Chapter 9, Passages: Industrial Jerusalem
the cotton clouds, those white ones
into which without a word the breath
of legions of human beings had been absorbed.
W. G. Sebald, After Nature
Map 1, Ordnance Survey map, Gorton, Lancs ,CW12,1935
Lines. In this Ordnance Survey map of Gorton, east Manchester, everything is reduced to the line—the railway tracks, the streets, the way the houses seem to form ordered boxes. The lines mark a passage east, that out of Manchester, many passages in fact, rail, roads, paths, and water, the river and the canals. Not just the east, for the passages in and out run to the south and London too. But it is east-west that predominates here, the horizontal line.
The world is not like this, not straight, but we would be hard put to understand it now, let alone control it, without these images. Reason and power are given form in these lines (these are originally military maps after all). I have looked at such lines for a good part of my professional life as a historian, just as when a child I gazed at them, fascinated by all maps, colouring the sea borders in blue in my Geography book, those lines not straight of course but still full of the enchantment of the line, something at once abstract and concrete. Paradoxically, the past, as if defying the straight line, seems now to live again in these maps , taking on magical qualities, suddenly appearing before our eyes in an act of legerdemain. It is as if the magic of the straight line gives the past a kind of solidity, a promise of endurance, for what was hidden is now seen, seen from above, seen into, as if the view from above was our magic eye with which to see the mystery of what is within, what was once. It seems to endure, the past, thus, but we know that solidity and illusion are one, and that the sense of something having endured lies as if in an embrace of the knowledge that everything has changed. The past speaks again as a kind of absence, for we seem to see what was there only by its vanishing.
The image is centred upon a tangle of railway lines that mark the passage east, out of Manchester, now just as then. At the centre of the tangle the railway slices between two large blocks, north and south, and these are the great engineering works that once made Manchester the new Jerusalem, industrial Jerusalem. These blocks are to the south the great locomotive-making engineering works of Beyer and Peacock, and to the north the vast sheds of the London and Great Eastern Railway, which later became the Great Central Railway, terminating at London’s Marleybone Station, close to where I was born. The words “Gorton Foundry” can be made out on the block that is Beyer and Peacock’s.
The lines connect everywhere it seems, so concentrated was and is the sheer human and object concentration of this small country I live in. To the west of these two great works, which at their peak between the two world wars employed about 5,000 people between them, are other great engineering works, Sir Joseph Whitworth’s and Crossley’s. The account could be expanded, is almost fabulous in its sense of lost greatness. Everything changes, is forgotten.
Each firm lasted for over 100 years. The number of human beings who passed their lives in these places can only be guessed at, the number of families too, for employment ran in families, three generations not unusual in the same place. Everything is forgotten: I had not realised until I came to write this that at this point, where the two great works are separated by the railway line, I had journeyed into the city countless times, utterly oblivious to what lay on either side. I and thousands like me looked out at the desolation unknowingly, desolation relieved only by the majesty of what remained of Gorton Foundry, the vast and now empty and derelict boiler and tender shop building of Beyer and Peacock. Perhaps not one in 1,000 passengers knew or know of what has been on either side of the railway tracks.
The road is the same as the railway, another straight line on the map. To the south of the railway line the straight lines of what is called the Hyde road, now the A57, run east out of the city too. They are visible on map 2 which shows east Manchester in more detail than the first map. This road and these rail lines will help me tell my story of Jerusalem’s greatness and fall, for again mostly unknowingly I have journeyed in and out of the city along this road, even more frequently than by train. I think again of Ashmore Road and how my life seems to have been located near to or on such lines, lines of passage, the railways, roads and canals of my other west in London, here the Manchester ones, both corridors of sorts.
These are lines of the immigrant, their arriving, staying, departing, lines built by Irish labourers, and staffed by West Indian and Asian transport workers. Around these bigger lines congregate the lesser. North of the Hyde Road were once the tiny universes of familiar streets that made up people’s worlds, children’s especially, mine then in London. These lines delineate the extraordinary territorial rootedness that once marked this lost industrial world of the North. Isca Street, Townley Street, Cyclone Street, Siam Street, Bingley Street, Maripuris Street, all in a row, north-south; to the east Wycliffe, Tyndal, Coverdale, Bunyan, Wesley, Whitfield, and a little further away, Cowper, Milton, Shakespeare, Johnson, on and on, seemingly endless, each a world. All the placenames, all the histories: as Ciaran Carson writes of Belfast, “At times it seems every inch of Belfast has been written on, erased and written on again…most of all, “Remember me, I was here””.1
On his arrival in the city of Manchester in 1966, W.G. Sebald looked out to the west across a demolished Hulme, itself an industrial district that was a locus classicus of Engels’ epic description of the world’s first industrial working class.2 In his novel The Emigrants (1996) he wrote of how “Views opened up across a wasteland towards the still immensely impressive agglomeration of gigantic Victorian office blocks and warehouses, about a kilometre distant, that had once been the hub of one of the nineteenth-century’s miracle cities but, as I was soon to find out, was now almost hollow to the core”.3 He wrote further, “I never cease to be amazed by the completeness with which anthracite-coloured Manchester, the city from which industrialisation had spread across the entire world, displayed the clearly chronic process of its impoverishment and degradation to anyone who cared to see”.4 He returned in 1989 and reported that nothing had changed. The buildings that were put up to stave off decline were now themselves in the grip of decay and the so-called development zones already semi-abandoned.
Sebald came to Manchester and left; I came in 1979, 10 years after his departure, and stayed. I worked in the same institution as him, doing similar work for almost three decades, sitting in the same University library, reading in its basement as he did, where he tells us he laboured over Paracelsus in the evenings (an activity surely conducive to melancholia?). I came to the city however in a sense to leave it, for no one lived in the dead city then, and being from the inner heart of London I scorned the suburbs, so that a village far to the east on the Derbyshire border, and at the entrance to the Peak District, became my home for now what is almost four decades.
