Online ‘memory boxes’ give a fascinating glimpse into local neighbourhoods over the decades

It started as a temporary project to help connect and entertain people during the first lockdown in spring - now, several tiers and another lockdown later, the Manchester Memory Boxes are still going strong. 

Published by the Archives+ centre at Central Library, each photographic ‘box’ delves into the history of a Manchester neighbourhood; providing a fascinating glimpse into life over the last several decades. These are interspersed with collections spanning Pride to pandemics, offering unique insights on themes that continue to shape society today.

2020 12 17 Canal Street 1970 Archives
Canal Street, 1970 Archives +

The Memory Boxes were originally produced in physical form for distribution to Manchester libraries, boosting the local history offer to local communities. But when libraries were forced to close during the first lockdown, staff decided to produce digital versions - allowing residents to learn more about their family history by looking back at the area where they grew up, bringing new light to childhood memories and the chance to unearth fresh discoveries.

Alongside photographs and oral histories, each Memory Box includes worksheets based around themes like Industry, Place, Health and Living Conditions, Pastimes, Radical Thinking and Communities. These provide an opportunity for generations to connect virtually, for example grandchildren and grandparents, using the worksheets as prompts to get conversations started. 

2020 12 17 Co Op Civic Centre 1965 Archives
Co-op Civic Centre, 1965 Archives +

The images are primarily sourced from two photographic collections, both of which can be accessed online free of charge. 

The Manchester Local Image Collection has more than 80,000 images and prints of Manchester and the surrounding area, while the Town Hall Photographers’ Collection has over 200,000 images covering the varied work of Manchester City Council; offering a unique perspective on the city’s development over more than six decades. Volunteers have been digitising this over the last few years and, to date, almost 20,000 images are available to view on the Archives+ Flickr photo stream.

2020 12 17 Cheetham Hill Road 1963 Archives
Cheetham Hill Road, 1963 Archives +

If anyone would like to share their newfound stories, photographs or memories, please use the hashtag #ArchivesPlusMemorybox and post them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. 

The Manchester Memory Boxes can be found at

Main image: Belle Vue Zoological Gardens 1958, Archives +

Read more: This is Manchester: 60 photos from the 1990s