Manchester Histories Festival

Edward II ft. Jennifer Reid: Manchester’s Improving Daily Album Launch

Friday 4 March 2016

On Thursday 18th of February audiences were treated to performance in the very special surroundings of the new performance space at Manchester Central Library by the Manchester based reggae band Edward II alongside Jennifer Reid. 

Once signed to Cooking Vinyl, Edward II are known for their extensive international touring, presented their new project ‘Manchester’s Improving .

RagbagThe band have taken a selection of songs from the book by Harry Boardman and Roy Palmer called ‘The Manchester Ballads’, which in turn are a selection of Broadside Ballads published in Manchester during the Industrial Revolution (and now held at Manchester Central Library).  They have re-worked the songs into their own unique contemporary urban style drawing on reggae rhythms and harmonies, combined with folk instrumentation, placing the songs in a modern context and bringing back to life the words of songwriters long gone.  

The Manchester Ballads was originally published with financial help from the education offices at Manchester City Council, and was produced in a handsome hardback card case, and is in the form of a folio collection of loose- leaf facsimile prints of the original penny broadsheets. There is accompanying text with many of the ballads, giving the biography of the song and, where necessary, a glossary of dialect terms. There are tunes suggested to allow the ballads to be sung communally in pubs and at home, and whilst penny broadsides were produced in the hundreds, many were written to be sung to well known tunes. The impoverished audience would, with few exceptions, have no ability to read music  and many would also be totally illiterate, only learning the songs through the oral tradition of singing in pubs, at markets and in local homes.

The Manchester Ballads are, in essence, a snapshot of Mancunian life in the industrial era. However, they are a snapshot from a very selective source, and the themes, events, places and characters that are outlined within the lyrics of the ballads should be seen in the context not only of their chance survival, but also of the reasons for publication.

The themes in the Manchester Ballads speak of struggle Edward II with candles(The Spinners Lamentation 1846), poverty (Tinkers Garden 1837), civic uprisings (The Meeting at Peterloo 1819) and communal tragedy (The Great Flood 1872). However, they also recall good nights out (Victoria Bridge on a Saturday Night 1861), day trips around the region (Johnny Green’s Trip fro’ Owdhum to see the Manchester Railway 1832) and the various innovations and achievements of industrial Manchester are mentioned, and praised, throughout.

The songs highlight both the enormous progress made over the last two hundred years which is to be expected, however what is perhaps more of a surprise is the commonality of humour, irreverence, love, talent and intelligence which undoubtedly connects most profoundly with a modern audience.   

This one off event celebrated the launch of the CD, and all attendees received a signed copy of the CD as well as an opportunity to see a selection of the original broadside collection.  

With thanks to Gavin Sharp, Chief Executive Officer of Band on the Wall and member of Edward II for this blog post.

How People Used to Live

Friday 26 February 2016

On 18th January 2016, parents and teachers of Year 5 Pupils from the New Islington Free School were treated to a tour of some of Ancoats’ most historic sites – from the pupils themselves!

This was part of the How People Used to Live in Ancoats project, run with the help of University of Manchester historian Professor Hannah Barker. Pupils were asked to prepare presentations in small groups, with each group being given a different site to research.

George Leigh Talk These included Murray Mills, The Ice Plant (formerly known as Blossom Street Ice Company), Loom Street, George Leigh Street, Victoria Square and George Leigh School.

The project enabled pupils to develop their skills in evaluating historical evidence, their knowledge of local history and their English skills. For each of the sites, pupils were given a series of online resources and contemporary writings, including Friedrich Engel’s The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845). They then used this evidence to answer questions about each site. For instance, the pupils were asked what each site was once used for, and what life might have been like for the people who lived and worked in the area, comparing this to how the buildings are used now and what life is like for us today.Loom Street

Some groups considered wider historical events and movements: Loom Street was linked to the historic Peterloo Massacre in 1819, by tracing former residents who had been involved in the protest; the Ice Plant site was used to highlight the Italian Heritage of the area (including the history of ice cream making!); and George Leigh Street was discussed in terms of the wider context of the living conditions during the Industrial Revolution, using census records.Ascoats schools tour group photo

On the day of the tour, the pupils braved the cold January streets to present their findings to teachers and parents. Each group delivered articulate and detailed presentations, with some even including dramatised interpretations of events!