Broadbottom, almost comically Northern is the sound of it to southern ears, is a place full of Sidebottoms, Shufflebottoms and Heginbottom’s, generations of which had laboured in the local cotton mills, at one time almost 2,500 of them alone in one vast mill in the village centre, a reality now almost impossible to comprehend. Then, in 1979, understanding was a little easier, for a few mills struggled on and there were many who knew mill days first hand. I had come to the North having written a history of the cotton factory districts in the nineteenth century, but I found that I had come to live among people who if temporally were still not yet culturally distant from their past. Before the final and then still pending triumph of the supermarket and the motor car this place of about 2,500 souls had five pubs (including the Conservative Club, an ecumenical drinking den), several shops, and a post office. Only forty years before, in 1939, a list of business premises enumerates 36 enterprises, mostly food shops, including four “chip shops”, several butchers, including a “tripe shop”, the shop of a hawker of lamp oil, an enormous Co-op, in which one might get a suit made to measure, a bank, as well as the five pubs of 1979 (there is but one in 2019).
There was in 1979 a rawness about the place, for as cotton had declined so had it. The village was itself a little industrial Jerusalem, fallen upon hard times, though subsequently it has prospered, unlike the “metropolitan borough” it is part, Tameside. I belonged to the first generation of “middle-class” incomers, people who mostly worked in the city, some the children of working class parents, children escaping the restrictions of those parents’ lives. Some were pushed out in the great clearances of inner-city demolition, from east Manchester, or places like the wasteland of the west-side Hulme that Sebald looked across in 1969—getting out, like me, through the escape hatch of education.
In Sebald’s Emigrants, a German Jewish emigrant called Max Ferber comprehends the greatness of the city through an account of the Manchester Ship Canal. Ferber tells Sebald of how the Canal was dug from the Mersey Estuary by “a continuously reinforced army of Irish navvies, who shifted some 60,000,000 cubic metres of earth in that period and built the gigantic locks that made it possible to raise or lower ocean-going steamers up to 150m long by five or six metres”. Some 17,000 people laboured on its construction—“navvies”, from ‘navigational engineers’, an eighteenth-century term that bears witness to the importance of canals in the early stages of the industrial revolution. It would be applied successively to the men that built the railways and the motorways. Many of these inheritors were Irish. The Canal ended in the largest inland port on earth, where “the loading and unloading never stopped”. Manchester was then, Ferber says, the true industrial Jerusalem.5 The Canal carried its greatest volume of traffic around 1930; by the late 1950s, a mere generation later, it had come to an almost complete standstill.
The Trafford Park estate, which grew up around the Canal, was the world’s first planned “industrial estate” and for a long time the largest, at its peak in the war years employing over 75,000 people. Industrial Jerusalem industrialised destruction as well as creation, war as well as peace. Many of this vast number worked on the construction of engines for the four-engined Lancaster heavy bomber: the Ford Motor Company employed 17,316 workers in its purpose-built factory, producing under licence 34,000 Rolls-Royce aircraft engines by the war’s end, most for the Lancaster, others for its developmental predecessor in slaughter, the Avro Manchester. Trafford Park itself followed the Canal into disastrous decline in the 1970s and 80s.
The nineteenth-century Irish immigrants merged into the surrounding English, like the ships that appeared soundlessly on the Ship Canal on winter evenings, vanishing almost as soon as they had arrived into the white air around them. This Sebald thought an incomprehensible spectacle. The vast demolished areas that he encountered were “like a glacis around the heart of the city.” There, it was only and always children that one encountered, “restless shadowy figures” he calls them. In areas like Hulme, “all that was left to recall the lives of thousands of people was the gridlike layout of the streets”. He writes of “the cotton clouds, those white ones into which / without a word the breath of legions of human beings had been absorbed.” 6
I had first come to the city in 1971, two years after Sebald, as a young academic historical researcher. I was a witness to the last days of the great industrial civilisation whose death throes after almost two centuries we were both witnessing. Like Sebald I walked the dead heart where no one lived, and around it the “glacis”, the desolation in truth stretching further than this alone, out to the surrounding cotton towns of the east and north, themselves in decay. I had seen decay in London. I lived in the desolation of a razed Notting Dale in the late 1960s, but it did not compare with this vast clearance of souls, and of the houses in which they had once lived. All that was visible in the rotten mouth of the Manchester glacis were the public houses, left alone on the main roads out of the city like half-decayed stumps of teeth, places returned to from afar for year after year by the expelled, the cleared.
On the Ashton New Road in 1971, with the destruction of the Second World War still in my mind, I became aware that however bright the future was painted for the young my country had arrived at a new kind of destruction. I see now the kinship of these two great gatherings of rubble, the vast German Trummerbergen and these unnamed ones, smaller, more dispersed, the destruction erased for a moment by the stretches of remaining buildings. Time thickens, takes on flesh along these roads, as in the German cities, for again the rubble borders the street, but here it is in piles, chaotic, as if the line between past and future it itself ragged, outcomes oddly enough more uncertain. In rubble the history of peace as well as war is written.
Fig. 1, The Great clearances, London, Harrow Road, c.1961. Roger Mayne. This is the end opposite Paddington General Hospital, my birthplace, where the old housing was especially appalling. The empty space between the front buildings is an vast and entirely demolished expanse. The vast Anglican church in the background, built to serve the poor, remains today. It strongly echoes the style of some of the churches of the Manchester glacis.
Fig 2, The great clearances, Manchester, 1960s. Shirley Baker. Baker was a street photographer like Mayne, much less known than him until recently, no doubt because she was a woman. In the background is a new tower building of the University of Manchester Hospital, and to the left of it the massive bulk of the Catholic Church of the Holy Name, built 1871 to accommodate the armies of poor Irish immigrants still arriving. Sebald may have seen the city much as this, for he worked across the road from the Holy Name, as I did. The transformation even by the time I came in 1979 was enormous; today it is staggering. The University is a vast corporation, covering everything around.
