NORTHERN SPIRIT

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It’s Mint Up North: Staying Here

January 31, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Kathryn's Studio

I met Kathryn Hodkinson when I first moved to Newcastle. She’s not from round here either, so when I was asked to curate this week on ‘A Wondrous Place’ I knew I wanted to chat to her about what made her stay.

Kathryn Hodgkinson: Newcastle has a particular relationship with the graduates that come up here to study and don’t leave again. There are strong courses, but as far as I can observe, people who’ve studied English and science and straight degrees, they do their degree and then go back to where they came from, or they’ll go and work in what’s perceived to be a more prosperous city. But up here people stay. And people stay when they don’t mean to stay like you did.

Degna Stone: I studied in Bristol and I felt completely disconnected from the art scene – I was vaguely aware of what was going on but I wasn’t really a part of it, it seemed more pushy and I had (and still do have) a massive inferiority complex and it seemed hard to make your way into it.

KH: There’s the whole street art movement kicked off by Banksy.  It’s being part of a group, so it feels more like there’s a persona that goes with being that particular type of creative person. Whereas I genuinely think up here there’s more room for complete individuals and people that don’t fit into a gang. If you get off the train it’s not full of swanky, cool people. It’s not…Shoreditch is an extreme example, but Bristol’s got a bit of that going on. There’s a way to fit in and a way not to fit in. I think in Newcastle it’s okay not to fit in, it’s easier somehow to forge your way as a complete individual. There is quite an established network, because it’s so small it’s easy to get around and to have a relative overview. There’s a lot more people doing things in little pockets and maybe that is about affording that kind of individuality and not having to be cool and being able to concentrate on what you actually do rather than how you look. I’m quite interested in the extent of people that do stay up here. There are little things popping up all the time like Heart Attack and Vine.

My involvement with Cobalt happened because the price of property is cheaper up here, or it was. It’s probably changed a bit now. There was certainly a time when it was cheaper than anywhere else, even big northern cities, way cheaper, and it’s meant that we do have a lot of studio groups that again give people opportunities. Brickworks, Mushroom Works, Lime Street, there’s Cobalt and then there’s a whole load of students from Northumbria who stayed and have taken over a massive office building.

DS: When did you decide you were staying?

KH: My external moderator from my degree had suggested that I applied to The Royal College of Art. I think she was called Elizabeth Swinburne and she called me to one side and said you should apply for the RCA, you’ll do well there, it will stretch you and you’ve got a good degree and we’d be happy to see an application from you. The RCA is the absolute pinnacle of an art career in this country and a bit of me was absolutely fascinated by this idea she’d put in my head and also really drawn to it and really flattered that she thought I could apply for it. But then I had this other side that was really aware that if I went to London I’d have no quality of life and that my need to earn money to put myself through that course would really inhibit my creativity. I’d worked at World Headquarters the whole way through my course up here, I hadn’t had any extra help and the grant wasn’t enough to live off so I’d worked really hard. I just had this sense that if I went to London I’d be really deeply stuck in a rat race.

I was living with a friend of mine called Laura Mundy, who’s brilliant, she’s moved to Leeds since, but she was really exciting to live with. She had a studio at Fusion and so I was meeting lots of creative people through her, I suppose, and she was really just excited about life and creativity. And I was excited about the opportunities in reach up here because you could live off so little and be able to do your thing. I was really, really excited about staying actually and I did very consciously think about this London/Newcastle opportunity.

DS: That’s what it seemed like to me when I arrived, there were a lot of artists and musicians staying around, just being really creative..

KH: Kathryn Williams was really good friends with Laura and her career was just taking off. She was doing gigs at the North Terrace and we’d go and see her, and Cath Campbell was playing cello. In those very first eighteen months it was really exciting hearing them: Laura Mundy would play the flute, Kath would sing and play guitar and Cath Campbell would play cello and they were all artists. I’d quite often find myself at people’s houses where there was some jamming session going on, beautiful music being made and people talking about what they were doing. There were jobs that would give you just enough money to get by. You didn’t need so much money because rent was so cheap. Then I saw a house on Gainsborough Grove that was 32 grand and I thought if I bought that my mortgage would be cheaper than my rent and I’d have a house…  so I suppose that’s when my roots really went down.

DS: I remember that, one of the first exhibitions I went to in Newcastle was at Holy Jesus Memorial Hospital when it was still derelict. It was really exciting that these people who I guess were my peers were just doing it and not waiting for things to happen for them.

KH: It’s funny you forget… thinking about it now I do recall this massive wave of excitement, a real ‘can do’. We can stay, we can set up galleries. Everybody was involved with VANE (Visual Arts North East) and that was a big deal. It’s great looking back on it; maybe you take it for granted or just stop thinking about it. Jo Coupe was doing amazing installations at the top of New Cross House, Tanya [Axford] was doing her green carpet, Paul and Miles were setting up Workplace, we were setting up Cobalt, Newcastle was going for Capital of Culture. And then the Baltic opened. I remember a fortnight just after it opened I was watching the bridge open and thinking something’s happened here. It felt like an international city. I do say to people, I live in this city where I can be on the beach in 20 minutes, I can be on Hadrian’s Wall in 15 minutes, my children can whoop in the hills as much as they want, we know a bunch of country folk living in yurts and living in cottages up in proper remote countryside and then we’ve got a world class, free, art gallery, and museums – The Discovery and The Hancock and The Sage. To have all those facilities in such a small city and to be able to access them all. People who don’t come up here don’t realise that. The one thing I do think is that our council don’t recognise what we’ve got at all.

Cobalt Studios

Cobalt Studios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DS: If we have this 100% cut to the arts which says “D’you know what, it’s nice, but we don’t really need it”, how are you going to keep the people from leaving now?

KH: My work is all in regeneration. I deliberately stopped working in gallery spaces, and my own creative practice is about public places. I have a really profound belief that the public places we create have a real deep impact on the whole community, and the reason public art interests me is because it is for everyone.  It’s accessible because people just come across it. It’s absolutely vital that we have vibrant creative things happening right across cities – that includes all of the libraries and the art services. If you take that away you’re left with an empty shell. And in this city in particular, what they can’t see, that’s under their fucking noses, is a massive group of people that have committed to it and that are creative and that are fighting to give this city a touch of what Berlin’s got, a touch of what Bristol’s got and what London’s got. There’s an integrity to these people because it’s not a transient population, they stay here, they believe in this city. Around 2000, with the whole Capital of Culture and the NGI, there was a climate of recognition and that’s how Cobalt happened. There are masses of papers written about how artists regenerate areas. There’s lots of evidence of what the arts do for regeneration and for economies and they just don’t seem able to maximise on that. There’s something really special here.

Newcastle City Library

Newcastle City Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image: Kathryn Hodkinson’s studio.

 

 

Avatar of Degna Stone

Degna Stone

Degna Stone visited Newcastle during the Summer of 1999 and never went home. She is a Midlander in self-imposed exile. Degna performs regularly at venues across the North East and has appeared at StAnza International Poetry Festival and Durham Book Festival. She has worked with Apples and Snakes, English PEN and New Writing North to deliver creative writing workshops for adults and young people. She blogs, ever so occasionally, over at deseeded.blogspot.co.uk and inadvertentlyteaching.blogspot.co.uk. In 2010 she won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North and her debut chapbook 'Between the Floorboards' was published by ID on Tyne Press. She was selected for Verb New Voices, a BBC/ACE spoken word development programme, which culminated in the performance of her poem sequence 'Songs from Whenever' on BBC Radio 3's The Verb. Her second pamphlet will be published by Red Squirrel Press in the spring. She’s just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is co-editor of 'Bucher’s Dog', a new biannual poetry magazine. She’s tried her hand at stand up comedy, film making and theatre directing but poetry is what she knows best. Visit www.degnastone.com

It’s Mint Up North: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

January 30, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

The Baltic

The first thing she does is rush to the sea,

fully clothed she runs too fast to be caught —

wet sand flashes like lights beneath her feet.

(Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I just wanted to shoehorn The Animals into this somehow.)

It was a good summer, not like the ones we’ve had for the past couple of years, the weather was kind. Sitting out on the roof at Graingerville while the traffic on the West Road oozed past, heading down to Jesmond Dene for a barbecue, listening to the peacocks in Pets’ Corner screeching and showing off, getting on the metro and slinking off to the coast on a whim. On a whim. I could be at the coast, the proper seaside, in 20 minutes.

That’s the unique thing about Newcastle, just how easy it is to get away. That might sound like a massively back-handed compliment, but no matter how much you love a place if you can’t escape it when you want to it’s going to drive you mental. You’ll drink more, or eat too much, or spend your spare time vegging in front of the TV. If the city boundaries start to feel like the walls of a very small, windowless room then the air is going to start to feel stale.

That first summer we drove out to Bamburgh and spent the night on the beach. I don’t know if we were allowed to be there but we stayed. It’s about 50 miles north of Newcastle on a coastline that them living in the North East have been trying to keep secret.  Crafty buggers. White sands and blue skies and stretches of beach with hardly anyone on them. Towards the end of the summer the room I’d be living in rent free would soon need a paying tenant. After that visit to Bamburgh, stopping off at Seahouses on the way home the next day for fish and chips, I knew I wanted to stay.

This place was just what I needed. It was easier to settle in. There was no hassle. I’d spent my final year at uni in Bristol in a haze of Jack Daniels and fluoxetine. Arriving in a northern town with almost no friends to find a welcoming group of people who have their eye on something other than pay cheques, something other than just working for the weekends was just the thing.

And then there’s the nightlife. Not the stuff of stag and hen legend but the places away from the Quayside and the Bigg Market. We headed for the pubs that had good beer, amazing music and relaxed atmospheres. The Tanners, The Telegraph, The Tyne, The Trent House… mmm, didn’t realise there was an alliterative thing going on there…  sorry about that…The Cumberland, The Bridge, The Forth, The Free Trade (which has the best view of the Tyne and it’s bridges ever) and The Head of Steam. We often topped the night off at the old World Headquarters – there was nowhere quite like it. The downstairs room was papered with a massive scene of Mohammed Ali visiting South Shields and on a good night (and every night there was a good night) you could barely move. Upstairs you never left the dancefloor –  the thing that made this place special was that the music was everything. Get that right and the chilled out vibe was a natural side effect. My favourite memory – dancing to Talking Heads as the room was warming up doing my best David Byrne moves to ‘Once in a Lifetime’

That was then of course. Now? Well, I fell in love and had kids. That’s the usual pattern isn’t it? And for me, this was the right place to do that. This place, this bit of the North has everything.

So these are the places I’m most likely to go now that my time’s not quite my own and I can’t spend days & nights just going from one place to the next. One pub to the next. One shop to the next. One museum to the next…well, maybe I can still do that last one with kids in tow.

So this is a super quick whirlwind tour of the places to go when you’ve done your bit for the propagation of the human race (or you’re babysitting for some other poor sap whose life is no longer their own)…

The Laing Art Gallery and the Baltic both have interactive areas where the kids can pretty much run wild whilst still somehow absorbing the art by osmosis. The Discovery Museum which is probably due an overhaul has got the quirkiest exhibitions (the story of Newcastle is a treat), lots of sciencey contraptions that you can mess on with and a geet big boat, The Turbinia, in the main hall. The Great North Museum is another favourite of ours. It has dinosaurs and mummies. What more could you want?

A Dinosaur in the Hancock "ROAR!"

A Dinosaur in the Hancock: “ROAR!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ouseburn is really great for kids. There’s a city farm there and you can take your kids into most of the pubs, Gavin Marshall (one of the first people I met in Newcastle) has just opened a new place, Ernest. He’s shifted his focus from making beautiful glass to creating a family friendly restaurant with good food, good atmosphere and good music.

Ernest

Ernest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s independent, it’s different and it’s just round the corner from Seven Stories, although I think it’s called the ‘National Centre for the Children’s Books’ now. It’s a magical place for kids and adults. Especially if you’re interested in the process behind writing for children. Lots of the exhibitions have correspondence from editors and publishers to their authors, sketch books, works in progress and early versions of the completed art work that ends up in finished books. You could lose yourself in the place while the kids explore the exhibitions playing dress up and weaving in and out of the displays.

Seven Stories

Seven Stories

 

 

Avatar of Degna Stone

Degna Stone

Degna Stone visited Newcastle during the Summer of 1999 and never went home. She is a Midlander in self-imposed exile. Degna performs regularly at venues across the North East and has appeared at StAnza International Poetry Festival and Durham Book Festival. She has worked with Apples and Snakes, English PEN and New Writing North to deliver creative writing workshops for adults and young people. She blogs, ever so occasionally, over at deseeded.blogspot.co.uk and inadvertentlyteaching.blogspot.co.uk. In 2010 she won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North and her debut chapbook 'Between the Floorboards' was published by ID on Tyne Press. She was selected for Verb New Voices, a BBC/ACE spoken word development programme, which culminated in the performance of her poem sequence 'Songs from Whenever' on BBC Radio 3's The Verb. Her second pamphlet will be published by Red Squirrel Press in the spring. She’s just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is co-editor of 'Bucher’s Dog', a new biannual poetry magazine. She’s tried her hand at stand up comedy, film making and theatre directing but poetry is what she knows best. Visit www.degnastone.com

It’s Mint Up North: Just Passing Through…

January 28, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Billy No Mates

I arrived (with less flourish)
just after the Angel came.
My first view of Newcastle,
the West Road at night —
the neon-lit tracks of a rollercoaster.