It was clear a great deal of hard work and enthusiasm had gone into their work. Congratulations to all pupils involved!

You can see the route they followed, the sites they researched and the sources they used yourself. Download a copy of the teaching pack HERE.

You can see the route they followed, the sites they researched yourself. Ascoats route map

With thanks to the pupils, teachers and parents of the New Islington Free School; Hannah Barker, from the University of Manchester History Department and the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society.

A Brief History of Manchester's Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art

Friday 12 February 2016

As we celebrate Chinese New Year and Manchester's Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art celebrates its 30 year anniversary, they contribute to our blog:

Throughout Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA)’s history it has sustained a commitment to representing Chinese arts and culture in the UK. Today it is the UK’s leading organisation for the promotion of Chinese contemporary art, producing an internationally renowned artistic programme and developing a reputation as a centre for research.

Chinese View 86The organisation began in 1986 when Hong Kong artist Amy Lai organised Chinese View ‘86, the first Chinese festival in Manchester, with the intention of providing a platform for the Chinese artistic community and to develop the positive identity of Chinese culture in Britain. One year later the Chinese Arts Centre opened its doors on Charlotte Street in Manchester’s Chinatown as a registered charity with government funding, founded with the objective of advancing the education of the public in contemporary Chinese arts and culture. The first large-scale contemporary art exhibition was Beyond the Chinese Takeaway in 1992, which represented the experiences of second and third generation British Chinese artists.Beyond Chinese Takeaway

In 1996, led by CEO Sarah Champion (now MP for Rotherham). Chinese Arts Centre found a new venue on Edge Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The move signalled the centre’s shift to becoming a contemporary arts venue, with improved gallery spaces and facilities.

The renewed focus of the artistic programme was to make Chinese art and culture accessible to Manchester’s arts audiences, avoiding associations with out-dated and overly traditional representations of Chinese culture and folklore. The departure from Manchester’s China Town could be seen as symbolic of a broader cultural shift in perceptions of the British Chinese community during this period and the desire to encourage mainstream audiences to engage with Chinese arts.

Edge StIn the summer of 1999 a devastating fire destroyed the Edge Street building, temporarily depriving Chinese Arts Centre of its venue; however the building was quickly restored.


Chinese Arts Centre changed venue again in 2003 to the current RIBA award-winning building location on Thomas Street; a move funded by an Arts Council England Lottery grant. The new purpose built facilities included a Gallery, unique artist-in-residence studio, library and resource space, education and events suite and teashop (now Gallery 2).

Chinese Arts Centre continued to extend its work to a national level, acting as an agency for Chinese arts in Britain and inviting collaborations with other organisations. Gradually it  built up a network of Chinese artists from across the country, enhancing the visibility of the Chinese artistic community. The newly built Residency studio allowed us to develop a unique offer of support for artists, who could explore their artistic practice through living and working in the building. professional development of emerging East Asian artists.

When Curator Sally Lai took on the role of Director in 2008 she was tasked with re-evaluating the work of the centre to adapt and respond to changes in the political climate. Under her directorship the centre began to refocus its aims to respond to a changing global dynamic, opening up opportunities internationally with organisations and artists across East Asia – evolving to become an international agency for Chinese contemporary art.

CFCCAThis preceded the change of name from Chinese Arts Centre to Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in November 2013. The re-brand affirmed the organisation’s position as a future-facing organisation responding to China’s growing cultural and economic influence. Overseen by interim Director Sarah Fisher, 2013 also saw the formation of a partnership with the University of Salford to develop a unique collection of Chinese Contemporary Art. This partnership signposted our broader research objectives which continues to develop through an online ‘Chinese Contemporary Research Network’, partnerships with higher education institutions, publications, symposia and an archive and library resource.

