5 of the best Manchester urban myths and legends we can't stop talking about that will never die out

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From UFOs to the suburb with no pubs - these epic tales will seemingly live forever.

Every city comes with its own collection of urban legends. Whether you’ve lived here your whole life or are new to the area, you’re bound to come across one at some point. And in an ancient city like Manchester, it’s no surprise that we have quite a few – ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The topic of Manchester urban myths and legends is a particular favourite among the Manchester subreddit community. While the forum does contain plenty of jokers, and conspiracy theories we probably could not repeat here without getting sued, there are some legends that endure. Here are some of our favourites. 

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Underground Manchester

There is a lot of history under Manchester’s streets – from Roman forts to Victorian slums. And there are also multiple tunnels and passages that are not open to the public but have nonetheless captured its imagination. 

One of the definitely real underground networks is the Guardian Telephone Exchange, which was built in the 1950s to enhance communication with other cities in the event of nuclear war. Another one is the underground market underneath Market St, which closed in 1989. 

The Guardian Telephone Exchange is a tunnel network  built in the 1950s to secure communications systems in the event of a nuclear war. The tunnel is underneath what is now Chinatown and one of the entrances is at 55 George Street (pictured. )The Guardian Telephone Exchange is a tunnel network  built in the 1950s to secure communications systems in the event of a nuclear war. The tunnel is underneath what is now Chinatown and one of the entrances is at 55 George Street (pictured. )
The Guardian Telephone Exchange is a tunnel network built in the 1950s to secure communications systems in the event of a nuclear war. The tunnel is underneath what is now Chinatown and one of the entrances is at 55 George Street (pictured. ) | Google Maps

As for the rumoured tunnels, many of these stories originate at Manchester Cathedral. Some people say they were connected to pubs around the city, such as the Ye Old Rovers Return and the Castle and Falcon, neither of which exist anymore. 

Then there’s the Deansgate Tunnel. Located in what is now the Spinningfields area of the city, around 70ft underground, the tunnel was discovered by workmen in 1911. Reports from the time say that it was big enough to fit a horse and cart through. It has never been surveyed, so there is not much information about it. Some have suggested that it is Roman in origin as it appears to lead towards Castlefield and Pomona. 

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The Manchester Pusher

This is one Manchester urban legend that went global. There have been dozens of deaths relating to the Ashton and Rochdale canals in Manchester city centre, which has encouraged rumours of a serial killer nicknamed the Manchester Pusher. 

Most people trace the moniker to the Daily Star newspaper, which first printed a story about the city’s unusually high number of canal deaths in 2015. It was followed by a Channel 4 documentary in 2016, and countless other follow-ups since. Greater Manchester Police have tried very hard to dispel these rumours over the years, saying that most of the canal-related deaths are due to alcohol or suicide. 

Manchester's Gay Village. Credit: GettyManchester's Gay Village. Credit: Getty
Manchester's Gay Village. Credit: Getty | Getty Images

Hulme, ley lines and UFOs

Anyone who has spent any time in Hulme, or with people from Hulme, will know that the area is a magnet for artists, creatives and counter-culture. One new age theory as to why this may be is that the area lies on an intersection of three ley lines. This is the idea that places of spiritual importance – Stonehenge is a famous example – are connected by a web-like network of invisible energy lines. 

Ley lines are also associated with UFO sightings. When Hulme Park was built in 1999, a UFO landing pad was included in the design –  although, to my knowledge, no extra-terrestrials have accepted the invitation so far. 

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John Dee and the Devil

This urban legend is almost as old as Manchester itself. John Dee (1527-1608) was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and considered one of the most influential thinkers of his time, known for his work in mathematics, science, philosophy, astrology and the occult. 

During his time as warden of the Collegiate Church, situated in what is now Chetham's Library, one of the oldest buildings in Manchester, he is said to have summoned the Devil himself. And the ‘evidence’ of the alleged encounter remains in the Chets Library Audit Room to this day – a burn mark said to have been left by the Devil’s hoof. 

No pubs in Whalley Range

The South Manchester suburb is home to many things (Alexandra Park, the British Muslim Heritage Centre, the Bee Gees) but there is one thing it seems to be lacking – pubs. Many people say this is due to an old byelaw, originally written by the Quaker community, that forbids any pubs from being built in the area. 

Of course, there is no historical evidence to back this up. And, while it might not be the nightlife destination neighbouring Chorlton is, there are a few places to grab a drink or two, including the Carlton Club, Nip and Tipple and the Hillary Step.

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