During one of my many visits to Manchester’s Northern Quarter last year I finally went to have a look round Afflecks indoor market and emporium on the corner of Church Street and Tib Street; it was something I’d been meaning to do for quite a while but somehow never got round to it.
Back in the 1860s Affleck & Brown was started as a drapery business, with the original premises being in Oldham Street. Over the years the business gained a good reputation as a credit draper and was well known for its excellent range of cloth for home dressmaking. Eventually the store grew to occupy the whole block between Oldham Street and Tib Street, finally becoming a fully fledged department store and one of Manchester’s best.
After WW2 the business went into a gradual decline as shopping trends moved away from Oldham Street. In the 1950s Debenhams, who already owned Pauldens, another city centre department store situated near Piccadilly Gardens, took over the Affleck & Brown store but the continued decline of the Oldham Street area eventually led to its closure in 1973. In 1982 the store was re-opened as Affleck’s Palace, with separate units and stalls which could be rented at reasonable rates by entrepreneurs and small businesses on a week-by-week basis, and the atmosphere and colourful maze-like layout led to the building becoming a mecca for alternative culture.
During the 1990s, when local bands such as the Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets were at the height of their popularity, Affleck’s Palace was the ‘go to’ place to get oversized flared jeans, tie-dyed t-shirts and all the latest underground dance tunes of the time. On March 31st 2008 the market and emporium ceased trading when its 25-year lease came to an end but it re-opened just one day later under new management and simply called Afflecks. With an eclectic mix of 73 small shops, independent stalls, boutiques and a cafe the emporium’s popularity continues to this day and it can attract an average of 24,000 shoppers per week.
It was quite by chance that just a few days ago I learned that this month the emporium celebrates 40 years of trading so I think now is as good a time as any to write this long-overdue post and feature some of the amazing amount of artworks which adorn the walls, doors, and staircases of the building’s four floors.
George the Lion made his home in Afflecks after the 2016 Art Zoo exhibition of life-size zoo animal sculptures dotted around Sale, the home town of Chester Zoo’s founder George Mottershead. The exhibition not only showcased the work of local artists but also celebrated George Mottershead’s early 20th century achievements in creating a ‘zoo without bars’. Local schoolchildren were invited to contribute to the design of each sculpture and George the Lion was decorated by Dave Draws, a local artist and supporter of Afflecks.
Up on the top floor was the cafe with its ceiling decorated in the style of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. I’d been hoping to get a coffee and a snack but unfortunately the cafe was closed, with a barrier formed from plastic chains fastened between strategically placed chairs. It was impossible to photograph the ceiling from outside the barrier but there was no-one else up there just then so I moved a chair to gain access, got my shots then put the chair back afterwards.
Tucked in a corner on the floor below was a Japanese style anime-themed bar selling various flavoured iced teas and not much else – not my type of thing and no chance of getting a coffee and a snack there but at least I did manage to snatch a couple of photos while the young woman behind the counter wasn’t looking, then my last two shots were of one of the stairwells hung with many colourful decorations and streamers.
Afflecks is an absolute rabbit warren of shops, stalls, staircases and corridors and I could easily have spent a lot longer in there than I actually did. The amount of artwork in various places throughout the building is incredible, it’s everywhere, and there’s no way I could possibly put everything I photographed in one post. I could quite easily have missed a few things too so as this visit was made last summer it won’t be too long before I’m going back to see what else I can find.
The National Monument Against Violence and Aggression, known as The Knife Angel, is a collaboration between artist Alfie Bradley and the British Ironwork Centre in Shropshire. Created to raise awareness of knife crime it also stands as a memorial to those whose lives have been affected by it.
When the idea of a sculpture made entirely of knives was first discussed the Home Office was contacted for permission to collect knives from police forces across the country in the hope that this co-operation would bring about the introduction of new knife amnesties, with the Ironworks offering to supply each force with knife banks completely free of charge. Permission was granted by the Home Office and the ”Save A Life, Surrender Your Knife” campaign was born.
The Ironworks created a total of 200 knife banks and during nationwide amnesties in 2015/16 over 100,000 knives were both confiscated by, or handed in to, every main constabulary across the UK. The collection of knives included machetes, meat cleavers, swords and ordinary household kitchen knives, with some even arriving at the Shropshire workshop in police evidence tubes and still with traces of blood on their surfaces.
To create the 27ft tall sculpture Alfie Bradley constructed a steel supporting frame and formed the basic angel shape using steel sheeting which the knives could be welded onto. Every knife was disinfected and blunted before being welded onto the sculpture; the wings were created using only the blades which produced a feather-like appearance, while the facial features were a mix of Alfie’s great grandad, grandad, dad and two younger brothers.
During the angel’s creation families who had lost loved ones due to knife crime and violence were invited to send a personal message of love and remembrance which Alfie would engrave onto one of the blades to be fixed on the angel’s wings. Messages were also sent from ex-offenders who had since seen the error of their ways and gone on to support the fight against knife crime and violence in a bid to stop it happening on the UK’s streets.
It took just over two years to create the sculpture and in December 2018 the Knife Angel began its official National Youth Anti-Violence Educational Programme across the UK, beginning its journey outside Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral then moving on to Hull in February 2019. Since then it’s moved on to a different town or city each month – until the end of this month it’s in Blackburn, Lancashire, which is where I saw it just a couple of days ago.
