LIFEBOAT building and the curious medical condition, ‘shelter leg’ are just two aspects of life beneath Manchester’s streets, featured in a new book by Timperley historian, Keith Warrender.

‘Below Manchester’ is Keith’s second book about the extraordinary network of Victorian tunnels, public toilets and hidden vaults that were brought back into use during the war to shelter civilians.

“After I’d published my first book ‘Underground Manchester’ two years ago, I started giving talks to local groups and realised that people are fascinated by the mystery of the subterranean city. They kept coming up to me with more snippets and stories about hidden places. I couldn’t resist investigating, and that led to the new book,” said Keith, 62 from Moss Lane.

One account centres on a futuristic metal-hulled lifeboat, The Richardson, which was built under Victoria Arches next to Manchester Cathedral and launched on the Irwell in 1854 in front of a huge crowd.

The 60-man vessel destined for Liverpool for sea trials, was at that time an incredible sight in the city that was to wait another 42 years for the completion of the Manchester Ship Canal.

But it was the Second World War that brought people in their thousands below street level for the first time and re-awakened interest in the long-forgotten labyrinth.

“Civilians crammed into air raid shelters created in the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal tunnel, as well as the basements of places like the Co-op and the Refuge building,” explained Keith.

“People would be down there for long days, and would bring deckchairs with them to sleep on. The habit gave rise to a new and very painful condition known as ‘shelter leg’, where the wooden bar would dig into the back of the thigh and cause circulation problems and thrombosis,” said Keith, who retired from graphic design ten years ago to become a full-time writer.

“Conditions were dreadful. The air was foul and wardens would lamely spray disinfectant to try and stop the spread of diseases.

“There are so many stories about underground Manchester, but the one I have never managed to confirm is a rumour of an entire Victorian high street complete with post office that many people claim exists somewhere,” said Keith.

“If I do there might be another book in it.”

Keith will give a talk on ‘Below Manchester’ at Waterstones, Altrincham on December 9 at 7pm.