The Phantom of the Angel Meadow

The Gangs of Manchester by Andrew Davies

I bought this book for Chris’ birthday last year. He has a deep appreciation of Manchester, which I happily adopted. I think I have learned from him to feel more in tune with the vibration of history flowing through the place. This year I picked it up a bit after the riots.

The book is a well-reported and documented series of events starting somewhere around the 1860s focused around violent incidents in Manchester and the Greater Manchester Area. In between the court appearances and the lists of people injured in scuttling events, there is a rich insight into the tumultuous Mancunian life. It was good to read this book while groups from many fields spent time explaining the social, economical and psychological circumstances which drive people from all type of financial and social classes to commit illegal acts. This was as part of the riots during this years’ summer. A hundred and more years ago gangs would produce the same type of analysis and lack of understanding. Of course the context was much more different considering the quality of life as we see it now was a luxury for the average working family.

The general opinion was that the only way to diminish gang activity and scuttling would be through sentences in a place that looked like a thriller movie set, Strangeways prison, and medieval punishments such as The Cat kept making a comeback for brief periods of time. But even prison or physical punishment wouldn’t show signs of bringing peace to the streets. Some of the stories were heartbreaking as young people were seriously hurt or dying in fights sometimes as active parts sometimes just innocently being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The press and people who wouldn’t live in working neighbourhoods would not want to even walk through these areas. Very few journalists ventured to try and see how the working class worked and lived.

Some of the young scuttlers ended up being soldiers and channelling all that energy in a more legally acceptable framework. After hundreds of years of generations of warriors it is no surprise that the instinct of being part of a group/gang/army or another association that has to fight, could not just disappear from one generation to another. Well not without channelling that energy towards a more serene self, which I doubt was the focus during the boom of the industrial period. The introduction of youth clubs and the increasing popularity of football potentially improved the situation. No wonder football produces such passion. With such a rich history of bringing people together, people push their loyalties sometimes to violent extremes.

The area where we live now used to be one of the most dangerous areas in Manchester and ironically is called The Angel Meadow. The book cover has the photos of three young scuttlers. Their demeanour is hard, elegant, and way to serious for their age. Sometimes I imagine them around our streets and wonder what would they think if they would see the huge Coopertative building taking over their fighting ground. It is still incredible to walk around parts of Manchester which have some of the Mills, Warehouses or the old working houses mingled in between independent, cool and sometimes hipster stores and coffeshops. It is a beautiful mix of present and past all washed away by a quick rain.

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