Didsbury is a suburban area of the City of Manchester, in Greater Manchester, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Mersey, south of Manchester City Centre, in the southern half of the Greater Manchester Urban Area. It is a dormitory community comprising a resident population of just over 14,000 people. As a result of its location on Wilmslow Road, its commutership and relatively large student population means Didsbury is often congested due to 'the busiest bus corridor in Europe'.
Historically a part of Lancashire, there are records of Didsbury existing as a small hamlet as early as the 13th century, with its early history dominated by its association with Withington under a feudal estate, which covered other areas in what is now the south of Manchester. During the 18th century, Didsbury was being described as a township separate from outside influence. In 1745 Charles Edward Stuart crossed the Mersey at Didsbury in the Jacobite march south from Manchester to Derby, and again in the subsequent retreat.
Didsbury was largely rural until the mid-nineteenth century, in which it experienced rapid socioeconomic development and urbanisation due to the Industrial Revolution, and Manchester's growing level of industrialisation. Introduced into the inner boundaries of Manchester in 1904, Didsbury was integrated into the city 45 years after it gained city status perhaps in part to the improvements made to, and the grdaual increase in use of, the railway network. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was formed in Didsbury in 1889.
A charter granted in about 1260 shows that a corn-grinding mill was operating in Didsbury, along the River Mersey, but the earliest reference to Didsbury is in a document dating from 1235, recording a grant of land for the building of a chapel. The church was originally called St Oswald, renamed as St James in 1855. It underwent major refurbishment in 1620 and again in the 19th century, although most of the stonework visible today dates from the 17th century. A parsonage was built next to one of the two public houses that flanked the nearby village green, Ye Olde Cock Inn, so-called because of the cock fighting that used to take place there. The parsonage soon gained a reputation for being haunted; servants refused to sleep on the premises, and it was abandoned in 1850. Local alderman Fletcher Moss bought the house in 1865, and lived in it for more than 40 years. In 1902, he installed wrought iron gates at the entrance to the parsonage's garden, which, because of the building's reputation, became known locally as "the gates to Hell". The parsonage became a museum, now closed, but the gardens are still open to the public. The area around St James Church has the highest concentration of listed buildings in Manchester, outside the city centre.
Didsbury was one of the few places between Stretford and Stockport where the River Mersey could be forded, which made it significant for troop movements during the English Civil War, in which Manchester was on the Parliamentarian side. The Royalist commander, Prince Rupert, stationed himself at Didsbury Ees, to the south of Barlow Moor. It is also likely that Bonnie Prince Charlie crossed the Mersey at Didsbury in 1745, in the Jacobite march south from Manchester to Derby, and again in the subsequent retreat.
Jewish immigrants started to arrive in Manchester from the late-18th century, initially settling mainly in the suburbs to the north of the city. From the 1890s onwards, many of them moved to what were seen as the more "sophisticated" suburbs in the south, such as Withington and Didsbury. The influx of Jewish immigrants led to Didsbury being nicknamed "Yidsbury" and Palatine Road, a main road through West Didsbury, "Palestine Road".
During the Victorian expansion of Manchester, Didsbury developed as a prosperous settlement; a few mansions from the period still exist on Wilmslow Road between Didsbury Village and Parrs Wood to the east and Withington to the north, but they have now been converted to nursing homes and offices. The opening of the Midland Railway line in 1880 contributed greatly to the rapid growth in the population of Didsbury, with stations at Didsbury and Withington and West Didsbury offering easy rail connections to Manchester Central Station. The line closed in 1967, although Didsbury station building remained standing until its demolition in the 1980s. The station clock and water fountain have survived, dedicated to local doctor and campaigner for the poor, Dr. J. Milson Rhodes.
On 28 April 1910, French pilot Louis Paulhan landed his Farman biplane in Barcicroft Fields, Pytha Fold Farm, on the borders of Withington, Burnage and Didsbury, at the end of the first powered flight from London to Manchester, with one short overnight stop at Lichfield. Paulhan beat the British contender, Claude Grahame-White, winning a £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail. Two special trains were chartered to Burnage Station to take spectators to the landing. Paulhan's progress was followed throughout by a special train carrying his wife, Henri Farman and his mechanics. A house in Paulhan Road, is marked by a blue plaque to commemorate his achievement.
By 1764, Didsbury was described as a township in its own right. It became a civil parish in 1866, and in 1876 was incorporated into the Withington Urban Sanitary District, superseded in 1894 by the creation of Withington Urban District. In 1904, Withington Urban District became a part of the City of Manchester, and Didsbury was absorbed into the city, although it remained a civil parish until 1910.
