St Michael's Flags and Angel Meadow Park
St Michael's Flags and Angel Meadow Park is a public park to the immediate northeast of Manchester city centre, in North West England. Located on a slope between the River Irk and Rochdale Road occupies an area of 7.4 acres (3 ha), but features in the formative history of Manchester. It was once an affluent suburb of Manchester, until the 19th-century Industrial Revolution altered the social standing of the area and introduced poverty and disease. Regeneration of the park in the 2000s has however modified the area and created a gateway into the Irk Valley.
St Michael's and All Angel's church was built in 1788 by Humphrey Owen, to seat just over a thousand people. Its foundation stone was laid on 20 May 1788 and it was consecrated on 23 July 1789. Almost twenty years later, a letter appeared in the Manchester Guardian declaring "Why one of the ugliest churches in Manchester situated in one of the most crowded and notorious parts of the City, should have so long enjoyed the pleasant sounding name 'St Michael's, Angel Meadow' is beyond understanding".
The land adjacent to the church became the largest cemetery in Manchester, used for the interment of those who had no family place of burial or were too poor to afford a proper funeral. The population density of Angel Meadow in the mid-19th century was in excess of 350 per acre, and as social and living conditions worsened some resorted to digging up the cemetery and selling its soil as fertilizer to nearby farmers. The situation became so bad that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1855 to cover up graveyards with flagstones, hence the name, St Michael's Flags.
In 1844, the Oldham Road terminus of the Manchester–Leeds Railway was abandoned and the line extended through Collyhurst to a new link station at Hunts Bank – the first Victoria Station. A railway viaduct traversed Angel Meadow, whilst the obnoxious smells from the Irk and Irwell and the Gould street gas works darkened the landscape.
The mixture was ladled further by aromas from the tannery, the dyeworks, the iron foundry, the brewery, the tripe works and rotting vegetation from the Smithfield market, all added together with the neighborhood’s fried fish and bad sanitation smells, one would agree that the cauldron of Angel Meadow was indeed a potent brew.—James Stanhope-Brown, Angels from the Meadow
Ragged schools, such as Charter Street and Sharp Street, and other institutes for abandoned, destitute and neglected children, flourished in the area:
Each winter, thousands of poor, helpless children are provided with food, clogs and clothing; and every Sunday morning during the season, hundreds of destitute men and women are served with breakfast; and we try, by God’s help and the bestowal of a word of comfort and cheer, to arouse in them a feeling of hope which may lead them to a higher and noble life.—Ellen Casey, Christmas Appeal 1901 by Thomas Johnson
Alexis Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian, best known for his Democracy in America (two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). In both these works he explored the effects of the rising inequalities in social conditions on the individual and the state in western societies. He visited Manchester in 1835, describing it in his work of the same year Journeys to England And Ireland.
Friedrich Engels was born in 1820 as the son of a successful German industrialist. As a young man his father sent him to England to help manage his cotton-factory in Manchester. Engels was shocked by the poverty in the city and began writing an account that was published as the Condition of the Working Classes in England (1844). His account includes a graphic description of the pauper burial ground at St. Michael's Flags. Engels later collaborated with Karl Marx, which famously resulted in the writing of the Communist Manifesto.
Friends of Angel Meadow (FOAM) was formed in 2004 to campaign for the regeneration of the park and to research the history of the area. Over £200,000 was raised through grants and match funding, which was spent re-landscaping the park, installing street furniture including seating and bins, erecting four solar-powered street lights, an arched entrance way and planting wildflowers.
The Local Heritage Grant of £24,000 paid for six history boards and the publication of an information booklet.
In the spring of 2006, the park hosted the BBC and Manchester Leisure's Springwatch Festival of Nature. Since 2006 it has attained Green Flag Award status, the national award for green spaces in England and Wales.
Oxford Archaeology carried out excavations around the park in 2009 and 2012, revealing the basements of homes and business in the area from the 1800's.
The Royal Geographical Society 'Discovering Britain' series of walks: Slums, Squalor and Salvation guides people around the park and wider neighbourhood.
In August 2012, BBC television broadcast scenes of the area as part of Michael Wood's The Great British Story: A People's History (Episode 8 Industry & Empire).
A second phase of funding for the park has been secured and work should be initiated by 2013. This work will include repairing the Aspin Lane wall and opening up the steps into the park, often referred to as the Lowry Steps (as L S Lowry depicted them in several of his works).
- "St Michael’s Flags and Angel Meadow". The Irk Valley Project. Retrieved 2007-11-05.
- Extract from North and East Manchester article, December 28, 1808
- Makepeace 1984, p. 20
- Angels from the Meadow, by James Stanhope-Brown.
- Extract from article by Ellen Casey – Christmas Appeal 1901 by Thomas Johnson
- "St Michael's and Angel Meadow". Green Flag Award. Retrieved 2007-11-04.[dead link]
- "Everyday People". Lowry. Retrieved 2010-05-09.
- Busteed M. Angel Meadow:The Irish and Cholera in Manchester From Exploring Greater Manchester: A Fieldwork Guide edited by Paul Hindle
Journeys to England And Ireland by (1835) Alexis de Tocqueville
Condition of the Working Classes in England (1844) by Friedrich Engels
25 Years of Detective Life - A Fascinating Account of Crime in Victorian Manchester (1895) by Jerome Caminada
Different Times (2006) by William Kenneth Jones
Fictional accounts using Angel Meadow as a backdrop:
The Manchester Man (1879) Mrs G L Banks
Angel Meadow (1999) by Audrey Howard
Nancy (2011) by William Kenneth Jones
Gangs of Manchester (2008) by Andrew Davies
- Friends of Angel Meadow
- The Guardian article April 24, 2005
- Manchester Evening News article March 22, 2003
- Groundwork Manchester, Salford & Trafford Ltd
- Local Heritage Initiative Website with photos of the FOAM and links to an electronic copy of the history booklet
- The fifth biodiversity hotspot award goes to Angel Meadows