In 2014 CFCCA became a major partner in the third Asia Triennial Manchester, curating Harmonious Society, the largest exhibition of contemporary Chinese art in the UK to date. Harmonious Society was a significant achievement for CFCCA, negotiating international collaborations to bring over 30 artists to 6 Manchester venues.

Zoe Dunbar took the helm as CFCCA’s new permanent Director at the end of 2014, and continues to develop the role of CFCCA as leading the UK in exploring the Chinese Century through contemporary art.

In 2016 CFCCA commemorates its 30th anniversary with a programme of events and exhibitions spanning 6 months featuring prestigious artists, curators and academics who have each previously contributed to the organisation at various stages of its 30 year history. This ambitious programme launched on 4 February 2016 to coincide with Chinese New Year.

To find out more about CFCCA’s 30 Year anniversary programme please visit:

Follow them on Twitter @CFCCA_UK or Facebook


(top/left) Chinese View '86 logo.

(middle/right) Beyond The Chinese Takeaway poster.

(middle/left) Chinese Arts Centre, Edge Street, circa 1998.

(bottom/left) CFCCA exterior by Arthur Siuksta (2015).

50 years of the Victorian Society in Manchester

Saturday 6 February 2016

The Victorian Society’s Manchester Group held its inaugural meeting on 18 January 1966. Over 450 people met in Alfred Waterhouse’s Town Hall with great interest shown by the press, radio and television. The meeting was held jointly with the Manchester Society of Architects, which that year was celebrating its centenary and Frank Jenkins of the Manchester School of Architecture was in the chair. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Manchester attended – the Lord Mayor wearing the diamond incrusted insignia created for an 1850s visit by Queen Victoria.

Prof. Nikolaus Pevsner, architectural historian and creator and main author of the authoritative series The Buildings of England (1951 –’74), gave the address on the understanding and appreciation of Victorian architecture.

The Victorian Society itself was formed in 1958, in response to the growing threat to fine examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The Society was one of many groups around the country and was in the forefront of long and hard battles to try to limit needless damage to our townscapes. We continue to demonstrate that conservation and re-use of historic places is a good thing. Unfortunately, many of the consequences of poor redevelopment were irreversible and blight our towns and cities today.

The Manchester Group started raising awareness of Manchester’s architectural riches, as it continues to do, through guided walks and lectures. It also carried out thematic studies of building types, forgotten historic areas such as Ancoats and Castlefield and the works of prominent Manchester architects. These studies were part of a long term campaign to have Manchester’s woefully inadequate schedule of listed buildings remedied. In 1972 only 25 Victorian buildings in Manchester were listed. It took many years of campaigning and providing information to gradually achieve the necessary correction. As a result hundreds of Victorian buildings were recognised as being of national architectural significance and Manchester’s position as a great Victorian city was eventually celebrated.

Since the Second World War Manchester, in common with all our great cities, had suffered some sad losses. These include the General Post Office and York House - where even Walter Gropius’ support for our campaign couldn’t save this early modernist building.

Other buildings were under threat. Parrs Bank (later the National Westminster Bank) at the junction of York Street and Spring Gardens was listed Grade II* in 1972. Designed by Charles Heathcote in 1902, this Edwardian baroque masterpiece was described by Pevsner as ‘the most opulent banking hall ... surviving in Manchester, and for that matter in London’. Both design and material quality were superb – seventeen foot high grand antique Pyrenean marble columns, bronze windows and solid mahogany fittings. In 1975 demolition consent was sought to permit the construction of a speculative office block and was granted by the City Council almost immediately.

After the Society raised an 11,000 signature petition the Bank, concerned by the extensive adverse publicity, handed back their listed building consent and the building survives.

Also in 1975, following a proposal by the City Council to demolish the Albert Memorial the group launched a ‘Save Albert’ campaign.

