From top The Hacienda apartments, Manchester former home of the iconic nightclub of the same name; David Langwallner
I am presently doing a profoundly serious case, the sort of case that is an emblem of the social disintegration of our time, in Manchester Crown Court, though there are two crown courts. The old courts are in Minshull Street.
The history of the street near the historic centre says a lot about Manchester, as the heir to the Minshull fortune, at 65, married Roger Aytoun at the races in Salford, and after her death he used her fortune to fund a regiment. The two streets in celebration of dead lovers now parallel each other as you walk out of the court.
Manchester is a city of commerce and always has been. A Northern citadel. It is in effect The Chicago of the UK. The second great city of England. A short tram ride from Minshull Street is Salford where there is, among other things, The Lowry Museum.
LS Lowry is a great painter of the permanent semi-depression of the North whose wonderful miniatures portray the matchstick men and women and cats and dogs of that era and beyond and seem curiously relevant to our age. It is the capturing of the ordinary pleasures, the simplicity and the abruptness, including sudden death of working-class existence that Is so remarkable and that now perhaps include middle class existence. Sudden death in Covid time like a fog enveloping. And not just Manchester. Though one feels it sharply here. Particularly at night.
The Salford area where the museum is located is also the historic home of John Cooper Clark, alive and well and living in Chelmsford, and Mark E Smith, I believe dead though you never know it with the various reinventions of The Fall.
Surfaces are deceptive. The cosmetic revamp containing the Lowry Museum and The Imperial War Museum is a kind of hybrid between awful Irish financial services corporatism coupled with the remnants of old capitalist buildings. The juxtaposition particularly evident on the tram back,
makes Manchester in effect also look like Chicago with the new skyscrapers of capitalism alongside the historical medium size red brick structures of old capitalism.
The worst failure of urban planning in Manchester is the rebuilt Hacienda building, now apartments, with a semi-broken hologram to replace the famous Factory Records’ club. Memory and oral recollection are still prevalent up North and every taxi driver so far has a story, often-incredibly positive, about Mr. Manchester, Tony Wilson, founder of Factory records. He comes across less as a twat than a combination of visionary and loveable rogue.
I am staying in the historic centre in the Midlands Hotel one of the architectural jewels of Manchester, built in 1903 and beloved by Hitler, who, in the event of an invasion, coveted it. I was reminded of this not when staying here but but in the adjacent Mosley Street named after he family of Oswald Mosley or, as PG Wodehouse would have it, Sir Roderick Spode. I would imagine Mr. Manchester would have thoroughly approved of Wodehouse’s filleting in The Code of The Wooster’s :
‘Don’t you ever read the papers? Roderick Spode is the founder and head of the Saviours of Britain, a Fascist organization better known as the Black Shorts. His general idea, if he doesn’t get knocked on the head with a bottle in one of the frequent brawls in which he and his followers indulge, is to make himself a Dictator.’ ‘Well, I’m blowed!’ I was astounded at my keenness of perception. The moment I had set eyes on Spode, if you remember, I had said to myself ‘What Ho! A Dictator!’ and a Dictator he had proved to be. I could not have made a better shot, if I had been one of those detectives who see a chap walking along the street and deduce that he is a retired manufacturer of poppet valves named Robinson with rheumatism in one arm, living at Clapham. ‘Well, I’m dashed! I thought he was something of that sort. That chin…Those eyes…And, for the matter of that, that moustache. When you say “shorts,” you mean “shirts,” of course.’ ‘No. By the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left. He and his adherents wear black shorts.’ ‘Footer bags, you mean?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘How perfectly foul.”
P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Wooster’s (1938).
One must laugh at fascists, what else is there to do. But not too loudly now. The Friends Meeting house of The Quakers is beside the hotel, with its optimistic sentiment of peaceful protest for change being the Quaker way. Not enough now.
There is an inscription close by commemorating the 1813 Peterloo massacre, where civil disobedience arising from an economic slump led to a massacre and the foundation of The Manchester Guardian, but oddly enough, not as a force of progress supporting the martyrs, but as a conservative abreaction against protest, strikes and agitation. Reactionaries thus founded The Guardian. The working-class Manchester and Salford Advertiser called The paper “the foul prostitute and dirty parasite of the worst portion of the mill-owners:.
Lowry, of his greatest painting, Coming From the MIll (1930), said:
“As I left [Pendlebury] station I saw the Acme Spinning Company’s mill,” Lowry would later recall. “The huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out hundreds of little pinched, black figures, heads bent down. I watched this scene – which I’d looked at many times without seeing – with rapture.”
Manchester now is like a ghost ship or once grand vessel at half-mast. The case I am doing shows the multiple problems of our age and Manchester has the highest crime rate or one of them in the UK. The shards of light particularly in the evening piercing the skyline and the great civic building deliberately occlude, always have, an ugly reality. Increasingly apparent.
David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner
Pic Alamy Stock