Hulme Mural: From Tranquil Pastures To A High-Rise Age

The 84-foot long mural at Hulme Library is an impressive work of public art which chronicles the history of Hulme from Roman times up until the present. Capturing the constant battle for decent homes, immigration following World War Two and the tumultuous periods of regeneration, the mural is a reminder of the transformation of Hulme across the ages.

The Hulme mural was designed and made by the staff and students of the pottery classes at Adult Education Services, which is currently located in the same building as Hulme Library on Stretford Road.. They originally wanted to make a sculpture to display inside the building but they decided that a mural on the outside wall would have a greater impact. The mural took two years (from 2000-2002) to complete and the history was carefully researched to make the mural factually accurate.

Brigitte Soltau, a local pottery instructor who was involved in the mural, explains why they chose to record the history of the city. “There was a lot of changes happening in Hulme as we were planning the mural. New housing was being built opposite the education centre and we felt that we were in the middle of an important time of change for the community. So recording a longer period of other significant changes for Hulme felt like an obvious subject matter for us.” The mural consists of six panels and is accompanied by a poem commemorating the changes that Hulme has been through.

From Hulme all blessings flow, in this valley there is scope for motion… flowing forwards from tranquil pastures to angry winding rivers…
Hulme received its name from the Norse (Scandinavian) word for a small island surrounded by water or marshland as it was encircled with water on three sides during the time of the Norman invasion of 1066. In fact, Hulme was a separate community from Manchester in the 15th century and was a predominately farming community until the 18th century. This is depicted in the first panel of the mural which shows Hulme as rural community with cottages surrounded by water, trees and nature.

When shadows danced like leaves across childhood…And angel raged across glittery moon… when silver cloud shadowed steel heartbeats…
Industrialisation swept into Hulme in the 18th century when the Bridgewater Canal brought trade into the surrounding neighbourhoods of Castlefield. This is illustrated in the second panel of the mural that shows the expansion of the village into a town with a library, factories, shops and inns. The canal supported the rising textile industry, which boomed at the time, bringing people into the city to work. The number of people living in Hulme multiplied 50-fold in the first half of the 19th century as they flocked to the mills and homes were built rapidly to help accommodate the rising population. However, many of the homes were of extremely low standard and poor sanitation meant that diseases such as cholera were rampant.

The situation got so bad that Manchester Borough Council (now Manchester City Council) passed a law in 1844 banning the construction of any more houses in Hulme. Even so, homes which were more accurately described as slums continued to exist and were inhabited up until the mid 20th century. Hulme’s link to the Rolls-Royce company is also depicted in the mural with a model of the car in the second panel. In 1904, Henry Royce and Charles Stewart Rolls met in the Midland Hotel in central Manchester and decided to start their own company making a unique version of a new invention – the motor car. They opened the first Rolls-Royce factory in Hulme and many nearby streets now commemorate this bit of history, including Royce Road and Rolls Crescent.

Remembering wartime, endless years of hot fire… Safe houses ‘homes fit for heroes’…
The third panel of the mural looks at the Second World War and calls for decent homes following an extended period of austerity as well as the rise in immigration and the development of a multicultural Hulme. There was a concerted effort to clear slums in the post-war period and Hulme’s slums were eventually demolished in the 1960s after local resistance delayed their clearance by a generation. Once again, however, a rush to build the homes meant that they ended up with a unique variant of the high-rise tower blocks named the Crescents. Four sets of curved low-rise buildings, the Crescents were completed in the 1971 and were architecturally based on terraced housing in Bath and Bloomsbury. More than 5,000 housing units had been built in less than eight years and the redevelopment of Hulme was said to be on a scale surpassed only in Rotterdam, Warsaw or Hiroshima.

From the sea, a rush wind blowing…Embers turn to carnival glow, universe spinning strong below our feet…
The fourth panel of the mural is of the annual carnival that paraded through Hulme following the Second World War. Migrants from the West Indies and Asia came to the UK and settled in the large cities such as Manchester and in particular areas such as Rusholme, Moss Side, Cheetham Hill and Hulme. “Immigration after the Second World War had a huge impact on the area and we wanted to show that in a positive sense…” remarks Soltau, who helped to design and make the mural. “The carnival scene was important to us as it showed the resilient and positive aspects of Hulme and I think lots of people had many fond memories of the carnival procession. Loads of local people were involved in the planning of it so we wanted to show that and the creative sense of community during the 70s and 80s, before the redevelopment phase.”

In a high-rise age, in a delicate rage, we do not shrink before them… Demolition like thunder, all ears stiffen to the vast flooding scream…
The fifth panel records the rising concerns around housing, demolition and the regeneration of Hulme in the 1990s. Housing is a recurring issue in the mural and reflects the fact that Hulme became is widely known for its social and economic decline during the 1970s and 80s and (questionably) more successful regeneration in the 1990s. As Soltau explains: “Hulme was re-developed three times in a short period of time, so that means that buildings were razed to the ground three times which is a significant amount of upheaval for such a tiny place. To be wiped out and reinvented that many times over is quite unusual.”

