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Tony Grist

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Angel Meadow [Apr. 27th, 2005|09:24 am]
Tony Grist

There's a park about half a mile outside Manchester City Centre, sandwiched between the railway lines and a nondescript area of old Victorian buildings and run-down business premises. It was a grim, melancholy place, dark green and weedy and just the place to go gathering mandrakes- that is if you knew what a mandrake looked like. Part of it had been used one time as a football pitch and the surface was clinker with weeds and self-sown laburnums pushing through. Elsewhere there were 18th century gravestones lying flat to the ground. No-one much visited it. I knew nothing of its history and I was very fond of it.

I figured it was mine all mine and I put it in this poem.

CITY PARK

In a city park with leggy shrubs
I read the epitaphs of children.
18th century, pre-all this,
From a time when the park was an out of town graveyard.
Six years, four years, nine months old-
And the parents, baffled by hierarchy,
Express their gratitude to God.
Although there are benches along the path
With a spacious view across the vale
To warehouses and her Majesty’s prison
(Noble Victorian structures all)
It seems that none of the office workers
Want to come down here to eat their lunch.

I'm talking about it in the past tense because it is no more. Or rather they've had the developers in and spent a couple of million quid on renovating it for the pleasure of the young professionals and business types who are moving into the new apartment buildings that are being built alongside. So now there are shrubs and water features and smooth green lawns. And because of the publicity I now know something of its history. It has a name- Angel Meadow- and it used to be at the heart of Manchester's most notorious slum- a place so nasty and murderous and depraved that well-informed observers reckoned it was worse than London's Whitechapel- where Jack the Ripper went about his business. Teachers at the Ragged School (which is still standing) used to need a police escort to get them to and from work.

And Dickens was there briefly, gathering material for Hard Times.

The park itself is a burying ground. And how! There may be 17th century plague pits there. What's certain is that it's where they shovelled in the victims of the 19th century cholera epidemics. Ah, no wonder it feels the way it does.

Correction: felt. I haven't been back since it reopened. I must go. And take my camera with me. I want to find out if they've managed to exorcise it with their bulldozers.

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Comments:
From: manfalling
2005-04-27 02:47 am (UTC)
is it anywhere near where we found that weird car park in the middle of nowhere, and went abandoned warehouse visiting?

always weird to think about buried history, eh? our modern world is just a makeover covering up all this bad stuff we forgo.

that was my favourite part of gangs of new york, incidentally. the end, where we're looking at caprio's grave, and the city changes and the graveyard grows old with weeds, and he says in voiceover- '...... so that no-one will ever know we passed this way before'

cue U2 and 'the hands that built america'.
awesome.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-04-27 03:52 am (UTC)
It's the same general area.

Where we were was mainly around the railway tracks, but the abandoned rubber goods factory (which they've gone and demolished now) was almost certainly in Angel Meadow.

I'm fascinated by buried history.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-04-27 05:53 am (UTC)
"Water features" above cholera pits.

Fascinating that people didn't seem to want to be in that place. I wonder what the inhabitants of the new apartment buildings will experience there?

I lived for a time in a Victorian-era house that had once been a fine house in Knoxville, but had been divided up into an apartment house for college students. My husband and I lived in the servants quarters for $40 a month. The place had been rewired but still had the original gas lamps in the walls. Our entire heat consisted of a small coal-buring open fireplace in the bedroom.

There was a closet in that bedroom that, for no reason I could understand, felt malevolent to me.

Maybe it was because there was bare dirt and a furnace area behind it (we'd explored, my husband and I), or maybe it was displaced misery over my already gloomy marriage (we were both 21 at the time, and had only been married one year), but I couldn't go near that closet, even in the daytime.

I felt ridiculous about it, even ashamed of my immaturity, but I got so I'd stay away from the room as much as possible, and even from the apartment. When Richard was home with me, it wasn't much better.

When I told him about my fears, Richard looked all around the closet, inside and out, with a flashlight and thought he found a bullet hole in the door, but I had and have my doubts.

