Jonathan Schofield debunks some fanciful myths such as that one about Hitler and the Midland Hotel
There are loads of myths about the city that simply do not stand up to scrutiny. These are the first three, there are at least another fifteen to go at. We will be exploding those over the coming weeks.
Hitler and the Midland Hotel
Persistence factor: 10/10
If there is one story every cabby, concierge and pub philosopher in Manchester knows, it is that Adolf Hitler coveted The Midland Hotel. The legend says that should Germany have successfully invaded Britain in WWII he wanted the largest suite in the hotel as his northern English home from home - his little Manc Berghof. There would be no mountain views but you can see the Pennines from the now defunct roof terrace, maybe that was what attracted him. Hitler could have held events and meetings in the ballroom but no doubt he would have had only one ball.
Another rumour is that the Nazis wanted the Midland Hotel for their Gestapo Headquarters so it was never bombed.
It is all poppycock of course.
WWII bombers on all sides were notoriously inaccurate. The Free Trade Hall was completely bombed out three doors down from the Midland Hotel during the Christmas Blitz of 1940. Indeed a whole string of bombs came down yards from the hotel. At 6,000 feet or more the German planes opened their bomb doors with no idea what they were about to hit and who they were about to kill. The notion that they spared the Midland Hotel because of some predicted future use for the Nazis is made even more absurd when you consider the Germans only bombed Manchester at night and there was a blackout.
How this absurd rumour began is anybody’s guess.
There are some reports of an American officer discovering a list somewhere with the Midland Hotel picked out for saving, but nobody seems to know who he was or when he found it. Probably because he never existed.
Tunnels, tunnels, everywhere
Persistence factor: 8/10
There are some but not many fine tunnels in Manchester.
The best is under Manchester Central and the Great Northern, pictured above. These originally hosted the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal from 1839. The overground remnants of this canal are at the junction with the River Irwell by the Manchester Marriott Victoria and Albert Hotel and in front of the Bridgewater Hall and leading back to the Rochdale Canal. Part of the towpath survives in the subway to Manchester Central from the Bridgewater Hall. In WWII this tunnel was converted into bomb shelters – probably not needed as the Midland Hotel is adjacent and of course the German planes were busily avoiding that landmark. The Manchester and Salford Junction Canal remains an atmospheric glory but with no public access. One day it must be turned into a tourist attraction. It's a wasted opportunity at present.
The other cracking tunnel is the long and deep Guardian Exchange devised in the Cold War as a communication network should there be a limited Soviet atomic attack. There are also the Victoria Arches which were again used as bomb shelters, although these aren’t tunnels as such just a series of arches formed when Victoria Street was constructed in the 1820s.
My favourite tunnel is the perfectly circular one that curves north from the River Medlock as an overspill for Shooter’s Brook, culverted to the north.
And that’s it.
Ok, there are sewers and river culverts but nothing much else.
There is certainly no tunnel from Ordsall Hall to Manchester Cathedral or one that follows the whole length of Deansgate, or another from Piccadilly ‘Gardens’ to Ardwick Green.
The myth of the tunnel from Ordsall Hall, mentioned in William Harrison Ainsworth’s 1841 novel Guy Fawkes, may well have been reinforced when in 1887 Woden’s Cave was rediscovered. This had been sited close by the River Irwell on the Salford side of the river were the footbridge between Hulme Hall Road and Woden Street crosses. A 20m tunnel was found which connected with an arched entrance to the old cave. The latter was said to have been occupied by a hermit at one time. Or maybe even the boss God of the Anglo-Saxon’s, Woden, the equivalent of Odin although in reality the name was probably of some long-forgotten bigwig called Wodern. Either way there has never been a tunnel running from Ordsall to Manchester Cathedral.
People love the notion of tunnels weaving under the city, the idea of an underground city with its own secret inhabitants. But apologies to these fanciful creatures, it’s simply not the case. There not as many tunnels as people think.
The Crescent Pub and Communism
Persistence factor: 9/10
I've written about this before but there has been a plan for some years now from a Chinese company to turn the closed and decayed Crescent pub in Salford into a pub, hotel and Chinese Cultural Centre. The pub would be renamed the Red Dragon. Apt for Chinese folk of course, or the Welsh, but in this case accurate too as that was the name of the pub when it opened at the end of the 1860s.
Even more relevant for the Chinese is the story that, and let’s quote from the pub’s old promo material, ‘Karl Marx discussed communist theory over a pint with comrade Friedrich Engels in the Crescent’. That would chime nicely with the deference Chinese commerce pays to the overwhelming muscle of the Chinese Communist Party.
I had to be a spoilsport for them.
The timelines don’t add up. Just as the Red Dragon was opening in Salford, Friedrich Engels' time in Manchester and Salford was coming to an end. I had to tell the Chinese how the timing just does not fit for Marx and Engels chatting in the pub especially since there is no letter or record of it.
As far it's known the tale of the Fathers of Communism 'sharing a pint' cropped up first in the 1970s and was repeated so much it became another in the long line of Manchester and Salford urban myths we are exploring and exploding.
Of course, it is just possible Engels nipped in for a pint on the way back from a walk around Peel Park in his final full year here but he doesn’t mention it and he was a prolific letter writer and recorder of his life.
Still, it is amusing to think he went into the old Red Dragon and got lary and did a Zheng Xiyuan. Remember him from October this year: Manchester’s battling Chinese Consul general helping drag a Hong Konger into the Consulate in Victoria Park for a kicking? I’m thinking of Engels doing something similar, getting rowdy with a pub regular, dragging him around on the floor, because the fellow had doubted the fundamental rationale behind the inevitable dictatorship of the proletariat leading to full communism.
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