If you have ever shuffled down Thomas Street in the NQ, you might have spotted a sculpture of an extraordinarily tall broom. Or maybe you haven’t.
For some reason, it is pretty easy to miss. I didn’t notice the damn thing until my 135th stroll in the NQ, but it turns out it has been there since the late ‘90s.
The broom is a sculpture by George Wylie, who is also the artist behind ‘The Life Cycle’ in Castlefield, which depicts a large steel brush standing upright on a concrete block. To the right of it is an equally large short-handled shovel. The sculpture is eye-catching, humorous and symbolic.
Upon first glance, this sculpture might seem a little on the random side, but when you look a little further, it turns out it has lots to say about the Northern Quarter and the regeneration that took place in the 1990s.
It was unveiled in 1999 and was commissioned by the Northern Quarter Project and Manchester City Council as part of the public arts program to mark the end of the huge regeneration of the area in the late ‘90s.
Sometimes it seems hard to imagine the Northern Quarter being anything other than the edgy, artistic hub that it is today, but that was not always the case. The Manchester we see today is drastically different to that of the 60s, 70s, and towards the back end of the 80s – it was the run-down, unkempt mess illuminated in the lyrics of Morrissey and The Stone Roses.
During this time, there were many derelict buildings, mainly ex-industrial mills and warehouses, but there was still some vibrancy to Manchester- especially in the Northern Quarter. It wasn’t until the 1996 IRA bomb though that the widespread regeneration project finally began.
But there was a problem with the NQ. Compared to the relatively easily demolished or renovated areas in the rest of the city centre, the Northern Quarter sat on the historic border of Industrial, commercial and residential life.
It was a place where its history and, more importantly, architecture provided its unique and distinctive physical character. Starting fresh was not an option for the NQ so therefore the regeneration had to take a different form. In the NQ there had to be a focus on ‘clean up’ rather than building new.
‘A New Broom’ is representing the regeneration and salvation of the Northern Quarter in the 1990’s.
This was a project, which saved and developed an area which was teeming with history at a time which celebrated and strived towards the modern. It is a really beautiful thing if you ask me, and it is comparable to what is happening in Ancoats right now twenty years on.
It is said that this sculpture is also a celebration of the ordinary working people that have always inhabited the area and the people who give the NQ its vitality.
So next time you are walking down Thomas Street, you can look to the broom and imagine a time when people clubbed together to work towards the stunning, diverse and eclectic district of Manchester we know and love today. I wonder what they think of it now?