I’ve lived on and around Chapel Street now for the past five years. Firstly moving into an old Victorian building that once housed families of the people who stood trial in the opposing County Court, I’ve been smitten with the charm, character and community that’s seemingly at the heart of this forgotten neighbourhood ever since.
Following 2017, when my life consisted of nothing more than drinking Fosters in The Old Pint Pot and eating microwaved Carbonaras from the Co-op, Chapel Street has transformed into a buzzing neighbourhood that now houses some of the city’s most impressive independent businesses.
With everything from an award-winning Italian restaurant to cross-continent coffee roasters and art collectives, the district has placed itself firmly on the map as a must-visit destination with a ‘support local’ mantra. It’s a mere 20 minute walk from town that comes without the pretentiousness and intimidating nature of some city centre spaces.
The Rich History of Salford’s Chapel Street
What we now know Chapel Street to be is a million miles away from its humble beginnings, as its legacy can be traced back as early as 1806, when it became the first UK street to be officially lit by gas. It was one of the main roads in the country, forming part of the A6 from London to Glasgow, and soon became home to James Prescott Joule, a pioneering physicist who studied the nature of heat in the building that still stands proudly on the Crescent sitting atop Chapel Street.
It was from here that the scientist developed the law of energy conservation, which, in turn, led him to develop the first law of thermodynamics. The energy unit ‘joule’ is also named after the physicist that was a regular dweller of the Salford suburb. Along with James Joule, in the mid 1800s The Crescent and Chapel Street would also become a focal point for the work of German philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
It is believed that the pair would frequent The Crescent pub, known as The Red Dragon back then, a now boarded up institution that saw the pair pen the majority of their Communist Manifesto. A piece of literature that spearheaded much political movement across the 20th century, the manifesto presented an analytical approach to class structures and struggles alongside the complications of capitalism – something that they’d witnessed and researched in the surrounding areas.
The Proper Boozer
Alongside Marx and Engels, there have been plenty of people putting the world to right in Salford boozers, some of which only a stone’s throw away from Chapel Street. Take the New Oxford for example, where you’ll find most of its clientele gathered on stools around the bar – something that’s always a good sign of a pub that puts Instagram last and its community first.
The King’s Arms is the same, it might not be directly on Chapel Street, but it’s a pub where you know the Guinness will be great, poured fresh from the tap with a four leaf clover stamp in the foam. There’s board games, a jukebox with a catalogue of era-defining hits and even a pub cat, Charlie who’s often welcoming guests with a territorial purr or rub against the shins.
Joule, named after James Joule and one of Chapel Street’s more recent additions has adopted the same attitude, something learned from frequenting family locals as one-half of the duo behind the bar, Kim explained: “We’ve been open for two-months now and I’m so excited for the prospects of Chapel Street. It’s such a vibrant part of the city and since opening we’ve been welcomed so lovingly into the community.
“Everyone works together around here and it’s nice to be part of that. Even though we’ve only been open a short amount of time, we already have our regulars. We wanted to create a pub that people want to keep coming back to – with great beer at the heart!”
There’s also no chance I could write about Chapel Street’s greatest boozers without mentioning The Old Pint Pot, a River Irwell staple that’s home to one of the best beer gardens in the city. Now owned by Phoenix Pubs, this hasn’t taken away from its character – well, apart from replacing the angsty teenage room band posters with something slightly more ‘family friendly’.
You’ll find it full every evening, whether it’s hosting an open mic, a group of students huddled around the snooker table or a 30º stampede of sun lovers, desperate for the best seat in the house.
The Old Pint Pot has sat atop Chapel Street since the mid nineties, serving its fair share of skint students and burnt-out builders – but a restaurant that’s at the forefront of the street’s regeneration, Vero Moderno has also formed quite the legacy for itself.
The Italian restaurant opened its doors in 2016, and has since gone on to win a number of awards, including an entry in the Good Food Guide and a glowing report from the Sunday Times’ esteemed restaurant reviewers. It’s family owned and family run, led by charismatic Beppe, who has dedicated all his food passion to Vero Moderno’s delicious menu. Another Chapel Street restaurant that deserves a mention here is Porta Tapas on Bexley Square. It’s another idyllic space, serving simplistic tapas and jugs of Sangria – inspired by the shores of Northeastern Spain.
Speaking of Chapel Street, Beppe said: “Vero Moderno was one of the first restaurants to open up in the newly regenerated area of Chapel Street, with a vision to be at the heart of a growing community of bars, restaurants and retail units. Since 2016, the area has grown into a vibrant destination spot for Manchester’s foodies and bar-goers, and with Peel park and Salford University within walking distance, the area is always well worth a visit over the Irwell from Manchester’s city centre. That community spirit is strong between local businesses, who all support each other in the growth of the area.”
