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 Manchester. 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’.
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 - forgotten-fields.co.uk. 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 Flags 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.