For many years the Manchester Group worked to save the world’s first railway station at Liverpool Road which lay empty and threatened. It established the Liverpool Road Station Society which in turn helped to secure the transfer of the site to Greater Manchester County Council as the new home of the North West Museum of Science and Industry (now Museum of Science and Industry). In 1979 we enjoyed the Rocket 150 celebration, held to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Rainhill Trials, whilst the following year the anniversary of the station opening was celebrated on the secured site.

Oldham Town HallThe Manchester Group has also been involved with many notable recent successes, such as at The Monastery, Gorton, Oldham Town Hall, Ancoats Dispensary and London Road Fire Station.

To celebrate the Victorian Society’s work to change public attitudes towards the nineteenth century’s best architecture, noted architectural historian Gavin Stamp has curated a large photographic exhibition which includes local images from Greater Manchester. Marking the 50th anniversary of the Manchester Group of the Society, Saving a Century finishes a 65-venue tour around Britain at The John Rylands Library on Deansgate, Manchester until 24th March.

Ken Moth and Steve Roman

The Victorian Society is the national charity campaigning for the Victorian and Edwardian historic environment.

Follow them on Twitter @thevicsoc or Facebook

Image: Oldham Town Hall, courtesy David Harrison. 

The Bradford Pit Project; an update from one of Manchester Community Histories Award 2014 Winners - Lauren Murphy

Sunday 3 January 2016

In 2014 I won the Community Award as part of the Manchester Community Map of the Bradford Pit area courtesy Remembering Bradford Pit ProjectHistories Awards with The Bradford Pit Project. 

To give you a bit of background on the project, Bradford Colliery was a fundamental contributor to the fuel and power industry for years. Today, the Etihad campus occupies the site on which the colliery once stood. After its closure in 1968 and demolition in 1973 there have been various changes to East Manchester’s physical development and regeneration, which means there has been a lessening awareness of the area’s heritage.

My Grandfather was a former Bradford Miner and suffered an accident there which affected the rest of his life. After his passing I was inspired to research the history of the site and develop a project for a permanent commemoration. 

Miners visit St Brigids Primary School The project’s exhibition ‘Remembering Bradford Pit’ ran as part of Manchester Histories Festival in 2014 and was nominated for the award because of the work done with Beswick Library and St. Brigids Primary School. A visit was arranged to ‘tell the stories of the underground’ to the children. The event included activities such as ‘tally’ stamping and coal drawing to capture the children’s responses to the stories. The aim of the exhibition and miners visit was to help the Beswick/Bradford community rediscover what is an important part of the area’s heritage. Children drawings produced in response to listening to oral histories

During the awards ceremony, I was approached by Laing O’Rourke, sponsors of the Community Award, who were so impressed with the project that they offered me a 6 month placement during which I was appointed the role of ‘Regeneration and Community Co-ordinator’. I gained a fixed term contract with the company to work on The Bradford Pit Project full time to bring the project into fruition. Since then I have been able to spend my time developing the phases of the project in order to realise it's end aim of creating a landmark, that is a celebration of this pioneering area. 

The prize money has contributed to the development of the project’s website which allows the public to share their stories and memories on the area aiding the development of the project’s archive. The archive is to be housed at Archives+ Manchester Central Library as a permanent resource for generations to come. 

The recognition received and whole experience of Manchester Histories Festival, provided me the stepping stones and break the project needed in order to realise its full potential and aims. Without the festivals awards I wouldn’t have been able to propel the project to the stage it is currently at and have even been given the amazing opportunity to do this.

Entries and nominations for the 2016 Manchester Histories Community Awards 2016 close at 5pm on Friday 29th January 2016. Full details and application forms are available through the Manchester Histories' website.

Tagged in CommunitiesFestival

Angel Meadow, Gravestone Genealogy with Friends of Angle Meadow

Monday 7 December 2015

2014 Manchester Histories' Community Award Judges' Recommended prize winners - Friends of Angel Meadow and Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society have written this insightful blog post about their joint project and what they have done since winning the award.