Given what’s going on in Newcastle at the moment, I will have to talk about the impact of the proposed cuts to arts funding and libraries at some point during my week’s curation of ‘A Wondrous Place’. But first off I’m going to let you know what’s kept me this far north for so long.

When I came to Newcastle in 1999 I knew one person. But that was okay because I wasn’t moving to Newcastle I was just visiting. For the summer. Then I’d be heading somewhere else. Nothing concrete, but I was sure the North East was just a stopover rather than a destination. I just needed some time away after a fairly disastrous third year at uni and Newcastle seemed far enough away to do that. It was definitely just temporary.

So it’s a bit of a surprise to find that it’s almost fourteen years since I found myself being driven along the West Road just as dusk darkened into night toward my new temporary home. A big old house sandwiched between a dentist’s and a youth hostel on Graingerville North. Apparently Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits used to live in that house back whenever it was likely that Mark Knopfler would’ve been skint enough to live in a run-down shared house in Arthur’s Hill.

I didn’t stay Billy-Nearly-No-Mates for long. Within minutes of arriving I’d doubled my Newcastle mates and after a cup of tea we headed out to meet some more. I was lucky. The one person I did know knew a lot of people. All still in their mid-twenties (or thereabouts) so the groups that had formed during uni hadn’t quite dissipated into nine-to-fives & parenthood. I just stumbled into a new ready-made group of friends that included musicians, artists, designers and makers.

Creative people were at the heart of my first interactions in Newcastle, the cultural revolution that had begun in the nineties meant that there were opportunities that kept them in the area rather than seeing them all head south. They set up their own studios and became part of the visual arts landscape and the music scene. So during this week I’ll introduce you to a couple of the people that influenced my decision to stay and let you know about some of the places that make this region such a brilliant place to be.

And to get things started I’ll answer last week’s guest curator Chrissy Brand’s question:

“If you were to host a festival to showcase north-eastern culture to the world, who and what would be on the bill?”

Newcastle Quayside

Newcastle Quayside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well to be honest I’m going to cheat a little on this one… I would probably get the brilliant Melanie Rashbrooke and John Challis at Trashed Organ to organise it for me. They put on arguably the most exciting and oh so very entertaining nights in Newcastle and they know just about every talented musician and spoken word artist in town and beyond.

When these guys started producing music and spoken word nights in 2010 it really shifted expectations. The nights are raucous, playful and eclectic. They’re very, very good. If you’re in town and Trashed Organ is on and you don’t go along – you’re a muppet.

So back to the festival… We’d have music, theatre and spoken word popping up around the city, but centring on the bourgeoning Ouseburn.

Obviously it’d be brilliant to have Maximo Park, Everything Everything and The Futureheads. If we could tempt the phenomenal Peter and David Brewis to cut short their break from Field Music activity I’d be immensely happy. Other must haves: The Baghdaddies, Matt Stalker and the Fables, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour, Kathryn Williams, Gem Andrews, The Unthanks, The Lake Poets and The Cornshed Sisters.

Newcastle is rife with fantastic poets and performers and if I tried to list them all I’d end up missing somebody off so I’ll leave that entirely in the capable hands of the Organ Grinders.

It’d be lovely to have a bit of theatre too so I’d ask Kate Craddock at GIFT to curate a programme of theatre – hopefully she’d invite Unfolding Theatre, Tender Buttons and Zendeh to produce well, whatever they wanted really as they’re all really exciting, innovative theatre companies.

So there you go. I hope you’d come along.

Avatar of Degna Stone

Degna Stone

Degna Stone visited Newcastle during the Summer of 1999 and never went home. She is a Midlander in self-imposed exile. Degna performs regularly at venues across the North East and has appeared at StAnza International Poetry Festival and Durham Book Festival. She has worked with Apples and Snakes, English PEN and New Writing North to deliver creative writing workshops for adults and young people. She blogs, ever so occasionally, over at deseeded.blogspot.co.uk and inadvertentlyteaching.blogspot.co.uk. In 2010 she won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North and her debut chapbook 'Between the Floorboards' was published by ID on Tyne Press. She was selected for Verb New Voices, a BBC/ACE spoken word development programme, which culminated in the performance of her poem sequence 'Songs from Whenever' on BBC Radio 3's The Verb. Her second pamphlet will be published by Red Squirrel Press in the spring. She’s just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is co-editor of 'Bucher’s Dog', a new biannual poetry magazine. She’s tried her hand at stand up comedy, film making and theatre directing but poetry is what she knows best. Visit www.degnastone.com

Manchester Movements – Working Class Movement Library

January 26, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Ruth and Eddie Frow

Eddie and Ruth Frow were a married couple from modest backgrounds. They shared a life-long passion in documenting the true unsung heroes and heroines (i.e. the workforce) of the industrial changes in the north of England. This has led to a quite remarkable institution – the Working Class Movement Library.

I met with library manager Lynette Cawthra in a room steeped in the history of true local heroes and heroines – the workers whose labours put the epithet of ‘Great’ into Britain. Over a cup of coffee I soaked up the history: a claret and blue banner of the West Ham electricity power suppliers union to one side, a banner of Lenin to the other, and the collection of Clarion chairs. These were from the Clarion Cafe on Manchester’s Market Street – The Clarion was a thriving socialist movement which had clubs, meeting rooms and a newspaper which started in 1891.

Eddie and Ruth got together in the early 1950s, having both been involved in workers’ struggles in their early years. Eddie took part in the Battle of Bexley Square in 1931. This was outside the old Salford Town Hall, when a peaceful demonstration of workers, enraged by government cuts, were set upon by the police and a battle followed which saw Eddie amongst others imprisoned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a shared interest, Eddie and Ruth’s joint collection of political and historical books and pamphlets started small, filling a single bookcase. Their insatiable appetite for both the rare and the more mundane manuscripts soon become apparent though. They would travel the country scouring bookshops in far flung towns, spending happy evenings perusing their purchases and sleeping in their van. The books often became an impromptu mattress. As time went on they moved to a more comfortable and practical solution of a caravan, towed by a Czechoslovakian car – a Skoda.

As married life moved on, their collection in Kings Road in Trafford grew and grew. Their archive of working class history became well known to historians and researchers, students and politicians. Banners and photos, prints and journals took up so much space that in 1987, with council funding and other donations, the collection moved to Jubilee house in Salford.

Plebs Journals

Plebs Journals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thousands of visitors cross its threshold. Researchers, actors, artists, students and even politicians have used it as an important resource to further their understanding of how working class culture shaped Britain today. One week’s visitors included a professor who had come from Japan to research silk weavers’ unions, and a wrestler who needed help with his first writing project, the story of his mother’s growing up in Ancoats. On a visit in 2009, veteran MP Tony Benn called it “one of the greatest educational institutions in Britain”.

Lynette Cawthra says: “Our founders started the Library in their own home, driven by the belief that working people should remember and value their own history. Together they rescued countless items which would have otherwise been lost to the future. In these turbulent times, that history has never been more relevant – and the survival of the Library will depend on the generosity of our supporters”.

The WCML Foyer

The WCML Foyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The collection dates back to 1760 and has 130,000 items, including volumes of the Plebs Journal and board games such as Class Struggle (I had this game myself  in the 1980s). A reading and research room, exhibitions, a room full of commemorative crockery and pottery and a shop full of wonderful books and information published by the North West Labour History Group and the Working Class Movement Library, make it a place of wonder and learning. I could literally feel the history, which led to many hours where I quietly reflected on all the hardships of those Salfordian and Mancunian workers.

Radical Board Game

Radical Board Game

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And with that paean to us ordinary and honest hard working folk of the north, my week’s curation has come to an end.

It’s been terrific fun researching and writing for you and I hope you have enjoyed the trips in my time machine – next time around maybe my time machine will be powered by graphene (useful for fast electronic devices). Two Manchester scientists won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics for their pioneering work on graphene, which is being pioneered in Manchester as I write.

It’s time for me to hand the creative baton onto Degna Stone in the north-east. My question to her is, “If you were to host a festival to showcase north-eastern culture to the world, who and what would be on the bill?”

Bye!

Avatar of Chrissy Brand

Chrissy Brand

Chrissy originally comes from north-west London but has spent over half of her life in Manchester. Her passion for many aspects of the city and its surrounding countryside is such that she posts about it every day at the Mancunian Wave blog (see web link below). Formerly at the BBC World Service, Chrissy now works at the RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) and is also a freelance writer. She writes two monthly columns for Radio User magazine, and co-authored the 2007 book Wembley: Stadium of Legends (Tomsett & Brand, Dewi Lewis Media, Heaton Moor). She is general editor for the British DX Club's monthly journal Communication and also a guest blogger at 4 Manchester Women and Smitten By Britain, as well as writing a blog on aspects of radio, called DX International. In her spare time you will probably find her walking the towpaths of the Cheshire Ring Canal network or enjoying a caffeine fix in a Northern Quarter cafe.

Manchester Moments – Great Abel

January 25, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Today we climb to the top of probably the most iconic of Manchester’s buildings.

The neo-gothic masterpiece that is the jewel in the crown of Manchester’s 19th century architecture is topped off by the clock tower.  Building of the Town Hall was started in 1868 and almost 20 years and £1 million later it was finished. Alfred Waterhouse’s design was the most practical, if not the most popular, of over 130 designs that entered to win the right to build.

Ever since, it has been the heart of Manchester’s civic pride, a logical end point for demonstrations and rallies. Festivals and markets, sport and music are all held here. In fact, it seems that there is rarely not a cultural event either in place or being set up. Tourists pose outside for photos looking up at the 286 feet (87m) high clock tower.

Once inside, there are amazing mosaics which include the Manchester Bee – the city’s symbol for its industrious work – and statues aplenty, including Roman Governor, Agricola, who founded the original fort of Mamuciam. But it is the clock tower and the bell of Great Abel that I am focussing on here. I went up the clock tower recently, which is only open at certain times of the year, so it was a privilege and one I recommend to all Mancunians and others who are able to climb the claustrophobic spiral staircase.

The bell tower has 23 bells, with the clock bell named Great Abel after Abel Heywood. It first rang in New Year’s Day of 1879 but cracked and had to be replaced. It is inscribed with Heywood’s initials and the Alfred Tennyson line Ring out the false, ring in the true.

The Town Hall Clock Face

The Town Hall Clock Face

Heywood from was from a poor background but rose to great heights. He ran a bookselling business on Oldham Street for many years and was imprisoned in 1832 for four months for refusing to pay a £48 fine stamp duty which would have suppressed mass publishing. He later went onto become Mayor of Manchester twice. His interest in publishing for the masses continued throughout his life. Seeing as there were no affordable travel guides for workers to take advantage of the expanding rail networks, he began to publish a series of Penny Guides, short travel guides that covered such places as Buxton, Bath and the Isle of Wight.

It was decided to recast the bells (apart from Great Abel) in 1937 to commemorate a new King, which proved to be a costly error. The bells were engraved with the title of ‘King Edward VIII’, but Edward then decided to abdicate, so they had to be re-engraved for the King who replaced him, known as George VI (not that many people would ever have seen the engraving).

Guardian Angel

One of the City’s Guardian Angels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The clock face bears the inscription Teach us to number our Days and once you reach the summit and wander around outside you can almost reach out and touch the city’s four guardian angels with hearts of stone. It is quite a moving moment.

The Tower, viewed from outside.

The Tower, Viewed From Outside.

The views on each floor of the tower’s innards are fascinating – the mechanism room and the dial room are steps back in time and ascending the many stairs is not for the faint hearted. Glimpses of the triangular town hall’s design can be seen at certain points, and an ever distant Manchester looms below. On a clear day you can see out to the wonderful countryside surrounding the city, on a gloomy day there is a sense of history and industrial heritage in the air. You can imagine the atmosphere chock a block with soot and pollution in its heyday when the local mills and factories belched out fumes and destroyed the lives of the workforce within, whilst city elders basked in comfort in their palatial and modern Town Hall.

To this day the town hall clock issues forth its evocative chimes on the quarter hour, resounding across the city, although chimes are switched off at 9 p.m. for the night as they disturb residents and hotel visitors within earshot…What would Mr Abel say?

 

Avatar of Chrissy Brand

Chrissy Brand

Chrissy originally comes from north-west London but has spent over half of her life in Manchester. Her passion for many aspects of the city and its surrounding countryside is such that she posts about it every day at the Mancunian Wave blog (see web link below). Formerly at the BBC World Service, Chrissy now works at the RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) and is also a freelance writer. She writes two monthly columns for Radio User magazine, and co-authored the 2007 book Wembley: Stadium of Legends (Tomsett & Brand, Dewi Lewis Media, Heaton Moor). She is general editor for the British DX Club's monthly journal Communication and also a guest blogger at 4 Manchester Women and Smitten By Britain, as well as writing a blog on aspects of radio, called DX International. In her spare time you will probably find her walking the towpaths of the Cheshire Ring Canal network or enjoying a caffeine fix in a Northern Quarter cafe.

