Taking stock

It’s a good time to take stock of the potential avenues for further research based on what I have already seen and thought about.

  • Find out more about the history of the woods. Decisions have been made by people in the past about how the land was to be used, what were they? Why was the course of the River Irk altered just after it passes Lever Bridge? The field on the main road that the river looped into hasn’t been built onto, were there plans to? Does it have something to do with flooding? There was a major flood in Middleton in 1927 (two pics below) and then again in 1971. The main road to Middleton along the woods floods when there’s heavy rain and the river bursts its banks.

The photos above show what happened in June this year, when the Irk burst its banks. On the right is the water level in relation to Lever Bridge, a very high increase on normal conditions.

Potential topics: history of the woods; water-way management; uses and dangers of water near residential areas — good for industry, bad for citizens.

  • The relation of Alkrington Hall (the big ‘heawse’, as Lancashire dialect would have it) to the land is obviously important. There’s a picture in Middleton Library’s archive of rye grown on the slope between the hall and Lever Bridge during the second world war. There are also photos that show a lawn and gardens between the front of the hall and a long ornamental pool — that land is now occupied by newer housing. The placement of that pool, and another one nearby, make more sense to me now. After its heyday, the hall was made into bedsits, and more recently into more desirable residences.

Potential topics: social relations between the local gentry and local residents over time; class differences in relationships to the land.

  • Thanks to Katrina Navickas via Twitter, I have some leads for my experiments with drawing in order to understand the woods and local life: Edwin Waugh’s scrapbooks in Manchester Central Library for his work ‘Roads out of Manchester’ (FF 942.73 R 24 Rowbotham collection) and Edwin Butterworth’s sketches. I will look at this work and try to think about what they were doing when they made drawings/paintings. I also discovered these images of Manchester maps via one of Katrina’s tweets, some of them are coloured in interesting ways. Potential topic: different ways of representing spaces in order to understand them.

Here is a sketch — not to scale! — where I just pulled out places close to Alkrington Woods from Katrina’s map of Britain indicating the green places where various political groupings met to hold meetings or drill for demonstrations. I compared the current map with the National Library of Scotland’s OS Six Inch, 1888-1913 map and learned that there was an area called ‘Mountains of Poverty’ near Unsworth Moss, where radicals met on 1 August 1819 to drill before Peterloo!

2016-08-09 14.31.53

  1. Radicals met on a large green at Unsworth Moss to drill on 1 August 1819 before the Peterloo Massacre
  2. Reform meeting attended by radicals at Cronkey Shaw common on 1 March 1817
  3. Radical meeting at Tandle Hill on 5 April 1801
  4. Hampden Club meeting at White Moss on 20 March 1817, after the march of the Blanketeers to London
  5. Weavers’ trade union meeting on Kersal Moor on 25 May 1808. Also popular with the Chartists decades later.
  6. Chartist drilling in a field near Birchen Bower on 24 April 1839
  7. Boggart Hole Clough (PDF), a battleground in 1896 between local people using it for public meetings and the city council who wanted to stop this practice. Several members of the Independent Labour Party were jailed for defying the ban on meetings, and the council eventually backed down.

Wood St, Middleton is the site of the mill that was attacked by Luddites in 1812. The poet Lord Byron, the 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale, gave a speech in the House of Lords on the response to the workers’ rebellion:

Are we aware of our obligations to a mob ! It is the mob that labour in your fields, and serve in your houses— that man your navy, and recruit your army—that have enabled you to defy all the world,—and can also defy you, when neglect and calamity have driven them to despair. You may call the people a mob, but do not forget that a mob too often speaks the sentiments of the people.

  • The Samuel Bamford connection. I’ve mentioned before that I want to think about his relationship to Middleton’s green spaces. Sources: Bamford’s reminiscences, poetry, and letters.
  • Foraging and botany. I’ve collected some wild garlic from the Kitchen Wood and blackberries from other parts of the woods. It would be interesting to find out if that is a practice with a history in this area. I’m interested in local working-class botanists such as those associated with the Manchester School of Botany: Edward Hobson. I remember seeing some archived plant specimens at the University of Manchester; it would be nice to see them again (Reading: Anne Secord, “Science in the pub: artisan botanists in early nineteenth-century Lancashire”, History of Science 32 (1994), 269-315).
  • Natural movement as exercise. I first became aware of this way of exercising via Christopher McDougall’s book Natural Born Heroes. It is an idea that keeps being discovered, representing a shift away from having to use gyms and expensive machinery in favour of using the whole body as a unit and an emphasis on the ability to move skilfully. The natural environment is a big part of that, but so is the urban space, as shown by people taking up parkour. Alkrington Woods are clearly used by local people as a space for exercise, and there is a long history of working-class people getting a lot out of rambling in the surrounding area, both for pleasure and political reasons (e.g., the mass trespass of Kinder Scout).

What I’m finding interesting is that to focus on a single space can take you in many different research directions in terms of subject, and can also lend itself to different modes of representation —writing, drawing, mapping.

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