Nestled in the heart of South Manchester, between the student sprawl of Fallowfield and the urban chic of the Didsburys, is the suburb of Withington. Withington is home to families, students and urban professionals, making it a diverse and interesting place to live.
Withington is directly south of Manchester city centre, heading out along the Wilmslow/Oxford Road. To the north is Fallowfield, to the west Chorlton and Wharley Range, Levenshulme and Burnage lie to the east, whilst Didsbury and West Didsbury are south. As with most urban areas, precise boundaries do not really exist, however the A5103, Princess Parkway, roughly marks the western border, Mauldeth Road and Derby Road are the north and A34 Kingsway to the east. Lapwing Lane and Fog Lane mark the southern boarder with the Didsburys; however, this is rather fluid and many people near the boundary will happily claim to live in West Didsbury or Didsbury, purely for the kudos. Withington shares the M20 postcode with the Didsburys. The area along Wilmslow road from the library to the former 'Cine City' cinema, and the shopping streets that run off are known as Withington Village.
The area was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as being little more than a wasteland, however, Withy-ton soon began to grow. The name is probably derived from a settlement or farmstead near a willow wood, although a Saxon chief called Widdingas lived nearby so he may have given his name to the area.
By the 13th Century the district that now included Disbury, Burnage, Moss Side and Denton was granted to the son of one Ingrith of Wythington and to the Abbey of Our Lady. The upkeep for the Abbey came in the form of a tithe1 and the barn built to hold these tithes became known as Our Lady's Barn, or Ladybarn, now an area towards the east of Withington.
After the Wythingtons, the Longfords, the Mosleys2 and latterly the Egertons owned some of the estate. Most of the family names are momumented in road names around South Manchester.
Withington was incorporated into the City of Manchester; however, because of its distance from the city centre remained, in the face of the Industrial Revolution, a rural area of small holdings and large Victorian houses. By the early 20th Century, the farms had gone and Withington merged into the suburbs of South Manchester.
Things to Do
Eating, Drinking and Being Merry
Withington tries hard to be many things for many people, and certainly offers a range of pubs and bars. Along Wilmslow Road, the Three Lions (white, red, golden) offer different variations on the pub theme, from seedy dive, through huge country pub to friendly faceless pub with bright décor. In Withington Village itself, 'The Albert' offers a very traditional Irish (not Irish themed, but Irish) pub, whereas 'The Victoria' offers a decent local atmosphere. 'Pleasure' is Withington's wine bar, with 'JJ's Bar' offering a nightclub of sorts. However, with Didsbury and Fallowfield at either side, and with the city centre just 20 minutes away by bus, Withington does not cater for big nights out.
Withington does 'niche Bohemia' very well3. 'Fuel' is a coffee shop which opens early so you can read your newspaper or essay over a latté, while it also has a drinks licence and sells draft continental lagers. 'Solomon Grundies' mixes bar with café in a way totally different from a traditional café bar. Exotic beers, good food, newspapers, exposed brickwork and no heating to be found. Both of these offer live music nights.
Restaurant wise, Withington is lacking. A few of the pubs offer pub-grub, but there are not many proper restaurants, with punters likely to find better in Didsbury, Rusholme and the city. 'Pizza Express' has a branch at the crossroads of Palatine Road and Lapwing Lane. There is another pizza place in the village. One highlight has to be the 'Sri Thai Café' which has rather school-like furniture. 'The Great Katmandu' sits down Burton Road towards West Didsbury and is rated by a number of food critics as one of the best curry houses in the north of England. However it tends to be very smoky inside. 'Moon' on Wilmslow Road is a good curry house as well.
Withington does not lack in takeaways and every row of shops is likely to have at least one.
Sports and Leisure
Hough End Playing Fields, between Withington and Chorlton, provides a home to many of the local pub football teams, and, with a large number of pitches, is a good place for a kick about4. Ladybarn Park, Wellington Road Park and Fog Lane Park all offer much in the way of grass for all your ball-game needs.
Withington does have its own golf course, which sits with Chorlton's and Didsbury's, on the banks of the Mersey River. For people of a more aquatic bent, Withington Baths sits on Burton Road and was refurbished in 2003 to include a fitness centre.
