Peterloo

Mike Leigh’s new film about Peterloo goes out on general release today. We were lucky to see the preview a couple of weeks ago. It was shown at Home in Manchester, a few hundred yards from where the events actually happened,as part of the London Film Festival. We weren’t at Home but in Horwich at one of the cinemas around the country where the film and the question and answer session with Mike Leigh and Maxine Peake was relayed.

The film tells the story of the Peterloo Massacre which took place on St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16 August 1819 and is one of the first key events in the struggle of working people in England. Manchester had grown massively from a small settlement in south Lancashire to become a dynamic metropolis of manufacturing based on the cotton industry. The mill owners became extremely rich but this was at the expense of their workers who lived in appalling conditions (described by Frederick Engels in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England written a few years later in 1845). In 1819 conditions were particularly bad due to the economic depression that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which resulted in wage cuts and unemployment, and the passing of the Corn Laws in 1815 which led to increased food prices. The vote was restricted to the wealthy and there was massive disparity in representation around the country – the whole of Lancashire had only 2 MPs.

Manchester was something of a hot bed of radicalism and it was decided to organise a mass meeting on Peter’s Field in Manchester and the renowned Radical orator Henry Hunt was invited to speak and act as chair.

The local representatives of the ruling class were terrified, believing that revolution was in the air so they arranged for a military presence comprising 600 men of the 15th Hussars, several hundred infantrymen, a Royal Horse Artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire Yeomanry, 400 special constables and 120 cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry.

On the day 60,000–80,000 workers and their families, including children, marched to Manchester from the city and surrounding districts, with banners bearing slogans such as “Liberty and Fraternity” and “Taxation without Representation is Unjust and Tyrannical”, and assembled on Peter’s Field, an open space in the centre of the growing city. They came from all around South Lancashire, including a contingent from Wigan. Many of them had to walk a considerable distance to get there. Perhaps some of my ancestors were amongst them.

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By Jhamez84 – self-made but based on work in Reid, Robert (1989) The Peterloo Massacre, William Heinemann Ltd ISBN: 0434629014., CC BY 3.0, Link

The meeting started and seeing the enthusiastic reception Hunt received on his arrival the local Magistrates lost their nerve, read the Riot Act and sent in the troops. They charged into the crowd, running over demonstrators with their horses and slashing out with their sabres. Hemmed in in a restricted area there was nowhere to run. At the end, by the time the field had been cleared there were 11–15 demonstrators killed and 400–700 injured.

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By Richard Carlile (1790–1843) – Manchester Library Services, Public Domain, Link

Currently there’s very little evidence in Manchester of this pivotal event in working class history other than a circular memorial plaque high on the wall of the Free Trade Hall (where I used to go to concerts when I was a teenager and which is now a posh hotel)which stands where the massacre took place.

The events provoked outrage, summed up by Shelley’s poem, the Masque of Anarchy with it’s call to action

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.

Next year there are plans to stage events to celebrate the bicentenary and the conceptual artist Jeremy Deller has been commissioned to create a memorial to be located on the forecourt of the former Central Station, behind the Midland Hotel, close to the location of the assembly. Details of the design were released this week.

As for the film, well it’s not a Hollywood action movie. The story develops gradually , bringing to life the lives of workers in Manchester and the radical atmosphere in the city. There’s a lot of talking, using the words of the protagonists themselves, illustrating the different views on what action was needed. Those arguing for a peaceful demonstration prevailed over those agitating for a more violent response to repression. Henry Hunt himself was shown to be something of a vain and pompous demagogue. The real heroes were the ordinary men and women of Manchester and Lancashire. It builds slowly to the demonstration itself and culminates in the slaughter.

Mike Leigh believes the events of Peterloo and the reasons why it occurred need to be more widely known. I agree. His film should help.

Manchester’s Midland Hotel

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One of my Christmas presents last year was a tour of the Midland Hotel in Manchester. It’s something of an iconic building which I’ve passed many times being on Peter Street, opposite the Central library and near the Bridgewater Hall. It’s also close to the Free Trade Hall (now converted into another luxury hotel) but is where I first started going out to concerts in my mid teens a long, long time ago. The tour covered the history and the architecture of the hotel and was followed by a rather civilised afternoon tea.

