Thursday, 2 January 2014


Institutions and urban change since 1850
Edited by Janet Wolff with Mike Savage 
Manchester University Press 
This book looks at how industrial and architectural changes, art education, religion, popular theatre, pleasure gardens, clubs and societies have all played a part in Manchester’s contribution to modern cultural life, from which some of the city’s residents continue to be excluded.
Why did you both compile this book?
It originated in a year-long seminar in 2008-09 at the University of Manchester, convened by myself under the auspices of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change. We decided to put together a collection that would continue the work of challenging any lingering idea of Manchester as lacking real cultural value, in the past or in the present. We also wanted to show the interactions between so-called high culture and more popular forms of entertainment.
What made a place like Belle Vue Gardens culturally attractive to different classes?
It was the sheer range of entertainments within one area – the garden, the zoo, rides, concerts and sport. The Gardens appealed across the classes with the garden and the zoo being particularly attractive to middle-class visitors, and sport appealing to the lower classes. Before Belle Vue, similar ventures, directed only at the middle classes, were unsuccessful, and for such an enterprise to thrive it needed a much wider appeal.
How important was industry for art education in Britain?
Art education in Britain began in the 1830s because, faced with French competition, there was a need for better design in industry. Manchester’s input related to cotton manufacturers and particularly the calico printers. James Thomson and Edmund Potter, two such printers, were
actively involved in the development of art schools in Britain.
How was the Italian Renaissance employed to refute charges of cultural philistinism in the 19th century? 
The philistine charge was the main motivating impulse for the great Art Treasures exhibition in Manchester, which the city’s leaders staged in 1857. This featured numerous Renaissance masterpieces plus Michelangelo’s Manchester Madonna, now in the National Gallery. The wealthy new middle classes were often great supporters of the arts and music in Manchester. Some of the most impressive architecture of 19th century Manchester, particularly the palazzo-style warehouses, was modelled on the buildings in Renaissance Florence too.

Did theatre’s architectural changes reflect the changing aspirations of the theatre owners and city fathers towards the end of the 19th century?
Demolishing the People’s Concert Hall was an attempt to remove what was perceived as the most rowdy element of the theatre world. The new theatres – the Palace,
the Hippodrome and the Opera House – reflected the cultural ambitions of the managers. Such theatres were quite grand and opulent, designed to attract middle-class audiences.

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