The old houses were reclaimable, many of them anyway, but no one seems to have thought much about this, and the spirit of Trellick Tower triumphed everywhere. If not the towers then the spirit of the boxes. Many found the new estates were unwelcome and unwelcoming, pseudo-modernist blocks set far beyond what and where they knew, shoddy and eventually decaying for lack of proper maintenance.7 To others they were a blessed release. Like these people I made a similar trek, at the age of eighteen, out to what seemed Mongolia but was only Fulham. We moved back again to the old neighbourhoods as soon as we could.
It is with amazement that I now compute that I have driven the same road in and out of Manchester perhaps 4,000 times each way. As a child my habituation to the city was through walking, the thousand times walk through Southam Street. As an adult habituation was most often in the car, and of course through these machines as well, and the roads made for them, which in a sense drive us, a purpose for which they are engineered, the engineering more sophisticated as the years go on. Even though the road is an ongoing and recalcitrant thing, and often defies its engineering. How we see the world depends on how we move, are moved, through it. I remember far more of the 2,000 walks of Southam Street than the 8,000 drives.
It was on this driven road, the banal A57, the “Hyde Road” to Manchester and back, that I have dreamed much of my life, the driving daydream, the semi-automatic mind at work in the automated reverie. Gaston Bachelard writes of the house, the room within the house, the furniture within the room, as the sites of intimate feeling for the world and for one’s own self.8 Can it be that the car is such too, a room on wheels? Clearly, it is now a sort of home from home, all comforts now on board, a house away from the house, an office too sometimes.
One is enclosed, “safe”. Alone if not lonely. Is this not however really a “non-place” the likes of which the French anthropologist Marc Augé writes about, places of transience now so common, like motorways, corporate hotel rooms, and airports, for in these times we seem always on the move?9 Such places are also the sites of what Agnes Heller calls “the absolute present”, a present in which many now live, so that it is in a time and not a place where people feel “at home”.10 This time is shared by all the non-places we are in, so that we are divorced both from real pasts and real places. “Non-place” we may oppose to “anthropological place” where we interact with people and things, as in my walk to school I saw and felt so much it has stayed with me a lifetime. And, as I walked to and fro I picked up and goodbyed my friends as I went, living in a present that would eventually make an enduring past.
Just as the railway journey led to a new envisioning of the world, something which has been called “panoramic perception”,11 so did the driven road, which does not seem to be panoramic at all, on the city ones anyway. By rail—and nineteenth-century passengers marvelled at this—the world seemed framed through the window as a constantly changing “picture”. Instead, my world outside the car is fleeting, fugitive. One’s eyes move up and down the road constantly, but are also drawn from side to side, and one is aware and unaware simultaneously, so that one seems to take in the surrounding world in a disjointed and interrupted way, time itself being disjointed and interrupted. The flow of time between past, present and future is constantly broken up and reconnected in strange ways, but also redirected by the physical road, compacted as it were, for it is on this one inevitable road that one is driving, and must drive. This is “drive time”, a strange time, at once a tyranny and a time of reverie. It becomes possible to appreciate the vast number of times present and past that one is passing through, but only fleetingly, dimly, because you are past before you can be present, whereas in walking things are slower and more enduring.
So, in recent times I decide to get out and walk, leaving the no longer predestined road. It is not that I have never done this before, but inner city east Manchester has remained a desolate place since the clearances, and the purpose of this road is essentially to get me as fast as possible between two places. Home for “tea”, as northerners of all stripes say, something I can never do. On this road the history of the fall of industrial Jerusalem is written. It could be any of the other big roads out of the city, but here is special, for the east was probably as densely industrialised as any part of the world, and its “regeneration” has been called the greatest post-industrial reconstruction seen in Europe, so great was the destruction and decay.12 But we do not bother to look when travelling through; we are in too much of a hurry to contemplate this history. Time passes by. Like the Manchester bourgeoise that Engels described in his 1844 book, we are travelling in and out of the city oblivious to what is on either side of us, as if in a tunnel. Nothing changes as regards not looking: this is Engels,” The town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working-people’s quarter or even with workers.” 13
A banal road, the A57, but an important one, the road from Liverpool to Manchester and thence to Sheffield, three of the great cities of the industrial age. The one road is many, by name differing if not by number, also differing by the lie of the land and by the experiences we bring to it. Joe Moran in his On Roads writes of the A57 as it winds spectacularly down from the moors to ex-industrial Glossop in Derbyshire as a kind of fantasy road of drivers and bikers. He grew up a few hundred yards from it and I live a half mile or so from it now. The same road as it reaches the centre of the city becomes the Mancunian Way, a “flyover”, part of an unbuilt inner ring road around the city, a post-war dream that ran out of cash.14 This reminds us that roads divide as well as connect, “flying over” and cutting through. There are the great urban motorways and roads, my own Westway in London, or the great originals of the LA freeway system in the US, carving out divided and segregated neighbourhoods as they go along.15
The mystery of roads deepens for me as time goes on, how they connect, how they run into other roads forming networks that convey histories and memories.16 I see the roads that I have known coming together as if preordained, for me and others like me. The A5 is a sort of mother road to the A57, and runs from Holyhead to London. “The Holyhead Road”, it has taken generations of Irish to the industrial English midlands and to the capital. Another Via Dolorosa, but also the way of hope and escape. The A5 as it reaches inner London becomes Kilburn High Road, and then finishes as the Edgware Road at Marble Arch. I was born, raised and married by this road, the latter in Quex Road, Kilburn, a church central to the immigrant Irish experience in London. The Irish, like other immigrants, settled close to the exit routes that they themselves fashioned, reluctant either to leave or to stray very far from the way back.