St Michael’s Flags and Angel Meadow park is situated close to Manchester city centre, near to the new Co-operative Group headquarters. St Michael’s Church stood on the site and LS Lowry depicted the area in several of his paintings.

Angel Meadow was originally on the outskirts of the city [Manchester] and was once a field of wildflowers sloping down to the River Irk. Fast forward a few hundred years and it was described as “the lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester”. After the Industrial Revolution, the area became an Irish slum and land next to the old church became a paupers burial ground. An estimated 30,000 bodies are buried here. The German philosopher, social scientist and journalist, Friedrich Engels studied the area for his Conditions of the Working Classes in England (1845).

Friends of Angel Meadow or FOAM was formed in 2004 in Degeneration of Angel MeadowManchester. Since then, the area has been transformed from an abandoned, unloved site into a green retreat amid the bustle of the city.

All that remains of the church today is around 50 gravestones which form part of a planting area within the park. Members of FOAM and park users had often asked about the histories and fates of people inscribed on these stones and we frequently come across tourists visiting the park after discovering ancestors with links to the area. This interest led to a collaboration between Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society (MLFHS) and FOAM to look into the people behind the names and the “Who Do You Think They Were?” project was born.

Our aim [through the project] was to discover more about the people buried in this historical park. Along the way our volunteers learnt about genealogical research, most for the first time. We discovered links to interesting Manchester characters and made contact with descendants in far flung places who were as excited as we were to discover their links to Manchester and its history.

MLFHS were incredibly supportive from the outset. Their burial ground expert, John Marsden, spoke at our Community Day and provided a help sheet explaining how to get started for novice genealogists. MLFHS ran sessions for FOAM volunteers.MLFHS did in-fact carry out a survey of the stones and their inscriptions in 1968, but FOAM’s survey in 2013 found that only 40% of those stones were still in situ. This meant that it was even more important to document this information and history for posterity as who knows what may happen in the next 40 years!

In 2014 FOAM and MLFHS were awarded a Judges' Recommended Prize of a trophy and cash prize in the Manchester Histories' Community Awards for the project ‘Angel Meadow Gravestone Genealogy’.

Memorial plaque at Southern Cemetery FOAM spent some of the prize money on a memorial plaque to recognise unmarked graves (see image to the left). Works in the park in 2014 meant that graves were disturbed and bones discovered were reburied at Southern Cemetery by Manchester City Council (MCC) in an unmarked “paupers” grave. We felt it was important that the new grave was marked in some way that made clear the historical link back to Angel Meadow. FOAM members also planted some bulbs at the grave so it should look lovely in spring. We combined this with a Southern Cemetery Tour from Emma Fox of Manchester Guided Tours and showed her the grave so she could incorporate this into future tours.

Since winning the award we have been in contact with people as far away as America who have discovered their family links to Manchester via our website which is really encouraging. John Marsden of MLFHS has also subsequently published a book on Manchester’s old burial grounds which includes a chapter on Angel Meadow and the New Burying Ground - We also decided to continue our historical research and some of our members looked into the archives of the two Ragged Schools in our area – the Sharp Street and Chartered Street Ragged Schools. FOAM subsequently gave a talk at the Ragged University Project. This research is ongoing and we plan to co-host a talk next year on site.

Over recent years FOAM has worked closely with MCC and The Co-operative Group/NOMA, along with other property developers in the area. Whilst we have not always seen eye to eye; all sides recognise that St Michael’s New entrance to Angel MeadowFlags and Angel Meadow is a valuable asset to the area and we are all keen to ensure that the history and heritage of the site is protected as further development occurs in the area. Section 106 money provided to MCC by developers led to the rebuilding of the boundary wall on Aspin Lane and the reopening of the “Lowry Steps” in 2014, and European Regional Development Fund grants sourced by The Co-operative Group as part of their NOMA re-development have resulted in a new entrance to the park being formed. NOMA also gave FOAM thousands of spring bulbs and we held a planting session in November and a reopening event on Sunday  6 December this year.

