Manchester Histories Festival

3 - 12 June 2016

Con and Eva: Gendering Revolution

Tuesday 25 April 2017

A major new exhibition about the lives of two sisters, Constance Markievicz and Eva Gore-Booth, has opened at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Cheetham Hill.

10 March to 30 June

Con & EvaCon and Eva: Gendering Revolution examines the lives of two women who played significant roles in the development of revolutionary politics in Ireland and the campaigns for women’s suffrage in Manchester in the early years of the last century. As daughters of the aristocratic Gore-Booth family, Constance and Eva were born into a world of privilege that centred initially on their home at Lissadell House in the North-West of Ireland. With Laura McAtackney (Aarhus University Denmark) and Katherine O’Donnell (University College Dublin), I was part of a team who curated Con and Eva drawing mainly on rarely seen archival material from the Lissadell Collection at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast – this is the first occasion that it has been shown in England.

Both sisters rejected the privileged world of their upbringing for a life of political activism, although often in very different spheres. Constance married an impoverished Polish count, Casimir Markievicz in 1900 and went on to become one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. Two years later she was the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons although, as a member of Sinn Féin and opposed to British rule in Ireland, she refused to take her seat. In 1919, however, she became Minister for Labour in the Dáil Eireann, the Irish revolutionary parliament in Dublin, only the second woman in Europe to hold ministerial status.

In 1896 Eva met her lifelong partner Esther Roper, a working-class political activist from Manchester who was also of Irish descent. She subsequently moved to Manchester to live with Esther in Moss Side: the two became active campaigners for women’s suffrage and the unionisation of women workers in the North West, before moving to London in 1913 where they continued to be politically active in a range of different causes.

Our exhibition Con and Eva focuses on how aspects of the relationship between the sisters supported their very different political careers: Con promoted armed revolution while Eva was a lifelong pacifist. An important aspect of this relationship that also fed into their politics was their different creative activities. Eva was an acclaimed poet and playwright, while Con was a professionally trained artist and an actor. Her talent for visual spectacle was put to great effect when she drove a coach and four white horses into Stevenson Square in the Northern Quarter in support of Eva’s campaign against Winston Churchill’s attempts to restrict the employability of barmaids in 1908. The campaign was successful, and this was also a moment at which Con’s own politics began a radical shift towards the possibilities of mass action.

Con & Eva LaunchThe launch event on 10 March also emphasised the significance of history in the lives of Irish people in Britain today, with an address by the Irish Embassy’s First Secretary for Irish Community and Culture Ruadhri Dowling followed by a lively symposium chaired by Kate Cook, Director of the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University. Among other things the symposium made connections between Eva and contemporary Irish queer activism and Constance and the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment (that makes abortion illegal in Ireland).


Con & Eva Symposium

This symposium and launch was part of Wonder Women, Manchester’s annual feminist festival and was supported by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade through their Emigrant Support Funding Programme and the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre.

Find out more at

Exhibition venue: Irish World Heritage Centre, 1 Irish Town Way, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M8 0RY

Guest blog for Manchester Histories by Fiona Barber; Reader in Art History and Art Research Hub Leader at Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Belle Vue Pleasure Gardens Oral Histories

Monday 20 March 2017

As Gorton Monastery hosts a 2 day event on Belle Vue on Sun 19th and Mon 20th March, Jane Donaldson writes about the oral history recordings that formed part of the Manchester Histories exhibition in 2014.

The Belle Vue: Showground of the World exhibition was a collaboration between the National Fairground and Circus Archive and Manchester Histories and part of a wider project on Belle Vue Pleasure Gardens. It was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Manchester Histories Festival (MHF) in 2014.  The exhibition celebrated the heady days of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens looking at the Zoo, Circus, Sports, Entertainment and Funfair. There were other events and projects that took place around the exhibition and this included an oral history project.Full colour drawn front cover of a Belle Vue Guide featuring a tiger walking through bushes and the words The Showground of the World.

