Written by Dr John Piprani and Alexandra McGaughrin Cross

The Cornbrook is a culverted watercourse that rises in east Manchester, and on its journey west, travels below The University of Manchester campus before finally emptying into the Manchester Ship Canal (behind the eponymous tram stop). The name ‘Cornbrook’ is a derivation of Crane Brook, or the brook with cranes (Ekwall 1959: 122), which disappeared from the English countryside in the 1600s (Nick Overton 2021, personal communication). If this derivation is correct, it indicates two things: firstly, the longevity of the brook and its cultural significance; secondly, its original attractiveness as a landscape feature.

A stone sign with the words Cornbrook view carved. The sign is reclaimed from demolished terraced housing and it sits in the wall of Bennett Brothers scrap metal merchants at the western end of Cornbrook Road.

A sign reclaimed from demolished terraced housing sitting in the wall of Bennett Brothers scrap metal merchants, at the western end of Cornbrook Road.

In its present incarnation, the route of the culverted Cornbrook runs under and beyond the university campus, linking together local and university communities. To explore these connected social histories, we created a digital interactive map that reveals the route of the hidden Cornbrook watercourse by highlighting clues within the present landscape. Photograph, text, and video are used to tell the social histories associated with the various sections of the course, such as Greenheys.

Screenshot of Professor Grevel Lindop and Dr John Piprani from a short film, embedded within the digital map, about locating the childhood home of Thomas de Quincey that sat directly behind the current university campus.

Screenshot of Dr John Piprani (left) and Professor Grevel Lindop (right) from a short film, embedded within the digital map, about locating the childhood home of Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859), who described the Cornbrook as running in front of his house in Greenheys.

Our aim was twofold: firstly, to show how research within the university can be used to promote social justice, equality, and diversity; secondly, to offer new opportunities for local communities to engage with work produced by staff and students in the School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures. Researching and exploring this route has developed partnerships with external cultural organisations and practitioners, as well as important local social projects.

The digitality of the map allows for the exploration of the Cornbrook at home on a laptop, or on a smartphone whilst actually walking the route. Besides helping achieve the requisite number of daily steps, walking the current Cornbrook provides a different, but perhaps no less engaging experience than it would have done when it was populated by cranes. The map can be accessed here, and the route can be explored by pressing the ‘Present’ button (see screenshot below). We hope you enjoy your own walk along the Cornbrook!

Screenshot of the interactive map, tracing the course of the Cornbrook from Pomona Island through to Ardwick. The Present button is circled.

Screenshot of the interactive map (‘Present’ button circled), tracing the course of the Cornbrook from Pomona Island through to Ardwick.


Ekwall, E. 1959. ‘Cornbrook’, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. 4th ed. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Project duration: April 2022 – Present

Project lead: Dr John Piprani (Dept. of CAHAE, UoM)

Internal partners:

  • Donna Sherman (UoM Map Library)
  • Grant Collier (UoM Heritage Assistant)
  • Dr Kerry Pimblott (Dept. of History, SALC, UoM)
  • Grevel Lindop (retired Professor of Romantic Literature, SALC, UoM)
  • John Mcauliffe (Professor of Creative Writing and Modern Literature, SALC, UoM)
  • Dr Joanna Taylor (Dept. of English and American Studies and Creative Writing, SALC, UoM)
  • Martin Dodge (Dept. of Geography, SEED, UoM)

External partners:

  • Cornerstone Homeless Centre
  • Rachele Evaroa and Frankie Coker (The Old Abbey Taphouse)
  • Amanda Croome and Sophie Garforth (The Cornerstone Centre)
  • Daisy Courtauld (filmmaker)
  • Olly Storr (Community Engagement Manager, Bruntwood Science Park)
  • Rafe Conn (filmmaker)

A full list of contributors is provided at the end of the digital walk.

Funding source: SALC Social Responsibility Award


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