The Stretford Arndale, a shopping centre located in the suburbs of Manchester, was renamed Stretford Mall in 2003 and the ’60s interior was modernised throughout, only it seems that they may have missed a spot.

A whole floor, hidden in  plain sight.

There’s something dated about the centre that’s hard to pin down. Even after refurbishment it feels like a loophole to a previous decade, but find yourself in the forgotten indoor market and that decade you’ve just lost becomes more like four. Set within Stretford Mall is a separate market square that’s just tucked out of view from the main walkways; here the calendar spins backwards to a gloriously sixties set-up. A few stalls are occupied, a butchers, a hairdressers, some clothing units here and there but there’s more to the market than the tenants who are struggling on; there’s a mezzanine level above them and it’s here that the real time warp exists.

It was whilst I stood admiring the textured frieze surrounding the market square, a leftover of the 1969 decor that once covered the entire centre, that the mezzanine level above became apparent. It was like staring through a tear in the fabric of time; it wasn’t altered, it wasn’t hidden yet it wasn’t paid attention to either. Totally isolated and hidden in plain sight.

Looking at an archive image of that old interior still present here in the square there’s that tinge of rose-tinted glamour, the same tinge evident when looking back at Manchester airport back when the departure lounge was framed by enormous Italian chandeliers.

The three units up here on the second floor are the wood-panelled John Andrew Ladies and Gents Hairdressing; a decoratively-tiled Tiles and Tiling of Stretford; and the seemingly quaint brick and net-curtained inn that was O’Brien’s Cafe Bar. The latter is the back-room of the existing O’Brien’s pub that can be accessed from the street-side of the mall, but the room, despite opening out quite brazenly onto more modern parts of the pub, seems to be more or less out of use.

Inside the hairdressing unit there are headshots of all the latest styles at the time and posters that herald the arrival of mousse and all its “magic”. The dates that these units were last in use are vague but it certainly doesn’t look like the place was around to welcome in the ’90s. Next-door, the tile shop is clad with a decorative tiled display in yellow and black, the colours of the symbol of the city – the bee.

Interior of the hairdressers, the posted reads “mousse magic!”

The Arndale, as it was known at the time, was opened in several phases and was one of seven centres that already existed in the UK by the developers Arndale Property Trust. The trust was started in the early ’50s by Arnold Hagenbach and Sam Chippindale, “Arndale” itself being a composite of their names, and Mr Chippindale was present for the opening ceremony. Stretford Arndale was opened six years ahead of the Manchester city-centre Arndale , and was the sixth biggest shopping mall in the country at the time.

The market has caught the eye of others in recent times, with people realising the potential of a space preserved in time as a real-life  film-set. Last year Theatre of Dreams was filmed in much of the market area including the absolutely wonderful Kingfisher Cafe that is still very much in business downstairs. The cafe has wood panel interior with orange furniture and solid corner booths made of plastic; a nostalgist’s dream come true.

The style of the time.

Besides Kingfisher, next to a strange little indoor patio area, in what is effectively a small tunnel (with a bizarre convex ceiling), lies another old unit but it’s hidden behind shutters and locked away to even the operations manager of the building. If you could get in there and pass through this unit into the next you’d find yourself in El Patio. One story about this closed down pub, and indeed the shopping centre, is that it’s the backdrop to The Smiths song Reel Around The Fountain. The fountain in question refers to a central water feature no longer installed in the mall (they also had fish tanks dotted around the centre) and the line “slap me on the patio” harks to the rough and ready nature of the customers who frequented El Patio.

Reel around the fountain

Slap me on the patio

I’ll take it now

Captions read: “one of the most attractive features of the decor of the shopping centre is this indoor pool and fountain” and “this seemingly tangled web of steel is in reality part of the attractive light fitting inside the precinct.”

Over the years the story that Muhammad Ali opened the centre has been ingrained into the fabric of the community, even the centre themselves thought that he had visited three months after the opening to cut the ribbon on the American-owned Safeway store, and there’s very little information freely available to suggest otherwise, unless you do a little digging.

In the office, operations manager (and former Guardian Exchange employee) Mike Russell, shows us a scrapbook of archive images relating to the mall over the years. Press cuttings and photographs of car shows, belly dancers, live camels, beauty queen parades and an elusive press clipping of Muhammad Ali’s visit showing him backing away from a 1,000-strong crowd.

Both The Guardian online archive and the press clipping uncovered in the office from The Journal confirm that Ali did indeed go to the centre but he didn’t open it. Ali was at the centre two years after it opened on October 12 1971, as part of an Ovaltine promotion.

Ali, in a much more timorous fashion than we associate him with, declared

“I am the greatest…and so is Ovaltine”.

Clearly uncomfortable with the sales pitch he added,

“Of course, I’m being paid to say that. But it’s true.”

After an hour of minor hysteria and injuries, Ali called an end to his visit stating that if the crowd, who had smashed the doorway to the shop, didn’t back away then he would have to go.

“I was scared of that crowd. I had no idea it would be as big as that.”

Both images of Ali’s visit are from The Journal, 12 Oct 1971. Words Howard Booth, Picture Alfred Markey.

Part of the archives in the Mall’s collection include photographs of a 1973 beauty contest. The winner of ‘Miss Stretford’ that year was June Pickering and, intrigued to know where she is now, the centre released images of the contest to local press in October 2011 in the hope to trace the winner. A few weeks later they did so. The former beauty queen now lives in New Zealand with her family and bears the apposite married name of Mrs. Perfect.

Replications of archive images are with thanks to the management at Stretford Mall. Photos by Shirley Bainbridge.

Stretford Mall [MAP]

Stretford Arndale Centre

Stretford, Manchester M32 9BD, UK

+44 161 865 1243

This article originally appeared on The Skyliner. Get in touch with the author @skylinermcr