A Manchester Movement – Vegetarianism

January 24, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Today we look at a Manchester movement which has a global reach: vegetarianism.

The Vegetarian Society spreads the message of a healthy and cruelty-free lifestyle across the UK and beyond, from its base in Altrincham, just south of Manchester. While avoiding a meat-based diet had been a choice by many for centuries, it was the early 19th century when the genesis of an organised vegetarian movement came together in the UK.

It was at the Christchurch Chapel in Salford’s King Street, just across the River Irwell, which divides the two cities of Salford and Manchester, that Reverend William Cowherd declared in 1807 (nine years before his death) that the congregation should not eat meat. His theory was that eating meat was sinful. At the time, due to economic oppression, the poorest ate cheap cuts of meat that would have done them little good and Cowherd set up free medical services, a library and a soup kitchen to sustain his followers. Being a man of some wealth he was able to fund the building of his Swedenborgian church as well as provide the people of Salford with a printing press and a school.

As more people questioned the morality of killing animals for food, the Cowherdites (as Cowherd’s followers were known) went from strength to strength and Joseph and Mary Brotherton continued the debate which eventually led to the formation of the Vegetarian Society in 1847.

Mary published the first vegetarian cookery book in 1809 and in 19th century Manchester, as today, there were thriving vegetarian restaurants throughout the city and the rest of the country. In the early 20th century, on the site which later became Lewis’s Department Store, there was a large vegetarian restaurant aimed at providing the workers cheap and healthy food.

Vegetarian Society Headquarters

Vegetarian Society Headquarters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vegetarian Society is the oldest of its kind in the world and promotes the cause through information packs, talks, cookery demonstrations and other events. Its HQ also houses the Cordon Vert cookery school where professional chefs and ordinary people are taught to cook extraordinary vegetarian food, as well as training hospital caterers and others how to provide nutritious meals without meat.

They run National Vegetarian Week each year (Monday 20 May – Sunday 26 May 2013) to raise the profile of vegetarian issues, alongside campaigns like Butcher’s Cat and Silent but Deadly. As a vegetarian of 30+ years I can vouch for the benefits of avoiding meat, both on moral and health grounds.

Everyone has their own reasons for becoming veggie and today’s movement is a far cry for that envisaged by the Manchester and Salford chapels of 200 years ago. But I imagine the Cowherders would be impressed and would agree with the reasoning.

Cordon Vert

Cordon Vert School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegetarianism is better for animals. Around two million land animals are slaughtered every day in the UK alone, just so that people can eat their flesh. It’s also more sustainable. Growing grains and pulses to feed to animals is much less efficient than eating them ourselves. The livestock industry uses huge amounts of land, water and fossil fuels, while producing 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.

Manchester has long epitomised the wonderful variety of vegetarian spirit and culinary: the mouth-watering delights of the two stylish restaurants named 1847 (in the city centre and in Chorlton cum Hardy); On the Eighth Day serving wholesome food and quality products in its café and shop on Oxford Road in Manchester since 1970; Earth Café next to the Buddhist Centre in the Northern Quarter – a lunchtime stop to brighten any day, as is the bohemian Oklahoma opposite it; the elegance of Greens in Didsbury for over 20 years; plus the two Greenhouses – one in Rusholme that opened in 1983 and sadly closed in 2012 when owner Robin retired, and the other, separate Greenhouse on Oxford Road in Altrincham which again is a great lunchtime stop.

1847

1847

 

 

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Chrissy Brand

Chrissy originally comes from north-west London but has spent over half of her life in Manchester. Her passion for many aspects of the city and its surrounding countryside is such that she posts about it every day at the Mancunian Wave blog (see web link below). Formerly at the BBC World Service, Chrissy now works at the RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) and is also a freelance writer. She writes two monthly columns for Radio User magazine, and co-authored the 2007 book Wembley: Stadium of Legends (Tomsett & Brand, Dewi Lewis Media, Heaton Moor). She is general editor for the British DX Club's monthly journal Communication and also a guest blogger at 4 Manchester Women and Smitten By Britain, as well as writing a blog on aspects of radio, called DX International. In her spare time you will probably find her walking the towpaths of the Cheshire Ring Canal network or enjoying a caffeine fix in a Northern Quarter cafe.

Manchester Music Moments – A Man Of A 1,000 Gigs

January 23, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

David Ecker - Man of a Thousand Gigs

Going to gigs invariably starts in your teenage years but it doesn’t have to stop when you hit 30 years old. Unsurprisingly a city of Manchester’s size (and popular musical pedigree) has a choice of gigs pretty much every night of the year.

Someone who has seen many a band, and many a venue, rise, fall, reform and break up is Dave Eckersley from Springhead (see image above). An avid gig-goer since the 1960s, Dave can regale you with musical tales all evening long.

He was there for a famous occasion in 1964 when the blues and gospel train came to south Manchester. Wilbraham Road station was renamed Chorltonville – (itself actually a lovely area of Chorlton) whose name was thought to lend itself to the feel of the southern States of the USA. Muddy Waters, Cousin Joe Pleasants and others performed on the platform and with the audience grouped on the other, a storm rolled in and a legendary musical Manchester moment unfolded. Granada TV’s Travelling Eye filmed it for posterity.

Dave was also a regular at other Manchester 1960s hangouts. The famous Twisted Wheel club and coffee house opened on Brazennose Street in 1963 and was where many a blues act performed, including a young Georgie Fame. Other musical Mancunians to grace the venue included John Mayall, Elkie Brooks, Spencer Davis Group, Alexis Horner, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Dakotas and Freddie and the Dreamers. The Twisted Wheel moved to 6 Whitworth Street three years later until it closed in 1971. The building at 6 Whitworth Street is disgracefully due to be demolished in 2013 (to make way for yet another hotel).

The Twisted Wheel

The Twisted Wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Twisted Wheel northern soul concept will not die, however, and has been holding regular nights since a revival in 1999. In 2013 Twisted Wheel has regular nights in Manchester at NQ Live on Tib Street and a radio show on North Manchester FM 106.6 on Thursday evenings.

The Oasis Club was another 1960s Northern Beat coffee and dance club (nothing to do with a certain Manchester band who named themselves after a cafe at Manchester City’s Maine Road stadium). Oasis evolved into Rubens club in 1972 on Lloyd Street (one of the owners went on to run Slack Alice’s with George Best). The clubs may be long gone but the favoured pubs to meet in remain nearby – The Old Nags Head and The Rising Sun.

The Rising Sun

The Rising Sun

The Old Nag's Head

The Old Nag’s Head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave recalls that the bands wouldn’t come on stage until 11 p.m. or midnight and after the gigs, “…We would sleep in Piccadilly Gardens – it was all grassed over then – waiting for the buses to start running again in the morning. When you woke up there’d be hundreds of people there having all crashed out.”

There’s probably not a music venue in the region that Dave hasn’t frequented at some point or other. From seeing Family play at a club in Oldham in the late 1960s through to the obvious venues of today such as Old Trafford, The Ritz, Apollo and the MEN Arena. He remembers the Electric Light Orchestra descending on stage in a giant space ship in the 1970s, bands at the Free Trade Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall in Oldham and Bury Met to name but a few.

If I had a time machine I would have liked to have joined Dave at a 1967 gig at the Palace Theatre, where Jimi Hendrix headlined, Pink Floyd played “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and other acts the bill included The Move, Amen Corner, The Nice, Outer Limits and Eire Apparent. In 2010 Classic Rock magazine described it as the best bill ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d also like to know if the rumoured Pink Floyd free gig at dawn on Granby Row in the late 1960s did ever take place? Or maybe it’s best left as a mystery in Manchester music mythology.

Even in his autumn years, Dave’s still a regular gig-goer, be it to see the likes of Mostly Autumn at the Academy, the Enid at Band On the Wall, or up and coming acts at his local pub in Lees. He’s truly a north-west man of a thousand gigs.

Avatar of Chrissy Brand

Chrissy Brand

Chrissy originally comes from north-west London but has spent over half of her life in Manchester. Her passion for many aspects of the city and its surrounding countryside is such that she posts about it every day at the Mancunian Wave blog (see web link below). Formerly at the BBC World Service, Chrissy now works at the RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) and is also a freelance writer. She writes two monthly columns for Radio User magazine, and co-authored the 2007 book Wembley: Stadium of Legends (Tomsett & Brand, Dewi Lewis Media, Heaton Moor). She is general editor for the British DX Club's monthly journal Communication and also a guest blogger at 4 Manchester Women and Smitten By Britain, as well as writing a blog on aspects of radio, called DX International. In her spare time you will probably find her walking the towpaths of the Cheshire Ring Canal network or enjoying a caffeine fix in a Northern Quarter cafe.

A Manchester Moment – Elizabeth Raffald, Businesswoman of the Year 1773?

January 22, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Elizabeth Raffald

We start the trip in my time machine and pull up in Manchester of the 1760s. To put this into historical context, 1762 was the year in which the Bridgewater Canal opened, to carry coal from Worsley into Manchester, which was at that time developing fast from the remnants of a medieval town into the world’s first industrial city. James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny in 1765 which helped the cotton and weaving industries’ mechanised outputs. The population of Manchester was 24,386 by 1774.

The time machine has brought us here to look at a woman whose business acumen would have stood her in good stead in the 21st century, let alone the 18th. Were she alive today she would surely win a Mancunian businesswoman of the year award for her many successful entrepreneurial and community based ventures (and adventures).

Elizabeth Raffald was born Elizabeth Whitaker in 1733 (and died in 1781) but crammed much into her six decades of life which was spent mostly in the north-west.

Elizabeth is famed for her cookbook entitled The Experienced English Housekeeper: For the Use and Ease of Ladies, Housekeepers, Cooks & Co which was published in 1769, but this was just one of her enterprises.The cookery book was based partially upon her experiences as housekeeper at glorious Arley Hall near Northwich in Cheshire. Arley Hall was the stately home of the privileged Warburton family – Peter and Elizabeth.

Arley Hall

Arley Hall

Arley Hall Servants' Bells.

Arley Hall Servants’ Bells.

 

 

 

Elizabeth married the head gardener at Arley Hall, and took his surname. Aged 30, Elizabeth and husband John moved into Manchester where she became a successful businesswoman, running a delicatessen shop in Fennell Street, while John became a florist selling seeds and flowers at a market stall. They also ran the nearby Bull’s Head pub during 1769 while John’s family later ran a Stockport pub on Millgate. (This was the Arden Arms which was built in 1815 on the site of a market garden run by John and Elizabeth and remains to this day).

In 1770 Elizabeth moved across the River Irwell to become landlady at the King’s Head Inn in Chapel Street, Salford. She established a post office in the King’s Head, and rented stage coaches which operated between Manchester and London. By 1771 she was part of a team who founded the first newspaper in Salford (titled ‘Prescott’s Journal’) and later became a joint owner of the Harrop’s Mercury newspaper.

Pub On Exchange Square

Pub On Exchange Square

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In her final years John had become Master of the Manchester Coffee Exchange House and Elizabeth provided the catering. Anyone assuming that the coffee house explosion in the city is a 21st Century phenomenon should think again,

The Raffald couple somehow found time to have nine daughters (or possibly 16 children – the truth is patchy). Elizabeth also wrote a book on midwifery and opened the first registry office in Manchester, which allowed servants to get married. She even ran an employment agency for servants and could speak French.

As for her recipes, she was the first to document how to make icing and, all told, her ground -breaking book consisted of 900 recipes all based on her own trial and error. Having read some of the book there are some horrific recipes, and far too many are meat-based, including those which involve the cooking  of turtles and hares.

But we shall look at a reaction to carnivorous diets in a Manchester Movement later this week. She is even credited with inventing the forerunner to the Eccles cake with her recipe for ‘sweet patties’ containing the ingredients which are used in the famous Eccles cakes. (See also Natalie Bradbury‘s posts on Manchester food).

The Old Foodie website is among many to quote Elizabeth Raffald recipes, and this one for Snowballs looks worth a try: “Pare five large baking apples, take out the cores with a scoop, fill the holes with orange or quince marmalade. Then make a little good hot paste and roll your apples in it, and make your crust of an equal thickness and put them in a dripping pan. Bake them in a moderate oven. When you take them out make icing for them the same way as for the plum cake, and ice them all over with it about a quarter of an inch thick. Set them a good distance from the fire till they are hardened, but take care you don’t let them brown. Put one in the middle of a china dish and the other four round it. Garnish them with green sprigs and small flowers.”

Her grave is in Stockport Parish Church and a blue plaque is dedicated to her in Exchange Square Manchester. It reads: ‘Cookery book author and publisher of the first Manchester trade directory. Established a cookery school, shop and domestic agency near this site.’

An inspirational Mancunian.

