When I was a boy the IRA sometimes set off bombs in London. I’d never even been to London and it was 200 miles away so the bombs may well have exploded in another country. However on summer's afternoon in 1996 the IRA parked a truck in central Manchester - only seven miles from home - and the bomb lying in it exploded causing £1.4 billion worth of damage. Here I am on Corporation Road near the seat of the explosion.
At 9:20am on Saturday 15th June 1996 two men parked a truck illegally on Corporation Road which lies next to the Arnadale Centre, the main indoor shopping area. They set a timer in the back of the truck. It was connected to a 1500-kilogram bomb (it would become the biggest bomb detonated in Great Britain since World War 2.) Wearing hooded jackets, baseball caps and sunglasses they walked away, leaving the hazard lights on. Within three minutes a traffic warden stuck a parking ticket on the front window of the truck.
Twenty minutes later the IRA telephoned a coded warning to Granada Studios saying the bomb would explode in an hour. The police were called which sparked a mammoth evacuation. As Saturday was the main shopping day the city was especially busy. Tens of thousands of extra visitors were probably there as England was hosting the Euro '96 football championships and Russia were playing Germany match in Manchester the next day. All the emergency services were shocked into action and set about moving 75,000 people out of the area
The bomb squad arrived from Liverpool base and tried to defuse the bomb using a remote-controlled device. They ran out of time and had to leave. The bomb exploded at 11:17 am and the main infrastructure of nearby buildings - department stores and office blocks - were devastated beyond repair. The bomb was unusually large by the IRA’s standards: only four months earlier they'd left a bomb in London's Canary Wharf financial district but it was much smaller. The power of the bomb in Manchester reached the roots of so many buildings that it triggered a regeneration of the area that took nine years to finish.
Thanks to the tenacity of the emergency services nobody died, not even tramps and beggars. About 200 people were injured despite the strength of the blast (only the bomb in Bishopsgate in London caused more damage financially.) The bombing was immediately condemned by the British, Irish and American governments. Five days after the blast the IRA claimed responsibility while regretting causing injury to civilians. The perpetrators have never been caught.
On a Sunday afternoon I strolled down through Piccadilly Gardens, passed the Arnadale Centre and arrived at Corporation Street. I took a few photos. I’d printed off a few shots of the street after the blast, most showing the sky bridge connecting the Arndale Centre with neighbouring buildings. It was severely damaged but didn't collapse into the road (a new one has been built.) I walked down the street that in June 1996 took on the appearance of an apocalyptic film. I walked down toward Balloon Street where the truck had been left (it's now tram stop.) I'm not sure if I walked on the very spot where a 15m wide crater had been left. The explosion could be heard 15 miles away and caused a mushroom cloud to rise above the city. It’s a miracle nobody was killed. The police thought they'd found some dead bodies but they were shop mannequins blasted through shop windows. I walked up and down the street and saw the glass domes of the Corn Exchange and the Royal Exchange that had been blown in. There seemed to be a few retractable bollards about the place blocking vehicular access to certain areas.
I got a few funny looks when I set the camera timer and had my photo taken with the red letter box that withstood the bomb blast and still stands solid. There’s a wee memorial brass plaque on it. This post box was removed as the area was redeveloped but put back. I did a salute and left.