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.

What follows is a version of the article which, as Executive Chair of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation, I posted on the Huffington Post UK website to acknowledge this significant milestone.

To read more about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s legacy, or to comment, please visit Hilary’s professional website here, or the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation website, here.

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So Is Salford’s Media City A ‘Wonderful Town’?

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.

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My Log Book Of The Girl Guide Movement 1910-48 (written in 1962)

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…

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Call The Midwife: A BBC1 Triumph For Real People

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….

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When In Rome (Ostia Antica)

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.

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When In Rome (The Ancient City: Fora Romano, Palatino and Colosseum)

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.

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When In Rome (Auditorium: Parco della Musica)

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.

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The Lowry, Manchester Royal Opera House Plans, Infrastructure And Regional Benefit

Lowry ballet banner 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.
Regional benefits
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.

C. P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ Is Fifty Years Old Today

Science & Music books C.P. Snow introduced the idea of the Two Cultures in the annual Rede Lecture in Cambridge of 7 May 1959. Himself both an eminent scientist and contemporary historian of science, and a novelist, in that lecture he lamented the gulf between scientists and ‘literary intellectuals’, arguing that the quality of education in the world is on the decline. Now fifty years later (as on the fortieth anniversary) a range of commentators continues to debate this claim.
Science & Technology.
Some of us may feel that the great contribution to British culture of Charles Percy Snow (1905 – 1980) was in fact to write novels and commentaries about science which are still remembered for the light they shed on how science works in modern society.
For me that’s certainly true: the dozen novels of the Strangers and Brothers saga (1949 – 1970) and his non-fiction (if not undisputed) accounts of how science ‘works’ – especially Science and Government (The Godkin Lectures at Harvard University) (1961), The Two Cultures and a Second Look (1963) and The Physicists: A Generation that Changed the World (1982, republished 2008) – have helped to bridge that science – humanities chasm.
Focus on the Corridors of Power
These were the books which, as a post-grad student of the sociology of science, opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t even previously known existed: the world of high level science and policy, the world as Snow himself styled it, of The Corridors of Power.
But this focus has been largely lost in the debate about the Two Cultures and the heavyweight attack which the literary critic F.R. Leavis (1895 – 1978) made on C.P. Snow’s thesis a couple of years after the Rede Lecture, suggesting that Snow was a dreadful novelist and rejecting the validity of his concerns that the literary elite was not scientifically literate.
Not always incompatible
Isn’t it interesting in this context that quite a lot of excellent musicians are also good at maths and science; and probably just as many very good scientists are also decent musicians?
There remains as ever a cultural gap between the humanities and ‘science’, but they are both very complex enterprises, and it does not follow that all those in the arts are unaware of science, any more than the converse must always be true.
The nature of evidence
What is more worrying is that sometimes people don’t seem to understand the nature of evidence (not ‘science’) … that whenever possible it needs to be good enough to rely on, before conclusions are drawn.
Of course all evidence in the end is relative, but we have to start somewhere…. the important thing in a democratic society, is that the basis on which we as individuals, and those with influence, choose to decide actions and positions is open to scrutiny.
Moving towards rationality
Slowly, modern western society is becoming more rational and moving out of the mists of myth and cultural comfort zones. There is without doubt a limit to how much this can or should happen, but I think we’re nearer to a balance on this than we were even a few decades ago. Many scientific terms are commonplace in everyday debate.
When C.P. Snow wrote his Two Cultures lecture we as a society ‘knew’ less than we do now. It’s difficult to accept the claim that education for most people is ‘worse’ than it was in the 1950s and 60s – and I say that as the product of an inner-city grammar school of that era. Then we just didn’t perceive the awfulness of the education which most children received; this was still the post-war era when anything was better than nothing.
For most people, cultural memory is it seems very short. We can surely now, despite all the naysayers, learn more, quickly, about anything, than ever before.
The longer view
It’s said that 90% of the scientists who ever lived are here on this planet now. Possibly the same applies to artists, for what it’s worth. But what I’m sure of is that C.P. Snow has excited a lot of people – including me – over several decades, with the debate he sparked.
Snow’s perspective is of course now dated; but those who currently deny that things have got better have (potentially) the benefit of hindsight ,and they need to think quite carefully about whether they are using that very valuable vantage point properly. More people now know something about science and the arts, than ever before.
You don’t need to be able to describe the double helix and the works of great poets in detail to share some mutual understanding about our complex cultural underpinnings.
Evidence and ideas for sustainability
What you do need to be able to do is draw threads together to make sense of where you find yourself in the world… and never has that been more true than now, with the ‘one planet living’ challenges we all face.
Indeed, Lord Snow argued himself that the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.
Bridging the gap
I’m not therefore sure that the most important debate around education can continue now be an arid discussion of so-called ‘standards’; surely it has to be about searching for common understandings? And in that debate C.P. Snow and those who followed have helped a lot.
If the musicians and their counterparts can sometimes bridge the gap, then maybe the rest of us should start to be more positive, and have a go too.
Read more about Science & Technology.
For more commentary on the fiftieth anniversary of the ‘Two Cultures’ Rede Lecture, see e.g. here and here.

Women In Wigan A Century Past; Water And Gendered Sustainability Now

Wigan Pier canal historic statue of woman miller 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.
Wigan Pier canal Trencherfield Mill historic notice
Here’s the text of this notice, displayed by the towpath at Wigan Pier:
TRENCHERFIELD MILL
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:
09.03.06 Wigan Pier canal & towpath
Wigan Pier Quarter & canals notice
[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.

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