 

 

 

 

Avatar of Chrissy Brand

Chrissy Brand

Chrissy originally comes from north-west London but has spent over half of her life in Manchester. Her passion for many aspects of the city and its surrounding countryside is such that she posts about it every day at the Mancunian Wave blog (see web link below). Formerly at the BBC World Service, Chrissy now works at the RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) and is also a freelance writer. She writes two monthly columns for Radio User magazine, and co-authored the 2007 book Wembley: Stadium of Legends (Tomsett & Brand, Dewi Lewis Media, Heaton Moor). She is general editor for the British DX Club's monthly journal Communication and also a guest blogger at 4 Manchester Women and Smitten By Britain, as well as writing a blog on aspects of radio, called DX International. In her spare time you will probably find her walking the towpaths of the Cheshire Ring Canal network or enjoying a caffeine fix in a Northern Quarter cafe.

Introduction to ‘Manchester Movements and Manchester Moments’.

January 21, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Every city, be it north, south, east or west, is surely made up of the sum of its parts plus an added ingredient that’s made from aspiration, inspiration and perspiration. Architecture, culture, infrastructure all play their part in a city’s stature, but it is the spirit of the people who live there that can make a city great or fearsome, lively or desolate. Some people lead, others inspire, many are exploited and some watch from the sidelines.

So what is it that makes Manchester Manchester? Certainly its industrial heritage shaped the city’s politics and attitude. Factory owners and other privileged Victorian gentlemen may have headed the world’s first industrial city which came to be known as Cottonopolis – but it was built on the back of the workers. Through exploitation rose resistance and protest movements which took on their own momentum.

In my week’s curation of ‘A Wondrous Place’ I’m hoping to bottle some of that Mancunian spirit and present it under the banner of Manchester Movements and Manchester Moments. Join me as we journey from a Georgian businesswoman to a veteran gig goer, via a city landmark and two global institutions that came to fruition from the people and are for the people.

I must also credit and give equal billing to Manchester’s oft-overlooked neighbour – the city of Salford, ever a short stroll away over the River Irwell. At least three of my posts have strong Salfordian connections. The two cities have such an overlapping history, geography and culture and yet proudly remain distinct entities. I’ll not be the first (nor last) blogger to struggle for a satisfying solution to the two cities scenario.

There are many moving and notable examples that I could have chosen but have omitted, e.g. The Peterloo Massacre (which led to the formation of The Guardian newspaper) and the Suffragette Movement. Indeed, Manchester should surely also be known as Suffragette City, alongside its other epithets of Mamucium, Mancunia, Mamecestre, Warehouse City, Cottonopolis, Madchester and Rainy City.

So do join me tomorrow for the first trip in the time machine I have especially rented for the week – don’t be late!

But before we set off I need to answer a question from last week’s excellent curator Sid Fletcher, who asks:

“Chrissy, you’ve experienced living both in London and now Manchester… What sells Manchester to you over the capital?” I love both cities for different reasons – London for its quantity of landmarks and galleries. Manchester has its own galleries and landmarks too, admittedly fewer. But the smaller size of Manchester means that it is more manageable, quicker to travel around and also cheaper to live in than the capital. I find there are more opportunities here, you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. The city is small enough for you to be a part of it, to live, work and socialise and become a local in communities and areas, such as the Northern Quarter, Chinatown, etc. Unlike London, Manchester is surrounded by such diverse, dramatic and accessible countryside too – to get away from it all when you need to – the Cheshire Ring Canals, Peak District, Lake District and north Wales.

 

Avatar of Chrissy Brand

Chrissy Brand

Chrissy originally comes from north-west London but has spent over half of her life in Manchester. Her passion for many aspects of the city and its surrounding countryside is such that she posts about it every day at the Mancunian Wave blog (see web link below). Formerly at the BBC World Service, Chrissy now works at the RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) and is also a freelance writer. She writes two monthly columns for Radio User magazine, and co-authored the 2007 book Wembley: Stadium of Legends (Tomsett & Brand, Dewi Lewis Media, Heaton Moor). She is general editor for the British DX Club's monthly journal Communication and also a guest blogger at 4 Manchester Women and Smitten By Britain, as well as writing a blog on aspects of radio, called DX International. In her spare time you will probably find her walking the towpaths of the Cheshire Ring Canal network or enjoying a caffeine fix in a Northern Quarter cafe.

Park Hill and Flats – What Really Goes On In Sid’s Head?

January 18, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

Resize State Dep 2

My final post as guest curator. As previously alluded to earlier this week, I’ll be making reference in this post to Park Hill and high rise living. Anybody familiar with me will know I’m a bit fanatical and passionate about this sort of stuff and Park Hill does feature quite heavily in my work (like the image above!).

Possibly Sheffield’s most famous building – certainly the one that causes the most controversy and arguments in pubs! I’ll try and condense what its all about, alongside my own thoughts and feelings about the old girl. I’m aware I can go on about this if left to ramble!

Park Hill 1960

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An enormous complex of just under 1000 flats, spread over a relatively small area of hillside behind Sheffield’s Midland Station, Park Hill was designed by radical young architects Jack Smith and Ivor Lynn in the post war years to provide high density social housing close to the city centre. Completely innovative for its time in its concept of ‘deck access’.

Park Hill Pub

At that time other towerblock schemes had been built, but it was becoming increasingly recognised that these were quite isolating places to live in, with little interaction with neighbours, other community members etc. Taking inspiration from  Alison and Peter Smithson’s Golden Lane estate in London, Smith and Lynn designed what was to become a much discussed and loved example of Brutalist Architecture. Among planners and fans of modern architecture, Park Hill is an icon of post war optimism, socialist chic and cool. Its historic importance is reflected in the fact that it gained listed building status of 2 in 1998.

Constructed between 1957 and 1961, Park Hill was built using a concrete frame with the walls made of bricks. The bricks were one of the great assets to the structure – they make the building of much higher quality than many of the substandard tower blocks from the same era, which were constructed using just large concrete blocks bolted together. These suffered from damp and poor insulation.

The brickwork of the original frame (red, yellow, cream and brown) also provided a splash of colour and identity to the estate. The names of four slum-cleared terraced streets that were lost to provide the land on which to build the flats are remembered in the names of each deck. The decks (or streets) provide access into properties at every third level,  entering either at deck level, straight upstairs or straight downstairs .This is known as scissor and in its time was incredibly forward thinking.

The change in coloured bricks every third level reinforces the different identity of each street, which is given its own corresponding colour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This original design feature – clearly marking different streets at every third level – has been replicated by Urban splash in their renovation.You can clearly see a change of colour every three levels:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The four separate curving blocks ( N-north, S-south, E-east and W-west ) are connected by bridges at three points in the estate, to continue each “street” into the adjacent block: Norwich Row(the highest); Long Henry Row; Hague Row; and Gilbert Row (the lowest).  Below Gilbert Row, at ground level, a row of shop units make a further row: ‘The Pavement’.The top two ‘streets’, Long Henry Row and Norwich Row, cover the whole of the complex, Hague Row covers two thirds and Gilbert Row appears only in the bottom of the northerly tallest block. Further to that, the Northern block, at 14 stories, is so high that the bottom story forms an additional street  - ‘The Pavement’. Essentially, you could start at flat number 1 of your ‘street’ and walk to the furthest point on your ‘street’ via the interconnecting bridges between the four main blocks, passing every property on your level – hence the term ‘streets in the sky’.

A Map of Park Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The roof height of the whole structure is maintained at the same height (above sea level) but the amount of floors decreases as it goes further up the hill. Famously, the landings were wide enough for a milk float to drive along each ‘street’ leaving fresh produce at each resident’s door (see below).  As the flats get less tall further up the hill, each ‘street’ meets the ground, and the milk float was able to exit the complex via an exit ramp.With the exception of Norwich Row, being able to enter the vast majority of Park Hill from  street level made the estate a radically accessible building for mothers with prams and wheelchair users. This design was forward thinking, modern and quite futuristic.

A milkfloat serves one of Park Hill’s ‘streets’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flats contained four integral pubs, a parade of shops and two schools. It was truly designed as a complete community. I’ve always been a bit geeky and Park Hill still fulfills my childhood science fiction dreams of cities in the sky, clean brutal lines, raised walkways, utopian socialism for all etc. Even the Daleks could access Park Hill if need be!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was born into an age when these planning ideas were still seen as exciting, radical and the way forward. Admittedly things did start to go a bit wrong for tower blocks in the 70s and 80s. They were an easy scapegoat and a convenient peg to hang all the country’s troubles on. Consequently, as I grew older, the inner-city and its tower blocks became the classic post-apocalyptic punk backdrop. Either way…sci fi-utopia or punk rock dystopia…it was good enough for me!

A View From The Inside

An Alternative View From The Inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The listing of Park Hill is often a matter of incredulity for its quite vociferous critics, who see the estate as an eyesore and a huge representation of society’s many failings. With vocal nay-sayers demanding its immediate demolition, and many others, like my good self, wanting the building to be restored and continued for use as accessible urban housing. Park Hill divides opinion.

My argument to such miserable drizzlers and their catastrophising one liners is that they have an extremely discriminatory and misinformed view against such places and the people that (heaven forbid!) choose to reside there.

Possibly they believe that all sorts of misdoings and criminal, anti-social activities occur only in towerblocks and nowhere else. Almost as if you can’t trust people to live together in high density because they won’t be able to stop themselves misbehaving. The usual remark from a Park Hill critic doesn’t really go beyond two short sentences, with extreme remarks such as ‘full of druggies, prostitutes, low lives, dole scum’ and ‘should just knock it down’.

I always feel quite angry for the past and present residents at Park Hill, and indeed other areas with high density social housing, many of whom lived there quite happily for many years. I have met and worked alongside many people who have lived in Park Hill, whose comments about life there were pretty unanimous… “its a great place and community to live in.”

As a public servant in Sheffield during the past fifteen years, I’ve seen and continue to see far more grief and social problems in the larger 1930s estates than I’ve ever seen in Park Hill. I’m sure Park Hill’s detractors aren’t proposing that such huge estates get razed too…no, because there’re houses with gardens! Surely that’s a prerequiste for acceptable behaviour! I’ve counted the number of times a client from Park Hill has been referred to me in fifteen years: four times. Yes, thats not a typo.

The vast majority of Park Hill is presently derelict, with all entrances into unoccupied wings blocked up with steel doors. However, there are still council tennants in the west wing of the estate that borders Talbot Street at the top of the hill. The tallest blocks of the estate (North Block) are currently undergoing refurbishment by the Manchester based company Urban Splash (click here for a detailed account of their approach to Park Hill). New tenants have started to move into the new blocks and rather than the new flats being sold solely to private tenants there is to be a mix of tenure:  Private, Social and Responsible Landlord (Housing Association).

This is a biggie of a Park Hill argument… Shouldn’t the flats be all given to social housing? Yep, I’d be up for that, but realistically, has this council got the cash to be able to do this, as we face crippling cuts for the third year on the trot? Park Hill is now over 50 years old and needs work doing to it, and unfortunately this building is somewhat of a big one to renovate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another argument is, “I’m not paying £90K to live next door to dole/ASBO scum from the council.” Try having a neighbour with anti- social tendencies who OWNS their home, believe me, pal, you really are powerless then. I’ve lived in flats and owned my home and there’s a lot more accountability and power over such things when the council is involved.

I make no bones that lessons have been learned about high rise living since its inception after WW2, but that doesn’t mean to say that we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and eradicate such places as if they’re an embarrassing reminder of an optimistic past.

I do, however, have opinions about how such schemes like Park Hill could be managed better. Firstly, I go with the notion that people who don’t want to live in a tower block shouldn’t be made to (personally, my vision of hell would be stuck five miles out of town in an amenity-free housing estate!) However, this obviously has implications for homeless persons, who get given one offer of accommodation.

Secondly, the addition of a concierge helps to curb the access of unwanted vistors that may have less than honorable intentions. It’s an understandably British thing that we recoil from living in ‘gated communities’, but if you look towards other countries, particularly European, it is perfectly normal and acceptable to live in flats and apartments that have an element of security. Don’t think ‘gated community’…think Berlin/Barcelona apartment!

I’m glad that Urban Splash are taking the plunge (get the pun!) with Park Hill. New tenants are starting to move in and business space is being rented in the ground floors. It’ll take time, but new life will gradually breathe into this part of town. It’s time to put the old girl back to use!

The new look Park Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contrary to popular belief, Park Hill isn’t necessarily my favourite building, but its probably one of the only ones that’s still standing. Being as though its a mile from my house, it gets photographed a lot and I would recommend you get up close while you can. It’s a shining example of  the post-war dream.The sleek glass and steel renovations by Urban Splash are breathtaking and the derelict parts are somewhat ambient and awe inspiring. Most of its cousins and extended family members are now hardcore – Park Hill is lucky to survive.

Before my week on ‘A Wondrous Place’ ends, there’s just time to leave a question for next week’s guest curator, Chrissy Brand, creator of the excellent Mancunian Wave blog:

Hi Chrissy… You’ve experienced living both in London and now Manchester… What sells Manchester to you over the capital?

