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Blessings undisguised: part three…zzzz…

Submitted by on May 28, 2010 – 11:19 pmNo Comment

Chapel Street and The Crescent is a roadway that should be admired, but instead resides somewhere between ‘desolate’ and ‘promising’. The thoroughfare that leads out of the combined centres of Manchester and Salford hums with history and yet it doesn’t shout about it, half as much as it should anyway.

Some of the buildings are jaw-droppingly lovely, St Philip’s Church, the Catholic Cathedral (me grandma’s fave) and the former Salford Royal Infirmary to name a few. Yet some have been left to deteriorate badly. There is literal history held in two venues of renown – The Working Class Movement Library and the destination for the latest port of call on my tour of things to do for freemans.

Salford Museum and Art Gallery was holding a tour of the building and grounds, so I popped along. But don’t worry lads, after my tour of the building and grounds, I made sure I popped over the road for a pint where Marx and Engels spent many an evening chewing leftover fat. Bada-bada-bing, for the lads, like…

The Museum and Art Gallery sits alongside the beautifully red-bricked Peel building on the University of Salford campus and it’s not a bad- looking structure itself. Built in stages from 1852 to 1987, the building used to be connected to Lark Hill mansion, in the days when there was an exquisite boulevard befitting of the fantastic thoroughfare upon which it sits. This was also one of the locations featured in Looking for Eric.

Several alterations over the years and there is now a mix of old and new, as you would expect. It is even visible at one point, where the brick is slightly redder and less tinged with soot than the rest. The main entrance hosts a stone etching above the door of what was once the Langworthy Art Gallery, named after a former mayor: it proudly states that the gallery was built in 1878. One for the red romantics. The gallery is impressive, despite the decision to paint over the windows in what was one of the first ever examples of sky-lighting in the country.

At the top of the blue stairs is a painting commemorating a part of Manchester’s history. In 1828 Manchester followed the examples of other industrialised European cities, by holding a fancy dress ball. Hundreds of the city’s hoi polloi paid one guinea each to appear in a painting to mark the event, which took place at the Theatre Royal on Peter Street (it would eventually become Discotheque Royale). Luminaries, including Sir Robert Peel, are in the painting. A raffle was held and a Mr Peacock won it and later donated it to the museum as it was too big to put up in his home.

Along the corridor there is an exhibition of Salford memories that includes the fascinating tale of the city’s transformation told by locals in pictures. Here I discovered there was once a man employed by the old Salford Corporation solely to catch rats. Mr Thomas Derbyshire was somewhat proficient in the art and was killing 4,000 a week in the early 1970s.

Downstairs from the galleries is the venue’s most popular destination – a Victorian street. Realistically done up like a street from the Victorian era (hence its name, obviously) you really do get the feeling you’ve gone back in time. If you can ignore the fire exit signs, that is. It has a Victorian pub and a Victorian house and loads of little shops and two post boxes within 20 yards. Would never happen these days would it?

Having seen the pub – in actual fact a ‘beer house’ – I had to go to a real one, so on the conclusion of the tour I crossed the road and went in The Crescent. A public house that screams ‘shithole’ from the outside but is homely and welcoming inside. Loads of decent ales on and steeped in history thanks to those commies Marx and Engels.

Friedrich Engels started drinking with Karl Marx at the Red Dragon, which later changed its name, in the 1860s. By day Engels oversaw his father’s mill in nearby Weaste. At night he would tour the slums, gathering evidence for his seminal work, ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’.  As often as he could afford, Marx would visit from London, and the two would discuss the flaws of capitalism over a pint.

Suitably refreshed I trekked back into town and went along to the FC United Radio-organised band night at Retro Bar on Sackville Street to see Kamal Arafa and The Moonlight Band, Dr Butler’s Hatstand Medicine Band and Pyjama Party. Three bands for £3 and £300 was raised towards that beacon of hope we plan to build in Newton Heath. Three sails, three rivers. Almost poetry…

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