Parrs Wood, in East Didsbury, has a tenpin bowling centre, a multiplex cinema and a laser quest centre, as well as dozens of kids smoking outside and hurling abuse at passers by.
Withington being only a mile or so from the River Mersey, walks along the river are recommended for some weekend exercise; for the more morbid, The Southern Cemetery can be an interesting way to spend an afternoon. South Manchester's most famous miserablist, Morrissey, and his friend Linder Sterling used to wander about the Cemetery where 'they gravely read the stones'. The Cemetery itself is featured in 'Cemetry Gates' by The Smiths on the The Queen is Dead album.
The section of Wilmslow Road that makes up Withington's high street is much the same as most shopping areas in the former villages that are now part of the Greater Manchester conurbation. There are newsagents, off-licences, charity shops, a convenience store, cheap tat shops, some banks, hairdresser and a dress shop. The video shop has come up with the idea of being the ideal night in store; they sell desserts, alcohol and rent videos, a concept that not enough people have tried to make work.
The local supermarket is a Somerfield in Withington Village, however it is not very big. So for a better choice, the supermarkets in Fallowfield, East Didsbury and Hulme are better bets. There is also a Tesco Metro towards West Didsbury on Burton road offering less of a choice than Somerfield, but longer opening hours.
On Fog Lane, near Burnage Station, is 'Sifter's Records', a place that the Gallagher brothers used to frequent. It was immortalised in the Oasis song 'Shakermaker':
Mr Sifter sold me songs
When I was just sixteen
Now he stops at traffic lights
But only when they're green
One of the huge benefits of living in South Manchester is that you have fantastic transport links.
The M60 Manchester Ring Road runs just a mile or two south of Withington, and has junctions with the A34 and A5103. The A5103 runs onto the M56 just past the M60, so for getting to other parts of the country, Withington is handily placed.
To any hitchhiker who has lived in the countryside, where buses arrive once an hour and a bus arriving early is met by panicked running from expectant passengers, South Manchester is a different world. Along Wilmslow Road, buses run at one a minute though a lot of the week. The stops by Withington Library mark the point where two of the main bus routes south from the city centre split. The 142, 157 and 42 head south easterly along Wilmslow Road through Didsbury to end at East Didsbury, Woodford and Stockport respectively. The 143, 43, 48 46/47 and 41 head south along Palatine Road towards West Didsbury, Manchester Airport, Northenden, Chorlton and Altrincham5.
Passengers on the Wilmslow Road route quickly learn which bus companies to take and which to avoid. Most companies offer weekly tickets at reduced prices. Few routes, with the 157 being the main exception, sell return tickets.
Although the City Centre is only three miles6 away, journey times can be up to an hour for this short route. The main reason for this in the mornings is that Withington, and especially Fallowfield, have large student populations, some of whom actually attend university. Buses in the morning can sit and wait at Fallowfield for up to twenty minutes while waiting to fill up. They also do this in the early evenings just to annoy people who have arranged their meet up plans with care. On the way out of the city centre in the evening rush hour, Manchester City Council's idea to force four lanes of traffic into two through Rusholme has lead to buses spending around 20 minutes crawling though the Curry Mile7 at tea time, with the smells of the Orient hanging in the air.
The 50 runs along the A34 every ten or so minutes from the city centre to East Didsbury. The 104, 105, 109, 101 all run down the A5103 towards the Airport, Northenden and Wythenshawe from the City Centre. The 111 runs every ten or 20 minutes along Burton Road and behind Withington village, through Moss Side into the City Centre.
Heading north, almost all Wilmslow Road buses end up in Manchester City Centre, either at Piccadilly Gardens or by Victoria Station.
Currently there is only one train line though Withington, it runs from Piccadilly to Manchester Airport and Wilmslow. Mauldeth Road and Burnage Stations are both in Withington.
Manchester Airport is only five miles or so from Withington, and is just a short train or bus ride away. This also makes Withington handy for overnight stays when catching a flight.8
Under the Metrolink Big Bang plans, a tram line following the former train track from Chorlton to Stockport was due to run though the south end of Withington, however these plans have been shelved, for the time being at least.