17 December 2011

Clock Tower, Clock Tour

Last Friday, I went on a strange sort of walking tour. It was mostly vertical.

Manchester's Town Hall is a neo-Gothic beauty, built in 1877 by Alfred Waterhouse, who also designed the Palace Hotel just minutes away on Oxford Rd. The Town Hall serves as the film double for the Houses of Parliament, so if you see The Iron Lady this holiday season, you'll see it. Hmm, it doesn't quite feel right, does it, Thatcher and the holidays?

The clock tower hadn't been open to the public for years, but they've finally put together tours of it.
This image is from the BBC, it's a detail of the clock face that I could never get a shot of with my regular camera:

The tour was fascinating. Over the whole tour, we climbed over 170 steps up a tiny spiral stone stairwell. It was a fairly harrowing climb.

Here are the ropes for pulling bells that were used more often before automation. Town Hall is one of only 25 secular buildings in the world that has a set of bells like this. I love this town.

And this is the 19th-century clock mechanism that runs the bells every half-hour and hour. Because Manchester was the first city to have a timetabled passenger train, the clock had to be extremely accurate. Like Big Ben, the Manchester Town Hall's clock is kept to within one second of GMT. George Bradshaw, also from Manchester, developed and published the first timetable compilations right here in Manchester soon after the railways started up: Bradshow's Railway Companion.

On the half-hour, we got to see some of the gears tick over and various parts rotated, and the bells rang out. It was lovely.

There is also an old Carillon that can run the bells to play music, and it still uses paper music rolls!

The Town Hall has loads of music rolls: God Save the Queen, various national anthems for visiting dignitaries, the wedding march, etc.

I was really excited to see the back of the clock face, but we were only able to see parts of it. The clock doesn't have any numbers on it, just fleur-de-lis and little rising suns, because it was inspired by some European clock towers– maybe Dutch or Flemish? Can't quite remember.

Then, we continued up some more stairs to see Great Abel, which is the Great Hour Bell. It weighs 8 ton and 2 cwt. What is cwt, you ask? It's 112 lbs, in Britain. The bell is named after Abel Heywood, the Mayor at the time of the official opening. Abel's a great character. A radical and a Chartist, he was unliked by the royalty and the establishment because early in his career, he published a super-cheap rabble-rousing newspaper, called The Poor Man's Guardian. A guy like that couldn't help but get elected in a town like Manchester back then, I suppose.

Great Abel rings out the hours, and it's such a huge bell, it doesn't move at all, so it doesn't work with a pendulum like a normal bell. It's struck by a hammer; the pendulum on Great Abel is there to absorb and reflect vibrations.

This radical city elected a radical Chartist for its mayor, named its bell after him, and inscribed this line from a Tennyson poem onto it: "Ring out the false, ring in the true." I love this town. It has other inscriptions, too, such as far more boring "Teach us to number our Days," from some Psalm.

From above, you can really see how triangular the Town Hall building is, and that there are two little internal courtyards. I love Mr. Waterhouse for his clever use of space.

And from this great height, nearly 85 meters above the city, the view from the parapet around the clock was amazing, especially because all of Manchester's holiday fairy lights are out.

In this one, you can see City Tower, which marks out Piccadilly Gardens:

And the Palace Hotel is in this one, if you look carefully:

Lovely Beetham Tower, the lonely skyscraper.

And the Albert Square Christmas Markets, from a remarkably quieter vantage point than the crowded bustle to be found on the ground. The big red bulbous thing at the bottom of the image is a lit up Santa that presides arrogantly over Albert Square. Check out this post to see what it looks like on the ground.

A fantastic tour. You should go.

Back in March, I saw more of Town Hall's interior, just wandering about. It's an astonishing beautiful building on the inside. Check out this photo album from that visit. When the Clock Tower Tour ended, I managed to snap a photo of something I'd missed last time I went: the mosaic bee floor tiles.

The bee is the symbol of Manchester because it was the hive of industry, and because this city witnessed the birth of the worker bee class. The other mosaic floors feature cotton flowers, because of the importance of cotton to Manchester's wealth at the time.

