How Resilient District Rose Out Of Industrial Decline – Gorton
Gorton has overcome a lot over the years – but the spirit and resilience of its residents has shone through.
The Reverend David Gray, affectionately known around Manchester as the Punk Monk, has an interesting tale to tell about Gorton.
It concerned a woman who worked in a munitions factory in the Second World War and suffered a serious leg injury. She was hospitalised in the same ward as flying ace Douglas Bader. It wasn’t looking too good for the Gorton woman; gangrene had set in and it was unlikely her leg could be saved.
Bader sensed what was wrong and came over to her. ‘Fancy a dance?’ he asked her. ‘My dancing days are over with one leg’, she said.
‘Nonsense’, Bader replied. ‘I’ve got no legs and I fly a ruddy Spitfire!’ With that he whisked her off down the ward.
The Gorton woman said it changed her life and the lives of her family forever. It taught her to have hope, be positive and overcome the setbacks life throws at you.
The community of Gorton is a bit like that. David Gray has no doubt about it. He can tell hundreds of stories about Gorton folk, their resilience and spirit. He’s vivacious and larger than life and personifies the feeling of optimism and regeneration that pervades the place.
For make no mistake, Gorton has overcome a lot over the years. Industrial boom and decline with heavy engineering companies like Beyer and Peacock, hunting through slag for coal to heat homes in the post-war depression and seeing Belle Vue become the biggest theme park in the north west and then watching it slowly shut down.
There were the street parties for the coronation in 1953, trudging to work in the smoke and smog and street parades when the circus came to town. There have been problems with crime too.
There’s the Gorton Heritage Trail and the Gorton Way which is using digital technology and social media to link and project the historical sites in the area.
Gorton will always be famous for Belle Vue, the north’s premier leisure park in the 1950s and 1960s. Crowds of 250,000 were common over Easter weekends as visitors flocked to see the animals, ride the Bobs rollercoaster or get soaked on the Water Chute. You could even take a ride on the elephant as our photo shows. Clearly health and safety was far more lenient in 1957!
But now inspirational projects are bringing Gorton back to life. There’s the restoration of the Victorian high gothic Gorton Monastery and all the Every big name played the Kings Hall at Belle Vue. The variety of entertainment was enormous, ranging from Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones pictured on his band’s European Tour in 1973 to the Glossop School Band, who played the final music before the Kings Hall was torn down in February 1982.
Gorton is, of course, the birthplace of another world famous institution – Manchester City Football Club. Founded as St Mark’s in 1880, City have won four Premier League and First Division titles, the FA Cup five times, the League Cup four times and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Not bad for a team started by two church wardens to deter young men from the perils of gang violence and alcoholism!
Our picture recalls one of City’s most fondly remembered moments – winning the 1969 FA Cup, beating Leicester City 1-0 at Wembley. It was when we all wore rosettes as well as scarves!
There were major celebrations in Gorton at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in June 1953. Our photo shows the flags and bunting out in Pinnington Road in readiness for the big event.
Heavy engineering and industry were part of everyday life in Gorton. More than 1,000 steam locos had been built at the Gorton Locomotive Works by 1951 – the final year of steam loco production.
Between 1950 and 1954, Gorton was used for the construction of 64 electric locos of Class 76 and Class 77 to run on the Woodhead Line from Manchester London Road to Sheffield Victoria.
Rounding up our picture line-up are two images that show the depths of fortune in the Gorton community – dire need and hope for the future.
The first is the haunting photograph of women picking through piles of slag at the Gorton pit to find coal to heat their homes in the winter of 1945.
The second is Gorton Monastery which is now flourishing after a £6m restoration programme completed in June 2007.
The monastery and its friary buildings are now a thriving community hub – and a busy venue for conferences, concerts, business meetings and events.
It’s a living symbol of what Gorton – and its people – have achieved.
Unmissable pictures like these – and many more like them – feature in Clive Hardy’s latest book Around Manchester in the 1960s, available to buy now from our online shop.