Skip to main content

Do You Love Riff Raff? Ancoats To New Islington, Manchester

By One Comment6 min read
Cheshyre Avenue, Ancoats, Manchester

Poem: From Ancoats To New Islington

This is a place in the east end of the city,
Where a mass of wealth grew from enslaved cotton.
First ever industrial suburb spread with no pity,
Ana Cots’ turned into a sprawling rotten slum.

Amidst colossal buildings Friedrich Engels spoke,
Clustered working-class dwellings and airless courts.
Walls so thin and open drains, bespoke –
Back to back wretched structures for profits report.

But in the east end was a creative might,
Manchester Art Museum beamed its cultural light,
In 1886 doors unlocked with grace,
Within a district’s blend, a vibrant space.

A dense concoction where workers thrived,
Printing and dying works, their skills derived,
A sawmill, timber yard, and foundries tall,
This place, ‘the world’s first industrial’ call.

Ancoats Hall on land owned by the Mosleys,
Stored Hannah Beswick, the Manchester mummy!
The new hall would aid the wretches’ betterment,
So established Manchester University Settlement.

The Round House stood, Every Street its place,
A refuge for plays, dance and creative embrace,
Brick circle marks where dreams once thrived,
Weeds swamp gravestones but the legacy survives.

Through the cobbled streets and factories’ plight,
Winifred Gill guided Lowry with keen insight.
In pencil and paint he wove a story profound,
Ancoats’ legacy set – forever renowned.

By L S Lowry - [1], Public Domain,

The fault-line near Old Mill’s Street roundabout,
The place I grew and where my mother died.
She never took the money and petitioned to stay,
So, in Flawd I drink, memories endure.

Ironic how we settled amongst chugging mills,
My ancestors supplied them with cotton for real.
We weren’t welcomed back in 1979,
Shit through the letterbox, niggers out, all that.

But mother from Spanish Town took no dread,
One look at her machete would leave you dead.
Blared reggae music, curried-goat bubbling pot –
Caucasians passed by lashing at their lips.

A strange car, a strange van, a factory would get done.
Anything snatched and could be sold was game.
And we partied hard with the city on the doorstep,
Heavy drinking, sputnik, and the few on cocaine.

Now even though Gun Street was just up the road,
I never ever heard a gunshot letting off.
You might get bottled or you might get stabbed,
But mostly a scuttle and that was that.

People never came here, for it was off-key,
A tough white working-class neighbourhood see –
Hardly a no-go zone, but no investment here,
We lived on wasteland; they had a plan for sure.

As mother embedded, we heard the rumour mill,
That this place Ancoats would be New Islington.
We were connected and had friends in the Council,
Gentrified whispers, the jewel in the crown, and

It did not matter if you were black or white,
The Cardroom Estate et al was real prime estate.
All around us the factories burned down.
Land clearance to extend the city beyond town.

No more Permanoids, the Barons, Ancoats Hospital.
Police Club, Labour Club, or the Cob O Coal.
No Magpie, Bank of England, or The Crown too –
Or boys and girls kicking ball on St Jude’s.

No veg shop or flower lady on Chippenham Road,
No butchers, newsagent, a wine shop we had.
And the old Jewish barber on Great Ancoats Street –
Community stealthily being swept from our feet.

Urban Splash started putting on events,
Trips out of town, tea and coffee, that malarkey.
One Saturday evening they even put up a marquee,
Cheap wine flowed and Acid House DJ.

Commonwealth games secure, lo and behold,
Renovation of abandoned mills taking shape.
Living on a building site for 25 years,
Man. City up the road and investment from a Sheikh.

Twenty-fourteen’s hopeful, bright embrace,
Manchester Life promised a social program apace.
“£1bn deal” with promises to heal,
And put affordable housing on an even keel.

Groups hot on human rights warned of darker ties,
Of a business partner with a ruthless guise,
Abu Dhabi United Group, a cautionary tale,
The Labour Council forge ahead unperturbed.

Sheikh Mansour, once a football club owner,
Now holds the keys to the east end empire,
The Council’s cards, they too held tight but
Sheikh and Man. City scoring day and night.

Hush money, dirty money, blood money some say,
20 per cent affordable housing promised. Nay.
We heard the Group can bypass 106 regulations
With wads of money paid to their consultants.

Along the marina’s edge, the path does trace,
From Ancoats to New Islington’s millennial face.
Blocks of privatized land, they proudly stand,
In offshore accounts and the riches expand.

A wealthy elite, a surveillance throne,
Halfway across the globe, their power’s firm,
But in the east end of this city, shadows dance,
Sold for a grain, so what’s up Bev Craig?

Manchester Life bedridden with lies?
Unveiled by studies as truth now belies.
Months of scrutiny, accounts ensnared,
Offshore dealings and profits laid bare.

Former leader Richard Leese publicly voiced,
On affordable housing and left us bemused:
“Middle class tosspots,” he disdainfully said,
The old residents left to hang by a thread.

From post-war slump and economic woes,
Now Manchester’s ‘des res,’ coolest place to live.
Heritage-led, but a tale of gentrification,
Old mills reborn and a thriving destination but

Albert and Kath and Margaret and Mark,
Jimmy and Lily and Dot and Pat. Denise,
Robert, Izzy, Basil, Tina, Anthony, Winnie –
Too many to mention, missed in the community.

But remember Star Hall’s mission pleased,
Crossley Court stands firm, their hearts clear.
William Booth and Francis’s care released,
The only affordable housing off Caruthers Street.

The fault-line near Old Mill’s Street roundabout.
The place I grew and where my mother died.
She never took the money and petitioned to stay,
So, in Flawd I drink, memories endure.

Graffiti on Cheshyre Avenue, Ancoats, Manchester

Further Reading:

Article: How a great English city sold itself to Abu Dhabi’s elite – and not even for a good price

Essay concerning a group of drawings made and exhibited in 1930 by L. S. Lowry in Ancoats, then a notorious Manchester slum

Another poem by Skendong: Islington Mystery: The Silent Tragedy In Ancoats

Leave a Reply