Visible from three of the bridges that cross the River Irwell in downtown Manchester, the bricked-up Victoria Arches (otherwise known as the Cathedral Steps) were once a part of a planned industrial strip that would hang over the river, but now they are a crumbling secret of the city’s underground.
Constructed in 1838 when one of the banks of the river was built up to accommodate a new road, creating a large underground space in the process, the Victoria Arches were part of a larger plan to turn the waterway into a civilian thoroughfare. The arches opened out over the river and acted as manufacturing and industrial spaces for everything from wine merchants to printers to machine makers. The arches were accessible via wooden staircases that led down from Victoria Street. In addition, a couple of wooden passenger landings were created where tourists and locals alike could take pleasure cruises down the Irwell. However the passenger landings, while popular, were closed after flooding in the Irwell repeatedly damaged them.
The industrial spaces were eventually closed down thanks to their severely polluting the river, and during World War II the arches were converted into underground bomb shelters. Extra brick defense walls were put in place and the interiors were fitted with entrances that opened into local businesses. After the war, the spaces were bricked up and simply left to be forgotten.
Today the abandoned arches still sit silent beneath the city. There has been talk of opening them to tourists, but so far they are simply the purview of urban explorers.
Know Before You Go
Very hard to visit. Old entrances visible from Greengate Square.