Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
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Manchester Reblitzed, June 1996

extracts from letters to Steve Sneyd & the Varleys

Saturday 15 June, to the Varleys
We were just settling down to lunch when we first heard the news about the bomb blast near Marks & Sparks in Manchester city centre. Seems a miracle at that time in the morning, on a Saturday, that no one was killed; the area of devastation seems so widespread, and it will be a long time before things ever return to normal around the Arndale Centre. Just been watching the local news reports on TV this lunchtime, and the cordoned-off area stretches from the Albert Square end of Cross Street right down to the end of Corporation Street and Victoria Station. What the IRA thinks it gains from this action at this time, eludes me completely. ■

Monday 17 June, to the Varleys
In trouble this morning because I rose early and breakfasted and did a spot of clearing up before working on the bookcase. I returned to base to make some fresh toast for the rest of the family, and heard the Guardian landing on the doormat just as I was turning the toast under the grill. Got so absorbed reading the front-page details about the city centre bombing that I completely forgot about the toast until smoke started to drift out from the kitchen... Marion came down disturbed by the scent of burning toast and the desperate sound of scraping. So I had to start from scratch again. Will I ever live this down, I ask myself... ■

The Manchester bombing [on Saturday, 1996/06/15] dominates thoughts here more than somewhat. What the hell the IRA hoped to achieve by doing this, at this time, completely eludes me. The miracle is that no one was killed. There was some confusion on the various maps that appeared in the papers as to where the van was parked.

It seems to have been illegally parked on double lines outside Marks & Sparks, and given a parking ticket by a warden a couple of hours before the explosion, if the MEN report is to be believed; the security camera shot that is appearing everywhere, shows it on the corner of Market Street/Cannon Street, with the Royal Exchange in the background, and the traffic light on the island in the foreground.

Since there is only a double lane for traffic coming from Cross Street at this point, I should have thought that stronger action than just leaving a parking ticket would have been called for...and some effort made to check why the van was parked there anyway, considering all the parking facilities around the vicinity.

The MEN has a "CITY TERROR SPECIAL" out today, with a page air-shot pic along Corporation Street, showing the extent of the damage to the Arndale complex, Marks and Longridge House. The dreaded Arndale toilet tiles seem to have had short shrift and been largely ripped off—I wonder if we can hope for an improvement when rebuilding starts? But it'll be a good few months before the city-centre can hope to begin to return to "normal", that's for sure.

Is it only a week ago that I went to Threshers in Marple to replenish the wine cellar, and the good weather tempted me to linger around the canal moorings, and even venture along the stretch of the Peak Forest canal that wanders into the Derbyshire countryside, enjoying the views of the hills and the antics of the ducks along the way.

I was tempted quite a way—there are few locks once out of Marple, and the path is level and not so tiring for us old folks as our home stretch can be—before I realised that I'd better return home before Marion wondered where the hell I'd got to...

It all seemed so peaceful then. ■

17 June 1996, to Steve Sneyd

Went into Manchester today, to see the damage and visit the [MEN] Studio. There's limited access partway up Market St precinct, but the whole of the Arndale Centre is still closed and cordoned off. Corporation St, from the Royal Exchange corner along to Cannon Street, is completely devastated.

Remember all the fuss in years past about loose tiles falling off the Longridge House office block? Well, the copper corner bolts did their stuff and the tiles withstood the blast pretty well, but there's not a window left in the place. Marks'n'Sparks is apparently a complete write-off and the shopping precinct behind is all cordoned off.

The Royal Exchange also has been effectively deglazed and is boarded up and inaccessible. In St Ann's Square the damage is patchy—Dillons escaped but the Barton Arcade behind is damaged right through to the Deansgate side, and the church has holes for windows. There is patchy blast damage in all the side streets off Market Street, and despite the clear-up, the whole area glints with particles of glass embedded in the tarmac of the roads.

They're still clearing the rubble away in Corporation St and hauling down those tiled panels that still precariously hang from the battered Arndale. Here's hoping that the architects come up with something a little more inspired if it comes to rebuilding. The place swarms with vans as glaziers flock in to replace shopfronts and office windows, and temporary boarding goes up.