To say that the photos don’t do this angel justice is an understatement. It’s a brilliantly designed and expertly crafted sculpture which I found very sobering and thought provoking, but regardless of what it stands for it’s a truly beautiful piece of art in its own right and I’m glad I got to see it before it moves on.
Salford Museum & Art Gallery started life as Lark Hill Mansion, built in 1809 by Colonel James Ackers and situated in extensive grounds. After 40 years as a private house Salford City Council purchased the building to be used as an educational site, planning to turn it into a public museum and library, and in 1849 Mr John Plant was appointed museum curator and librarian. The building opened as the Royal Museum and Public Library in April 1850, the first free public library in England, and after less than five months was attracting an average of 1,240 visitors per day; extensive refreshment rooms were then opened on the basement floor and two adjoining rooms were added to the library, allowing it to accommodate nearly 12,000 books.
In 1851 three of the East rooms in the museum were knocked into one with proposals to turn the space into an art gallery, then in 1852 a large extension was added to the back of the building, creating a reading room on the ground floor and a museum room above. Between 1854 and 1856 the North and South galleries were opened along with a lending library of 2,500 books, and by 1857 visitor numbers had risen to an average of 3,508 per day. On his death in 1874 Edward Langworthy, a local business man, former Mayor of Salford and an early supporter of the museum, left a £10,000 bequest to the museum and library and this was used to build the Langworthy wing which connected the north and south wings; it was finished in 1878 and officially opened in August that year.
Fast forward almost sixty years and by 1936 the fabric of the original building, the former Lark Hill Mansion, was found to be structurally unstable so it was demolished and replaced by a new wing to match the Langworthy wing. It took two years to complete and was opened in 1938, then in 1957 part of the ground floor of the new wing was turned into Lark Hill Place, a reconstructed Victorian street named after the original Lark Hill Mansion. Although the museum originally had a wide remit when it came to collecting artefacts from different parts of the world it now focuses on social history with a Victorian gallery and hundreds of Victorian objects on display in Lark Hill Place.
The main entrance to the museum took me through a foyer and into a large and bright reception space with a shop area and a pleasant café beyond it, and on the right was the local history library and a magnificent staircase leading up to the galleries above. After looking round Lark Hill Place, which was my main reason for going to the museum, I went to have a look upstairs; unfortunately a couple of the galleries were closed while the various collections and displays were updated but I had a pleasant wander round the Victorian Gallery, and though I’ve never really liked Victorian paintings I did like the sculptures and the various objects on display.
In an octagonal glass cabinet was the orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system named after the fourth Earl of Orrery, and though the first one was made for him around 1713 the one on display dates from the early 20th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any really clear shots of it as there were reflections and things in the background on all sides, also I was careful to obey the instruction of ”please do not lean on the glass”
In another gallery was the Superlative Artistry of Japan exhibition, a range of works including paintings and ceramics and several contemporary pieces representing food samples. In the middle of the floor was a wire mesh waste basket crammed full of empty cans – it seemed a strange place for visitors to discard their rubbish but it was actually part of the exhibition.
By the wall in a partially closed gallery was a glass case exhibiting a huge fish, a tarpon caught in the West Indies. There was no date on it, possibly due to some of the exhibits being moved and updated, but the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company operated between 1839 and 1932 so the fish would have been caught sometime during those 93 years.
The museum building is situated on the edge of Peel Park which was once the extensive grounds of Lark Hill Mansion, so after coffee and cake in the very pleasant café I went to look round the park itself. Following a 7-year campaign by Sir Robert Peel and Mark Phillips MP for a public park it was agreed that part of the Lark Hill estate should be used, and after winning a design competition in 1845 Joshua Major & Son laid out the park. Paid for by public subscription it was the first of three Manchester and Salford parks to be opened to the public in 1846. In 1851 the park was the main public venue for the royal visit of Queen Victoria to Manchester and Salford, a visit which was attended by 80,000 people; in 1857 a statue of the Queen was erected in the park then in 1861 a statue of the Prince Consort was erected after his death.
The peak of the park’s popularity came in the 1890s; by then there was a lake, a fountain, a bandstand, a bowling green and cricket pitch, a skittle alley, seating areas and pavilions. It was the place to see and be seen but years later, in the aftermath of both world wars, many people moved away from the area and the park was no longer the focal point of a community. In the years between 1954 and 1967 it underwent a major redevelopment and landscaping then in 1981 it became part of The Crescent conservation area. Unfortunately the park fell into disrepair in the last few years of the 20th century but after receiving a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2016 it underwent a second redevelopment and reopened in 2017.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore the park as much as I would have liked; although the sun was still shining the blue sky of earlier had been replaced by clouds which were getting darker by the minute so not wanting to get caught in a downpour I cut my visit short and made my way back to the station a couple of minutes walk away. It proved to be a good move as I was just crossing the road near the station entrance when I was hit by a heavy shower of hailstones. I didn’t mind too much though, I’d had my few hours out and got plenty of photos, and now having recently seen photos of the park in full bloom I’ll certainly be going back later in the year when the leaves are on the trees and the weather’s good.