IRK VALLEY #ONE

The first leg of a journey to the source of the River Irk beginning behind Victoria, finishing by the Hexagon Tower in Blackley.

The Irk’s name is of obscure etymology, but may be Brittonic in origin and related to the Welsh word iwrch, meaning roebuck

In medieval times, there was a mill by the Irk at which the tenants of the manor ground their corn and its fisheries were controlled by the lord of the manor. In the 16th century, throwing carrion and other offensive matter into the Irk was forbidden. Water for Manchester was drawn from the river before the Industrial Revolution. A bridge over the Irk was recorded in 1381. The river was noted for destructive floods. In 1480, the burgesses of Manchester described the highway between Manchester and Collyhurst which – the water of Irk had worn out. In 1816, of seven bridges over the Irk, six were liable to be flooded after heavy rain but the seventh, the Ducie Bridge completed in 1814 was above flood levels.

According to The New Gazetteer of Lancashire the Irk had – more mill seats upon it than any other stream of its length in the Kingdom and – the eels in this river were formerly remarkable for their fatness, which was attributed to the grease and oils expressed by the mills from the woollen cloths and mixed with the waters. 

However, by the start of the 20th century the Irk Valley between Crumpsall and Blackley had been left a neglected river – not only the blackest but the most sluggish of all rivers.

Wikipedia

The river emerges from beneath the city into an area named Scotland – a remnant of Manchester’s links with the Jacobite Rebellion.

To the left were the squalid Victorian homes of Red Bank – currently presenting as the Green Quarter.

The river briefly becomes subterranean again.

This is a river with an ignominious history – famously damned by émigré Friedrich Engels.

At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse, which it deposits on the shallower right bank.

Mr Engels currently resides by the Medlock.

The stretch along Dantzic Street into Collyhurst Road was heavily industrialised, of which some remnants prevail.

Along with an abandoned traveller’s camp, where once the gas works had stood.

New housing is being built forming the first wave of the Victoria North masterplan.

Previous enterprises have hit the buffers beneath the railway on Bromley Street.

To the right is Dalton Street once home to the Collyhurst Cowboy.

Here are the remains of Vauxhall Street, named for Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, built in the remains of the Collyhurst Quarry – which in turn became Sandhills.

There are current plans afoot to create a City River Park.

In addition the local authority oversees the Irk River Valley Project , along with Groundwork, United Utilities, Woodland Trust and Greggs.

To the left are St Catherine’s Steps

Immortalised by almost local lad LS Lowry

Spanning the defunct railway workings, affording a view of the brightly blooming city centre.

Leaving Collyhurst Road, we journey along Smedley Road.

Seen here in 1934.

Passing beneath Queens Road – Queens Park to the right.

Queen’s Park was one of Britain’s first municipal parks created in 1846. The park was originally arranged around Hendham Hall, home of the Houghton family however this was demolished in 1884.

Dropping down to Hendham Vale.

To the right is the Smedley Hotel.

The Smedley Hotel is a very large pub that is hidden away on a quiet back street. Once inside there were a few different rooms and I had a drink in the bar which was fairly large and seemed in need of some attention. The pub still had its old Chesters signs outside and there were three real ales on the bar. I had a drink of Chesters bitter and this was a very nice drink the other beers were Chesters mild and Boddington’s bitter.

I thought this pub would be long gone but it is still standing and I think open for business.

Alan Winfield 1994

Lost to the world are the Manchester Moderne flats of Kennet House overlooking the Irk Valley on Smedley Lane.

Hendham Way becomes a pedestrianised lane.

Taking the road up and then down, returning to the river, and following the wrong path – alongside the Hapurhey Reservoir and Ponds.

A remnant of the industrial era the reservoirs and ponds, once used by the factories as a source of water, have over the year become a thriving habitat which supports a substantial amount of wildlife.

Then cutting back and regaining the correct path.
Finally arriving at the Hexagon Tower.

Black and white photographs: Manchester Local Image Collection

Hexagon Tower – Blackley Manchester

Crumpsall Vale Blackley Manchester M9 8GQ

I was last here at the Hexagon Tower in 2015 – on a Manchester Modernist Society magical Orbital Bus Tour.

ICI commissioned the building from Richard Seifert in September 1969, as a research, development and production centre.

I returned in 2022 whilst cycling/walking the River Irk.

Since my previous visit the tower has been made good – after a fashion.

