Angel Meadow/Hell Upon Earth

I came across this six-minute video on YouTube and wanted to share it with you people.

Just a few minutes walk from Manchester city centre, Angel Meadow in the 19th Century was anything but heavenly. Under the dark skies of the industrial north, this was one of the city’s worst slums. A London-based journalist, Angus Reach, on visiting it, described it thus:

‘The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel Meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, by those unhappy wretches the ‘low Irish.’

The cellars that he described were situated beneath lodging houses, crammed and overcrowded with the most unfortunate people in the direst of circumstances.

Reach visited one such cellar:

‘The place was dark, except for the glare of a small fire. You could not stand without stooping in the room which might be about twelve feet by eight. There were at least a dozen men, women and children on stools, or squatted on the stone floor, round the fire and the heat and smells were oppressive…the inmates slept huddled on the stones, or on masses of rags, shavings and straw which were littered about. There was nothing like a bedstead in the place.’

Another memorable description by Friedrich Engels in his book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.’ :

‘Such is the Old Town of Manchester, and on re-reading my description, I am forced to admit that instead of being exaggerated, it is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world.

If anyone wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air–and such air!–he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither. True, this is the Old Town, and the people of Manchester emphasise the fact whenever any one mentions to them the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth; but what does that prove? Everything which here arouses horror and indignation is of recent origin, belongs to the industrial epoch.’

I have a few personal connections to this place. My great-grandfather lived in one of the 19th century lodging houses. I have followed his journey, on the 90th anniversary of his death, from the church in which he got married all the way to the soil of Thessaloniki  that now holds his body close to her Greek heart.

Timothy O’Sullivan, an orphan who swapped the hell of the industrial slum for the hell of the first industrialised  war.

When you view this short film, look out for the Tobacco factory-that is where I worked for five years. My mum worked there fifteen years before I did. It has now become an apartment complex.

And of the two ragged schools, my Dad used to play pool downstairs in the Sharp Street one.

Also, St Michael’s flags: These are the mass graves of 40,000 paupers, many the victims of Cholera.The burial ground was unpaved for forty years until it was laid with flagstones.  When my Dad was a kid he used to play football on them. It reminded me of the historical description attributed to a local, Rochdale Road resident:

‘There was at one time a number of gravestones covering the remains of some dear lost ones, but these have been removed and a few are to be seen in some of the cottages….Very often are the bones of the dead exposed and carried away and a human skull has been kicked about for a football on the ground.’

It was many years after the time of this description, but my Dad never did mention what he used for the football.


13 thoughts on “Angel Meadow/Hell Upon Earth

  1. Pingback: Angel Meadow: Hell on Earth | Dolphin

  2. Very powerful images. So hard to imagine living like that. Heartbreaking. All those people who moved to these kinds of industrial powerhouses of cities for the hope of a better life, only to find squalor and illness and misery.


    • That is right. And those who were described as the ‘low Irish’ came fleeing the potato famine. How often, in this built up, polluted hell did they think of the towns and villages which they were desperately forced to abandon?


  3. That was incredible! Thanks for posting this. What horrifying conditions! One hundred and ten people sharing one toilet! Horrible sewage conditions. Forty thousand buried under the ground! The Industrial Revolution did the area no favors I see.


    • And that was just one small area. Five minutes from Angel Meadow is an area called Ancoats, the cradle of the industrial revolution, described as the ‘world’s first industrial suburb.’ It is now a heritage site, next to the canal where some of the old mills are preserved. I have walked around the area a couple of years ago (along with Angel Meadow) noting the streets where many of my ancestors lived, worked and died. Lots of them lived on these streets in the same area, from different branches of my family tree. I often wonder if they knew each other. Maybe at least on nodding terms. It was a curious feeling, walking in their footsteps.
      I shall walk it again some time, maybe take some photographs to put on Jackdaw. I remember one of the mill doors had a handle that was very low down-in reach of the many children who worked long hours in the factories.
      Not sure if you recall my post about the book about the Scuttlers-‘The Gangs Of Manchester’? It was very early on in the days of City Jackdaw. Many of the fighting youths were from these deprived streets.


      • I remember that post, Andy. And I think a follow-up post to this one would be great. It would be nice to hear about your family’s tie to the area.


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