From ‘knocker up’ Martha to ‘washerwoman’ Mary, lively sculptures recall the women of Grove Street

It’s often said of Spinningfields that ‘there was nothing there before’ the upscale restaurants, glass skyscrapers and suited financiers grabbing their lunch in Pret. But there was…and it couldn’t have been more different. Back in the eighteenth century, the area was packed with terraced housing, providing homes for workers in the nearby industries. 

Now, a new public artwork is shedding light on this hidden history thanks to a commission from Spinningfields Estates Ltd and Castlefield Gallery. Conceived by Cumbria artist Maddi Nicholson, a place lived focuses on the residents of Grove Street (main image), a dense terraced area that once stood on the site, through a playful series of cast iron enamelled houses. 

2019 07 21 A Place Lived 2
The most intriguing vocation? A knocker-up was akin to a human alarm clock
2019 07 21 A Place Lived 4
Tailoress was another popular role

In particular, the works highlight the role of women within Grove Street’s families: from ‘washerwoman’ Martha Barry to ‘keeper of the mangle’ Maria Spencer and Martha Harrison the ‘knocker up’ (like an alarm clock in person form). Other roles include silk winder, weaver, assistant confectioner, wet nurse and shirt maker.

Developed with specialists across the country, each home is an accurate replica; created using extensive census and archives research.

Alongside the sculptures, an accompanying website invites people to delve more deeply into the rich history of Spinningfields and its historic communities, as well as share further information on Nicholson’s research and production process for making the works. 

2019 07 21 A Place Lived 5
A plaque by each house names its residents - viewers can scan a QR code to find out more

Maddi Nicholson said: “As a girl I made things and entered them in Carlisle’s Cumberland Show, ‘industrial section’ classes, and won on a regular basis the most points in the junior section. I took home the Springfield Silver Trophy for seven years in succession from 1974-1980, a record not yet beaten. Looking at these childhood beginnings, I now set myself new industrious challenges, in classes of my own making. This is one of them.

“I am delighted to be working on this commission with the team from Hardman Square, and Castlefield Gallery. It’s been a privilege to delve into the unseen past communities of Spinningfields and bring to life their stories. I’ve developed a great respect for these families, and women the work focuses on, as I’ve followed their lives and professions through each census. I would love to find present day descendants to share these histories with.”

2019 07 21 A Place Lived 3
Each house has traditional features, and is located in the exact location where its residents lived

a place lived has been co-commissioned and produced by Katie Popperwell and Castlefield Gallery for Spinningfields Estates Ltd - with received additional support from public funding via the National Lottery through Arts Council England. It is the third in a series of Spinningfields Arts Commissions, following Liz West’s Through No. 3 (2015) and by Hilary Jack’s HOST (2016).

a place lived is now on permanent display in Hardman Square, Spinningfields, M3 3EB. An off-site exhibition of related archive material and research will be on display in Archives+ in Manchester Central Library from Friday 19 July to Saturday 17 August 

Main image: Manchester Libraries Information & Archives