Unexpected Art

George Leigh StreetYou do find art in the most unexpected places. I was in Ancoats in Manchester yesterday and came across te little gem on the left.

For those who don’t know Ancoats, it was the world’s first industrial suburb in the world’s first industrial city that is an icon of both capitalism and communism.

Quick history lesson: Before the advent of steam power, industry based itself where water power was most reliable, ie at the head of river valleys.

Steam engines changed all that and factories could be sited close to their market. Ancoats was a collection of fields used for grazing to feed Manchester to the west, but when the owner heard that Lord Bridgewater was planning to construct a canal to transport his coal to the city,  he divided the fields into gridiron plots to be sold to factory developers.

Ancoats became the industrial heart of the city, but the living conditions of the workers were appalling, as revealed by Friedrich Engels in his book, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.

History lesson over. Ancoats ceased to be an industrial powerhouse many years ago, but reminders live on in the many mills, schools, pubs and other buildings now used as places to live and work.

And that’s why we found ourselves there yesterday, meeting someone with an office at an Urban Splash mill redevelopment.

When our business concluded, we drove down to a row of attractive three-storey houses at the bottom of George Leigh Street, before it joins Great Ancoats Street. They appear to have become desirable residences for  the new city dwellers and that’s where I came across the sculpted figures above.

I snapped the photo quickly with my iPad, but didn’t dawdle long enough to find out what it is made of, or what book is that the couple are so intent on reading.

I can read some of it: ‘God walks and his smile brings release.’

There is nothing else for it, I must make the return trip to find out more.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

14 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 18th May 2012

    love unexpected art!

  • Gormley Pudding 18th May 2012

    I also love the way in which human beings can so often surprise us with their unexpected artworks though this particular piece was probably an illusion – a vision of yourself and Mrs Parrots in four or five years time – looking back over the book of your life.

  • Trevor Rowley 19th May 2012

    Ancoats is certainly a very fascinating (albeit tiny) part of old Manchester. It’s clearly seen better days although that is now being put right, to some extent, by the renovation that has been going on for the last decade or more. I’m not sure what I feel about the aforementioned Urban Splash setup as I don’t really know enough about how they operate to be able to express an informed opinion. However, I can’t help feeling that, perhaps with very little effort on their part (apart from having a great deal of finance) they have been able to capitalise on the reuse of semi-abandoned properties. With the traditional industries (cotton spinning, bleaching and dyeing and engineering ) in this district long gone, it’s perhaps important that some form of renovation takes place. Sadly, the old tenants of the neighbourhood were moved out years ago to enable them to sample the delights of living in Hattersley, Gamesley, Langley and the like (at last an inside toilet and a bath!!).

    For someone who’s never been to this part of Manchester before, it’s well worth a visit as it still retains a distinct feel of its Victorian past.

    PS Still some old, disused churches around, including St. Michael’s(?) on George Leigh Street from which the Italian Association start their colourful annual procession into the city centre in about June each year.

  • Trevor Rowley 20th May 2012

    For those of you who might be interested, this year’s Madonna Del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary) procession will be on Sunday 1st July and starting from the disused St. Michael’s Church on George Leigh Street. It really is very impressive with many in Italian national dress and, even for those without a religious persuasion, it’s bound to reaffirm your belief in the human spirit of community and tradition. Sorry, I can’t give an exact time for the start but, when I’ve been before, they’ve usually started about 1-00 pm. In previous years I’ve spotted such guests as former footballers, Paddy Crerand (ex-Manchester United and Scotland) and Brian Kidd (ex- both Manchester clubs and England). A couple of interesting websites dedicated to the Italian community that settled in Ancoats in the late Victorian period are available on the internet and describe a proud history which is still being kept alive today.

    For those interested in a closer look at Ancoats, try http://www.likefatherlikedaughter.blogspot.co.uk
    go to the archive for 19th January 2010 and have a peep at “A Walk Around Ancoats”

  • Mr Parrot 20th May 2012

    Thanks Trevor. I hope to be able to get down for the procession in July. It sounds like it will make for some good photo opportunities.

    As for Urban Splash, I don’t know a great deal about them myself, except that they got the ball rolling in preserving and re-using many of the old building around the city.

    Ancoats still has a way to go (or is it New Islington now?). I’m sorry to have missed the Ancoats Peeps walks.

    Is St Michael’s at the bottom of George Leigh Street? If so, it’s more or less opposite the houses where I took the photo and appears to be in some sort of use.

  • Trevor Rowley 21st May 2012

    Mr.P, I seem to recall St. Michael’s is on the end of George Leigh Street nearest to Great Ancoats Street. If you enter George Leigh Street from Great Ancoats Street by going down the narrow roadway down the side of the glass fronted former Daily Express building, after a few yards the modernity is left behind and you enter what feels like Victoriana. The street widens out with the old houses on the left and the church on the right. The closure of the church was met with much opposition from the parishioners who believed that there was sufficient support for the church to have remained open. The Bishop was having none of it and, after a few delays, the church finally closed (about four or five years ago, I think). It sounds a bit heartless and, I’m sure, to the parishioners it was unnecessary but to any business (and the financial side of running the Salford Diocese has to be run like a business) the repairs on the old building must have become a burden that the powers that be were unable to justify.

    If I get down there in July I’ll look out for you Mr.P, no doubt you’ll be happily snapping away. Don’t forget to watch out for famous former international footballers.