How relieved I was when we left! And I'll never know if I was scared of the closet or my husband.

--
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-04-27 07:52 am (UTC)
When I was a child I was terrified of our dining room. We only used it on special occasions and there was a cold air that breathed out of it.

Was I being silly, or had something horrid happened in there?

The house was 20 years old (or thereabouts) an unexceptional pre-war detached property.

It takes a long, long time for bad vibes to fade from a site (as one learns from reading Holzer et al.) We were house-hunting once and one of the houses that interested us had been built over a path that led to a 17th century plague pit. We were told that sometimes men in black cloaks traipsed through the living room carrying corpses.

I'd love to have a house with that sort of aura.

Or would I?
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-04-27 08:13 am (UTC)
My daughter worked with a woman who'd bought a very ordinary ranch-style house that was built in the 70s, and the old man who had always lived in it was still living but had alzheimers.

One night the woman woke (not too long after moving in, if I remember the story right) because she felt someone in the room with her (and her husband, who slept on).

There was an old man in the doorway, wearing pajamas. He walked down the hallway, looking baffled (I don't want to mess with the true recounting, but I think they'd redone the place, made something into a den--) and at that point he turned back toward her and she (I certainly understand!) dived under the covers like a child, and probably grabbed her husband and PUNCHED him awake!

At the time she knew my daughter, I think she'd seen the old man twice, and it did not feel like a dream, but seemed real to her.

Of course, it could have been halfway-to-dreaming.

But: what if it did happen? What does this say about Alzheimers? About the wandering mind, fleeing its fragile braincasing?

Can a person haunt a place while still living?

As for owning a house with corpse bearers walking through the living room: Deliver me, O God!

I would soon be with them, traipsing along in the line, dead from fright.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-04-27 08:30 am (UTC)
Yeah, but the corpse-bearers wouldn't have been "real" ghosts, more like imprints on the ether.

I think it's entirely possible to haunt a place while still alive. I remember a story about a house that was haunted by the "ghost" of a small child who used to run about the rooms having a high old time. One day the owners had a visit from an old man who had lived in the place when he was a boy. As he was leaving he said, "happy memories; you know I often dream that I'm back here, playing with my sister...."
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-04-27 08:37 am (UTC)
What a wonderful story!

If it's true that emotions leave imprints, then I suppose the people living in the cottage by the bay where my marriage ended could be haunted by me.

I'd be sitting in the bedroom and wringing my hands day after day!

I wonder: if they were to ask me something, would I answer?

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-04-27 09:16 am (UTC)
What an intriguing thought. But I don't believe imprints are capable of interacting with observers.

There's a famous imprint in a cellar in York- where people have seen a troop of Roman soldiers come marching out of a wall.

Oh, and here's another ghost of the living. The poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti visited his friend William Bell Scott at Penkill Castle Northumberland. He stayed a while, then left and for several weeks afterwards his friends could hear him pacing about his former bedroom reciting verse to himself.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2005-04-27 06:02 am (UTC)

Park improvements

You may find yourself enjoying/admiring the improvements while at the same time mourning the loss of your "secret place."

There were scraps of industrial riverfront wasteland between the railway tracks and the Schuylkill River here in Philadelphia. We used to hang out there in the 'Sixties; and when I returned to the city in the 'Nineties my husband and I enjoyed riding our bikes in the impromptu trail made by homeless folk, fisherfolk, and folk like us. Now it's a real park, the City Fathers having excised the allee of mulberry trees and replaced with turf, lighting, and an asphalt multi-use trail that's as crowded or more so than many Center City sidewalks.

In many ways it's an improvement, but in other ways I liked it better when it was a Secret Place.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-04-27 07:57 am (UTC)

Re: Park improvements

There's a strip of ground near us that has recently been "improved". It used to be meadowland with random wild flowers and an unofficial path winding through it. Now its been properly landscaped and the path is asphalt.

I'm pleased and not pleased. It's nice that it's being cared for, but there's been a loss of character.
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