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Blessings undisguised: part one

Submitted by on May 26, 2010 – 10:00 amOne Comment

Due to circumstances beyond my control I have found myself without work recently. Not wanting to fulfil the lifestyle choices shared by many on my housing scheme, I took the advice of my uncle Bob who recommended I get up at normal time and do something different everyday. And all for freemans.

I have therefore taken to rediscovering the city of my existence with a long walk into town each morning and visits to places I really should have spent more time at throughout my life. The neglected treasures that make Manchester so wonderful and map out the city’s rich and varied history. The places we are rightly proud of, but perhaps ignore and walk past because we either can’t be arsed entering or we promise ourselves, unconvincingly, that we will do so another day.

We have so many cultural gems on our doorstep and it would be a sin to sit about sulking at home all day when I could be out and about lapping up it all up. Although, remaining resplendent in pyjamas and spending the day spliff-gobbed, like my neighbours, may actually appeal eventually should my enforced absence continue, for now I am feeling almost fulfilled and I’m not even making Christmas cards for the mentally ill.

My first port of call on Monday was Manchester Cathedral. I’ve never really paid attention to the magnificent structure sat at the end of Deansgate and staring across the river at Salford. Maybe it’s because, as my lovely late grandma would say, it’s for ‘the other lot’. But it’s a shame to allow religious divisions to prevent you from enjoying something so joyous. I had a wander round. There are many displays within, including one proudly extolling the cathedral’s participation in the anti-racist Hope not Hate campaign.

And, as you would expect from a structure dating back to the eighth century, there are artefacts dripping in history. One such item, called the Angel Stone, proves there was a church on the site in Saxon times. It was discovered embedded in the wall of the original South Porch of the cathedral in the 19th century.

On the seat hinges there are a number of pieces of what can best be described as mini-art works. Hidden on the underside of these seats are carvings of medieval tales and legends, called misericords. The cathedral tour leaders would have us believe these are among the finest in Europe. They typically depict a moral to a story – one shows a woman scolding a man with a cooking pot, which is thought to be a warning to careless husbands. I tried to take a picture of one but couldn’t get the angle right and was very wary of the fact I was on my hands and knees while a school trip was attempting to hurdle me and teachers were giving me strange looks as my arse stuck in the air baboon-like. God save the children.

While at the cathedral I discovered one of my pastimes for the following day and was also psychologically elbowed into the path of the next port of call.

Onwards to Chetham’s Library I went. To my ultimate shame, I had never previously paid a visit to the world’s oldest public library. Hidden among the bigger buildings housing the Chetham’s School of Music, the whole complex, shadowed by the modern Urbis museum, offers an almost unrivalled opportunity to glimpse back in time.

The building dates back to 1421 and is made from sandstone quarried in Collyhurst. The site was once the largest in medieval Manchester, containing a bakehouse, brewery and stables. Textile merchant Humphrey Chetham founded the library in 1653 and also played a part in the setting up of a school on the site for 40 poor boys. This is now the world famous music school.

Once inside it is immediate how old sits among new as the cars and tennis courts lay alongside the medieval buildings that still, miraculously, stand as they did nearly 600 years ago. Walking into the library is akin to how I expect it to be like entering a castle in the days of King Arthur. It’s worth sitting in the reading room even if you’re not reading. In fact I’d venture that you could just stare at the walls, like I did for about 20 minutes. Christmas cards…

There is currently an exhibition called ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’. It is described thus: “…early printed books, through original paintings, prints and engravings to local novels, penny dreadfuls, children’s books and jobbing printing. It includes beer mats, cartoons, handkerchiefs and postcards as well as books made by some of the greatest writers and book artists of all time…”

It contains some excellent political leaflets and other propaganda, including the Edwardian anti-Tory handbill, which features the postcard I used as the main picture with this article.

There was also a map of Manchester city centre from 1889 detailing all the beer houses and other establishments that sold alcohol. According to this map, printed in the Manchester Guardian of the time, there were 1,323 beer houses, 484 hotels and public houses, 392 places where beer could be bought to be consumed off the premises and 283 places where beer could be bought to be consumed on the premises. Staggering figures. And lots of them at lasties, probably.

Furthermore, when Rusholme, Bradford and Harpurhey were brought within the city boundaries the number of establishments selling booze was said to be 2,606. Imagine having the job of counting them all, hic…

I bid farewell to Chetham’s and went to sample an ale at one of those beer houses nearby. I planned Tuesday’s itinerary as I braved the searing sun, sipped my pint and wiped the froth from my top lip. Not wanting you workers to feel jealous or anything…

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