If anyone wants to get involved and learn more, FOAM runs a variety of events throughout the year including; litter pick and gardening sessions, tree, bulb and wildflower planting, historical research and talks and community events, and we always welcome volunteers. A number of guided tours also operate regularly in the area including New Manchester Walks and Manchester Tour Guides.

Entries and nominations for the 2016 Manchester Histories Community Awards 2016 close at 5pm on Friday 29th January 2016. Full details and application forms are available through the Manchester Histories' website.

Tagged in CommunitiesPeople

One Pound Reward for a Lost Boy with Vicci McCann

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Among the posters and handbills of the Warrington County Borough police collection in the Lancashire Archives, there is a poster detailing the loss of an Italian boy at Preston, while travelling to Manchester. It is from about 1860/61. The boy's name is Antonio Grafigna, aged 11 and he is described as having chesnut eyes and hair, wearing a hairy cap, Italian fustian jacket and drab corduroy trousers. An intriguing aspect of his description is that he has with him guinea pigs and white mice, suggesting that Antonio was a street entertainer.

Antonio's brother Davide, named on the poster as 'Davis' hadBlack and white image displaying a LOST poster for a young Italian boy who was lost in Preston. A one pound reward is offered for his return and people are to contact his brother who was living in Back Turner Street Manchester. Image courtesy of Lancashir offered a £1 reward for information and gave his address as 20 Back Turner Street , Manchester. Back Turner Street in the Northern Quarter is also very close to Ancoats, which in the 19th century was known as 'Ancoats Little Italy' because of the large number of Italian immigrants who settled there. Among these immigrants were a large number of 'Italian Musicians' which was a common euphemism for street entertainer or barrel organ musician. A large number of child street entertainers were part of this music industry, and our 'Lost: Boy from Italy' poster is evidence of a history that is often dark and involved what was essentially child trafficking.

Italian children were commonly purchased from their parents, sometimes kidnapped, by men known as Padroni. The children would be taught to sing or play and while some managed to save money and eventually prosper, while under the control of the Padroni they were often abused, beaten and otherwise cruelly treated. Because they were foreign nationals they were not covered by developing legislation controlling the employment of children in Britain.

According to Anthony Rea's web site 'Ancoats Little Italy', 'Manchester's Little Italy was well known for its entertainers and especially its street musicians.' There were also a number of barrel organ manufacturers who set up in Manchester in the late 19th century including, the Antonelli family and Antonio Varetto.

The story has a happy ending as Antionio was found and Antonio went on to set up a barrel organ hire shop and bar in Berlin and later was a partner in a company called 'Cocchi, Bacigalupo and Graffigna' making barrel organs. This and other handbills and posters relating to Manchester can be seen at Lancashire Archives in Preston.

Tagged in CommunitiesPeople

Manchester's Apple Market with Hannah Barker

Monday 2 November 2015

On Apple Day (21 October) Helping Britain Blossom launched a scheme in Manchester that aims to restore and create 100 community orchards in the UK by 2017. As part of the launch they brought back to life Manchester’s apple market that used Black and white photograph sketch of Fennel Street in Manchester in 1820 showing different buildings and a man on a horse crossing the streetto exist on Fennel St in the City Centre, hoping to encourage volunteers and to locate some of the region's forgotten orchards. I went along to provide some historical context.

Though Manchester’s main market during the eighteenth century was in Market Place, by the later part of the century lack of space led to a series of specialized markets setting up in adjoining streets, when the Apple or Fruit market moved to Fennel Street. Here it remained from 1769 to 1846 when the market made way for road improvements.

The Apple Market in Manchester was the traditional name for the town’s fruit market. Although other types of fruit were sold here, apples dominated the fruit trade from at least the eighteenth century, hence the market’s name.