Thanks to Chris at Northern Spirit and to everyone who has followed my exploits this week. Hope to see you again soon.

Sid.

 

Avatar of Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher is a Sheffield based artist whose work specialises in the depiction of the modern urban environment. Brutalist architecture and high density social housing form the main focus of his creations – their repeating, monotonous facades and threatening scale have always inspired Sid. Although he has more recently started to incorporate different materials such as Perspex, Metal and MDF into his digitally manipulated art, Sid would tend to describe the process of organising and creating equally as important as the end result. Like the radical town planners that mapped out the urban landscape of post war Britain - Sid’s work is somewhat like Marmite - You either like it or you don’t! Sid describes himself of redbrick extraction (although he does also describe himself as somewhat of a bit of a “kitchen sink” drama queen).

The Moor – A Short Story In A Blackened and Apocalyptic Style

January 17, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

New-The-Moor-1

Alighting from the urine marinated ringroad subway, I deny the street hustler his request for spare change. I too am penniless. What does he expect? Its January: everyone here is more skint than normal.

My executive decision on engaging the short stairs up to street level, rather than walking around the long access ramp, brings a quick flare of warmth, temporarily curbing the worst excesses of the Northern cold. It is at this point I start to worry about older people. I make a mental note to reply to mum’s earlier text, where she was ‘wittling on’ about her winter boots which she can’t find.

Looking up to the sky at the huge Ziggarat-like layers of a government building, I’ve always been intrigued as to where the entrance is. My destination of The Moor is clearly visible through the arcade-like tunnel at ground level, but I am denied access to this thoroughfare by a 20 foot metal portcullis of a gate. Multiple no access/no right of way signs, and CCTV cameras on masts, reinforce this in case I was unsure.

Like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, Its been chained off for as long as I can remember and almost the stuff of legend. Originally it was meant to be the terminus for the city Monorail, but apparently the closure of the thoroughfare was associated with the IRA homeland campaign of the 1970s.  Hadn’t all that been sorted out now? Do the powers that be still not want this building to be at all vulnerable? What’s so important about it that it has to be a man-made barricade blocking the organic flow of human traffic from The Moor to London Road? Surely it would make a nice arcade of kiosks?

Contemplating the various criticisms of redtape, bureaucracies and other things beyond my control, I like everyone else am forced into circumnavigating around the obstruction. I enter into a pavement-wide bottleneck of mass human ambulation. With a sheer unrelenting wall of grills and concrete to one side and a main road on the other, this section of pavement becomes a metaphorical mountain pass. The pass is punctuated by several discarded cans of Tenants StuporBrew and a thoughtfully placed bus stop with resultant queue. I look towards the dizzy heights of the barricade for any sign of human activity that may make this inconvenience acceptable. I see no humans – only many pigeons, perched on the windowsills. I wonder if the pigeons can see any Oompah Lompahs inside the building making chocolate and other confectionary? I wish I could fly! As my eyes and thoughts are elsewhere I bump into a fellow man of similar age and size. He looks like his life has dealt him more blows than mine.

“Sorry mate, my fault!” I quickly inform him, as for a split-second too long he makes bloodshot eye contact in a surly manner. Saying  nothing, he continues on his travels.

I am positive that my intrigue in the building has now been captured by its many electronic eyes. I resign myself to this inevitable fact, and the certainty my attention to it has been recorded in someone else’s interests for a future date.

There’s a throbbing at the top of my thigh… Shit. Its a blood clot! No, you idiot…you’ve left your phone on silent…its mum again…  “Where’s my boots?”  Mental note…sort that out…its annoying now rather than worrying. Right, now I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

In more senses than one. Walking onto The Moor, I’m hit head on by the pungently, heady stench of Anglo streetfood. Its almost as if decades of constant deep frying have embedded an essence into all the concrete – the sheen is complimented by an acidic combination of cheap ketchup and fried onions. Coupled with the feeling of now being enveloped by the government building on two of my sides, and the concrete precinct style shops on a third, I find myself yet again looking up to the gargantuan structure as if it’s commanding me to do so. Or am I just unable to stop myself?

Despite the skin exfoliating wind, a Union Jack seems to hang impotent and lifeless from a flagpole on its roof, as if any pride has long since been sapped from it. In front of the building a large Modernist public art sculpture, very much of its time, now looks outdated and obsolete.

Next to it is an untended flower bed. The sort that should serve as an occasional street bench, but is now festooned with used nappies and white cider bottles. From this bed rises a solitary lifeless tree. A grimy plastic bag snagged onto its branches champions over the Union Jack by flapping irritatingly in the wind.

This repetitive beat is interrupted by a young man, clad in grey sportswear, which has long since lost any former lustre. Demonstrating the art of multitasking, he simultaneously walks anticlockwise in a circular fashion, whilst holding his genitals and talks dutifully loudly to a seemingly interested party down a mobile phone.

“Just got it today, get keys tomorrow.”

-pause-

“Gonna get mesen 2 Akitas an 3 Rotties. Stick ‘em in the garden.”

The observation that he looks barely able to feed himself, let alone five powerdogs, amalgamated with the fact that he is blissfully holding his sexual organs in public, brings me to the conclusion that this must be some  kind of masturbatory fantasy of his.

There’s far too much going on here, plus my daily hangover has started to kick in!

I think I’ve worked out where the entrance to the building is. I make another mental note to try and get access one day. It’s the point where all the leaves, litter and general detritus get blown into and collect within this man-made cave. I see workers coming and going from the building, hence dispelling my Oompah Lompah theory. Like children walking to school in Autumn, they kick their way through the piles of aforementioned leaves and rubbish, but without the same joy and innocence that children have. People here look and dress older than they should. It’s as if they’ve resigned themselves to something less than they’d originally bargained for. Although not a fan, I’m bizarrely reminded of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video.

There are a couple of Parisian cafe style tables and chairs outside a shuttered shop. Why? Were they were put there for civic reasons, as most people don’t want to sit in a wind vortex of grit and leaves next to used nappies and Trampagne empties?

I look round, as I’m bemused as to which shop they belong to. With the possible exception of the body building shop, and its promises of increased testosterone,sexual prowess and aggression, none of them seem to sell any kind of foodstuff. I abstractly ponder whether the table and chairs were placed there by people who’d just come to this place with bread to mop up the previously mentioned grease from the sides of the buildings. Almost like some post-apocalyptic picnic.

The shop, with complimentary table and chairs, is next to public conveniences, a sign outside of which warns in no uncertain terms against any criminal activity taking place within there. The shop has a large  ‘To Let’ sign abutting from it. I mischeviously imagine placing a large ‘I’ inbetween the two words, thus producing a huge ‘TOILET’ sign. Maybe this would increase the public’s awareness of the conveniences and prevent said criminal activity taking place. Maybe it’d invite more criminal activity there? Maybe I’m just being somewhat puerile… I giggle about  my personal joke whilst staring at empty tables and chairs outside a public toilet well known for illicit activities.  A few people are starting to stare at me in a concerned manner. Keen to avoid psychiatric disposal, I make a scathing comment about the municipal mural on the wall between the ladies and gents and move swiftly on, acknowledging the trader who has eternally sold DVDs from a canopyless stall, without ageing or changing facial expression. She still looks the same.

Besides…I’m on a mission. The whole reason for travelling to The Moor is out of basic human necessity. Food. I need a maintenance dose of carbohydrates, fat and protein to quell the angry storm within my toxin laden guts. By far the easiest way of securing this would be via the medium of a pasty or two: better pastry/filling ratio than a pie, usually less messy.  A king of Northern food.

Scaling up and down The Moor, I consider my options. Times are hard. I need to be careful with the little monies I have. Most of the businesses on The Moor reflect this, and give me some solace that it’s not just my problem. Pound Shops, Cash Converters, promises and allure of instant cash for anyone…only 3000% APR. We’ll buy your mobile phone from you because you’re desperate – pawnbrokers of the digital age. I feel angry.

I’d instinctively lied to the hustler before. He’s probably got more cash than me. Bet Xmas didn’t cripple him with his free soup kitchen dinner.

I once read a book ‘Pies and Prejudice’ by Stuart Maconie*. He proposes an academic hypothesis. That every decent size town in the North must contain a workman in Hi Vis clothing and a branch of Greggs.  I wonder if The Moor would pass such a test on its own merits?

For a pedestrianised area, there’s a lot of vehicles and machinery going on here. Workmen clad in tabbards and helmets swagger around authoritatively,like boisterous boys who’ve bought the place with their own pocket-money. Continually shouting to each other about their most minor and trivial matters, as if all should take an interest in their daily and nightly conquests. I too am taken back to this metaphorical playground and remember the age old maxim about sexual activity – that the ones that talk about it; aren’t getting it.

I bet they’ve not read ‘Pies and Prejudice’. I wonder if their cultural capital is gained via DVDs as opposed to books. Anyhow, criteria number 1 is met.

They’re tearing up the pavement, leaving two telephone kiosks alone, lost and forlorn in a sea of rubble and muck. Its as if they’re hugging each other in comfort and hope, like the last people alive following the apocalypse. Inaccessible portals of communication to another world that doesn’t give a fuck about this one. Defiant and proud they stand. I need to stop this philosophical musing and prioritise the more basic instincts of human survival otherwise I’ll never get past dinnertime (that’s lunchtime for some folk).

I’m spoilt for choice here, with two branches of Greggs and leading competitor The Pound Bakery to choose from. Deciding that two vegetarian sausage rolls for a pound will be better value for money than a Greggs Cheese pasty for 95p, the Pound Bakery wins. The sales assistant asks if I want a drink with that and duly runs through several continental choices. Expresso, Cappucino, Latte… Maybe it was the Pound Bakery that put the table and chairs there? I also wonder if, for the majority of customers on The Moor, Latte has to be translated to ‘A Milkie’.

Opting for my usual morning tipple of Triple Espresso, I park myself onto a nearby bench to consume my acquired feast. They taste like stuffing wrapped in pastry, but they function well and serve their purpose. More quantity than quality compared with Greggs. Maybe I need to seek a new vocation as a food critic? I consider going back for two more, but wait a moment for things to take effect.

The street hustler shoots me a glare as he passes me, noting my discarded food bag and polystyrene cup. I smile back. Mum has just sent me another text,  glady informing me that she’s found her boots. The pasties make quick work, extinguishing the raging storm in my stomach and I feel the simultaneous benefits of blood sugar increasing and high potency caffeine hitting my brain. I feel alive again. I’m also sure I can feel high levels of saturated fat entering my blood vessels. I’ll be paying this back with interest in years to come. The Moor does fulfill both aspects of Maconie’s theory. It is truly Northern in its own right!

Temporarily at one with the world. My attention is drawn to the activity of the Hi Vismen. I’m acutely aware that a futuristic honeycomb lattice structure appears to be taking shape in front of my eyes…..

- – - – -

There’s no doubt that ‘The Moor’, at the southern end of Sheffield’s pedestrianised zone, has somewhat gone to seed over the past few years.

However, here are links to new development proposals for The Moor:

Architectural Designs

The City Council’s Regeneration Plans

The Regeneration Project’s Design Team

The Proposed ‘New Moor Market’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new Market Hall that is expected to open in late 2013 will sadly relocate the 700 year tradition of market traders from the Castle Market area to a brand new market hall and street market close to the proposed retail quarter. The intention, though, is to make the market somewhat of a foodie destination, allocating at least 50% of its stalls for foods. Given its proximity to London Road, and also foodie temple Waitrose, this could get pulled off.

*With self depreciating humour, ‘Pies and Prejudice’ is an authorative text and, when twinned with George Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’, becomes a Northern masterclass. They’re possibly the only books to have any real meaning to me in a sociological sense.

 

Avatar of Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher is a Sheffield based artist whose work specialises in the depiction of the modern urban environment. Brutalist architecture and high density social housing form the main focus of his creations – their repeating, monotonous facades and threatening scale have always inspired Sid. Although he has more recently started to incorporate different materials such as Perspex, Metal and MDF into his digitally manipulated art, Sid would tend to describe the process of organising and creating equally as important as the end result. Like the radical town planners that mapped out the urban landscape of post war Britain - Sid’s work is somewhat like Marmite - You either like it or you don’t! Sid describes himself of redbrick extraction (although he does also describe himself as somewhat of a bit of a “kitchen sink” drama queen).

Meersbrook, Antiques Quarter and London Road – My Walk Into Town

January 16, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

Albert Road, Meersbrook

Many thanks for my question from last week’s guest curator Greg Thorpe:

“Hi Sid, tell us about some of the most thrilling, awe inspiring or mysterious locations in your home town or city.”

Hopefully throughout my posts this week, and in somewhat of a usual Sid Fletcher digressing roundabout fashion, i’ll be answering this.

For an awe inspiring location you simply have to climb one of Sheffield’s seven hills for a city vista unlike any other – the city has several landmark buildings such as the Hallamshire Hospital, University Arts Tower, Moore St Substation (which is now illuminated at night!) St Paul’s Tower with adjoining  ‘Cheese Grater’ car park and Sheffield Cathedral. A small amount of cardio-vascular exercise can get you to a lunchtime spot like no other – weather permitting of course. I would have to say this view is equally as stunning at night when all the lights are on and you can see the city glow.

