Category Archives: Arts, Culture And Heritage
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), Britain’s Foremost Black Classical Composer: The Centenary Legacy
Just a few days after this year’s Slavery Remembrance Day, on 23 August, we mark also the centenary legacy of the black British music composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who died one hundred years ago, on 1 September 1912.
We went to see Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town performed by the Halle Orchestra at The Lowry in Salford last night. And by coincidence, it transpired, yesterday was also the day when the BBC began transmitting the popular Breakfast show from its brand new operation in Salford Quay’s Media City. Apparently, despite the anticipated longer term advantages of being in Salford rather than London, there are still BBC people who think it not done to be going Up North regularly to broadcast to the nation.
2010-12 is the celebration of 100 years of Girl Guiding in the UK. In 1962 I, a young teenager and enthusiastic Girl Guide, made a Log Book of the Movement which drew heavily on The Guider magazine which came regularly through our letterbox, and also more personally includes photographs of my mother, Peggy, as a Girl Guide in the 1930s. The log covers the period from when the Girl Guides first formed until the year of my birth. Here in all its unedited school exercise book glory it is…
The second hour of the BBC1 Call The Midwife drama series has now (on Sunday evening, 22 Jan 2012) been broadcast; and already we learn that there will be another series before long. Rarely do I get enthused about television, but the original books offered the potential for something special; and so it turns out to be. My piece elsewhere (and below) about aspects of public service which the TV drama illustrates has resulted in some really human engagement with this excellent viewing. Please keep the Comments coming….
Ostia Antica is what remains of the ancient port city on the coast to the west just a short journey beyond Rome. It makes for a fascinating day out and seems ideal for children as well as adults. But today we had the place almost to ourselves. It took less than an hour (and just a standard one Euro ticket) from Termini to the station at Ostia Antica, and the cafe there was great for lunch. So where was everyone? This is vast and enormously important historic site you could visit again and again.
There’s nothing can be added here to the vast store of scholarship about ancient Rome. I hope the pictures will simply speak for themselves. But I can offer practical advice: It takes hours to see everything. You can enter the venues (Fora and Colosseum) only once each over two days. You’ll need sturdy shoes, a big bottle of water plus maybe nibbles. Rest and cool down where possible. And a vivid imagination is essential. These are places where real people, some still known by name, lived and worked two millennia ago.
We’re in Rome this week, for our long-awaited Summer break. It’s our second visit to this city, but some things have changed a bit over the past fifteen years. For a start, the Auditorium wasn’t even build then; so that’s where we headed today – where we learned more about regeneration through culture, we were disappointed as tourists, and we thoroughly enjoyed a concert by the virtuoso pianist Stefano Bollani.
The Lowry arts centre has this week stated its opposition to current plans for the Palace Theatre in Manchester to host all elements of a proposed Royal Opera House development in that city. The arguments on both sides seem however to miss some critical points: firstly, this is a regional not a sub-regional issue; and secondly the infrastructure and the local provisions should have been sorted years ago. Some other opportunities to develop the regional cultural offer have already been shunned; and now it looks as though this may happen yet again.
Arts Organisations, Regeneration and Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions.
Reports this week suggest that the Lowry in Salford feels left out and disadvantaged by the proposed development of a northern (second) home for the Royal Opera House, if as a result all ROH-related northern ballet and opera productions – some of them currently hosted by the Lowry – were to be located in Manchester‘s presently fading Palace Theatre.
This is not the time or place to go into questions of sub-regional and local politics – the cities of Manchester and Salford must get along as best they can – but there are a few larger questions which now arise which might have been addressed earlier.
Regional aspects of the arts organisation proposals
Firstly, investments and development of this size are clearly regional as well as local matters. The Lowry, a Millennium product, cost over £100 million to set up, and doubtless the cost of the new proposals would also reach many millions.
It is surprising therefore that the ‘arts and culture’ debate thus far seems to have centred in its positive aspects only on the ROH and the Manchester orchestras. (Perhaps, as a slightly mischievous aside, there are very few left who recall that it was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, not a Manchester ensemble, that performed at the Covent Garden Royal Opera House in May 1981 during the Royal Ballet’s golden anniversary celebrations?)
Locating and programming
Whatever, the there is now also a Royal Ballet in Birmingham, and Opera North may be intending like the Royal Ballet to make its northern activities to the Palace Theatre in Manchester; but the Lowry wants to keep them in Salford.
It has to be said however that the Lowry has disappointed some of us in its more recent opera and ballet offering. To begin with we were excited by the range and frequency of national-level opera and ballet at the Lowry, but over time this seems to have been diluted by a preponderance of more local and / or less ambitious scheduling. Once enthusiasms for a venue are lost, it is probably hard to get them back.
Travel and catchment
One unfortunate element in the Lowry scenario is its very poor infrastructure. It is almost impossible for non-Mancunians to reach (and return home from) on public transport. Unless you take the car, you can’t sensibly get there after work or in bad weather….