Shortly after residents began moving into the Crescents in 1971, it became apparent that the buildings were poorly designed (cutting Hulme off from the rest of the city), the workmanship of low quality and the houses required a level of maintenance that was not forthcoming. The oil crisis of the 1970s made the homes almost impossible to heat for the low-income residents, families moved out of the Crescents by the 1980s and were replaced by students, artists and travellers as well as drug addicts. The Crescents became notorious for being cold, damp and riddled with cockroaches and crime. In 1977, people living in Hulme were seven times more likely to commit suicide compared to the national average and thirty-one times more likely to be a victim of crime. In 1986, over 59% of adult males in Hulme were unemployed and youth unemployment was recorded at 68%.

The situation got so bad that reports state that “there must have been times when simply abandoning Hulme to the forces of nature would have seemed the easier option.” (cited in Alison Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experiment, 2001, p230). The sense of community and neighbourhood friendliness of the former slums of Hulme had been lost, to be replaced by a huge social and economic problem. Within a decade of their construction, the Crescents were declared unfit for purpose and new plans were under way to try and resolve the issues that they had thrown up.

In the 1990s it was agreed that the best solution to Hulme’s problems was an extensive programme of physical, economic and social regeneration. Manchester City Council secured £7m from central govermment to raze high-rise buildings and replace them with new Housing Association homes. The Hulme City Challenge was also launched in April 1992 with £37.5 million of government money to bring together the various players in Hulme to help regenerate the town. High-rise flats were replaced with better planned homes (both council and privately-owned) and Hulme’s reputation as a socially deprived area declined. Local amenities such as the Zion Arts Centre and the Hulme Community Garden Centre give the area a friendly community atmosphere and illustrate the important role that locals played in turning the city into a unique and desirable area to live in.

Reconstruct an order on the other side of chaos, there is scope for motion, flowing forwards once more…
The sixth and final panel depicts modern day Hulme at the millennium. As Soltau explains, “there have been a lot of questions about the future of Hulme but we didn’t want to end the mural on a negative and pessimistic note as there is a lot to be hopeful for in Hulme.”

Manchester City Council recently announced that Hulme Library was under consideration for closure due to the difficult financial circumstances and will be replaced with either new or alternative provisions. Many have shown concern that if the library closes, the other remaining tenant in the building – the Adult Education Services – will be put under great financial pressure. As Brigitte Soltau explains: “the Adult Education Service have been struggling massively themselves and they’ve been winding down with cuts to staff and courses already so if the library goes, it does make the others future more difficult…
“If both the library and the Adult Education services leave, the issue is what does the council decide to do with the building. If they let it out to another group than all well and good for building and the mural but if they decide not to, than that would be quite worrying because these days it seems that in Hulme one day a building is closed and then the next day its been demolished. That would be extremely worrying for us.” The £20,000 mural is made out of 2 tonnes of clay cannot be removed from the building without damaging it.
Neil MacInnes, Head of Libraries insisted that no final decision has been made on the future of Hulme library and added that the concerns about the mural are being taken into consideration. Comedian Johnny Vegas, who unveiled the mural back in 2002, has backed a public campaign to save the mural from destruction and Soltau and the team behind the mural are attempting to get the public art piece listed by English Heritage. “We built the mural with every intention that it would be there as a lasting tribute to the community and what Hulme is about,” says Soltau. “We want it to always be there as a record of the city’s history.”

Images of the mural by Arwa Aburawa can be seen in this gallery.

The consultation on the libraries in Manchester, including Hulme Library, is running until midnight on Sunday 5th June 2011. To take part log on to www.manchester.gov.uk/libraryconsultation.

Sources:
Ex-Hulme
Alison Ravetz: Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experiment, 2001, Routledge, London.
Cletus Moobela: From Worst Slum to Best Example of Regeneration: Complexity in the Regeneration of Hulme – Manchester’, 2005, International Journal of Emergence, Coherence and Organisations

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Northerners Doing It Down South! Manchester at J18

An article from Do or Die Issue 8. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 13-17. As well as recording the involving of Manchester activists in the J18 anti-capitalist activities in central London on June 18th 1999, the article reflects on failures in the organising process in Manchester itself.

Manchester began organising for June 18th at the beginning of the year [1999], when several people from the EF! [Earth First!] network instigated a June 18th organising group. The first few meetings were relatively well attended by a diverse bunch of people. Early on, the decision was taken not to do an action in Manchester, but to network, publicise and organise transport for the London event.

However, from this point, the J18 group lost focus and all but collapsed. Meetings became increasingly tortuous, numbers attending steadily dwindled, and in the end it was yet again a tiny handful of people from the EF! network who ended up doing most of the J18 work. The attempt to broaden the J18 group out beyond our usual networks failed in Manchester, and it may be interesting to look briefly at why this happened.