At its height, Belle Vue attracted over 2 million visitors a year.  Founded in 1836 by John Jennison, at its peak it occupied over 165 acres and attracted two million people a year. People flocked to the Gorton site for the zoo, circus, fair, speedway, dancing, boxing, wrestling, fireworks and music for over 150 years.  The exhibition focused mainly on the 1950s until it closed in the early 80s as it was decided that this would be the period which would bring back memories of people’s time there. Black and white photograph of queues waiting to get into Belle Vue in 1946 Image courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives

Everyone involved in the exhibition would be inundated by tales from people they met who had memories of their visits to the Showground, and the passion and love that came across as they recounted theses tales was a pleasure to hear.There were so many stories, of bands that played, of sneaking in, the buses that went there, the dancing, feeding the hippos-the list went on and on.  Even younger generations told stories from their relatives and it seemed that everyone had a story to tell of Belle Vue, whether they came from Manchester or had visited it from another part of the UK.visitors pore over Belle Vue material from over the years. photo courtesy of Jack Hatton

Prior to the exhibition in 2014, a number of interviews were taken by volunteers in order to provide content for the listening devices that formed part of the exhibition.

The volunteers were able to take part in a workshop led by Fiona Cussons (then at MMU) in order to gain the skills needed to conduct the interviews.  Individuals had been identified who would provide content in order to support the five different areas of the exhibition. Speedway racers, sign riders, people who worked in the entertainment buildings, sideshow performers, DJs, photographers, wall of death riders, collectors, From the workshops, and with basic information provided, the volunteers were able to go off, devices and questions in hand to meet with interviewees and find out more about their fascinating times at Belle Vue.

Black and white photograph of 7 members of Belle Vue Aces Speedway standing with one sat in the front on a bike from 1963. Image courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and ArchivesAmong the recordings you can listen to Derek Adrian, who worked at Belle Vue with his dad, first as sign writer then moving on to creating fibre glass for the speedway bikes, who recalls the arrival of Jonah the whale. Pat Pearson talks about working on the Globe of Death. She also worked at the box office, married one of the senior staff and lived on-site, Bernard Collier, who used to ride for the Speedway Aces at Belle Vue mainly in the 1970s, and many more recalling memories of fairground rides, fireworks, dancing, brass band competitions, the flea circus, the Top Ten Club and the music and bands that performed at Belle Vue.

The interviews collected were then edited by Karen Gabay and transferred onto handheld devices that visitors could use to further enhance their exhibition experience.  This provided another aspect to the exhibition and further bringing to life the items in the cases to reinforce the love of all things Belle Vue.

During the festival, more interviews were taken and these included many of the stories that people wanted to tell, their memories lifted by seeing the items in the exhibition. The recordings were due to be deposited with the North West Sound Archive, but soon after the exhibition, the Sound Archive announced its closure.  As a lot of the North West Sound Archives were moved to Archives+ at Manchester Central Library and they agreed to take on the recordings after they had been catalogued.Full colour poster for Belle Vue Gardens Manchester

The items are now available to listen to at Central Library on listening devices for visitors to hear and are accessible during the library opening times. They have been made available via Soundcloud.

More information in the exhibition including some clips from the recordings can be found here.

A selection can be found on the Archives+ Soundcloud and the catalogue can be sccessed through the Sound archive pages of Manhcester Central Library

Healthcare for the poor before the NHS

Monday 13 March 2017

On Tuesday the 18th of April at 7pm at The Friends Meeting House Mount Street Manchester, Dr Michael Whitfield will be giving a talk and presentation about Britain’s forgotten Health-care system.

