Friday, 23 June 2017

Walkng the streets of Manchester in 1830 in the company of J. T. Slugg and in search of Antonio Preduzzi.

St Ann's Church, 1793
I am on the streets of Manchester in the early 1830s in the company of J T Slugg* and in search of Antonio Preduzzi.

Over the last few days I have been exploring that Italian connection with the city and it has led back from Little Italy in Ancoats at the end of the 19th century  to the Preduzzi brothers who came from Lombardy and settled here in 1810 starting up a series of successful businesses.

They were living in what at the time was reckoned to be one of the most exciting places in Britain and which was talked about  as a model of the new age.

Here could be seem the raw enterprise and keen innovation of the new capitalism reflected in the ever increasing number of cotton mills, dye works and the acres of poorly constructed homes for a workforce which was increasing every day.

And because these men of industry wanted a quicker and cheaper way of transporting their products to and from Liverpool they built a railway which was not just a railway but the first passenger railway using technology which would define how locomotives were built and pretty much set the seal on how a railway would be run.

Of course we all know that behind those smoking power houses of cotton manufacture and great show warehouses there were the mean and narrow streets leading to even meaner and darker courts where little light or fresh air penetrated but which were home to all those who toiled for long hours and little remuneration.

This is that other side of the new way of doing things and was much commentated on by Dr Kay, Dr Gaultier, Frederic Engels and a possession of curious visitors.

And as revealing as these accounts are of the horrors of Manchester they are often paraded at the expense of the more benign descriptions of the city in the 1830s and 40s and for this I have turned to J.T. Slugg who arrived fresh faced and not long out of his teens from Bacup in the March of 1829.

The Infirmary, 1824
Fifty years later he set down his memories of the place which began with a walk up Market Street to Piccadilly and the Infirmary.

Less than a decade before he had arrived in the city this main thoroughfare had still been a narrow way flanked on either side by buildings which dated back a century or more.

These were home to taverns, sweet and bookshops the odd warehouse and a number of coaching offices. And in an age soon to be dominated by the railway it is a fitting reminder that for long distance travel the stage coach was still supreme.

And this was still at a time when “there was a very heavy duty on all kinds of glass, and as a consequence not a single shop-window contained any plate glass, but were composed of small squares of ordinary glass.”**

These would have been the sort of shop fronts that would have been familiar to Antonio and his brother.

He had opened a shop as a picture dealer in Spear Street around 1810, and later moved to Tib Street before settling at 31 Oldham Street. By this time, he was trading as a carver and gilder, and maker of looking glasses and picture frames. Oldham Street in the 1820s was a wide street containing ‘some very elegant shops and houses’.  Antonio's shop was above a confectioner's on the right-hand side from Swan Street.

The Infirmary, 1793
Here he framed and glazed needlework, drawings and pictures; re-gilded and silvered old frames and mirror plates; and made and repaired barometers, thermometers and hydrometers.

He also had premises at 44 Deansgate in the early 1820s and in 1831, to larger premises at 33 Piccadilly, opposite the Infirmary.

Like his previous shop, this one was on the first floor with a flight of steps leading up to it. The shop extended quite a long way back and had two long counters and a little sitting room beyond. There were also workshops on the premises.“***

This placed him in a prime position  which he shared with a few other shops, some rather fine houses and the offices of the Manchester and Salford Waterworks Company which supplied the town with its drinking water.

33 Picadilly, the shop of Preduzzi & Co
Directly opposite was the Infirmary which “was a plain brick building  [and also] included the lunatic asylum.  Infrontwas the sheet of water known as the Infirmary Pond, separated from the footpath by palisading.  

At the Infirmary gates stood the public baths, the income arising from them being appropriated to the support of the Infirmary.  

The charge for the cold bath to non subscribers was 1s.; to subscribers of half-a-guinea, 10d.; and to those of a guinea, 9d.  

The price of a vapour bath was 5s; of a vapour and hot bath when used together, 6s.; and of the shampooing bath, 7s.”****

And while we are familiar with the huge show warehouses like S & J Watts on Portland Street which were built expressly to showcase the products of our textile mills, there was not a “single warehouse in either of these streets, Mosley Street, Portland Street, Peter Street, Oxford Road or Dickenson Street” but soon enough they would make their appearance at the cost of hundred of buildings in the neighbourhood which would be destroyed.

I don’t know what Antonio made of these changes which were transforming his adopted city.  When he had arrived in 1810 it was still possible to walk in to open fields just a short way along Oldham Road while to the south all of Hulme, Moss Side and Chorlton on Medlock were pleasant open space.

And yet by his death in the Chorlton Workhouse in 1846 great swathes of these spaces were the preserve of terraced houses, cotton mills and dye works.

Pictures;St Anne's Church and Manchester Infirmary from the Laurent map 1793, 33 Piccadilly and the Infirmary from the 1844 OS of Manchester & Salford, by permission of Digital Archives, the buildings opposite the infirmary including the premise of Peduzzi & Co, 1824, m5291, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council  

*J.T. Slugg, Reminiscenes of Manchester, 1881
** Slugg, chapter 1
*** Collections Department, Museum of Science & Industry
**** Slugg, chapter 1

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