We started in Rochdale — I like Rochdale a great deal though austerity feels like a knife here. It has cut so deep, you can see the pain of it. But this was the best walk we’ve done in a long time, up from the tram station to Healey Dell which is an extraordinarily beautiful place.
Of course to get to it, you have to pass a ruined asbestos factory left to sit here empty, enormous, poisonous.
You are warned by signs that this land is still not entirely safe, even where it seems to have returned to the wild.
But then you come to the nature reserve proper, walk along the old railway line and to the beautiful viaduct over the Spodden.
At its base sits Th’Owd Mill I’Thrutch, a fulling mill built in 1676 by the Chadwick family to process woolen cloth until the late 19th Century. Signs tell you:
Originally the cloth was soaked in a concoction of water. stale urine, soapwort, and Fullers Earth. Workers pounded it by foot; just like treading grapes. In 1863 the process became mechanised using steam power, when a boiler house and chimney were built.
There is very little left of it.
You remember once again that this period of industrialisation was not urban. It scattered along rivers like these, a network now of evocative and beautiful ruins along the river banks of the north in places like Lumsdale Valley, Cromford and New Mills. The waterfalls here are splendid things, and the boundaries in this nature preserve are confused between the natural flow of water and that channeled to service the early industrial revolution before the advent of steam. Steam changed everything, lies beneath the short and desperate lives of workers, the terrifying urbanisation of cities like Manchester.
You continue up the Spodden, then walk down a narrow stairway, ears full of water’s crashing to stand looking out upon this and the stones witness to water’s own force for moulding and shaping the world as it passes.
Even here we could not escape Covid-19, the conspiracy theories that swirl around it. COVID-19 PLANNED BY GOVERNMENT written across all the bins…as if we had a government that could plan anything at all.
From here we climbed up to Rooley Moor to meet the Cotton Famine Road. A cobbled road built across the moors by unemployed cotton workers, who sided with the abolitionist cause during the American Civil War. In solidarity with slaves, while also creating employment for themselves, they successfully campaigned for the passage of the 1863 Public Works Act.
I wanted more moors, more space, more air to breathe before going home, but it was getting late and the miles piling up. So instead of following this yellow brick road we headed back down to Healey Dell, back down into Rochdale. Home.
A long walk, guided again through side streets and suburbs in the ongoing hunt for blue plaques. What else to do in South Manchester lockdown? We started with the simple terrace houses built over the fields where Louis Paulhan (1883-1963) landed a Farman Biplane, marking the first flight between London and Manchester on 28 April 1910.
He was one of two contestants in what sounds like an epic race for £10,000 offered by the Daily Mail, beating Claude Grahame-White (despite his perilous first lift-off at night) to the prize. Wikipedia has this lovely quote from Paulhan rescued from behind the NY Times paywall:
I shouted and I sang. I do not think my voice is particularly fascinating, but nobody seems to mind that in the upper air. A pelting rainstorm lashed me for twenty minutes while I was in the neighborhood of Rugby. Fortunately I am not unused to flying in the rain, and, therefore, although it was uncomfortable, it had no effect upon my flight. I kept on flying at a steady pace, although my altitude varied remarkably. (Louis Paulhan)
We saw also the massive home of Daniel Adamson (1820-1890), engineer and lead promoter of the Manchester Ship Canal. It is now a conference kind of centre, hidden in the depths of a modern business park of overwhelming amounts of blue green glass, manicured lawns, and no way out but the main entrance. We did try, but failed. We walked on to the Croft, now part of Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden, where lived Emily Williamson (1855-1936), founder of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The gardens are beautiful, especially in May though we just missed the height of the azaleas. A bit of the history:
The Old Parsonage is the second oldest building in Didsbury after St James’ Parish Church, which is on the opposite side of Stenner Lane; it dates from around 1650. Although now called the ‘Parsonage’ (previous names were ‘Ash House’ and ‘Spring Bank’) it has only ever been lived in by two of the church ministers. A map of 1851 shows it joined to the Olde Cock Inn.The Moss family lived in the house from 1865 as tenants, eventually buying it in 1884 for £4000. In 1915 Fletcher Moss gifted the house and gardens, along with the house and gardens at ‘The Croft’ (on Millgate Lane), to the City of Manchester on condition he could live in there for the remainder of his life; he died in 1919.
