Hallé St Peter’s, 40 Blossom Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6BF – Visit Now
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. Built in 1859 as an Anglican church before congregation decline spelled its closure in the 1950s, St. Peter’s was splendidly refurbished by the Hallé Orchestra 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 is 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 and it’s striking that, finally two decades after the founding of the Ancoats Urban Village Company the regeneration that was much talked of in the 1990’s has actually arrived. The area is booming with building projects and things may not be too quiet in Ancoats (or “New Islington” as developers, Urban Splash would have us call it) for years to come. 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.