“Admiralty Arches” mark both ends of the A5 on this side of the Irish Sea, the Marble Arch at the London end. The road itself, a creation of Thomas Telford in its northern stretches, is a great expression of the new power of the state over the natural world, and over Ireland. The Holyhead arch marks the state visit of George IV to Ireland in 1824. I had thought Ireland a small and intimate country but England is so too, in its own way, paradoxically impersonal, the times and places juxtaposed but more ghostly, the loneliness greater in a society of strangers.17
The A5 deepens the mystery further, for it properly starts at the bellicosely-named Craigavon Bridge in Derry and runs to Dublin, losing its number in the Republic, but then regaining it across the Irish Sea as the Holyhead Road, so that Derry and I are now linked anew, and obscurely, our history shared in ways I had not expected. The border with the Republic is crossed at Aughnacloy, locally known as the home of James Young Malley, the eldest of three brothers to fly with RAF Bomber Command. He flew 127 operations over enemy territory, including more than 30 raids over Berlin. On 20 January 1974, Cormac McCabe, the first Headmaster of Aughnacloy Secondary School, a Catholic and a Captain in the Ulster Defence Regiment, was shot dead by the Provisional IRA. His corpse was found in a field near the village. Further fatalities inevitably followed.
The history of the A57 is that of the Industrial Revolution. There is the great arc that cuts across England from Liverpool to Lincoln, and the lesser arc that is part of it, my road, my A57, “the Hyde Road”. First the great arc. The A57 begins in slaving Liverpool’s docks, in effect emerging out of the sea, in this city of the Orange and Green. It has carried many Jewish immigrants as well as Irish ones, for Manchester is the second Jewish city in Britain, and they came to the city from the eastern shtetls through Liverpool, some thinking they were bound for New York, a familiar immigrant yarn most eloquently told, about Sicilians, in Leonardo Sciascia’s The Wine Dark Sea. The road starts opposite the great Royal Liver Building and proceeds, appropriately, up Water Street. There it runs in front of the resplendent India Buildings (1924-32), built in the American Beaux-Arts style for the Blue Funnel Line, one of the biggest shipping companies in the world: many of the company’s ships were built in Belfast and Sir Arnold Thornley, one of the architects of the India Buildings, designed the Parliament Buildings at Stormont, the scale of which must be seen to be believed, Unionism and expression of the Portland stone blocks that make up its intimidating immensity .
The great arc is coast to coast, from the sea at Liverpool, to the North Sea, a road once called the A 157 continuing to Skegness in the east. Another England, another Britain, for the A57 ends at Pelham Bridge in Lincoln, where it runs over Sincil Dyke; a defensive barrier used as a drainage channel since the thirteenth century, it is thought to be of Roman origin. The Dyke flows into the river Witham. The Witham, important for navigation in the Iron Age, then empties into the Great Sluice (of 1766) and so into the Wash. In the Witham Navigable Drains the Iron Age Witham Shield was discovered in 1826: it is fashioned in the La Tène style, a form found across Celtic Europe, including in Ireland, especially in the North.
Layer upon layer the lines, and then the converging, times and places layered and then converging along this great east-west passage, so that the lines become entangled, dense and heavy with time. Near me as I write in my village is the Roman fort of Ardotalia, renamed Melandra, for no clear reason, by a nineteenth-century antiquarian. It lies on the edge of one of the estates to which people were sent along the A57 in the post-war clearances, a little way from the road itself. Gamesley is a place of more than 3,000 souls. To reach the fort you have to go through seemingly endless rows of what were once known as “council houses”, for the estate is completely tucked away from the road that serves it, an otherworld the traveller hardly ever sees, except on the bus, but the bus is mainly for people who come from there anyway. It is a poor place. ‘Melandra’ is one of a line of forts that stretches across England from Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) to Chester (Deva), reminding us that England was itself once a colonized place.
The once-named Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (formed 1847) runs four hundred yards from my door, the same railway that bisects the two great engineering works in inner-city Manchester. The MS&L in its day ran over the Roman Fossdyke waterway, then along its south bank to Lincoln. On its way there from here, five miles away, the line goes over the Woodhead Pass via the Woodhead Tunnel, for a short while the longest rail tunnel in the world, and built by the labour of some 1,500 men; in truth, it is three tunnels, the first completed, after eight years digging, in 1845, the second in 1853, and the third in 1953. Behind the small chapel of St James at Woodhead, a wild place but in daytime full of the sound of cars as they go by unheeding below, are buried many of the navvies who died building the first two tunnels. Around two dozen died in the tunnels’ building, and two dozen more from a cholera outbreak that struck the work camp in 1849. Many of the workers were Irish, just like the builders of the Ship Canal later. In Woodhead, the navvies, like my father, lived more or less on as well as by means of the job, and so they were buried here, by the job, where they fell.
The field behind the church is bare. It is said Irish Catholic workers, and some of the family members that often accompanied the navvies, are buried there, and it has the uneven, broken ground one might expect from a huddle of unmarked graves, like the unbaptised childrens’ graveyards in Ireland. Catholics were not allowed to be buried in Anglican churchyards, and so they lie here, in ‘unconsecrated ground”.18 Anglicanism reciprocated Catholic prohibitions.19 There are however only locally named headstones here, and it is likely as many of the unmarked dead are English as Irish, the two now as one in death. “Remember me, I was here”.
Fig.3, The notice board outside the Woodhead chapel, August 2018. The chapel, now “Independent Evangelical”, is derelict, the sign promising what will now probably never happen, a weekly Sunday service,“weather permitting”.
By the mid-1850s the twin tunnels were witnessing an astonishing 250 trains a day pass each way below these graveyards. The line is disused now, but nearby, below, are the great reservoirs that still serve the city, and below these underground another vast engineering miracle of industrial Jerusalem to match that above, the great network of giant tunnels that take water to the city. Many died in their making too. The Invisible Revolution, the bodies and the tunnels in the ground.
Everything is entangled and concentrated along this upland passage across the “backbone” of England. The roads around me are entangled too, the minor ones that serve the valley bottoms along which industry invaded the lowlands, the ones that serve also as the ways over the moors, into the Dark and the White Peaks, the gritstone giving way to the lighter limestone a few miles south of me. They all lead eventually down or over to the A57 and the city. All is stone here, in older houses even the roof tiles. I have always loved this gritstone landscape. Gritstone that makes all—chapels, mills, houses, walls, everywhere the walls, for this is also sheep country, like Joyce Country. I walk on stone, the stones showing through the asphalt, the stones that also make up here the narrow paths along which laden carts and horses once strained against the hills, and where they lead up to the now vanished mansions of millowners. For intermarried employer clans once ruled the place, and built the churches and chapels, the schools, the reading rooms and institutes, the “Con” and Liberal clubs.
