Northern Quarter classic street art updated in cast iron

The Northern Quarter is now so swathed in street art that it's hard to imagine that at one time organisers had to press Manchester City Council to allow artists creative free rein in the area.

But press they did and arguably the Northern Quarter's reputation is down to the foresight and tenacity of those who saw it as a modern urban canvas.

It's been a really positive partnership between all the artists and supporters

Street art isn’t all about the walls, as impressive as they might be. One of the original pieces that set the tone for the area was a ceramic poem set into the pavement of Tib Street that fired up the imagination of anyone who had time to look down.

The poem was Flags by Lemn Sissay and over the years the ceramic letters wore away to create a new piece of found poetry, full of gaps and mystery.

The piece was originally part of the Tib Street Trail, a public art trail designed to encourage people to rediscover the Northern Quarter, which at the time had suffered significant decline.

Lemn Sissay Pavement Poem Tib Street Flags Excerpt
The new cast iron rendering of Lemn Sissay's poem on Tib Street
Lemn Sissay Pavement Poem Tib Street Flags
The new version is designed to be more durable than its predecessor

Now the poem has been restored in full, with a new version written specially by Lemn and cast in iron for increased durability. The restoration has been supported by Manchester City Council, Bruntwood and the Arts Council. 

A special font, cypher, was designed for the original artwork by Tim Rushton, who has worked across a wide range of disciplines including typography and illustration. It is fitting then that Tim was commissioned to recreate the artwork, but this time in durable cast iron.

Flags Lemn Sissay Tim Ashton Jody Hartley
Tim Rushton, who created both the original and new pieces Jody Hartley

Tim said: “In the last couple of years it has become obvious that Lemn Sissay’s poem Flags on Tib Street has finally become past reasonable repair. After 20 years in an increasingly busy Northern Quarter, a permanent solution was going to be necessary. General wear and tear, scaffolding pole drops and souvenir hunting has rendered it very patchy. Cast iron panels employing the same bespoke NQ typeface would be the solution. Lemn was contacted and decided to create new version of Flags for the project.”

Durham Foundry, a company in Sheffield, was identified as the manufacturer most likely to be able to undertake the task and they offered to do a trial casting to see if a new method of pattern making could be employed for the project. This method enabled Tim’s typeface, the one that is used elsewhere in the NQ, to be cast for the panels.

Lemn’s revised poem was typeset in this form and the trial casting was a success. Production went ahead and after just one minor production hiccup (metal casting is more art than science), the panels were delivered to Manchester.

Lemn Sissay Cv 20015030969
Poet and author Lemn Sissay who will be appearing at Manchester international Festival
2019 09 24 Lemn Sissay Rain
Sissay's poetry is found across Manchester

Hayley Flynn, who runs alternative art tours of the Northern Quarter, was an integral part of the process of restoring the poem. She told us: “It's something I've talked about for a long time now, the poem forms such an important part of the modern history of the Northern Quarter and there've been various ideas and collaborators interested over the years in making it happen.

"Ultimately, all I've done really is to champion its restoration. I was able to facilitate a partnership with Bruntwood Works, knowing their cultural reputation with events like MIF and their connection to the poem through Afflecks. In the case of the old tiles - after summer I'll be a lot more hands-on with what comes next for them, but you'll have to wait and see about that!”

Old Flags Pavement Lemn Sissay Tib Street
The original ceramic lettering

"It's been 24 years since they were originally laid, they've been in a bad state for quite some time. It's highlighted the issues over the upkeep of public art and the idea of recasting them in iron was something that had been talked about for a while. It goes with our lovely industrial iron curbs, it's durable and Tim has worked with the material elsewhere in the area (the Soundbites pieces on Oldham Street).

"I think it was serendipity that it actually happened now, all the right people at the right time were mobilised to make it happen and then it's been a really positive partnership between all the artists and supporters.”   

Flags By Lemn Sissay Pavement Poem On Tib Street With Rainbow Mosaic

The new artwork will be officially launched with a public reading by Lemn Sissay on Tib Street as part of Manchester International Festival next month. Hayley's Skyliner tours of the Northern Quarter can be booked through her website and she is also presenting a guided walk called The Eastside that Never Was for Manchester International Festival.

The tour reveals the story of the poem’s origins, and how the public art trail it helped form became the starting point for the transformation of the area briefly named the Eastside but now known as the Northern Quarter. Participants will discover the parts of the trail that remain, look for the ghosts of those parts that have left us, reveal the previously undocumented stories of the art beneath our feet – and show how art can spark a neighbourhood into change.

Flags by Lemn Sissay - the new poem in full

Pavement cracks

are the places

Where poets pack

warrior words

Verses to catch the

surfeit of faces

Where seeds slip

from bitter birds

Trip and fall

between the ledges

Where sweeping

silent rivers run

Hidden roughened

toughened edges

Where darkness

swallows the sun

Pavement cracks

are the places

Where shadows

of bridges roll

Where water falls

water races

Heat crouches

beneath the cold

The dust of the

city slides

And secret silent

worries wait

Home truths

trickle home

Cracks are the

lines of fate


cracksare patterns



A perfectly

positioned parallax

Waiting to wake

grow wings and fly

And perhaps these

pavement cracks

Hold the

Manchester myriad---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The cracks the cracks

the cracks!

The world between

the windswept flags

Sponsored by Bruntwood, Arts Council England and Manchester City Council

Read now: 'Manchester is what gave me wings' - Interview: Lemn Sissay

Read next: Marcus Rashford mural causes Trafford Council controversy

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