Manchester Histories Festival

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.

Dancing for a Cleaner Manchester: the Opening of the First Public Baths and Wash­house

Friday 22 April 2016

Manchester’s first public baths and wash­houses opened on Miller Street in New Cross on the 9th of September 1846. The recently founded “Public Baths and Wash­Houses in Manchester Committee” gained significant public support, raised money, and political backing.

Miller Street Baths Location Early Industrial Revolution Manchester had only just gained parliamentary representation, had recovered from a Cholera epidemic, and was a city changing faster than anyone could keep up with. The city was struggling to build necessary infrastructure improvements, from paving to drainage, and tasked with new challenges administering and policing a rapidly changing population. As a result, many of the local infrastructure improvements were carried out by private investors rather than the municipal government.

The starting point of Manchester’s baths and wash­houses movement can be traced back to a meeting of the Public Walks, Parks, and Playgrounds Committee on 19th of February 1845. There, a few men who had an interest in improving the living conditions of the poor talked about raising funds for building a baths and wash­house in Manchester.

The day’s Manchester Guardian presents this editorial notice:

We believe that an appropriation of some portion of the fund [for walks, parks, and playgrounds] to the establishment of baths &c. would meet with the cordial approval of the subscribers; but, as a great deal has to be effected with the money, it would be better, we think, to originate some special movement for the creation of a separate fund. A fancy dress ball, on a grand scale, has been suggested as the means of raising a sum sufficient for the purpose (Manchester Guardian,19/02/1845, p4).

A Fancy Dress Ball Committee was established which set out to attract high profile patrons including Prince Albert, Robert Peel, and Pudsey Dawson, and to organise the ball itself. The Free Trade Hall was booked for 29th of April 1845, and local artisans and musicians engaged to make it a beautiful occasion. Many of the artisans and traders involved gave their time and materials for free and so it came as a great disappointment when less than half the expected number of people attended: 1,200 instead of 3,000.

Nevertheless, the committee managed to raise £650 by 22nd of May 1845, both through ball tickets and through subscriptions.

This was a considerable sum, but not enough to build a baths and wash­house from scratch. For reference, later (albeit larger) buildings needed £3,000 upwards to be established. Because they lacked funds, the committee set about finding suitable premises that could be converted, and located a 12 roomed building on Miller Street in September 1845 where works began immediately.

The baths were opened to the public on 9th of September 1846. There were 18 warm baths in total. These would later be called “slipper baths”, and are what most of us have in our houses today. Six of these were upstairs and allocated for the use of women, while twelve were downstairs and allocated to be used by men. Apart from one for men with superior fittings for which 6dwere charged, all baths cost 2dand included the use of a towel.

What actually happened when you took a bath in Miller Street is still a bit of a mystery. There is debate about the actual logistics of bathing in these baths: one source claims that here was unlimited hot and cold water available; however, we also know that the water supply to the building was rather poor and that the cisterns weren’t big enough to meet the demand. Later baths limited the time you were allowed to bathe as well as the water you would be able to do it in.

Leaf Street Warm BathWhat we do know is that the baths and wash­house were extremely popular, and constant improvements had to be made to keep up with demand. This first public baths and wash­house started a process in which Manchester residents would take responsibility for a very important aspect of public health until the Corporation was ready to take this on in the 1870s. Miller Street Baths was in operation until at least 1862, when it was acquired by the Manchester and Salford Baths and Laundries Company. It is unclear how long it was kept open for after that point but we know that it was definitively closed by 1876.

Nb. There are no known photographs of the baths on Miller street so the image opposite is of the interior of the nearby Leaf Street Baths and is shown here to illustrate what Miller Street Baths might of been like.  If you know of any images we'd love to hear from you.

Image courtesy: Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Sylvia Kölling is an independent researcher with an interest in Manchester's sanitary reforms in the 19th century. She recently presented some of her research at the Friends of Manchester Centre for Regional History and will give further talks throughout the year. Please see @sylviakoelling for more details.

Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants 42-44 Britannic Buildings

Saturday 16 April 2016

Manchester's Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants are going to be part of Manchester Histories Festival's Heritage Window Project from the 3-12th June, when they will be telling the histories of the site where their business now stands.  They have put together this fascinating blog on what they have learnt and giving a taster of what their Heritage Window will feature:

In the 12th century descendants of Norman Barons, the Gresle family would look out from their fortified manor house with a glass of mead, local beer, cider or highly prized wine from the motherland and toast the prosperous market town developing across the Hanging Ditch. This formed the defensive watercourse (possibly built by the Romans) which included the Rivers Irk and Irwell connected by the Hanging Bridge.

Churches, Church of England, Manchester Cathedral, Manchester. 1950s interpretation of medieval Manchester    map

There are several theories over the name which may derive from the Old English hen, meaning wild birds and the Welsh gan, meaning between two hills. A textile and tannery industry proliferated here and fabric was hung along the embankment to dry.Another more macabre suggestion was that regular public hangings took place outside the manor walls for those who fell foul of the Barons.

The current bridge probably dates when Thomas de la Warre was granted a licence from the Pope to establish a collegiate church to St Mary, St Denys and St George in 1421 having inherited the land through marriage. A landing stage had been constructed on the Irwell nearby for traders bringing their wares to the Corn & Produce Exchange outside the manor walls.

Old Hanging Ditch: Its Trades, Its Traders & Its Renaissance BY H. B. WILKINSON (1910)

describes how “alongside of this quay the sailing ships were moored which brought the butter and cheese from Holland, and the Cheshire cheese from Chester in the days before steamships were known.”

Churches, Church of England, Manchester Cathedral, Manchester By the late 1700’s much of the “old medieval housing, taverns & alehouses” in the area were wiped away as Manchester grew from small  market town to the world’s first industrial city, creating pressure on land, and the ditch itself was built over having become a putrid dumping ground for waste.

An iron foundry complete with tall chimney stood next to the church and whilst a typically Mancunian architectural juxtaposition of elegant building and pragmatic economic want the chimney is believed to have taken the full force of a catastrophic lighting strike which demolished all but its base yet protected the church spire.

By 1840 the base of the old chimney had been retained and several buildings constructed around it including Slack & Brownlow Aquariums and Water Filters and a number of residential properties. The adjoining building was said to have been the medieval home of apothecary Thomas Mynshull who had died here in 1689 (according to the legend carved on the stone window bay of the existing the Grade II Listed Mynshull House built in 1890).

As the middle classes grew so did changes in trade in the city, with a more commercial and consumerist economy of showrooms for local manufacturers, accountancy & legal services as well as food & drink establishments catering for those now arriving at Victoria and Exchange Railway Stations. Trams and buses ran along Deansgate and a steam package landing quay was located by Victoria Bridge where tickets could be purchased for passage, first to Liverpool and then, to the New World.

A statue of Oliver Cromwell proclaimed Manchester’s independence of ideas and commercial activity flourished.

From the MCC Local Image collection we can record a variety of business which occupied 42-44 Victoria Bridge in the 19th Century.

Cateaton Street      Manchester Cathedral, south west, Manchester

Ironmongers retained a presence with the John Roaf Buss & Sons Ltdshowroom offering “cutlery, electroplating” and specializing in corkscrews!


German photographer Franz Baum (1849-1923) was a Member of The Royal Photographic Society.

Noblett's Confectioners were named after original founders of Everton Mints in Liverpool.

C Garnett Confectionery & Chocolates- included “Tea and Luncheon rooms.”

Storrie Dentistry took one of the upper floors- presumably profiting from the sweet delights sold below.

Simpole's Ltd Cabinet & Furniture showcased products made in their factory at the other end of Deansgate near Knott Mill.

Roscoe Phrenology “felt ones bumps” in a branch of medicine which exploited the numerous ailments of Victorian society.

Themans & Co sold Tobacco and Cigars.

Dr Fraser Watson provided optician services.

