The Book


Angel Meadow has had 400 five-star reviews on Amazon. Read what people are are saying about it here.

Catharine Arnold, author of Necopolis London and its Dead, Bedlam London and its Mad, City of Sin London and its Vices, Underworld London Crime and Punishment:

A gripping and gritty account of life in a Manchester slum, given added poignancy by the fact that the author’s ancestor survived the vicissitudes of Angel Meadow. If you like your history gory, stomach churning and crammed with human interest, look no further.

Joseph O’Neill, author of Crime City: Manchester’s Victorian Underworld, The Manchester Martyrs, and The Secret World of the Victorian Lodging House:

Dean Kirby has Angel Meadow in his blood.  When his ancestor, William Kirby, fled Ireland, where the Famine was laying waste great swathes of the country, he washed up in Victorian Britain’s most brutal slum, where death and murder stalked every street.

Angel Meadow attained international notoriety as the embodiment of everything that was dehumanising about the new industrial society that was transforming the world.  What’s more this enclave of Manchester was at the centre of every social and political development, from Chartism to the American Civil War, which was to shape the modern world. All this is wonderfully brought to life in this enthralling account of the fascinating characters who peopled the mean streets.  A vivid cast of saints and sinners, including the real Sherlock Holmes and the founder of revolutionary socialism, recreate this world in a page-tuner sprinkled with hundreds of individual stories.

This is social history at its best: accessible, fascinating and informative it never loses touch with the wonders of people’s everyday struggles. This book is a joy and a pleasure, a must for anyone interested in the far from ordinary lives of our ancestors, the people who shaped Manchester, the city which made the modern world.  There is clearly no better man to tell this story than Dean Kirby.

Amanda Thomas, author of Cholera: The Victorian Plague:

Angel Meadow is a fascinating chronicle of Manchester’s most notorious nineteenth century ghetto. Author, Dean Kirby invites us to enter Angel Meadow, a rabbit warren of tenements and cellars pulsating with violence, brutality and depravity. Here hunger, disease, fear and hopelessness were the norm in the ‘vilest and most dangerous slum of the Industrial Revolution’.

The narrative is taken from real events and relayed as skilfully by Kirby as if he had been there himself with a notebook and pencil – it comes as no surprise that he is a former Manchester Evening News journalist. The reason for Kirby’s emotional attachment to Angel Meadow becomes evident when it is revealed that his ancestor, William Kirby, once lived there. An archaeological dig in 2012 gave the author an opportunity to enter the cellar of the home his forefather had once occupied and the chill of this revelation sets the tone for the rest of the book.

Angel Meadow also includes an array of illustrations, original photographs and even a map of the area, all of which enhance this most compelling and atmospheric story.

Angela Buckley, author of The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada:

Angel Meadow in Manchester was one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in Victorian England. In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, this infamous rookery was populated by thieves and prostitutes, violent street fighters (scuttlers) and families on the brink of starvation. In his début book, journalist Dean Kirby guides contemporary readers through the dark, labyrinthine streets of this notorious quarter of the 19th century underworld, following in the footsteps of the great social commentators of the past.

This compelling account is evocative and powerful, with all the vile smells and sights of the time. There are colourful, and often nefarious characters, startling events and shocking glimpses into life at the very bottom of the heap in Victorian England. The book covers a wide range of themes, such as the devastating cholera epidemics, the desperate plight of Irish immigrants and the staggering crime rates. Dean Kirby brings the often-forgotten history of Angel Meadow vividly back to life, with its gin palaces, drinking dens, conmen and cracksmen, in his meticulously researched and well-written narrative.

I found this book completely fascinating from beginning to end and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about my home city’s dark past, through the stories of Angel Meadow. I would highly recommend it for all but beware, it is not a journey for the faint-hearted!

Your Family History magazine:

Inspired by the discovery that his own ancestor lived in this working class quarter, Dean sets out to record the lives of many of its former residents and how they lived – many crowded into unhygienic cellars with few, if any, possessions, resorting to crime as a way of life, and with little hope of social mobility…. Read it for a fascinating insight into the everyday struggle of Manchester’s poor to survive in the slums.

North West Labour History journal:

Dean Kirby has succeeded in making the local people human and heroic in their endurance of a terrible existence. He has produced a tribute to the people of Angel Meadow and it stands as a record of how a city of great wealth ignored the desperate poverty at its very heart. This book needs to be read and treasured.

Riperologist magazine:

Dean Kirby’s tour through the streets of alleys of this infamous slum introduces a cast of characters, and takes you into assorted pubs ad gin-palaces from which one is thankful to escape. The East End wasn’t the only slum in Britain and this book does much to suggest that it wasn’t the worst.

Amazon reviewer:

I’m not an avid reader but, can’t put it down. It’s unbelievable this is true. Never liked history before this, now love it.

 Destructive Music:

The ironically-named Angel Meadow was a truly vile and lawless Victorian slum in Manchester, so horrible it was dubbed ‘hell upon earth’ by Friedrich Engels. Criminals, alcoholism, and cholera were just three of perils faced by the wretched inhabitants of this terrible place. Dean Kirby has combined the research skills of a journalist with the talent of a born storyteller to produce a book that truly would appeal to a wide audience.

Crime Traveller:

Dean Kirby manages to provide visual imagery that is vivid and chilling. The sense of sadness which waves through you as you read this book knowing that it is not fiction is heavily felt. As is sympathy for the Victorian people, families and children who lived and died in these conditions within one of the most prosperous cities in England.

Northern Review of Books: 

His account of the history of Angel Meadow, and its surrounding areas, is colourful and anecdotal as it works its readable way through the stories of poverty, violence, and the continual endeavours of priests, policemen, local politicians, sanitary inspectors, schoolteachers, and others, to tame the area. There are heroes and villains, and of course the thousands of ordinary people who passed through Angel Meadow, and in some cases survived to go on to better and certainly cleaner (in all its meanings) lives. Some of the tales that Kirby tells can break your heart unless you have a heart of stone.


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