By the time I post this, I'll probably be in Atlanta, ready to celebrate my dear sister's birthday and the holidays with all my family and friends. Writing this, I can't wait to see everyone, to see Atlanta, but strangely, I also can't wait to see Manchester again and discover more of its beauty and history. I just love this town.

West Coast Wintertime

Recently, I spent a week up in Prestwick with Mark, and this time, we had access to a car. Which meant we were able to see some of the beautiful western coastline I'd heard so much about.

We drove up to Loch Lomond, where we hoped to get in a nice hour-long-or-so hike... but the marked walks were only about 5 minutes each.

That was slightly disappointing, but it was really way too cold for a good long hike anyway. We wandered around the Loch a bit, with its gloomy gray sky and dramatic, cold, blackish water. It's a beautiful place.

It would be a gorgeous spot for a wedding, but so cold! The bride, I imagine, was wearing a white, fur, full-sleeved, floor-length coat for a dress...

The tides were coming in as we walked around the Loch, and the water was clearly overstepping its bounds.

I enjoyed bashing the ice off this bench...

And when it was cleared, I felt rather triumphant.

This quartz wall– and the strange football sculpture in the first image– were both parts of a public art project around the Loch. The wall was constructed of locally quarried rock.

I actually kind of like being outdoors in the cold. What has happened to me?

Mark and I also visited the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, a beautiful building with gorgeous old chandeliers. What I like about these chandeliers is that though they were clearly made before electrical lighting, they have been electrified using small lightbulbs. The end result is this: a chandelier that rains lightbulbs.

We also drove up and around the Argyll Forest. It was a snowy, coldgray day, so the forest looked foreboding and sinister and creepy and lovely. A Tim Burton set.

So, I was happy to finally catch some of the famed beautiful Scottish landscape... but I also caught some of the famed Scottish weather. One of Mark's favourite places is a cemetery in a town called Dunure. It's at the top of a hill that rolls steep down to the coast. It was a little rainy when we got out of the car, but only when we were in the cemetery did the wind suddenly pick up and the rain turn to sting-your-face, destroy-your-eyeballs hail. Our umbrellas were well and truly destroyed.

The next day, it was nearly impossible to leave the house, the wind was so bad. In fact, the wind was bad enough to shut schools, and Scottish people used the collective power of social media to name the weather pattern "Hurricane Bawbag." Hooray for twitter! (For those interested: baw is Scottish vernacular for ball. And that is as much explaining as I will do on this blog, because my parents read this, for goodness sake.)

Keep an eye out this week for plenty of posts to keep you warm, dear reader. Like a hot spicy mulled wine on a chilly night, the things I have been up to will warm you, make you drowsy, convince you to hit on that hot mess you see across the room there, and leave you with a cracker of a headache in the morning. I might have taken that metaphor too far. Or maybe I didn't? Read on to find out!

03 December 2011

Thanks O'Giving!

It's been three years since I've had a decent Thanksgiving, and honestly, for the first couple of years, I didn't really miss it all that much.

Last year, I missed it. But I didn't have the time to celebrate it, because I had about 20 papers due.

So this year, when I got an invitation to Emily's Belfast Thanksgiving, I decided it was the perfect thing to do. Visit Emily again, enjoy a lot of delicious food, catch up with some old friends.

I've been to Belfast before, and that time, Emily and I wandered around town and saw a lot of the town. This time, we spent most of the weekend in the house, cooking up a storm of comfort food.

Tom and Emily (with the help of their friend Tom --yes, there are many Toms in Belfast--) made a big giant turkey and a chicken.

They're very proud of it. As they should be.

I contributed a vegetarian bread dressing. It was delicious, and I made a vegetarian gravy to go with it. I also suggested macaroni and cheese, and strangely enough, Emily had never before had mac & cheese for Thanksgiving. Bizarre.

But I have to say, Tom and Emily's Thanksgiving ain't nothing like Thanksgiving back home. It's no quiet family dinner-- no, no. These two invite all their friends and hold a heaving party. It was around 60 people in the end, and everyone brought food and drink (in fact, 2 other people brought mac & cheese, too, so I was clearly proven right).