Roger Scola, who traced the food supply of Victorian Manchester in his book, Feeding the Victorian City: The Food Supply of Manchester 1770-1870 (1992) noted that whilst apples arrived to the town from countiesImage of a deed map of Manchester from 1760 - 1783 in colour showing orchards growing near Shudehill in Manchester. Image courtesy of Chetham's Library such as Worcestershire and Herefordshire, they were also grown more locally in the market garden-districts around Warrington and Stretford as well as in a large number of small mixed farms.

We can also see evidence of apple growing right in the centre of town in a deed map dating from c.1760-1783 held at Chetham's Library. This shows in unusual detail a series of plots around Shude Hill – a mere stone’s throw from the site of the Apple Market. Here we can see what look to be two small orchards in the gardens of two properties. Hopefully we will soon see more small orchards in and around greater Manchester.

Hannah is Professor of British History at the University of Manchester, Historical Advisor to the National Trust's Quarry Bank Mill and Chair of Manchester Histories. You can read more about Hannah's research on her website

Tagged in Communities

Life After Dark with Dave Haslam

Friday 3 July 2015

Researching my new book ‘Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs & Music Venues’ involved exploring many routes. It was five years in the making. In some ways, as you might imagine it was inspired by what I witnessed at clubs I have DJd at, including the Hacienda, and the Boardwalk in Manchester in the 1980s and 1990s.

But distance from those days has given me a wider perception; that it’s not just about what happens in the four walls of a great club or venue but also about how ideas and influences percolate out from them, change lives, nurture and shape communities.

Colour image of the front cover of Dave Haslam's new book Life After Dark about the club scene across the UKIf you take a look at any local history websites and message boards, many of the most active are those hosting memories of clubs and music venues. People remembering gigs, trying to contact friends, trying to place exactly where a long gone venue had been, and sharing links to the music that in some way transports them back to the clubs and venues they loved.

So the book was also inspired by the desire to document other places, places I’d not been to, but clubs and venues that had clearly had an impact on the personalities and the lives of so many people. From Bristol to Belfast, from Streatham to Sheffield.

Some of these nightclubs and music venues in the book are well-known - Wigan Casino, the Marquee etc - but any historian likes to find out what was going on under the radar. The places that have been slightly neglected. Locally, for example; the rave club the Thunderdome, or the Sixties venue the Tabernacle in Stockport.  And the book goes back far into the beginnings of the 19th Century; a time when no-one had much of an inclination to document nightlife venues. You hear most about Victorian music halls in the newspapers, for example, when there’s been an accident (a fire, usually) or some scandal.

I got off Google, and instead emailed people, phoned people, got on the train and interviewed people. What I learned time and again was how much of a personal attachment people have to the clubs and venues they frequented, and the sense of lived history embedded in venues like the Ritz in Manchester; whether memories go back to the 1980s and dancing at the Ritz on a Monday night to endless Smiths records, or the 1950s and 1960s when Phil Moss’s big band was in residence.

There’s plenty of intriguing social history, including that of the Afro-Caribbean community for whom venues were integral in the 1950s and 1960s, providing music links back to the West Indies, and a sense of community and strength here in Britain. For the black community, though, the establishing of self-organised venues was partly out of safety or necessity too; a product of the so-called “colour bar” city centres overtly or covertly deployed (“colour bar” is a polite name for a racist door policy).

So, nationwide, not everyone has only happy memories of nights out. I also couldn’t resist including a comment from a formerBlack and white photograph of the Ritz Manchester Image courtesy of Manchester Libraries & Archives habitué of the Ilford Palais; “Outside the Palais my girlfriend's brother had his jaw broken”.

At their best - ie. when there aren’t fights breaking out inside and outside - venues have a role in personal and communal memory but also have a role in cultural history too. In the book I give multiple examples of venues that act as catalysts, bringing people together, creating a sense of potential and often triggering cultural activity way beyond their four walls; in music, fashion, and art.

As we get older (I should know!), favourite venues close, landmarks buildings in our towns and cities get demolished, time moves on; to some of us, this process seems to have accelerated in recent years as property speculators and city planners run rampant in their search for ways to squeeze every penny out of every acre.

