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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.