MANGLE STREET, NQ, 7.04AM

mangle street NQ back piccadilly

MANGLE STREET, NORTHERN QUARTER 7.04AM

Back Piccadilly forms the city centre boundary to this current project. It’s a curious street, like a redundant spine, that more or less runs the length of the Northern Quarter. Around its liason with Oldham Street people perform a peculiar dance as they avoid bumping into one another on the narrow pavement, and vans and lorries block it whilst grumpy men unload goods into the bars, supermarkets and shops that face out onto Piccadilly.

Away from this area though, the lane quickly quietens and has the feel of somewhere that hasn’t been touched in a hundred years. Iron fire escapes rise above and, through windows that tempt you to climb higher, Victorian wall tiles can be seen, and the branches of indifferent trees emerge from lonely walls.

I felt watched from the roof tops and sensed that I was expected to disappear under the cloth of a cumbersome plate camera, rather than prepare my digital equipment for use. I touched the walls of an old warehouse and the bricks were cold and damp. A single street lamp at the bottom of Mangle Street, too much in shadow to be affected by the new day, remained lit long after those on the surrounding streets had been extinguished. I framed my picture to include the incongruous blue arm of a cherry picker, parked and ready to work.

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JERSEY STREET, ANCOATS 6.41AM

jersey street ancoats

JERSEY STREET, ANCOATS 6.41AM

The top of Jersey Street is separated from the creators and new residents of the regenerated Ancoats by a small, humped bridge. In front of the estate that looked towards the flourishing city centre skyline, had been placed a Free School. The grey, fenced in Portakabins caused it to look more like a holding centre for refugees than a place of learning for young children. A man in a hi-vis jacket was patrolling the gate as the early staff arrived and slid in through the gate. Caretakers, when I was at school, simply cleaned and repaired and shouted at us when a ball went near a window.

jersey street ancoats manchester dawn

People were on their way to work and they walked that little bit faster when they saw me perched on low bank of grass, slightly above them. To my left was a canal and behind me an Autumn sky, flushed with pink and melancholy. A man was walking his dog on the parkland between me and the water, dressed like he was ready for a games lesson, in trainers and a scruffy tracksuit.

“It’s like the countryside here” I said. He nodded, but only out of politeness, and shouted at his dog.

I turned towards the old Manchester, and the raised ground I was stood on reminded me of an ancient burial mound.

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RUSTICA, TIB STREET, 7.03AM

rustica tib street manchester

RUSTICA, TIB STREET, 7.03AM

The day before had started chaotically, as my alarm didn’t go off, and a non-committal drizzle had doused the weekend warmth in streets that now seemed disjointed. An old fella in a tweed flat cap, walking slowly and unsteadily with a stick, had stood in the middle of the road and loudly denounced a driver going in the wrong direction up a one way street. There’d also been a small altercation with a young lad in a white van, who decided to double the amount of time he parked in front of a building just because he knew I wanted him to move.

Today, however, a balmy temperature returned a sense of summer to the rained on tarmac and the Autumn trees remained still. I set down my camera opposite Rustica, a daytime take-away that opened long before most of the bars and restaurants now filling aspirational bellies, and waited for them to open up.

The pensioner from yesterday came by again, but this time he stopped to tell me that his name was Harry, he was 87 and he’d lived in the area for nearly forty years. He smiled as I listened to him explain that he was due to move out in a week to a bungalow a mile or so up the road.

“Anyway, what are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m photographing the changes around the area” I replied, and looked at me as if I’d told him I was actually a goat.

“Why, are they knocking things down?”

As he spoke the shutters on the cafe went up, 10 minutes late, and the first customer wandered in. It all felt so sedate, almost as if dawn had been put back half an hour.

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VICTORIA STATION, MANCHESTER 6.47AM

victoria station manchester at dawn

VICTORIA STATION, MANCHESTER 6.47AM

Two nights before there had been the Autumn Equinox, when summer ends and the days tip towards winter. The moon had shone like a torch and was perfectly round, as if it had been drawn by an eager to please schoolboy with a compass. This morning, partly covered by cloud, it had the deflated look of an old leather football that had just been clogged towards touch by an uncultured centre half.

Outside Victoria Station the new roof reminded me of a giant tomato cultivation tunnel but, within the concourse, light was spread evenly and softly, allowing the retained original features to live again. For some reason, though, the station buffet, with its dome and delicious Victorian tiles, contained chairs and tables that could have come from a closing down sale at a service station.

After taking the picture I walked up towards Shudehill and settled near the grey multi-storey car park that borders the old buildings of Thomas Street. A workman walked past, pushing an empty wheelbarrow. He stared at me for a few moments, and then said “There’s no kingfisher’s here mate. Are you trying to catch the missus and the boss?”

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CORNELL STREET, ANCOATS, 6.24AM

cornell street ancoats manchester 6.24 am

CORNELL STREET, ANCOATS, 6.24AM

It felt, on this early Autumn morning, that there was a boldness to the birds singing their dawn songs, and the night sky was showing early pools of blue. Clouds shrugged and melted away, leaving a definite zing in the air. Soon there was a simple, unspoilt blue above me and the day promised to be clear.

I arrived at the bottom of the terraced streets that lie behind the Express building, an Art Deco magnificence that is now begging to be occupied once again with workers. The houses on Anita Street and George Leigh Street have become somewhat famous in the city. They were built, in the late 19th Century, as model houses for the mill workers, with Anita Street being originally known as Sanitary Street. In recent years they’ve been modernised and have become worth good money.

