Collecting History is History

The physical exhibition is no more and the collection has been dispersed but this blog will stay as a lasting document of the project. What we found here also lives on in the next string of events at Manchester Craft & Design Centre as they continue to celebrate their 30th year, starting with Crafting History and sampler-cultureclash on 14th July 2012, read about all the events on the MCDC website here.

A sincere thank you to everyone who has contributed to Collecting History, it’s been awe inspiring just how many leads and fantastic stories I have managed to discover in eight weeks. Thank you and adieu.


Transfer, Refsnart

John Gibbons kindly came into MCDC to talk to Dena the exhibitions officer and dropped off these photos of the stand he shared with his mother up until the retail fish market closed and they relocated elsewhere. I am still catching up with his tales of the fish market as it was but one of the most striking ideas included the language of the market traders where they spoke backwards to one another to disguise their discussions.. You can read more about the Gibbon’s stall in this post.

A scan of Ellen Gibbon’s sales ledger from 1935

John Gibbons

Custom Made

Anne from RA Studio shared these detailed order sheets from some of the special commissions she’s taken on over the years. The relationship between the customer and the maker is often collaborative in situations like this, with customers bringing ideas and personal feedback to the maker who facilitates the scope of creation in order to make these ideas a reality. The top sheet was a tardis ring for a US customer and one of her most memorable personal commissions involved having an After Eight mint (with a bite taken out of it) cast in sterling silver, mounted with an emerald for a pendant.

The Resident Craft Cow, Mods and Rockers

Submitted by Amy Wilkinson, from studio 1 via email:
I miss our resident craft cow! He used to be in the garden at the front of the building. From the Manchester cow parade. I think he was left behind? I love this picture of him in the snow, it really brought out his colours! (I think he is a he?!)
Amy also sent in a photo of a mod invasion from 2009 which reminded me of another photo I’d picked up of some of the vintage cars at a Teddy Boy meet on the other side of MCDC in 2011. The Northern Quarter certainly attracts a diverse group of people with a common yearning for the values and aesthetics of the past, be it vintage or subculture fashion, craft beers and real ales. Investing in hand crafted objects fits into this landscape with customers, visitors, tenants and staff all investing in the valuable emotional and historic connection made between maker and product, item and owner.




By that time the market had been there since the late 18th Century.   It is seen on the OS map of 1844 although it appears that at that time it was mostly an outdoor market.

David Boardman of Manchester History kindly allowed me share these two maps showing the layout of Smithfield Market which you can see, along with many more fascinating images over here. I think they really give a sense of scale and, bearing in mind the current market hall that MCDC inhabits was twice as long, provide a poignant reminder of how much has gone.

Visitor Comments






Collecting History finishes next week so if you have a story to contribute you have one more week to get it in! Thank you to all the people who have talked to me and left their stories on the blog and in the exhibition space. The exhibition ends Saturday 30th June at 5.30 and we have audio interviews to listen to, pictures of the Northern Quarter past and present, and fascinating snippets left behind by tenants, customers, local residents and visitors. This blog will continue to exist and the history collected informs the next exhibition at Manchester Craft & Design Centre. Crafting History runs from 14th July – 10th November 2012, read all about it here.

Children of Drowned Fishermen

Another gem from Eddie Cartwright’s research, kindly transcribed by Kaylee at MCDC:
On the 10th October 1891 the first ever “Lifeboat Saturday” was held in Manchester, passing through the Fish Market. The worst ever lifeboat disaster occured in 1886, when The Mexico struck a sandbank in rough sea. Three lifeboats reached the scene, and a total of 27 lifeboatmen lost their lives helping others at sea. A fund was set up shortly after to help the victims of this disaster, which raised a total of £50,000. Soon after this a Lancashire Businessman recognised that the RNLI should not only receive money for disasters, but instead deserved annual support. He became the creator of Manchester’s Lifeboat Saturday, which attracted 30,000 people.
The fund-raising parade featured orphans of the drowned fishermen and helped the city’s RNLI to raise their annual contribution from £200 to £5,500. Its founder, Sir Charles Macara, wanted funds to not be solely dependent on wealthy investors but funding should come from “the streets” too. Following this 1891 parade Lifeboat Saturdays became hugely popular, continuing to this day under the name of “Flag Day”.

