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13 November 2014
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Keith Warrender and Janet Sumner in the underground tunnel

Going underground with Inside Out

Underground Manchester - a history

North West author Keith Warrender has spent years researching Underground Manchester. Inside Out took him for his first visit to the underground Victoria Arches. Here Keith explains what he finds so fascinating about the subterranean city.

Keith writes...

I have been fascinated with what could lie beneath the city's streets for some time.

There has been much discussion of underground streets, secret passages, an underground railway and all sorts of rumours of what went on in the 'top secret' Guardian nuclear bunker.

I wanted to find out the truth behind the stories and so about eight years ago I began to collect all I could find on the subject from books, news cuttings and other sources.

This information later became the basis of an illustrated talk - and later a book - which I presented to many local groups and societies.

I soon found that my audiences knew of lots more underground locations or had further details about the places in my talks.

Those who went before

At this point I was greatly helped by others who, over the last 30 years, had already been in these subterranean areas or had found first-hand accounts.

Inside Out's crew filming in the underground tunnels.

Shedding light in some dark corners

For example, I talked to Harry Smith who had been involved in the exploration and cleaning out of many tunnels and shafts in Manchester, and he generously gave me access to his findings.

Then there was Ken Howarth who some will remember presented a series below the City for Radio Manchester in the 1970's with some very atmospheric programmes in echoey chambers and tunnels.

Finally, I am grateful to the author Joy Hancox who gave me permission to look through her extensive collection on the subject.

The Victoria Arches

But all this time, I have never been able to go into one of Manchester's most significant underground spaces - the Victoria Arches below the Cathedral.

I have researched, written and talked about them, but because of health and safety restrictions, never seen them for myself.

Keith Warrender and Janet Sumner

Amazing adventure - Keith Warrender.

So it was a great delight when the BBC's Inside Out Programme made arrangements with the Manchester Council to film down there and invited me to take part in a programme.

I knew what to expect, because I had seen the old photos taken in the 1930s prior to its conversion into a Second World War air-raid shelter, as well as more recent unauthorised pictures to be viewed on various websites.

But there is no substitute to seeing a place for yourself - the sheer scale of the arches, the fascinating notices and other remnants from the last war, and imagining what it was like for all the people who sheltered down here.

Something I didn't anticipate was the warmth - other tunnels such as the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal below Deansgate are much colder.

Visitor attraction

I have no idea what Manchester Council plan to do with space, but it would make a great visitor attraction.

It could possibly include recreated war-time shelter sights and sounds, a permanent underground Manchester exhibition including the impressive Bradford Colliery, and a cafe with the opened up arches overlooking the river.

Underground Manchester

Voyage of discovery - underground.

In my research on Manchester, I have still not discovered the whereabouts of an underground street which is said to exist complete with a tobacconist's shop, or the postal railway between the main railway stations, or the route under Deansgate.

Some of these things may simply be myths, but you never know!

Of course there are many things that I have uncovered and you will have to wait for my forthcoming second book to find out what they are.

The fascination with this subject is that there always seem to be new things waiting to be discovered and fresh information keeps on coming in from the public.

last updated: 21/01/2009 at 16:29
created: 20/01/2009

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