Archive for May, 2008
Marie’s historical research has brought up loads of stuff about Ancoats. This is an area on the outskirts of the city centre which has seen heavy industry, slums, run-down estates and now a big regeneration project. It was apparently ‘the world’s first industrial suburb’. So we thought we’d go take a look.
It being the Mayday bank holiday, though, we first had to go marching with trade unionists and socialists and anarchists (and anyone else who wanted to join in). We were making known our displeasure that destitute people who come to the UK fleeing war and persecution are being expected to find the money from God-knows-where to pay for essential services from our glorious NHS.
Overheard on the march: an anarchist explaining why the communists were a bit too scary for him.
Having done our liberal do-gooding bit, we headed for Ancoats via lunch in the Northern Quarter. We had a debate over zedding philosophy – Marie had a list of historical sites to visit, but I wanted to go to Cardroom Estate in the middle and go down all the little streets called things like ‘Spinning Jenny Walk’ and ‘Bobbin Walk’ and ‘Yarn Walk’. Eventually we set off, and we knew we’d started zedding when we saw a car with antlers:
It seemed to have something to do with a film crew, so watch out for a car with antlers coming to a TV screen near you.
On Great Ancoats Street, there’s a big shiny futuristic building which used to be the offices of the Daily Express.
Marie, who has now become a walking history textbook, explained that despite appearances, it was actually built in the 1930s. If you get up close, you can see the old-school concrete and rivets. There’s an even older building opposite, which you can see in the reflection. This one used to house a night shelter for women needing ‘further care and discipline’, and rooms for servants who wished to avoid ‘the moral peril of the lodging house’. I’ve obviously been staying in the wrong lodging houses.
And some new flats were wrapped up waiting for yuppies to open them up and live in them:
Manchester has a good surplus of identical-looking flats, though, so unless the credit crisis ends soon, we think it may be a while before these ones get unwrapped. Nextdoor we saw what’s happened to a lot of the businesses and homes that used to be around here:
This comprehensive list of dangers has been stuck on all the derelict buildings in Ancoats as far as we could see. Bit of overkill – can they really all have asbestos, weak roofs and the rest?
We liked this example of a business that is new to Ancoats, though. It’s bye bye butty shops, hello flower arrangements carved from fruit :
And further down was this, apparently the ‘classic view’ into Ancoats:
A fine old mill has been turned into flats:
Before being renamed Royal Mills, Marie tells us, these were McConnel and Kennedy Mills. They were an important scene in the account of the Plug Strikes of 1842, protesting against pay cuts and in support of the Chartists. It ended up with 10,000 people on the streets, the Riot Act was read, and they brought in ‘six-pounder field pieces’ to pacify the crowd. Apparently the military presence was ‘restrained’ because they didn’t want a repeat of Peterloo. We wonder what would have been regarded as unrestrained… A bit different from our friendly anarchists of the morning, who were at no point chased down the Oxford Road by dragoons.
The street outside was being carefully recobbled, no doubt to retain the Northern ambience of the area for the new inhabitants. (Presumably this notion of Northernness wouldn’t include the traditions of dissent and organised resistance, which don’t sell flats so well.)
We were very excited to discover, opposite, a small porthole in a brick wall. We’d set out hoping to see some bits of an installation called The Peeps which is scattered across Ancoats. Spaces have been walled up and lit, with peepholes to look through. We’d found our first one, and it was pleasingly mysterious for what was essentially a brick cubicle with weeds growing in it:
Thanks to the artist Dan Dubowitz, who deserves a mention just for his marvellous name. Unfortunately we didn’t find any more of them, though.
There we were, spiritually engaging with the area, enjoying a playful public work of art which could have been designed for zedders, reflecting on history. We were rudely awakened on the other side of the canal:
It may be relevant that this was just down the canal from Canal Street, whose signs are often defaced in a similar manner…
Further on, past a charming retail park (‘The biggest toy superstore in the world’, allegedly), we passed an eighteenth-century lock-keeper’s cottage surrounded by building sites and scaffolding. This seemed to sum up the feel of a lot of the area for us:
Wonder what they’ll catch?
We don’t know what this building was, but it made Marie the history nerd unhappy:
We turned left at the big pencil
and saw some of the bits which haven’t been turned into flats yet:
Further on, a strange road crossed a barren wasteland. It had no clear markings and felt kind of like a pedestrian precinct, resulting in some hairy moments when we forgot we were standing in the middle of a road. It also had some interesting arty lampposts marked ‘New Islington’ (the rebranded Ancoats). The designer had taken to the extreme his attempt to blend in with the surroundings, so they were rusty and depressing. There was also the remains of a hospital which made Marie sadder. (Fortunately, it’s going to be restored. And turned into flats.)
The only signs of humanity were a man drinking Lucozade on a bench, and this forlorn remnant:
On the other side of the road should have been the Cardroom estate. But it wasn’t:
The redevelopers beat us to it. And they must have done it very recently, because that wasteland appears in my 2007 A to Z as a warren of little streets:
I’d heard through work that a lot of the redevelopment in Ancoats was done without consulting local people, tearing down good houses to make way for designer flats that locals won’t be able to afford. Looking at this space where a community used to be, that was easy to believe.
Opposite the desert (an estate agent might say that they benefited from expansive views) were some houses made of giant jigsaw bits:
We rejoined the canal here, and noted the spiral ramp for towhorses at the bridge. Very historical but doesn’t look so dramatic in a photo:
Then there were more mills and warehouses. Most, surprise surprise, becoming designer flats. The old Sankey’s Soap Factory is now a nightclub, though (we detected it because of the loud music and the big bus outside). Marie wishes it to be known that the sign on the tower is the original one from the 1920s, restored.
Opposite was a nice piece of graffiti (probably not from the 1920s):
In the midst of all the building sites stands an old church of the ugly-huge-Victorian-brick variety. Marie was very keen to visit, as she’s seen slides of it being lovingly restored – it’s going to be a community centre or arts space or something, which will be a nice change. But it’s presently completely inaccessible, all the surrounding roads sealed off. Creepy.
The streets were still eerily deserted, but we spotted some little bits of interest:
Then we came upon Victoria Square, a great big nineteenth-century block of flats which was intended to house people after slum clearances. It didn’t work though, because the slum dwellers couldn’t afford the rent and had to move elsewhere. It also can’t have helped that, according to our friend Bazza, the architect ‘must have thought he was designing for an alien race – wooden skirting boards were not provided, since these might have been ripped out and burned!’
Sounds familiar. It appears that city developers learn very slowly…
Opposite Victoria Square were some smart terraces, also originally intended for working-class people but priced out of their reach. Apparently, these were originally named after the wonderful technical advances they contained. But in the 1960s, ‘Sanitary Street’ was not regarded as such an attractive name, and some letters were removed to make it ‘Anita Street’. It’s interesting that today, people are achieving the opposite effect by removing letters just down the road.
Further down, we passed another derelict church – but this one clearly has its defenders:
Researching afterwards, we found that Manchester’s Italian community have been fighting to keep the church open for years, but the Bishop’s having none of it. Marie was very upset to read the story of an ice-cream lady whose dying wish to have her funeral at the church was refused: poor Auntie Vicky. Marie feels solidarity for ice-cream people.
Date zedded: 5 May 2008
A to Z: page 95 squares F3, G3, G4, H4, F4, H3
Getting there: Walk from city centre
Squares this expedition: 6
Running total: 35