Around 1900 the buildings forming 42-44 Victoria St were demolished, revealing the Hanging Bridge for the first time in over a century. It became a tourist attraction before being covered over again. Its replacement was built for the Britannic Assurance Company Ltd with both Theman’s Cigars and C Garnett confectioners returning at street level during the first half of the 20th Century as Manchester fought a losing battle against its industrial decline.

Hanging Ditch Miraculously the building came away unscathed from the Manchester Blitz of Christmas 1940 which did so much damage to this quarter of Manchester including the neighbouring buildings of the Deansgate Hotel, Chetham’s Hospital, Victoria Buildings and the Cathedral itself.

A brief post-war hustle and bustle returned- as depicted in LS Lowry’s Exchange Station (1960) painting- before the closure of the station in 1969 together with land clearances left the area almost on the edge city and trade dwindled.

The famous Oliver Cromwell statue was moved to Wythenshawe Park as political sentiments changed.

A gentleman’s hairdresser would occupy the old Theman’s & Co Cigar & Tobacco unit in the 1960s but chocolates and confectionery were still sold and a Butcher’s Shop took a slice of the Mynshull House ground floor.

By the early 1990s it was mainly offices including Liefman, Rose & Co Solicitors which 1990's Hanging Ditch occupied the upper floors, with a newsagent the only retail use. A company providing dental repairs linked back a century to Mr Storrie’s attempts at addressing the damage done by Noblett’s Confectioners and C Garnett’s chocolates.

Following the IRA Bombing in 1996 the regeneration of Manchester gathered a pace with Harvey Nicholls and Exchange Square bringing life back to the area and by the turn of the millennium the Hanging Bridge had been revealed once more and is now incorporated into Manchester Cathedral Visitors Centre.

Hanging DitchIn 2007, the site including the adjoining Mynshull House was acquired by Nikkal Property Development & Investment. They transformed the buildings into offices whilst restoring a residential use with apartments above and created a retail unit which became the Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants, designed by local architect Roger Stephenson OBE.

Manchester is a city in perennial flux as the waters of economics and architecture flow through it.

Today Exchange Station and Greengate are being reborn with offices and apartments and the Medieval Quarter is finally being celebrated once more with development plans for both the Cathedral and Chetham’s School at its heart; so why not pop along to the Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants and we’ll raise a toast to the independence of Mancunian trade with a glass of fine wine, beer, cider... or even mead!

A display showcasing the history of 42-44 Victoria Bridge will be created for Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants as part of Manchester Histories Festival 2016 Heritage Window Project between 3-12 June.

Manchester Histories wants businesses across Greater Manchester to get creative and create displays of anything from objects, photographs, plans, and maps, to the stories of their employees and customers, and showcase their links in the City region. Find out more here. If you want your window to be included in the Heritage Window project and Manchester Histories Festival and included on the website and the social media campaign, email or call 0161 306 1982 by 5pm on Friday 29 April to register your interest.

Images courtesy: Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council and Hanging Ditch Wine Merchants.

Harry Stokes – a female husband in Manchester.

Friday 8 April 2016

By Jenny White

I’ve been researching the life of Harry Stokes (c1799 – 1859), a master bricklayer who specialised in chimney construction. Harry’s life hit the headlines when he was outed as a ‘man-woman’, a ‘female husband’ – first in 1838 when his wife sought a separation due to his drunken rages and withholding of housekeeping; and then in 1859 at his death inquest after his body was found in the River Irwell. The phrase ‘female husband’ was used to describe a person born with a biologically female body but who lived life as a man, including taking a wife.

Extract from ‘A FEMALE HUSBAND IN MANCHESTER’, The Observer, April 16, 1838

Image: extract from ‘A FEMALE HUSBAND IN MANCHESTER’, The Observer, April 16, 1838

I first encountered Harry in the excellent Lesbian History Sourcebook, and was keen to find out more about this local LGBT historical character. There were discrepancies between the accounts of Harry’s life given in the various news reports, so it was great to find Harry listed in Manchester trade directories, rate books, and censuses, and to be able to separate some of the fact from fiction.

