Thomas Street, Manchester
Written by Kate Feld
Manchester’s Northern Quarter is a vibrant, quickly changing neighbourhood, and Thomas Street bisects it, running from the atmospheric canalside area to blocks of brick buildings adorned with Manhattanesque fire escapes.
Thomas Street and its tributaries are home to art galleries, music venues, independent shops, and cafés full of young creatives tapping away at their laptops – the new Manchester in peaceful co-existence with the old.
Novelist Sarah Butler visited the neighbourhood as a child, and remembers marvelling at the poetry embedded in the pavements (Lemn Sissay’s Flags, one of many public art installations in the district). Returning to live here as an adult, she discovered it anew: “I love its mixture of dereliction and newness; it feels like a dynamic place,” she says. “It’s a very sociable area, and it’s busy day and night.”
Thomas Street is at the centre of a dense network of small streets and alleys, where hip restaurants and shiny new apartments perch beside more humble businesses. “I love the architecture here; it’s eclectic,” Butler says. Highlights include the façade of the old fish market (now housing a block of flats) and Manchester Craft and Design Centre, in the old fruit and vegetable market on Oak Street. “It’s a similar feeling to the original market, with many individuals trading in one place,” she says. “I like the fact that you can watch an artisan making something – crafts, ceramics, jewellery – and then buy it. It’s perfect for presents, and there’s a lovely café.
“My absolute favourite place in the Northern Quarter is Bonbon – it’s a little shop where they make their own chocolates,” she says. Of the many cafés and restaurants, Butler recommends Teacup for casual meals and Sugar Junction for luncheons served on china. But she says her top spot is probably the characterful Koffee Pot, which just moved around the corner to Oldham Street: “It’s an unpretentious place that’s great for breakfast on a weekend – I love their smoked-haddock rarebit crumpets.”
This neighbourhood has a long association with textiles, and that history lives on in its vintage clothing boutiques as well as Butler’s beloved fabric emporium Abakhan. Meanwhile, resident artists flock to art supply store Fred Aldous, which also sells highly covetable gifts and stationery. Butler particularly likes their fine selection of paper. Like many writers, she takes her paper very seriously.
Sarah Butler is a novelist based in Manchester. Her debut novel, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, was published by Picador UK in 2013 and translated into 15 languages. Her second novel, Before The Fire, is set in Manchester, and is to be published in March 2015.