Back on Track goes back in time: exploring the history of Swan Buildings

With the fresh start of a new autumn term at Back on Track, our learners have been looking back at the history of Swan Buildings as part of our History in the Making course, which challenges learners to develop their knowledge of local history as well as to use social media, leaflets and displays to disseminate this information.

The Back on Trackers then shared some of their discoveries when Swan Buildings opened its doors to the public on 10th and 11th September as part of Heritage Open Days, a heritage festival taking place every September which allows the general public free access to a wide range of historical buildings across England. The entrance foyer to Swan Buildings featured a detailed display of Back on Track’s mostly internet-based research, including historical maps, illustrations and old photographs. Here are just a few highlights from Back on Track’s findings:

  • The earliest map featured in Back on Track’s display is almost 250 years old, showing the Swan Street area in 1772 according to a surveyor named Tinker. At this point Swan Street didn’t really exist, but the map does label Millers Lane (what is now Millers Street). A map of the same area from a decade later shows a semi-rural landscape with water springs known as the Shudehill Pitts, Manchester’s main water supply at the time. Were these water springs frequented by swans? Our learners pondered whether this was perhaps how Swan Street got its name.

    The entrance to Swan Buildings in the 80s
    The entrance to Swan Buildings in the 80s
  • An illustration from 1815 depicts Manchester’s First Riot at the edge of Swan Street, where fighting broke out in reaction to a crowd of immigrants who had gathered in the area to hear news from home. You can see the site of the riot through the window behind the glass room at Back on Track.
  • Fast forward to 1851 – another map exhibited in Back on Track’s display shows the layout of the Swan Buildings block, built in roughly the same shape as it stands today. In 1851, however, there was not one, not two, but THREE pubs in just one block. How did anyone manage to get anything done?!
  • The display also provided a list of the first recorded businesses in Swan Buildings from 1905, including Charles Wilson Blouse Manufacturers and Nash & Co Drugs and Gums. (At this point we should note that there are now only two pubs in the block – a measly sum compared with 50 years before.)
  • Swan Buildings also had a miraculous survival during the Second World War. A map from 1941 illustrating the destruction caused by the Christmas Blitz in 1940 shows that lots of bombs were dropped in the nearby area. Swan Buildings luckily escaped damage.

Back on Track received a very positive response from visitors during the open days at Swan Buildings. Jeremy, the owner of Swan Buildings, was among the visitors and commended the exhibit as ‘very informative and interesting’.

Gemma Fairclough