Last Wednesday we caught the train into Manchester. I’d bought some tickets for a lunchtime concert by the Hallé – a programme of chamber music that was taking place at the orchestra’s smaller venue in Ancoats, the converted St Peter’s church. We had originally intended to return home before rush hour but on the train in decided to book into a restaurant in the Northern Quarter I’d had my eye on and make more of a day of it.
We arrived in Manchester a couple of hours before the concert was due to start so made our way through to the Northern Quarter and popped into the Craft & Design Centre and had a mooch round the various studios. The building is a former fish market, part of the old Victorian Smithfield Markets complex. There’s some really lovely ceramics, jewellery, art and other items on display and for sale and in some of the studios you can see the artists at work. Prices vary, of course, but you can buy some original works for quite reasonable prices. We were just window shopping this visit, though. However, as the alarm went off on my blood sugar monitoring app on my phone we did treat ourselves in the rather excellent little cafe in the centre
Feeling full and with blood sugar rising, we made our way through the Northern Quarter towards the old working class district of Ancoats and the renovated chrurch where the concert would take place.
The church was built in 1859 when Ancoats was rapidly expanding into major industrial complex of mills and working class housing
The Hallé webiste tells us that
the Church had to be built on a budget of only £4,200. This meant that Isaac Holden, the architect and founder chairman of the Manchester Society of Architects, had to be imaginative and practical in his design. For example, brick was used instead of the more expensive stone.
Inside cast iron was used for the columns and arches supporting the roof. With rounded, rather than pointed arches, and a campanile and other Italiante features, I’d probably describe it as “Industrial Romanesque“
In the mid 20th Century with industry in Ancots, and Manchester generally, in decline, and slum clearance reducing the population of the area, the congregation was in decline and the church was closed and deconsecrated. Inevitably the building deteriorated, partly due to vandalism and robbing of valuable materials, but in 2013 it was acquired by the Hallé and converted into a space for rehearsals, smaller concerts and other events.
The concert programme focused on three major influences on the Hallé’s Artist in Residence, the Anglo Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova: science, Renaissance music and folk music, culminating with her string sextet Such Different Paths, all performed by Hallé players, including the lead violinist (who looks about 18!!!)
Zoltan Kodaly – Duo for violin and cello 1st movement
John Dowland – Lachrimae Antiquae
Dobrinka Tabakova – Organum Light
Traditional, arranged Danish String Quartet – Æ Rømeser, Intermezzo & Shine You No More
Dobrinka Tabakova – Such Different Paths
I’m familiar with the three short pieces by the Danish String Quartet, but enjoyed the other works, none of which were too challenging or indigestible, so ideal for a lunchtime concert!
We enjoyed the concert and as I’ll hopefully start to have more time to do things other than work, I’m going to be on the look out for similar events both in Manchester and Liverpool.
Afterwards we decided to go and have a look at New Islington, an area of Ancoats between the Rochdale and Ashton canals that has been “regenerated”. Built on the site of what used to be a rundown council estate, funding to regenerate the area was secured in 2002. The development has been led by Urban Splash, a company who specialise in urban regeneration.
There’s a mix of apartment blocks and town houses, with eateries and a school built around the canal marina where once narrowboats would have been loaded with the produce from the nearby large cotton mills.
I checked out the cost of buying or renting a property here and they’re not exactly in the price range of the people who used to live around here. So it’s an example of gentrification of what was once a working class area. And the funding of the project is controversial as it involved serious investment from Abu Dhabi in a joint venture with Manchester City Council.
There’s an interesting article about the development by Manchester’s online newspaper the Mill.
Walking back towards Great Ancoats Street and the Northern Quarter, we passed a couple of streets of Victorian Terraced houses that have been restored. These would have been among the better quality houses in old Ancoats. Most workers would have lived in poor quality accommodation, probably including back to back houses and tenement blocks, like those shown on this series of pictures from the Manchester Evening News website.
We had a couple of hours before our restaurant booking so wandered over to the City Art Gallery. We’d visited only a few weeks before but decided to have another look around. Since our last visit, a display of newly purchased works had been installed. I particularly liked this photographic 21st century recreation by Emily Allchurch of a painting of Albert Square by Adolphe Valette
Here’s the original, that can also be seen in the Gallery.
Albert Square, Manchester by Adolphe Valette
This simple work of cockle shells cast in Victorian lead by Jamie Holman, commemorates the Chinese cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay in 2004. There is one cockle for each of the drowned workers with the one displaced from the main group representing Dong Zin Wu who is still missing.
After looking round we wandered back over to Tibb Street in the Northern Quarter where we had a table booked at Evelyn’s Cafe Bar
Their evening menu is inspired by Middle Eastern and Pan-asian dishes. They serve “small plates” (although they weren’t so small!) so we ordered a selection of dishes to share between us. Delicious they were! and quite reasonably priced, too.
Then it was time to head over to Victoria to catch the train home. Luckily, ours wasn’t cancelled!