This event hosted by the Manchester Victorian Society in partnership with Ancoats Dispensary Trust will examine how healthcare was provided for the poor before the NHS came into being in 1948. Ahead of the event Linda Carver, founder of Ancoats Dispensary Trust gives us some background to the subject:

At a time when all is not well in the NHS and it is at a point of crisis, this talk is particularly relevant as it will attempt to examine how people centuries ago tried to find ways to help others who had been affected by serious illnesses.  Hospitals and GPs existed for many years before the NHS but there was also another sort of institution that helped to manage illness and that was – the dispensary. 

At a time when the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary (locally known as ‘Ancoats Hospital’) is on the brink of being brought back to life by the Ancoats Dispensary Trust and their partner igloo regeneration, this talk will throw light on why the dispensaries including the one in Ancoats were so important. 

The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary locally known as ‘Ancoats Hospital’

The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary

Although the Hospital itself was demolished in the late 1980s, the Dispensary remains.  It still has Grade II listed status despite it’s parlous condition and is a remarkable building that played a significant part in the social and medical history of the country. 


The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary        The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary

view of Ancoats 
during the 1950s

Photograph with permission of Manchester Libraries.  A view of Ancoats during the 1950s

During the Industrial Revolution and the growth of urban populations any medical problem affecting a worker was likely to result in poverty for the whole family.   Admission to the workhouse was feared, so the dispensaries were created to give medical care at no cost to the patient and their family, enabling them to stay at home.


Dr Whitfield is a retired Bristol GP who has written the first book about the Dispensaries  He was a senior lecturer in GP practice in the University of Bristol and has been writing about the history of medicine over the last 10 years.  Dr Whitfield will at the end of his presentation challenge the audience as to whether anything can be learned from the Dispensary system of healthcare. 

Tickets are £10 on the door and copies of Dr Whitfield’s book will be on sale or can be ordered.  Please arrive early to ensure a seat. 

Ancoats Dispensary Trust will have a presence at this event to answer any questions about the progress of saving the Dispensary and its imminent restoration.



Guest blog for Manchester Histories by Linda Carver of Ancoats Dispensary Trust



The Homeless Library

Monday 30 January 2017

"You need to get this down right. Put down how people feel deep down. The real stuff. Why they live and how they live. Put down the reasons they went onto the street. You've got to pick out the best stories to tell this. Pick the truth, learn to hear the truth..."

(Homeless Library contributor "A")

Homeless Library_Now Times Have Altered

Homeless people in Greater Manchester and Stockport have handmade the first history of British homelessness. The The Homeless Library debuted at the Houses of Parliament in May 2016 and went on public exhibition at the Southbank Festival of Love last September, and it is now coming to Manchester Central Library in the Archives+ Exhibition space from 31 Jan — 31 Mar 2017 with a special launch event at 3pm on 31 January. All are welcome. 

Homeless Library_Lawrence and his book Homeless Library_Steve

The Homeless Library was devised by arts organisation arthur+martha. Many homeless people live and die as ‘invisibles’. When they die their very existence sometimes leaves no mark. This project opens an untold chronicle, that exists off the pages of official history books. Instead, it is a history based on conversations: people's descriptions of their own lives, as told by contemporary homeless people and also older people who witnessed homelessness from the 1930s onwards. 

Along with interviews, there are artworks and poems. Many people involved found that these discussions and making the artworks and poems were a transformative experience:

"It's put me back on the ladder to life." 

(Danny, Homeless Library Contributor)

Each book in the Library is handmade - often recycling secondhand books, which were customised and handwritten. Recycled secondhand books make the point that homeless history has been crowded out by other voices.

Homeless Library_Genuine Workers     Homeless Library_Spare a Penny     Homeless Library_A Smile

The Homeless Library is supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund and partnered with The Booth Centre, The Wellspring, and Bury Art Museum. Alongside photos of the handwritten books, you can read the interviews at The Homeless Library page on Facebook

"Homelessness is like a foreign country. It's like being dropped into the middle of nowhere. The first thing you need is somewhere safe, not just dry but a safe place most of all. Then food, dry clothes. Then you need to get a shower. Then try to get to know all the organisations that will help you because they're going to be your best friends..."