Much of the present layout of the gardens is the result of the work of Fletcher Moss and his mother.
There is also a note to the fact that the parsonage was believed to be haunted. Sadly we saw no ghost, but were instead bowled over with admiration for the wondrous carving of Bender astride a winged beast on one of the garden benches.
We continued back, passed the house of Robert Howard Spring (1889-1965), Welsh journalist and novelist (but unread by me I’m afraid).
We passed protest over housing in this time of Covid-19…silent words sent through banners and hand drawn flyers flyposted on bus stops.
On to the lovely library, which stands near the site where Prince Rupert and his Royalist army camped on their way to the battle of Marston Moor in Yorkshire, on the 2nd of July 1644. I’m not sure quite why this has a plaque, nor how much this makes history come alive. Hard to imagine an army able to camp here on the open ground of ‘Barloe More’. Prince Rupert of the Rhine was 23, headstrong and impatient, he would go one to fight in one horrific European war after another, help found the Hudson Bay company, raid as a privateer in Caribbean waters and make money from the slave trade, become a colonial governor of Canada. I suppose you can’t fit all of that on a plaque.
We came to a road marked private–I hate private roads, even when this is marked by signs in a lovely art nouveau style. this marks the Broadway conservation area, an odd road uneasy where it sits, an old attempt at enclave.
The avenue and the properties on each side of it were designed as a complete entity and built by Emmanuel Nove, an emigré from the Ukraine who had arrived in Manchester in the mid 1890s. After setting up a firm of builders he first constructed Grove Terrace, Burton Road, Withington and in the 1920s he constructed Nos. 6-14a Oxford Road near the city centre.
Each of the properties in Old Broadway has a different appearance, but there is a certain continuity brought about by features and details common to the period, when the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements were in vogue. The internal layout of each of the properties, however, is remarkably similar.
It is understood that the superior quality of the houses made them popular with doctors who worked at, and were required to live within four miles of, Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Immigrant success story? I suppose it has always been easy to cash in on the desire for segregation and exclusivity.
From there on to Ladybarn Lane, which I do love. Here you can actually see the survivors of the old village now swallowed by the suburb and student housing.
A long long walk through to neighbourhoods we have not seen before revealed such unexpected treasures today, above all the Fairfield Moravian settlement. We walked through Gorton (increasingly well known) and on to Openshaw, Fairfield, Droylsden. Needing to stretch our legs safely in lockdown, so tired of the streets immediately around us. We went off once again in quest of more blue plaques…quests we enjoy. Mark has posted a badly photographed plaque every day now for weeks, and I love the wander through everyday streets and architectures with a preliminary destination provided by the randomness of human birth and committee-recognised achievement.
We found such extraordinary things on this walk, though sadly as much flytipping as ever. Improved, perhaps, by the presence of creepy dolls and ancient suitcases, cheap chairs sat upright in the road.
We saw flowers growing from walls, the memories of windows and doors and crosses, a canal and some cottages down at an old wharf, geese and the astounding cuteness of goslings, a Moravian settlement of cobbled streets and timeless feel, open fields, huge brick factories in various stages of disrepair and decay, very pleasing sections of older terraced housing, some fascinating church architecture (South Manchester has such a wealth of wondrous churches and mosques with astonishing spires), an extraordinary checkerboarded market building, a variety of old pubs (closed alas all closed), birds attacking a kestrel above the ghosted outlines of a factory long demolished, the library bearing a plaque for Harry Pollitt, former General Secretary and Chairman of the British Communist Party, cats on roofs and staring at us from windows, and the birthplace of Frank Hampson who created the Dan Dare comic strip.