One of the reasons the meetings didn’t really work is that the group was operating in a vacuum. We had no idea what sort of event J18 was going to be until only a few weeks before the day. Our only frame of reference was a street party, and we had had it drummed into us that this was not going to be a street party. We had no idea what we were networking for. Even the morning actions were hazy, as we had some vague idea we might need to co-ordinate with other groups around the country, and this didn’t seem to be happening. The group also suffered from lack of a clear remit. Were we planning for a Manchester action on the morning or were we just a networking group? I recall it being totally unclear to all of us involved at first, as to which would be the most effective thing to do in terms of bringing together different Manchester networks both for this action and for future events here.

The group spent ages arguing about different action possibilities, and also the different politics around the event. And this was the final downfall of our group. The accepted wisdom on diversity is that it is a strength. Yet in a group trying to plan around an unknown action, with an unknown random collection of people, with different politics and experience, diversity is a real bind.

I felt particularly hampered by the fact that very few Manchester ‘activists’ (meaning those full/nearly full-time activists coming largely but loosely from the EF! network) got involved with these meetings, or in fact J18 generally. The original J18 group consisted of a tiny handful of ‘us lot’, a few old time anarchos, a few random nutters, a few students, and due to Manchester’s rich leftie history – a fair few revolutionary and reformist left groups/individuals. How do you hope to achieve anything, when in response to “what we think the aims of J18 are”, someone says that “of course, the main aim is good media coverage!” And when someone else says that we should steer clear of putting the word ‘capitalism’ on a poster because lots of people who might want to come to a street party think that capitalism is an okay thing? It became clear that the J18 group could not attempt to organise a Manchester action, and that we’d have to leave that to autonomous groups.

The J18 group would stick to organising transport to the afternoon event, producing publicity, organising trainings and briefings, and managing the money. We could, of course, have gone out to talk to community groups, student groups, grassroots workers groups, workers in struggle, animal rights groups (who, typically of that scene in Manchester, didn’t get involved at all with the exception of some individuals linked with EF!). But the J18 group became about 4 people, all ‘activists’ with tons of other stuff to do, and still without a clue as to what the rest of the activist population of Manchester thought about J18. This same group were the only ones really pushing to get the Manchester EF! network to do anything for the morning of J18, so it was just not possible to do everything. A group squatted the Hacienda as a networking weekend for J18 among other reasons, but the mini-riot resulting from this just gave us more work in court support and very nearly got most of the EF! group nicked, too.

The briefings and public order training went well, and we produced a good little booklet from this, on tips on how to behave in a public order situation, to be given to everyone on our transport. The coach was more than filled, and if people had got round to phoning to book the coach before 8pm on the 17th, we could have fetched many more people down from Manchester.

At the very last minute, four different groups emerging largely from the EF! network did do autonomous actions in the morning – involving blocking roads, bridges and tube lines. Other people from Manchester took part in a Northern Anarchist Network action at the TUC, a fair few went on a Campaign Against The Arms Trade (CAAT) action, a group of students attempted to organise a morning action, some went on the Critical Mass, and others scattered among other different actions.

Most of these actions worked well, but we nearly screwed up our afternoon role, due to being unaware that we even had a crucial role. Either the secrecy was the problem or the last minute arrangements, because someone from Manchester went to London only the previous weekend in order to work this out, and wasn’t told anything really. By the time we managed to find out we had a role (midnight of the 17th) it was way too late to involve anyone other than our small affinity group for a job which required most of Manchester activists. Even at the point of being in the station, only one of us knew anything at all, having been sworn to secrecy. This clearly has the potential for a large fuck-up. I think we need to trust each other a bit more.

And just a final little dig (because of course in general, I felt J18 was inspiring), we must try harder to avoid London centrism. None of the publicity had space for local contacts, and one of the stickers actually didn’t even mention the action was in London, assuming everyone in the country would know which city Liverpool Street station was in. We lacked information from the beginning, and not enough was done soon enough to involve the regions (surely the colonies?) in J18. In Manchester, we shouldn’t have bothered with a J18 group in my view – we couldn’t effectively network and publicise it in advance because we lacked information from London and enthusiasm from activists here, and all the real organising was done in the last two weeks as per usual.

Finally, the after-effects of J18 are still with us. Many of us here felt the day was inspirational, some of us were disappointed we didn’t achieve more, and some were disappointed that J18 wasn’t a much broader alliance than the street party crowd. However, a significant number of people, including some activists from Manchester, said they would never go on an action like J18 again, due to the ‘violence’. We discussed this in our ‘Riotous Assembly‘ activists’ network forum, and had an interesting and amicable discussion.

We may be following the State’s agenda to be discussing the violence – as it deflects from the real issue and the real perpetrators of violence in our society – but in Manchester, if we don’t want to appear like some hardcore exclusive clique who don’t give a toss what some among us think of this, discussion is essential. Moreover, it reminds us that diversity can be not a problem, but a bonus.

This article first appeared in issue 8 (1999) of Do Or Die: Voices from the Ecological Resistance, a periodical associated with movements such as Earth First! and anti-roads campaigns from 1992 to 2003. The editorial collective of Do Or Die puts no restriction on non-commercial use of material from their publications.