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Walled Up Places

They walled up  spaces we began to find in Ancoats were places of the ordinary everyday activities of a working industrial city and suburb; places to eat, move, pee, produce, and they were unexpectedly highly charged and somehow extraordinary by consequence of what had become of them. As people in the area began to hear about these found spaces, their arrival in people’s consciousness seemed to add a new layer to Ancoats. Knowlege of these spaces changed immediately people’s sense of what the area had been and what it could become. Their impact on the psyche of Ancoats owed as much to the stories and myths that began unfolding around each find, as did the experience of witnessing the spaces personally. Additionally we began to recognise that these places seemed connected to one another somehow, they were a series, a set. Each was a discrete site with its own character and story, but collectively they created a network of connections to one another and became more than the sum of their parts. So we agreed on a simple plan, and the Peeps project was born. If these walled up spaces could be experienced from the public realm, ie as you walk through the streets, then we should work together to make something of them.

Artist’s Tale

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The Last Walkway

The last remaining walkway in
Ancoats was given planning
consent for demolition in
the summer of 2003. The
mill buildings on either side
were coming under separate
ownership, and the lawyers for
both parties wanted rid of the
liability. The walkway didn’t
qualify for protection from
demolition by the listing process,
but the regeneration group
recognised the value in trying
to keep the structure. However
without a clear function for the
walkway they could not see how
a case could be made to keep it.
Later in 2003 an artwork
proposal was accepted based
on retaining in perpetuity some
of the ‘lost’ spaces in Ancoats,
and it included the overhead
walkway. Just as the scaffolding
was being erected the developer
agreed that the walkway could
be retained.

Artist’s Tale


The Hair on the Back of Your Neck

Some of the walled up sites
found in Ancoats hold a quite
unfathomable atmosphere. Later
we came to understand that
some of the sites were more
interesting and more significant
than others. What distinguished
particular sites above the others
was that something made the
hair on the back of your neck
stand on end, and didn’t fizzle
away either when they were
opened or when they were
sealed up. These particular sites
were more akin to a source than
a container. It is from these sites
that the Peeps emerged.

Artist’s Tale


The Tipping Point

It was only a few months into the project, I was just settling into the studio
and getting my bearings, when I was rudely awoken one dawn by an almighty
crash. As I looked bleary eyed out of the studio window onto Murrays Mill, I saw
sewing tables, then machinery, then boxes that spilt their loads into a plume
of buttons, needles, belts, labels, neck ties, school uniforms as they hurtled
towards the ground. Next it was rolls of fabric, then the trolleys, then the doors,
then the partition walls, and then I picked up my camera and got over there. In
Manchester this is known as ditching; a team of men some characterised by their
unemployability as unskilled labourers, were armed with crowbars and clubs and
were stripping out the building floor by floor. A giant hole was knocked out down
to the floor of each of the eight levels, and the contents of each mill floor was
carted to that end, everything was then hurled out into the courtyard until the
mill was stripped bare, then they moved to the next floor. I introduced myself to
the foreman of this and the other sites where ditching was soon underway, and
armed myself with my camera and grabbed a box of red patent leather belts. I
went into battle, dawn to dusk saving what things I could as I moved along with
my camera and note book, by tying a belt around things otherwise headed for
the skip, trying, often in vain, to stay one floor ahead of the ditchers.
With a sudden jolt the regeneration process had shifted into action.
Ancoats was at its tipping point, it was also turning itself inside out and
stripping itself bare.

Artist's Tale

The Cutting Room

A few cutting and
pattern rooms remained in
Ancoats at the outset of the
regeneration, one in particular,
the last to be cleared to make
way for development, was quite
remarkable. It had been built
into the attic of Royal Mills.
The cutting room was vast and
bright, and one end had been
given over to a small locked 
room as a pattern store.
A fire had wrecked the roof and
now mature trees were growing
in the space. In the pattern room
the plasterwork had long since
been washed away exposing
the brickwork but the patterns,
made of a waterproof velum,
remained vivid hanging from
the walls. The patterns and the
patina of the brick wall almost
merged in the light of dusk and
so I went back to photograph
this space on midsummer’s day
and had to wait until late into the
evening for dusk. While I waited I
was aware not only of butterflies
and birds but also of a rabbit.

Artist's Tale