The Moravian settlement was most extraordinary, visited as the site of two plaques but we had no idea what else what there until we found it. A whole community (or what is left of this village and its fields that once covered 60 acres) of Georgian houses opened in 1785, built by Czech Moravians fleeing persecution. The money to build it came from Moravian church member John Lees, who sold two of his mines in Oldham (mines in Oldham!) to raise the £6,000 needed (£6000!). From the church’s website:
Fairfield is a Settlement congregation which was opened in 1785. It was planned and built by its own people, with its inn, shop, bakery, farm, laundry, fire-engine, night-watchman, inspector of weights and measures, an overseer of roads, and even its physician. There were community houses for sisters and brethren, who applied themselves to the varied work of the Settlement.
With the passing of time have come changes. The boarding schools of Fairfield have gone. That for boys, started in 1790, was discontinued in 1891; and the girls’ school, begun in 1796, has passed into the care of the local authority as Fairfield High School for Girls. The work of the Moravian Theological College was transferred to Fairfield in 1875 and continued there in the original Sisters’ House until 1958. Fairfield is no longer a self contained village; no longer does the watchman make his nightly rounds, and in the farm meadows are now streets and houses.
Despite the many changes in the life of the Settlement over the past 200 years, the Church, with its worshipping and serving congregation, remains its focus and heart.
There is a lovely piece in the Manchester Evening News about the museum there (closed sadly but not-sadly of course due to lockdown) and the woman who runs it and was baptised as a baby here. From the news article (well worth a read):
With its own council, inspector of weights and measures, bakery and laundry the Morovians built their own unique community where men and women were equal.
The plaques were for Charles Hindley, first Moravian MP, mill owner and part of the factory reform movement and Mary Moffat who attended the Fairfield Girl’s School, became a missionary to South Africa and whose daughter married David Livingstone. I have left the pictures in the flow of the walk below, simply because they stand in such incredible contrast to the world around them. We were struck by how simple this place is and yet how much better it seemed to work as a place to live, labour, visit than the whole of the area around it. How I would love to live in such a place. Obviously I am a bit obsessive about how urban space works, and some of this has rubbed off on my partner. We spoke about it as we walked the long miles home. Those thoughts and more below:
As I stare at my pictures, and the other pleasing examples of terraces we walked past, I am ever more certain that for me it is the height of the ceilings and the size of the windows above all that makes terraced housing most pleasing. The older they are the bigger the windows, and even the most simple two up two downs are thus rescued from what always strikes me as the meanness of so much later housing construction.
No asphalt or paved roadways, with nicely wide pavements raised from the roadways but not otherwise distinctive. This makes the whole of the space between buildings feel more unified and for walking or playing in, with cars allowed on sufferance. They are cobbled and obviously this makes them absurdly picturesque, but it is more the narrower cobbled space for cars and the parking set in the middle rather than along the edges that makes this work I think.
Likewise I think houses fronting right on the pavements, trees down the middle of the space between the terraces creates more of a sense of community and connection, a shared greenspace but easy (perhaps better said easier) to maintain. But what we could see of the gardens also showed them much loved and beautiful
Unified building materials but very differently sized dwellings giving visual interest, adding nooks and crannies and varied surfaces but also a sense that this community has planned for a diversity of household sizes and needs. There is clearly some level of class/status distinction here, but they feel to some extent unremarkable in the face of the quality of building, the greater sense of community expressed by the layout of the buildings and the way people clearly lived side by side.
the feeling of artisan rather than mass construction
Beautiful communal buildings
Well cared for and maintained (I’m guessing few absentee landlords here, and regulations maintaining the ‘historic preservation’ aspect), clean, some houses covered by greenery (my favourites of course) but many not
I found a map of the original settlement that shows the layout and the changing building uses, including the initial building of rooms for single men and women:
Scrolling down, you meet a statue to honour the early Moravians themselves, and then the village is easy to see emerging from South Manchester. But this walk took us past many streets and buildings and spaces full of character, one of my favourites so far.
When a friend mentioned walking to the secret lake I thought he was just talking about the reservoir, but there is actually a secret lake. We found it almost by accident. Walked through Nutsford Vale Park and through the bit that still feels more landfill than park to find that most of it is actually lovely. We walked through trees and fields to someone playing a slow version of Bella Ciao over and over again. It was eerie, sad when meeting asphalt paths and other people broke the spell.
