Mayfield Stories, Sketchbook 1

Half a generation ago nobody ventured across Great Ancoats Street into Ancoats itself. It was a no-go area of the city, dereliction and danger could have summed it up.

By Richard Morris | Last updated 27 July 2022

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Now, of course, we all know the story. Investment on infrastructure by the city in the 90s, a kick-start (partly using EU funding) with the refurbishment of Royal Mill in the early 2000s. Now a desirable area to live, work and socialise.

Plunging South off Great Ancoats Street is Fairfield Street. When I walked along that street and turned into Temperance Street recently, dereliction and danger were – if a little ‘self hysterically’ – words that came to mind. That half generation ago, North and East of the city centre, these two highways abruptly signalled the starts of no go areas. But in the 18th and 19th centuries they defined the borders of concentrated industrial hotbeds that built Manchester.

Ancoats is now cool. Mayfield will become cool, but that will take ten years and over a billion pounds of investment. Yes there is activity and activity in quite a big way. The Warehouse Project, Manchester International Festival events. Fairfield Social Club on Temperance Street – my destination as I headed through the dusk to the launch of Len Grant’s book, Mayfield Stories, Sketchbook 1.

I’ve known Len for a long time. I’ll attempt three words that – to me – summarise him. Let’s try ubiquitous, eponymous, whimsical. Not sure Len would agree with those words, but in different ways he has recorded the development of our city through three decades. When something’s been going on, Len has been around. Much of that recording has been through photography and words: the regeneration of Salford in the early 90s, the ‘Making Manchester’ exhibition and book in the early 2000s, ‘How is it for you, Islington?’ four or five years ago. A couple of dozen more projects, books and exhibitions along the journey. Fairly recently, in the bigger time scale of Len Grant things, he has been sketching. And sketching Mayfield in the nascent stages of its billion pound development.

Mayfield. Actually a nice, friendly name…but not a field in sight for two hundred years. Originally – 1782 – the site of Thomas Hoyle’s Mayfield Print Works, with ready access to vital water from the River Medlock.The Hoyle family perfected printing onto fabric, amazing the world by being able to print a mile of calico in one hour, unleashing the power of Cottonopolis with finished fabric

for the middle and upper classes. But in 1910 the Mayfield Print Works was demolished to be replaced with Mayfield train station, essentially as an overflow for Piccadilly Station in the heyday of railways. Piccadilly Station then known as London Road Station. By the 1940s five platforms linked with London Road Station – until Mayfield Station closed in 1960.

For a decade and a half Mayfield became a Royal Mail parcel depot, before coming to silence and increasing dereliction towards the end of the last century – and becoming, at least in my mind, a no go area.

So, plans for the next decade. Firstly preserving the extraordinary industrial heritage and then embarking on creating a six and half acre public park, apartments, offices, shops and leisure. Another Manchester phoenix.

Back to Len.

The first pages of his book, Mayfield Stories, Sketchbook 1, say in handwritten rhetorical notes, ‘Why are we keeping it all? It’d probably be easier to knock it down. Certainly it would be cheaper and give us more flexibility? But these buildings have soul, they have heritage… and that’s what people connect with.’ Precisely. Thirty years ago it would have made more ‘sense’ to flatten derelict Ancoats mills and build anew. But thankfully that’s not the Mancunian way.

Len has set out to record in whimsical (that’s the last word of his three word biog employed) sketches the old, derelict Mayfield. And, Len being Len, includes stories of the people who worked in and lived around Mayfield. The oldest of these people is Mary, who at the age of 90 was there at Fairfield Social Club for the book launch event. What changes she’s seen.

It’s good that there won’t be just photographic records of the rebirth of Mayfield. But, Len being Len, I know that that will be on his agenda too.