Merry Christmas from the Mouse House

Although I haven’t been feeling in a particularly festive mood up to now, yesterday I finally brought out my ‘lazy person’s pre-decorated Christmas tree’ from its hiding place in the cupboard under the stairs. I told the story of its existence last year although I did think maybe it was past its best and I should get a new one, however I decided instead just to update it this time with some gold tinsel instead of the existing silver. There’s only one thing wrong though – the gold tinsel just doesn’t look right with the silver decorations, it’s too fussy, so when I get a minute later on I’ll be putting the silver tinsel back. 
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And now for something completely silly. A couple of weeks ago I bought Snowy and Poppie a Christmas jumper each, which they hadn’t worn up to now but yesterday they had to suffer the indignity of having tinsel wrapped round their collars and their photos taken just for this blog page. Of course being the obedient little dogs they are (not) neither of them would stand still or look at me both at the same time so out of 13 shots only these six were anything like usable, with my own personal favourite being the last one in this sequence.
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Seasons greetings
to all my blog readers, both regular and recent, with very best wishes from me, Michael, Snowy & Poppie – I hope everyone can make Christmas as good as these strange times and changing circumstances will allow  x

Manchester’s Christmas light sculptures

Manchester’s Christmas light sculpture trail kicked off the approach to Christmas on November 12th, with most of the colourful light installations dotted around Piccadilly Gardens and St. Peter’s Square. They sounded like they might be worth seeing so yesterday, in the quest for some new photos, I made a late afternoon visit to the city.
Piccadilly Gardens was playing host to one of the six city centre Christmas markets and the place was absolutely heaving with people so it was difficult to get the shots I wanted without someone being in the way, but with an infinite amount of patience and a lot of wandering about and standing around I managed to get most of what I wanted.
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It was a lot less crowded round on St. Peter’s Square though I had to wait a while for other people to get out of the giant walk-through bauble before I could get my shot. The Christmas tree is 36ft tall and made from recyled materials while the giant Santa is 37ft tall and weighs in at 2.3 tonnes – he even has his own Twitter feed where people can share their selfies.
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Outside the cathedral I came across a lovely little Nativity display, not actually part of the sculpture trail but sweet enough to take a photo of, and round in Cathedral Gardens was another Christmas market, this time with a German theme. I’m not sure what the tall thing was supposed to be, it wasn’t part of the sculpture trail but I’d seen it just after it was erected. Each storey contained different figures which revolved, as did the blades on the top, though it hadn’t been fully working at the time I first saw it.DSCF1380 - Copymanchester-manchester-christmas-lights
One thing which has surprised me is that the giant walk-through bauble in the Printworks hasn’t been mentioned anywhere in connection with the light trail although I presume it’s part of it. I discovered it a month ago on my last hunt for street art and being early on a Sunday morning there was no-one to get in the way while I took my photos. I’m glad I saw it when I did as there were far too many people in the Printworks yesterday to make any decent photography possible.
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I’d started this photography quest from Piccadilly station and by the time I’d worked my way down and round to Victoria station for the train home I’d had enough. I’ve never really liked crowds anyway and this little sojourn into the city centre has just confirmed one thing – my usual early Sunday mornings are definitely the best times to go.

Manchester street art – June 2021

During the week of the Manchester Flower Show back in early June, when I spent two days trekking round the city looking for various floral displays and installations, I also photographed a lot of street art which, for one reason or another, has so far not made it onto the blog. Looking through my file of street art photos the other day I realised just how many haven’t yet seen the light of day so here’s the batch taken in various random locations around the city centre in June.
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Salmon Street

Tropical themed bar, Back Bridge Street

The artist of the next mural is an illustration lecturer with a focus on painting everyday people, friends and family or those he meets while painting in the streets. I’d never heard of him before and I have no idea why his work in the Arndale Centre was cordoned off but unfortunately it meant that I couldn’t get a decent straight shot of it. The following five were all roadside hoardings round a new development of apartments and penthouses being constructed not far from Angel Meadow park.

Arndale Centre – artist, Dreph

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Coffee Town cafe, Angel Street

Railway viaduct, Bridgewater Canal, Castlefield

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Railway viaduct near Oxford Road station

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Strange creatures in Gloucester Street

An ‘eye watering’ paste-up in Back Turner Street

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The Brazilian Waxing Company on Oxford Street seemed a bit of a quirky place. It was a double-fronted shop with the exterior flowery decor continuing inside and in the right hand window four pairs of gold coloured legs were hanging down from the ceiling but there were too many reflections in the glass for me to get a decent shot of the whole window.