Despite the trainline from the West of Greater Manchester (Warrington, Liverpool, etc) running within sight of the Lowry, it doesn’t actually stop there, and one has to proceed into Manchester and return out on a local route. It’s perhaps relevant that the first stopping point, Manchester Oxford Road station, is however almost next door to the Palace Theatre.
The Lowry deserves a measure of sympathy for the situation in which it is placed by Manchester’s proposals; but there is already a huge plan for the relocation of parts of the BBC to that site. And there is a feeling that the Lowry could have positioned itself better as an attractive venue: limited serious arts programming, poor and / or restricted catering provision, little public transport and expensive car parks do little to ensure a consistent and devoted fully regional audience.
There again, Manchester itself needs to explain why it has not, as far as can be seen, looked beyond its own boundaries to other North West areas, in sharing enthusiasm for the ROH proposals.
Lost and endangered opportunities
A few years ago Liverpool had an opportunity, which it decisively shunned, to make a bid for the National Theatre Museum to be relocated to Merseyside. That Museum used to be located right alongside the Covent Garden Royal Opera House; but despite the potential for inside influence of very eminent Merseysiders, not least on the board of the Victoria and Albert Museum (which owned the Theatre Museum), the bid never materialised and there is no longer any dedicated location for the theatre collection at all. Most of the collection is now stored away in Kensington, at the V&A itself.
The possibilities of real cultural synergy between Merseyside and Greater Manchester have already therefore been seriously blunted by lack of vision, imagination and enthusiasm. Let us hope this is not about to happen yet again.
Sir Richard Leese, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, is surely correct in sharing with previous Secretary of State for Culture, Andy Burnham, the view that the regional benefits of the current proposals for regeneration and investment could and should be significant. But if everyone is not persuaded soon, there will probably be no action, or benefits at all.
Read more articles on Arts Organisations, Regeneration and Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions.
The 8th of March is International Women’s Day, an occasion to look both back and forward. We have here some photos and text reminding us gently how grim life was for working class women and children in the mills (and often for their mining menfolk too) a mere century ago. Happily, Wigan Pier and the canals are now a tourist destination alongside a modern Investment Centre; but around 1910 a different story – not least about the uses of water – was being told. The challenge remains to secure the same progress as we’ve seen here, in ensuring healthy and constructive lives for women and their families everywhere across the globe.
Here’s the text of this notice, displayed by the towpath at Wigan Pier:
When cotton was king
as told by a cotton worker circa 1910
It’s hot int’ mill wi’ lots o’ noise. On a nice day, we’ll take our lunch ont’ towpath an’ eat snaps* from’t snaps tins.
It’s a 5-and-a-half day week for us cotton workers, that’s 12 hours a day and half a day on Saturday.
We’ve all got nimble fingers , especially the Piecers’. They’re mainly children, who nip under the spinning machines to tie the broken cotton back together again.
Some of us work on the spinning machines and some on the carding machines. The mill takes a raw bale of cotton, cleans it, twists it and spins it into fine yarn.
The humidity in the mill keeps the cotton damp so it’s easier to spin without snapping.
There are five floors of machinery – all powered by the Trencherfield Mill Engine.
The noise is deafening – we stuff cotton from the floor in our ears to protect them. We communicate using ‘Me-Mawing’ – a mixture of sign language and lip reading.
We work in our bare feet because our clogs could spark on the concrete floor and set the cotton bales alight.
We wake early doors to the sound of the Trencherfield steam whistle summonin’ us t’mill for another day. But as they say – England’s bread hangs on Lancashire’s thread.
[* a snack favoured also by the men of Wigan, many of them miners, usually bread-and-dripping, with cold tea, carried in a flat tin called a snap-can - see George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier]
And here is the towpath which a century ago provided fresh air and respite for those mill workers as they ate their lunch-time snaps:
[Public display boards by Wigan Heritage Services]
The power of water
And so, strangely, we come full-circle.
Water – the canals, the steam – was the power behind the early production of textiles, employing many women and children in horrendous conditions, as the full logic of the Industrial Revolution took its vice-like grip on the emerging economies of what we have come to know as the ‘developed world‘; but even now in other parts of the globe water remains both a critical force potentially for good, and often an almost unattainable resource.
Women as water workers
Vast numbers of women and children in the developing world continue to toil many hours a day just to obtain water to sustain their very existence.
Life in places like Wigan was harsh and short for women and men, alike, a century ago. It remains, as Oxfam tells us in the topical context of International Women’s Day, particularly harsh even now for women in places such as Iraq, where water continues to be inaccessible for many.
The gendered meanings of sustainability
This is where we begin to understand what ‘sustainability‘ is really about…. the just and equitable distribution of basic physical resources and accessible socio-economic opportunities, for everyone, women as much as men, the world over.
In terms of future global sustainability and equity, as the Gender and Water Alliance also reminds us, water remains a critically gendered issue.
Read more about Gender & Women and about Sustainability As If People Mattered and Water; and see more photographs of around Liverpool & Merseyside.