In juxtaposition to all this – get up close to any of the post war Brutalist stuff like Park Hill- a trip in the new external glass elevator is well worth taking should you get the chance – it does take your breath away somewhat.

I’ll be airing my thoughts about PH in much greater detail towards the end of the week – no surprises there, eh?!

Incidentally…and in a bumbling Stephen Fry academic kind of fashion…a lot of thought was given to Sheffield’s cityscape in its replanning  after the war. Great care was taken by the city architects to attempt to have a bold yet considered vision across the city. Tower blocks and other significant schemes were carefully placed to act as landmarks – a quote from the 18th century landscape gardener Capability Brown was applied as standard – “Flood the valleys , plant the tops.” Furthermore, and in order to provide some identity, the city architects were keen not to duplicate these schemes. In turn they applied different concepts and designs to ones that overlooked each other e.g. the tower blocks at Netherthorpe would have looked north east towards the deck accessed Woodside/ Pye Bank estate which hugged the contours of the bank, which in turn looked easterly towards the huge and domineering castle keep of Hyde Park/Park Hill, which in turn looked towards the towerblocks at Norfolk Park and Claywood Drive.

Yes, yes…that’s very interesting! Anyhow…back to the task in question…

Today I’m going to be telling you about the area in Sheffield where I’ve lived for the past 16+ years. Naturally it’s the bit of Sheffield I know probably the best.

Meersbrook is a smallish area, approx 1 and half miles south south west out of Sheffield, just off Chesterfield Road. Sometimes I jokingly refer to it as ‘The Brook’. It’s always been a popular choice for first time buyers and families.

Meersbrook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a map of Meersbrook, illustrating the whereabouts of each point of interest that I’ll be sharing within this post. Just click on the map to enlarge it.

Pubs

2 Broadfield

8 White Lion

9 Sheaf View

16 Cross Scythes

18 Byron House

 

Cafes

11 Rude Shipyard

12 Bragazzis

14 Les Amis

15 Honey Pie Tearoom

5,7 and 17 also have cafes within them.

 

Antiques, Vintage/ Retro and Arts

1 The Old Sweet Shop (TOSS)

3 The Vault

4 The Pod / Time Warp

5 Sheffield Antiques Centre

6 Chapel Antiques

7 Sheffield Antiques Emporium

10 Heeley Bank Antiques / Corner Gallery

17 Hagglers Corner

 

Other points of interest

A Old Express Dairy, Art Deco building

B Metal sculpture to commemorate Tyzacks works

C Circle of Hands, community sculpture within a 21st century stone circle

D Snow gates next to River Sheaf, Saxon Road

 

Meersbrook has always had a bit of a more laid back, bohemian stereotype about it, compared with other sought after Sheffield areas such as Hunters Bar, Greystones and Broomhill. While circus jugglers, leftie activists and vegans discuss how best to overthrow Capitalism, nurses, social workers, teachers and artists happily co-exist alongside builders and other tradesmen…sorry… tradespersons! Don’t bother nipping to the newsagents for a copy of the Guardian after 11am – it’s usually sold out.

Free dietary advice from Meersbrook residents society!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The name comes from the stream Meers Brook, a tributary of the River Sheaf. Its literal meaning is ‘boundary brook’. In ancient times this formed the boundary between the  Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia. It remained as the boundary between  Yorkshire and Derbyshire into the 20th century. In 1873 the land adjacent to the Meers Brook was divided between future roads and allotments with the formation of the Meersbrook Land Society. The rules for building were strict, including rules concerning the size of the allotment, the quantity of stone and all houses had to front towards the roads. The rules also forbid corner shops and pubs on the south side of what was then known as the border. Hence giving a quick explanation to the local question as to why are there no pubs in Meersbrook. I originally heard it was because the area had something to do with the Quakers, who didn’t drink.Other similar explanations have been related to the Methodists. However, despite this lack of ‘essential amenitites’, Meersbrook is a relatively small area with several good hostelries along its edges, in which one can partake in a thoroughly good imbibing session. Basically you’re never that far from a good pub.

I’ll digress again .. because we’re talking about one of my favourite subjects…beer. Here’s my take on the pubs that most people from ‘The Brook’ drink in:

The Broadfield (AKA The Broadie) AbbeydaleDale Road

Technically in adjoining Nether Edge, but very quickly accessible from Meersbrook. It reopened in late 2011 after it had proverbially gone to the dogs for some time. An extremely popular, hip place to be, great beers, fantastic food, including huge veggie pies! All reasonably priced. Apparently makes more money than its equally hip sister establishments ‘The Forum’ in the city centre and ‘The York’ in Broomhill combined. It’s usually rammed, with standing-room-only late on.

The White Lion, London Road, Heeley Bottom

As much as I really love the newly revamped Broadie, this pub is probably my all time fave over my 22 Sheffield years. It is the official TowerBlockMetal ‘local’. For me it has perennially stood the test of time, wethered the economic storms, trends  and various rocks (not physically) thrown at it. Its a normal pub, welcoming to both regulars and strangers alike, and has with no pretences as to being anything else – always a good atmosphere. Has live bands a couple of times a month and Slayer on the jukebox! Note the stained glass frontage with the N sloping in the wrong direction. Across the road, former Gentlemen’s conveniences have been adapted for use as an occasional artspace/pop-up gallery. A sign of Meersbrook’s creatives at work.

Sheaf View, Gleadless Road

Fiefdom on Sheffield’s growing Real Ale circuit, acting as a beacon calling to those who will always prefer a pint of  Scrottocks Old Origible, and its resultant halitosis, to anything satanic like Carlsberg or Tetleys. A lot of folk swear by this pub and wouldn’t contemplate the notion of going anywhere else, let alone somewhere ‘trendy’ like The Broadfield, 5 minutes away. Bit of a Marmite pub really, you either like it or you don’t. Personally I have to be the mood for it and only really go if I’m meeting mates who insist we must drink there, because they won’t drink anywhere else.

CrossScythes, Derbyshire Lane

Is it in Meersbrook or is it in Norton? Don’t care really! Another pub that was struggling until a recent takeover by Thornbridge brewery. It’s quite roomy, serves food and is nice – its a bit of a pint-earning trek up a big hill, though, so once you’re there, that’ll be where you stay for the night. Most people tend to use the other three pubs, as they’re all within 5 minutes walk of each other.

So that’s the important bits covered… what else has Meersbrook got to offer…?

 

Meersbrook Park

A large part of the area is taken up by the popular Meersbrook Park. It is a typical municipal park, well known for commanding views over the city, which in my view are definitely worth checking out (see the above map). Within the park are two historic buildings: Bishops’ House (c1500), one of the oldest buildings in Sheffield, and Meersbrook House, built in 1780, which is now council offices.  In close proximity to this, and originally part of the house, is the Walled Garden, which is almost like a set from ‘Midsomer murders’. It really is a beautiful place.

At the bottom edge of the park there’s also the Pavilion, which was originally built as a nursery to enable women to work in factories during WW2. Nowadays its used by several community groups and can be hired for a very low fee. James Green local printer has created a fantastic screenprint of the the Pavilion:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Road

This is one of the main thoroughfares through ‘The Brook’, and if you’re post war housing inclined, like my good self, a convenient  way to get through to the Gleadless Valley estate via the woods at Cat Lane. Albert Road is a favourite walk of mine, due to the hotch potch of different houses that seem to have been built on bombsites.

There are some redeveloped former tram sheds behind the Crown Inn at the Junction with Chesterfield Road. This is also the start (or the end, depending on what way you’re looking at it!) of Heeley Millenium park - a green corridor  taking you past the White Horse of Heeley to Heeley City Farm. Underneath the railway bridge on the other side of the Chesterfield road is the River Sheaf and the Antiques Quarter.

After writing this paragraph, I realised that it classically demonstrates what is taken for granted living here – woods, rivers, City Farm, green corridors… You’re never far from some sort of green space or urban oasis in Sheffield.

Meersbrook continues to a very community minded, convenient and lively place to be. Over the past 18 months it has flourished more and more, with the long overdue opening of two cafes on Chesterfield Road:  Des Amis and Honey Pie Tearoom. Both are well worth a visit.

There is also an ever increasing creative scene in Sheffield, with Meersbrook strongly contributing to this. Local artists and creatives  regulary run very accessible workshops/ courses in printmaking, writing, stained glass, pottery and dressmaking. There’s a real ‘we can get on and do this’ approach about all this within Meersbrook, and none of the usual snobbery that usually makes these sort of things feel exclusive and distant. As this is my space for the week I’m going to plug these guys…you should check them out…

Scott Stephen – writer

Billigoat – Stained Glass

DayGlo Photography

James Green – printer extraordinaire

Postcard Cafe- photography/blog Sheffield street art

Cornergallery

TowerBlockMetal (who?)

 

Antiques Quarter

Stradling the border of Meersbrook, inbetween Chesterfield Road and Abbeydale Road, is a part  of town which, for a long time, has been somewhat of a Brownfield site. However, over the past few years this area has been increasingly populated with antiques emporiums, reclaimation yards and vintage/retro type shops. It is now officially being developed and plugged as Sheffield Antiques Quarter.

Here’s a map of Antiques Quarter

The Quarter represents no more than a square mile, and runs from the end of the Queens Rd, along part of London Rd, onto Broadfield Rd, to the junction with Abbeydale Rd, and back towards town to Wolseley Road. Within this area are:

The Chapel on Broadfield Road

Langtons on London Road

The Heeley Bank Centre

The Vault

Dronfield Antiques

The Pad

Timewarp

Not Just Military

…all within a minute of one another on The Abbeydale Road. There’s also…

Haggler’s Corner (local arts centre on Queens Rd)

The RudeShip Yard (cafe and books)

and The Okey Cafe (60′s Mod Cafe), among others.

This is a nice place for a bit of an urban mooch and a great way of getting from Meersbrook into town, or just a good place to while away for a bit. One immediate selling point for me is that the River Sheaf flows through it. I always love the allure of an urban river:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a few more interesting bits to note…

The Three Snow Gates next to River Sheaf on Saxon Road make an artistic addition to a previously industrialised area:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheafscape

Equilibrium

River of Life

There are many other works of public art dotted around: Tyzacks monument at the Bridge Crossing from Broadfield Park onto Broadfield Road…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A somewhat abstract, community-based Circle of Hands, the centrepoint of a Neo Modern/Brutal Stone Circle in Broadfield Way:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, there’s the Art Deco Express Dairy on Broadfield Road:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Antiques Quarter anywhere on Abbeydale Road, you are now on the great thoroughfare from Southern Sheffield into town –  London Road.

My oh my…how this place has changed over the past 20 years! And definitely for the better in my book. Due to its close proximity to Bramall Lane, Sheffield United’s ground, and the relatively large number of pubs it hosts, London Road has historically been the territorial domain of the hardcore football fan and its associated jingoistic subculture. Not the sort of place you’d really want to be looking out of place by virtue of coloured hair, peace slogans or asking for vegetarian food. Its always been gritty and rough, and I fully admit in the past I have actively avoided it on a Friday/Saturday night.

London Road Tower Block

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays, London Road’s main business is world food. Its a massive melting pot…sorry…crucible(get the local connection) of multi culturalism. In my view, London Road hosts the best concentration and choice of ethnic restaurants in the North.

The majority of these are Oriental in origin, but there’s a bewildering choice within 500 yards – this is what I counted on the way in today:

At least 6 Chinese restaurants, varying regions, specialities, price range.

Chinese cake shop/ bakery

2 Vietnamese restaurants

2 Turkish

3 Thai

1 African

1 Mexican

1 Falafel bar

4 Kebab houses

1 Italian

Traditional Fish and Chips (Assault n Battered – love it!)

Furthermore, if you turn round and head out of town onto adjoining Abbeydale Road, within a couple of minutes you hit a couple of South Indian restaurants, Bragazzis Italian and Tapas bars. Heading back into town again, at the end of London Road is the most Northern outpost of the foodie bastion, Waitrose.

I think the main reason for the cultural shift around London Road is the fact that there’s acres of students flats and accommodation  within its immediate vicinity. That could also be said about the ever trendy Eccleshall Road  But, London Road is much closer to city centre and consequently has much more of a transient ‘urban edge’ vibe to it – similar to Oxford Road in Manchester, albeit on a much smaller scale. Naturally, like Oxford Road, London Road has its fair share of (ahem) ‘street gentlemen’.

The pubs haven’t gone either, although a few are derelict or converted into flats.The Cremorne is a popular choice, with live music, The Barrel seems decent and unpretentious enough, Barry’s bar always comes across as…er…’lively’ and Delaneys behind Waitrose is worth checking out.

Could easily spend all my food allowance on London Road!

That should keep you going for today…gotta dash…picking kid up from school!

 

Featured Image: A mural on Albert Road, Meersbrook.

