Ringing the bell of St Michael’s

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Today marked a significant moment in the modern history of Angel Meadow – the first time that the bell of the former St Michael’s Church had been heard in more than 80 years.

The parish church of St Michael’s and All Angels watched over the violent and disease-ridden streets of Angel Meadow for more than 140 years – the entire history of Victorian Britain’s most savage slum.

Its gaunt bell tower stood like a sentinel over the “human jungle” that was home to 30,000 souls, who fought for survival in conditions so appalling, it was described by Friedrich Engels as “hell upon earth”.

In the tower was a “fine bell”, forged in 1848, which summoned parishioners to services until the church fell into disuse and was finally demolished in 1935. It was melted down after the demolition and recast for St Gabriel’s Church in Prestwich, which opened in 1933.

The bell, which contains the inscription “Made for S Michael’s, Angel Meadow, 1848, and Recast for S Gabriel’s, 1933”, still tolls today – an everlasting remainder of Victorian Britain’s most savage slum.

Earlier this year, I contacted the Revd Canon Steve Williams and the parishioners at St Gabriel’s and they kindly agreed to let me make a recording of the bell – a feat which involved scaling a 40ft ladder into the belfry.

The recording of the bell was played at the site of the former church – now a lush park – today as part of the Angel Meadow Community History Day organised by the Friends of Angel Meadow as part of the Manchester Histories Festival.

Huge thanks to the parishioners, the Friends of Angel Meadow and also to NOMA for making it happen.

It was a poignant reminder of Angel Meadow’s history and an act of remembrance to pay tribute to the thousands of people – the ancestors of modern-day Mancunians – who lived and died in the slum during the Industrial Revolution.

You can listen to the bell by playing this video trailer for the book:

St Michael's bell

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What lies beneath

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Spent a great day today talking to staff at the Co-operative and NOMA about what lies beneath 1 Angel Square and signing copies of my book in the atrium. The award-winning building, off Miller Street, is one of the greenest and most sustainable in Europe. Few people know that it stands on the site of The Rest  – the biggest lodging house in Victorian Manchester.

The Rest stood in an old mill in Factory Yard and had beds for up to 600 lodgers. It was a place where “vice, honesty and poverty rubbed shoulders,” as a journalist from the Manchester Courier found out. He entered the house with a bodyguard of two stalwart detectives who fortified themselves with a “worthy disinfectant” – a plentiful supply of tobacco.

Inside, the found a great quadrangle with a concrete floor surrounded by wooden benches. Suddenly, a man sleeping off a drinking session on a bench rolled over and fell face first on the floor. A merchant and a lawyer, who was wearing a grubby collar, laid the man on the bench. His face, which had been resting in a pool of blood, was “frightfully gashed”.

The journalist wrote: “The lawyer and the merchant, having flung him back on his wooden bench, walked away, not heeding the wound and he still slept in blissful ignorance of his injury. Nobody cared. Most of the inmates went on playing dominoes, and all were completely indifferent. It was sickening.”

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Angel Meadow in the news

I’ve had an enjoyable week launching the book and watching its unexpected rise up the Amazon bestseller charts until it was suddenly – and unbelievably – in the top 400 bestsellers out of six million books. Amazed to be able to say it is currently the No.1 bestselling social history book on Amazon and was also publisher Pen and Sword’s No.1 bestseller this week. Here are the results of some of the publicity I’ve been doing to launch the book. Click on the pictures below to read, listen and watch.

The week started last Friday, 26 February, when the story of Angel Meadow appeared as a big read in The Independent…

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On Saturday, I spent a good afternoon being interviewed about the dark history of Angel Meadow on Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM…

On Monday, the story about the discovery of my ancestor’s home in Angel Meadow appeared in the Manchester Evening News…

MEN story

On Tuesday, I was on That’s Manchester TV with the Friends of Angel Meadow to talk about the area’s past and it’s future…

Then, on Wednesday, I was a guest on the BBC Radio Manchester breakfast show, where I was interviewed about the book. Click on the picture below and listen in at 2hrs 20mins and then again at 2hrs 50mins…

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Angel Meadow: The 1832 cholera riot revealed

Angel Meadow was hit by a savage cholera epidemic in 1832, which killed many of the inhabitants. The outbreak also led to one of the worst riots in Manchester’s history. It began after a surgeon at the cholera hospital in Swan Street cut off the head of a three-year-old cholera victim named John Brogan. Find out how events unfolded using this interactive story map. Click on the picture to begin exploring:

cholera map

My debut book, Angel Meadow: Victorian Britain’s Most Savage Slum, features the full story of the 1832 cholera riot and many other stories about the Angel Meadow sum. The book has just been released and is now available from the publishers, Pen and Sword Books, and also from Amazon. Click on the book below to visit my author page on Amazon.

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Angel Meadow scuttler wars mapped

Fearless gangs of street fighters known as scuttlers waged war on the streets of Angel Meadow in the last quarter of the 19th century and struck terror in the hearts of slum dwellers. Wearing pointed, brass-tipped clogs and using knives, iron pokers and heavy belt buckles as weapons, they prowled the slum looking for a fight. They included Henry Burgess, the most feared man in Angel Meadow, who attacked his enemies with paraffin lanterns, and James Gallagher, known to his foes as the Red King.

Discover more about some of their most violent outrages with this clickable map (best viewed from a desktop) and read about these incidents and more in my book, which is out now and available to buy direct from the publisher, Pen and Sword. It is also available from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmiths, the Guardian bookshop. Click on the book cover below to visit my author page on Amazon.

Frontcover