There was still washing hanging in the back yards of some of the houses, and no doubt the TV film crews that throng the area looking for the real North would have loved that. I watched steam belch from boiler vents in the cold air. Someone had their bedroom window open. Ancoats was still and quiet. The shutter on the factory across the road was firmly closed.

It began to cloud over and, behind me, a young, hooded man carrying a holdall jumped over a fence. I wondered if he was an escaping burglar, but he was simply someone off to work who couldn’t be bothered to open the gate.

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PASSIONS, DUCIE STREET, 5.36AM

ducie-street-manchester

PASSIONS, DUCIE STREET, 5.36AM

This morning there was the musk scent of early Autumn. I breathed in deeply, and the air rasped the inside of my nose, causing my nostrils to flare. A softening mist embroiled the warm, enticing lights that illuminated streets as old as the professions that once lined them.

An open doorway at the side of Passions massage parlour, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, revealed stairs leading up to a first floor that appeared to be decorated like a B&Q room set. Electric blue beamed down onto the grey tarmac, providing a sense of hope, energy and life to an area that had seen better times. Outside there stood a jaded looking young man. He wore a large baseball cap slightly skewiff, and clutched a bottle of mineral water, which he necked whilst phoning for a taxi.

The lush colours shimmered in the wet surface of the roads, and the fresh sky revealed tantalising streaks of creamy light from behind a curtain of thick cloud, promising an exciting 20 minutes for me. I moved quickly up and down the street, enjoying the thrill of the moment. But then, much earlier than I’d thought, the lights popped off, instantly puncturing the mystique. In the ordinary daylight, buildings soon revealed the scars of misuse and abandonment.

A pile of rubbish lay outside the brothel, and PC World in the retail park across the way stood emptied and quiet. I was done, and all I could hear was the clanking of heavy metal being dropped to the floor in one of the last working factories in this area.

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RADIUM STREET, ANCOATS, MANCHESTER 5.43AM

radium-street-ancoats-manchester-wing-yip

RADIUM STREET, ANCOATS 5.50AM

My alarm went off at 4am, and a couple of early birds were already chirruping as I turned on the light, causing me to hurry onto the street around 20 minutes later. In the the sky above me, though, there was not even a hint of daylight. For some reason, they’d begun their songs of hope a full hour before the dawn actually arrived, and I felt deceived.

I pulled up my hood against the thumping rain and walked past a stationary car, its fan still frantically fighting the heat of the engine. Inside, a man lay cramped up in the driver’s seat, fast asleep. In the vehicle behind, an unshaven face was lit by the soft, blue glow of a phone screen. I guessed that they were waiting to start work.

I set up in Radium Street opposite the Wing Yip supermarket, and watched a young woman use an HSBC cashpoint. After a minute or so she turned on her heel and threw down a ball of paper, probably a statement, and tapped grumpily on her mobile. It reminded me of the news report that that I’d seen the night before, discussing China’s stock market slide.

I began a Periscope broadcast. Most of the viewers were from the USA, and they wanted to know what I was doing. I told them about Manchester and Ancoats, and how it was once the heart of the industrial revolution, when myriad workers would spend their lives in vast cotton mills. I also explained about the connection with their Civil War, when the city took a stand against the slavery of the southern states and drove itself into real hardship.

Finally, as the rain eased, I showed them the puddled, empty streets, and talked of the area’s decline as manufacturing left the United Kingdom to search for even cheaper labour. The camera settled on some wild meadow flowers that had now overtaken a patch of derelict land. I mentioned to my American audience that the new day seemed to be very reluctant to arrive, and that I’d been waiting for nearly an hour. Someone from Florida then typed “The sun is never late”.

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STORE STREET, PICCADILLY 4.43AM

STORE STREET PICCADILLY MANCHESTER DAWN

STORE STREET, PICCADILLY 4.43AM

When I can see that the dawn will be clear and rain free, I try to look East, where, behind Ancoats, the sky begins its daytime shift soft and golden. As this morning began there was a stillness in the area, at odds with its past and its future intentions.

Here, amongst tatty trees and unruly undergrowth, living is slowly encroaching upon working as factory units begin to quietly retreat, and flats trespass further into what was the heartland of industrial Manchester. Behind, in the distance, was Piccadilly station and the offices surrounding it, the numerous windows reflecting back the new sun at anyone making their way towards the city.

There were no trains across the bridge yet, taking people to and from Manchester. Cars came too quickly down the slope, free as children on an empty road. A man ran across a car park, as if escaping, and saw me. He stopped, put his hand to his mouth and then turned towards where he’d just come from, walking this time, and not looking back, even for a second.

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A PATCH OF GREEN, SWAN STREET 4.29AM

SWAN STREET MANCHESTER NOMO

I wasn’t intending to get up on this morning, but I was awoken by a panic dream, in which I was photographing in Manchester, but it was unrecognisable, and the dawn was taking away the darkness too quickly for me. So, unable to rest my mind, I left my bed and made my way down towards Victoria station.

Along Swan Street two male friends were crossing towards the car park beneath the glowing glass of the new CIS building. One of them was singing “That’s Amore” to his mate so tunelessly that only the words made the song identifiable. He kept leaning in to the other man and grinning, with the expression of someone that had just discovered a bag of money.

I looked away from them, hoping that they wouldn’t be driving, and took in the new roof of Victoria Station which, in my sleepy state, appeared to resemble a giant tomato cultivation tunnel. I set down my tripod. A group of young people passed boasting of the pills that they take on a night out. Not far from me, next to the only patch of green I could see, a homeless man, clearly under the influence of drugs or drink, was sleeping standing up, like a horse. As he moaned in his unconscious state he swayed but never fell. Oddly, despite there being trees, I could hear no bird song as the sunrise filled the office windows around us.

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