It looked splendid in the late March sun, as I approached along Imperial Way.

Imperial Way named for its progenitor ICI – the Imperial Chemical Industries.

ICI’s Dyestuffs Division had its headquarters at Blackley in north Manchester, in a complex known as the Hexagon, which included its main R & D labs, and an experimental manufacturing plant.

John Rylands Library

New Hexagon House 1958 architect: Serge Chermayeff

Manchester Local Image Collection.

Now I find myself outside the new Hexagon Tower 2022.

Now home to multiple chemical users under the auspices of WAPG.

Travellers Site – Dantzic Street Manchester

The Irk Valley – the damp, dark and dank Irk Valley.

The south bank of the Irk is here very steep and between fifteen and thirty feet high. On this declivitous hillside there are planted three rows of houses, of which the lowest rise directly out of the river, while the front walls of the highest stand on the crest of the hill in Long Millgate. Among them are mills on the river, in short, the method of construction is as crowded and disorderly here as in the lower part of Long Millgate. Right and left a multitude of covered passages lead from the main street into numerous courts, and he who turns in thither gets into a filth and disgusting grime, the equal of which is not to be found – especially in the courts which lead down to the Irk, and which contain unqualifiedly the most horrible dwellings which I have yet beheld. In one of these courts there stands directly at the entrance, at the end of the covered passage, a privy without a door, so dirty that the inhabitants can pass into and out of the court only by passing through foul pools of stagnant urine and excrement. This is the first court on the Irk above Ducie Bridge – in case any one should care to look into it. Below it on the river there are several tanneries which fill the whole neighbourhood with the stench of animal putrefaction.

Below Ducie Bridge the only entrance to most of the houses is by means of narrow, dirty stairs and over heaps of refuse and filth. The first court below Ducie Bridge, known as Allen’s Court, was in such a state at the time of the cholera that the sanitary police ordered it evacuated, swept and disinfected with chloride of lime. Dr. Kay gives a terrible description of the state of this court at that time. Since then, it seems to have been partially torn away and rebuilt; at least looking down from Ducie Bridge, the passer-by sees several ruined walls and heaps of debris with some newer houses. The view from this bridge, mercifully concealed from mortals of small stature by a parapet as high as a man, is characteristic for the whole district. At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse, which it deposits on the shallower right bank.

Friedrich Engels

This is the street parallel to the River Irk, Dantzic Street, an anglicised version of former German city Danzig, currently Gdansk in Poland.

Gas works, works and a hole in the wall public convenience.

This has all gone.

Once home to putative homes.

The stylishly designed living areas and carefully considered external finishes within the new buildings, have been designed to compliment the rich industrial architectural style of the area.

They were never built

Pinnacle Alliance plans to build 344 luxury apartments on a site near Dantzic Street, as part of the ‘Northern Gateway’. Dozens of investors have paid up to £350,000 for the off-plan apartments in the proposed scheme. But two years since many first paid out for their home, no work has actually begun on the £30m scheme.

The dispute has led to a demonstration in Hong Kong, where around 50 buyers took to the streets over Christmas urging local authorities to take up their concerns. And in an unusual twist, protestors even recorded their own campaign song – to the tune of Jingle Bells – criticising Pinnacle.

Now Victoria North is on the way.

On the way out are the Travellers’ homes on the other side of the road, adjoining the Irk valley.

Thought to be in danger of flooding, they were condemned, yet there are plans to build on the site for less contentious or socially inclusive usage.

For centuries the commons of England provided lawful stopping places for people whose way of life was or had become nomadic. Enough common land survived the centuries of enclosure to make this way of life sustainable, but by section 23 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 local authorities were given power to close the commons to Travellers. This they proceeded to do with great energy, but made no use of the concomitant power given to them by section 24 of the same Act to open caravan sites to compensate for the closure of the commons. By the Caravan Sites Act 1968, therefore, Parliament legislated to make the section 24 power a duty…for the next quarter of a century there followed a history of non-compliance with the duties imposed by the Act of 1968, marked by a series of decisions of this court holding local authorities to be in breach of their statutory duty; but to apparently little practical effect. The default powers vested in central government, to which the court was required to defer, were rarely if ever used.

Gypsy Traveller

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said yesterday, that the new laws will target trespassers – who intend to reside on any private or public land in vehicles without permission, and where they are causing significant disruption, distress or harm to local communities.

