When Manchester vlogger Martin Zero made a video of how a rubbish-strewn stretch of city centre canal drains into an unseen river, he could not have foreseen how popular it would become.
The 27-minute video, The Secret Trap Door Under the Canal, went viral after it was published on YouTube at the end of February and has now attracted an astonishing 2.5 MILLION views on You Tube worldwide and counting.
“The response just blew me away; took me completely by surprise,” said Martin, 52, whose short “hidden history” online videos, shot in off-the-beaten-track locations around Greater Manchester, are usually seen by 5,000 to 20,000 You Tube viewers.
In the video, he shows how an arrow carved into the stone quayside near lock 89 of the Rochdale Canal – close to the Hacienda apartments on Whitworth Street West – marks the location of a 215-year-old trapdoor.
Set in the bottom of the canal when it was constructed at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, the door acts as a plughole allowing the water to be drained away into the culverted River Tib almost 20 feet below.
The tributary of the River Medlock, one of Manchester’s “lost” rivers which gives its name to Tib Street, is culverted for almost its entire length.
Martin’s video shows the trap door being lifted by chain and the canal water gurgling down the hole. He said: “I was as excited a kid in a sweet shop when the people from the Canal and River Trust said I could get down into the canal and get close up views.
Martin (real name Fisher; the Zero is homage to the legendary late Factory Records producer Martin “Zero” Hannett) lives in Middleton and has a day job in healthcare.
“I am big fan of music from that era, though I was slightly too young to be a Hacienda regular,” he said. He has a genuine love for Manchester’s industrial heritage going back to his trainspotting days, going round motive power sheds in Longsight and Newton Heath at weekends.
So where did the fascination for local history come from?
“Like thousands of other people, I fancied myself as a photographer and started taking pictures in out of the way, unusual places.” His enthusiasm intensified with the advent of Instagram and inspiration came via the Collyhurst People’s Facebook group which posts old photographs and maps.
“The thing with YouTube is that you have to have a niche. I faffed about with all sorts of things – music, photographs and so on – before I found mine.”
He posted his first video, shot amid old mine workings around Worsley, as recently as spring 2017 and has since developed a personable, enthusiastic presentation style that is reminiscent of the late Fred Dibnah, but with a Mancunian rather than a Bolton twang.
His subjects have ranged from Manchester mysteries and “the old house in the woods” to a lost church in Ancoats, stories of Manchester cotton mills and an exploration of Nico’s Ditch, the 1,000 year old boundary between the Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria.
“I have a Canon compact camera fitted with a tripod as a grip, which I use at arms length,” said Martin. “And I enjoy the process of editing and adding music. But the best bit is seeing the comments from people from round the world who’ve enjoyed the finished articles.
“I don’t regard myself as a historian or an expert, but I am enthusiastic about the subjects and like to romanticise a little about all this wonderful history we have on Manchester.”
Martin has successfully embraced the new media without ever having any written work published, but said: “I have the greatest respect for people who write. I stand on their shoulders because I read their books when I am doing my research.
“I’d love to make a career out of video making but it’s not possible at the moment. To be honest, the 2.5 million views for the trapdoor video is probably a one-off and I don’t think I’ll ever achieve that again.
“But I love doing it and I owe it all to our wonderful city.”