History as they say is written by the winners and all too often not by the people who actually helped make it happen. This is why it’s become increasingly important for oral history to be recognised as a viable source of untold stories and perspectives that would otherwise be lost over time.
Our first Oral History event took place on 27th March
where a group of us fought the cold to come together and recollect how our beloved Northern Quarter has changed over the years. Some of us had only been in Manchester for six months, others for decades but we all had some unique story to tell, some unique fact that no one else would have known.
For example, did you know that before it was branded as the Northern Quarter, the area was known as the ‘East Side’ where the sounds of the Ancoats mills accompanied the people who lived and worked here. Although regeneration has taken away some of the evidence, there are still traces of the darkened, smog filled traders’ hub that it once was – and in some ways still is.
Although the focus of the event was on capturing the working history of the Northern Quarter, over the course of the discussion a variety of topics were touched upon – issues about the necessity for broadening the definition of heritage have risen lately due to the likely destruction of some brilliant but overlooked post war buildings; with the ensuing regeneration of other parts of the Northern Quarter and beyond, care has to be taken so that we don’t lose more of the amazing structures that have helped define Manchester. It was a moment of both nostalgia and hopefulness to hear how Manchester has become almost unrecognisable from the post-war era: whilst it’s amazing to think how things have improved, it’s sad to think of what the cost has been.
As the table discussion was underway, one on one recording took place upstairs with Amanda, an anthropologist who is part of the Kinokophone group who have held exhibitions in MadLab, the British Library and more recently in the John Rylands Library. There will be a collective listening session held at the MadLab on the 17th April which will be a chance to hear some of the conversation.
The event has really highlighted the necessity of having such sessions as we briefly explored other untold stories about this area of Manchester: the story of how the South Asian community settled and established itself, some of its members having just fled from the brutal regimes in countries like Uganda. Then there’s the story of the Nigerian connection, already known from the aspect of the batik trade but less well known is the story of how people have been moving from throughout the Empire and later Commonwealth nations into what was the industrial hub of Britannia.
It was afternoon well spent with tea, and delicious cake courtesy of the Oak Street Cafe.Who would have thought that you could find a connection between Abraham Lincoln, the nascent African National Congress, American G.I.’s, seedy comic book stores, real silk and department stores and on top of all that, the connection would be our very own Northern Quarter?
All Our Stories is a brand new small grant programme, launched earlier this year in support of BBC Two’s The Great British Story – and is designed as an opportunity for everyone to get involved in their heritage. With HLF funding and support, community groups are carrying out activities that help people explore, share and celebrate their local heritage.