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The hotel a large Edwardian Baroque style building constructed on an  “island” in a dominant position facing the former Central Station the northern terminus for the Midland Railway’s rail services to London St. Pancras, which it was built to serve as a railway hotel . The front entrance doesn’t face the station so passengers would have to walk round the building to enter via the grand front entrance. However, there was a covered walkway (long gone) to the rear entrance so porters could bring the wealthy passengers’ bags into the hotel ready for them.

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The façade of the hotel is covered with glazed terracotta tiles, which was a common finish on buildings from this period in the industrial north. My home town of Wigan, for example, has quite a number of buildings covered with red terracotta tiles in the town centre. This made the surfaces easy to clean at a time when the air was heavily polluted and light coloured stone would become black in no time at all. I remember many black stone buildings from when I was young which were cleaned up in the 1970’s dramatically changing their appearance. The Midland’s tiles were specially made by Burmantofts Pottery of Leeds, who specialised in architectural facing products.

When the hotel was built, a “Gentleman’s Theatre” occupied part of the site. This had to be demolished but a theatre was incorporated into the building. There are particularly fancy terracotta tiles with sculptures representing the Arts over the windows and doors where this new theatre, now long gone, was located.

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The symbol of the Midland Railway company was the Griffin, and this occurs as a decorative feature inside and outside the building.

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The hotel is renowned as the place where a certain Mr Rolls met a Mr Royce, founding the company that bears their names.

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Moving inside, today you enter the lobby with it’s Art Deco style reception desks

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but this area was originally a Winter Garden – the tree in the centre of the lobby no doubt being a reminder of this.

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The skylights in the roof are a reminder of this

The tour of the building took us into the public rooms used for meetings and the like, some of which had interesting features, as well as one of the bedrooms

There were decorations on the walls in the corridors which included displays of materials found in bedrooms which had been left behind by guests over the years. These included all sorts – newspapers, magazines, comics, letters, postcards, drawings, maps and all sorts of miscellaneous objects.

One of the features of the hotel is the Octagon Lounge which originally had a Moorish design with a large lantern hanging from the ceiling. A few years ago it was redesigned and now has an Art Deco look to it.

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It was an interesting tour and at the end we were able to indulge ourselves with afternoon tea with sandwiches (no crusts!) and scones with cream and jam.

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Very naughty!

Afterwards we headed over to Home – Manchester’s Contemporary Art, Theatre and Art Cinema complex to watch Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, which we enjoyed very much.

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All in all a good afternoon and evening out, despite the weather

Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men

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I’ve finally got around to writing up my impressions of the exhibition of photographs by Salford born photographer, Shirley Baker at Manchester City Art Gallery. The Gallery website tells us:

Shirley Baker (1932-2014) is thought to be the only woman practicing street photography in Britain during the post-war era. Baker’s humanist documentary work received little attention throughout her sixty-five years career.

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“My sympathies lay with the people who were forced to exist miserably, often for months on end, sometimes years, whilst demolition went on all around them.”

The exhibition which was originally shown The Photographer’s Gallery, London.

specifically focuses on her depictions of the urban clearance programmes of inner city Manchester and Salford.

with photographs mainly taken during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the years when I was growing up – not in Manchester or Salford, but in a Lancashire mill town less than 20 miles away. The urban landscape was similar to that of the big city – with terraced streets and post war development. Other than the first year of my life (which I can’t, of course, remember) we lived in modern housing, initially on a Council Estate and then, in my teens, on a new build estate. But my grandparents lived in a terraced house on a typical street.

Shirley Baker was very much a “street photographer”, and took photographs of ordinary people – the women, children and “loitering men” who lived in the poorer parts of the “twin cities” of Manchester and Salford, in and around the terraced streets, bomb sites and slum clearances.

These photographs really resonated with me – as well as most of the visitors to the exhibition who I overheard talking as I walked around the galleries. The streets, the clothing and the activities depicted in the photographs, all brought back memories.

The young boy in the cowboy hat could have been me – I had one too and would have dressed just like that when I was a similar age.

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and when I was a little older I could easily have been one of these boys fishing down the grid for “treasure” or one of the children playing on the makeshift swing made from a rope tied to the lamp-post in the picture at the top of this post.

