i’ve always been interested in the tales of the network of tunnels which run underneath manchester. from the supposed nuclear bunker of the guardian telephone exchange which runs underneath the city, to the tunnels around deansgate, i find it fascinating. in a city like london the underground is a well known route, much as it is in paris, glasgow and sao paulo to name but a few. yet in manchester, the underneath of the city is hidden away.
keith warrender has written a couple of books on the subject, and seems like a real font of knowledge on the subject. having been to a talk by him before, in which he was obviously holding loads back as he wasn’t allowed to encourage people to break into the tunnels, i know that there is lots of interesting stuff down there. as such, when manchester confidential started running their tunnel tours it was a must to try out.
the tunnel tour takes you into the salford junction canals, specifically the section underneath the great northern warehouse. assembling outside the bridgewater hall, a group of foolhardy folks (some with the suggested torch and sturdy shoes, some in work shoes with their shopping) headed off with our tour guide to descend under the city via a secret staircase in the great northern. the reason that the canal can be accessed from this point is that the great northern was a massive, well, warehouse in a former life. the warehouse could be accessed by road, rail and canal – making it a great resource.
the canal was actually usurped pretty soon after it was open, though found a new life some years later. the salford junction canal was used as a bomb shelter during the second world war. this much i knew already. this much is about all the knowledge i left with. unfortunately our tour guide didn’t really provide any further information, instead pointing out potential points of interest before declaring that she didn’t know what they were. this was a real shame, as i’d been hoping for a tour which would really cast some light on the tunnels, and offer me some new insights. our guide seemed more interested in urging the group to try out their primal screams than give us any history.
to me this was a missed opportunity. we were in an incredible space, which is very rarely seen by the public. yet i left feeling a bit underwhelmed. the tunnels were brilliant, and everything i’d hoped they would be. stopping to think that we were standing underneath the city, whilst life went on above completely unaware of both our presence, and for most people, that this network even exists. this was all counter-balanced by a guide who left me feeling that i could have done a better job. read up on your subject a bit, it should surely be a requirement of these positions. stating that there is no-one who could tell you any more about the tunnels in wwII is just lazy surely – not everyone who was around in the war has disappeared from the city. plans will still exist somewhere. i don’t think it is too much to ask that tour guides know what they are talking about, is it?
perhaps i had a little too much prior knowledge? either way, the tunnels were amazing. seeing these vast, cathedral-like spaces underneath the city centre, was like something from neverwhere. there were areas that were as untouched, others which had been converted during the war and still bore the painting and signage from that era. it is a shame that you can’t see more of the tunnels due to flooding, but you can’t really argue with nature.
knowing that this series has sold really well, i would hope that manchester confidential, or any of the other groups who run city tours, can convince whoever holds the rights to the guardian network (bt at the moment, i think) to allow people into them. until that point, they still exist underground, and unseen.