This was most definitely our most exciting and audacious explore to date. It involved the exploration of a place which I have used too many times to count as a gateway to the city and many adventures, to see it from this perspective is what urban exploring is all about.
The River and Optimus Prime
The massive culvert was built to allow the river Irk which was arched over and the river bed paved in 1901 as part of the station extensions to pass under Victoria station. It is roughly 1km long and leads under Walkers Croft there is also a cattle bridge 20 feet below the station, a coal chute and a morgue chute, where dead cattle were loaded onto barges.
Three tunnels were discovered in 1972 underneath Victoria Station close to the present entrance to the car park on Long Millgate. They were found during test borings for the proposed Picc-Vic Tunnel near Millgate by number one platform, which was known as the fish dock.
The Station itself
In 1838 Samuel Brooks, vice-chairman of the Manchester and Leeds Railway bought land at Hunt’s Bank close to the cathedral and presented it to the company for a station to replace the inconveniently located Manchester Oldham Road railway station (1839). The station was initially a long, low single-storey building designed by George Stephenson and completed by John Brogden on 1 January 1844, named Victoria by permission of Her Majesty.
Victoria was enlarged by William Dawes, who is responsible for most of the remaining facade, in 1909. The enlarged building was erected on land consecrated as a burial ground on 1 January 1815 by the Bishop of Chester; this land was acquired by the Manchester and Leeds Railway in 1844. It was enlarged to 17 platforms.
The Edwardian building has a 160 yards (146 m) facade, which carries an iron and glass canopy bearing the names of the original destinations served, and a tile mural depicting the routes of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, which operated most of the trains from the station between 1847 and 1923. Canopies covered the waiting area for taxi cabs until they were damaged in the Provisional IRA 1996 bombing. Initially the station was approached by a wooden footbridge over the River Irk, which has subsequently disappeared beneath culverting alongside the cathedral.
All things considered access was relatively straight forward, if a little bit of a fuss, by incredibly fun. As mentioned above it involved wading across the river Irk and down into the culvert beneath the station. The river was deep and quite fast not to mention extremely cold! My waders were size 11… I am size 6 and to make matters worse they were full of holes! I managed to get across without getting completely soaked but the way back would be a different affair all together.
On the other side of the bank a rope and carabiners attached to the wall suggested someone else had been down here not too long ago, although these seemed rather more professional that what we would muster up, They did provide useful however and helped us safely decent into the darkness below.
Walking down this culvert was amazing, the thing is unimaginably huge. To think each one of these thousands of bricks was place by hand is really quite an engineering feat and testament to the industrial revolution in Manchester. To be going into the bowels of my city is a great privilege and makes me feel so much more connected. The walk seemed to last ages, it was slippy underfoot and the water was fast, there are all sort of noises you hear in a place like this and it all becomes a little spooky!
Finally we reached the cattle bridge with Lee waiting and it was time for the main exploration of the evening!
In telling us about this explore Ojay had described this as “bomber”, meaning the likelihood of us getting caught and having a subsequent fine was slim to non, however once in the station the proximity to the “live” areas became clear! In all honestly this was one of the things that made this so exciting, but we really were just a door away from the main area of the station. With pulses racing and hearts beating we crept up the main stair case looking over the station and platforms as we went.
There was lots to see in this section of the building and it was rather strange being behind the scene of the station which just a few hours ago I was just another passenger travelling through. This is when exploration makes you see your everyday experiences differently and gives you true knowledge of your own city. We found lots of old station paraphernalia down here, old tickets, archives and signs, we even found a few not so old coffee cups and it dawned on us maybe this area isn’t as abandoned as we first thought!
Once at the top of the stair well we tried to cross over the building, along the old BTP offices but suspected we had triggered a silent alarm. The panoramic view of the station from up here was amazing but we had no time to hang around and unsure on the alarm situation we decided it was best to make a hasty escape. The steps themselves have windows out onto the platforms and running down here was quite risky, but we managed to get back to the bridge with no sign of any security.
A brilliant and exhilarating experience we got back across the river safe and sound, although at this point it had risen by around 3 feet and my waders ended up full to the chest full of water. Getting up the bank on the other side was a bit of a nightmare but all part of the fun. A great night and an epic explore, although I am still waiting to get the feeling back into my legs!