Fig. 4, Edward Wadsworth, Vorticist, Broadbottom, near Glossop (1922). Passages abound, passages within passages, the tiny cobbled paths contained within the larger roads
At Mottram where I enter the Hyde Road the A57 has already come from a do novo industrial town of the mid nineteenth century, Glossop, dominated until relatively recently as so often in these towns by a few big millowners but here, unlikely as it seems, also by the premier aristocratic Catholic family of England, the Howards, the Dukes of Norfolk. The dark satanic mills turn out to be a product of the old Catholic aristocracy, for not only were the Howards benefactors, they were also capitalists, owning much of the town as they did. As the road descends west from Mottram stone turns to brick. Today, the driver on the M67 bypasses everything on the A57 until Gorton is reached, the inner city district where what remains of Beyer and Peacock, “Gorton Foundry”, and its neighbour the Great Central railway yards, known locally as “Gorton Tank”, are to be found. All is a blur along this non-place of daydreaming until Gorton announces the city limits proper, Manchester, the industrial Jerusalem, all the smaller Jerusalems outside themselves written on, and erased too, just as densely as here. The eastern entrance to the M67 is a place where times collide, a nineteenth-century road system abruptly meeting a twentieth-century one. On the former there is barely room for two cars to pass, especially if they are the small tanklike status -symbol SUVs that that have now replaced what until recently were mere cars.
Things fall together, times come together, along this road, now so in Gorton, notorious as one of the forgotten places of Britain, the very essence of what is called “post-industrial blight”, in an unconscious echo of Am an Drochshaoil, the time of the bad life, the Great Famine, when the potato and the capitalist market failed the Irish poor. Those fleeing from the Great Famine in fact travelled this road, and lived on and beside it, and some of their descendants still do. Like my father, these people journeyed, now in retrospective family lineage, from one great disaster to another, from blight to blight. The popular UK television series Shameless, which depicts the life of the unrespectable, blighted, “rough” inner city English working class was mainly filmed in West Gorton. The characters have Irish names, but the names are all that remains of the Irishness. The parade of shops used for filming was built on the site of St. Mark’s Church, in Clowes Street, off the Hyde Road. This church was the birthplace of Manchester City F.C. The first rector of the church was Arthur Connell, an avid Orangeman. The firm of Bayer and Peacock built the church which nurtured another team, Ardwick F.C., an antecedent of the Blue Team. I am strongly Red, United, though the east is mostly City (in my local churchyard there is much football paraphernalia on graves, most blue, blue now “forever”)
The roads begin to talk, more and more volubly. I make them talk, but I could not do this without their great, mute presence still calling me to know. They ventriloquize me, and I them. Every inch of the city is written upon, and the writing is erased, and something else written. In his collection Belfast Confetti the river Farset, after which Belfast is named, is made by Ciaran Carson to write the city’s past and present: the river remembers, just as the roads talk, talking and remembering the same. In “Farset”, remembering Heraclitus, he writes of how “It remembers spindles and arms, songs of mill girls. It remembers nothing: no one steps in the same river twice”. And with the Irishman’s respect for words, the ghost of O’Brien’s cliché-ridiculing Myles na Gopaleen in the wings perhaps, he cannot resist but add, “Or, as some wag has it, no one steps in the same river once”.
The walls of Gorton Foundry talk, and they write Britain’s lost industrial past, for lost it is, and not only in time and economics but in memory too. All this is what “heritage” surely is, but the Foundry and the “Tank” are known to few beyond the museum curator, the specialist historian, and the zealots of railway history for whom the engine means more than the men who made it. And of course the very old of the locality, and those of their children who listen.
Fig. 5, The walls of Beyer and Peacock. Small trees and plants now grow out of the walls
These great concerns, and others like them (Platt Bros. in nearby Oldham employed 15,000 in one plant, the biggest textile machinery factory in the world) represent the most dramatic instances of the Kingdom’s industrial fall. Beyer and Peacock’s was founded in 1854. Employment peaked when the great Beyer-Garratt large-gauge locomotives were being made. Eventually, almost 1,700 of these Garratts ran on 86 railways in 48 countries. This was the machine that colonized Africa. Almost the whole world was locomotivized from this spot, Gorton Foundry. Altogether the company built nearly 8,000 railway locomotives over its lifetime. Beyer Peacock & Co.’s Quarterly Review for April, 1929 tells us that at the time the Company had representatives in “Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay,Peru, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine,Roumania, Columbia, Portugal, South Africa and Rhodesia, Ireland, Siam, Ecuador. And machine and tool representatives in addition in India, Burma, Malay States, Belgium, Luxemburg, Russia, Siberia, Finland, Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Northern Manchuria, Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.” And this, it says, was not a full list.20
Here is an image of the Foundry and the Tank in the years prior to their destruction:
Fig. 6, Great Central and LNER locomotive works 1965. The darkly lit image does chance justice to the monumentality of the place, and to the lives consumed there. The rows of seemingly endless streets and tiny houses surrounding the works are visible. The great tender and boiler sheds of Beyer and Peacock appear dimly in the bottom corner, right.
The Gorton plant declined from 1958, and by 1966 all production had ceased, with devastating consequences for the community. The thirty acres of “Gorton Tank”, across the railway lines, were rendered a wasteland after the equally catastrophic failure in 1968. Even in the 1960s the 1,700 or so who still worked in the Tank supported nine public houses in one nearby street. I go in search of the voices of the generations who worked in these places over the hundred and more years of their existence. I hear a few of these voices, recorded, actual voices, barely a half dozen, and you will hear them later. The number of these voices which do not have speech is difficult to estimate, but over time it is tens upon tens of thousands.
