Hallé St Peter’s, 40 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6BF – Visit Now
The third in our series of unusual venues takes us to Ancoats and tells a tale of industrial boom and bust.
Perhaps as a plot to mystify the London record label bosses at Rough Trade or merely as a playful reference to keep the band’s more obsessive fans guessing; a fictitious backing singer named “Ann Coates” is credited on the inner sleeve of The Smiths’ 1986 album, The Queen is Dead. Of course, “Ann” doesn’t exist at all (her “voice” is actually Morrissey’s filtered through a harmoniser). The name is a play on the North Manchester area of Ancoats and probably constitutes the extent of the district’s notoriety in recent pop memory.
If Ancoats were to be transformed into a living, breathing (and, presumably, singing) human being, what would she be like? Described as Manchester’s first industrial suburb, Ancoats developed during the 17th century to accommodate the city’s new textile mills and cheap housing. Nowadays many of the mills that once made Ancoats’ fortune are building sites and slum clearance in the 1960s left whole streets of houses derelict. “Ann Coates” must be pushing 300, now so she can be forgiven for looking a little worse for wear. But between the boarded-up windows and vacant warehouses, architectural redevelopments are giving Ancoats a new lease of life. St. Peter’s Church is the latest building to rediscover its youth. Built in 1859 as an Anglican church before congregation decline spelled its closure in the 1950s, St. Peter’s has recently been acquired by the Hallé Orchestra and will open this month as a venue and rehearsal space. Grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Hallé’s own fundraising paid for an extensive restoration project which included repairs to the church’s roof, stained glass windows and brickwork.
St. Peter’s greets the Ancoats visitor as a defiant snub to urban decline
Hallé St. Peter’s can now claim back some of its former glory. Towering over Blossom Street, it greets the Ancoats visitor as a historic symbol – and a defiant snub to urban decline. Inside, the gleaming iron pillars and criss-crossing lights belie any of the industrial grime the church may have once known, and its pew-less floor space comfortably fits an entire orchestra. Although the church’s primary function will be as a home for the Hallé’s community projects, the space will also be used to hold small concerts.
Even without visiting St. Peter’s, taking a wander around its half-restored-half-abandoned neighbourhood is an architectural treat, made all the more special by the notion that things may not be this quiet in Ancoats (or “New Islington” as developers, Urban Splash would have us call it) for much longer. Building preservation groups have long been working to regenerate the area and many of the mills are earmarked as potential flats. From industry hub to derelict sprawl, “Ann Coates” may not have aged as gracefully as she would have hoped, but there’s no doubt that she still has a few years left in her yet.