By Paul Wright
Hulme, Manchester. Built after the slum clearances of the 1960s, the rebuilt Hulme with its huge crescents, deck access flats and maisonettes were a radical departure from the usual two up two down social housing of previous decades.
The crescents, inspired by Georgian Bath had promised to bring comfortable living combined with lots of open space for recreation. They were named after the main architects for Georgian Bath, Robert Adam, John Nash, Charles Barry and William Kent. However this idyllic utopia never materialised in working class Manchester, and in 1978 the scheme was blasted by the chair of Manchester City Council’s Housing Committee who described the development of Hulme Crescents as an “absolute disaster – it shouldn’t have been planned, it shouldn’t have been built”.
It was planned, and it was was built, and whilst there were many problems and difficult times for residents, there were also memorable times too. A strong sense of togetherness, northern spirit and a diverse community made Hulme a place like no other.
Towards the end of the seventies times were particularly tough, high levels of unemployment, social unrest and crime was rife around the crescents. The controversial stop and search ‘sus’ law was being used to discriminate against mainly young black men from Hulme, and neighbouring Moss Side, becoming a major factor in the inner city riots that were on the horizon. Manchester reggae band Harlem Spirit recorded the outstanding ‘Dem A Sus (In the Moss)’ written in protest against the ‘sus’ law. It became a local anthem at the time, being blasted out of sound systems in nearby Alexandra Park, much to the annoyance of the local authorities.
Another positive outlet against the troubled backdrop was the ‘Factory’ night at The Russell Club. Situated on Royce road it was launched by Factory’s Alan Erasmus, Tony Wilson, and helped by promoter Alan Wise. The Factory night attracted numerous touring bands to the area and many upcoming post punk bands passed through its doors. Echo & The Bunnymen, The Human League, The Cure and Factory’s own Joy Division and A Certain Ratio all graced its stage during the clubs life span.
The eighties brought in a shift of bohemian culture. Artists, ravers, drop outs and punks were drawn to the area, with its zero rent (the council stopped taking rent in 1984) and diy ethos, Hulme became a multicultural and diverse utopia, someone described it at the time as a self-contained universe.
It even had its own independent arts cinema at the time, in the shape of The Aaben, an old cinema dating back to the 1920s. The Aaben wasn’t much to look at from the outside but it had an impressive interior, it led the way for Arthouse cinema in Manchester, way before the city centre’s Cornerhouse arrived.
After hours was a haven for party goers and hedonists, makeshift venues like The Kitchen (which was basically two flats knocked through with a sledgehammer) hosted many a post night out/early morning gathering with DJs often playing a set there after appearing at The Gallery or Hacienda.
The PSV (Public Service Vehicles) club, originally a social club for bus drivers (and previously the Russell) hosted regular DJs and live bands. Remembered by many as as a bit of a rum establishment, it played a mixed bag of music downstairs and predominately reggae upstairs. It welcomed a diverse crowd through its doors, from old frazzled locals and Cheshire kids to single mums, gangsters and students.
By the early nineties the rot had well and truly set in, most of the clubs and pubs had gone or became a no go zone for many. After being abandoned by the council for so long the flats and crescents were on their last legs, plagued by damp, squalor and infestations the council finally found the money for their demolition.
In 1993, just twenty one years after their completion, demolition began, making way for the new Hulme of today which is mostly unrecognisable to its former residents.
Our gallery below revisits the old Hulme, a place where memories and lifelong friendships were forged by a sense of community, survival and belonging.
Article by Paul Wright for British Culture Archive
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