April 27th, 2005

Angel Meadow

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.


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.