I didn’t get back from Manchester until midnight last night/this morning, and seeing as how I’d gone out at 9:30, that’s a long day.
This weekend has been the tail end of Manchester Histories Festival, a largely free and very diverse event. I found out about it quite late, so decided to cram as much into Saturday as possible.
The weather looked distinctly unpromising when I headed out at 9:30, a fine mancunian drizzle and grey skies suggested a damp day best spent indoors.
On my way down Mosley Street I was very aggressively (though I soon decided ‘desperately’ would be the better word) asked for money by a homeless guy I’ve given money to before. Everytime I’ve given him money it’s been the same story: He’s been kicked out of the house by his stepfather. I don’t know if he keeps going back or what, and it’s not up to me to make value judgements about vulnerable people, so I won’t.
This time he was very agitated, very desperate, and practically in tears because he’d been asking people for money for 12 hours and all he’d got was 20p. He wanted notes, but I wouldn’t give him any as it felt too much like being mugged. Also, whenever I have given him money in the past, it clearly hasn’t helped him any, and it became apparent after the first couple of occasions that I wasn’t doing him any favours in the long term. Of course, the agencies who might be able to help him – hostels, The Big Issue, Shelter, other housing charities, the council and social services – are all under the cosh of the recession.
There definitely seems to be more homeless people on the streets of Manchester than there was even a year ago, and what with rent increases, diminishing wages, negative equity/mortgage defaults, unemployment, cuts to benefits, anti squatting legislation and a lack of affordable housing, it will only get worse in the next few years.
Desperation really is in the air. You can see the signs more and more since the riots last year: people picking up dog ends of other peoples cigarettes from the pavement because they can’t afford to buy their own, metal thefts, the Co-Op being ram raided last month. Last week I encountered two young northern Irish lads with back packs asking for hostel locations.
To get back onto the festival, the first three events were at the Friends Meeting House on Mount Street near the Town Hall.
The first talk was by Alison Ronan, a historian at MMU who talked about Margaret Ashton, a suffragist and pacifist who was the first woman to be made a councillor for Manchester City Council. The title of the talk was The hanging of a pacifist: the story of the lost portrait of Margaret Ashton, Manchester’s first woman councillor.
She opened by discussing the portrait in question, and went on to fill in a lot of detail about the largely unknown Ashton’s life and character, her politics, associations and friends and allies. The portrait of Ashton was painted in 1925, and the council refused to hang it in the Town Hall. The pacifist stance she took during World War I being part of the reason. The painting was eventually hung in 2006 following a campaign.
I liked this talk but I found the atmosphere a little exclusive in that it quickly became apparent that the speaker knew half the audience. It was still an interesting talk about a hidden aspect of Mancunian and women’s history though.
The talk after that was given by Robert Poole, a historian from the University of Cumbria, about the Peterloo Massacre. He has a project going on at the moment in which a group of volunteers have been transcribing previously unseen written eyewitness accounts of the 1819 massacre.
The talk was an opportunity to share those freshly transcribed accounts, and he concentrated initially on eyewitness accounts from the authorities, all of which had a series of interesting inconsistencies. For example, a flip flopping in describing the marchers and crowd as both ‘A mob’ (suggesting mindless and disorganised behaviour) and military like (suggesting lots of organisation).
The eyewitness accounts of those in the crowd, or independent witnesses, made for much more consistent reading. There were some interesting details that emerged that I hadn’t previously been aware of, for example that Special Constables had been amongst those injured by the yeomanry and the cavalry. It was a very interesting and engaging talk, which I enjoyed a lot.
Also mentioned were the new plaque, which is red, not blue, and which was unveiled by the council in late 2007, and the symbolic re-enactments, the veterans stories that emerged years after Peterloo, and the march home by the Middleton contingent from the massacre, with the shocked and wounded survivors swearing they’d go armed to any protest they attended from then on.
The event after Peterloo was Dave Haslem and his Brief introduction to Manchester’s alternative music magazines. David arrived at this point, and we sat enthralled as Haslem spun us tales of Mole Express and City Fun. I didn’t feel that he covered the ’90s that well, but I think that this was because he was taking an evolutionary approach musically and so concentrating on dance fanzines, of which there weren’t that many.
There was time to kill after this event so we went to Cafe Nero with a lecturer from MMU who David knows, blogger Greg Thorpe, and Dave Haslem. This felt a bit weird as I’m not used to such exulted company, so I mainly kept quiet.
Afterwards David and I got some cake (and the best veggie sausage rolls ever) from Earth Café and mooched about the city centre for a bit, making our way down Market Street and observing the huge crowd watching the gaggle of children breakdancing. The dancing puppets man was also present, with his puppets I mean, not watching the breakdancing children.
Haslem had talked earlier about a history based workshop he had done with a group of young fanzine makers in the city in the weeks previous, including the makers of Things Happen. Five fanzines were produced from this, and were sold at the
The panel at the final event, Fanzines, was made up of a guy from Mole Express, Bob Dickinson, Liz Naylor and Dan Russell, who is part of the Things Happen ollective.
The guy from Mole Express seemed either reluctant or hazy, but did slowly start to warm up a bit. Dickinson, Haslem and Naylor discussed City Fun in the main. Dan was pretty quiet.
I hadn’t met any of the Things Happen people before, though I had heard of them. After the panel discussion we talked to Dan and the other people involved with the fanzine workshop and Things Happen, also Natalie Bradbury who writes the excellent Shrieking Violets, and is organising another fanzine convention at Victoria Baths.
We headed over to Hotspur House afterwards, which is an abandoned and derelict printing mill behind Oxford Road train station. The Things Happen people have a studio space there where they create design work, including their fanzines. They are also engaged in the process of clearing up and fixing up the mill, and developing spaces for other artists to move into.
The relationship with the council appears to be edgy but productive so far. Hotspur House is a derelict Victorian mill surrounded by hideous steel and glass yuppie developments though, and that makes it very vulnerable. You suspect that it’s the recession that has saved it so far, not any preservation interest by the council or the developers.
The space the group have is good, and they’ve fixed it up as well as they can with the resources they’ve got. Manchester Mule have an office on the floor downstairs, and other designers work in the building as well. I hope it works out for them, they seem a nice lot. Very focused as well, and idealistic in the nicest sense.