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To the world it was Cottonopolis, but real Mancs know it as Town
Welcome to my newsletter telling stories from the backstreets of Victorian Manchester
Alright our kid?
Welcome to my newsletter about working class life in Victorian Manchester. I’m Dean Kirby and I’m an award-winning journalist and urban historian exploring and writing about the grimy backstreets of the world’s first industrial city.
I’ll be the first to admit that sounds a bit off the wall, so let me tell you briefly how I got here.
Over a decade ago, while researching my family history, I discovered that my Victorian forefather had been among the 30,000 souls who lived in one of the most notorious of Manchester’s historic slums — the ironically named district of Angel Meadow.
He was a farm labourer called William Kirby who washed up in Manchester — the world’s first industrial city — after fleeing the wild west coast of Ireland following the Great Famine and became a cellar dweller.
As I searched in the archives at Manchester Central Library for clues about his life, I became increasingly astonished by his battle for survival that led, more than a century later, to my own existence in the city that he had helped to create.
In February 2012, archaeologists lifted the concrete in a carpark in Angel Meadow and made a surprising discovery — William’s home. Old fire insurance maps, rate books and citizens’ rolls helped me identify his two storey house as one of the four remains they had unearthed.
The discovery inspired me to write a best-selling book about Angel Meadow which was published in 2016. That would have been enough Victorian squalor for most people, but for me it was only the start.
Talks and tours followed and I went on to spend six years making an even deeper dive into Manchester’s former slums by completing a PhD in urban history last year at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Angel Meadow, as you probably guessed, was the subject of my thesis.
So that brings me to the here and now, and also, I should say, to you. My idea for starting this newsletter is to continue keeping alive the stories of the Mancunians who lived at the northern edge of the nineteenth century city, not only in Angel Meadow but also in nearby Ancoats where I also have family roots, as well as the Northern Quarter. We’ll explore other areas as we go along.
My newsletter will be so much more than a list of dates and facts (history doesn’t have to be boring). In each newsletter, I’ll tell you a story from the Victorian city. It could be about a character, an incident or an aspect of working class life. My aim is to try to tell these stories well and make them an enjoyable read, while also sharing some insights from my academic research.
I’ll also be showing you some of the things I’ve collected over the years, talk about my discoveries in the archives, and offer a few tips for anyone who needs help researching their own Mancunian ancestors. I’d really like to hear your own family stories too and if you have any old photos to share with other readers, then so much the better.
My big hope is that we can create a community where we can discuss the history of one of the world’s greatest cities over a cuppa. Perhaps we can all collaborate on a history project one day. So, thanks for joining me on this journey through the streets of Victorian Manchester. Let’s see what we can find.