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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, June 27, 2008
    The spectre absent from the cultural feast
     
    'Just to the north of Manchester city centre is a patch of grass. Roughly seven acres in size, it is a calm oasis in a city not known for its green spaces. But Angel Meadow is something more. It is where more than 40,000 of Manchester's poor were buried between 1788 and 1816. This is the place where the real cost of Britain's industrial revolution was marked - where the bones and blood of the working class, with their average life expectancy of 17 years, mingle with the soil. They were to be followed by tens of thousands more across the country over the following decades.
    'Yet it is hard to find this story reflected in our museums and galleries, and more widely in the arts - for class is the spectre absent from the cultural feast'

    I'm not sure if Vaughan Allen took part in TRIP2008 last week; he may have done because he runs Urbis and that venue hosted an evening reception for us (lovely canap├ęs, thanks). These words of his in today's New Statesman suggest that he's clued into the sort of narratives that Dav Devalle is bringing to the surface in his work on psychic memory and which some of us shared as we walked the Rochdale Canal with David Haley, enjoying the wildlife but also trying to imagine the working lives of the labourers who'd built these industrial waterways, many dying in the process.

    Allen recalls how 'last year, the cultural world was united by the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade', to the extent that 'failure to examine the story was condemned.' But he goes on to note that those involved in cultural industries 'seem to feel no moral imperative to embrace ... the story of the working-class people of Britain being forced from their land, being forced into the cities, taking their places in the deadly mills of the Industrial Revolution.' He's right - on the whole.

    That would have been a very valid theme for Liverpool 08, arguably far more valid than Klimt, so it's good to see that it's happening in some places in the city (as it did in Manchester last week), albeit places far from the arts/culture mainstream. Under the banner UNIONS/08: A celebration of working lives in Liverpool the TUC and Unite have set up a Radical Route Heritage Trail, which encourages the walker to journey 'through hundreds of years of Liverpool's history, from the 1775 riots and seamen's strikes, the 1911 transport strike and "Bloody Sunday", right up to the present day... to remember the wonderful characters who made our city great and fought for the conditions and benefits that we enjoy today in our working lives.' They have also just closed entries for the Liverpool Working Lives photography competition which has produced gems like this, Child Labourer by Karen Langley. So much to reflect on here.

    Pic: Karen Langley, Child Labourer, from UNIONS/08 website:
    'A very young man making a living as a bricklayer'