    PS This part of Manchester also had its share of crime and villainy and the “scuttlers” (thieving and fighting gangs of roughnecks who ran riot in Victorian inner city Manchester) were represented in Ancoats by the infamous Bengal Tigers who originated (surprise, surprise) on nearby Bengal Street. Manchester City policemen were noted for their size. When I was a boy, you rarely saw one under six foot and the sergeants and inspectors were even bigger but, in the late Victorian period, they would only enter the back street of Ancoats in pairs and then, only if they had to.

  • Mr Parrot 21st May 2012

    That sounds like the church building I saw. It does still seem to have some religious purpose. We also came acros St Peter’s which has been renovated. By the way, our meeting was on Bengal Street!

    If you see someone wielding a blue Panasonic camera in July, that will probably be me.

  • Jay from The Depp Effect 22nd May 2012

    Wow, that’s quite beautiful, isn’t it? Such a shame to be so confined in such a tight spot!

    I’ve read a little bit about working conditions in industrial cities in the north/mid part of England in those days. What is particularly appalling is that many of the workers were children as young as five or six years old.

  • Trevor Rowley 29th June 2012

    Just a reminder for those who might be interested in getting down there, this year’s Italian Walks will be held on this Sunday coming (1st July). They will assemble at George Leigh Street, Ancoats from 12-30 pm and intend to leave for the city centre at 1-15 pm. The route is usually “something like this” – George Leigh Street (St Michael’s Church), Great Ancoats Street, Swan Street (Band on the Wall?), Miller Street (CIS building), Corporation Street (bottom end of Market Street) , Cross Street, Albert Square.

    It’s a great afternoon out (even for non-Italians) and I hope those who do get chance to get down there enjoy the experience.

  • Mr Parrot 29th June 2012

    Thanks Trevor, it’s in my diary, but so is taking photos at Brabyns Park Show. Hopefully I can manage both!

  • Trevor Rowley 2nd July 2012

    A good day, really, considering that early on there were persistent light showers. These moved into a nuisance of a strong breeze which hampered the banner carriers to the extent that, at one stage, rounding the bend in front of the CIS building (Miller Street/Corporation Street), there was no other option but to lower the banners or risk them being damaged. The walkers in the procession put their “best feet forward” as they departed from George Leigh Street (with perhaps less numbers watching on the pavement this year than previously but clearly that was because of the weather) and set off with gusto led by the Oldham Scottish Pipe Band. The flower-bedecked tableaux were as impressive as ever and full credit to all those involved in the carrying as these are huge items to be transporting round the streets in a breeze. Needless to say, those in Italian national dress brought more than a splash of colour to the proceedings.

    Other churches (as well as St Michael’s) who were making a contribution were St Anne’s (Ancoats), St Patrick’s (Collyhurst) and St Peter’s (Middleton). Additional musical support was from the Accrington Pipe Band and the Fianna Phadraig Pipe Band from darkest Wythenshawe. The world of brass banding was catered for by the Oldham (Lees) Brass Band and, from just up the road, the Droylsden St John Castle Brass Band.

    Only spotted one former famous footballer this time – in the form of Paddy Crerand (ex-Manchester United and Scotland). There was a young black chap in a duffel coat whose features gave me the impression I should have known who he was (but I didn’t).

    I followed them as far as the dispersal point at Albert Square but, that was as far as it went from me as, by then, I was bursting for a pee and was very footsore.

    Same again, next year, with probably, this time, the addition of a more comfortable pair of shoes.

  • Trevor Rowley 4th June 2013

    A reminder for any of you out there who might be interested in this year’s walk (Madonna Del Rosario) organised by the Manchester Italian Association that the procession will go ahead on Sunday 30th June 2013. They will leave at 1-00 pm from the former St Michael’s church on George Leigh Street (which is directly behind the old glass-fronted Daily Express building on Great Ancoats Street). As previously, you can expect lots of colour from the national dress, banners and religious tableaux. All this and brass bands and pipe bands as well. A reet good afternoon out.

    • Mr Parrot 4th June 2013

      Thanks for the reminder Trevor. I wasn’t able to make it last year, but will definitely have it in my diary for 2013!

  • Trevor Rowley 5th July 2013

    This year followed, more or less, the same format as last year. Slightly better weather (not as windy as last year and a little warmer) meant that the walkers could afford to “sit back” and enjoy the proceedings in a way that, maybe, they were denied last year. Same church banners and bands as last year but with the addition this time of the Middleton Band. The Italian community of Manchester certainly seemed to enjoy themselves again and rightly so as they continue to display their pride in their heritage.

    I almost didn’t get there on time on Sunday as, travelling to Ancoats by bus from Ashton-under-Lyne 0n the 216, we got to the Etihad Stadium on Ashton New Road, only to find a thundering great diversion to be able to accommodate some cycling event in that neck of the woods. This set us off up Alan Turing Way (early days of computers, breaking the Enigma Code and Bletchley Park etc) and down some strange streets in Bradford (the Manchester one, not the Yorkshire one) which left me totally confused. The driver made it quite plain that his next stop was going to be Piccadilly Gardens in the city centre. I bailed out alongside an elderly lady of Italian extraction, who, I discovered, was going to the same destination as me. For two sixty plus characters, we clearly weren’t tuned up enough for a sprint finish but we huffed and puffed and just about managed to get to George Leigh Street with a fortunate ten minutes to spare.

    Hopefully, no silly cycling event at the Etihad to cause a diversion next year.


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