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The clothing the children and adults in the photos are wearing are very much the same as I remember. So very different from today’s “designer” outfits that even relatively young children wear today.

And the lady in this photograph is wearing very typical clothing for the time with her overcoat and headscarf – she could have been walking down any of the streets in my home town when I was growing up.

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Here we can see an older woman cleaning the pavement, and possibly whitening the step with a “donkey stone” . People were poor but took pride in their homes. With her patterned housecoat covering her dress, her atire is typical of that worn by a working class woman of her age in the 60’s and 70’s in the north of England.

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Inner city Salford and Manchester were poorer areas than the town in which I lived. So I don’t recall things as being quite as grim as in many of the photographs when I was a child. Nevertheless the photographs are representative of the world in which I lived.

I’d not heard of Shirley Baker before. It was difficult for women to establish a career as a photographer in the 1960’s.

(She studied) Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology, being one of very few women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training. Upon graduating, she took up a position at Courtaulds the fabric manufacturers, as an in-house factory photographer. Working in industry did not meet her photographic ambitions in wanting to emulate a ‘slice of life’ style similar to that of Cartier-Bresson. She soon left to take up freelance work in the North West. Further study in medical photography over one year in a London hospital did little to settle her ambition to work as a press photographer. Hampered by union restrictions on female press photographers, she abandoned plans to work for the Manchester Guardian. Though she took up teaching positions in the 1960s, ultimately it was in pursuing her own projects where she came to feel most fulfilled. (Source)

More of her work can be seen on the Shirley Baker website.

When this exhibition was shown in London, many of the visitors (probably mainly middle class southerners) must have thought they were staring at a different world. But for me, and other visitors to the Manchester gallery, it brought back memories of our childhood and youth. (I’ve nothing against middle class southerners, by the way. I may have grown up in a working class family, but have to admit to being a middle class northerner these days)

In summary, this is an excellent exhibition which I will, no doubt, revisit, probably more than once, when I’m in Manchester over the next few months.

Addendum. I was in Manchester today to meet up with an Australian friend (like me a middle class professional, who grew up in a working class mining community) who was in the city for a short while. I introduced her to Lowry (she’d never heard of him) by showing her some of the pictures in the Gallery’s collection – and then took her to the exhibition to show her the world I grew up in.

Manchester Cathedral Stained Glass

It was a beautiful sunny day in Manchester last Saturday, so I decided to call into the Cathedral to have a look a the stained glass. With the sun pouring through the windows, they’d be shown off at their best’

All the Victorian stained glass was destroyed during the Manchester Blitz in 1940 so new glass has been installed starting in the 1960’s. The most recent is the Hope Window in the east wall and at the end of the north quire aisle, which was only installed at the end of last year (2016). The glass is contemporary in style, but with some traditional influences

This is my favourite, Fire Window by Margaret Traherne (1966) which is at the end of the chapel dedicated to the Manchester Regiment

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It was designed by the artist to commemorate the cathedral’s rebuilding after the blitz and represents the flames of the fires caused by the bombing. It’s a simple design but very effective, especially on a sunny day with the sunlight illuminating it – you could easily convince yourself that the street outside was ablaze. The window was destroyed by the IRA bomb that was exploded a few streets away in 1996, and it had to be reconstructed by the artist.

This is the Healing Window, (2004) by Linda Walton, which was installed to commemorate the restoration of the cathedral following the bombing.

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There are four large windows by Tony Hollaway

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The St. Denys Window (1976) by Tony Hollaway,

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The St Mary Window by Tony Hollaway (1980)

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The Creation Window (1991) by Tony Hollaway

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The Revelation Window (1995)  by Tony Hollaway

This is the most recent window – The Hope Window by Aaln Davis – that was installed in October last year and dedicated in December.

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The abstract design of the new window revolves around the themes of hope, innovation, growth and new life.

The window design includes the form of a tree (The Tree of Life) and seedpods, symbolising life and growth, and textile patterns relating to the city’s cotton industry. There is also a bee, the symbol of Manchester and an allusion to the beehives on the Cathedral roof. (Cathedral website)

The statue in front of the window is of Humphrey Chetham, founder of Chetham’s school and library.