Barmouth Street – Bradford Manchester

Once again I am following in the footsteps of Rita Tushinghan and the Taste of Honey film crew, this time my research has lead me to Barmouth Street, Manchester.

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To the east of the city centre, Bradford Park School was the scene of the opening scene, Jo’s netball match. The school is now long gone, now the site of a much enlarged public park, as can be seen from the map above.

Shelagh Delaney, author of the original play on which the film was based, can be seen fleetingly in this opening scene, appearing momentarily over the games teacher’s shoulder.

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I have found one archive image of the school, as the scholars prepare for the annual Whit Walks, this along with many other community traditions and conventions, have all but disappeared from the streets of the city.

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This was once a tight knit community, surrounded by industry, full employment and a short lived period of post-war growth and optimism.

A corner shop on very corner, though by the time I worked as a Mothers Pride van lad in the late sixties, many were already on their last legs. A lethal cocktail of closing factories, incipient supermarkets, and an urban renewal programme, which lead to slum clearance, would change the character of the area forever.

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I am indebted to the photographic work of T Brooks who seems to have spent much of the mid Sixties documenting the streets, his pictures are now kept here in the Manchester Image Archives. Sadly I have found no further reference to him or his images, but have nothing but admiration for all those who pass unnoticed amongst us, camera forever poised.

Central to the social and sanitary life of that that community were the Barmouth Street Baths and Washhouse, where citizens would swim, wash, dry, iron, chat convivially, and surprisingly – play bowls.

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Now long gone, along with the provision of local authority nursery care. There were similar low level pre-fabricated buildings dotted all over the city. Built quickly and cheaply, to provide for a growing population, of largely working-class families, with no shortage of work opportunities.

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This was a time of great social change, a time which the film attempts to anticipate -a more diverse, and hopefully more tolerant time, a time of possibilities and opportunities for all.

A Taste of the North

Where is the North and what does it look like?

It’s up there somewhere isn’t it, a dark elsewhere, a mythological other place.

I was curious, searching for clues.

I began in a nearby place in a faraway time, my first reference point, the film adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey.

Set in Salford by Salford born teenager Shelagh.

A  teenager becomes pregnant by a black sailor. She leaves her feckless mother and her flashy new boyfriend to set up her own home. She moves in with a young gay man, who helps look after her as she faces an uncertain future.

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The film’s release in 1962 broke new ground in terms of its matter of fact depiction of contentious and sensational subject matter. My interest in this instance rests with the visual image of the North that it created.

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Larkhill Road Edgeley Stockport

Shot almost entirely on location in black and white by cinematographer Walter Lassally, we are treated to dark treeless vistas, cobbled streets, industrial areas almost perpetually in decline, bleak canals and terraced homes.

As shown in these archive images of the 1950s, illustrating locations that would subsequently be used in the film adaptation.

There is a comprehensive list of locations here at Reel Streets

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Cambrian Street Holt Town Manchester

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Phillips Park Gasworks Manchester

Director Tony Richardson was a product of the British Free Cinema movement, which had previously produced short, sharp documentary and drama work, driven by a leftist outlook and using a restless, immediate approach, aided by the new lightweight cameras and faster film stocks. This is an ethos and methodology that would be carried over into the feature productions of the Woodfall Films company.

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Rochdale Canal Manchester

The film was shot in the flat, low, even light of the Winter which heightened the mildly desolate character of the landscape, though ostensibly Salford set many of the locations are in nearby Manchester and Stockport. An early long and free flowing title sequence and establishing shot, is a bus tour around Central Manchester, a city centre which at the time was still graced by a thick accumulation of dark industrial emissions and miasma.

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A soot blackened Queen Victoria mute and imperious in Piccadilly Gardens, the freshly blooming cranes of post-war renewal tentatively appearing in the background.

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The skyline punctuated by factory chimneys, the tight huddled streets of terraced houses chuffing billowing great grey clouds of smoke – a view familiar in the work of LS Lowry.

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Barton Bridge

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Trafford Swing Bridge

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Stockport Rail Viaduct

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Phillips Park Gasworks

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The location of the home that Jo sets up was ironically the stage set workshop of the Royal Court Theatre (the very theatre where the play was developed and produced) in London – that most northern of cities.

There is a brief respite from this milieu, through a picture in picture sequence based on the image of a suburban bungalow – which along with the coming age of mass motor car ownership, offers the promise of escape.

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A giddy day trip to Blackpool represents the temporary release from a contrasting and constricting world, a trip which for Jo emphasises the divide between Mother and her lover.

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So we the viewers are left with a cloudily clear, black and white world, a pervasive construct that the North and Manchester is eagerly beginning to casually shuffle off.

Where streets are no longer paved with Eccles Cakes and whippets are hip.

Identity through landscape and location can both define and constrain, but that landscape, its representation, and the identity that it produces are all mutually mutable.

Take some time to watch and rewatch the film, freeze frame where are we?

Who are you?