Homeless Library contributor B 

arthur+martha CIC 


Portraits courtesy Paul Jones all other images courtesy The Homeless Library 

Hipsters & Heritage at Manchester Craft & Design Centre

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Manchester Craft & Design Centre is home to over 30 local artists, designers and makers across 18 studios. Situated in the heart of Manchester’s now vibrant Northern Quarter, it’s Victorian Market Hall building was once home to Smithfield Market where it sold fish and poultry to retailers within the city. Trading at the market ceased in 1973, but you can still spot two of the original fishmongers’ booths on the ground floor.

Manchester Craft and Design Centre               Manchester Craft and Design Centre
We have been a venue for craft since 1982 and we have played a major part in the regeneration of our local area with the very phrase ‘The Northern Quarter’ was coined in this building at a meeting of local inventive minds! We have gathered many stories across our 34 years in central Manchester from our resident makers, customers, visitors and neighbours. Our longest standing tenant, Anne Rowson from RA Designer Jewellery celebrated 30 years at Manchester Craft & Design Centre in 2016 and has one experience in particular which we think demonstrates the creativity, enthusiasm and ingenuity of the independent businesses, which have maintained the presence of craft in our city centre…

In the early days, when the Centre was Manchester Craft and Design Centre_Malibuknown as the Craft Village the tenants organised a Hawaiian themed fancy dress party to help promote the centre on the run up to Christmas. Handcrafted palm trees and cocktail bar duly installed, the party was well underway when the tenants realised the invited press had not turned up. The following morning, after the drinks and detritus of the party had been tidied away and normal making service resumed at the Centre, a journalist and photographer from the Manchester Evening News arrived 12 hours late, expecting to capture the action. Ever the sport, Anne recreated the party with some left over decorations and a stray straw skirt, sitting for the photographer in her underwear rather than a bikini.

Hear more about the diverse histories behind Manchester Craft & Design Centre at Craft Unravelled: Hipsters & Heritage, a FREE 20 minute informal tour of Manchester Craft & Design Centre on Wednesday 25th January, 1:30pm.

Guest blog by Lucy Harvey from Manchester Craft and Design Centre

Remembering Strawberry Studios

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Remembering Strawberry Studios

Friday January 27th will see the launch of a major exhibition at Stockport Story Museum commemorating the history of the iconic Strawberry Recording Studios, founded fifty years ago in 1967 by Peter Tattersall.

Strawberry became one of the first professional recording studios outside of London and was home to the four Manchester musicians who would eventually form the pop group 10cc in 1972. All of 10cc’s albums and hit singles up to 1976, including the worldwide hit I’m Not In Love, were recorded in Stockport and, as a result of the band’s success, Strawberry developed a technical opulence unmatched in the region. Strawberry became so successful in this era, that 10cc found themselves unable to book time in their own studio and they were forced to build a new Strawberry Studios, in the South of England.

However, Strawberry in Stockport went from strength to strength and continued Strawberry 50 Exhibition to provide facilities for a wide variety of bands into the 1980s. It was particularly handy for the new generation of bands who were part of the emerging Manchester music scene of the mid-1970s onwards. Bands on the Factory Records label were regular visitors to Stockport, with Factory producer Martin Hannett particularly attracted to the sound produced in the 19th Century industrial building that housed Strawberry.  Unfortunately, the volatility associated with the emergence of digital sound saw Strawberry lose its way in the early 1990s and the Studio closed in 1993, after a quarter of a century of sound recording in Stockport.

