The Ghosts of St. Paul’s

The Ghosts of St Paul’s set out to introduce modern day inventors to their industrial, Victorian counterparts.

Taking Manchester’s Northern Quarter (known at the turn of the 19th century as St Paul’s) as the centre of inquiry – the project investigated the fabric of the city now and then, bringing a modern eye (data mapping, augmented reality, new digital technologies) to traditional forms (still-standing millworkers cottages, police archives, interviews, workshops) in a series of activities carried out by MadLab’s community of artists, engineers and the historically curious.

Map n glasses

MadLab’s HQ has an important past, and is one of only a handful of surviving examples of the surrounding area’s once-characteristic weavers’ cottages – the building next door was featured in a 1970s AJP Taylor BBC Documentary as the epitome of industrial squalor, with 16 people living in a fetid basement. Taylor believed it had been filled with concrete but we have subsequently discovered it was not. Our community of artists and engineers are well-used to looking into the future and building what they see, but the parallel between early industrialists and their modern-day counterparts resonated strongly.  In particular, many were interested in the similarities (the spirit of invention, using cutting-edge technology to transform the world) and the differences  between us and our neighbourhood as it once was.

The audience

Activities were varied:

  • On Engel’s 193rd birthday, celebrated local historian and Blue Badge guide Jonathan Schofield led a public talk and tour of the area – from steam-powered mills and foetid living quarters to one of Engel’s many favoured local drinking dens, complete with opera!*
  • Ye Olde Hack Day brought collaborators from the excellent Cabaret Mechanical Theatre to MadLab for a day of mechanical automata hacking, and Victorian-inspired tinkering.
  • An industrial heritage reading group was set up – covering such seminal books as Elizabeth Gaskill’s Mary Barton.
  • Visits to the Museum of Science & Industry and Victoria & Albert Museums
  • “When the workers in Manchester finished their day at the cotton mills, Penny Gaff was probably the most popular and yet affordable entertainment for the vast working class, besides drinking.” MadLab’s penny gaff theatre night took the form of a screening of community-made short films, past and present, put together especially for the night from regional film archive.

*Many considered Manchester to be Europe’s spiritual home for opera during the industrial revolution.

The Ghosts of St. Paul’s was supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the “All our stories” community programme.

Read more about the project, watch videos and see photographs on Historypin.