Angel Meadows: A Hell on Earth

The Angel Pub, where we perform on 5th July and which also features in the song ‘A soldiers Farewell to Manchester’ (one of the better known of the Manchester Broadsides), sits on the boundary of a neighbourhood Angel Meadows.  Now thoroughly re-developed, many of the buildings and streets still retain titles reminiscent of its less than  illustrious past.  In fact this is the part of town that Marx and Engels would walk into from Ancoats and Swan Street where they reportedly sat in the pubs looking over at the poor souls working the gravel pits on the edge of Angel Meadows.  In fact Freidrich Engels described this residential  neighbourhood as a ‘Hell on Earth’ and we can only imagine how horrific it would have been to live there.

However, three hundred years ago, Angel Meadow was a heavenly landscape with views over fields and hills. Indeed, the name conjures an image of some pastoral idyll.

By the mid-19th century however, thanks to Manchester’s new industrial age, it had become one of the city’s worst slums.

Angus Reach, a London-based journalist, visited Angel Meadow in 1849.

“The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel-meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, by those unhappy wretches the ‘low Irish.’

Friedrich Engels in the slums of Manchester
 Such is the Old Town of Manchester.. and the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth. Everything here arouses horror and indignation. 
Friedrich Engels, writing in The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1844

Bounded by Rochdale Road, Miller Street, Cheetham Hill Road, and Gould Street, Angel Meadow covered 33 acres on the edge of the city centre.

Its population of 20,000 to 30,000 was made up predominantly of destitute Irish who had fled the Great Famine to find work in industrial Manchester and now lived in squalid conditions in cellars beneath lodging houses.

Recalling one particular cellar he visited, Reach wrote:

“The place was dark, except for the glare of a small fire. You could not stand without stooping in the room which might be about twelve feet by eight. There were at least a dozen men, women and children on stools, or squatted on the stone floor, round the fire and the heat and smells were oppressive… the inmates slept huddled on the stones, or on masses of rags, shavings and straw which were littered about. There was nothing like a bedstead in the place.”

BBC news website

Quotes courtesy of The Gangs of Manchester by Andrew Davies and The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels (1844).

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