Manchester, Cambridge, and Camden Town

March 10, 2023
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AFTER Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, I travelled south through Manchester and Cambridge to Camden Town in London before departing for the Irish city of Cork. This post is about that journey.

Manchester: The Most Victorian City

When I arrived in Manchester, it was decked out for the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Flags out for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

I was having a bit of trouble taking clear pictures that day as moisture kept condensing on the lens.

Old-fashioned camera lenses used to be a bit foggy at the best of times, which is one of the reasons why Victorian photographs often have an atmospheric look.

When the photo above was changed to black and white, it did look Victorian.

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee photo, made black and white, so that it looks as if it were taken for one of Queen Victoria’s Jubilees. A fogged lens gives a convincing result!

Thinking about Victorian times is very appropriate for Manchester: a city that was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s and noted for the gingerbread architecture of its downtown buildings, which the proceeds of the early industries helped to pay for.

Thus, in my wanderings, I soon came across a sign advertising MOSI, the Museum of Science and Industry.

You can see it through a gap in the flywheel of this old-fashioned engine.

The oldest part of Manchester is called Castlefield, originally a Roman settlement.

The central area also contains all kinds of Victorian heritage architecture, including that of Albert Square, the heart of the city.

The Manchester Town Hall (1877) and Albert Square, photographed in October 2010 by David Dixon, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Manchester Opera House

More of Victorian Manchester

Mr Thomas’s Chop House, founded in 1867

In Victorian times, the city prospered as the great hub of northern industry, linked to the port of Liverpool by a shipping canal and some of the first railways. Manchester was linked to other parts of Great Britain by smaller canals and the wider national rail network.

Here are three photos of Manchester’s canals:

But it isn’t all old stuff by any means.

The city also has an excellent modern tramway.

And free buses downtown.

Along with its townscape, Manchester also has masses of statues and public art, such as an impressive monument to the Duke of Wellington, first unveiled in 1856.

‘Inauguration of the Wellington Memorial at Manchester’. From The Illustrated London News, 15 September 1856, p. 279, via ‘The Wellington Monument, Piccadilly, Manchester, by Matthew Noble’ by Jacqueline Banerjee (29 March 2012), on The Victorian Web.

The seated figures are Mars, the god of war, and three female figures. Most prominent is Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, who has her hand upraised in conversation with the brawny but dim Mars as if she is trying to make a point. The other two female figures are Victory and Peace.

The Wellington Statue in downtown Manchester, photographed 28 February 2011 by Thomas Nugent, CC BY-SA 2.0, (, via Wikimedia Commons.

Four bronze relief panels also show details of the Iron Duke’s adventures. The artful composition is said to have improved upon what was expected, yet another statue of a bloke in a fancy uniform on top of a prancing horse. Yet the Duke, most famous for defeating Napoleon, is represented in civilian clothes and there is no horse to be seen.

Today, we think of Victorian England as a male-dominated society where women were treated like pet cats and as the seat of an aggressively expanding empire.

But the Victorians considered themselves feminists and pacifists, at least by earlier standards. And so, the Wellington Monument reflects a Victorian view of the ideal society, in which Minerva lectures Mars, and the conqueror puts away his uniform.

I made a short video of the downtown, recording my opinions: here it is.

While in Manchester, I stayed at the centrally-located YHA, which was handy. I found Manchester to be quite affordable for eating out. One thing I regretted missing out on was a sizable Chinatown, the second-largest in the UK. I only spent one day in Manchester and would like to have spent three.

Cambridge: The Second Oldest University Town

Then I headed for Cambridge, which, like Oxford, is the seat of one of England’s two most historic universities. Oxford University was founded in 1096, and Cambridge in 1209. For a long time, until the early 1800s, Oxford and Cambridge were the only two universities in England.