 

Avatar of Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher is a Sheffield based artist whose work specialises in the depiction of the modern urban environment. Brutalist architecture and high density social housing form the main focus of his creations – their repeating, monotonous facades and threatening scale have always inspired Sid. Although he has more recently started to incorporate different materials such as Perspex, Metal and MDF into his digitally manipulated art, Sid would tend to describe the process of organising and creating equally as important as the end result. Like the radical town planners that mapped out the urban landscape of post war Britain - Sid’s work is somewhat like Marmite - You either like it or you don’t! Sid describes himself of redbrick extraction (although he does also describe himself as somewhat of a bit of a “kitchen sink” drama queen).

Just What Is It About Sheffield?

January 15, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

Post-2-Image-1
I have lived in Sheffield now since 1991 – a familiar story…came as a student and stayed. Personally I think Sheffield is one of Britain’s best kept secrets, but sssh, don’t tell everyone!  It’s a great place for a whole plethora of reasons, but I’ll be frank with you and admit I can’t really sum it up any better than this little ditty I’ve cut n pasted from the University website:

 

A pulsating grassroots creative arts community, a harmonious multicultural population, more parks and woodland than any other UK city, striking Victorian and modern architecture, big shopping at Meadowhall, small shopping at niche independent stores, the best pubs in Britain, dazzling public art, stylish restaurants, champion sport facilities, a legendary music scene, great cafes and coffee shops, secret parties, urban farms, Supertrams, seven hills, five rivers and two and a half million trees

 

Apart from the Meadowhall bit, I’d concur with all that – even the 2 and half million trees - I’ve counted them! – only joking.

More points to add is that Sheffield is a very SAFE city, welcoming and warm. One of the first things that struck me about it that people just get on and accept each other with no one-upmanship. Unlike most other University towns and cities, Sheffield has never particularly ‘ghettoised’ the student community and they mingle and live alongside locals and the ever increasing number of graduates that choose to remain here.

 

Its very central to several other cities – only an hour from Manchester, Nottingham or Leeds – 2 hours from London – you can even get the train all the way to Europe from Sheffield with just one platform change at St Pancras. If all this city life is too much and you’re missing the countryside, the peak district is minutes away – Sheffield still remains a proverbial Mecca for a lot of climbers.  Despite some steep and stubborn hills, Sheffield is a very accessible place to be – everything in the city centre is within walking distance. I personally can quite easily walk to work, decent pubs, city centre gigs, and all the bits that I like photographing, all from my house.

 

As alluded to before, and probably the reason most people are interested in my work, is that Sheffield has a massive and extensively eclectic range of architectural styles and buildings, particularly from the post-war period, that celebrate its industrial heritage. Sheffield was extensively bombed during WW2 and this is reflected in the hotch- potch of building styles you may see even in the suburban areas.  Indeed, a considerable amount of the Eastern side of the city centre was bombed – apparently it was a miscalculation: the German bombers were meant to be aiming for steel works in the east and so the city had to be rebuilt in a brave new pioneering fashion that reflected the optimism of winning a global conflict.

 

Of course there were many other urban centres and cities around the UK that suffered incredible damage during the war, but what is it that makes Sheffield so different and alluring, and why is there this sudden interest in Brutalist buildings, modernism and industrial legacy?

 

Primarily, the range of styles and how they nestle almost incongruously against each other - like the variety of chairs stacked around the table at a large family Xmas dinner – makes the urban landscape of Sheffield quite random, quirky and eclectic; you only have to stand outside the station and look around 360degrees to immediately be taken in by several styles.

 

Secondly, and extensively referenced, Sheffield is built on seven hills like Rome. Historically, up until the Industrial Revolution the topography of the city had always prevented it from being little other than several interlinked smaller towns and villages – possibly explaining the much deserved reputation Sheffield has as a city which is the biggest village in the world! Post-war housing schemes such as Park Hill and Gleadless Valley, and also municipal/civic amenities Castle Market and the Epic development, were specifically built with a mind to exploit the contours of the landscape, leading to accessibility from many levels.  At the time of their conception these ideas had really only been talked about in an academic sense, and indeed were always considered space age, futuristic and exciting. Sheffield boldly embraced these radical new initiatives, maybe out of necessity, maybe as a pledge to providing a city truly accessible for all, or maybe they just got a lot of concrete on the cheap!

 

Thirdly, in many respects Sheffield paved the way as a social housing trail blazer, replacing its slums with high density public housing schemes and estates.  The book ’10 Years of Housing in Sheffield’, which documents the huge housing developments 1952-1962 under the leadership of JL Womersley, was published in several languages including Russian, a testament of Sheffield’s alignment to Socialist ideals (and if anyone’s got a spare copy…?). It is abundantly clear that in this post-war period there was an optimism and allegiance to the newer Sheffield, its residents and its much more left-leaning politics. “By ‘eck, you’ve never had it quite so good,” springs to mind.  Nothing exemplifies this more than the classic film clip ‘Sheffield: City On The Move’ AKA  the introduction to ‘The Full Monty’.

 

Go on…you’ve twisted my arm…here’s the full version of ‘Sheffield: City on the Move’:

 

 

It feels that many older Sheffielders still retain this incredible sense of civic pride about the place and an almost nostalgic yearning to return to such days. Quite frankly…that’s not a bad thing!

 

Finally, due to Sheffield’s smaller size, there’s somewhat of a familiarity about it, and because of the hills and several landmark buildings, its quite easy to orientate yourself once you’re there. The explosion of work from new artists,  photographers and other creatives usually means that you’re likely to recognise and place any newer more urban style work that comes out of Sheffield.

 

Naturally, if you either live in Sheffield now or have lived here in the past, all of this is old news to you and you are more than aware of it.  Be that as it may, one final thing to prove that I’m not a complete Sheffield Sycophant….the roads are terrible…with more potholes than the moon with a bad case of acne. My father in law the right honourable Tom Cooper’s motto is, “Never buy a second hand car from Sheffield!”

Avatar of Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher is a Sheffield based artist whose work specialises in the depiction of the modern urban environment. Brutalist architecture and high density social housing form the main focus of his creations – their repeating, monotonous facades and threatening scale have always inspired Sid. Although he has more recently started to incorporate different materials such as Perspex, Metal and MDF into his digitally manipulated art, Sid would tend to describe the process of organising and creating equally as important as the end result. Like the radical town planners that mapped out the urban landscape of post war Britain - Sid’s work is somewhat like Marmite - You either like it or you don’t! Sid describes himself of redbrick extraction (although he does also describe himself as somewhat of a bit of a “kitchen sink” drama queen).

Prologue: First Impressions of Sheffield

January 14, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

Final University

1984. Of course this was the year that Nostradamus predicted the world was going to end in some sort of cataclysmic apocalypse or that we were headed for the totalitarianism suggested by George Orwell’s book.  Indeed for a young more alternatively minded bloke, living in a Pennine textile town during Thatcher’s 1980s Britain, it certainly felt that way inclined – it felt like we were all doomed!

 

At that point in my life, my UK geography certainly wasn’t a strong point! Hailing from Rochdale I knew whereabouts Manchester and London where in relation to the town – I also knew three facts pertinent to Sheffield: that it was somewhere in Yorkshire, that it made steel and lots of cutlery, also lots of my sixth form chums were starting to talk about it as a university option- apparently it had a lot going for it!  Anyhow, my ignorance of Steel city aside, my first encounter with Sheffield was on a Sunday afternoon in 1984 when we had been booked to provide the PA system at a punk gig.

 

It was quite common for us to set off from Rochdale in the back of a transit on one of these forays – squashed in like sardines amongst speakers cabs and miles of cables, for 1, 2, or 3+  hours, then emerge at some God forsaken venue anywhere in the North of England in order to make the music happen (of our fashion of course – the majority of our punters were Punk/ Metal groups). This day didn’t seem to be any different from any of the others.

 

The journey was approx 1 and half  hours and I do remember the bends on Snake Pass being pretty tight and hairpin like. The lucky guys who were in the front were naturally telling us quite excessively how beautiful the countryside was. Of course, stuck in the back, we couldn’t see anything let alone take in the dramatic scenery. We  compensated for this lack of stimulation with the other unfortunates in the back by smoking loads of fags and inevitably the usual teasing and running down of each other that close friends do when they’re bored, restless and have little occupational outlet. When we arrived in Sheffield it was the usual scenario of getting rapidly lost in an alien traffic system, taking wrong exits, getting stuck in one way systems etc – the sort of thing that doesn’t particularly bother me now, but you’re when a lot younger rapidly dissipates your threshold for frustration. Of course, the solution for this is to ask directions from the locals! Although I never saw any faces from the depths of the Transit I do remember the accent being somewhat different and like nothing I’d ever heard before – ‘alreeet lad’ instead of ‘allraaht lad’ – as I was more accustomed to on the Western Side of the Pennines. Naturally as (ahem) younger men do whenever they hear a new accent for the first time, we all mimicked and grossly exaggerated the stereotype the minute we drove off.

 

Anyhow, we finally made it to the venue – it was the George 4th pub on Infirmary road. The band line up for the night was a masterclass in second generation DIY Anarcho punk: the Icons of Filth, Anti-System and System Annexe. I think it was about £2 entrance fee.

 

Extricating ourselves from the wreckage of  the gear in the back of the van, and as we were beginning to stretch and massage our aching limbs, I was acutely aware that although it was mid-afternoon it felt dark, almost cold, as if something huge was looming over us eclipsing the sun’s rays. My mate Ross pointed over the road and said,

 

“F***ing hell, Sid! Check that out!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craning my stiff neck I looked across the road to see what Ross was going on about. I was instantly struck at the size of the sun blocking culprit…a block of flats – but this wasn’t any old block of flats…. no sir…..this block of flats  was an unrelenting, half mile long,  14 storey, huge brutalist concrete citadel-like complex – endless lines of fenestration, angular cornered lift shafts, high-level illuminated walkways and external industrial like stairwells - I was staring straight at the now demolished Kelvin flats.

 

I’d never seen anything like it or as big as that before and I will never forget it – it was at that point that I think i fell in love with Sheffield.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello ….I’m Sid Fletcher some of you may know me already as that bloke behind TowerBlockMetal and all the post war housing influenced paraphernalia and apparel that I bang out from there. Some of you may know me already personally … for some of you this will be our first encounter – hopefully not the last! You’re going to be flying with me as guest curator for this week on ‘A Wondrous Place’.  I’m going to be telling you about my favourite bits of living in the sunny capital of the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire – the great steel city itself – Sheffield.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do hope you continue to follow my week on ‘A Wondrous Place’.

 

Avatar of Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher

Sid Fletcher is a Sheffield based artist whose work specialises in the depiction of the modern urban environment. Brutalist architecture and high density social housing form the main focus of his creations – their repeating, monotonous facades and threatening scale have always inspired Sid. Although he has more recently started to incorporate different materials such as Perspex, Metal and MDF into his digitally manipulated art, Sid would tend to describe the process of organising and creating equally as important as the end result. Like the radical town planners that mapped out the urban landscape of post war Britain - Sid’s work is somewhat like Marmite - You either like it or you don’t! Sid describes himself of redbrick extraction (although he does also describe himself as somewhat of a bit of a “kitchen sink” drama queen).

The World in the City

January 10, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

TIME-OUT-MANC

Way back in 2007, during the Labour Party conference, Time Out published its first magazine guide for Manchester. For a Time Out devotee like me it was nothing short of thrilling to see our city’s listings rendered in that time-honoured typeface. The magazine was a one-off print run ahead of the full launch for Time Out Manchester scheduled for the following year. Here’s Time Out founder, Tony Elliott, talking about his grand plan for Manchester:

As you’ve probably realised by now, the funding never happened and the grand plan fell through, leaving the single issue as a sad (and possibly collectible) reminder that Manchester was perhaps not the global city you thought it was.

But I’m still in love with the idea of the global city. It’s a concept that takes Manchester out of potentially restricting contexts like the ‘North’, or alternatively puts something of the North of England on a global platform. Yes of course there are things that handicap the city when compared to places like Tokyo, Istanbul, New York and other Time Out cities (size, chain outlets allowed to run rampant, badly run and overpriced transport etc.) but culturally I believe we can hold our heads up with the best on the world stage.

So, for my last post (and thank you for having me!) here’s a whistle-stop cultural run-down of things to see and do just to prove that if you look for it, the world is right here in the city…

The Whitworth Gallery shows the work of Aisha Kalid from Lahore, Pakistan…

The Ritz puts on a gig by Kendrick Lamar from California…

Head to The Lowry to experience the Moscow State Circus …

Sankeys hosts DJ Laidback Luke from the Netherlands…

The Apollo, Ardwick hosts Sigur Ros from Reykjavík, Iceland…

The Palace Theatre stages Don Quixote by the Sofia National Ballet from Bulgaria…

Dreams Without Frontiers at Manchester City Art Gallery includes works by Kelley Walker from the USA and Cyprien Gaillard from France…

“The story and the mythologies of Manchester’s music are now part of a much bigger world of ideas and artistic activity.” Dave Haslam, 2012

 

Thanks for reading! The next guest blogger will be Sid Fletcher from Sheffield, author of the Tower Block Metal blog.