Sack of Potatoes Race

The sack of potatoes race was an annual event with the traders of Smithfield Market and I’m in the process of unravelling the story behind it but if you have any memories of this please get in touch!

Update: Kaylee, volunteer at MCDC has done a little research here:

The MEN published a story in 2009 of Jeff Winters, whose great-uncle Jake Winters took part in the first sack race in 1929. Eddie Cartwright’s research folder includes the above picture of “Jackie” Winters in 1970.


Taken from the MEN article:

EIGHTY years ago, Jake Winters became a local legend after winning a race through Manchester with an eight stone sack of potatoes on his shoulder.  In 1929 Jake, a porter at Smithfield market, won £5 after he challenged a rival to walk the four-and-a-half miles to Chester Road carrying 112 pounds – a hundredweight – of King Edwards without stopping.

Now, eight decades later his great nephew, is taking part in a five-mile charity run with a sack of potatoes on his back.  Jeff Winters, 54, is training to carry 56 pounds of spuds when he does the Greggs Children’s Cancer Run next month. 

Dad-of-one, Jeff, from Crumpsall, said: “I always knew my uncle’s story and I knew he’d become a local celebrity.  “I’ve done a few charity things before but this year is the 80th anniversary of his race so it seemed a perfect opportunity to do something different and remember his success at the same time.”

The story goes that Jake, from Harpurhey and backed by Smithfield’s fruit sellers, challenged a porter from the Cheshire side of the market to the race. The pair put a £5 wager on who would reach the Old Cock pub, on Chester Road, first. 

The rules were that they had to carry the sack on one shoulder without stopping, lowering it or changing shoulders and it was covered by the Evening Chronicle, later the Manchester Evening News.

Cheered along the route by market traders and locals, Jake won with a late dash.  He went on to serve in the forces in the Second World War and was injured at Dunkirk.  He died 15 years ago, aged 86.

Jeff, who has been practising the Heaton Park route using a rucksack filled with two litre bottles of water, said: “He carried a hundredweight, mine’s less and I’m carrying it over two shoulders, but I’m double his age so you have to take that into account.  “I’ve been training hard, doing the course with my rucksack and building up the weights bit by bit.
“My family think I’m mad for doing it but the fact that I am going to be carrying almost four stone of potatoes will help to raise even more money for such a deserving cause.”

Read the full article here on MEN online.

The North West Film Archive

I had a very exciting trip to the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University a few weeks ago and have been able to compile a small showcase of three very special films of Smithfield Markets in their collection from the early 1900s and the 1970s. I think the aerial shot of the markets around 4 minutes is really something, but really all of it brings to life the stories collected over Collecting History these last few weeks.

Footage courtesy of the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University with additional thanks to Salford University for use of the final black and white film.

The Markets and Food Suppliers of Manchester
Smithfield Market Manchester 1853 – 1973
Smithfield Market 1973, copyright of Salford University

The In-between

Top left – back of the current MCDC building showing the now demolished half of the building and Smithfield Wholesale Market (now flats, note the CIS building behind)
Top right – E. Gibbons booth and empty fish crates
Middle – recently amputated fish market hall, the retail markets for fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, flowers. The housing on the right is yet to be built.
Bottom left and right – demolition and empty wholesale markets

I have only four more weeks before Collecting History finishes. I’ve discovered so much (there’s a backlog) and I’ve got a list of leads as long as my arm to follow up which I know I can’t physically cover in the time left. As with all collections we just have to accept that our accumulations can never be complete and it’s the in-between bits, the incidental and unknown that really spur on our fascination with the past and allow our imagination to fill in the gaps in ways which reflect ourselves and our romantic ideals.

The stories I’ve collected are mostly to do with Smithfield Market or MCDC and their surrounds, but inspired by the stories we cannot have I thought I would include this page from Eddie Cartwright’s research folder of the in-between bit – the empty Fish Market and soon to be Craft Village.

From MCDC’s heritage collection.