The advantage of living in a region of such historical importance is the legacy that leaves us; the vast array of galleries and museums throughout the county that cover every aspect of culture and heritage you could imagine - from hats at Stockport Hat Museum to the living archives scattered throughout the city in the form of businesses long gone.
Castlefield Gallery dates back to the mid 80s but has recently re-emerged in the spotlight since re-launching in 2012 with the same entrepreneurial spirit upon which it was founded. Tucked away behind Deansgate station this is more than just a gallery, it’s an artist development agency, and as well as hosting regular exhibitions the team curate the exciting pop-up gallery New Art Spaces. NAS is currently at Federation House - a former Co-Operative building, and provides a temporary and dynamic art space for emerging artists in vacant units across the region. Castlefield Gallery are investing in the art scene at a time when few others have the courage to. The project focuses on local communities as well as new artists and runs across the North West.
The International Anthony Burgess Foundation is hidden behind Oxford Road and is best approached from Whitworth Street West; a short yet colourful walk, taking in the purple and blue bricks of Hotspur Press, and the red and white hues of the bridge overhead. The foundation is a museum of literature and paraphernalia belonging to the author - but it’s also host to all manner of cultural activities including past events from Jonathan Meades and Chuck Palahniuk. Even if you’re ambivalent towards Burgess and his works it’s a wonderful spot for lunch away from the bustle of Oxford Road.
After an extensive renovation in 2010 The Gallery of Costume is back and plays a crucial part in the cultural line up of the city. The gallery is of huge significance with over 20,000 items from the last 400 years. A changing exhibitions gallery can be found in the newly revamped space along with a lecture room; all beautifully packaged within a textile merchant’s cottage at Platt Hall, in the lush surrounds of Platt Fields Park. The gallery boasts a specialist library of fashion journals and catalogues. To truly appreciate the collection at Platt Fields one must be prepared to be revisit as it’s simply too vast a collection to display at any one time - the exhibitions here are as seasonal as the latest catwalk fashions.
Greater Manchester Police Museum is the silent star of central Manchester. The former police station on the Northern Quarter’s Newton Street is suspended in time. Victorian cells show the underworld of Manchester some 120 years ago and galleries of police equipment, vehicles and uniforms make for a truly tangible experience. The police archives are vast and carefully selected for display so as to be relatable and interesting to all visitors - you can discover the intricacies of forensic science through to the identity of the author who inspired the names of every police horse Manchester has ever owned.
Staying in the Northern Quarter area of the city, the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art on Thomas Street is a gallery on the cutting edge of culture. The centre was established in 1986 and is the UK’s leading organisation for contemporary Chinese Art. An overwhelming number of solo exhibitions at the centre have launched the burgeoning careers of many an artist and the residencies and exhibitions are always ambitious and unique. The centre is located opposite the gates to the former fish market and the intricate carvings at the peak of each gate are worth a visit alone.
Cheetham Hill Road – a short walk north of Manchester Victoria Station – is home of Manchester Jewish Museum and a newly opened exhibition centre. The museum can be found in an ornate Moorish building dating back to 1874 and is in fact the oldest synagogue in Manchester. Manchester’s Jewish community is the second largest in the UK and the archives at the museum tell of a compelling and often emotional history that has played a vital part in making Manchester the city it is today.
Salford Museum and Art Gallery is often overshadowed by the cultural offerings of central Manchester less than a mile away, but is well worth crossing the invisible boundary of the Irwell for. Lark Hill Place is a main feature of the gallery – this indoor Victorian street is largely made up from the preserved shop facades of the much-regenerated thoroughfare Chapel Street and were salvaged in 1957. The centre is housed in what was the UK’s first free public library and hosts regular learning programmes making for an enjoyably interactive experience. Rumours are that LS Lowry had a set of keys to the art gallery and that’s endorsement enough for me.
With the extension of the tram route out towards Rochdale, there’s no excuse not to visit Touchstones. This integrated arts and heritage centre is run by an inspiring team driven to deliver an eclectic range of exhibitions. Touchstones champions local art and in Gallery One welcomes exhibitions from residents of the region. The building itself, like much of Rochdale, is steeped in history and is only a stone’s throw from Toad Lane - home of Rochdale Pioneer’s Museum; a living relic of the co-operative movement.
Stockport Art Gallery and War Memorial is run by volunteers and Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. The volunteer team was formed in 2013 to sustain the life of the gallery at a time when it was threatened with restricted opening times. The voluntary project now curates exhibitions with the help of a specially recruited arts panel and the high energy group focus on a mix of high quality artists and community groups. As a result of this crowd-sourced dynamic the gallery is diverse and culturally valuable to the town of Stockport, and to the region as a whole. Whilst in Stockport do remember to seek out the former air raid shelters built into the sandstone caves upon which the town is built. A hands on, unique experience and winner of best small visitor attraction at 2010 Manchester Tourism Awards. If you’re looking for something a little more unusual then look out for the enormous chimney emblazoned with Hat Works, there you’ll find the UK’s only museum of millinery housed within a Grade II listed former hat factory and cotton spinning mill.
Visitors to Bury should take the time to explore Bury Art Museum. The museum is home to the Wrigley Collection - over two hundred paintings and prints once belonging to Thomas Wrigley, a paper manufacturer during the Industrial Revolution. Notable pieces in the collection include works by Constable and Turner. Bury Art Museum prides itself on its warm and friendly approach to the arts, and has been extensively refurbished to deliver a radically modern take on museum life.
Central Art Gallery in Ashton is found above the library on Old Street. The site is a collection of small gallery spaces and temporary exhibitions. It’s a convivial space with a range of sculpture, textile and paintings and whilst in the neighbourhood it’s more than worth the short trip out to Fairfield to see the Moravian Settlement - a still active religious settlement and museum surrounded by original housing all of which is listed; a real step back in time.
Hayley Flynn is a researcher, tour guide and author. She is the creator of Skyliner; an award winning blog about unusual art, architecture and histories. A lover of looking up and opening closed doors, Hayley plans to extensively explore and document the built environment to create an intricate archive of the city. Visit www.theskyliner.org or follow Hayley on Twitter: @theskyliner