Friday, 18 March 2016

On Gun Street in Ancoats looking for Little Italy in the spring of 1881


I am back in what was Little Italy in the April of 1881.*  

To be exact I am on the small stretch of Gun Street which runs from Blossom Street down to George Leigh Street.

Opposite; Gun Street is the very narrow street in the centre of this detail from the OS map of Manchester & Salford in 1844

It is pretty much a forgotten place just behind Great Ancoats Street and very much ripe for redevelopment.
There are some new properties going up but they stand beside the relics of the past.

But once it was densely occupied home to a cross section of people who made their living from a range of manual occupations, including street hawking, engineering and textiles.

By the late 19th century and well into the next, it was at the heart of our Italian community and become known as Little Italy**

Here not only could you have heard the accents of the northern sea port of Genova but also the very different dialect of Naples and for good measure in the surrounding houses contained within the space of Blossom Street, Jersey Street, Henry Street and Cotton Street there would have been those who came from Milan, and Turin as well as the rural areas down south.

There were 125 of them on this small stretch of Gun Street living in just 20 houses.

It was a very mixed community.  42% had been born in Manchester, another 11% came from Ireland and the odd few were from as far away as Scotland, London and Birmingham.  The rest and this amounted to nearly a third had come from Italy and mainly from Genova and Naples.

They lived in just four houses.  Some were related others just renting space but in most cases they all came from the same place.

Opposite; Gun Street from Bloom Street, looking towards George Leigh Street, 1901

They were mainly musicians with a few earning a living from making and selling ice cream and most were unmarried and in their early 20s or 30s.  So of the entire working population in our little stretch of Gun Street, 47% were musicians and nearly 8% made and sold ice cream

Walking down Gun Street I am always struck at how narrow the place is but even standing there I am not really prepared for how cramped it must have been or how densely occupied were the properties.  One fifth of the houses contained between 10 and 23 people.


OppositeGun Street from Bloom Street, looking towards George Leigh Street, 2010

Location; Ancoats, Manchester



Pictures; Gun Street from the OS map of Manchester & Salford 1844, courtesy of Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.co.uk/ Gun Street from Blossom Street in 1901, A Bradburn, m11341 courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and Gun Street from Blossom Street 2010 from the collection of Andrew Simpson, data for graph from the 1881 census, Enu 4, Ancoats, Manchester









*The area bounded by Gun Street, Blossom Street, Jersey Street, Henry Street and Cotton Street.
**Littele Italy,  http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Little%20Italy

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