WITH developers staking a £1 billion claim to build 2,700 homes over the next 15 years on an island in Trafford, the fascinating history of this forgotten corner of Greater Manchester has come to light.

Pomona Island is now a wasteland, a well-known fly-tipping hotspot and all-round unloved pocket of land off the Manchester Ship Canal – and it has been like that for decades.

Developers Peel L&P have recently submitted huge plans to transform the area into thousands of homes, shops, offices, leisure facilities and green spaces over the next few years, with work due to be completed by 2035.

But, according to archives, the huge area of land surrounding the Pomona Metrolink stop has not always been derelict – it was once the beating heart of Manchester’s entertainment scene.

During the industrial revolution, the island was home to botanical gardens and to the Royal Pomona Palace theatre – which was bigger than the Albert Hall and a popular venue for Manchester’s revellers.

Shortly after its entertainment hey-day, the island then became docklands serving the Manchester Ship Canal.

Developers have been trying for years to build on the now deserted land, but local campaigners and dog walkers previously lobbied Trafford Council to keep it untouched.

But now, through a series of planning applications, Peel L&P are set to transform the area.

The site, which straddles Salford, Trafford and Manchester, has seen scant development, unlike its neighbour Salford Quays.

Now, before the place is brought back to life once more, we take a look at its fascinating history.

Opened originally in 1845 by William and Joseph Beardsley Cornbrook, Strawberry Gardens was at the centre of the Manchester’s leisure activities.

Just south of the congested city centre, it was an idyllic escape from the smog and smoke of the industrial revolution.

But due to the abundance of horticulture there, the name was later changed to Pomona Gardens – after the Roman goddess of fruit.

Visitors of the day could enjoy everything from a shooting gallery, a billiard room and flying swings to an archery ground, a bowling green and a hedge maze.

It was promoted as the countryside without the need for a train journey, according to writer and tour guide Hayley Flynn, who added: “It had a variety of amusements that very much appealed to the Victorians.”

Growing interest in horticulture and flora meant that thousands flocked to Pomona – with up to 100,000 visitors coming along in the first year – making it a focal point for the city-region.

Just 20 years earlier, in 1827, Manchester-based scientist, John Dalton, had founded the Royal Horticultural and Botanical Gardens nearby, in Old Trafford.

Contemporary studies found that the area, south of the bustling city centre, had cleaner air and was ideal for sports and recreation.

According to Chetham’s Library: “Pomona Gardens was one of the most important pleasure gardens in 19th century Manchester.

“The gardens were small, but were within easy walking distance of Manchester, and were advertised a place to ‘enjoy all the pleasures of a rural fete, without the expense of a railway trip’.”

Despite the roaring success of the area’s growth, businessman James Reilly felt there was more to be done.

He purchased the gardens in 1868 for £75,000 and decided that indoor entertainment was the way forward, especially in light of the incessant Manchester rain.

The Royal Pomona Palace was born.

The building was 216ft long and 220ft wide, with a clock tower in the centre that was 100ft high. 

Completed in 1875, it was the jewel in the city’s crown, seating between 20,000 and 30,000 people.

At the time it was the biggest concert hall in the country and almost four times bigger than the Royal Albert Hall, which seated 5,272.

The main concert hall was surrounded by several pavilions, which often played host to political rallies featuring the heavyweights of the day, including Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

There was also a less than unsavoury side to the entertainment on offer at Pomona, too.

Exhibitions up and down the country became popular as people returned from travelling to exotic lands. They often brought back strange animals, objects and even human ‘souvenirs’.

These ‘anthropological exhibitions’ became increasingly popular in Europe, and Manchester was no exception.

Some wealthy travellers even arranged for whole ‘tribes’ to be exhibited.

One of the most well-known people to do just that was Carl Hagenbeck, who brought dozens of people from then Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – to be displayed at Pomona in 1885.

Competition for visitors heated up in the late 19th century, with nearby Belle Vue, which then had a zoo, becoming increasingly popular.

The fate of Pomona’s grand palace and its surrounding gardens were eventually sealed on June 22, 1887, when a huge explosion at a nearby chemical factory left the building badly damaged.

The venues closed shortly after and the island was then identified as ideal for dockland.

Owner Mr Reilly was paid £75,000 and the gardens disappeared.

Pomona’s dock yard chapter lasted into the 1970s, which saw the closure of the docks.

There was then a short-lived attempt to bring entertainment back to Pomona, and Manchester’s first nightclub on a ship – called North Westward Ho – was briefly popular.

The club’s owners later purchased the De Havilland Comet – an ex-RAF aircraft – to add a restaurant and dance floor, but both were closed in 1981.

Since then, Pomona has been left desolate and became the overgrown wasteland we know today.

There was no plan for its future – as well as little memory of its past – for decades. Until now.

New images of a huge £1 billion masterplan for 2,700 new homes on Pomona Island have been revealed.

The aerial shots of the proposals show a huge green area right on the waterside, with sports facilities, play areas and new homes.

Developers Peel L&P have unveiled early proposals for the area as part of its Manchester Waters scheme, which will include one of the largest new public parks in the region.

The revamped masterplan, covering almost 25 acres of underdeveloped brownfield land, would transform around 60 per cent of the masterplan area, which is surrounded by the Manchester Ship Canal and the Bridgewater Canal.

The proposals include around 2,700 homes, in a mixture of apartments and townhouses. Leisure space and shops would be built on the remaining land.

Plans were submitted to the council for a 162-home private rent scheme at Pomona Wharf earlier this month.

A network of new footpaths and cycleways as part of the masterplan are set to help to connect the site to the Metrolink stops at Pomona Island and Cornbrook interchange.

The 15-year proposals follow the principles of a 2020 masterplan, agreed by Trafford Council, and form the basis of an outline planning application to be submitted in spring 2022.

The regeneration of the site would be centred around a 5.2 acre waterfront park and new public access to a mile-long stretch of waterfront.

Ideas for re-using land under the railway arches also form part of the proposals and include plans to create outdoor sports facilities and play areas.

There will be planting by the water’s edge along the canal as well as improvements to Brindley’s Weir to preserve the site’s heritage – the hope is to promote biodiversity and wildlife in the area.

Phase 1 of Manchester Waters is already well underway with 750 homes on the way at X1’s open market sale development and the completion of Pomona Wharf, a build-to-rent scheme next to St George’s Island in 2017.

A range of public consultation events on the plans is expected to begin early next year.