This walk brought us narrow passages full of rubbish, an old motor bike rusting in a dried stream bed, factories, recycling, Nutsford Vale Park and Greenbank Park, the secret lake full of swans and water lilies and lined by hopeful fisherman.
Down through Bellevue, past the grayhound stadium, down through Gorton, on and on to Debdale reservoir, developed to provide water to Victorian Manchester. It was much bigger and grander than expected, and just as unexpected, contained donkeys. Then back through Gorton and very happily stumbling across the Gorton Heritage Trail — one to return to. It traces the history of the Gore Brook Valley and this piece of Gorton that still feels like a village. We walked past the Vale Cottage pub, along some lovely old houses, through woods. A pretty walk, a welcome escape from the rest of the city, just that little bit too far to return to with ease but maybe when the pub opens once again. A far, fair future.
Today’s walk was long, inspiring, wonderful, still a bit grim. The home of Sam Wild, who fought against fascists first in Manchester and then in Spain, a piece of history to explore further but I am glad his house is just down the road. The birthplace of actor Robert Donat and a chat at….possibly just one metre with the lovely couple who now live there. His son visited with the Oscar — it turns out Oscars are really heavy! She volunteers at the local food bank which initially shut down, but was about to start up again with different patterns of work.
Talking to strangers, these are mad times.
A Russian Orthodox church. A synagogue. Stone entries falling apart in a way I didn’t know stone could, all student rentals. A bridge club. Pubs shut. Police tape closing off courts. Old moat park with no real exciting history behind it. A huge queue to get into Sainsbury’s (not Nando’s as Mark hoped in vain) so we walked on by.
Sadly the best thing we saw that day might just have been the cat sitting in the window just down the street as we left. But no, Sam Wild won hands down.
Longsight…it’s difficult finding an uplifting daily walk for government-sanctioned health purposes in midst of pandemic. Hands dug in pockets. Crossing streets once, twice, three times but giving people a grin as we pass well clear of them. I have come to hate fly-tipping with a previously unknown passion. The strips of park along the Medlock are full of trash.
Still, we have found a wealth of things beyond the markers of resources stripped from Manchester’s green spaces. The previous site of Ardwick Cemetery, open for burials from 1838 to 1950. Here John Dalton was buried among others, named on the stone plaque that marks this memory alongside the playing fields now on the site. They sit behind the Nicholls Hospital, now a school but once an orphanage built in memory of John Ashton Nicholls by his parents after his early death. He did a great number of liberal things with his wealth drawn from cotton manufacturing, and I imagine I shall read more of him at some point.
Nicholls, John Ashton (1823–1859), cotton spinner and philanthropist, was born on 25 March 1823 at Grosvenor Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, the only child of Benjamin Nicholls (1796–1877), cotton spinner and mayor of Manchester (1853–5), and his wife, Sarah, daughter of John Ashton and his wife, Sarah, of Manchester…Having entered his father’s firm during the bitter conflicts of the 1840s, Nicholls displayed a strong desire to improve the condition of the working class and to help reconcile employers and employed through personal example, voluntary endeavour, and civic action. In the vicinity of his firm, he was the linchpin of the Ancoats Lyceum, organizing numerous lectures and entertainments, ‘not knowing’, he wrote to Mrs R. H. Greg, ‘any better way in which employers can show their sympathy with their workpeople, than by joining them in their amusements’ (Nicholls to Greg, 30 Dec 1848, Quarry Bank Mill, Greg MSS)…Nicholls did much for adult education subsequently through his popular lectures and his organizational involvement in the Manchester Athenaeum. He also set up a half-time school for factory children in Mather Street, Manchester, and acted as treasurer of the Manchester Model Secular School established by the National Public School Association…Closely associated with the Cross Street Chapel under William Gaskell’s ministry, Nicholls worked for the spiritual improvement of the working classes through the Unitarian Home Missionary Board. He also joined the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association and spoke eloquently on the need for social improvement, temperance, working-class self-reliance, and rational recreation…Nicholls died of ‘low fever’ at Eagley House, Manchester, on 18 September 1859. He never married. He was buried at Cross Street Chapel, and his funeral sermon (23 September 1859) was preached by William Gaskell, whose wife, Elizabeth, noted the passing of ‘a friend of ours, a young man of some local distinction’ (Letters of Mrs Gaskell 574). His life’s work was commemorated by a tablet in Cross Street Chapel, an obelisk in Great Ancoats Street, erected by the working men to ‘their invaluable friend’ (Gaskell, Christian Views, 129) in July 1860, and by the Nicholls Hospital, an orphanage set up by his parents at a cost of some £100,000, a substantial benefaction in Victorian Manchester. [Gordon, A., & Howe, A. (2004, September 23). Nicholls, John Ashton (1823–1859), cotton spinner and philanthropist. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 11 Apr. 2020, from https://www-oxforddnb-com.salford.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-20113.]
