A Tour Round Gay Manchester

I’ve had a busy fun weekend in Manchester, at the UK GLBT Fiction Meet. As well as meeting friends old and new (including a contingent from Bold Strokes Books, and some other UK lesfic writers), and taking part in panels and discussions, we got a chance to explore Manchester’s LGBT history in the evenings. I joined the tour on Saturday evening, which coincided with the main event of Sparkle 2013: the wrap-up celebrations of Sparkle in the Park. So as well as history, we were treated to some fabulous outfits (including, in some cases, rather improbable footwear).

The tour began on the towpath of the canal, from which Manchester’s most famous gay street gets its name.

The entrance to Canal Street
The entrance to Canal Street

Our guide, John Ryan of Gaydio 88.4 FM, explained that while Canal Street was made famous by the original UK series of Queer as Folk, this part of the Rochdale Canal had been a notorious cruising area for gay men long before that. On the other hand, Manchester also has over the past 100 years been associated with causes such as the Free Trade Movement, Women’s Suffrage, and the Vegetarian Society. Not only that, but the first Mancunian statement on gay rights dates back to 1898.

After a brief pause to take in the Minshull Street Court House, where gay men caught cruising in the city (including Alan Turing) were once tried, we walked down Canal Street, past the Rembrandt (one of the two gay pubs claiming to be Manchester’s oldest) to Sackville Gardens. The area was rather busy with Sparkle attendees and other weekend revellers, so I couldn’t get a good photo of the Beacon of Hope for you all. The link should show what it looks like on a quiet day, and it’s main importance is as the only permanent monument in the UK dedicated to people with HIV (although it also serves as a meeting point for many groups, including Manchester’s Furry Community).

Alan Turing memorial statue
Alan Turing memorial statue

The other memorial in the gardens is the one to Alan Turing, which is very popular with the locals and regularly receives offerings and additions. When we visited he had a drink next to him on his bench (shown), and a friend sitting next to him, having a rest (not shown). The funds for the statue were raised by a varied group of devotees, including the actor Derek Jacobi, and the artist’s first ever computer is buried underneath the memorial, so Alan is never far from one.

Leaving Alan behind, we continued along Canal Street to the New Union Hotel, which also claims to be Manchester’s oldest gay pub, and was one of the venues featured in Queer as Folk.

The New Union Hotel
The New Union Hotel

From there we walked along Princess Street past Cruz (which was renamed ‘Babylon’ in Queer as Folk), past the Thompsons Arms (one of the oldest pubs in Manchester overall, and where the Campaign for Homosexual Equality was founded) and also the car park where Albert Kennedy died after a homophobic incident (the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity for homeless LGBT youngsters was named after him and is the recipient of funds raised by the Meet every year).

Before we reached the end of our tour, John took us into the offices of Gaydio 88.4 FM, where we listened to two sets of interview clips, one about life in Manchester before the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the other about the impact Queer as Folk had on the city’s gay scene (part of the ‘Your Story’ project).

The Thompsons Arms
The Thompsons Arms

Finally, John led us to Richmond Street, home to some of the more ‘niche’ gay bars and other venues, where some of our number had booked a meal, and others of us were meeting friends in order to eat elsewhere.

This was the second tour of Manchester I’ve been on this year, and I would recommend either, depending on whether you want to follow the gay history trail or a more general trail of Manchester history.

3 comments

    • No worries. I must admit to having a bit of a pre-Meet panic about what I was going to write up this month given that I’d be tired last night, and travelling today, but Charlie Cochrane came to my rescue once again and suggested I write up the walk rather than the whole Meet, at least for now.

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