A big day today after the first copies of Angel Meadow finally arrived, hot off the printing press. That strangely comforting smell of ink and newly-pressed paper is now wafting through the house and five boxes of books are sitting in the hallway, waiting to be picked up and read. It’s hard to believe I can finally flick through the pages of the book and that nearly four years work has come to an end. The book is now available to order via Amazon, Waterstones and direct from the publisher, Pen and Sword Books, from 28 February.
Old maps chart the decline of Angel Meadow from a rural idyll to an industrial slum. The first detailed plan of Manchester, made in 1741, shows how the area had been divided into three hedge-lined fields, including one that marked the later path of Angel Street. Rows of cottages were laid out across the fields and dozens of smart houses were built as the area briefly became a wealthy suburb for merchants and artisans.
But the large old merchants’ houses were eventually let out to lodgers as Manchester’s population doubled to 100,000 within just 25 years. The architectural flourishes remained – giving the slum an air of faded grandeur – while builders operating without planning restrictions threw up new houses in every spare nook and cranny.
Covered passages soon led to inner courts that were soon ankle-deep in the filth and offal. Workshops, a dye works, two iron foundries and a rope works opened to service the new cotton industry and the nearby Arkwright’s Mill. Within a few years, the Irk had more mills along its banks than any other river of the same length in England. Follow the decline of Angel Meadow by clicking through this gallery of maps:
Angel Meadow was Manchester’s main lodging house district at a time when thousands of people were arriving in the city in search of work. Wanderers stepped off trains at Victoria Station and made the short walk to an unsafe harbour in the slum. They laid down their heads for a fearful first night in beds shared with strangers – removing their clothes because it was the only way to keep them free from lice. Social observers described these dens as ‘disgusting abodes’ haunted by vice, crime and disease. Explore the interior of an Angel Meadow lodging house using this clickable image.
The lowest, most filthy, most wicked locality in Manchester… inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps, and in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, those unhappy wretches, the low Irish.
Angel Meadow’s tobacco factory loomed large over the slum’s skyline and added a sickly sweetness to the toxic atmosphere. The factory was built by the Co-operative Wholesale Society in 1898 and made cigarettes and cigars from leaves imported from as far away as Borneo, Sumatra, Brazil and Cuba. The most prized workers were the cigar makers, who could roll tobacco leaves with the dexterity of classical pianists. But the factory employed no local people, with managers revealing in 1902 that their workers came from ‘better class districts’.
Angel Meadow: Victorian Britain’s Most Savage Slum, the first history of Manchester’s Angel Meadow district, is set to be released on 28 February, 2016. Find out how to buy the book here.
Chris Wild from Oxford Archaeology North talks about the Angel Meadow dig in this interview in 2012.
Sharp Street Ragged School had an inauspicious start when it opened its doors in the 1850s. Youths threw stones through the school’s windows, left dead cats on the doorstep and attacked the teachers as they were walking down the street. It took the teachers five years to win over hearts and minds in the slum and soon they were providing classes to 400 children each week.
The dreary wastes of Angel Meadow. Down Angel Street, with its pestiferous lodging houses, with its bawds and bullies, its thieves and beggars, one had need to visit such a place when the sun is high in the heavens. When night falls I had rather enter an enemy’s camp during the time of war than venture near such dens of infamy and wretchedness, but the poor live here and die here.
I was lucky enough recently to be invited by BBC’s The One Show to appear in a short film about Jerome Caminada, Victorian Manchester’s most famous detective and a true-life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Caminada’s life is the subject of a gripping book by Manchester author Angela Buckley, entitled The Real Sherlock Holmes. Caminada’s arch-enemy, his real-life Moriarty, was the Angel Meadow “cracksman” Bob Horridge, who was known throughout the land as a fearless armed robber and an expert safe-breaker. But did Caminada, like the fictional Sherlock, finally get his man? Watch the film here to find out.