Canal Street (Manchester)
Canal Street, the centre of the Manchester Gay Village, is a street in Manchester city centre in North West England. The pedestrianised street, which runs along the west side of the Rochdale Canal, is lined with gay bars and restaurants. At night time, and in daytime in the warmer months, the street is filled with visitors, often including gay and lesbian tourists from all over the world. The northern end of the street meets Minshull Street and the southern meets Princess Street; part of the street looks across the Rochdale Canal into Sackville Park.
Canal Street developed when the Rochdale Canal was constructed in 1804, a trade artery running through the city. Pubs and other businesses evolved to service the users of the canal, especially the people stopping at the lock nearby.
Not until the 20th century, however, did the area first begin to be properly associated with gay people. By the 1960s, usage of the canal had greatly declined due to competition from other methods of transport. Whilst assuming the form of an industrial area full of cotton factories, by night the area was a red-light district. With the collapse of the cotton industry in Northern England, the area suffered urban decay. The area along the canal was perfect for gay men to meet clandestinely as it was dark and unvisited, but was near to good transport links such as Oxford Road and Piccadilly railway stations.
By the 1980s, James Anderton, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, an Evangelical Christian, had accused gays of "swirling in a cesspit of their own making". According to Beatrix Campbell, writing for The Guardian, Anderton "encouraged his officers to stalk its dank alleys and expose anyone caught in a clinch, while police motorboats with spotlights cruised for gay men around the canal's locks and bridges". James Anderton when questioned about the policing of the Canal Street area denied that he was motivated by anti-gay prejudice and was merely enforcing the law on sexual activity in public toilets. The Greater Manchester Police under his leadership ran a strict licensing regime for bars and nightclubs in the central Manchester area. This was relaxed following his retirement in 1991.
The opening of Manto in 1990 was regarded as a catalyst for the development of many of the current style of bars and clubs in the Village. Manto was created when Carol Ainscow, a gay property developer, alongside her business partner Peter Dalton, bought a run-down building on Canal Street. The building was the first in the area to be clad with large plate glass windows; Ainscow stated, "I felt sick of having to knock on doors and hide". Despite this, Ainscow stated that the for the first six months of business, Manto was continually losing money due to people's fear of being seen in there.
Another catalyst for the expansion in the 1990s was its official recognition by Manchester City Council. Following the passing of a number of non-discrimination policies on the grounds of sexuality in the late 1980s, the council was pioneering work in the advancement of lesbian and gay rights (along with a HIV/AIDS unit, sympathetic press and marketing officers like Chris Payne and Tony Cross, an 'Equality Group' which appointed lesbians' and gay men's officers, including Paul Fairweather, Marcus Woolley, Chris Root, Maggie Turner, Terry Waller and Mark Ovenden) and many key departments like Libraries, Children's Services and Housing), much official emphasis was placed on strengthening the community element of the Village. This included major support for the Mardi Gras and purchase of the Sackville Street Gardens in 1990 and becoming the first UK council to support civil partnerships.
The Village has been unified by issues regarding the gay community, such as Section 28 in the run-up to it becoming law in 1988 and subsequently. Ian Wilmott, a gay Labour councillor said, " Section 28 was such a monstrous attack on civil liberties that hundreds of campaigners came together to oppose it. People were feeling besieged. We had no homeland, no part of the city. We needed somewhere ... It had to be more than a club. We willed the village into existence." Additionally, raising awareness over the HIV/AIDS threat to the community have been "integral to bringing the village together", according to John Hamilton, chair of the Village Business Association.
The centre of the Gay Village
This focus led to several of the pubs on or near Canal Street acquiring a predominantly gay clientele. In 1991 Manto (Manchester Tomorrow) bar opened at no. 46. It was built in 1989 by Benedict Smith Architects. Unlike the other gay bars at that time, Manto had large glass windows, allowing the casual passer-by to view what was going on inside. Previously many establishments catering for the gay community were often keen to conceal activities from the general public, but the architectural design of Manto was seen as a queer visual statement "we're here, we're queer – get used to it". A brick-and-mortar refusal to hide any more, to remain underground and invisible.
Over the next decade, more and larger bars opened along the canal side, turning Canal Street into the centre of the most successful gay village in Europe. Because of this, the Canal Street street signs are regularly defaced to read "Anal Treet" or "Anal Street". The success was further enhanced by the use of Canal Street and its bars in several television series, including Bob and Rose and Queer as Folk, both written by Russell T Davies.
This success led to a number of problems however. Canal Street's portrayal on several popular television programmes, the opening of a number of chain bars, and the resultant influx of "straight" drinkers led to tension with its existing clientele. Some bars on Canal Street tried to keep straight people out, and were questioning customers at the door to test them for their "gayness". A boycott was launched of the new Slug and Lettuce bar by the gay community because of the chain's refusal to support the Gay Pride festival, which eventually led to its closure. The bar was bought out and re-opened as Queer.
By 2006, concerns were being raised about falling revenues in the bars on Canal Street.
- History of the Rochdale Canal retrieved 2 April 2008
- Jenny Turner (1996-06-09). "The gay village, Canal Street, Manchester". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- History: Canal Street, Manchester's Gay Village; by Jon Atkin Retrieved on 13 September 2008
- see: Campbell, Beatrix (7 August 2004). "Village people". The Guardian (London)
- David Smith & Colin Richardson (1995-12-17). "Paint the town pink". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- "Top tips for searching archives - LGBT Source Guide - Manchester City Council". Manchester.gov.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-16.
- [dead link]
- "About Sackville Street Gardens - Sackville Street Gardens - Manchester City Council". Secure.manchester.gov.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-16.
- "Gay couples stage mass 'wedding'". BBC News. 29 August 2004.
- History: From Grime to Prime; by Mike Wolfe Retrieved on 2 April 2008
- Hartwell, Clare (2001) Manchester. (Pevsner Architectural Guides.) New Haven: Yale U. P.; pp. 149-50
- Binnie, John (2006). Cosmopolitan Urbanism. London: Routledge. p. 230. ISBN 0-415-34491-3.
- "They're only here for the queers". The Independent (London). 6 April 2000.
- see: Aitkenhead, Decca (24 October 2001). "Village people". The Guardian (London)
- BBC Where I Live, Manchester: The Village; Take me to the gay bar Retrieved on 13 September 2008
- Herbert, Ian (11 February 2006). "Are hen nights to blame for hard times in Manchester's Gay Village?". The Independent (London).
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