Monday, 20 September 2010

Mummies, mammals and other animals

I heard that the mammals gallery at the Manchester Museum was soon to close for a refit, so it gave me an excuse to visit one of my favourite Manchester places.

The museum is part of the University of Manchester and combines a number of different collections, but is best known for animals and mummies.

The building on Oxford Road is hard to miss. It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, who also designed the Natural History museum in London, and many other fine buildings, and opened in 1888.

The entrance on Oxford Road is now closed and houses a large Japanese spider crab. It’s well known to many students who first spot it on the way home after a night of revelry as the crab is well lit. There’s even a Facebook group, ‘Manchester Museum Crab Appreciation Society’ (800+members) with an assortment of amusing photos.

The newer entrance is in a courtyard further down the road, allowing improved access, better visitor services and a rather good gift and book shop.

Currently outside the entrance is a wooden structure. It’s the ‘Reflective Room’, a collaboration with architecture students.

We'll start at Rocks and Minerals. The old entrance used to be here, and this part of the museum can be easy to miss.   If you are looking for meteorites you probably passed them, as they are part-way up the stairs or missed them completely if you arrived in the lift.

Wandering past the rocks, you enter Pre-Historic Life. The T-Rex is a copy, and he’s called Stan (Edit: Stan is female!?). This area has had a good clean and there seems to be a lot more natural light too, but not much interest in the fossilized tree.

The Animal life galleries are the most popular part of the museum. Floor 1 has the mammals including the popular tiger and the (according to the Museum) mis-labelled Polar Bear.

I’ve been to this section many times over the years, and always enjoy a wander around the stuffed animals and exhibits. It is looking a bit tired now, although for me this is part of the charm, but it’s now closed until 2011 and will reopen next year as the Living Planet gallery ‘Looking at issues such as habitat loss, extinction and climate change’.

The refit also is planned to show more of the original architecture of the building.

I hope the quirky element is still maintained, the skull of the ’worlds oldest horse’ (62) and Mrs Potter’s cow, the first stuffed animal in the collection and still looking surprised after over 170 years.

Next floor up is insects and birds. My first time here when I was a child was a bit scary, peeking over the display cabinets to see the creepy-crawlies!. You’ll find some scraps of dodo bones here too.

You can also get a closer look at the sperm whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.

Next floor up is now a resource and play centre, with a fairly sad looking greenhouse. If you think creepy-crawlies are scary, this area used to have glass jars and displays of animals, and bits of animals, preserved in formaldehyde.

Going back down to floor 2, there’s a section with real live reptiles and amphibians. This is always a popular area, although some days you  stare into a seemingly empty vivarium, others you’ll spot a lot of frogs and lizards. I’m certain it has the laziest snake in the world, It looks like it was in the same place on a branch as my visit a year ago.

Walking across the bridge, you end up in Mediterranean Archeology section, then through to the Money section.

A quick trip downstairs and you are confronted with an elephant skeleton. We'll come back to that later, but behind the elephant is Living Cultures and Archery, with a wide selection of masks, dolls and bows, and some costumes.

Heading past the elephant again and to the right, we enter Ancient Egypt, another firm favourite of mine. The gallery is full of Egyptian artifacts small and large, including a stone statue of Bes, that always amused the Madchester crowd, and of course, a lot of mummies.

Some of the mummies have been covered ion white sheets to promote a discussion about how (or if) we should show human remains. It’s caused a fair bit of discussion and criticism in local newspapers. Personally, I prefer to see mummies as they are, but it seems a good idea to have these discussions and try different ways of presenting a collection.

The cat photo artifact is only included as it looks a lot like my  Persian cat Winnie.

I’m a little less happy about the 2008/9 exhibition ‘Lindow Man. A Bog Body Mystery’. It was great to see Lindow Man back in the north-west, but I didn’t take to the minimal chipboard heavy room, and Care Bear posters outside and a route through the exhibition that could miss out actually seeing Lindow Man  It went on to win a bunch of innovation awards.

After enjoying the life and death of early Egypt, it’s back the the elephant skeleton, and although a recent return to the museum, in the Manchester gallery, it’s a welcome sight. The gallery explains some of the history of the museum, but the elephant is the main attraction here, and he’s rather special.

His name is Maharajah, and I have a book about him, ‘The Elephant Who Walked To Manchester’ by David Barnaby. Maharajah was sold in 1872 and walked with his keeper Lorenzo Lawrence from Edinburgh to Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoo.