Arriving in Cambridge

If Manchester seemed to be in a Victorian timewarp, Cambridge was positively mediaeval. Late mediaeval and early Tudor, to be precise. You half expected to see Henry VIII pop around some corner. Here are some photos of downtown Cambridge that show what I mean:

The Corn Exchange

One of the University Quadrangles

Actually, come to think of it, the next one might be Victorian. The Victorians tended to go made on the frills: anything in England that looks like a wedding cake, as they say, probably went up in Victorian times. The Greek or Roman-style building on the left is probably from the 1600s or 1700s.

I visited a few mediaeval-looking chapels as well. It cost money to go inside the churches, which would have been much grander inside.

Here’s a public market with another view of the cathedral, plus another rather plain building, once more from the 1600s or 1700s most likely, on the right.

There are, of course, more modern buildings in Cambridge as well.

Queen’s Lane

Regent Street

Even though both of their universities are finishing schools for the nation’s elites to some extent, the town of Cambridge seemed to be even posher than the town of Oxford. I make a brief comparison in the following video.

Overall, I think I preferred Oxford, which was also a bit cheaper for the visitor.

Camden Town

In my book A Maverick Traveller, first published in 2017, I wrote that:

"I loved the Camden Markets in North London, a vibrant and diverse group of alternative shops and stalls next to the canal. Opened in the 1970s, the markets have become a popular tourist destination with around one hundred thousand people visiting each weekend. It’s also where punk exploded. In 1966 Pink Floyd played their first gig here. Others who have performed in the area are the The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and Chrissie Hynde. The Clash’s debut album cover was shot in Camden. And the famous punk designer Vivienne Westwood has a watch in her collection called the Camden Lock, named after the device used to lower and raise watercraft on the canal.

"The punk subculture is still alive and well in Camden even though the area has become more commercialised. To prove that point, for £1 you could have your photo taken with punk rockers at the Camden Markets: so, I did! Being in the punk epicentre made me feel like I’d come full circle since my punky rebellious teen years. Although, I’m still a maverick."

The author with some punks at Camden Markets, photographed for a pound

It had been a while, now, since I’d made that visit to the epicentre of punk-dom. So, it would be interesting to see if the place had changed.

Well, one thing I noticed was that it was a bit more gentrified than before.

But a pound was still the going rate for a lot of things. You could go to the pound shop and get something to eat for a pound. And then at the markets, you could get a whole lot of raspberries, or vegetables in season, for a pound.

I dined more expensively but still cheaply at this wonderful bakery, Fabler’s, where they also make lunches for the workers.

This was so different to Ireland, where I was headed after London, and where I was to be charged three Euros for a small punnet of yogurt and three Euros 45 for an avocado, whereas in London you would pay 50 p for an avocado and it would be cheap even in Marks & Spencers.

Camden Town, and the Camden Markets, are grouped around the Camden Lock on the Regent’s Canal.

The North London Line Railway Bridge over Chalk Farm Road, as seen from Camden Lock Place, which leads to the Camden Markets

Camden Lock

Another view of Camden Lock

Camden Markets

Some fascinating old architecture in Camden Town

Another street scene

Colourful frontages

A selfie in Camden Town

The area is close to Regent’s Park. Here’s a photo of a gilded gateway into the park.

Here’s a restaurant called Shaka Zulu, along with some interestingly weatherproof al fresco dining pods!

I enjoyed London; it’s the most multicultural city in the world. It cost me 12 pounds to get a lovely smooth train to Gatwick Airport and depart for Ireland, the subject of last week’s post and the ones to follow.

There are a few problems, notably their politicians and Brexit. The labour shortage is compounded by high housing costs, low wages, and bureaucratic procedures that make it hard to get back on the dole if you work in some insecure job and then it falls through.

There needs to be less reliance on immigration as the way of papering over these cracks: the inadequacies of which have been shown up by the fact that so many Europeans from across the channel have gone home in the aftermath of Brexit.

Next week, I will be returning to my Ireland tour, this time stopping off in Dublin!


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