Monday, 17 October 2016

Lost and forgotten streets of Manchester ...... nu 67 walking down Gun Street in 1851

Now this is another one of the walks I would like to have taken in the spring of 1851.

It would have started just past New Cross, where Great Ancoats Street joined Oldham Road and Swan Street and running from Bond Street, crossed George Street, Blossom Street and finished at Jersey Street.

It is still there today, a narrow street, dominated by tall modern buildings a few workshops which long ago lost any entrances onto the road and some open spaces.

In total I don’t suppose it would have taken more than five minutes to walk its length in the 1850s, but in that short time there would have been all that the curious spectator might have wanted to observe.

For here were small terraced properties, the dark and secretive courts hidden from view and plenty of pubs and beer shops.

Gun Street in 1901
Here too was a cross section of the city’s working population from skilled journeyman to shop keeper, textile worker and a heap of unskilled labour.  And reminding us that Manchester still moved courtesy of the horse Gun Street had a blacksmith.  Perhaps even more surprising was that in that year of 1851 there was still a handloom weaver and an agricultural labourer.

In total there were 384 people living in just 63 houses with some crammed into the cellars.  The rents ranged from 1 shilling 6d to 4 shillings and 6d when a factory girl might earn between 7 and 9 shillings, a week a labourer 18 shillings and a police constable 20 shillings.

And along that short street you could have heard the accents of the rural north as well as London, and the Midlands but dominating all would have been that of the Irish, for here amongst our 384 inhabitants were 235 from Ireland and only 125 from Manchester.**

And as you would expect there is much more than we could uncover, from poor sanitation, adulterated food, the large numbers of pubs and beer shops and those dark and secretive courts hidden from view.

But all that is for later.  Instead I shall leave you with the thought that had you tired of Gun Street and returned to New Cross you chanced at best a rowdy noisy meeting place and at worst a venue for popular discontent.

For most of the last half century, there had been protests and like that of April 1812 in Oldham Road at New Cross when a food cart carrying food for sale at the markets in Shudehill was stopped and its load carried off.

Nearby shops were also attacked and looted.  The mob was eventually dispersed by soldiers but only as far as Middleton.  There they met with an assembly of handloom weavers, miners and out of work factory operatives gathered to protest against the introduction of power loom machinery at Barton and Sons weaving mill.

The mob which had grown to 2000, was dispersed by “A party of soldiers , horse and foot, from Manchester arriving, pursued those misguided people, some of whom made a feeble stand; but here again death was the consequence, five of them being shot and many severely wounded.”    

While after the events at Peterloo in 1819 the military and the local police patrolled the streets like some occupying force, and in the early evening with tensions still high a large crowd gathered at New Cross.

Gun Street in 2011
Some of the crowd began throwing stones at the police and soldiers opened fire.  Before the crowd had dispersed, Joseph Ashworthy had been killed and several others lay injured.  Not surprisingly many of those injured in this event came from that close network of streets around Gun Street.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; part of Gun Street from the OS map of Manchester, 1842-44, courtesy of Digital Archives Association, Gun Street from Blossom Street, A Bradburn, 1901  M11341, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and Gun Street from Blossom Street 2011, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Rate Books
**1851 census

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