Brazilian Waxing Company, Oxford Road

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The next mural was actually inside a shop and though I would have preferred to see it without the shadow from the internal window shutter I thought the pattern gave it quite an unusual appearance. The final artwork in this batch is Liam Bononi’s ”Inferno” – I’d been lucky enough to see him at work and chat to him while he was creating it a few weeks earlier so it was nice to finally see the finished piece.
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Well this has just about brought my June street art photos up to date. I have several from August which haven’t yet seen the light of day but I’m thinking that the next couple of blog posts should have more of a festive theme. That all depends on the weather though – fingers crossed this continual rain will clear up soon and give me a couple of dry days to carry out my plan.

Angel Meadow – from hell hole to tranquility

On the immediate north east side of Manchester’s city centre, off the A664 inner ring road and just a stone’s throw from Victoria Station, is Angel Meadow, a small public park occupying an area of about seven-and-a-half acres. With its open green spaces, trees and pleasant pathways it provides a lovely quiet oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby city centre but it wasn’t always so nice – back in the 18th/19th century it was part of a larger area of the same name but known to many as ‘hell on earth’.
Three hundred years ago Angel Meadow was an affluent suburb of just less than one square mile, divided into three hedge-lined fields where rows of cottages were spaced out and many smart houses were built for merchants, artisans and tradesmen, but as Manchester grew larger Angel Meadow fell out of favour when those who could afford it moved further afield. By 1770 the city’s population had doubled to 100,000, the large old merchants’ houses were let out to lodgers while builders operating without planning restrictions built poor quality houses in every available space, and in spite of the name conjuring up an image of a heavenly landscape nothing could have been further from the truth.
In 1782 Richard Arkwright’s cotton mill, the first of its kind, was built in Angel Meadow, followed by workshops, a dye works, two iron foundries and a rope works which were all opened to service the new cotton industry, and within a few years the River Irk, which ran through the area, had more mills along its banks than any other river of the same length in England. Thanks to Manchester’s new industrial age and the need to house a great many destitute Irish who had fled the Great Famine in Ireland to find work in the city Angel Meadow very quickly became run down, neglected and grossly overcrowded, and by the mid 19th century it had become one of the city’s worst slums.
Looking round the modern area today it’s hard to imagine what it was like two centuries ago with its rows of dingy back-to-back terraces and damp lodging houses which had once been elegant Georgian properties. Up to 30,000 people were packed into the dense and unsanitary slum housing where families struggling to make ends meet lived alongside criminals, gangs, vagrants and prostitutes. Homes were so cramped and dirty that new arrivals to the dingy lodging houses of Angel Meadow often had no choice but to remove their clothes to keep them free from lice and sleep naked among strangers in rooms where cockroaches were welcomed because they ate the bed bugs.

An attic room in a lodging house – photo from Manchester Libraries

Covered passageways led to dismal inner courtyards; backyard piggeries, slaughterhouses, bone yards, catgut factories and piles of dung released a potent cocktail of obnoxious aromas into the air and very often the alleys and back streets would be ankle deep in rotting rubbish and offal. Rickety stairs led to windowless attics where some lodgers slept on temporary beds, known as ‘shake downs’, on the floor and many people ended up living in cellars. Some of these were up to 15ft below ground level and if a home was unfortunate enough to be located next to a privy (an outside toilet) waste would frequently run down the walls. The cramped conditions, dangerously dirty dwellings and an abundance of rats led to diseases being rife, which in turn led to a high mortality rate with many of the deaths being babies and young children.

A back alley in Angel Meadow – photo from Manchester Libraries

When St. Michael and All Angels Church was built in 1788 the adjacent land was designated as a parochial burial ground, used for the interment of those who had no family place of burial or were too poor to afford a proper funeral, and the number of bodies buried there was so high it became Manchester’s largest cemetery at the time. It’s been estimated that in the 28-year period from 1788 around 40,000 bodies were interred there, all victims of sickness and extreme poverty and most buried in mass graves where coffins were piled next to and on top of each other, as many as possible until a pit was filled, then it was closed up, covered with earth and another pit dug next to it.

