Category Archives: Manchester’s Improving Daily

The Manchester Ballads

Ragbag Lyrics


The Manchester Ballads is a collection of thirty five broadside ballads dating from the time of the industrial revolution. Collected by two local historians and folk music enthusiasts, and published with financial help from the education offices at Manchester City Council, The Manchester Ballads was produced in a handsome hardback card case, and is in the form of a folio collection of loose- leaf facsimile prints of the original penny broadsheets. There is accompanying text with many of the ballads, giving the biography of the song and, where necessary, a glossary of dialect terms. There are tunes suggested to allow the ballads to be sung communally in pubs and at home, and whilst penny broadsides were produced in the hundreds, many were written to be sung to well known tunes. The impoverished audience would, with few exceptions, have no ability to read music (Boardman and Boardman 1973) and many would also be totally illiterate, only learning the songs through the oral tradition of singing in pubs, at markets and in local homes.

The Manchester Ballads are, in essence, a snapshot of Mancunian life in the industrial era. However, they are a snapshot from a very selective source, and the themes, events, places and characters that are outlined within the lyrics of the ballads should be seen in the context not only of their chance survival, but also of the reasons for publication.

The themes in the Manchester Ballads speak of struggle (The Spinners Lamentation 1846), poverty (Tinkers Garden 1837), civic uprisings (The Meeting at Peterloo 1819) and communal tragedy (The Great Flood 1872). However, they also recall good nights out (Victoria Bridge on a Saturday Night 1861), day trips around the region (Johnny Green’s Trip fro’ Owdhum to see the Manchester Railway 1832) and the various innovations and achievements of industrial Manchester are mentioned, and praised, throughout.

New CD to be released on 19th February


On Friday 19 February 2016, English roots musical collective Edward II release ‘Manchester’s Improving Daily‘, a collection of rare and historic songs, known as the Manchester Broadside Ballads, dating back over 200 years to the Industrial Revolution.

Beautifully designed, packaged and presented, the physical CD is the culmination of a 15-month project, ‘Manchester’s Improving Daily’.  accompanied by a book, written by social archaeologist David Jennings, explaining the history of the songs and providing an informative commentary to these rare glimpses into the lives of working class Mancunians in the Victorian times.

The CD is to be distributed through Cadiz Music and can be ordered through any good record store, this website and all main digital outlets.  Physical copies only will include the book about  the broadsides.

Ordering info:-

Artist: Edward II

Distributor: Cadiz Music

Album Title: Manchester’s Improving Daily

Catalogue No. E2MID1819

The Execution of Allen, Gould & Larkin.

One of the most harrowing stories recorded in the Broadsides, was the execution of the three members of the  Irish Republican Brotherhood,William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien.  In the attached image from the time, O,Brien was named Gould.

‘ They were executed for the murder of a police officer in Manchester, England, in 1867, during an incident that became known as the Manchester Outrages. The trio were members of a group of 30–40 Fenians who attacked a horse-drawn police van transporting two arrested leaders of the Brotherhood, Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy, to Belle Vue Gaol. Police Sergeant Charles Brett, travelling inside with the keys, was shot and killed as the attackers attempted to force the van open by blowing the lock’.


Allen Gould & Larkin Story


The growing urban discontent that led to the infamous meeting in 1819, like other occasions of civil unrest covered in the Manchester Ballads, grew out of a combination of circumstances that, seen in hindsight, were almost bound to end in conflict.

On the 16th August 1819, the area around St Peters Square in Manchester was the site of a peaceful protest that ended in bloody confrontation with the authorities. Quickly dubbed ‘Peterloo’, the name is a satirical comment on what was seen as the cowardly actions of the soldiers and yeoman who attacked unarmed civilians. By using the term Peterloo, protesters and social commentators were mocking the troops with a name redolent of the famous battle at Waterloo, where the bravery of men was taken for granted, and a matter of national pride. Peterloo, in contrast, was seen by most as a matter of national shame. The speakers platform had banners arranged that read

and LOVE”

however, events on the day prove just how hard the fight was for the working classes in industrial Manchester and Salford.

The French Revolution of 1789 was still in the minds of many radicals in England, and the word of various activists added to the unease that many workers felt under the increasingly dominant and often abusive grip of the factory owners. Thomas Paine’s rhetoric was typical, and captured hearts and minds across the working classes.




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Band Wall Glen

Broadside Ballads – A brief history

Broadside Ballads are printed versions of popular song that were distributed for in the towns and cities of England for hundreds of years.