Whilst Manchester’s musical legacy is famous throughout the world, Strawberry’s role is less well-known and the history and legacy of the Studio had been largely ignored until Peter Wadsworth started researching the Studio for a PhD at the University of Manchester (awarded in 2007). This renewed interest led to the Strawberry building receiving a blue plaque in 2007 (updated in 2016 to tie-in with the 50th anniversary celebrations), and the current building owners reinstating the 1980s signage on the outside of the building. Manchester Histories Festival also helped with a series of memory-collecting events in 2014 and this exhibition is the culmination of a number of years’ work in bringing together a variety of items relating to Strawberry’s history.

Strawberry Studios: I Am In Love explores Strawberry’s rich heritage, commemorating 50 years since the Studio first opened welcoming an array of artists, including the likes of 10cc, Joy Division, Neil Sedaka, Paul McCartney, The Smiths, Sad Café, Simply Red, The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and The Stone Roses through its doors.

Strawberry Blue Plaque      Strawberry Blue Plaque (1)

(above) The original blue plaque being removed in 2016 and the new blue plaque prior to installation (Photos: Peter Wadsworth)

Strawberry new signage

(left) Retro signage, fitted by building owners (Mondiale) in 2016 (Photo: Peter Wadsworth)

Strawberry at MHF(above/right) Promoting Strawberry’s history at the

2016 Manchester Histories Festival Celebration Day at Manchester Town Hall (photo: Peter Wadsworth)

Fuse and the Small Blonde

(above) Fuse and the Small Blonde perform at the Seven Miles Out fundraiser Strawberry-themed concert in March 2016 at the Stockport Plaza (Photo: Peter Wadsworth)

Strawberry in 1973

(above) Strawberry in 1973 (Photo: Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council)

(right) The classic 10cc single I’m Not In Love,10cc single I’m Not In Love

recorded in Strawberry in 1975 (Photo: Peter Wadsworth)

(below) Manchester City visited Strawberry in 1972 to record Boys in Blue (Photo: Peter Wadsworth)

Boys in Blue

(below) 10cc’s Eric Stewart in Strawberry in 1970 (Photo: Courtesy of Eric Stewart)

Eric Stewart

The exhibition continues at Stockport Story Museum from 27 Jan 2017 to 28 Jan 2018.

Guest blog by historian Peter Wadsworth

Tagged in CommunitiesLearningPeople

Welcome to our new MA students

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Over the next few months the post graduates students will work with us to support our social media platforms, get out and about to meet our community groups who are taking part in our Hidden Histories and Hidden Historian HLF project. We will be releasing more information about our plans for the project in the New Year. The students will also be posting some blogs about their journey working with us. So watch this space.

Here is a bit about our new arrivals, and we look forward to working with them all.

Becky Brookes

Photo of Becky Brookes

Becky is currently an MA student. focussing on Modern British and LGBT+ histories. She previously volunteered for Manchester Histories during the 2016 Festival, where she was inspired by the range of creative projects on display, and the passionate people who put it all together. Becky has a keen interest in public history as a way to empower people and communities, and firmly believers that histories and heritage have the potential to 'transform lives'. Becky is therefore very excited about working with Manchester Histories again, and looks forward to getting involved with their upcoming projects.

Joe Harrigan

image of Joe

Joe is studying for a MA in History. Joe is new to the city and is looking forward to the chance to see more of the palace with Manchester Histories. Before arriving in Manchester, Joe worked in his hometown of Leicester on a variety of different voluntary and community media projects. Joe has been an advisor to people interst6ed in volunteering or setting up their own charities and has worked on the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Joe has also written a series of short historical films about Leicester, been assistant producer on several other short films for local charity magazines. Most excitingly Joe helped to deliver the Richard III re-interment5 ceremony and worked with Dave's Leicester Comedy festival in 2015. Joe is hoping that he can use all of his skills to help uncover the Hidden Histories of Manchester.

Rebekah Shaw

Image of Rebekah

Rebekah is a recent graduate of University of Manchester, having studied BA History and Sociology. Rebekah is now studying MA History. Rebekah is interested in bringing interdisciplinary approaches to cultural and social history, and wants to get more people excited about their heritage working with Manchester Histories.

