This September it will be ten years since I first arrived in Manchester as an 18-year-old undergraduate. We swept down into the city from the Mancunian Way towards my halls of residence at the University of Manchester’s then-North Campus (formerly known as UMIST), with my parents’ car, like so many others we had passed on the motorway that day, laden with all my most treasured possessions, ready to settle me into my new life. After the five-hour drive from the flat, green landscape of Kent, industrial, urban, cultural Manchester looked incredibly glamorous and exciting spreading out beneath us and I couldn’t wait to get to know the city better. I felt at home in Manchester straight away, and I’ve never forgotten the excitement of that elevated introduction to the city which has since become my home.
Over the years I have learnt more about the history of the motorway and its significance in Manchester’s post-war history and townscape, including tours and talks organised by Manchester Modernist Society, along with a memorable film about the building of the road’s construction. It still makes me smile every time I walk past the 1968, pop-letted Concrete Society Award (who would even knew such as thing existed unless it was pointed out to you!). I guess the slides in the Visual Resources collection must have been used to demonstrate to students that it was an impressive piece of engineering at the time, and how such projects were changing the skyline of inner-city Manchester forever.
I’ve even lurked in a quiet corner of the Mancunian Way listening repeatedly to a track by nearby resident Lonelady through headphones temporarily embedded in the concrete, demarcated by an unobtrusive bit of graffiti. The repetitive hum of the Mancunian Way, and the incessant human movements of the city going on around you, provided the perfect backdrop for Lonelady’s insistent indie-dance, and it’s still one of my favourite ever public art projects.
I spent many miserable years trying and failing to learn to drive during my teens and early twenties. As every year passes, living in Manchester, I feel more and more glad that I don’t drive and have the responsibility and stress of driving, running and maintaining a car. The only time I ever feel a pang of regret about failing to pass my test is when I am a passenger in a vehicle going over the Mancunian Way, and I wish that I, too, could experience what it’s like to drive over Manchester’s own ‘highway in the sky’.
‘The Shrieking Violet’