This new offence will enable the police to fine or arrest those residing without permission on private or public land in vehicles in order to stop significant disruption, distress or harm being caused to the law-abiding majority – she added.

The new law also gives the police the powers to seize and impound vehicles whose owners fail to comply with the new law and who refuse or can’t leave.

You are criminalising a problem that has been created by the failings of a political will to deliver appropriate accommodation.

Joseph P Jones from the Gypsy Council

Travellers Times

So here we are – in the shadow of the ever expanding New Manchester – no homes for those who choose their own traditional way of life.

Burnt out shells, discarded toys and a population of ghosts.

Today, we live in a political economy that has been dominated by neoliberalism as a consolidation of the role that capital has in accumulation by dispossession. It has been written extensively elsewhere that contemporary neoliberal land policy affects seemingly disparate groups within the urban population. Less explored, however, is how this logic affects GRT communities in particular.

The traveller site on Dantzic Street lies within the forthcoming Red Bank neighbourhood, on the meander of the Irk, this particular neighbourhood will consist of:

A landmark thirty seven storey building as well as two sister towers, Park View and City View.

Given its proximity to the Green Quarter and other luxury residences, we can expect the rent gap produced by speculative land values to be fully exploited on this patch of land. As for a new traveller site to replace the one on Dantzic Street, the future remains unclear. Having reached out to an Executive Member for Housing and Employment within MCC about ecological concerns alongside the worries concerning lack of land access to travellers, the first question was responded to with misplaced enthusiasm whilst the latter was yet to be briefed at all.

GM Housing Action

Bromley Street Manchester

Bromley Street – its northern tip joining with Dantzic Street in the valley of the River Irk, so far so very bucolic, so very, very nice, the street that was going places, tucked cosily beneath the shade of the old L&Y bridge.

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The south bank of the Irk is here very steep and between fifteen and thirty feet high. On this declivitous hillside there are planted three rows of houses, of which the lowest rise directly out of the river, while the front walls of the highest stand on the crest of the hill in Long Millgate. Among them are mills on the river, in short, the method of construction is as crowded and disorderly here as in the lower part of Long Millgate. Right and left a multitude of covered passages lead from the main street into numerous courts, and he who turns in thither gets into a filth and disgusting grime, the equal of which is not to be found – especially in the courts which lead down to the Irk, and which contain unqualifiedly the most horrible dwellings which I have yet beheld. Below it on the river there are several tanneries which fill the whole neighbourhood with the stench of animal putrefaction. The view from Ducie Bridge, mercifully concealed from mortals of small stature by a parapet as high as a man, is characteristic for the whole district. At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse, which it deposits on the shallower right bank.

So said Mr Friedrich Engels.

“Not only the blackest but the most sluggish of all rivers” – was surrounded by road, rail, dwelling and factory, high density industrialisation through most of the last century.

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Then all of sudden along came a series of events, that saw a shift away from inner-city manufacturing, the outsourcing of all sorts and the demolition of homes. The area and the city became a pale shadow of its former self. Help however was at hand, the boom in buy to let, overseas investment and an ever expanding professional middle class, eagerly  paddled up the murky Irk, emulating the massed forces of 7th Cavalry and the Lone Ranger combined – hurrah!

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What have you got to lose?

It’s the gravy train as thick, dark and rewarding as the very inky Irk itself!

The stylishly designed living areas and carefully considered external finishes within the new buildings, have been designed to compliment the rich industrial architectural style of the area.

A development that even Mr Friedrich Engels himself would be proud of.

But wait, all is not rosy in the digitally constructed flower box garden, that you may see before you, in our online presentation and brochures.

Pinnacle Alliance plans to build 344 luxury apartments on a site near Dantzic Street, as part of the ‘Northern Gateway’. Dozens of investors have paid up to £350,000 for the off-plan apartments in the proposed scheme. But two years since many first paid out for their home, no work has actually begun on the £30m scheme.

The dispute has led to a demonstration in Hong Kong, where around 50 buyers took to the streets over Christmas urging local authorities to take up their concerns. And in an unusual twist, protestors even recorded their own campaign song – to the tune of Jingle Bells – criticising Pinnacle.

On the day of my visit the site was home to several jackdaws, the charred husk of a burnt out car, hastily discarded childrens’ toys, the most curious of plywood constructs and a sense of anything and everything, ceasing to make any sense whatsoever.

This stunning development will be an original and inspiring place to live.

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