I got to meet loads of Emily and Tom's Belfast friends, and here is what I think: people in Belfast, at least the ones who get invited to Thanksgiving at Tom & Emily's, are lovely. There was also a beautiful puppy named Lucy– I couldn't get enough of her. 

It was a really fun weekend in Belfast, and I was very grateful to be around such good friends, and to meet so many new friends and sweet people, for Thanksgiving.

27 October 2011

Victorian Nija!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a fantastic demonstration of Victorian-era photography processes that I got to see at the People's History Museum. Tony Richards is the photographer, and he loves old-time wet-plate processes.

I was very fortunate to be the sitter for the portrait demonstration, and after developing the glass plate, painting the back black and varnishing it, Tony gave me the portrait!

It makes me look so dark, almost dirty! Fascinating process, though, and it's a treasured keepsake for me!

To see more of Tony's work: here's his blog

22 October 2011

The Real Story Award!

On Wednesday night, I went to the Manchester Blog Awards, an evening celebrating the blogging community in this lovely city. See the winning and nominated blogs here. My flatmate, Natalie Bradbury won the Best Arts and Culture Award for her fantastic work over at The Shrieking Violet.

On the same evening, The Real Story Competition also announced its winners. Over 60 people submitted creative non-fiction pieces to the competition, and 5 winners were chosen to read at the Manchester Blog Awards... and I was one of those five! We didn't win anything other than getting to read our stories out, but that was a pretty big deal anyway.

My story

And I recorded my reading of it, so you can listen to it here

It was a big night for me, and I had a really good time. It was also a chance to catch up with some friends and meet some amazing people that I'd never known about before. New friends!

Last night, I had a little early birthday celebration at the Soup Kitchen. I thought about my birthday last year, and how different my life was then. Even with all the changes and surprises this year and this town have brought into my life, I looked around last night and I had to admit: I have lovely friends, and I am lucky to have landed so softly in this town.

Mark pretends to be drunk, while I pretend to be sweet.

Mark then got worried what my parents would think, and stopped pretending to be drunk.

Gem thinks Joe is cute even when he acts like a doofus.

Joe and Geraint try to take a good picture. Hmm.

Joe fakes attack by gloved maniac.

Dear Despoina. I miss living with you.

Paul. We need PIE.

Andrew. Stop being so serious. It was a party, for goodness sake.
I realise from the pictures I've shown you, it looks like only a few people came out, but that's not true. Lots of lovely people were there, I just didn't get pictures of all of them. Allow this beautiful picture, taken by I don't remember whom, stand for them.

17 October 2011

Man-fest-erama!, or Man-fest-ter, part 3.

On Sunday, Creative Tourist's Manchester Weekender organised five walking tours! More than a girl can take.

I decided on two of them, specifically, the Psychogeography Walk and the Ancoats Peeps Walk.

The Psychogeography Walk

Psychogeography is all about how spaces affect our mindsets without us even realising. It's about how the history of a place shapes how we think about a place, but also about how corporations and urban planners can affect how we behave and feel in a space, just by how it's laid out and lit and things like that.

While this particular psychogeography walk of Manchester didn't take in too much of the political side of psychogeography, I did learn a lot of history I didn't know about previously. It was run by a woman named Ann... she didn't give a surname or her affiliation w/ the walk... but I didn't ask, either.

We started at St. Ann's Square, a part of town I've always liked (even though it's quite commercial and posh) because it's leafy and old and full of history. The fascinating grave of Thomas Deacon is in St. Ann's Square, calling Mr. Deacon, "the greatest of Sinners and the most unworthy of primitive Bishops." 

Turns out St. Ann's Square is more full of history than I thought.
Originally, St. Ann's was a field, about the size of an acre, cleverly called "Acre's Field," and an annual market was held there starting in 1227. The market would be in September, at harvest time, always on a quarter day. Quarter days were the equinoxes and solstices, and on quarter days back then, a family would pay its bills and manage the affairs of the house. 

This history still affects British society. We pay our electricity bills on the quarter days.

The Manchester Cathedral was part of the Anglican church, and it conducted High services and were Jacobites. But the Lord of the Manor of Manchester (actually a woman named Lady Ann Bland), was a Hanoverian and more into Low church services.