Seeing the end of buildings that once connect us to our past is traumatic. In the book’s last chapter, as you would expect, I attempts to deal with the threats to venues in the current era. In Manchester, this includes the possible end of one of my favourite venues; the Star & Garter.

But it isn’t all pessimism. There’s plenty of evidence that people go out as much as they ever did. And our city remains blessed with many great venues. Among the best, currently, is Albert Hall on Peter Street, refashioned out of huge chapel built by the Methodists in 1910. It’s a stunning venue, and the sense of history you feel inside those walls is part of the attraction. I see queues of people in their late teens and early twenties – the formative years, I guess, as your sense of identity and community and your music tastes are all being shaped – and I can tell that what they’ll be experiencing at the Albert Hall – or other Manchester venues – will live with them forever. Today’s good times are tomorrow’s favourite memories.


‘Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs & Music Venues’ by Dave Haslam is published on August 13th 2015. More information here;

Tagged in People

Volunteering at Manchester Histories with Becky Stevens

Wednesday 1 July 2015

My first experience as a volunteer for Manchester Histories was being sat in a freezing warehouse on Dale Street in the Northern Quarter. It was a few days before the March 2014 Festival began; myself and a few other volunteers were being Colour photo of Belle Vue Aces speedway bike at the Manchester Histories Festival 2014 Showground of the World Exhibitiontrained how to use fire extinguishers in preparation for the Belle Vue: Showground of the World exhibition. Although it doesn’t sound like the most enticing volunteer experience, we quickly bonded through a shared need for hot drinks and biscuits, the staple volunteer diet! We shook off the chill with stories about our various backgrounds and enthusiasm for history.  In hindsight, the memory of the night of fire-training is only one of many highly fulfilling abut also ultimately, life changing experiences I had!

Manchester Histories opened my eyes to the opportunities volunteering in the arts can offer. We were given the chance to build a wide skill set, which ranged from the basic to specialist. For example, I helped with administrative work, particularly following the festival with the evaluation research; worked with the public by invigilating exhibitions and events; and university lecturers taught us how to undertake oral histories interviews, in order to help build an archive of evidence from people who had memories of Belle Vue. The latter in particular was really rewarding. I spent a lot of time invigilating the exhibition, where I learned about a whole area of history I had previously known nothing about and it was also where I undertook the interviews. To be able to hear people’s memories, sometimes highly cherished ones, was not only incredibly interesting, but also a real privilege. I spoke with many who clearly had a great passion for Belle Vue and relished the opportunity to relive their youth through the footage and objects on display.                                                                           

Aside from volunteering for the Belle Vue exhibition, I was lucky enough to have my personal interest in the history of sport visitors behind a net take in an indoor rackets gametaken into account when allocations of volunteers were being done. I was therefore able to volunteer at a couple of events that focused on Manchester’s sporting heritage. These included helping to facilitate a tour at Manchester Tennis and Racquets Club, a building and institution that truly offers a glimpse into the past. It was like walking into a time capsule! Another event was at the National Football Museum for a very varied and interesting panel discussion, that included basketballer John Amaechi, broadcaster Terry Christian and historian Michael Wood, amongst others, entitled ‘Manchester Heroes: Should the City remember it’s Heroes?’.

My time at the festival had such an effect on me that it has hugely influenced my career path. Prior to my volunteering, I had plans to follow an academic route and intended to do an MA in History. I had even prepared for this, with a move to study in Edinburgh on the horizon. However, the week with the festival confirmed some existing doubts in my mind about this, and I realised what I had enjoyed most was the bringing together of strangers with shared interests and the exposure to ‘new’ histories, be it through a lecture or using an old warehouse as a venue. I therefore began an MA in Arts Management at the University of Manchester last September.  In my second semester I re-joined Manchester Histories for my work placement. It has been fantastic to see what is in store for Manchester Histories Festival 2016; next June can’t come soon enough!

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