This is the most radical street in Manchester history, in my opinion.
In April 2017, I took a field trip around Ancoats and Miles Platting, north Manchester, to investigate some of the sites of protest and popular politics that I researched for my previous book, Protest & the Politics of Space and Place, 1789-1848.
My final destination was Osborne Street, formerly known as Cropper Street, a place that I wrote about as a ‘locale’ in my book, and which I’m still obsessed with.
This blog post is a quick recap of what I’ve already found out. I’ll update with new posts soon with new research.
Situated off Oldham Road on the boundary with Miles Platting, Cropper Street was one of a couple of strings of terraces erected on a building ground (from the maps sometime around 1812) still surrounded by fields and a coal pit, and thus somewhat isolated from the centre.
The streets feel isolated because they’re still set apart from the other terraces in the rest of north Manchester and Miles Platting, and they border the scrubby St George’s Fields, which look out onto St Patrick’s RC church and views of the ever-increasing towers of central Manchester.
From an ad in the paper selling two houses in 1843, it looks like the leases began in January 1817, and were described as ‘very substantially built, have large house place and kitchen, two large bedrooms and are let at three shillings a week each’.
This 1824 map shows some sort of landscaped park off Back Cropper Street, though I’m not sure what this was yet or who owned it. It’s gone by 1836.
As part of an Improvement Act of 1845, the improvement committee changed the name from Cropper Street to Osborne Street, which it remains today.
Manchester Courier, 9 August 1845.
Then followed also a court case between the Corporation and the main landowner, Edmund Buckley, ‘a gentleman of considerable property’, who refused to pave and sweep the street, arguing that it was the Corporation’s job. Manchester Times 21 August 1846.
From the 1838 land tax records (see below), he owned at least 10 properties on the street (though this may have increased by 1846 – I need to check).
The streets were bisected by two railway lines (Manchester railway, and the Liverpool and Leeds railway) in the early 1840s , which made the community even more cut off. The old Manchester railway line is now a weirdly chopped off section of viaduct, which stops on New Allen Street near the start of Cropper Street. This gives the area a somewhat post-industrial abandoned feel, with the arches of the viaduct serving as the usual repository of old mattresses and after-dark dealings.
See also the first railway act, Geo IV 7 c.xcix, An Act for making and maintaining a Railway or Tramroad from Manchester to Oldham, with a Branch from Failsworth Pole to or near to Dry Clough in the Township of Royton, all in the County Palatine of Lancaster. [26th May 1826.]
The renowned urban historian H. J. Dyos wrote about the impact of railways on reinforcing poverty over time in Victorian London, especially in sites that were cut off by ‘tourniquets’ of lines:
The most general explanation for slum tendencies in particular places is that, without the kind of general control on the spatial development of the city that might have been given, say, by a rectilinear grid, there were bound to be innumerable dead ends and backwaters in the street plan…
A more careful reading of Booth’s maps would show how some additions to the street plan – a dock, say, or a canal, a railway line or a new street – frequently reinforced these tendencies….
They all acted like tourniquets applied too long, and below them a gangrene almost invariably set in. The actual age of houses seldom had much to do with it and it was sometimes possible to run through the complete declension from meadow to slum in a single generation, or even less.
First attempt at a 3D rendering. I will add the occupiers once I work out the street numbers properly:
Link to a 1915 photograph from Manchester Images Collection: http://images.manchester.gov.uk/web/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=26973&reftable=ecatalogue&refirn=59278
I will add the valuation key asap (when I find it – the National Archives indexes IR 58 for IR 133 are hard to navigate!)
The 1818 ratebook listed 83 houses on the street, with a population of around 600. There is also a Back Cropper Street. Most households had only one family, with perhaps a couple of lodgers: that is, these were not overcrowded slums quite yet.
1838 Land Tax records: Manchester Archives, M9/50/45, District 1, Oldham Road – Cropper Street and Back Cropper Street
1841 census entries, HO 107/574/8
Occupational breakdown of heads of households:
46% of the heads of households of Cropper Street, Back Cropper Street and adjoining Pump Street, were cotton weavers. 17 out of the 56 households on Cropper Street had Irish heads of household.
By the 1841 census, over-crowding, particularly of Irish, is evident.
This one house somewhere in the middle (annoyingly the 1841 census didn’t number the houses, but it was probably hard to do so with all the courts and cellars), had a 75-year old Irish cotton weaver, George Jordan, as head of household, two male relations Christopher (c.45) and Peter (c.15) (son and grandson?) and then 13 other people, including some more Jordans, and one other family, in the same house.
The site was presumably flattened during the post-war slum clearance programme, and these new houses built by the council. I need to find out more about this.
Of course I found a Lucy’s electrical box on New Allen Street, my main touchstone for wherever I go.
I will be writing why this was the most radical street in Manchester in the next installment…