I first heard about Maharajah in an online discussion that went something like this; “Did you know there’s an elephant buried in Didsbury

Manchester Museum is a wonderful place that like most museums only shows a small amount of what’s available in storage. It’s going to go through a number of refurbishments over the next few years, so go see it before and after.

The next temporary exhibition is China: Journey to the East, from Sept 25 2010 to 26 June 2011. It will almost certainly be well worth seeing.

Location: The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL

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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Under the Approach

Should you find yourself on London Road, near the bridge connecting Piccadilly Place with Piccadilly Rail Station, it can be hard to miss London Road Fire Station.

You may however miss something else down here, and it's worth a visit.

Not far from the lower end of Piccadilly approach, there’s a small paved area.  The concrete walls are covered in ivy and there’s a few trees planted in the pavement.

Some of the ivy looks a bit strange, and dark. A closer look reveals 3 sculptures growing out of the ground to well over head height.

Faces stare out from the coal looking material, hands and legs show, and at the top of each panel, two heads poke out, as the rectangular shape of each sculpture becomes more organic as if growing along the wall like the ivy.

It reminds me of Pompeii, people frozen at a point in time, but a Mancunian industrial version.

I could not find a plaque with information about the sculpture and artist, so if anyone has more information....

Update: Thanks to the Manchester Modernist Society for the following information. ""It's called Journey. 1992 by Partnership Art".   Partnership Art is now called Eaton Waygood.

This side of London Road, including Piccadilly Approach and the 'lazy s' of Gateway House above is due for redevelopment, and this paved area will have a new building on it. I hope the sculptures will be relocated.

Location: London Road, below Piccadilly Approach, opposite Piccadilly Place.

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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The place next to Piccadilly

Piccadilly Place is a group of new buildings next to Piccadilly Station.

There's a footbridge connection to the station to handily cut a few yards off the journey that would otherwise involve crossing London Road at the lights and walking up Piccadilly Approach, and the tram tracks run between the buildings.

One building is full of GMPTE (Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive) people, one is the City Inn hotel, there are two more office buildings and a residential building, The Hub.

Walking toward Piccadilly station from Aytoun Street, you may miss a small art installation as it's down some steps to access the buildings on the other side of the tram tracks.

What looks like a group of  small round windows, on a closer look perhaps some misplaced bathroom fittings,  is actually a set of coloured mirrors with lines from a poem.

The poem reads:

i don't care if you're black
chinese, white or tall
don't care if
you're old, gay
a woman or a man
you can sit down next to me
if you're a mancunian

no details that I could find of the poet.

Across the tram tracks, is a 'piazza' with some retail units for lease, and a Starbucks, plus some artworky coloured blocks maybe also used as outdoor seating..

UPDATE: I'm informed that the coloured blocks were installed around May 2010 as part of the Eurocultured festival and the artist is Zedz. It may be temporary (?)

Like all many new developments in the city centre, at least one building has to have 'ONE' in the address to add prestige, so the City Inn is 'One Piccadilly Place'. There is nothing wrong with Piccadilly Place, it seems a competent set of commercial buildings which I'm sure are pleasant to work, stay and live in, and did not, as far as I'm aware, replace any older buildings of note. Perhaps it will grow into being Mancunian itself so I can sit next to it.

Location: Piccadilly Place, Between Aytoun Street and London Road. M1 3BN.

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Saturday, 14 August 2010

One week of rain.

Manchester rain often involves a blanket of cloud and an on-off , mostly on, drizzle through most of the day, the sun bravely attempting but failing to poke though the clouds.

On Thursday we had bouts of heavy rain interspersed with real sunshine. One week of rain fell in an hour, although not enough to lift a hosepipe ban due to low reservoir levels. When Manchester rain is reported in the Manchester news, you know that means it really was a lot of rainfall.  The usual flooding and traffic chaos ensued. Then people carried on with what they were doing. 

Sunshine after rainfall makes for some great photos, but late in the day with failing light and an ageing camera means I will have to return another day to retake many photos, hopefully a little less blurred next time, for my Piccadilly Gardens feature. 

Thursday, 5 August 2010

London Road Fire Station - further update

Another development, or rather, lack of development for this beautiful building. InsidetheM60 reports that Manchester Council have applied for a CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order) to take London Road Fire Station from the owners Britannia Hotels.

Paradise Found (by accident)

Paradise found by accident, looking for a way back to Piccadilly.

