A Tale of Two Cities

A small gotcha if you have started to read this with Dickens in mind. However, the picture below will have made you question immediately whether this is about London and Paris.

It's a Chinese betting shop in a City centre.It could be London, with its thriving Chinese heartland between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue, but this is not London, it’s Manchester.

London’s Chinatown became established post World War 2. The aftermath of bombing, and the decline of the East End docks with their feeder businesses set up to support Chinese sailors, saw the community moving west to a pretty run-down part of Soho that offered cheap rents and the opportunity to build new businesses.

Manchester equally had seen some post-war influx of Chinese immigrants, but the major catalyst was Hong Kong Chinese people emigrating as the government bought up land to cater for the expanding Hong Kong City. By the 1970s the Chinese quarter had become settled – as in London, in the City centre; as in London, taking advantage of a degenerated area; in Manchester’s case, regenerating an area that once contained cotton warehouses as part of the City’s thriving industrial identity.

Today in both areas there are the restaurants, the supermarkets, the health, legal and financial services, and of course the celebration of Chinese New Year with fireworks and dancing dragons.

What else in the tale of these two cities and the interrelationships that come from them? Well for a start there is Aston Webb and Norman Foster, but that is for another time. How about the Union Bank of Manchester?

Here it is, although the lettering does come through clearly on the photograph. A building that dates from 1896 – Roman numerals on the upper part of the corner say so although again not clear. A style that I have seen described as Bankers’ Georgian, combining solidity with refinement – hasn’t life moved on?

Details about the incumbent are sketchy, but there is certainly evidence of a Victorian bank in the community of Manchester and the North-West into the earlier part of the 20th century, that eventually merged into Barclays.

There were no signs of life in the building when I took the photo. Out of shot below was an estate agents’ letting sign. In earlier hopeful times a redundant bank building, with its double-height banking hall at ground level, might have dreamed of a re-birth as a pub or restaurant.

Could sad out datedness be the fate of this last one, with its classic later 19th century Neo-Gothic facade, countless examples of which you will still see in London? In fact research indicates that it dates from slightly later, built in a 1904 with a steel frame but clad in brick and terracotta – maybe an echo of Edwardian sentiment towards the Victorian age

The incumbent once was Joshua Hoyle and Sons Limited, but the building seems to have been known simply as Joshua Hoyle’s warehouse – more evidence of Manchester’s cotton and textiles past.

Not an abandoned memory, though. Through a late 1990s redevelopment after years of apparent decay, the warehouse with glorious frontage was integrated into a new Malmaison Hotel, the evidence of which you can just about see on the ground floor of the Hoyle building and the new building to the right. For this relic, regeneration saved the day.

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