Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Chasing Engels: A Historic Walk Through Working-Class Manchester

Friedrich Engels was a businessman, author, and Karl Marx collaborator in the 1800s. His book, "The  Condition of the Working-Class in England" focused on a particular section of the country - Manchester. Mid-1800s Manchester to be exact. Now, while this may be interesting to some, you might be asking yourself what this has to do with my studies, interests, or anything, really. Well, I'll tell you!

In my first year at Acadia, I took a course (a life-changing course) by a one Dr. David Duke (no...not the American white-supremist!) - "Environmental History." In this course we were assigned a section of Engels book. Anyway, during my trip home over the holidays, I was 'challenged' to trace the steps of this depiction of Manchester in 1844. Since I had some spare time and hadn't really explored much of the city, I felt this would be an excellent opportunity to see Manchester in a completely different way than I would have without this little adventure!

On Saturday, I re-read what Engels had written. I was amazed by a) how little I knew about the areas mentioned and b) how many of area names I actually recognized. I know this pretty much contradicts itself, but essentially, I hadn't been to most of the areas discussed, but had heard mention of them.

After reading the description, I highlighted all the areas noted and did a quick search on Google Maps.
Sorry for the walk-time - I didn't know how to get rid of it!
The blue dotted line represents the outline of Manchester proper, as described by Engels
The city limits seemed quite extensive for a computer print-out, so I marched to the nearby Visitor Information Centre hoping to find a detailed, already printed map. They had several for sale, but I settled on the freebie, and instructions to head to the "Travel Shop" across the street to get maps of the north and south Manchester bus routes. Due to changes in routes, construction, and the need to print updated maps, there weren't any available. So, I made my way back home, not realizing that I had just been map-hunting in the section of Manchester I was looking to explore!

When I got home, I mapped out all the spots I could easily find, and then did a little research into the few that I couldn't. Two main areas or landmarks appeared to be missing: Ducie Bridge and St. Michael's Church. There is mention of "the Old Church" which I have taken to mean Manchester Cathedral, but unfortunately there doesn't appear to be a St. Michael's Church within the area in question. Regardless, the focus of this adventure is located amongst two areas of Manchester - the Central Retail District and NOMA, which is a "newly developing neighbourhood" according to the map.
A snapshot of the map, with the various landmarks circled in hard-to-see pencil.
The brownish areas are the retail district, and the green is NOMA.
After plotting all the key points and checking the weather forecast there was only one thing left to do...wait several days for the hopes of a non-rainy day and get out there and actually, consciously check these places out!

To give you an idea of what this section looks like based on "back-in-the-day" maps here's a few for you to checkout! One is a map of Manchester proper, while the other focuses on the same industrial section I took a picture of.
After multiple days of waiting semi-impatiently, I was finally able to make my way out to explore today. I set out first along Oxford Road in the hopes of snapping a few shots of the River Medlock. Unfortunately, the only spot I could get a clear view from Oxford Road was 'protected' by a glass shield. But, I sought out another possible opportunity just off of nearby Whitworth Street. As I proceeded towards the gate preventing people and cars from falling into the Medlock, I was approached by a man indulging in a cigarette. He questioned what I was doing, and upon hearing my planned adventure began telling me a bit about the history of the river. Apparently, the Medlock was much higher, but due to the amount of construction, it has impacted its flow. This man also pointed out an archway (pictured below...kind of), which he informed me used to take users to Piccadilly. Somewhere in this description, however, I had trouble understanding him, but I think he was telling me that children used to peddle the boats through the archway to Piccadilly. I can't confirm whether or not this was true, but found it interesting nonetheless.
The River Medlock from Oxford Road, now featuring...Starbucks!
Note the glimmer of archway.
The River Medlock off of Whitworth Street towards Oxford Road.
From there I proceeded to Piccadilly Gardens, where although it is not mentioned in Engels piece, I thought it might be neat to snap a present day picture and get a hopeful comparison of what this area looked like in the 1800s. I'm glad I did, because I was able to successfully find one!
Piccadilly Gardens - no that's not the London Eye, apparently everyone's got 'em!
Piccadilly Gardens, 1824
Next, I made my way to the start of my path - Manchester Cathedral. There was some confusion getting here as Fennel Street, is not an actual road, despite what the map indicates and that area is also under construction. I eventually found it, and boy (!) what a building! Located in front of the Cathedral also happens to be the River Irwell. I'd also like to point out here, that the roadway in-between the Cathedral and the Irwell was in an obvious transition to a pedestrian only walkway. Evidence of this can be found below.
Manchester Cathedral, 1791-1810
The Manchester Cathedral, 2015

The River Irwell
The River Irwell with the Cathedral

Pedestrian Friendly!

