Royal Market Charter dating back to King Edward the First. By the 15th century local law was administered by the Court Leet and it still meets to ceremonially beat the boundaries of the town each year. Altrincham owes much to the Victorians and Edwardians in terms of buildings, but the Downs on our route has some fine examples of well preserved, original Regency houses, built with hand made local bricks.
Altrincham runs into Bowdon, one of its wealthiest suburbs and an area which gets a mention in the Doomsday Book. As the road rises you can understand why the Anglo Saxons called it Boga-dun (or “curved hill”). The area was later to come under the control of the Norman Hamo de Masci, who built the first castle at Dunham Massey. The Altrincham/Dunham boundary stone of 1840 can still be seen in the garden wall of one of the houses, indicating the ancient border between Altrincham and its neighbour.
The Downs, known as Bowdon Downs until about 1750, was originally a common. Ten thousand of Prince Rupert’s troops camped here in May 1644, on their way from Shrewsbury to Marston Moor during the English Civil War. In December 1688, Lord Delamer, later the Earl of Warrington, rallied his tenants here in support of the Prince of Orange, afterwards William III, who had arrived in England to take the throne with his wife, Mary.
The route takes in one of Altrincham’s three local golf courses and moves on to pass the Dunham Massey Brewery, a small, family run, craft brewery, located on National Trust land in the town of Dunham Massey. Opened in 2007, the brewery produces traditional beers, made with locally sourced English ingredients and recycles its main waste products by using them as feed for cattle and fertiliser on local farms.
Moving from Dunham Town, the route takes us through Dunham Massey, now a National Trust property, but formerly the home of the Massey Barony and later the Earls of Stamford. With a Georgian house as its centrepiece, the estate has forty-five listed buildings and a deer park dating back to 1353. This part of the estate is now a nationally designated Site of Specific Scientific Interest, with many of its oak trees dating back to the 17th century. The main house, along with the stables and carriage house, are all Grade 1 listed buildings; three of only six so listed in Trafford.
Its most recent historical treasures to be unearthed are letters. One is from Jane Seymour, wife to Henry the Eighth, dated 1537, informing him of the birth of his only male heir, Edward Sixth. Jane was to die a mere two weeks after this. A second letter, this time written by Henry the Eighth himself, is dated 1543 and is a call to arms, instructing landlords to recruit their tenants to go into battle against the Scots.
Leaving Dunham behind, the race moves to Partington, which lies on the bank of the Manchester Ship Canal. Originally a medieval village, it was the first place in Trafford to have a factory built, more than 250 years ago. The opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 made it a major coal exporting area and this attracted a range of industries to settle there. After World War Two, the area was developed into a housing estate, moving people out of the Victorian slums of Manchester city centre. Later still, Shell moved its petrochemical plant to nearby Carrington, closing finally in 2007.
Carrington Moss was originally grouse moorland, which began to be industrialised in the Victorian period, In World War Two, it became one of four “Starfish” sites in Greater Manchester. These sites provided decoy targets for enemy aircraft, drawing them away from populated areas by simulating burning buildings, which would be mistaken for the city from the air. Today the land is used for farming and several nature reserves have been established within its bounds. Parts of the Moss are still accessible to the public over several rights of way.
Turning back towards Stretford and our final destination, the race passes through Flixton. Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts found locally on the banks of the River Mersey suggest an early settlement. Today it is a suburb of Manchester, but Medieval Flixton was a parish within the Hundred of Salford, an ancient division of Lancashire. Toward the end of the seventeenth century and continuing through the nineteenth century, its population began to rise, although at a much slower pace than its neighbours and it did not see the level of industrialisation that other parts of Greater Manchester saw.
Our final town on the route is Urmston Village. Historically part of Lancashire, its southern boundary is marked by the River Mersey. Originally a small farming community, the coming of the railways in 1873 was the catalyst to turn it into a middle-class suburb. Ownership of the land here was never certain and passed from family to family. In the thirteenth century it passed to the de Trafford’s, after whom the borough is named. The family lost its rights, only to regain them as the result of a duel!
Leaving Urmston Village behind, we re-join Chester Road and the race commences its final leg to finish at Longford Park.
Over the 26.2 miles of the course, the Greater Manchester Marathon takes it participants on a journey of discovery, both of themselves and of one of the greatest areas in the North. In future years, the race will become Trafford’s legacy of Britain’s Olympic year and is guaranteed to put Greater Manchester and its borough firmly on the calendar of great city marathons. Welcome to Greater Manchester!