For example the 1838 news reports explain that Harry’s first marriage lasted 22 years but the 1859 reports highlight that it lasted just one day. It can be seen that the stories from 1859 used cheeky street ballads composed about Harry as their source for the tale of the marriage day gone wrong. The songs may have been based on those printed in 1829 about James Allen, a ‘female husband’ in London.

Extract from The Female Husband ballad, published 1829 by T Birt

Image: Extract from The Female Husband ballad, published 1829 by T Birt.

Manchester rate books and trade directories confirm that in the 1820s and 30s Harry built up a successful bricklaying firm. He’s listed as living down Potter Street, and Cumberland Street – in today’s Spinningfields – Cumberland Street was on the site where The Avenue is today. Harry is also listed as a special constable sworn in to police events where there were large gatherings of people with the potential for trouble, such as protest marches and demonstrations.

Pigot’s map of Manchester 1832, showing Harry Stokes’s stomping ground

After separating from his first wife, Harry set up home with a widow called Francis Collins. The couple moved to Salford for two years and then in 1840 they established a beerhouse at numbers 3 – 5 Quay Street, later moving to Camp Street. Francis’s son John from her first marriage was later reported as saying that he "always regarded Harry as his stepfather, and his mother assumed the name of Stokes and passed as his wife."In 1859 Harry’s body was found in the River Irwell, not far from where Media City is today.

Today we could classify Harry as a member of the LGBT+ community. But the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans only came into use relatively recently, and we can’t go back in time and interview Harry and other ‘female husbands’ about how they saw their identities and life choices.

Harry’s life can be clearly seen in the framework of trans history – he lived as a man because that’s what he considered his true gender to be. In the context of lesbian history ‘female husbands’ are seen as masculine women who passed as male to pursue relationships with women. Other historians view ‘female husbands’ as women who cross-dressed for financial reasons – women were barred from most skilled trades, and typically earned less than half of a man’s wage.

For more information about Harry’s life; how female husbands were viewed in the 1800s; and  Manchester’s other female husbands, check out the Warp & Weft blog at Jenny also be giving a talk on Harry’s life at the Manchester Histories Festival in June. And she recommends the 2011 film Albert Nobbs starring Glen Close and which explores the lives of ‘female husbands’.

Jenny White is an arts & heritage co-ordinator, blanket-stitch fan and part of Warp & Weft.

Detective Jerome Caminada: Manchester’s Sherlock Holmes

Monday 28 March 2016

Jerome CaminadaIn the nineteenth century Manchester was one of the most dangerous places in England. The notorious rookeries were populated by all manner of criminals, from gangs of thieves and professional beggars to ruthless con artists and nimble pickpockets. In the sordid alleys and labyrinthine streets were illegal beer houses, disreputable gin palaces and brothels. The crime rate was staggering and in the 1870s, it was four times higher than that in London. Born in the slums to an immigrant family, Detective Caminada set out on a quest to clean up the streets of his city.

Jerome Caminada was born on 15 March 1844 in Peter Street, Deansgate, opposite the Free Trade Hall. His father was an Italian cabinetmaker and his mother had Irish roots. Jerome’s childhood was soon shattered by the deaths of his father and four siblings, leaving the family in desperate poverty. Despite the hardships, he overcame the odds and in 1868, at the age of 23, Jerome joined the Manchester City Police Force, where his firsthand knowledge of the shady characters of his seedy neighbourhood would become his most effective weapon in fighting crime.Deansgate

Detective Caminada’s early investigations included quack doctors, racecourse pickpockets, bogus heir hunters and even the participants of a cross-dressing ball. Promoted into the detective team, he developed the groundbreaking techniques that would link him, in the minds of the contemporary public, with the newly penned stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Like Sherlock, Caminada was a master of disguise and an expert in deduction. He used his encyclopaedic knowledge of the criminal fraternity to arrest thieves, thugs and charlatans. He even had his own network of informants, with whom he exchanged information on the back pew of The Hidden Gem[1].

