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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Literary Manchester Walking Tour

MLF’s Young Digital Reporter Jess Molyneux enjoys a pleasant walk through the streets of Manchester while learning of the city’s literary history.

A dry, sunny Saturday morning brought with it the equally bright excitement of the Manchester Literature Festival 2016’s commencement. After kicking off with Margaret Atwood the previous evening, MLF was up again bright and early as group of bookworms and literature enthusiasts gathered on the steps of the magnificent Midland Hotel.

Anne Beswick, Manchester expert and fellow literature fanatic, began the tour with a brief history of Manchester, famously one of the ‘first cities of the Industrial Revolution’. We heard a little more about Scottish author, Val McDermid, whose private investigator protagonist Kate Brannigan bases herself at this, Manchester’s finest, hotel.

Admiring Manchester Central, the group learnt of its many past and present roles; from pioneering early English railways to hosting World Table Tennis Championships. Anne employed the help of two of Manchester’s most successful post-war authors, Howard Jacobson and Colin Schindler, to elaborate on the spirit which the struggle for workers’ rights in the industrial revolution gave to the city. The romance of ‘fighting for the underdog’ was conveyed to all as we stood – ironically – admiring the Professional Footballers’ Union building.

Next stop was the new ‘link corridor’ between Manchester Town Hall and Central Library where we heard about the Peterloo massacre, whose victims are commemorated in Lancashire roses on the mosaic floor. An extract from Shelley’s response poem, Masque of Anarchy, was highly fitting, and incredibly poignant.

On our tour of the city we also took in the neo-gothic Town Hall (built in 1877 when Manchester’s economy was ‘on fire’); St Mary’s The Hidden Gem (the only Roman Catholic Church in the city centre); and the old Kendalls (now House of Fraser) amidst the hustle and bustle of Deansgate. Anthony Burgess and Hilary Mantel were revered, and the famous Northern accent celebrated in Anne’s engaging and witty narrative.

Visiting the site of the former Manchester and Salford Street Children’s Mission (now the Wood Street Mission) brought us onto honouring beloved children’s authors, including Dodie Smith and Alan Garner. This was followed by a trip to our best literary treasure, the John Ryland’s library, in whose reading room Britain’s first female poet laureate and fellow northerner, Carol Ann Duffy, was announced. Hipster culture abounded as we entered trendy Spinningfields where we learnt about the works and romances of Friedrich Engels, whose writings on the working class were informed by his assessments of this former slum.

We concluded the walk overlooking the River Irwell, by the People’s History Museum, where we heard an extract from Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole which encapsulated Manchester’s working class roots. Anne made the most fitting tribute to our great city, however, by finishing the tour with these lines from Lemn Sissay’s poem, ‘Rain’:

‘When the rain falls

They talk of Manchester

But when the triumphant rain falls

We think of rainbows

That’s the Mancunian Way.’


Jess Molyneux is an A level student and aspiring writer from Manchester. She hopes to study English Literature at university, enjoys writing both short stories and non-fiction, and has had articles published in the Manchester Weekly News.