I come too upon objects that might be made to speak, objects now almost the only recourse there is with humans gone. These objects are mostly in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, where the catalogue entry for Beyer and Peacock reads as follows: “Objects, 27,815; Documents 4,732; People 1,916”, and for the Great Central Railway: “Objects 18,515, Documents 2,907 People 1,048”. I explore the headings under “People”, and the references are to business transactions, to the higher reaches of the organisations, those in white collars upstairs in offices, and not to the blue-collared generations who laboured below. The real voices are themselves lost in the intricacies, and the simple gaps, the empty holes, in the cataloguing system, and in the record itself. The archive is phenomenal, but it is a business and technical one; the man who made it, and who also made the Museum itself, a remarkable accomplishment, is a historian of technology of the old school, one interested in how things and not men work. For me, a social historian of objects, it would take long to make these objects speak, sing, write themselves, and I do not have time now as I grow old.
But the road speaks on, writes on, ventriloquizes me. About the wealthy the road talks most loudly, Hyde Road again. The Foundry’s founder, Richard Peacock (1820 –1889), a man who designed every inch of the first factory himself, is buried in the yard of the church which he built on the road, Brookfield Unitarian Church. Its large steeple is visible all around. Peacock lies with other family members in the Peacock Mausoleum, the graveyard and the tomb now vandalized. The large Sunday School to one side is now a residential home. The church steeple contains a peal of eight bells, all named after members of the Peacock family. I have never heard these bells rung. The Unitarians were the most progressive of all religious denominations in his day, especially in this city. He was a strong Home Ruler. The Road talks loudly, but no one listens, the cars go by.
Charles Frederick Bayer, the other founder, was a Jew, the son of a poor handloom weaver from Plauen in Saxony. Plauen was a considerable textile centre too and the first town outside Bavaria to host a chapter of the Nazi party. Beyer became a dutiful Anglican, another patron of local churches. In Sebald’s The Emigrants Ferber considers nineteenth-century Manchester to have had the greatest German Jewish influence of any European city outside the Jewish homelands. He says of the city that he has come home, the city reminding him of everything he was trying to forget; home amidst the black facades “to serve under the chimney”.21 He seldom leaves, does not want to, does not like moving. Lodz, the Polish Manchester as it was called, looms over the close of Ferber’s story, the path leading back, and so too coming from, this other city, the fate of its then vast Jewish ghetto and of this now Manchester entwined.
Men like Beyer and Peacock were part of a small group who can be said almost literally to have made the Industrial Revolution, for they pioneered the machines that made it possible, so that world history now winds itself in and around the line of the A57. High-precision machine tools contributed to the birth of production engineering and mass production, above all the mass production of cotton thread and cotton goods. Thomas Telford, Richard Roberts, Thomas Maudesley, Beyer and Peacock, these men, in London and Manchester, my two cities, lived, worked, visited together, along this road. So did Freidrich Engels and Karl Marx, the Hyde Road then the pivot of the whole world to be.
The 1861 census states that Beyer lived at 9 Hyde Road, age 47, an “engineer employing 800 men, birth Saxony”. In the house beside him lived Charles Sacré, a Frenchman, 29, his chief engineer. Sacre shot himself after the Penistone railway accident of 1865, in which nineteen died. By 1871 Beyer had moved to Stanley Grove, not far from Hyde Road. The road runs alongside Belle Vue Gardens, then already on the way to becoming the supreme pleasure ground of the northern English working classes. It fronts onto the Hyde Road, and is now a no-man’s land of aborted hopes for rejuvenation. At its height Belle Vue covered almost 200 acres and had two million visitors a year.The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles played there. Beyer’s neighbour in 5 Stanley Grove, then 19 years old, was Arthur Schuster, from Frankfurt, later to be first Beyer Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Manchester. Beyer was, and still is, the most important of all that institution’s patrons. Another neighbor was Salomon L Behrens, aged 83, a Jew, the founder of S. Behrens & Co., bankers, which was heavily involved in the textile industry in Manchester and Saxony. Behrens introduced Beyer to Richard Roberts in 1834.
The volubility of the talk increases. The road gibbers on, unheard. Friedrich Engels, cotton factory owner, lived parts of his peripatetic Manchester career close by, rather secretly it would seem, trying to avoid the attention of the Prussian police and what he called “the philistines”. He also lived on the site of my own University, reached along this road as Gorton gives way to Ardwick and as I then turn south to Chorlton-on-Medlock, where I and Sebald laboured. Mary Burns and her sister Lydia (known as Lizzy) were the daughters of Michael Burns and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants who lived first in the squalor of central Manchester. Engels lodged with them in different premises. Mary, who became his common law wife, died in January 1863 at 252 Hyde Road, in Ardwick. No memorial now but the advertising hoardings and the car lots. Frederick and Lizzy left Manchester for London in September 1870. She is buried in Kensal Green in London, somewhere beside Kitty and Johnny, my parents. She and Freidrich had married just before her death.
Almost across the road from number 252 the Hyde Road is crossed by a railway bridge that has taken generations to and from the city to London. Just out of Ardwick approaching west Gorton a police van was ambushed under this bridge on 18 September 1867. It was on its way to the giant and forbidding Belle Vue Gaol, now itself completely obliterated by time. Inside the van were Fenian prisoners. A group of 30–40 Fenians attacked the horse-drawn van and in the attempt to blow off the lock Police Sergeant Charles Brett, travelling inside with the keys, was shot and killed. The two prisoners inside escaped: they were Colonel Thomas J. Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy, their ranks attained in the Union Army during the Civil War, when they fought against the southern states whence came the slave-tended cotton that more than anything made Manchester the Industrial Jerusalem. However, another five men were arrested and tried for the attack. Three of them were hung, death being the only penalty for murder then, however widely murder was construed. William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien, all members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood were hung on 23 November 1867 outside Salford Gaol. In one of the last public executions in Britain they met their end on a wooden edifice constructed on the prison walls, their agonies on view before a crowd of 10,000, almost all English, for the Irish had stayed away. Over 2,500 police were deployed in and around the prison.
