Jonathan Schofield and 16,000 dead people (probably) are pleased with a timely upgrade

It's small in total area, just 4.2 acres but it's central to the attractiveness of the northern end of Oxford Road. 

All Saints Gardens is a pocket park at the heart of the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) that's been a mini-oasis for students and passersby for decades. Now it, and the amenity on all sides, is being upgraded. 

​These incremental changes to the urban scene in the city might appear small but they are important

At a recent event at MMU a staff member involved with the transformation of the gardens remarked: "It's time really especially as some of the coffins are collapsing which leads to troughs in the surface. You get people sitting in these areas not realising they're a few vertical feet from someone else who's been there a long time and not going anywhere."

The staff member was referring to the dead, namely the 16,000 dead, which still sleep under the gardens. All Saints was the site of All Saints Church and graveyard. You're never alone in these gardens. More of that later. 

All Saints Improvements
All Saints Gardens and area: a welcome upgrade Image: MMU

The plans

Well-known landscape designers Planet-IE, headquartered in Altrincham, are behind the creative ideas for All Saints. The idea is to upgrade the gardens but also the streets on all sides to boost both the aesthetic of the area but also its amenity.

Inside the park there will be a small events space occupying the footprint of the demolished church suitable for streetfood, vintage and art markets and, perhaps, stalls for decorative headstones. Perhaps.

There will be a light touch to changes within the park although pathways and landscaping will be sharpened up. Somebody has counted the trees and there are 59 at present. Three will be for the chop although across the All Saints lanscaping project another 39 will be planted. Many of these trees will be judiciously planted on the site of the streets to be fully pedestrianised Cavendish Street and Lower Cavendish Street and in front of MMU's All Saints Buildings which is already pedestrianised. 

Paving will be upgraded across the scheme including on Oxford Road where pinch points around the entrance to All Saints Gardens will be opened up with better access created. There will be new designs for the street furniture, the lighting and the bins. 

All Saints As It Was Recently
All Saints Gardens a couple of years ago Image: Confidentials

The Context

All Saints church was described in The Strangers Guide to Manchester in 1850. 

‘The foundation stone was laid March 25, 1819, and the church consecrated on April 12, in the following year. The tower contains a clock, having a dial plate on each of its sides which is the property of the Corporation. It is surmounted by a dome, ball and cross. The interior is very capacious; a gallery runs all round the church; the portion at the east end, over the altar, contains a very fine organ. The pulpit, reading desk, etc, is of polished mahogany and are the handsomest of their kind in Manchester. A destructive fire broke out on 6 February 1850 just before the commencement of the week day evening service. The whole of the roof was burnt and a great portion of the interior of the church injured.’ 

Repairs following the fire were completed later in 1850 but 95 years later the church was severely damaged during the WWII blitz and demolished. 

The picture below shows the area in the 1930s before the universities expanded. This was a time when the area was a densely built-up part of the city, with closely knit houses and a population of tens of thousands. The site of All Saints Gardens and the church can clearly be seen just off-centre in the picture. 

All Saints Church
All Saints Gardens when it was a church and graveyard Image: Jonathan Schofield
All Saints Aerial
All Saints aerial image from the 1930s Image: Jonathan Schofield

Good news

This new work at All Saints is welcome. The gardens will be sharpened up and the landscaping made clearer for sandwich eaters and wanderers alike. Meanwhile a seamless run of new paving will provide a much better foil to some of the excellent buildings surrounding the gardens such as the historically important Chorlton-on-Medlock town hall, especially with the latter's hosting of the 1945 Pan-African Congress

These incremental changes to the urban scene in the city might appear small but they are important. The landscaping of the universities area of MMU and the University of Manchester is one of the best things to happen to the built environment of the city in a generation. This was our 2019 story underlining how much better this area has now become. If the city council could respond in kind with the smaller parks under their control in the city centre such as Parsonage Gardens, Sackville Gardens and so forth then we'd be on to a winner. 

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