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Visit Manchester’s ‘dig’.....and weep

Saturday 10 October, Dantzic Street: an opportunity to view the hell that could be 19th century Manchester

Published on October 7th 2009.

Visit Manchester’s ‘dig’.....and weep

The Co-operative Group has recently been granted planning permission to erect a new headquarters building on land between Dantzic Street and Miller Street in central Manchester, directly opposite the CIS tower. The site is used presently as a car park, but 250 years ago it evolved as a focus of Manchester’s early industrial growth. By the 1780s, Miller Street and Dantzic Street (known previously as Blakeley, and then Charter Street) were lined with buildings, many of which were probably used as workshop dwellings by artisans associated with the expanding textile industries.

‘Jones, is in great poverty; has a very sick wife. He is a shoemaker by trade but for want of nourishment is unable to work; he has death printed in his countenance.’

In 1782, Richard Arkwright chose to build one of the first steam-powered textile mills in the world on Miller Street, heralding the rise of Manchester as the world’s leading manufacturing centre. Manchester expanded at a phenomenal rate thereafter.

As the process of industrialisation gathered pace, and immigrants from surrounding areas flocked to the work in the new industries, immense pressures were placed on the housing market. Empty plots of land behind the 18th-century houses on Miller Street and Dantzic Street were sold to property developers, and in-filled with low-cost housing, many with cellars that were let as cheap dwellings. The increased density of housing led to overcrowded and insanitary living conditions, and the rapid degeneration of the area to a slum.

This was famously described by Friedrich Engels - a founding father of communism, best buddy of Karl Marx, who lived 22 years in Manchester - based on his observations of the area during the 1840s. What he saw would underscore his developing ideas on the nature of capitalism.

Many of the properties along Danzic Street became common lodging houses to provide cheap accommodation as the local population continued to grow, swelled by immigrants from Ireland during the Potato Famine of 1846-51.

As a clue to the desperate nature of the jerry-built houses here’s a report from a Town Mission in 1842 about the area. This is about the Cann family: ‘Five in the family, three children; all out of work, man sick and one sick child. The child was laying down on a few shavings of wood in the corner of a damp cellar without a rag to cover it. Nothing whatsoever in the cellar.’ Another reads: ‘Jones, Old Mount Street, is in great poverty; has a very sick wife. He is a shoemaker by trade but for want of nourishment is unable to work; he has death printed in his countenance.’Demolition and clearance of the houses began in the 20th century, and the site had been largely cleared by 1940.

However, the foundations of these houses and cellars survived demolition, and have just been excavated by Oxford Archaeology North, providing an opportunity to re-visit some of the dwellings described by Engels over 170 years ago. The excavation has also provided important archaeological evidence for the development of these infamous properties, and a fresh insight into the evolution of social welfare of the area.

All this can be experienced by the Manchester public on Saturday 10 October, when the excavation site will be open to all between 10am and 4pm. Tours and an explanation of the remains will be given by the archaeologists who have just completed the excavation.

Not the happiest way to spend an afternoon maybe, but a good way of locking into the city’s history.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousOctober 7th 2009.

This dig has attracted some media attention from the BBC and Guardian. Urbis has been blogging about it as well.

mOctober 7th 2009.

Is that the 10th or 18th? Title says one thing, 2nd to last paragraph something else. Sounds great though. A site such as this is very worthy of temporary tour and I'm pleased someone has been proactive in arranging it.

EditorialOctober 7th 2009.

It's 10th sorry - now changed

JoOctober 7th 2009.

Think it would also be good to include the history of Angel Meadows and St Michaels Flags which is across the road from the dig

twoowiOctober 7th 2009.

oh! If I'd known about this before today (12th Oct) I'd have loved to have gone! Ah well, that'll serve me right for not paying attention to ManCon!

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