In 1887, Detective Caminada confronted his own ‘Professor Moriarty’ in a deadly struggle. Bob Horridge was a violent burglar, who committed daring robberies and would stop at nothing to evade the law. Their rivalry lasted two decades until Horridge shot two policemen and the detective vowed to end his reign of terror. Their final battle took place in Liverpool and the thief went down for life. With Horridge behind bars, Detective Caminada went on to face his most baffling case yet: ‘The Manchester Cab Mystery’, which he solved using his brilliant powers of deduction.

            On 26 February 1889, paper merchant John Fletcher hailed a cab from the steps of Manchester Cathedral, in the company of a young man. Later that evening, the businessman was found dead and his companion had disappeared. Detective Caminada deduced that Fletcher had been poisoned by chloral hydrate, used in illegal prize fights.  He brought the culprit to justice in the record time of three weeks. This sensational case catapulted Jerome Caminada into national fame, earning him his reputation as ‘Manchester’s Sherlock Holmes’.

Detective Caminada fought crime tirelessly in his city for 30 years. Later in his career he tackled anarchists, scuttlers and child killers. He also revealed that he had been working undercover for the British government tracking Fenian suspects for two decades. Jerome died on 10 March 1914 and is buried in Southern Cemetery. A true Victorian supersleuth, he was one of the finest detectives in the history of Manchester.

Thanks to author Angela Buckley for this blog. You can find out more about Detective Caminada in The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley. Check out Angela’s website for more about her crime writing.

[1]The Hidden Gem, or officially St Mary’s Catholic Church, is located on Mulberry Street in Manchester, England.

Hidden Treasures: Medieval Ceiling Carvings at Manchester Cathedral

Friday 25 March 2016

New photographs have revealed the weird and wonderful medieval carvings decorating the Cathedral’s ceiling for the first time in over 50 years.

Manchester Cathedral nave ceiling]Anyone who has visited the Manchester Cathedral recently will have seen the scaffolding around the quire, in preparation for the installation of the new organ in autumn this year. While the scaffolding has temporarily obscured some of the Cathedral’s medieval woodwork, it has also provided access to the wonderful pieces usually hidden from view, in the highest points of the building. Photographer Robert Watson, who had an exhibition at the Cathedral in March, managed to capture these new images of the ceiling bosses from the top of the scaffold. Staff at the Cathedral and at Chetham’s Library were very excited to see many of these carvings for the first time!

Indeed, we are lucky that such examples of medieval carving have survived. Manchester Cathedral was subject to some major re-building work in the nineteenth century – an era characterised by an often ruthless approach to ‘ancient’ architecture – hence its Victorian exterior. Fortunately the architect J. S. Crowther was a conservative restorer by the standards of the day and he helped to preserve the medieval work of the Cathedral’s interior. While the structure of the ceiling was completely replaced in facsimile of the original, the medieval ceiling bosses and ‘minstrel angels’ were simply restored and returned to their original positions… more or less. The angels on the north side all have wind instruments, and on the south side they all have strings, except for the top pair. The switch is thought to be an accidental misplacement on the part of the nineteenth-century restorers. Some think it’s about time that this mistake was rectified – others like the story!

Minstrel Angel

Two of the carvings depict what is known as the ‘Huntington Rebus’. This is a pictorial pun on the name of the warden John Huntington (1422-58) – one image depicts ‘hunting’ and the other, shown here, a ‘tun’ (a barrel of ale). The Huntington Rebus is replicated in a stone carving, probably of the same date, on the Cathedral’s opposite wall – this is lower down and more easily visible. Comparing the two, it seems that the carvers of the less-visible wooden image might have had a little more latitude…


The ceiling bosses also add to the Cathedral’s collection of mythical beasts and ‘green men’ – the mysterious leafy faces of supposedly pre-Christian origins that frequently adorn church architecture.