We walked across Pin Mill Brow (such an evocative name but the landscape it references is erased by the Mancunian way, one of these great roads driven trough the heart of Manchester and its working class communities to create a pedestrian hell) to Limekiln Lane (a track and a memory of what was here) and the river (a sad stretch of water running between bricks and concrete).
We followed it from here to Gurney Street (it was a long way just to get to Limekiln lane you know, no way to just hop on a bus home), turning there to see the Church of All Souls, a hulking Gothic ruin that rises high above the council housing surrounding it. It was Radcliffian in its splendour, and its registration entry for Historic England as a grade II building hardly does it justice:
Former church. 1839-40, by William Haley. Brown brick with some stone dressings, slate roof. Romanesque style. Rectangular plan on south-west/north-east axis. The 3-bay gabled east and west ends have square pilasters to the corners and flanking the projected centre bay, all with stone false machicolation and pyramidal roofs and those flanking the centre of the west front including tall open-arcaded belfry stages. The centre of the west front has a stone central doorway, with chevron and lobed nook-shafts on scalloped capitals…built for Dr Samuel Warren, who had been expelled from the Wesleyan Methodist Connection; assigned a district in 1842.
It is nice to see the messages of support for our frontline workers, messages of solidarity. The corpse of Winnie-the-Pooh, however, unexpected.
A biting cold, windy Saturday. We walked down through residential streets to Stockport to see the incredible hat museum. I have stared at Hat Museum written along the smoke stack from almost every train I have ridden to Manchester. I have thought everytime that I really did have to go. Finally we went, and to the old air raid shelters carved in Stockport’s red stand stone — how better to keep out of the weather?
Walking home from the Briton’s Protection through the darkness along the Manchester canal…it’s not late but there is no one here. The night still hides the brash and cheap ‘luxury’ buildings that line the waterway here. I walk and stare at the water reflecting lights and bricks, think simply how easy it would be to fall in. I am not drunk but jetlagged, only a few hours sleep, not much to eat…This would have been no place for me one hundred years ago, and I know how many secrets the canals hid.
I exult in walking, the darkness, the city, it wants to come pouring out in the form of the great modernist novel. But of course, we have left the modernist novel far behind. I can no longer write it. Ironic that now as a woman I can wander the darkness like James Joyce, Dylan Thomas (and it’s funny how they are always with me as I walk), but I can no longer push boundaries the way they did. The boundaries have been pushed, the novels written. The city they knew no longer exists.
I walk past Elizabeth Gaskell’s home, wonder who she might have been outside of the constrictions of her time and place. Wonder if she might have wandered the darkness, or wanted to. Wonder if she might have had less mawkish sentiment in her. The cemetery and what’s left of the church bombed out in WWII, her home, a handful of villas transformed into student flats are all that’s left really of what was here once. I am happy for the council housing, but these streets — Manchester is all wide streets, all cars, all noise. It is no longer for walkers, not like London. Almost no one walks in most of the city apart from the very centre, and on a Friday night…well. First time I came here myself was for a hen do with a bunch of girls from Glasgow. We trampled these canal pathways with stiletto heels and shrill drunken laughter. But honestly, perhaps I was closer to my great modernist novel then…