Directly opposite Vero Moderno you’ll find GK Gallery, a forerunner of Chapel Street’s boom. Owned by artist, Gina Kirby, the intimate space sells a range of homemade bakes and great coffee, which saw it become a bit of a haven during lockdown as you were always guaranteed consoling slices of cake and even better company.
What’s different about GK, is that the space also holds an art gallery upstairs on the terrace that showcases a range of work from local artists, Gina included. As you walk in, you’re greeted by the comforting scent of baking sponge, and usually Gina herself or her lovely Mum who runs the cafe alongside her daughter.
Another couple of coffee houses that have popped up around Chapel Street this year include Inner West and Procaffeinated. Inner West is an independent shop serving pastries, lunch items and coffee from its spot as part of the Filaments new build apartments. Owner, Nicola had this to say about Chapel Street and its support for businesses like hers: “The Chapel Street revolution has already begun and out of it are some great places to visit!
“We picked up on that vibe and knew we’d chosen the right place to set up our very first coffee shop. It’s the perfect blend of grunge and grit mixed in with modernised apartment builds and hospitality venues. We’re always correcting people on the location of our shop and take pride in saying it’s in Salford.
“Salford has always had ‘salt of the earth people’ and now those from outside the area who chose to live or visit get to experience that. Once people cotton on to Chapel Street and Salford gets the recognition it deserves then it will boom and we are stoked that we get to be a part of it!” Inner West is also neighbours with Joule, and as soon as the Filament’s other units are let out, the space will no doubt be similar to what we’ve seen happen with Deansgate Square – a cluster of businesses offering an exceptional hospitality experience, just a stones throw away from the city centre.
Procaffeinated has a slightly different approach to cafe culture, serving as a dreamy space to enjoy a spot of Mediterranean brunch alongside bread and pastries that are baked in-store. Daniel and Ilaria, the couple behind the business, wanted to bring a taste of the culture they’d experienced during their travels across Europe, and Procaffeinated has achieved just that – it’s a rustic space with an open plan kitchen and menu of aesthetically pleasing flavour combinations.
But, If you’re looking for freshly made vegan food that encompasses ethically sourced produce and a zero-waste approach to its menu, you must pay Deli Lama a visit. The deli/cafe is one of Chapel Street’s OGs, originally serving up delicious, affordable brunch and lunch options, but is now more focused on its offering of sustainable food and homeware products, including refillable soap, washing powder and shower gel, as well as organic vegetable and vegan tinned goods.
Chapel Street’s Underground Arts Scene
Those familiar with the area might also cite its hidden but burgeoning arts scene as being just another reason why Chapel Street is a creative mecca. Islington Mill, an art space that’s housed in an abandoned mill, was established in 2000 and now serves as affordable studio spaces for the city’s artists. From ceramicists, to tattoo artists, jewellery designers and musicians, the mill has continued to be a cross-disciplinary vibrant network for the surrounding community.
And it doesn’t stop there, as a mere 5 minutes walk around the corner, you’ll stumble across Partisan Collective, an inclusive, accessible, not-for-profit organisation that hosts a variety of art, music craft and activism meet-ups centred around the local scene. Anyone is able to sign-up to be a member, gaining access to book clubs, DJ classes, art exhibitions, life drawing, film clubs and everything in between.
What’s Next for Chapel Street?
After speaking with the current residents of Chapel Street, there seems to be nothing but optimism, excitement and a never-ending list of ideas for the historic Salford suburb. There’s continuous developments around the area at the moment, endless amounts of flats and new businesses deciding to make the move – with M3 Perform, a class led gym due to open in the next few months.
“One of our key values at M3 Perform is community. It’s what we have built our gym on and we are delighted to be joining the ever growing Chapel Street community,” it said.
“We look forward to working with local residents and providing the very best in health, fitness and lifestyle, alongside information and training. We’re also excited to work with and support all the other local businesses in the area and make Chapel Street the truly special place it is set out to be.”
There’s been talk of areas further up the Crescent, such as the old police and fire stations, being transformed into European-style food markets, complete with live music and a range of street food vendors, but nothing is confirmed as of yet.
Chapel Street has both the charm and grit of Salford encased into a community that longs to support local. It’s impossible to compare the street to anywhere else in the city at the moment, as many are yet to discover its undeniable attractiveness to both business owners and those looking for an alternative evening out.
It’s got historic pubs, craft beer bars and restaurants that serve food cooked from the soul. It’s absolutely one of Greater Manchester’s current best kept secrets, that in a few years time will no doubt transform into a prosperous district built on its pioneering origins.