Hi Sid, tell us about some of the most thrilling or awe inspiring or mysterious locations in your home town or city…?

Bye!

Avatar of Greg Thorpe

Greg Thorpe

Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.

Manchester: In Residents

January 9, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

The hated Piccadilly Wall

When I was nine I wanted be a writer, or an ‘author’ as we used to say before that particular Americanism took over. As with other childhood dreams (play guitar on Top Of The Pops, attend Rydell High, become an X-Man) nothing came of it, then grown-up things like University, relationships, work and partying took over.

Then I came back to the idea, wrote a short novel that was never published, then a longer novel that was never published. It became frustrating writing things that nobody would ever read, so I decided to start a blog where I could put all the stuff that wasn’t fiction, and hopefully people might even see it…

In April 2008 I started Manhattanchester, the name a fantasy hybrid of Manhattan, the place I dreamed of being, and Manchester, the place I lived and loved. I wrote about my life in Manchester and my obsession with New York and anything else that seemed interesting, kind of like an online diary.

 

 

My desire to write fiction surfaced again so I signed up to the MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. The course proved demanding, especially while working full time, but I didn’t want to let Manhattanchester fall by the wayside. The solution was something I’d had on the backburner for a while; an idea to interview residents of Manchester with a list of twelve questions:

  1. What’s your name?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Where do you live?
  4. Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.
  5. What’s great about this city?
  6. What’s not so great?
  7. Do you have a favourite Manchester building?
  8. Do you have a favourite Mancunian?
  9. What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?
  10. What do you think is missing from Manchester?
  11. If I was Mayor for a day I would …
  12. Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

This effectively turned me from blogger into editor, a huge labour-saving device. Luckily for me, the responses to my questionnaire proved to be fascinating, beautifully expressed, funny, curmudgeonly and endlessly entertaining. Over the last year it’s become one of the most interesting and widely read things on my blog. (And if anyone is reading who would like to be interviewed, please do get in touch! greg_mcr@yahoo.co.uk).

The best thing about the ‘Manchester: In Residents’ series is that it showcases the breadth of people and activity going on in the city, and because it’s independent and unsponsored it lets people bitch and kvetch as much as they praise and admire. To date I have interviewed journalists, legal secretaries, publishers, photographers, academics, actors, DJs, curators, PhD students, designers, musicians and booksellers. Each time I read a new submission my excitement about Manchester, and sometimes my impatience with it too, is fully revived.

Here are some random highlights:

There are three major theatres right on our doorstep, which means whenever a show I want to see is on tour, I don’t have to travel miles out of the city to see it. I can go enjoy the West End’s finest without having to walk more than half an hour

For a city of over two million people, there are not enough visible hot single straight men and those that disagree should make themselves known. 

There aren’t many places I can’t get to on my bike. Social circles are easily maintained, simply because no one has to travel longer than thirty minutes to find you.

Canal Street. I’m not one for banging on about ‘the good old days’ but it seems eternally stuck in 2001, which is so sad as it was once a pioneer in Manchester culture. It’s dated, dangerous (and not in a good way) and refuses to move forward in its ideology.

I remember the punks that used to hang around the entrance to the underground Arndale Market, and I remember the Northern Quarter when it was just fabric shops and disused buildings.

love the way it’s quite easy to start a new club night, or open a new store, or make a little niche for yourself up here.

Bohemian Grove, Urbis Gardens, Piccadilly Gardens, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, MMU, the Star and Garter, Soup Kitchen, Cord, Chorlton Green, Mint Lounge, Kraak, Common, 2022NQ…

I’m interested in the fact this series is called ‘Residents’ – the kind of peripatetic feel of the city (despite strong ties) is one of its strengths. There are people from around the world here doing fun, crazy, challenging and innovative things. It is also a problem, maybe. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of ‘proper’ Mancs I know well and I’m not sure that I have any real sense of the city – its sprawl, its horror, its violence. 

The area around Chapel Street doesn’t reveal its gems easily; it really makes you work for them. 

Dear Manchester, your theatre’s rubbish…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: Dee, from ‘Manchester: In Residents’: ‘I remember having just visited and saying to my husband, ‘Why aren’t we living here?’ So we moved here…’

 

I have yet to do the questionnaire myself, but I will, sometime in 2013. In the meantime, I will respond to the previous guest curator Kenn Taylor’s question, ‘What hidden gem in Manchester would you recommend?’ It’s a toughie, not because there is a dearth of things to talk about, but because we are lucky in this city to have a plethora of bloggers and online listings to root out everything old and new that’s worth experiencing. They’re all nicely filling the gap where I still think a hearty, comprehensive and beautifully-designed listings magazine could and should be! (More of that in my next and final post). But as for Manchester tips I would say: try the eggs cocotte at Thyme Out in West Didsbury; try the guest ales at The Molly House on Richmond Street; try any small gig at Islington Mill; try anything with paneer in from The Spice Kitchen in Rusholme; try coming to either one of my parties at Kraak, Off The Hook for RnB and hip-hop, or Drunk At Vogue for disco; try cycling around the unfinished urban vision that is Ancoats; try finding a hidden gem, and be sure to tell me when you do…

Featured image: the hated Piccadilly Wall, learn more from ‘Manchester: In Residents’ here.

 

Avatar of Greg Thorpe

Greg Thorpe

Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.

The Northern Diaspora

January 8, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Moz-Gregg

Northerners outside the North are often coerced into being somehow more Northern than their stay-at-home counterparts. We can all think of famous people who are, to quote Flic Everett, ‘professionally Northern’. Comedians, usually. But, as Victoria Wood pointed out, the majority of successful British comedians have come from the North. Why is that? What does it mean? Is there a Northern ‘sensibility’? And if we want to dispel clichés about the North but still hold onto the notion of a ‘sensibility’, aren’t we having our parkin and eating it too?

Part of the problem is what we attribute to ‘Northernness’. For instance, let’s say you have a mate from the same town as you who spins a wonderful yarn down the pub. He’s just a funny guy. That’s his personality. Transplant him as the only Northerner to an office in London and at some point you can bet his humour will be attributed to his being from the North. Context is everything. A Geordie friend of mine is repeatedly told that, contrary to his own lived experience, the North East is an exceptionally friendly place. When he moved to Stretford in Manchester he was weekly accosted by Mancunians in the Stretford Arndale who engaged him in amiable chatter until his shopping trips became social outings in themselves. He was told by other residents of Manchester that Stretford could no way be as friendly as he described… A Scouse friend talks of the special dispensation she has in London: she’s not Northern, she’s just ‘Scouse’. I guess because Northerners say ‘ee by gum’ and not ‘ah ey la’… Another friend from Billingham would scoff whenever I mentioned that I was from the North. As far as she’s concerned, Blackpool is practically the Midlands. If a Northern diaspora exists it would have to be premised on some kind of shared experience. I would suggest that such a thing does not exist, but what does exist is a shared position of being interpreted as Northern, and that’s something that happens to you whether you like it or not.

One of my very favourite ‘ex-pat’ anecdotes is told by Morrissey regarding his friendship with Alan Bennett. For a while the two Northerners (Manchester and Leeds respectively) were resident in Camden, North London at the same time, just a few streets away from one another. They struck up a friendship based on Morrissey’s adoration of Bennett’s work, and Bennett’s utter ignorance of who Morrissey was. Interviewed by Time Out Morrissey was asked if he thought that Bennett ‘voiced a particular type of Northern-ness’, to which Morrissey replied:

Yes, it’s largely the sodden gloom of the North – the walled-in lack-of-choice North that, really, he loves. The family is a battle-ground and every character trembles on the edge of confession. Sex is on everybody’s mind, but nobody says anything. This, I think, is Alan himself.’

Alan Bennett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a lovely description, and certainly accurate for some of Bennett’s writing, but it’s also written by a very successful non-resident of the North about another, suggesting that distance is what’s needed to turn a keen eye to the North, or anywhere. It also contains the kitchen-sink blueprint that’s been awfully hard to shake off for subsequent generations. In order to sell the North back to Northerners it probably helps not to live there anymore. On the other hand, there’s nothing worse than someone who moves away from their hometown and spends their lives explaining how life was better ‘back home’. Having grown up in a family that could be classified as part of a deeply unsentimental Irish diaspora, I quote: ‘If you like it so much, go back there.’

I’d like to finish with another Morrissey/Bennett exchange. When asked if Bennett was a good neighbour, Morrissey replied:

Well, he didn’t turn up with steaming broth or anything like that… I would ask him about the daily obituary columns. I remember one day I knocked on his door and he opened it and I said ‘Peggy Mount’s dead’, and he said, ‘Oh, good – come in.’

Is that Northern? Is it camp? Or is it just really bloody funny…?

 

Avatar of Greg Thorpe

Greg Thorpe

Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.

‘Where you’re from…’ or, ‘Where ya from..?’

January 7, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Tower-Gregg-T

The Stone Roses’ Ian Brown said, ‘It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at’, which has since been quoted ad nauseum in … well, in articles like this mainly. Ian, I love you, but I think you’re wrong. On a small, populous island like ours, where you’re from has a good deal of cultural currency. And while it’s certainly healthy not to get caught up in regional identity to the detriment of personal voice, sometimes, if you’re Northern, that’s not always an option.

You might have guessed from the opening quote that I’ll be mainly focusing on Manchester during my guest blog posts, but hopefully the things I’ll say will have some resonance for ideas about ‘the North’ generally. Just as so many ideas about ‘the South’ are reduced to a vague idea of social privilege, the Thames Estuary and its concomitant dull accent, ideas about the North are… well you know what they are, which is probably why you’re reading this post.

So by way of an introduction, and to challenge remaining notions that there is a definitive North; where am I from, and where am I at?

Good questions.

I was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man. Most people born there were born in the Jane Crookall Maternity Hospital. That’s true for me and also true for the Bee Gees, more of whom later. Not to blind you with geography, but the Isle of Man’s a funny one. Being an island, it’s not part of Great Britain, though I have a British passport, nor is it part of the UK, and hence not part of the EU either. It’s a ‘Crown Dependency’, a phrase that makes a Republican like me balk, but it’s not as ‘dependent’ as all that; the island looks a hardy little bugger sitting out there, equidistant between England and Ireland. That’s a little psychogeographical tick that I like about being Manx-by-birth: my Mum is from Dublin and my Dad is from Blackpool. The Isle Of Man sits in the centre of a neat little triangular trajectory between those places. I also like the spoken homonym, ‘I love man’, as said in my accent at least.

The Isle of Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I digress. Because the Isle Of Man is not mainland, I am not Northern by birth, but by adoption. I grew up in Blackpool. (Another psychogeographical link: the Viking name ‘Dubh Linn’ translates as ‘Black Pool’). I’m not a true ‘sand grown ‘un’, as I wasn’t born in Blackpool, but from the age of one-and-a-bit, to eighteen, I lived on the Fylde Coast, either Blackpool town centre, or Poulton-le-Fylde. Just as you don’t really know that you’re a Northerner until you travel out of the North, you don’t really know what kind of Northerner you are until you go elsewhere in the North.

Generalisations about The North make little sense to people who live here. The generic Northern accent employed to indicate somebody is from ‘up North’ is some weird conflation of Yorkshire and Lancashire. You are assumed to be working class too. In the heyday of Britpop, the media interpretation of Oasis was configured entirely around their Northernness, which was conflated precisely with being working class. You only had to pick up the NME and see one of Liam’s ‘fuck’s transcribed as ‘fook’ to realise who was writing the music press and who they were writing it for. Newsflash: ‘fuck’ is spelled ‘fuck’ and is pronounced ‘fuck’ too, thank you.

I digress again. Blackpool is about as representative as Lancashire and the rest of the North as London is of the Cotswolds. The population is transient, the work seasonal, it’s statistically deprived and psychogeographically resplendent, and to be honest, a massive ball-ache to grow up in. From twelve onwards I got into films and music and grown-up books, and the idea of a life away from Blackpool arrived in my head. In unconscious defiance of Billy Liar I configured this new life around two places, and neither one of them was London (though also in defiance of Northern stereotypes, I would rank that city as one of humanity’s greatest achievements). The two places were New York, and Manchester. My obsession with both was eventually manifested in the name of my blog, Manhattanchester. The idea that someone in the North might want to run away to someplace else in the North seems as radical now as it ever did.

I have now lived in Manchester sixteen years, and while I might’ve grown up in Blackpool, I did my real growing up in this city. My forthcoming posts will try to sing up my reasons for being here and for staying here, and hopefully in the process I will contribute to a greater project to dismantle hackneyed notions of the North, though if one of those clichés is that Northerners are too passionate about their bit of the North, I might just leave that one intact.

Oh, and I said I’d come back to the Bee Gees, didn’t I? Not only was I born in the same hospital as them, but one of the houses I lived in in Chorlton was on Oswald Road, right opposite their old school. There’s no point to be made, it’s just really cool, isn’t it…?

 

Avatar of Greg Thorpe

Greg Thorpe

Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.