I suppose the fine weather is a welcome factor in the clear-up. And outside the immediate area, life goes on much as usual though the traffic is snarled up. The belated IRA "apology" to those injured in the blast just sounds ludicrous, and considering the timing of the event it really is a miracle that no one was killed.

There were a couple of new faces in the studio. Mike has left (I fancy computing wore him down), Stu has disappeared to another floor, so there are only four of 'em left. Roger still hovers round—his hair has gone white, whether from stress or natural causes I couldn't say. Come to think of it I bumped into Hughie Nixon, and he has a white wig, too. (I can still only manage a tatty grey).

I missed Jim, who had sneaked a day off, and as Kevin was beseiged by anxious enquirers, Fred explained that a new system has been installed: copy is now bar-coded as it comes in, and every job is meticulously timed from start to finish, and fed directly to production to fill an appropriate hole in the paper. l can understand Mike getting fed up; l should certainly hate to go back myself under the present conditions.

Don't know why, but this visit really brought home how radically the whole job has changed under the impact of the computer in the past decade, and made me appreciate that I probably retired at the right time, this side of sanity. ■

21 June 1996, to Steve Sneyd

to the Varleys
Went into Manchester today (Friday) to have a look at the damage and visit the News office. The whole of the Arndale building is still closed and cordoned off, though there is limited access partway up Market Street precinct Corporation Street, from the Royal Exchange along to Cannon Street, is completely devastated. The M&S building seems to be a complete write-off and they are apparently removing the remains of the bridge link between the Arndale and M&S store tomorrow. There seems to be increasing doubt that the Arndale will ever reopen because of structural damage. The Longridge House office block has had all the windows blasted out and lost a goodly proportion of its facing tiles, and the shopping precinct behind Marks is all cordoned off.

The Royal Exchange and shops a good way down Cross Street have lost their windows. In St Ann's Square, blast damage is patchy: some buildings are untouched but St Ann's church has holes for windows, and Barton Arcade is damaged right through into Deansgate. There is also patchy blast damage in the side streets off Market Street, and despite the clear-up, the whole area glints with particles of glass embedded in the tarmac of the roads.

They are still clearing rubble away in Corporation Street, and everywhere else is crowded with vans and trucks as glazing companies are busy replacing windows. It's a sorry sight, and it will be a long time before order is restored. I suppose the fine weather has been a help; if all this had happened in the monsoon season, it would have been a nightmare cleaning up. The thing that intrigues mes in this whole sorry business is the postbox that was near the parked van, and survived the blast. It's there in all the photographs, defiantly upright still. ■

Corporation Street still looks a mess and the reports emerging that buildings like the Royal and Corn Exchanges have skidded on their foundations and may have to be demolished after all, suggest that it'll be a long time before things return to normal in the city centre.

Sad about the Mitre, too. I have too many mental landscapes already cluttering my mind, all familiar local places that no longer exist, except when I summon them up in imagination. Did you happen to see the letter in the Obs from the resident computer Guru of Carlton Avenue, about the competition for redesigning Manchester's centre?

Re the Royal/Corn Exchanges, I saw a report a few days back (which eludes me now) in the Garudian, which seemed to suggest that some pessimistic earlier reports on the extent of the bomb damage had been exaggerated, so your [Steve Sneyd's] faith in the solidity of Victorian architecture may yet be vindicated.

It amazes me how much of the Arndale has reopened so soon, after the first woeful reports. 'Appen the City fathers saw they weren't going to get much out of the government after the state visits from Hezza and John, so now they're gritting their teeth and looking on the brighter side of life. ■

18 September 1996 ■

I went into Manchester on Friday [and] wandered on to visit the MEN offices. All these tales about Corporation Street having been reopened on the anniversary of the bombing merely signify that there is a pedestrianised narrow canyon opened between the hoardings screening work on the M&S site and the Arndale building. The place is still a mess and closed to traffic. ■

June 1997

© Harry Turner 1996/97.

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