Okay, so here's the point in this journey when I realized that the construction I was seeing wasn't just some project taking place at present time. Perhaps the two scenarios I've already mentioned should have given me some indication that major changes had taken place (which, in all honesty, I had anticipated there had been). But, for some reason, I hadn't prepared for the level of change that I was about to observe. After looking around for the "row of old-fashioned houses at the right" of Long Millgate for a few minutes, a delivery man approached me and asked if I was lost. I replied by saying no...but that I was fairly certain there should be houses where I was looking. He laughed and told me it had been sometime since those houses had been there. In fact, "those houses" were now the site of the National Football Museum, a part of the city's tourism draw that I'm willing to bet was not part of the scene in 1844! Additionally, he pointed behind the Cathedral and informed me that in the past 20 years everything had changed drastically...that all of the buildings that used to be behind it had been "flattened" and what was there now had been built fairly recently. This made me feel sad.

 Long Millgate - the blue building is the National Football Museum. 

Long Millgate, date unknown
Old White Lion, Long Millgate, 1875
It's hard to see from this picture, but if you look past the Cathedral,
you can see that there are new buildings behind it.
Feeling a little deflated, I walked down Long Millgate in search of Victoria Station (which could easily be viewed from where I had the conversation with the delivery driver) and Todd Street. Here's what I know: Victoria Station has not changed much and Todd Street is pretty much non-existent. Now, to be fair, Victoria Station wasn't even built until 1862, but this was still the sight of what was known in 1844 as "the station of the Liverpool and Leeds railway." Here's two interesting points for you to consider. One, Victoria Station is in the middle of a massive expansion project (hence the endless construction that seemed to be taking place in this area). Two, I learned about a former burial ground, which this construction uncovered. Apparently, the expansion that is taking place at the Station turned up hundreds of bodies, believed to be of the poor who lived in that area. To learn more check out this article by the Manchester Evening News. If you're interested in seeing the progression of Victoria Station since the early 1900s, check out this link.
Victoria Station, 2015
Victoria Station, 1921
Todd Street...or what's left of it! The opposite side of the street is the National Football Museum.

Next on the list was Withy Grove. Engels described this street along with Todd, Long Millgate and Shude Hill as being "narrow and winding." For the most part I tend to agree...particularly had "those house" been present on Long Millgate. Anyway, Withy Grove surrounds one side of the Arndale Mall. There are bars, coffee shops, and various other retail-related places to be found. It's quite commercialized. Somewhere along here St. Michael's Church should have been, but as noted previously, it seems to no longer be around. Note, though that there isn't much difference between the then and now photographs, as far as the busyness and commercial aspects are concerned!
Withy Grove, from Fennel Street, 1895
The bottom of Withy Grove from Fennel Street, 2015
Withy Grove quickly turns into Shudehill, which is home to the Shudehill Interchange (a bus station). There were very few remnants of 1800's Manchester, but I did manage to find a few buildings that could possibly have been from that time.
Smithfield Market, Shudehill, 1896
Shudehill - at the end of this street is the Arndale Mall.
The back of Shudehill.
My last stop was in search of Ducie Bridge - the other spot Engels refers to that I couldn't seem to find. The only thing that seems to be related to Ducie Bridge is a pub on the corner of Corporation Street, where Miller Street turns into Cheetham Hill Road (which, by the way, is a bridge!). I had hoped to ask someone in the pub about its namesake, but it appeared as though it were not open. One interesting observation about this pub was that it is in one of few buildings that doesn't reflect the newer construction taking place in the NOMA district of Manchester. The mix of old transitioning into new was very obvious from Miller Street.
Ducie Bridge Pub
The back of Ducie Bridge Pub (from Corporation Street)
Corporation Street 
The bridge also known as Cheetham Hill Road.
Could this be THE Ducie Bridge?!
The mix of old and new. The newer part makes up the beginning stages of the NOMA development.
So, there you have it. Engels depiction of 1844 Manchester is, sadly, a thing of the past. It was incredible to attempt to chase down the places he described, hoping to find some resemblance, even if it didn't result in what I'd hoped. I really enjoyed trying to piece together Engels words while discovering a part of Manchester I probably wouldn't have bothered to visit. It's amazing how much has changed in the 170 years since Engels' book was first published. I imagine the changes to come will reflect similar observations 170 years from now, though I can't even begin to entertain what they might be. I hope you have enjoyed travelling back in time (or attempting to) with me. If anyone can find similar articles about areas around here, I'd love the challenge of retracing them, as well!

-the Orange Canadian

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