Greater Manchester has some lovely place names, so here are 17 of them

This remains a terrible map, but come on, those stop names are lovely. Image: TfGM.

Something I realised pottering round Manchester yesterday: it’s an absolutely brilliant city for place names. And nobody outside knows this.

The tube map’s status as a sort of universal symbol of London means that everybody – or at least, everybody minded to care – is familiar with some of London’s more evocative district names (Shepherd’s Bush, Elephant & Castle and so on). In Manchester, though, the Metrolink is smaller, and its map more obscure.

As a result, there are all these wonderful area names – names which speak of industrial heritage, Pennine valleys and windswept Lancashire Moors – which, odds are, non-locals have never heard of. And that’s a shame, because they generally do a far better job of articulating the texture and personality of an unfamiliar city than, say, “the Metropolitan Borough of Tameside” does.

And so, since we’re trying to be less London-centric around here, and since frankly I bang on about the tube map quite enough as it is, here are 17 of them.


Abraham Moss

A tram stop in Cheetham Hill, about two miles north of the city centre. I was going to make a joke that this sounds less a place than a Dickens character, but on googling, it turns out that there’s a reason for this: the stop is literally named after a person not an area.

Abraham Moss was Lord Mayor of Manchester from 1953-4. He was also president of Board of Deputies of British Jews for barely a week in 1964, before dying of a heart attack at the age of 65. He’s commemorated in the name of a school and community centre, from which the tram stop took their name.

The stop opened in 2010, replacing the nearby Woodlands Road, which was very venerable (it used to be a railway station) but had a boring name. Abraham Moss is definitely better, isn’t it?

Besses o’ th’ Barn

If you’re wondering how it was I convinced myself a city could genuinely have an area called Abraham Moss, consider this. Besses o’ the’ Barn is another tram stop, further up the same line; and that one really is named for its location, an area of Whitefield.

Why it’s called that is a bit of a mystery. According to the BBC’s 1986 Domesday Reloaded project:

 The most reasonable sounding tale is of a local pub which looked like a barn and was run by a lady called Bess. The local invitation to a drink would be, “let’s go see Bessie at th’ barn”. Later, as houses were built around, the name came to mean the whole village, not just the pub.

Btu there’s another theory that it involves highwayman Dick Turpin and his horse Black Bess. Of course there is.

Blackrod

An ancient village between Bolton and Wigan, which now gives its name to a local railway station.

Blackrod was once a mining village, but its name dates back way before that, to at least the 12th century. The “rod” might refer to the Holy Rood, another name for the cross; or it might just mean “clearing”. The black bit seems to mean black, though.

Either way, the name has nothing to do with the Black Rod who ponces around Parliament in a silly uniform.

Chorlton-cum-hardy

A former village in the south-western suburbs. Actually, two former villages: the name literally means “Chorlton with Hardy”, and seems to represent the fact that, as the area’s population grew during the 18th century, they grew into each other.

The joint name was embraced by some Victorian estate agents to distinguish the area from Chorlton-on-medlock, two and a half miles to the east. But whoever decides on Metrolink station names decided to undo all that good work, and just named the local tram stop “Chorlton”. Great work, guys.

Fallowfield

Another southern suburb, which doesn’t get its own station (it closed in 1958). Today it’s the big student area, home to the University of Manchester’s Fallowfield Campus, and a bunch of rented housing.

The abandoned Fallowfield line. It's now a cycle path. Image: Cnbrb/Wikimedia Commons.

Why it’s called Fallowfield is a matter on which the internet is strangely silent. But the name brings to mind half-remembered primary school lessons about crop rotation, so I like it anyway.

Flowery Field

An area of Hyde, in Tameside, to the east of the conurbation. Once again, I can’t work out how it ended up with that name.

But come on: from Manchester Piccadilly, you can get trains to Glossop via Flowery Field. It’s like a bloody P. G. Wodehouse novel up there.

Hag Fold

This one’s rather less picture-esque. It sounds like something from the Brothers Grimm, or possibly an unfortunate skin disease.

At any rate, it’s the name of an estate in Atherton, out in Wigan, which has had its own station since 1987. It’s 13 miles out of Manchester Victoria, which surprised me, because in London-terms (sorry) that’s enough to get you out to zone 6, and there’s still another five miles to Wigan.

On looking at the map, it turns out that there are parts of Wigan literally 20 miles from central Manchester. I’m pretty sure there’s nowhere in Greater London that’s 20 miles from Charing Cross. Turns out, Greater Manchester is big.