St. Michael’s church, Angel Meadow – photo from Manchester Libraries

The burial ground was closed in 1816 but as social and living conditions in Angel Meadow became worse over the years some of the poorer people resorted to digging up the cemetery and selling the soil as fertilizer to nearby farmers. Gravestones were removed and used to repair holes in house walls, exposed bones were collected and sold to the local glue factory, human skulls were kicked around in impromptu games of football and some slum dwellers used the cemetery as a dumping ground for ashes, offal and rotten shellfish. The situation became so bad that following a government-led investigation into the levels of squalor in the area the Burial Act of 1855 was passed requiring redundant graveyards to be covered with flagstones. This led to the burial ground becoming known as St. Michael’s Flags, and it’s this burial ground which is now Angel Meadow park.
From time to time over the years several improvements were made to St. Michael’s church, including the removal of the galleries and the three-decker pulpit, and the provision of a new roof, though when the Rev Jowitt Wilson was appointed rector in 1913 he arrived to find the main church door without a handle, cats and kittens in the organ and the church itself heavily in debt. Nevertheless, in his 14 years there he did tremendous work including opening the tower prayer room for daily prayer, persuading the parks committee to turn the surrounding churchyard into a garden and building a rectory. Sadly falling attendances meant the closure of St. Michael’s in 1930 and the site was sold on condition that the building was demolished, with the work finally being carried out in 1935.
The Angel Meadow area was eventually recommended for demolition under the 1930 Slum Clearance Act but it was World War Two which had the biggest impact on removing most of the slum housing – the area was heavily bombed and many homes were destroyed, though some families did continue to live there until the final slum clearances in the 1960s. Fast forward through the years since then to more recent times and the turn of the Millennium saw the regeneration of many of the old red brick factories and warehouses. The building of modern new apartments gradually brought residents back to the Angel Meadow area and St. Michael’s Flags was awarded a National Lottery Heritage grant to regenerate the neglected and overgrown space for the benefit of the new residential community.
In 2004 the Friends of Angel Meadow was formed to campaign for the continued redevelopment of the park and to research the history of the area. Over £200,000 was raised through grants and match funding, which was spent on re-landscaping the park, erecting four solar-powered street lights and an arched entrance way, installing street furniture including seating and bins, and planting trees and wildflowers, while a local heritage grant paid for the design and installation of six history boards and the publication of an information booklet. In 2006 the park was given Green Flag Award status which it has retained ever since, then in 2015 the Co-operative Group, whose newly built headquarters are nearby, funded a significant programme of work to improve the overall look of the park and rebuild its front entrance.

The Co-operative Group headquarters known as One Angel Square, close to Angel Meadow

I visited Angel Meadow in early June this year while on a quest to find a particular floral art installation which was part of the Manchester Flower Show, though I knew nothing of the park’s dark, sad secret at the time. I didn’t stay there long as I had other places to go to but in spite of nearby ongoing construction work which is part of a massive regeneration programme it was still a very quiet, peaceful and attractive place to spend some time. The surrounding modern area is now known as the Green Quarter and though the hell hole of the original Angel Meadow has long since disappeared its name lives on in the tranquility of this lovely little park.

At long last, a decent dog walk

After what seems like weeks of constantly dull grey days and interminably wet weather culminating in storm whatever-it-was-called and a couple of days of (fortunately very short-lived) snow showers, Thursday two days ago was absolutely glorious. Now the dogs are like me, they hate wet weather and their recent walks have been relegated to ’round the block’ or even just ’round the garden’ if it’s been really bad, so Thursday’s sunshine and blue sky was a good opportunity to finally get out for a decent local walk.
Across the nearby park was Smithills Open Farm with the two farm dogs sunning themselves behind some newly installed railings, then along the lane I came to the hidden lake in the grounds of Smithills Hall, although with no leaves on the trees it isn’t exactly hidden just now. In a corner of the lawns Little Bess’s grave contained the remains of just one artificial plant and across the far side two ladies, both wearing red coats, were sitting on a bench enjoying the sunshine.
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There’s only one thing wrong with taking the camera on a local walk which I’ve done several times previously – the photos I take are almost the same as the ones I took before and the ones before that, but it was such a lovely day I hadn’t wanted to leave the camera behind. The path alongside what had been the old garden centre boundary wall was covered in russet coloured leaves, soggy from all the recent rain, and at the far end of the nearby field two ponies, one rugged up against the cold weather, mooched about quietly minding their own business.
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Beyond the field the path crossed a narrow brook and joined up with three other paths; from there I could see across 16 miles to the city centre high rises of Manchester, including the ugly Beetham Tower, and I could even make out the red and white Printworks sign. The shortest route from there would have been straight on but I took the path on the right which meandered down and round the edge of a small area of woodland before joining up with the far end of one of the other paths.
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From there it was just a 5-minute walk through the nearby farm yard and down a short lane to the main road then ten minutes down the hill and I was back in my own street. It had been good to get out into the fresh air and though it was cold the sunshine and blue sky had made it a very enjoyable walk.