Your guide to things to do in Salford
Cross the River Irwell and you’re in Salford, another city that is both a part of Manchester and distinctly separate; yoked to it for better or worse, the Brooklyn to its bustling Manhattan. And even if you’ve never been here before, you may feel like you know what this place is all about. Gritty urban realism has been this city’s stock in trade since L.S. Lowry painted his very first matchstick man. Some will have read about it in Love on the Dole. Some will have seen it depicted in kitchen sink dramas or Corrie. And others will forever associate the city with John Cooper Clarke rasping his way through Evidently Chickentown, or the dystopian anthems of Joy Division.
The secret of Salford is that it’s not as hard as all that. This Dirty Old Town is on the whole looking distinctly less dirty these days, thanks to the BBC’s arrival at Media City and some robust regeneration schemes that, despite the economic outlook, trundle on. Newly-brushed-up Chapel Street is at the centre of a £650m regeneration project that will see new housing, shops and cafes set up shop there, and a revamp of woefully under-used Salford Central rail station is also on the cards. Regardless, what remains in Salford is a creative community that is getting on and doing, making and innovating. Salford inspires fierce loyalty among its inhabitants. Spend any significant period of time here, and you may begin to understand why.
During Central Manchester’s development boom, Salford’s low rents and vacant mills were an attractive refuge for artists, and now the Chapel Street area of the city is home to the likes of Hot Bed Press, Cow Lane Studios and Manchester Artists Studio Association (MASA). The grandfather of the studio scene is Islington Mill, a once-abandoned cotton mill which houses artists’ studios, a gallery, cafe, a live music venue and even a small B&B.
The Council-run Salford Museum and Art Gallery is a friendly city museum with special appeal to families, and the nearby Working Class Movement Library provides a fascinating look at the past. The personal collection of labour historians Ruth and Edmund Frow, it’s a veritable treasure trove of material dating back to the 1760s – from pamphlets containing the testimony of child millworkers to the rabble-rousing folk songs of Salfordian Ewan MacColl. And Ordsall Hall, the city’s beautifully restored (and supposedly haunted) Tudor mansion, has a busy programme of events and activities all year round, including events as part of BFI Grimmfest.
Music is another area where Salford shines. Local heroes The Smiths and New Order have given way to the likes of The Ting Tings and Elbow, who record and produce their albums here at Blueprint Studios. Every May Bank Holiday, Sounds from the Other City brings an incendiary mix of live bands, literary readings and art hi-jinks to an eclectic selection of venues up and down Chapel Street. Often included in the line-up are two churches, Sacred Trinity and St. Phillips, which somewhat surprisingly host popular live gigs year-round (well, music is something like a religion here, after all).
Fancy stopping off for a drink or a bite to eat? One thing Salford is very good at is supplying a decent watering hole. The New Oxford on Bexley Square and The Crescent on, erm, The Crescent, are worthy of particular mention (the latter much beloved of students at the nearby university). The King’s Arms on Bloom Street is a Salford institution celebrated for its continental beers and bohemian atmosphere. Owned by The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton, it has also recently had a starring role in the Channel 4 comedy, Fresh Meat. Upstairs, the King’s Arms is home to the excellent Studio Salford theatre company. Similarly, Chapel Street’s Black Lion pub does a good line in pints and home-cooked food downstairs and hosts films, gigs and events upstairs in its John Cooper Clarke Theatre.
Closer to Manchester (and opposite the People’s History Museum), The Mark Addy, named after a Victorian hero who saved more than fifty souls from drowning in the then-fetid waters of the River Irwell, winningly combines a riverside location with the muscular modern British regional cooking of celebrated chef Robert Owen Brown. If luxury is on the menu, The Lowry Hotel is among the best fine dining destinations in either city. And for cocktails we’d recommend mounting an expedition to Corridor Bar. Hidden down Barlow’s Croft, an unremarkable alley off Chapel Street, Corridor has some serious mixology going on behind its unmarked door. But be warned: once you’ve located it, it can be a difficult place to find your way out of.