Tagged in CommunitiesMH ProjectsPeople

Putting some sparkle back into the glasshouse at Quarry Bank

Monday 23 May 2016

Emma Armstrong is Project Coordinator for the Quarry Bank Project. We asked Emma to contribute to our blog and tell us about the progress of the project that will see the glasshouse in the Upper Garden at Quarry Bank restored to its former glory.

Quarry Bank is a National Trust property and is one of Britain's greatest industrial heritage sites. You can currently visit the cotton mill, mill owner’s garden and Apprentice House where child workers lived. As part of the project we will be opening the Greg family home and a worker’s cottage, restoring the Northern Woods and reuniting this complete industrial community for this first time in eighty years.

There is so much happening and I’m writing this post to tell you about the fantastic restoration work currently taking place in the Upper Garden at Quarry Bank. With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund we are restoring the rare curvilinear glasshouse and back-sheds, which will be used to tell the story of the garden. We are also building a Gardener’s Compound and opening and a garden café and shop. This is the first major package of capital works that form the Quarry Bank Project. For more information about the whole project please visit...

The Upper Garden

It is amazing to think that the National Trust only acquired the Upper Garden in 2010 and already it has changed dramatically. The Victorian dipping pond and small glasshouse have been restored and the fantastic views down to the mill have been uncovered.

The upper garden when it was acquired

The Upper Garden when it was acquired ©Quarry Bank

The Upper Garden today ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

The Upper Garden today ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

The jewel in the crown is the derelict curvilinear glasshouse built in the 1830s. Here the Greg Family displayed exotic plants, and grew grapes and soft fruits. Its modern design, materials and the huge amount of glass sent a clear message to guests about their success and position in society.

Unfortunately, the glasshouse was severely damaged by neglect before the National Trust was able to acquire it. Since this time we have cleared it out and made it secure.


The glasshouse when it was acquired by the National Trust ©Quarry Bank


The glasshouse in 2015, before the restoration work began ©Nick King

How is the restoration progressing?

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and our many other wonderful funders, work began to repair and reinstate the glasshouse in October 2015. Armitage Construction were successful in their bid to be our contractors and they have been working tirelessly to complete our plans.

Our plan is to fully return the glasshouse to its former glory including re-building the demolished section of the west vinery. We do not have the original architectural plans but our National Trust experts and external architects and archaeologists have carried out survey work and have been able to piece together a clear understanding of how the building was created. We also have information in our archives including photographs, letters, diaries, maps and garden plant orders mean that we can restore the structure and present it with a high degree of authenticity.

Once Armitage were on site, the glasshouse frame was carefully dismantled by Dorothea, historic metalwork restorers, and taken to their workshop in Bristol. Over six months the engineers carried out painstaking work to the structure to make repairs, identify missing pieces and examine the extent of the damage. At the same time Barr & Grosvenor were casting new pieces to replace original pieces that could not be salvaged.

After all of their hard work, the frame was returned on 4th April 2016 and is currently being built onto the existing wall. They are currently installing the central curvilinear section and will be working on the two vineries in May.

Glasshouse frame currently being installed ©Michael Erskine

Glasshouse frame currently being installed ©Michael Erskine

Once the frame has been installed the glaziers will arrive on site and begin to fit over 7,400 panes of glass. If you come and visit us over the summer you will be able to watch their progress. I’m sure that it will be quite a spectacle. We hope to complete the glasshouse restoration in the autumn ready for you to enjoy when the garden reopens in spring 2017.

What are our other plans for the Upper Garden?

The Upper Garden has been transformed in recent years thanks to the hard work of our garden staff, Sarah, Ann, Stefan, Jonathan and Tom, and the 67 members of our volunteer team. In April, they were rewarded with the opening of their new compound, which will give them a space to relax and work when not in the garden.