Lady Ann fell out with the Cathedral and decided to build a Low Anglican church on St. Ann's Square; it was built in 1712. Surprisingly she named it St. Ann's. Supposedly because there was a Queen Anne on the throne, but you know... it is a wonderful coincidence.

The Cathedral was Anglican High church.
The Lord of the Manor, Lady Ann Bland (related to the Mosley family of Manchester) fell out with the cathedral as she appreciated the low church style. She was Hanoverian. Both churches were Anglican, just higher or lower. (Side note: Lady Ann Bland was related to the Mosley family of Manchester, who gave their name to a major street, who gave Manchester an outrageous fascist and who gave the city the parcel of land that Piccadilly Gardens now comprises. Influential family.)

After the church was built, the market was moved to Castlefield, and property speculators moved into St. Ann's Square. Houses built, first Georgian, then Victorian style, and they were built from the edge of the acre in. Amazingly, St. Ann's Square still demarcates that same acre... the structure of the city is connected to something from 1227!

The tourguide Ann also told us some interesting things abou the landscape of Manchester that I hadn't considered before:
1. I always think Manchester's very flat. Turns out, the whole Northwest of England is all rolling hills and valleys, and Manchester actually sits on the Irwell river valley. I suppose I knew that, because the Irwell splits Salford from Manchester, but I never thought of it as a valley, or as on a hillside.

2. Because the NW is on rolling land, it wasn't very good for agriculture, and it was sort of a pain in the arse to control. That's why it was rather left alone after the Romans left. Which meant that when there was an Industrial Revolution here, people here knew how to sort out their own industry.

3. The rolling hills were bad for agriculture and only really good for raising sheep. Elsewhere, good flat land was used for food, not wool. But the hills meant that the NW got really good at wool... and thus, at textiles.

4. Also good flat land doesn't have fast streams, but hilly land does. Fast streams meant watermill, which meant power, which meant that the Industrial Revolution in Manchester could power itself here. 

In a way, it had to happen here. It just needed people to work it... and eventually, they came, too.

That walk also took in some of the history of Piccadilly Gardens. It used to be owned by the Lord of the Manor (someone in the Mosley Family, basically), and eventually was given to the city under the condition that it had to be used only for the benefit of the people of Manchester. Meaning the city couldn't build on it or sell it.

Interestingly, Piccadilly Gardens is one of very very few open spaces in MCR that was not once a churchyard. The only reason it's still an open space is because of Mosley's condition. Back then (and now) it wasn't a very nice parcel of land, mostly just clay that people used to daub their houses. Eventually, the council built a free hospital on it – a FREE hospital! Back then! Can you imagine? – and then later, they moved the hospital and put in some sunken gardens.

When those got scuzzy, they broke Mosley's condition, sold part of the Gardens for
10 million pounds, and used that money to renovate the rest of the Gardens. And yet, even after all that money, it's still scuzzy. Unbelievable.

The Ancoats Peeps Walk

Ancoats is a neighbourhood in Greater Manchester, and it's where some of the first mills were. Think horrible working conditions, child labour, tiny streets, darkness, misery, cold, hunger, and early death. 

Steven O'Malley, an engineer on the regeneration project, and Mark Canning, from the NorthWest Development Agency, were our tour guides.

After the Industrial Revolution, Ancoats faced a slow, steady decline, to the point where a couple decades ago, it was a pretty dangerous part of town. These days, though, there's been a big change. Ancoats has a harsh, stark beauty.

It's undergone a major regeneration project, led by the now-defunct Northwest Development Agency, and while I will always find regeneration to be a politically contentious, debatable, double-edged sword that raises all kinds of questions about class, rights, and "authenticity," there are some things about the Ancoats regeneration project that are really interesting and exciting.

For one: 
Ancoats, as a neighbourhood, never had a public square. It wasn't somewhere people lived and communed, it was a place to come, drudge all day and into the night, and then eventually leave. As part of the regeneration, the NW Development Agency (NWDA) wanted to maintain the character of Ancoats, but also make it more livable, so they fought to knock down some derelict mills to build a new public square, called The Cutting Room Square.

