Culture on the Corridor

Corridor Manchester is one of the busiest – and intriguing – districts in the city. We take a walk along Oxford Road to find out more…

There’s no denying that Manchester is a city that drips with history and creativity. A place where past and present are tightly knit, and a city where a walk along what appears to be an ordinary road can uncover layers of innovation, science, politics and art. Which brings us neatly to the Corridor – and a walk along Oxford Road that explores some of its cultural highs.

Let’s start at the Whitworth (open 10am-5pm daily). The UK’s original gallery in a park has been extended to the tune of £15m. Doubled in size, beautiful new gallery spaces overlook the park, while its ten free exhibitions are a mix of contemporary commissions and historic displays. The latter are drawn from an internationally rated collection of British watercolours, textiles and wallpapers; the current watercolours exhibition features 22 paintings by J.M.W. Turner alone. Elsewhere, a solo show by one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Cornelia Parker, spills out from three barrel vaulted galleries. Don’t miss the Whitworth’s café in the trees; it overlooks an art garden on one side and the park on the other.

Although it would be easy to spend a day at the Whitworth, we’ve got places to go – and you now have to make a decision. Turn right, and head up towards a trio of historic buildings that, between them, speak volumes about Manchester’s past: the Pankhurst Centre (Nelson St, open Thursdays 10am-4pm), Elizabeth Gaskell’s House (the home of the novelist behind Cranford and Mary Barton; Plymouth Gr, Wed, Thur & Sat 11am-4.30pm) and Victoria Baths (Hathersage Rd). The monthly open days held at the baths are a good way to explore a building once described as Manchester’s “water palace”.

Turning left, however, takes you towards the castle-like towers of Contact (Mon-Fri 10am-11pm, Sat 3pm-late), a boundary-breaking arts centre known for its performance art, spoken word and theatre. Contact is about to undergo a transformation: a £6m development will keep it at the edge of performance art for years to come.

Keep walking down Oxford Road and for a moment consider your surroundings. This district is home to around 70,000 students, two universities, a conservatoire, five hospitals and a workforce of 60,000 (most working in “knowledge-intensive” industries); it is also home to the £61m National Graphene Institute, built in recognition of the fact that the world’s thinnest and strongest material was discovered here at the university.

But we digress, because right about now you’ll be walking past the 19th-century Church of the Holy Name (a Grade I-listed Gothic Revival building whose soaring interior provokes hushed awe), which is in turn close to the campus designed by Victorian architect, Alfred Waterhouse. Part of The University of Manchester, this campus is home to the atmospheric Christie’s Bistro (open Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm) and the neo-Gothic Manchester Museum (daily, 10am-5pm). Here. Waterhouse’s Grade I-listed building houses some six million objects, as well as surprising contemporary exhibitions – such as Dance of the Butterflies, an arresting artwork by one of Africa’s leading artists, Romuald Hazoumè (until Dec, free). The café here is a useful stopping-off point, or else head round the corner to the Martin Harris Centre for Music & Drama (Bridgeford St), whose lunchtime concert series is monthly – and free.

Let’s walk now to the Royal Northern College of Music, one of the UK’s leading conservatoires and which has just emerged from a £7m makeover of its concert hall. The renovation makes it one of Manchester’s best live music venues – and one of the most eclectic. Head here for everything from experimental electronica to opera, via brass, classical and cabaret.

We swap one university for another as we venture onto Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) campus. Here you’ll find a clutch of inspiring institutions, from the historic Manchester School of Art (now home to the Holden Gallery, whose exhibitions regularly pull in some of the biggest names in contemporary art, Mon-Fri 10am-4.30pm) to its Special Collections library (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm & Sat 12pm-4pm during term time). This library started life as a resource for art students. Around the corner is the Benzie Building, the new home to Manchester School of Art, the biggest outside London. Its annual degree shows (July) turn the entire building into a gallery. Also nearby is MMU’s Capitol Theatre; all are clustered around Grosvenor Square, a patch of green on the site of the former All Saint’s church. This was also the location of the world-changing Pan African Conference. Held in 1946, it was here that leaders from across Africa voted for independence from colonial rule.

We’ll keep heading towards town, ignoring the musical call of the Grade I-listed former Deaf Institute and the charms of legendary music shop, Johnny Roadhouse. We’ll slip by street food specialists Kukoos and pass Goodstock, the vintage shop on the corner of Hulme Street (Mon-Sat 10am-6pm). Here, at the crossroads of Whitworth Street West and Oxford Street lies the Palace Theatre, and now within sight is Manchester Central Library. Restored and reopened only last spring, the library’s circular Reading Room is a thing of beauty, while its Henry Watson Music Library alone contains 380,000 books, manuscripts and music-related objects.

To your left, further along Whitworth Street West, is HOME, a new contemporary art, performance, theatre and film hub formerly known as Cornerhouse.
For more information about Manchester in general you can also see Visit Manchester or become one of Manchester’s Creative Tourists