In April, the new garden café was opened. This glass building situated in the beautiful surroundings of the garden is a great place to enjoy tea, cake and a range of snacks and sandwiches.

New garden café at Quarry Bank ©Andrew Moores

New garden café at Quarry Bank ©Andrew Moores

Behind the glasshouse sit the back sheds. These small rooms were used for garden storage, sowing seeds, planting and looking after the heating system that kept the glasshouse heated. Unfortunately, when the National Trust acquired the back-sheds only the walls remained.

Back sheds currently being rebuilt (opening June 2016) ©Derek Hatton

Back sheds currently being rebuilt (opening June 2016) ©Derek Hatton

After months of work, the back sheds will be fully restored and open for you all to visit in July. There will be rooms that tell the unearthed story of the gardens, toilets and a new garden shop.

There is so much to see and do at Quarry Bank. Please come and visit us.

If you would like to know more about the four year Quarry Bank Project and how you can donate to help us to complete our plans please visit...

The first Urban Sketching Workshop for the Manchester Histories Festival

Friday 13 May 2016

We were thrilled to commission reportage illustrator, Liz Ackerley to help bring our brochure and our other marketing material to life with her drawings. We were even more excited when Liz was able to run a series of public sketching workshops.  Liz has written this blog post about the first session plus how you can get involved in the future.

On Saturday 7th May I led the first urban sketching workshop for the Histories Festival, at Gallery Oldham-the perfect venue!  Fortunately, it was a very sunny morning, although the wind did pose some sketching challenges-more about that later!  The workshops have been developed to give participants an introduction to Urban Sketching and to share some of my experiences with drawing regularly in the urban environment.  The intention is that at least some of the participants may subsequently go and record some of their festival experience by sketching their stories.  The act of drawing in a sketchbook on a regular basis not only enables you to produce a visual diary of the world around you but also provides lots of other benefits like relaxation and meeting and drawing with others.  It’s quite addictive!

sketching material from Fred AldousParticipants at the sketching workshop

Initially we spent time discussing urban sketching, the worldwide  urban sketching community and the approaches taken to sketching out on location, in real time, not from photos but from life.  Materials used including sketchbooks, pens and colour application were discussed and I shared some of my top tips for urban sketching.  We then spent time outside of the gallery, in the surrounding streets.  First we did a series of continuous line loosening up exercises before spending a bit more time with participants drawing a scene of their choice.   All participants received an A5 sketchbook and fine liner pen to record their drawings, thanks to Fred Aldous art shop based in the Northern Quarter in Manchester.   They have also generously provided us with coloured pencils and other sketching materials like conte crayons so there was plenty to experiment with!

Continuous line drawing example      Group out drawing

Braving the elements is something that us urban sketchers have to do and this first session was no exception. You certainly had to hold onto your sketchbook in these blustery conditions and it definitely made my watercolour paint dry quickly!  After some time drawing outside we then went back inside where, similar to all Urban Sketching gatherings, we shared our work together and discussed how we had found the process.  All the students seemed to really enjoy the experience and quickly got into sketching mode!  One even used their iPad to do the sketching and shared their experiences with the rest of the group.  The images show the great results produced and the group proudly holding their sketchbooks.  It is wonderful to hear that some of them have been drawing since the workshop and are keen to come to some general urban sketching events, these are all advertised through the Facebook page (Manchester Urban Sketching Group).The group proudly showing their work        The work produced

Each of the Manchester Histories Festival workshops has a maximum of 20 participants (19 signed up to this first workshop at Gallery Oldham) so book early to avoid disappointment!    The next workshop, which will take the same format as the first session, will be held in Chorlton at the Chorlton Arts Festival on Saturday 28th May followed by Central Manchester on Saturday 4th June.  Finally, there will be an informal urban sketching session at the Celebration Day on Saturday 11th June.  Look out on the Manchester Histories website for information on how to book tickets soon.

I’m already looking forward to the Chorlton Festival workshop and talking more Urban Sketching and reportage drawing!

