Manchester Histories Festival 2016: An itinerary by district

Suzy Prince

Your guide to Manchester Histories Festival, broken down into district and venue for the very best food, drink and things to do nearby.

Chances are that the first time you take a look at the breakdown of events for Manchester Histories Festival you’ll feel totally overwhelmed by choice. This is obviously a good thing, but we also figured that you might like a bit of help working out what to do and where. So, here’s our rundown of a good chunk of the events on offer, sorted by venue and district.

Cathedral Quarter, Ancoats & Cheetham Hill

Manchester Cathedral is architecturally stunning, and the area around it (the Medieval or Cathedral Quarter) is one of the most pleasant places in the city centre to while away a few hours. As part of the Histories Festival there’s a Time Travelling session taking place in the Cathedral on 3 June: an all-ages activity session that will uncover some ancient stories. If you’re peckish along the way, then Proper Tea opposite offers not just tea, but a fine line in coffee, cake, sandwiches and soup, in one of Manchester’s most attractive cafés – or get your Neapolitan pizza fix in Ancoats at Rudy’s Neopolitan Pizza.

In 1780, Richard Arkwright began construction of Manchester’s first cotton mill next to Angel Meadow: heralding the Industrial Revolution. For a long time, the surrounding area of Ancoats became a squalid, crime-ridden district and its history is an integral part of the story of Manchester. So it’s little wonder that the Histories Festival as several events taking place in and around the Meadow, including walking tours and a Supper With The Dead, which takes place at sundown.

Slightly further North, take the opportunity to step inside Manchester Jewish Museum, to take a look at their Photographing Cheetham Hill: Then and Now exhibition. On the other side of Ancoats (strictly speaking in Back Piccadilly), Rogue Studios is currently home to many artist’s studios, but is up for redevelopment. The Progress Launch Event on 4 June showcases work from the artists based there; this may also be one of your last chances to explore the heritage of the former mill and its industrial landscape.

Northern Quarter & City Centre

Manchester Craft & Design Centre – a former fish and poultry market in the Northern Quarter – is offering a Fishy Tales and Craft Unravelled tour, exploring both the centre itself and the makers within. While you’re there, do yourself a favour and sample some of Oak Street Café‘s healthy, homemade food – as well as, from 9 June, Biological Atelier: The Showroom, a stunning exhibition of biological jewellery. Band on the Wall nearby is hosting a Queer Revue: a night of music, film, dance and drag. It also has a day dedicated to the nineteenth century newspaper ballads. For more places to eat, drink and shop nearby, read our guide to visiting Manchester Craft & Design Centre.

In the City Centre, Manchester Central Library is hosting a huge amount of events throughout the festival; highlights include a talk on Manchester’s former showground Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, the launch of the LGBT digital archives OUT! and Finding Henshaw’s History: Stories of people with visual impairments. There’s also a family fun day taking place at the library on the final day of the festival, which might provide a brief chance for children not to have to keep the noise down quite as much as usual.

The central focus of the festival the Celebration Day will take place almost next door at the Town Hall, bringing together 90 exhibitors and packed with events. Visitors to the celebration day will also have the chance to pop outside and take a heritage bus ride. Also in the Town Hall you can hear all about Manchester’s relationship with the RNLI, as well as a history of Strawberry Recording Studios. Our guide to visiting the Royal Exchange theatre is a good starting point for deciding where to eat and drink in the city centre.

Deansgate, Castlefield and Spinningfields

Manchester has produced some remarkable women, and The John Rylands library will be highlighting the achievements of some of them, delving into their special collections to uncover about their innovations. Next door is Spinningfields, a handy mecca for food and drink; we recommend Ibérica for tapas, Neighbourhood for kids and Tattu for desserts (and it’s bonkers indoor blossom tree, even if it is artificial).

On the other side of Spinningfields, The Museum of Science and Industry is holding a 10 Manchester Inventions That Shook the World walk (sensible footwear is advised). And, you’d expect of a Histories Festival, the People’s History Museum is heavily involved, and is holding several events, including a gallery tour of Radical Manchester  and an audience with living legend Betty Tebbs. When in the Deansgate area, don’t skip out a visit to HOME, brand new bastion of art and culture. Our guide to making the most of the venue has handy tips for things to eat, drink, see and do nearby.

Oxford Road

Start right at the top, near canal street, with a rare chance to access the Godlee Observatory, where local astronomers have gathered for more than 100 years. There’s a tour of this historic building on 9 June. Actually on Oxford Road is the Manchester Technology Centre, home to an an exhibition that takes a look at post-war architectural visions of a future Manchester that never came to pass. We’re talking highways in the sky, elevated pedestrian walkways and monorails.

It’s worth scoping out food options before heading too much further down Oxford Road, as things get a little, erm, sparse. Gorilla is a good pick (and the truffle parmesan fries in particular), as is Bakchich, with its fresh, Lebanese menu. Check out our guided tour of Oxford Road for more ideas.

Down at the Royal Northern College of Music, there will be a day of exploring the music made in World War One, including archive materials, presentations and a final recreation of a concert performed during the war by current RNCM students. At Manchester Museum, meanwhile, you’ll have the opportunity to sit in on two fascinating talks: Russell Parry will be giving an insight into the Appley Bridge Meteorite, which fell in 1914 near Wigan, and genetics expert Laurence Cook will be talking about possibly the most famous example of evolution in recent history, the Peppered Moth.

Finally, don’t miss the Victoria Baths open day. This is a great opportunity to explore this beautiful building – Manchester’s former magnificent swimming baths. The day will include an art and craft fair, and also performances by Ordsall Acapella Singers in the (dry) gala swimming pool. Drop into the beautifully renovated Elizabeth Gaskell’s House while you’re at it.

Walking tours

Finally, Manchester Histories Festival is a great way to learn things that you never even knew that you didn’t know (keep up) about this fair city. What better way to do that than to take a walking tour? Handily, there are several of these taking place, including The 7 Wonders of Manchester, Manchester Music, Women in Science, a Peace Trail, and Manchester Architecture to name but a few. Each tour starts from a different point, so check the website for full details.

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