Hoots from the Archive - Item from the Archive - Photographs of "The Cliff"

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 24 Jan 2024

Modified by Rachel Kneale on 24 Jan 2024

The Cliff


The constant complaint of generations of MGS boys was that the site at Long Millgate had no space for playing fields, or even a playground. What had once been a small town in 1515 had become a prosperous and populous metropolis, and the School was hemmed in on all sides by the busy Manchester streets, the Cathedral and the River Irk. Sir William Bailey, at the School between 1848 and 1852 remembered that "When he was a boy they played on the waste ground belonging to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, were sometimes they were caught and admonished by the stationmaster and nearly frightened to death."

                                                   The Second School at Long Millgate, built in 1776, showing its proximity to the River Irk

For over one hundred years, the School was keen to move out of the city. However, in the meantime, various strategies enabled the School to occupy the boys and to begin running sports clubs. The School was given permission by Chetham's Hospital to use their small yard for hockey practice twice a week, though it was not big enough for other sports. In addition, the School began renting playing fields in Lower Broughton, known colloquially as "The Cliff", which were used for cricket, rugby and football, and for Sports' Days. Eventually, in 1896, a group of Old Mancunians decided to fundraise to buy the site outright, and in addition to purchase a similar field on the south side of the City. A Playing Fields Committee was formed with the resolution: "That a committee of Old Grammar School boys be formed to raise a sum of Ten Thousand Pounds for the purpose of purchasing two Playing Fields for the use of the Manchester Grammar School Boys, one Field to be situated on the North Side of the City and the other on the South." The site at "The Cliff", in total 5.2 acres, was sold to the School for £3700 in 1898.

Ian Bailey, writing in Ulula in 1991, remembers playing football at The Cliff in the 1920s:

"The ground consisted of two fullsized pitches, a Babes' pitch, and a cricket square. There was also a pavilion. The cul-de-sac that ran alongside the ground was called Hugh Oldham Drive and it still is, although I don't suppose anyone living there today knows why it is so called. The ground....is flat, but situated by the river Irwell: it was extremely heavy from October onwards. And there was an additional hazard. Since the Irwell ran fairly closely behind one goal, a hard rising shot was liable to finish in the river, so we had to dash for a long pole with a net on the end and fish the ball out."

                                                                                                The Pavilion at "The Cliff", c. 1910s

"The Cliff" was an invaluable asset to the School prior to the move to Old Hall Lane. It continued to be used after the move to Rusholme whilst the new pitches were being prepared and was also used by Broughton Rangers Rugby League Club. However, it was not ideal for the School to rely on fields that were "off-site", as Geoffrey Stone (OM 1929 - 1936) recalled -

"The school had playing fields at .....'The Cliff’, at Kersal. This meant taking a bus from under the arches of Exchange Station, then walking what then seemed quite a distance. After the game, often cold and muddy, we only had cold water in washbasins to clean up, then I had the weary journey home – walk, bus, walk, tram, walk – misery on a dark winter’s day! Then, in 1931 it was the new school and, for me, euphoria!.... after games on the school field I could soon be in a hot bath at home. Life was unbelievably transformed."

It was a relief for the Governors, as well as boys and staff, when at Easter 1933 all was ready at Rusholme, and the fields in Salford were surplus to requirements. The Guardian reported:

"This summer, for the first time, the boys of the Manchester Grammar School will play cricket on the expanse of the green field before the school Already the sight of a large tractor, a mower, and rollers may have given a hint of unusual activity to observers in Old Hall Lane. To-day two practice nets and the patches worn by batsman and bowler gave weight to these presages of summer, and a groundsman was to be seen marking out the pitches. On Monday the form matches begin, while on the following Saturday the first school match of the season will be played.

Hithero the Grammar School has been using its old ground at the Cliff and another, of greater convenience because of its closeness to the school, beside the University athletic ground. This year the Cliff will be given up. It has been decided to retain the other ground, however, and at present levelling work, intended to increase the playing space, is in progress."

In October 1935, the Building Committee reported that -

"The Committee considered on a reference from the Governors at their last meeting, a formal offer from the Salford City Council for the purchase of the playing fields in Lower Broughton Road for £4500. The Chairman of the Governors reported that since the last meeting he had approached certain friends of Salford and of the School, and, as a result, a sum of £500 had been received or promised to the School subject to the sale of the field being completed with Salford City Council, thereby bringing the purchase price, in effect, to £5000. 

After discussion it was resolved to recommend that the offer of the Salford City Council of the sum of £4500 for the purchase of the Cliff Playing Field together with the buildings thereon be accepted, subject to the approval of the Board of Education and of the Ministry of Health."

The Cliff had had its day and the connection was thus formally ended in 1935, when Salford City Council purchased the site. A plaque remains to commemorate the purchase and the prior connection with the School:

In later years, "The Cliff" was first leased and then bought by Manchester United F.C. as a training ground, and in the 1950s floodlights were erected. The fields were used for first team training as well as youth team fixtures until 1999. In that year, Alex Ferguson decided to move first team training to a more secure site at Carrington. However, the club still owns the site and there are plans for it to be used by the Manchester United Women's team, as well as continuing to be used for youth training and fixtures.

Below are some photographs of "The Cliff" in recent times:


Dan Lewis

1 Like Posted one month ago

Fascinating, I wasn't aware of the MGS connection! Hardly their top priority, but hopefully INEOS invest in the Cliff, given its dilapidated state reported upon last year. (Any improvements since?) I wouldn't be surprised if they sold it off, however…

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