Until 2004, most of the area formed the Didsbury ward of Manchester City Council with a section of West Didsbury contained within the Barlow Moor ward. However, boundary changes in 2004 resulted in Didsbury being split mainly between the two new wards of Didsbury East and Didsbury West while a small section of West Didsbury was incorporated into the new ward of Chorlton park. Didsbury East is represented by Liberal Democrat councillors Helen Fisher, Tony Parkinson and David Sandiford. Didsbury West is represented by Liberal Democrat councillors Graham Shaw, Neil Trafford and Mark Clayton. All wards within Manchester elect in thirds on a four yearly cycle.
Didsbury, at (53.4166, -2.2311), is located below the midpoint of the Greater Manchester Urban Area, south of Manchester City Centre. To the north, Didsbury is bordered by Withington, Chorlton-cum-Hardy and Burnage, to the west by Northenden, to the east and south-east by Heaton Moor and Cheadle, and by Gatley to the south.
The River Mersey forms Didsbury's southern and southwestern boundaries and certain stretches of the river also demarcate the boundaries of the City of Manchester. The area is generally considered to be roughly enclosed by Princess Parkway to the west, Kingsway to the east and the Ball Brook, just north of Lapwing Lane/Fog Lane to the north. This northern boundary is marked by a boundary stone in the front garden wall of a house on the west side of Wilmslow Road. A "country trail" passes from West Didsbury to East, named the Trans Pennine Trail (National Cycle Route 62). It was sited along a disused railway track, as part of a nationwide initiative to promote cycling.
Didsbury's built environment has developed around the areas of East Didsbury, West Didsbury, and Didsbury Village, which separates the two. The Albert Park conservation area, covering much of West Didsbury, places planning restrictions on development, alterations to buildings, and pruning of trees. The areas adjacent to the Mersey lie within the river's flood plain, and so have historically been prone to flooding after heavy rainfall. The last major flooding was in the late 1960s. In the 1970s extensive flood mitigation work carried out along the Mersey Valley through Manchester has helped to speed up the passage of floodwater. Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden also acts as an emergency flood basin, storing floodwater until it can be safely released back into the river.
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In 2001, the main industries of employment in Didsbury were 20% property and business services, 15% education, 15% health and social work, 10% retail and wholesale, 9% manufacturing, 6% transport and communications, 5% financial services, 4% hotels and restaurants, 4% construction, 4% public administration and defence, and 8% other. These figures were similar to those from surrounding areas, but Didsbury did have a relatively larger education sector than other nearby wards, perhaps explained by the high density of schools in the area. A significant number of people (12%) commute to areas outside Didsbury; at the 2001 census there were 6,555 jobs in Didsbury, compared with the 7,417 employed residents.
Didsbury Village, the central shopping area along Wilmslow Road, has developed a European-like cafe culture over recent years, with the opening of many new bars, cafes and delicatessens. The original site of Didsbury Village is in the conservation area now known as Didsbury St James, about half a mile (1 km) to the south of what is today's village centre.
The traditional independent retailers are gradually being replaced by multi-national firms, raising fears that Didsbury may lose its individual identity and become a "clone town". The 200-year-old Peacock's Funeral Parlour, one of the few pre-Victorian buildings in the village and regarded by some as the centrepiece of the village, was demolished in the summer of 2005. The owner, United Co-op, blamed changing demographics for the closure of the funeral parlour; with more and more homes being occupied by young professional people, the death rate was falling in the area.
Didsbury Park was also a winner of the Green Flag Award in 2008. It is a community park in Didsbury village centre that comprises a bowls area, creche, football pitch and play area. Once a year, at the Didsbury Festival, pupils from local schools dress up to a theme and meet in the playground of St. Catherine's Primary School, in East Didsbury, from where they parade to Didsbury Park.
Marie Louise Gardens is a relatively small park to the west of the centre of Didsbury. The park was originally owned by the Silkenstadt family as part of the grounds of their house. The land was bequeathed to the people of Manchester by Mrs Silkenstadt in 1904 in memory of her daughter, Marie Louise. The park was at the centre of controversy in 2007 after Manchester City Council proposed to sell a portion of it to a private property developer.
Between 1956 and 1969, the old Capitol Cinema at the junction of Parrs Wood Road and School Lane served as the northern studios of ITV station ABC Weekend Television. Early episodes of The Avengers and Armchair Theatre were made in the studios, as well as programmes such as Opportunity Knocks. ABC closed the site in 1969, on its merger with fellow ITV company Rediffusion. The site was then used briefly by Yorkshire Television until its own facilities in Leeds were ready. In 1970, the studios were bought by Manchester Polytechnic, who used it for cinema and television studies. The building was demolished in the late 1990s, to make way for a residential development.
Wilmslow Road provides Didsbury with a regular bus service due to the strong demand for travel by students along the corridor. The service is cheap and passengers rarely have to wait more than a couple of minutes. According to some analysts, Wilmslow Road is the busiest bus corridor in Europe; however, the route divides into two on its way into the city centre. Didsbury is close to junction 5 of Manchester's ring road, the M60 motorway. Manchester Airport, the busiest airport in the UK outside London, is about 4 miles (6.5 km) to the south.
