Non-fiction: history of a 19th Century Mancunian slum
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I have the paperback of this book, which is worth getting if you're into nicely produced hard copies. Beautifully presented, with a section of old photographs and drawings from the time, in the middle.
Angel Meadow was a slum that evolved in Manchester, near the river Irk, at the time of the Industrial Revolution; once green fields and pastures and hedgerows, the cotton mills and factories brought forth the necessity to house its workers, which soon became 'Victorian Britain's most savage slum'. Eventually, the area was occupied by drunks, tramps, hustlers, prostitutes, pickpockets, and just about every other type of criminal, as well as the people who worked in the mill. Violence, hunger, early pregnancy, infant death and illness were the norm for the people ekeing out an existence, often living in such filthy conditions that it actually turned my stomach to read some parts. Warning: don't read this while eating. I did, alas...
|Picture from the Friends of Angel Meadow website|
The amount of intricate research that has gone into this book is apparent; there is scarcely a stone of the area unwalked, and there are many case histories taken from archives held by various institutions in the area. A couple of reviews have said it relies on sensationalism, but many want to know about and wish to view this sort of historical horror with appalled fascination. I'd like to say that it's unbelievable that thousands of people could be left to live as they did in this so-called civilised country, but it's not surprising, given the social structure of the Victorian age. One thing that I couldn't understand, though, is why anyone stayed in such a living hell; however penniless a person is, surely a better life could have been had roaming the countryside. Maybe some did think that, and left. One teacher said:
"The parents are a disgrace to the city so far as their bodies are concerned. Years of heredity have gifted these animals - for they are as unclean as monkeys, and their gestures and their learning unconscious of shame remind me irresistibly as apes - with peculiar characteristics which it will take a century of proper treatment to remove."
The book is split into chapters such as Family Life, The Cholera Riot, Living Conditions, etc. The result is that it becomes a little repetitive; once you have read about the state of the lavatorial facilities in one group of houses, for instance, you don't really need to read it again, about the next street. However, Dean Kirby has made a spectacularly good job of this book that he began to research after discovering that one of his forefathers had lived there. An achievement, indeed.