Okay, enough of that, let’s get back to the names.

Hall i’ th’ Wood

Another railway station name, this one named for a wooden Tudor manor house in Bolton. Like Besses o’ th’ Barn, the name, and its tendency to drop letters, represents the local dialect.

I don’t have much to say about Hall i’ th’ Wood, but here’s a picture of it. Wood not included:

Note the stone extension built in the 17th century. Image: Alexander P Kapp/Wikimedia Commons.

Little Lever

Another ancient village in Bolton. The Lever part seems to have come from the Old English Laefre, which means “place where rushes grow”; the little started out as Parua, from the Latin Parva.

There’s a Great Lever as well. Bolton is well-supplied with Levers of various sizes and qualities.

Longsight

An inner city area in the City of Manchester itself, about three miles south of the central business district. No tram; no railway station since 1958. Rubbish.

Anyway, the name: according to the Manchester History website, there’s a story about Bonnie Prince Charlie standing around during his rebellion and describing the view towards the city as a “Long sight”. The problem is, the area seems to have been called Longsight before Prince Charlie ever Bonnied, so that’s probably wrong. It may have come from Long-shut, meaning a shallow depression.

That’s a bit dull, though: the idea it just happened to be a good viewpoint is far more evocative, and why I like it.

Miles Platting

It was walking through Miles Platting yesterday that made me decide to write this rather long, rambling Manchester gazetteer. I’m not even sure why: I just think it’s a lovely name, sounding simultaneously like an ancient, rural village, and yet so distinctively Manchester.

A disused mill at Miles Platting (well, it's luxury flats now, to be fair). It was probably at roughly this point on the Rochdale Canal I decided to write this ridiculous article. Image: Mikey from Wythenshawe/Flickr/creative commons.

Anyway, it’s a largely derelict factory district, about a mile and a half north east of the city centre. The name may be a corruption of “mills on a platt”, meaning some mills on a high piece of ground. Then again, it may not.

Patricroft

An area of Eccles, in the city of Salford, to the west of Manchester proper. Its name might come from “pear tree croft”; then again it might come from “Patrick’s croft”.

Either way, it’s a nice name, which can today be found attached to a station on the Liverpool to Manchester line.

Pomona

The only tram stop, best I can tell, named for a Roman deity: Pomona was the Roman goddess of orchard fruit, and probably also a wood nymph.

Anyway, she gave her name to the Pomona Gardens, which were demolished to build the Pomona docks. These have now largely been filled in, but are commemorated in the name of a tram stop on the Eccles line in the City of Salford.

Shadowmoss

A relatively little used stop on Metrolink to the south of Manchester, just one stop before the Manchester Airport. (In London terms, this is Hatton Cross.)

It seems to be named for Shadowmoss Road, besides which it sits, and how that got its name is not clear. I’ve included it in here, though, because it sounds like one of the villages the Fellowship of the Ring pass through on their journey to Mordor.

Talking of which:

Simister

A village in Prestwich, in the Metropolitan Borough of Bury, a few miles north of Manchester city centre. As Simister Island, it gives its name to a big motorway junction, where the M60, M62 and M66 meet.

Not that picture-esque as islands go. Image: Google.

I’ve got nothing on the name. But it’s like “sinister” only with an “m”. Maybe the M stands for motorway?

No. No, obviously it doesn’t. Cool name, though.

Spinningfields

An area on the western side of the city centre. It was consciously re-developed as new central business district in the wake of the 1996 Manchester bombing; the name stems from that of a small street to the west of Deansgate.

Given Manchester’s industrial history as the place where Spinning Jennys turned cotton into yarn for the garment industry, the name probably comes from that. But I’m sort of guessing.

Summerseat

A village in the Ramsbottom area, in the northern borough of Bury. Home to another disused railways station, though that at least this one gets to be a stop on the East Lancashire Heritage Railway.

As to the name... oh, who knows. The internet is silent. But it’s lovely, isn’t it? It sounds like one of those places in Game of Thrones where everything is all happy right up until the point when they find themselves besieged by rival armies, and then get unexpectedly smashed to bits by an invading army of ice zombies. I don’t even care what it means, it’s just so nice.

Greater Manchester is a great place for names, and more people should know about it, that’s really all I’m saying here. I don’t think that’s the strongest argument for extending the Metrolink and improving its map. But it’s a good one, all the same.

I hope Andy Burnham’s reading this.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

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Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

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Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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