The journey begins

Welcome to the blog that accompanies my book Angel Meadow: Victorian Britain’s Most Savage Slum.

I became fascinated by Angel Meadow when I discovered that my Victorian forefather had been among the 30,000 impoverished souls who lived there. He was a farm labourer called William Kirby who fled the rugged west coast of Ireland following the Great Famine and was sucked into the whirlpool of Manchester’s vilest slum.

As I searched in the city’s archives for clues about his life, I began to drift off to Angel Meadow in my imagination. I descended into damp cellars, climbed rickety stairs into windowless attics, stumbled through backyard piggeries and came face to face with scarred and tattooed scuttlers in the slum’s smoke-filled beer houses.

I learned that Angel Meadow was a place where travellers slept naked with strangers in dingy lodging houses, where cockroaches were welcomed because they ate the bed bugs, where gangs of rats followed their leader from one factory to the next, and where skulls were kicked around in games of football among the unmarked graves of 40,000 paupers in the slum’s old cemetery.

Death and disease lurked in every nook and cranny of Angel Meadow and armies of thugs known as scuttlers roamed the streets and alleyways. Prostitution was rife and the low-lying slum was often shrouded in a thick fog that blocked out the sun and prevented the smell from the slum’s privies, boneyards and gasworks from escaping. Windows were fixed shut and it was useless to cry for help.

The more I read, the more astonished I became by my ancestor’s battle for survival that led, more than a century later, to my own existence in the city that his blood, sweat and tears had helped to create.

I knew the story of Angel Meadow had to be told….

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