Days 2 and 3 in Manchester: Archives, a Walking Tour, and Tapas for Dinner

My primary purpose for this trip, of course, was to gather materials for my ongoing research project, which focuses in general on the community-building function of media. In particular on this trip, I had intended to investigate the Manchester Guardian-turned-national newspaper, something that I still think a good idea.

But on my first day here, visiting the People’s History Museum, I stumbled across a working-class publication that was printed during four critical years in British history, and the archive maintained at PHM. Accordingly, I have spent the last two days acquainting myself with that period’s history, the struggles of the working-class, and the British press during that period.

I also digitized a significant chunk of the newspapers’ archive with which to continue my work.

So Day 2 in Manchester found me in St. Peter’s Square, looking for the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, at which I was to meet a walking tour group that promised a look at Manchester’s political roots and history.

Pankhurst, a pioneering suffragette, is said to have founded the militancy of the suffrage movement right there in Manchester. Her statue features the petite woman standing on a kitchen chair, arms outstretched as if to rally a crowd, and the half-circle of stone at her back reads, “Rise Up Women!”

(I’ve been unable to shake a tune from Mary Poppins from head, ever since. “We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats, and dauntless crusaders for women’s votes; though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid; …. Political equality and equal rights with men! Take heart, for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!”)

The statue was a good place to start the tour, and the guide, Ed Glinert, was clearly knowledgeable about the political events in Manchester and the Peterloo Massacre, in particular. After a stop at town hall to see Pankhurst’s portrait in collage, and a look at the Peterloo memorial in a kind of walkway between it and the adjoining building, he headed us off to the site of the Peterloo Massacre itself. Manchester Central now rests on the site of the field that in August of 1819 saw peaceful protesters (agitating for universal suffrage) mercilessly struck down by an army of thugs hired for the purpose.

Glinert brought us to the site, discussed its history, showed us the place where the stage (built of two wooden carts spliced together) had been, and then walked us through the Radisson Blu, which now stands on that corner and retains memorials to the site’s history as a gathering place for protest. The Free Trade Hall stood there before it was torn down to make way for the hotel.

We walked down the steps where Christabel Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline) and Annie Kenney were kicked out of a liberal rally there in 1905 after shouting questions about whether the party would grant suffrage to women. The tour continued through town to St. Ann’s Square, site of the first public vote in Manchester in 1832, and by sites of Friedrich Engels’ offices, the Working Man’s Church, and Crown Court (where the last judicial decision to execute a criminal in Britain was handed down in 1864). We finished at the People’s History Museum, of course, and I spent more time with the exhibits there.

(All told, I’ve been at the PHM three days this week in Manchester, and plan to go again on Saturday to see the Peterloo exhibit that opens then. Truly a remarkable find; thanks to my friend Edwina Higgins for recommending I start there!)

Day 3 in Manchester put me back in the archives at PHM to complete the collection of data, and I had a good chat with the archivists about the press and Peterloo. While Peterloo isn’t my focus this round, it is relevant to the press struggles that followed it, and to the founding of the Manchester Guardian. To be here this week, when two different exhibitions are opening about Peterloo, feels serendipitous.

I finished Day 3 with tapas for dinner at Tapeo & Wine with friend Eddie. I love tapas, and it’s tough to find in my home state, so I expected to enjoy the meal. I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Fresh assorted breads, including olive bread, a Manchego cheese board, roasted eggplant with feta, meat cannoli in bechamel, Spanish omelet with potato, olives, and a multi-textured chocolate desert with Irish Cream foam rounded out the meal. I’d forgotten how lovely it is to simply relax, and take my time eating, chatting, and enjoying the food. The Spanish music playing in the background gave way to a live guitarist somewhere during the course of the three hours we spent there, and the laid-back but friendly ambience made the experience a joy. I’d head here again in a heart beat.

Day 4 in Manchester is a writing day, so there won’t be much to share. But I’m heading out with Eddie again on day five to tour some other memorable spots in Manchester, and looking forward to it.

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