Ok, the name's got an unnatural feeling. The Cutting Room Square? But I'm sure people will develop a better name for it eventually. And it's a nice public space, outside the former St. Peter's church, that still feels in keeping with the rest of Ancoats. Mostly concrete and brick. Not many trees. I like trees as much as anyone, but it would be weird to suddenly plonk a bunch down in the middle of an area as industrial-looking as Ancoats.

Here is another:
The Ancoats Peeps are an art project that was undertaken and installed during the renovation works in Ancoats. They are unmarked brass eye-pieces, fitted into walls and surfaces around Ancoats. This one is peeping out of the stone structure.

No one's saying exactly how many there are, only that there are about 18, or exactly where all of them are, only that there is a vague map. As the website says, 

"If it seems that there is no clear explanation as to what the Peeps are, or exactly how many there are, or where they are, that is because there is no explanation to be had. The Peeps are to be stumbled across. They may not all be found, and there is no single explanation as to what they are, or what they are about."

We saw some of the Peeps on this walk, but the guides made it clear that we wouldn't see all of them. The artist's vision, I suppose. I looked in one Peep that was on the outside wall of a former mill. Through it, I saw an illuminated picture of the inside of that mill, back when it was still in use.

Another Peep allows you to see deep underground, to a tunnel that connected several buildings of a mill complex. More on those nefarious, dark, damp tunnels later.

They all have something different to show you, relating to the history of Ancoats, the character of the neighbourhood. As our super-friendly tourguide Steven O'Malley said, the Peeps are about "acknowledging the history of Ancoats, and reinvesting that history into its regeneration." 

A lot of regeneration projects seem to just try to make up a false history for the neighbourhood. I like the Ancoats approach better. Let's not forget that people lived horrible horrible lives here, that the rich minted their money off the teeth and nails and bones and hair of the brutally poor. Let's pay attention to how these buildings were built, and why.

During the tour, we went into Murray's Mills, which was the oldest steam-powered mill complex in the world, built in 1797. They NWDA renovated and saved the fabric of the building, but right now, it serves no real function inside. 

In fact, there's even some leftover old mill junk still on the bottom floor! In the 1800s, you wouldn't have been able to see very far ahead of yourself, as the whole floor would have been filled with cotton dust. And children as young as 8 years old would be working there, 6 days/week.

It's waiting for someone to come along w/ some money to fix up the inside and use it well. I did see the Library Theatre production of Hard Times here. Since there's no proper stage or seating, they did it as a promenade-style play. Manchester's Central Library is undergoing renovation of its own, so its theatre company has no home. It's been doing some cool experimental stuff like that.

Murray's Mill actually has a man-made pond in the middle, which used to connect to the canal, so goods could come to the mill by boat!

Steven & Mark also showed us the brass studs in the roads, which show where there are underground tunnels linking mill buildings.

Back then, once workers were in the mill, they weren't let out, even to go to another building in the complex. The owners locked them in, and workers had to use tunnels and skywalks to get around. They couldn't physically leave the mills for the whole workday.

And yet, a third:
We also went inside the former St. Peter's church. The NWDA also saved just the fabric of this building, and it's occasionally let out for special occasions, like fashion shows. The night before our visit, there had been a wedding, which is why all the trees were in the building.

It's strange, but I kind of felt like maybe this is how a normal church should look. Bright, with a high ceiling, lots of white, lots of windows, some thin white columns, and a few potted trees. It felt like a good place to pray, if I knew how to pray.

Gorgeous stained glass windows over the alter, showing the reflection of the rose window opposite.

St. Peter's from the outside.

And St. Peter's will soon be serving a purpose, as well! The Hallé Orchestra have decided to move there, so they're going to fix it up and practice there regularly. I can't think of a better use of this space, especially since the Hallé don't yet have their own space.

I don't know what regeneration will mean for Ancoats. I hope it's good for the neighborhood, and I hope it helps. I know it'll probably have its downsides, too, as most regeneration does.

I'm glad, at the very least, that with the regeneration of Ancoats came the Peeps. It's a lovely art project, but it's history and politics, too, and it means something to the area. I think the Peeps make Ancoats a more exciting place. I like knowing that around any corner, there could be a little surprise awaiting me.

It's like a treasure hunt... which is kind of apt for a neighbourhood that once created so much wealth...