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Dec 06 2013

The Printworks: The Fleet Street of the North

As I was going to be in Manchester, visiting a cousin, I did a bit of research on the internet to find out what I could do while I was there.  I came across a tour that sounded really interesting, especially as I’m a bit of an anorak when it comes to media.  It was The Printworks tour and is the focus for this week’s Foto Friday.

I was really excited because, in its day, it was the Fleet Street of the North and I wanted to find out more.

It was originally Withy Grove Printing House, built in 1873, which produced newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and the Manchester Evening Chronicle.  At one point, it was the largest newspaper printing house in Europe.  It finally closed its doors in 1985 and lay empty for years.  Redevelopment of the area, following the 1996 bomb blast in Manchester, breathed new life into the former printworks, turning it into the entertainment complex it is today with a multiplex cinema, bars, restaurants etc.

When you go there, take a look around and you will see notices and signs from its former days as a printing house, like this one quoting Lord Kemsley in 1937:

I do not believe for a moment that decency need be dull.  I do not believe for a moment that the reading public want nothing but trash and sensationalism.  A newspaper to fulfil its function, must inform, entertain, and educate…

As part of the tour, we went up to the management suite and got to see some original newspapers of key dates in history such as the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, when King Edward abdicated, the day Sir Winston Churchill’s death was announced to the public, the day Kennedy was assassinated, and the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.  It was interesting seeing these newspapers displayed on the walls and also how newspapers, like The Daily Telegraph for example, changed over years with the introduction of images and different formats, making it easier to scan and see the headline news.

This particular tour runs very infrequently.  The next one isn’t until next year some time.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Emma, our guide, because she is very enthusiastic about her city and its history.  She has collated a lot of information from former employees and locals, which makes the tour even more interesting.  One of these little gems was when Robert Maxwell, a newspaper tycoon, bought the publishing house in the 1950s for £1.  Apparently, there was a sign on a noticeboard at Withy Grove on the night of the take over, which read:

Thomson ‘End of an era’

Maxwell ‘Start of an error’

That gives you a good idea of how people were feeling at the time about the change of ownership and its future.

Apart from its fascinating history, you also get to go on the roof to enjoy some great views of Manchester and see the two beehives.  Yes, there are beehives on the roof of The Printworks.  If you don’t believe, you will just have to go on the tour to find out for yourself!

In addition, we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the IMAX and Odeon Multiplex cinema, which was also very interesting.  We even had the chance to see inside the projection room and were told about how cinema has and is continuing to change by an equally enthusiastic member of staff.

If nothing else, I hope this Foto Friday helps you to appreciate the history behind The Printworks when you next go there.  If you are interested in the tour, it is run by Manchester Guided Tours and you can book online, as I did.  It only costs about £7.  It’s supposed to last 2 hours but ours went on for 3 hours so we really got our money’s worth.

Location

I have marked where The Printworks is in Manchester on the map below.  If you drive and need somewhere to park your car, you might like to consider where I parked.  It’s a car park next to the M.E.N, which is close to The Printworks.  It only cost £3.50 for the whole day and has security guards.

Have your say

Have you had a tour of The Printworks?  If so, what did you find most interesting?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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