Friday, 9 June 2017

Walking the streets of Manchester in 1870 ......... part 2 ........Deansgate and Davenport’ Court "where scarcely a night passes but some robbery is committed”

Now I have to say the stretch of Deansgate from St Mary’s Gate down to Victoria Street Bridge is dismal.

Looking up Deansgate from Victoria Bridge Street, 1988
It starts with that Italian restaurant but pretty quickly becomes just a wall behind which rises that sloping walkway which now goes nowhere.

And the end of that dismal stretch is just the entrance to a car park.   All very different from the impressive Grosvenor Hotel and the Grosvenor Buildings which occupied the same spot but were demolished in 1972.

A full century earlier and the same site was home to the notorious Davenport Court where according to the Manchester Guardian “scarcely a night passes but some robbery is committed ........ and almost under the shadow of the Cathedral tower.”*

The Grosvenor Hotel, 1959
The court was one of those enclosed ones and “entered only by a narrow passage some four or five feet wide.

At the end of this are two houses, used for the most vicious of all trades, and of course registered as common lodging house.”

It was “well known in the police courts and goal.  

Yet for all these houses are still continued on the register as being well ordered, and go on nightly adding to the long calendar of crime and filling the lock wards of our hospitals.” 

Lock hospitals specialized in treating sexually transmitted diseases,

Ours had opened in 1819 and was replaced a by newer one which opened in 1874 off Liverpool Road, on the corner of Duke Street and Bridgewater Street, and while it postdates the Manchester Guardian description it is worth noting that a decade later it was so strapped for cash that “its walls still remain unpainted.”

But according to Mr Lowndes its “doors are always open in the first instance to anyone suffering from the disease for which it treats, but in order to prevent abuse, and to reserve its benefits for the most deserving, no patient is admitted a second time.”**

One wonders where some of those who needed its services a second time went, not that the journalist from the Manchester Guardian.

Davenport Court, 1849
Instead he continued to paint a vivid if depressing picture of life in Davenport Court, referring to one resident “seated by the kitchen fire of one of these houses who was a low browed short haired man, whose muscles and ferocity seemed well matched and who boasted that he ‘never did a day’s work this many a year, and should consider himself a fool,” with a very appropriate adjective ‘if he did.’”

And there was plenty of evidence of violent behaviour and criminal acts upon those who might stray into the court.  Such victims could not expect any help even though they might cry out and were unlikely to catch their assailant who being familiar with the court could vanish in an instant and be out on Deansgate mingling with passersby.

Added to which “at the corner of the entry. Keeping guard over it is a public house filled full to overflowing with wholly drunken men and semi-drunken women, and hard working labourers who are spending on prostitutes hard-earned money for want of which their wives and children are starving at home. 


Davenport Court and surrounding area, 1849
The whistle which gives token of the approach of suspicious-looking strangers, and the intense silence which succeeds it, indicate alike the commerce and the conversation carried on there.

The intruding and unwelcome visitor is greeted with muttered curses and regarded with furtive looks; he may be a ‘plain-clothes man’ taking stock, and too many know what that means to make his advent welcome.”

The pub was the Llangollen Castle which stood directly north of the court and the area was dominted by textile mills, metal working plant and timber yard.


Of course it may well be that our journalist for all sorts of reasons may have over egged the situation, but I doubt it for there are plenty of similar accounts.

That said I shall away and away and trawl the records for any reference to unruly behaviour in the pub and the court.

Victoria Street, 1988
Location; Deansgate

Coming soon; dark secrets and tragedies in Wood Street






Pictures; Victoria Street, 1988, E. Krieger, m 05447, Grosvenor Hotel and the Grosvenor Buildings, L. Kaye, 1959, m49730, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass  and Davenport Court, 1849, from Manchester & Salford OS, Digital Archives Association, http://digitalarchives.co.uk/

*In the Slums, Manchester Guardian, March 3, 1870

**Lock Hospitals and Lock Wards in General Hospitals, Frederick W. Lowndes, 1882, pages 12-14

4 comments:

  1. Victoria Street has always been grim. It features at the beginning of the 1974 horror movie The living dead at the Manchester morgue.

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  2. Do you speak from personal experience PJ?

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  3. I'd rather not say Andrew!

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  4. I shall await the kiss and tell memoirs PK

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