The public executioner, William Calcraft, his body count in excess of 450 it is said, reportedly nervous of executing Fenians, bungled the job, just as his successor in the post, William Marwood, would do with my distant kinsman Myles Joyce only 15 years later. Calcraft had to rush below the gibbet and pull the legs of the prisoners, in effect strangling them by main force, although strangled is what they would have been anyway in the old “short drop” method of death. Marwood, a technician in his task, developed the “long drop” technique of hanging, which was supposed to break the prisoners’ neck instantly, resulting in death by asphyxia while unconscious. As we know from the case of poor Myles this new technology had its glitches.
The day after the executions, Engels wrote to Marx: “So yesterday morning the Tories, by the hand of Mr Calcraft, accomplished the final act of separation between England and Ireland. The only thing that the Fenians still lacked were martyrs.” Their deaths, he writes on, “…will now be sung to every Irish babe in the cradle in Ireland, England and America”. And so here the road sings: “God save Ireland”, the de facto national anthem of Ireland for the next half-century. One of the verses is as follows:
Climbed they up the rugged stair, rang their voices out in prayer,
Then with England’s fatal cord around them cast,
Close beside the gallows tree kissed like brothers lovingly,
True to home and faith and freedom to the last.
“God save Ireland ! “said the heroes;
“God save Ireland” said they all.
Whether on the scaffold high
Or the battlefield we die, O, what matter when for Erin dear we fall ! “
The song was set to “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching”, a song intended to give courage to Union soldiers captured and imprisoned in the Land of Cotton22.
I had travelled thousands of times in my ignorance under as well as along the reinforced concrete bridge that has now replaced the old railway arch, the bridge carrying the West Coast Main Line, the busiest long-distance main line in Britain. There is a plaque there now, added recently, but the driver is hard put to see it, small and tucked away by the side of the bridge as it is, and not many walk out this road made for cars.
The road talks on, but then the voice begins to stutter and then speech starts to die as the end comes. The fall of industrial Jerusalem has been long-drawn out, the condition one of falling for a long time, but from the 1960s through the 1970s the falling was with such speed that the end came at last, the road becoming more and more mute. Falling, falling, ever faster. We have a privileged way of witnessing this final fall. Between 1950 and 1972 the Manchester Amateur Photographic Society, aware of what was coming, carried out an almost complete street by street survey of the city, showing the city streets before during and after the great clearances. There are astonishingly something like 800 images of the Hyde Road and adjacent streets alone (all the city is covered, in thousands upon thousands of images, available publicly online).
These photographs are unusual, a document in the strict sense, the etymology of the word telling us of its Latin root, documentum, ‘lesson, proof’. A “proof” of what once was somehow teaching us something. A “proof” of what is now lost to vision, and with the death of the occupants lost to re-vision in memory. A “lesson”, but of what it is not clear, beyond “it was here”, beside “I was here” on the walls. So that it seems to be of great significance to have such a record of these streets and their walls, walls that speak not only because they were written on, but because they always did something themselves, as human affordances and human disaffordances, enabling and preventing action , a thousand things done here, not done there. The walls sing their own non-human song, and bear alongside these the human songs. What was supposed to be objective becomes instead deeply poignant, as all that there is left is these images. Here are some of these images, a tiny few:
Fig., 7, The fall begins, getting ready for it, back street, unnamed, Gorton, 1965. The pathos of old shop products, Dura-glit, Senior Service Tipped, Jubbly (nice frozen), Nulon; the pathos of the shop window, nothing in it much, the few cars, the dirty gutters. The gutter and rubble, the marginal gutter, the liminal space of transition. If this is dirty times will be bad.
Fig. 8, Breath expiring, falling. Hyde Road 1965. Local industry near the A57. Slack and Cox, the Eue de Salz company, the makers of Vitonica. Their bottles are a collectors’ item now. There is one in London’s Science Museum. The glory days of Vitonica are gone forever.
Fig.9, Fallen, breath expired, the Hyde Road, 1972.The shops derelict and bricked up, the gutters dirty, the snack bar struggles on. Seven years after this I started my A57 passage.
This road, all roads, both foment and are stories, beginnings, middles, ends, my stretch, yours, where one ends another begins, another world, another life, the universe of the child, and the child as adult too, at least the universe that closes in on us most everyday and presents itself most strongly. As I once moved upon the Harrow road so too did thousands on the Hyde once move. And I feel now a kinship with these northerners I once thought so different. The road as a story, the great movement out along it once to the new housing estates that would now be home. If the city is a body, the heart in the middle, then the arterial roads are fed by the veins that issue out from the warren of streets on either side, the veins and then the capillaries of every path and ginnel, all walked, all known, all written upon. Now all gone. Then there is the importance of intersections in streets, for social and actual commerce, for seeing and being seen, the view across and along the street, the almost invariable siting of pubs on corners. The small size of the blocks in Gorton is apparent, and so the constant human interaction, for there were few cars on these roads then. Walking along the road, looking across the road, I am aware of how the shapes of the place afforded social being, a mixing.
Then there is the assemblage of streets, their patterns, making up social texts, written by blocks, corners, street widths, street furniture. The utmost importance of the street pattern is evident, the underlying street structure the key to a sense of continuity, for when this goes memory is deeply afflicted, obliterated almost. The obliteration of old Notting Dale comes to mind, the obliterating then itself obliterated, for it was here that Grenfell Tower was struck down. I remember too the demolished half of Ashmore Road, the side on which I lived, the pattern gone in this way too. Gorton gone, Jerusalem fallen. All that fall. Beckett again, “Life without tears, as it is wept”. Was wept. Happy days. After the fall, what was lost, what found?