“The Ballad originated in collective worksongs.  People orking together at some rythmic activity… frequently sang both to keep in time in their work and to lighten the burden” (Palmer1980: 9)

The national collection of Broadside Ballads exists across disparate collections that have been held across the UK, often for hundreds of years, by libraries, universities and other institutions. Comprising of songs that were often collected by just a few individuals who, with immense foresight, took the time to visit local singers and also collected paper copies of the penny broadsheets printed regionally.  These institutions have acquired and stored a social resource that, when considered as a national collection, unwittingly forms a wealth of cultural and historical knowledge, as represented by the places, stories and characters with the ballads.Ragbag Lyrics

By repeatedly using well-known tunes, the songs could reach a wider audience.   This also meant that publishers could pay ‘hack writers’ to add new words to existing music, saving money on the production costs as composers were rarely employed.  The earliest song in The Manchester Ballads  collection dates from 1785, the latest 1882, although within the wider collection of broadside ballads there are printed versions of songs that date back to 1550, and many are thought to be derived from folk songs passed down through the oral tradition for many years before they were ever printed.   The earliest surviving collection of Ballads dates from 1556, and is called “ A handful of Pleasant Delights”.

Our Fine Town Hall, Which Cost Such Cash…

New Town Hall

Detail of façades by Alfred Waterhouse

Cross section drawing by Waterhouse

Planning for the new town hall began in 1863. Manchester Corporation demanded it be, ‘equal if not superior, to any similar building in the country at any cost which may be reasonably required’.[7] The choice of location was influenced by a desire to provide a central, accessible, but relatively quiet site in a respectable district, close to Manchester’s banks and municipal offices, next to a large open area, suitable for the display of a fine building.[8] After investigating suitable sites, includingPiccadilly, an oddly shaped plot facing Albert Square was chosen.[9] The Albert Square frontage measures 323 feet (98 m), Lloyd Street is 350 feet (107 m), Princess Street the longest at 383 feet (117 m) and Cooper Street measures 94 feet (29 m). On this tight site, the corporation built a grand hall, a suite of reception rooms, quarters for the lord mayor, offices and a council chamber.[1]

The second stage of a competition to design the town hall which attracted 137 entries was judged byThomas Leverton Donaldson, a classicist, and gothicist George Edmund Street. The eight finalists were Waterhouse, William Lee, Speakman & Charlesworth, Cuthbert BrodrickThomas WorthingtonJohn Oldrid ScottThomas Henry Wyatt and Edward Salomons.[10] In terms of design and aesthetics, Waterhouse’s proposal was placed fourth behind those of Speakman & Charlesworth, Oldrid Scott and Worthington[11] but his design was considered much superior for its architectural quality, layout and use of light and he was appointed architect on 1 April 1868.[12]

The foundation stone was laid on 26 October 1868 by the mayor, Robert Neill. Construction took nine years and used 14 million bricks.[13] Estimates for the cost of construction vary from £775,000[2] to around £1,000,000[3] translating to between £54 and £71 million in 2010. When Queen Victoria refused to attend, Manchester Town Hall was opened by the mayor, Abel Heywood, who had championed the project on 13 September 1877.[14]


Nothing New Under the Sun (or clouds…)

The Great Flood of 1872

The Great Flood Lyrics

The River Medlock rises in the hills above Oldham and empties into the River Irwell in central Manchester

The Medlock has reportedly burst its banks and flooded areas of the city on a fairly regular basis. However it was on 13th July 1872,  after two days of torrential rain which takes its place most notably in the history books, as this account from a Manchester newspaper, written at the time, describes:

“It was about half past twelve when the floods came … the banks of the Medlock were overflowed to such an alarming extent and the first intimation of the flood was the sweeping away of a footbridge near to Philips Park … It must have been very strongly fixed, for it not only bore the rush of the flood for a considerable time, but it resisted it to such an extent that the water backed up for a considerable distance. The flood increased in depth and power, and at a length swept in a fierce torrent over a large portion of ground apportioned to the Roman Catholics at the Bradford Cemetery carrying away not only tombstones but actually washing out of their graves, a large number of dead bodies. Indeed from the first indication of danger, so far as works on the banks of the Medlock were concerned, dead bodies were observed floating down the river, and those watching could easily see that the bodies had been disinterred out of the Bradford cemetery. It is impossible to calculate how many had been swept out of their final resting place but the number is not short of fifty.” (source:Manchester Courier, 15 July 1872)

So, no great shakes for soggy electrical cables and knocked down gazebos, but interesting that this most remarkable of events took place in early July, just when we all least expect it.  There really is nothing new under the sun, or a grey cloudy Mancunian sky!

The full version of this article can be found at