Posts Tagged ‘Peterloo’

Gay punks

Gay punks

On Tuesday I went to the Geoffrey Manton building at MMU to see Dr David Wilkinson do a re-scheduled guest lecture on the theme of punk and LGBT identities. The talk should have been held in February to coincide with LGBT history month, but it was scheduled for the night of the big storm and, faced with 80 mile per hour winds, MMU took fright and closed the building mid afternoon. I had booked the day off work on that occasion, and arrived at 6pm after a lengthy wait for a bus and slightly less lengthy bus ride, only to find the building locked. I then spent another hour and a half (most of it at the bus stop on Oxford Road, being very thankful of my new warm wind proof hat) getting home, eventually walking to the Apollo for a 192 that was rammed to the gills, largely (it seemed) with people trying to get home to Buxton.

Tuesday was a much smoother affair. Geoffrey Manton is my old department building, and I haven’t set foot inside it for 10 years, so it felt both nostalgic and exciting. They have installed a series of very beautiful olive trees in large pots in the atrium, and the building felt unusually smaller than I remember. I like how it’s been developed though, what with the trees and the new student hubs.

I enjoyed David’s talk, in which he very skilfully dissected and picked apart the received stereotypes around punk, as well as detailing the connections between punk and the seventies gay scene. He did a gay reading of the Pistols on the Grundy show, and the image of the Pistols and Buzzcocks, amongst other things, as well as featuring some very excellent footage of Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll critiquing Factory and Tony Wilson, which was contrasted with Wilson being interviewed in his bath by Gillian Gilbert, also in the bath… Eewww…

It’s interesting to compare this talk to the one David did at Manchester Zinefest on City Fun two years ago, as his style has become more fluid, confident and sophisticated since then, and I think he will do very well.

In the audience for David’s talk was Dave Haslam, who contributes very movingly to this taster video put together by Manchester Histories Festival regarding Peterloo.


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At the end of January I went to see a colleague of mine at the John Rylands Library on Deansgate. I’d been meaning to for a while, but it’s too far away from where I work to be doable in a lunch hour so I waited until I had a week off instead.

I got the bus into Piccadilly and felt rather depressed as the bus turned off down Whitworth Street and went past Legends, now boarded up and poised for either demolition or partial restructure. Then I walked through Piccadilly Gardens to Mosley Street (honoured by John Cooper Clarke in one of his more lugubrious works) towards Saint Peter’s Square. I feel quite bleak about the redevelopment going on there too – the Library, Library Theatre, Peace Gardens, Metrolink…

Library Walk by cantwont used via a flickr creative commons licence.

Library Walk by cantwont used via a flickr creative commons licence.

When it’s redone the council are glassing over Library Walk, one of the most architecturally beautiful walkways in Manchester. Not only do the architect’s and the council appear to be deliberately blighting a really nice bit of Victorian architecture, but the council also intend to put a new Peterloo memorial plaque on the gate. It will be the 200 year anniversary of Peterloo in August 2019, and to mark this event with a plaque honouring the death of 17 people and the severe injury of 700 more for demanding the right to vote, on a gate obstructing a public right of way adds insult to injury. Not only have Manchester City Council for years had an extremely euphemistic blue plaque marking the massacre, they’re also now revealing a massive irony deficit.

Despite its reputation and Victorian gothic splendour, the only time I’ve previously visited the Rylands was for a staff meeting about three years ago. Though, as I discovered when I was making my way there, I’ve a pretty good idea of how to find it because it’s been on at least one of the protest march routes I went on in 2011.

The Rylands Library has the misfortune to be situated next to Emporio Armani, which is itself next to RBS. Old meets new… They have  a combination of old and new within the Rylands itself, but they’ve preserved as much of it as possible so there’s lots of old glass and a lot of the old gothic building. I really enjoyed my visit, and I take my hat off to Enriqueta Rylands for founding such a long lasting legacy both to her husband, John, and for the people of Manchester.

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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.

Manchester Histories Festival events for Saturday 3rd March 2012

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

Five fanzines, fresh as morning dew

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.

Stuff Happens

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.

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In the hot and humid early evening of yesterday, I trundled down Oxford Road in pursuit of food after work. 8th Day doesn’t seem to be doing evenings now that a substantional chunk of the students have gone home for the summer, so it was the Cornerhouse for me.

From the Cornerhouse I meandered towards Saint Peter’s Square, which is currently under seige because of the metrolink extensions (not started yet, so far as I could tell) and the radical overhaul of the entire area by Manchester City Council. The library and the library theatre have already fled the carnage, the war memorial and Peace Gardens are to be moved. In a few years time the place will be as unrecognisable to the average manc as it would be to a survivor of Peterloo today.

Matt Smith (no, not that one) local historian, political upstart, and – apparently – deputy manager at a branch of Asda, chose this day to mark the occasion of the Peterloo Massacre, a tragedy which occurred on the 16th August 1819, a hot day much like the 5th July apparently.

As with many of the various re-tellings and analysis of Peterloo (a dark satirical reference to the much celebrated victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, which occurred close enough to Peterloo to be in the minds of many at the time), Matt’s piece was an overview coupled with an exploration of the parallels between life for the average person in 1819 and now. There are parallels: a struggling economy, high food prices, and a overwhelming sense that things are going in the wrong direction and the wrong people are being made to suffer… But I always think it risks devaluing the importance of what happened in Saint Peter’s Fields (as they were then) on that day in August 1819 if we overconcentrate on the parallels with today, interesting though they are.

Having said that, Smith did an admirable job when it came to explaining the flaws of capitalism as a model (he likened it to a bus being driven over a cliff, with the surviving passengers having to pay the driver to buy a new bus, which  then gets driven over the cliff again, and the process is repeated ad neauseum) and the Rotton Boroughs style political arrangements of 1819 (Manchester had a population of approximately 1 million, only 145 people could vote, and only 1 person could stand as an MP).

You certainly couldn’t fault Smith on enthusiasm and energy, particularly during his agit prop moment as a smug Tory M.P complete with Lib Dem sock puppet, and I did enjoy his description of being filled with hope for the future of political protest upon coming across two men, who had previously been scrapping on the pavement, united by a common hatred, pissing up against a giant billboard of David Cameron just prior to the 2010 elections.

Matt Smith is not The Doctor, but you don’t need a sonic screwdriver to talk about history and politics. If it was 1981 I can’t help but think he would have joined The Gang Of Four instead…

The event is part of the Not Part Of Festival, a fringe festival in Manchester which runs parallel to Manchester International Festival. The name is an abbreviated way of saying ‘Not part of Manchester International Festival’, sort of ‘Off, off Broadway’ or perhaps ‘Off, off Saint Anne’s Square’ in this case.

I picked up a leaflet about the campaign for a proper memorial to the massacre, in which 18 people were killed and over 600 people were injured by sabre cuts and trampling. The previous memorial has always been deemed euphemistic and inadequate, and many, many people, including Mark Thomas, have  joined the campaign many years ago to have it removed and a proper memorial put up instead. With the re-development of the square, the council have promised a new memorial, but doubt is being expressed as to whether it will be any better than the previous one.  If you would like to read more about the history of Peterloo, and about the campaign for a decent memorial to the events, please click here.

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