Liz Ackerley,  Urban Sketcher and Reportage Illustrator

Thanks again to Fred Aldous

Sketching stories: An approach to recording places, people and events

Monday 25 April 2016

The Manchester Histories Festival 2016 programme is out and you may well have spotted brochures appearing across the Greater Manchester and if you've leafed through the pages we hope one or two of them may of stood out! Over the past months, we've been delighted to work with reportage illustrator, Liz Ackerley, to help bring our brochure and our other marketing material to life.  Liz has been traveling around Greater Manchester capturing just some of the venues, sites, and people that tell our histories, and most importantly are making our future histories.

Here, Liz has written about the process of creating the sketches for Manchester Histories Festival 2016:

As a keen urban sketcher and reportage illustrator (a visual storyteller), I was thrilled to be contacted by Claire Turner in the summer of 2015 with the idea of getting involved with the Manchester Histories Festival and recording some of the events and activities through drawing.  Urban sketchers go out and draw what they see, on location, in real time, as it happens, and share their drawings on line, so I am really excited about the opportunity to carry out my drawing approach, for the Festival.  Claire had seen my work on Twitter (Link: and Instagram (Link: and had liked what she saw and the rest as they say (and quite appropriately!) is history!!  Having met on several occasions, I have also now attended a couple of the Festival’s planning meetings.  MHF2016 Planning MeetingI did simple quick sketches at those initial meetings.  The first was at the Friends Meeting House and the second in Chethams library. These were necessarily fairly rapid drawings, done in my notebook with a fountain pen and waterproof ink.  Watercolour was added later.

6 Drawings

I have now completed 6 drawings for the Manchester Histories Festival 2016 brochure and online material.   All of these drawings were done on location during March and April 2016.  Watercolour was added later.  

The first is of Manchester Fire Service Museum in Rochdale, a fascinating place with a stunning original fire station building and tower.  Sitting behind is the museum that houses so many different historic items from original fire engines to water pumps and clothing.

Manchester Fire Service Museum

The second one completed is of the wonderful Central Library in Manchester with the majestic Midland Hotel in the background.  What stunning buildings these are and contrast and compliment each other in both structure and material.

The Midland & Central Library

The third is of the world famous Stockport Viaduct, with 27 arches and 33.85 m high.  At the time it was built it was the largest viaduct in the world.  I have drawn it with the Crown pub nestled under one of the arches.  This gives the viaduct a sense of scale and context.

 Stockport Viaduct

The fourth is of Gallery Oldham with its distinctive curved structure and juxtaposition adjacent to older historic buildings. 

Gallery Oldham

The fifth is of one of one of the many interesting displays in the People’s History Museum in Manchester.  You can see how engaged people are with the paintings, room setts and information about the women’s vote and feminism.

Peoples History Museum

Last but certainly not least, I attended a wonderful concert at the Band on The Wall in Manchester to see Akua Naru and her band.  Some wonderful hip hop jazz music to listen to whilst I drew the scene!  As with several of the locations I have drawn, this venue is actively involved in the festival activities.

Band on the Wall

Reportage on the opening event and Celebration Day

In addition to the drawings completed, I will also be attending the opening event on 2nd June and the Celebration Day on 11th June where I will be drawing and recording activities on paper and in sketchbooks as well as blogging about my experiences.   If you see me scribbling away, pop over and say hello!


Finally, I will also be running a series of 4 urban sketching workshops, both before and during the festival sharing my experiences of urban sketching .  I will also be sharing some key tips to get you started and we will be doing some hands on urban sketching during the sessions so you can get a taster of what its all about.  Check out the MHF2016 programme and perhaps sign up for a session.   Like me you may well get hooked!

Please watch this space for further updates from me about sketching and reporting on the Manchester Histories Festival 2016.  Lets get this party started!  

Liz Ackerley

Reportage Illustrator.

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