Location: Paradise Walk, between Store Street and Ducie Street.

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Monday, 2 August 2010

No P in Vimto

I've always considered Vimto a very Mancunian drink unheard of outside of the North of England, but it's sold  all over the world and very popular. It has a unique smell and taste to me, and it's one of those products that brings back many childhood memories.

Pronounced 'Vimptoe' by generations of Manchester children, despite there being no P, it does however have 'secret ingredients' of '29 natural extracts of fruits, herbs, barley malt & spices' as well as grape, blackcurrant, and raspberry.

Traditionally a cordial, it now has a diet version, and comes in fizzy cans, packs, and along with many well-known traditional brands, an ice-lolly, and sweets.  There is also an upstart flavour this year, Cherry Vimto.

The original cordial is of course the best way to drink Vimto, and winter is no excuse to stick the bottle on a back shelf, as it's rather nice with hot water on a cold day, a sort of non-alcoholic gluhwein.

Vimto was first produced by  John Noel Nichols in 1908, at 49 Granby Row, and like many drinks at that time, was marketed as a tonic, giving Vim and Vigour, no doubt curing many ills but without the need to back it up with evidence of efficacy. Vim and Vigour tonic became Vim-Tonic, then Vimto.

Vimto production moved from Granby Row to Salford, then Levenshulme, then Wythenshawe, and as the century ended, moved out of Greater Manchester to Golborne, near Haydock and is now made in Yorkshire.

In celebration of early Vimto production, an oak sculpture of the Vimto bottle and fruits was carved by Kerry Morrison in 1992 at the Granby Row site, now part of the University Of Manchester,

The wood is starting to rot in some areas, and also suffers from the occasional graffiti.

Sorry if this all sounds like an ad for Vimto, but I really do like it :)

Walk a little further along Granby Row, and you'll reach another sculpture. This is the steel rope of the Technology Arch, by Axel Wolkenhauer from 1989.

Heading along the path to the railway bridge, under the arch is a naked man attempting to get out of a raised hole. It's Archimedes in his eureka moment, made by Thompson Dagnall  in 1990.

Archimedes lost his nose at some point. It was replaced and broken off again. Perhaps a Tycho Brahe statue night have been better here.

Location: Granby Row, near Sackville Street.

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Friday, 30 July 2010

London Road Fire Station - update

Here's some detail of the latest planning application for London Road Fire Station. BDOnline: Victorian Society backs Purcell Miller Tritton's Manchester hotel plan (you get 3 views, then you have to register).

It looks like a very good use for the building and keeps many of the original features. Lets hope it happens!. 

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Hangover face

Vodka Face
Too much vodka.

Seen on the way to a recent volunteering gig where my specialist shredding paper skills were required.

Location. Spear Street.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Peace and Doves

Sculpted by Barbara Pearson in 1986, the Messenger Of Peace was the winner of the Sculpture for Peace competition to celebrate Manchester’s status as the world’s first Nuclear Free City.

The sculpture in is the Peace Garden near the back of the town hall, next to the town hall extension

What makes it work for me are the doves on the plinth.

I went past the statue in winter, and wondered if the little doves would be covered in snow.

The Peace Gardens are a very small bit of green space, and if you ignore the car, bus and tram noise, it's fairly peaceful.

Location: Peace Gardens, just off Princess St, between Cooper St Moseley St.

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Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Fire Station without engines.

The terracotta clad London Road Fire Station looks a bit sad.

New buildings have sprouted up nearby, and Piccadilly rail station has had a good scrub up and polishing. They've even popped a new bridge over the street.

But the former fire station, police station and coroners court slowly decays, subject of many unfulfilled planning applications, threats of compulsory purchase orders from the council and yearly laments in local newspapers about its ongoing lack of purpose and decay.

A recent visit discovered yet another planning application posted up, dated 18 June 2010.

Update (30 July 2010): new proposal outlined here BDOnline: Victorian Society backs Purcell Miller Tritton's Manchester hotel plan

Further update (05 August 2010): Manchester Council have applied for a CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order) to take London Road Fire Station from the owners Britannia Hotels. Inside The M60 -London Road Fire Station Compulsorily Purchased

This not quite triangular Grade II* building is unusual for Manchester and deserves a better life. It's over 100 years old, completed in 1906 by architects Woodhouse, Willoughby & Langham.

Let's hope that London Road Fire Station gets an appropriate use soon, and we don't have to read another story in the paper next year about how nothing has happened.

Location: London Road

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