Dragons - Manchester Cathedral

Green Man - Manchester Cathedral

The Cathedral’s ceiling carvings are, of course, difficult to see from the ground. But some of them bear a striking resemblance to those at Chetham’s Library (where the ceilings are lower!) which might indicate that they were carved by the same craftsmen. If you visit John Rylands Library, too, you can see the bosses in the stone ceilings of their Victorian corridors that mimic the medieval style, with leafy designs and mythical creatures. Manchester Cathedral and Chetham’s Library are hoping to host a joint event in the near future, inviting visitors to take a closer look and learn more about these fine examples of medieval craftsmanship. Details of forthcoming events are always available at

If you have a story connected with Manchester Cathedral or the medieval Hanging Bridge and their hidden histories, we would love to hear from you! Share your memories at or tweet us @ManCathedral

Manchester Cathedral is running ‘Time Travelling’ family learning events as part of Manchester Histories Festival 2016. For details see  The Cathedral Visitor Centre is opening a new exhibition at the medieval Hanging Bridge for the Festival, open 3-11 June Mon-Sat 9-5pm.

All images courtesy: Robert Watson photography

Blog by Grace Timperley

Purring – Sport of The People

Friday 11 March 2016

Purring – Sport of The People is an exhibition currently showing at Gallery Oldham which explores the lost histories of clog fighting in Oldham and surrounding areas. The following blog was written by artist and contributor to the exhibition, Anna FC Smith. 

Fighting on the Fields The idea for the exhibition took seed in 2013 as I was just beginning a project on clog dancing. I was chatting to a friend about my project when he asked if I had heard of clog fighting, a local sport his dad had told him about. As he described this mysterious and illegal sport I was compelled to find out more. I started by looking in the library at the Museum of Wigan life and found a small book by AJ Hawkes which stated the sport had died out in Wigan around 1910.  I then spoke to my friend’s father who recalled his dad going to matches and speaking about it in the 1930s. This tantalising glimpse had me hooked as I realised that not only was very little known about the custom, it was also just in the reach of living memory. I seized this as my new project and approached the Museum of Wigan Life to support me in my research and to exhibit my results.

I didn’t just want to find out what the men had done, but to understand why they did it and to get a contextual understanding of their lives, building up a picture of working class culture that was nearly completely lost to time. So, I put a call out to the local newspapers and website forums for remembrances, and I started looking in Bolton, and Wigan and Leigh archives, trawling history books and newspaper archives. I discovered that alongside grudge settling matches, clog fighting was a semi professional (yet underground) sport. Pubs and areas had their own champions who would travel around districts for matches organised by ‘promoters’ and landlords. The sport was played mainly by miners and spread from Wales, all across Lancashire, Cornwall and Yorkshire. It was also exported to America with Welsh and English emigrant miners.

In 2015 I approached Galley Oldham as the town had featured prominently in my research. We put out another call for remembrances and I continued my search in newspapers and in Oldham Local Studies & Archives. I found that the towns annual Wakes and Rushcart had been host to many matches. The famous Oldham chronicler Edwin Butterworth had worked for Thomas Baines and collected a lot of the information contained in Baine’s Lancashire, which is one of the earliest accounts of Lancashire purring.Leg Fracture

My research brought to light the fact that purring continued until the mid to late 1950s, long after indications from official records and I have discovered many different methods, locations and even names of champions.  Over the course of my 2 years research I have interviewed or had communication from more than 30 members of the public with tales of clog fighting, and to my delight a handful of people who actually witnessed matches as children. Unfortunately the one thing that I have yet to find is a pair of original fighting clogs as it seems champions were buried in them, almost Viking warrior style. I am still looking to hear tales of the sport and am desperate to lay my hands on a pair of fighting clogs. 

As a personal satisfaction, while researching for the Oldham exhibition, I was contacted by the Saddleworth Morris Men. They had commemorated a clog fight in their Delph Dance and so my project has come full circle back to the clog dancing, where the whole journey began.

Images: (Top) Anna FC Smith, Fighting in the Fields, 2015. (Bottom) Anna FC Smith, Leg Fracture, 2015


Purring – Sport of The People continues to Sunday 9 April at Gallery Oldham.

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