Some Twin Cities are famous around the world: Minneapolis/St Paul in the USA, for example. Some are famous but fictional: in a number of old DC Comics stories, Gotham City and Metropolis, the homes of Batman and Superman respectively, were twin cities joined by a suspension bridge across a wide east-coast bay. (Smallville, be it noted, was originally within a short drive of both before it upped sticks and moved to Kansas.) Some are neither fictional nor particularly famous: Manchester/Salford is one such pair.
Salford’s city status has an ambiguous quality as a result. Known chiefly (if at all) as an adjunct of Manchester, it has recently begun reclaiming symbols of civic identity (if not pride). Salford Quays used to be known as Manchester Docks. The BBC and ITV both have a substantial presence at MediaCity. The first five-star hotel in Greater Manchester, the Lowry, is on the Salford side of the River Irwell.
LS Lowry himself, born in Stretford, is generally claimed by Salford, which owns and displays the largest collection of his works. The Lowry family moved from Manchester to Pendlebury, a district of Salford; Lowry said: “At first I disliked it, and then after about a year or so I got used to it, and then I got absorbed in it, then I got infatuated with it.”
It’s an affectionate response that you’ll see mirrored in banners at a Salford City home game. Salford fans take pride in coming from the Dirty Old Town of Ewan MacColl’s song – often assumed to be about Dublin, the song is inspired by MacColl’s hometown.
Other influential commentators have tended to concentrate on the misery. Friedrich Engels, co-author of The Communist Manifesto, spent 20 years in the twin cities. According to a wonderful and extended piece in the radical, irreverent Salford Star “when Fred came to Salford, age 22, he was on the ale every night, copping off with local girls and stirring up all sorts of trouble”. It continues: “Fred had copped off with a young Irish girl called Mary Burns, who probably worked at his dad’s mill, and she took him out at night in disguise so that he wouldn’t get his German bourgeois head kicked in.”
Engels’ researches, furtive or otherwise, produced a shocking account of the living conditions of the working class in Victorian England. Apparently they hadn’t improved much 90 years later when Salford-born novelist Walter Greenwood was writing Love on the Dole. Greenwood referred to “jungles of tiny houses cramped and huddled together” in which “men and women are born, live, love and die and pay preposterous rents for the privilege of calling the grimy houses ‘home'”.
Among contemporary commentators the Mancunian Stephen Lewis, writing on the website ILoveManchester, says: “When I was a kid growing up in north Manchester, the difference between Manchester and Salford was that while Manchester was grim, Salford was grimmer. Salford had the reputation of being a bit rough around the edges. It was Manchester’s East End, despite the fact that it’s west of Manchester.”
Yet in 2007, Salford emerged from a national survey as one of the top five places in the country to enjoy a lavish lifestyle at a non-prohibitive price. But that was 2007, and the survey was conducted by or for the Royal Bank of Scotland. Perhaps, in the light of the Crisis of Capitalism that ensued, it should be treated with caution.
Salford City play at the Peninsula Stadium, out of town towards Whitefield off the A56 Bury New Road. The ground’s unusual name is, needless to say, the result of a sponsorship deal. But it could also come from an eccentric looping digression made by the Irwell around Kersal Wetlands; strictly speaking it’s a meander, but if a football club were to play at the Meander Stadium it should be the Civil Service Strollers.
This far from central Salford – insofar as Salford can be said to have a centre – the Peninsula Stadium is not a promising focus of tourism. Some of North Manchester’s attractions are at least as close as those of Salford or, for that matter, Manchester itself.
For example, not far away on the thoroughfare that becomes Bury Old Road, are the Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester, and the Manchester Jewish Museum. There’s also reputedly a Ukranian Cultural Centre and Museum a little further east and, to the south, an Irish World Heritage Centre.
That cluster of destinations around the Cheetham Hill area is not quite as enticing as it might appear at face value. The Museum of Transport opens on Wednesdays and at the weekend, so it’s not a prospect for a Tuesday evening match. The Manchester Jewish Museum is moving to Manchester Central Library while its home is redeveloped, to reopen in 2020. Visitors to the Irish World Heritage Centre tend to concern themselves mostly with stout and whisky in their reviews. And May 2017 was the date of the last event posted on the website of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, Manchester branch.
Central Salford has the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist, Salford Museum & Art Gallery and close by the Working Class Movement Library. Further south, by the Manchester Ship Canal, are Ordsall Hall, the Lowry and the Sis4ers Distillery Gin Experience.