East Didsbury and Burnage are the nearest railway stations, on the line between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. Didsbury Village and West Didsbury stations were closed in the 1960s. Plans to extend the Manchester Metrolink through Didsbury and beyond were rejected by the government in 2004, due to escalating costs. New plans were drawn up in 2007, with at least some of the money required for the construction of the line planned to come from the proposed Manchester Congestion Charge, which is expected to be implemented in 2012.
Didsbury has a non-selective education system, assessed by the SATs exam. There are seven primary schools and two state comprehensive secondary schools: Parrs Wood High School, a specialist school in arts and technology, and The Barlow RC High School, a specialist science college. The Barlow RC High School is one of those chosen by Manchester Council to benefit from funding made available in wave 4 of the government's Building Schools for the Future programme, a national scheme for the refurbishment and remodelling of every secondary school in England. It is planned to replace all the current buildings, which date back to 1951. Parrs Wood and The Barlow were two of only six schools in Manchester to achieve the Manchester Inclusion Standard in 2007, awarded by Manchester Council to those schools doing innovative work to ensure that all their pupils are able to participate fully in the school’s activities.
Parrs Wood, with about 2,000 pupils on its register, is much larger than the average, and is heavily over-subscribed each year. It was described in its March 2001 Ofsted report as "a very good school with some excellent features". The Barlow RC High School is an average size secondary school, with about 1,000 pupils. It too is regularly over-subscribed. It was described in its October 2003 Ofsted report as "a successful and effective school that is providing a good education for its pupils".
There are two centres of higher education in Didsbury: City College, Manchester's Fielden Campus, which was opened in 1972 by Margaret Thatcher, mostly offers courses in communication and technology; and Manchester Metropolitan University's Didsbury Campus is home to the faculties of health, social care, and education, along with the Broomhurst Hall of Residence.
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The BBC Radio 4 Daily Service programme of Christian worship – the world's oldest continuous radio programme – is often broadcast from Emmanuel Church, on Barlow Moor Road. Two of Didsbury's religious buildings are Grade II listed: Didsbury Methodist Church of St Paul, and the Nazarene Theological College.
Didsbury is not as religiously diverse as some other areas of Manchester. It has the second largest Jewish population in the borough with two synagogues, the Shaare Hayim Synagogue and Sha'are Sedek Synagogue.
Didsbury has two rugby union clubs, Toc H R.F.C. and Old Bedians. Toc H, founded in 1924, plays at Simons Fields, on Ford Lane. Its first team plays in the North Lancashire and Cumbria league. The club runs four senior teams and a youth section, and has run a 10-a-side competition every May since 1951, as a charity fund raiser for local hospices. Old Bedians is based in East Didbury, and was founded in 1954. It regularly fields three senior teams as well as a junior section. Desmond Pastore, believed to be the oldest rugby player in the world, was a founder member of the club, and later became its president. Formerly a player for Sale and Cheshire, Desmond played his last game for Manchester club Egor on his 91st birthday.
Didsbury Cricket Club fields three Saturday teams and two Sunday teams. The first eleven plays in the Cheshire County League Division 1. As well as the five senior teams, the club also has a junior section comprising four age sections between 11 and 18. It is also home to Manchester Waconians Lacrosse Club and Didsbury Grey's Women's Hockey Team, which do not actually play at the site but at grounds in Belle Vue, that were designed for the XVII Commonwealth Games. Northern Tennis Club, in West Didsbury, is one of Manchester's few racquet clubs; it annually plays host to an Association of Tennis Professionals tournament in July.
The Towers, now known as the Shirley Institute, was once the home of engineer Daniel Adamson – the driving force behind the Manchester Ship Canal project – and the venue where the decision to build the canal was taken. The house was designed by Salford architect Thomas Worthington, for the editor and proprietor of the Manchester Guardian, John Edward Taylor.
Daniel Adamson, promoter of the Manchester Ship Canal, lived at The Towers (blue plaque – now the Shirley Institute) on Wilmslow Road from 1874 until his death in 1890. His Grade II listed home, designed by Thomas Worthington for John Edward Taylor, the editor and proprietor of the Manchester Guardian, was the venue for the 1882 meeting at which it was decided to construct the Ship Canal project. Kirsty Howard was the final runner to carry the Queen's Baton at the opening of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, when she was chaperoned by England football captain David Beckham. Born with a rare condition in which her heart is back-to-front, she has been a resident in Didsbury's Francis House Hospice, for which she has raised over £5 million. Lord Marcus Joseph Sieff, the chairman of Marks & Spencer from 1972 to 1982, was born in Didsbury in 1913. Vini Reilly, the lead singer in the Durutti Column, was born in the village in 1953.