Gorton was lost, a place upon the earth. This is that place, bits of it anyway, this is what fell, a place. The sense of place in that past was profound, of being in Gorton and Gorton being in Manchester, the small rings that radiate outwards from a centre, as in rural Ireland. The intense localism is evident from even a glance at the newspapers in the 1950s. The Gorton Advertiser, itself like the terroir already going 100 years by then, sold 100,000 copies between January and June 1956. The whole community was as it were concentrated in the newspaper’s pages. The front page was full of personal, public, death, church notices, situations vacant, and then on later pages, “Heard in Audenshaw”, “Gossip Grave and Gay” by “Wayfarer of Gorton”. Almost all the adverts were for local shops, many on the Hyde Road, just like my own Harrow road. This was a world of local clubs and associations, and these were covered in great detail. The British Legion was there, Gorton Townswomen’s Guild, workingmen’s social clubs of all sorts, political clubs, works clubs, sports clubs. There was even an Ashton Methodist Football League in which church teams played.
The extraordinary and continuing significance of religion is apparent too, something lost to view in later sociologies. In tiny Old Chapel, Dukinfield Elijah was being sung, and the great summer Whit Walks were still going strong, as were the century-old Sunday Schools, assertions of local belonging, however remote for many Protestants was the religion of the churches by then. The Catholics had the crowning of the BVM in May also, the girls dressed as brides. Here was Irish Manchester, just like my Irish London. Victorian moralism was alive and well and there was a “Gems of Thought” column in the paper, the gems from Seneca and Matthew Arnold present one week. Times were changing though: “Crystal clear television on the Dawes plan” was on the way in, with a Cossor TV perhaps, but going out rather than staying in still dominated. One advert summoned up “the night Charles Mallett came into the local, with new ideas about Stout (he’s a Mackeson type, are you?)”, and another announced that a three piece suit in uncut moquette, no less, may be had on very reasonable terms from Brown Bros and Taylor in the Hyde Road.
I look again at the Ordnance Survey maps over the years, and the extraordinary uniformity of the housing is apparent. There were minor variations and to those who lived in the houses these often mattered greatly, but they were minor variations on a theme. There is the 1933 map.23 There were many schools, each specific to a particular locale within the greater locality, and beside the schools the churches, and neighbouring these sometimes tiny parks, for there were green spaces, despite the national stereotypes of the industrial north as a wilderness of brick. There were athletics, cricket, and football grounds, bowling greens, and allotments. All was built around the great factories, which hemmed the variety around and thereby limited and defined it; such was “The rule of the tall chimneys”. And people were buried around the factories too, in Ardwick Cemetery, in Rusholme Road Cemetery and others. Ardwick cemetery operated until 1950 and by which time some 80,000 people had been buried within its grounds. The remains of great scientist John Dalton and the great Chartist Ernest Joneslie there, also those of Robert Thornton, who won the Victoria Cross at Delhi in 1857. But the graves are unregarded now, and the traffic roars past.
‘Chapter 9, Passages: Industrial Jerusalem’ is excerpted from Patrick Joyce’s forthcoming book, Going to my father’s house: a history of my times, due to be published with Verso Books in summer 2021.
1 From Belfast Confetti, “Schoolboys” or “Farset”, check. The opening Sebald quotation is from After Nature (The Modern Library, 2003), 98
2 Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the English Working Class in 1844es; From Personal Observation and Authentic Sources (Panther, 1969) with an introduction by E.J. Hobsbawm
3 W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants (Harvill, 1997), 153
4 Ibid., 156
6 W. G. Sebald, After Nature section 4, “Dark Night Sallies Forth”
7 Recently, most notably Lynsey Hanley, Estates: An Intimate History (Granta, 2007) and Respectable: The Experience of Class (Allen Lane, 2016)
8 On intimacy, such places, and silence see Alain Corbin, A History of Silence (Polity, 2018), 4-18
9 Marc Augéé, In the Metro (University of Minnesota Press, 2002)
10 See the discussion of Heller below, pp
11 Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey; The Industrialization of Space and Time in the Nineteenth Century (Univ. of California Press, 1986)
12 Georgina Blakeley and Brendan Evans, The Regeneration of East Manchester: A Political Analysis (Manchester Univ. Press, 2013)
13 Friedrick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class, 78-9, originally published in German in 1845, translated into English first in 1885.
14 Joe Moran, On Roads; A Hidden History (Profile Books, 2010)
15 Patrick Joyce, The Rule of Freedom: Liberalism and the Modern City (Verso, 2003) , chapter 5, “The republic of the streets; knowing and moving in the city”
16 Clare Connolly, “Sea Crossings and Scale: Colonial Infrastructure in Jonathan Swift and Maria Edgeworth”, BARS lecture, 2015, copy provided by Clare Connolly
17 James Vernon, Distant Strangers: How Britain Became Modern (University of California Press, 2014)
18 History of Woodhead Chapel, n.d., 1910?, available http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/railways/woodhead.pdft. See also http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/railways/woodhead.htm
19 Dick Sullivan, Navvymen (Coracle books, 1983), 49-48, 131-4, 16-17; although the word continued to be used navvies proper were a product of Georgian and Victorian England and went into decline after the First World War; several books produced by itinerant/mobile Irish labourers themselves, enlightening but only in limited fashion, include Dónal Mac Amhlaigh An Irish Navvy: the Diary of an Exile (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), on the 1950s. There is also John B. Keane’s The Contractors (Mercier Press, 1993), a dull slog. I cite earlier the best book, that of O’Grady and Pike. See also my conclusion below, and reference to Phillip Donnellan’s superb film, The Irishmen (1965), as fine a monument as O’Grady and Pike’s.
20 Ernest F Lang, “The Early History of our Firm” , Beyer-Peacock Quarterly Review. 1 (2): 1927, 13–24. Also, http://www.beyerpeacock.co.uk/150years/beyer%20peacock%20150%20years%20on.pdf, on sales by firm and country 1854-1945, Oct 2018 accessed.
21 W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants, 192
23 Ordnance Survey map, Lancashire sheet, 104.CW.12 , revision of 1933, see also sheets, 11, 15, 16, for surrounding areas. I have also looked at the same sheets for 1908 and 1893.