Charter Street Mission

And Angel Meadow

Taken from an Historic England Report

At the beginning of the 19th century many children from the poorest districts did not have access to education. ‘Ragged schools’ provided not only education but also clothing and food for the children. They often emerged from Sunday schools or were funded from public subscriptions, and run by local teachers. Many ragged schools were taken over or rendered unnecessary by the schools established after the 1870 Education Act (the Times estimated that 36,000 children were affected by closures). However, many more continued to provide educational and other functions, acting as Christian missions. These functions sometimes included boys’ and men’s clubs, accommodation, and penny banks. Nationally only five pauper or ragged schools are listed, one being Sharp Street Ragged School, a near-neighbour and sister organisation to Charter Street).

Manchester’s population more than doubled between 1821 and 1851 and in the central area continued to rise into the 1870s. In the 1840s Angel Meadow was described by visitors and social commentators, including Friedrich Engels, as the very worst of industrial Manchester’s slums. Its population of 20,000 to 30,000 included many refugees from the Irish potato famine. They shared the 33-acre area with iron and chemical works as well as cotton mills and the enormous burial ground of St Michael’s church, where over 40,000 paupers were interred.

A school was first built on the site in 1866, replacing a timber yard. This was the new home for the Nelson Street Ragged School, renamed (from the Angel Meadow Ragged School, as it was established in 1861) after its first home in the former temperance hall on Nelson Street (which coincidentally had also been used by the Manchester Juvenile Refuge and School of Industry from 1847 to 1851, before becoming a dancing saloon with a reputation for immoral behaviour).

The mission appears to have continued to fulfil a desperate need after 1870. A study of Preston showed that in each of the censuses from 1851 to 1881, approximately 10 per cent of its total population were female migrants between 15 and 30 years old who had not travelled with their parents. There, they were mainly engaged in domestic work eschewed by local girls in favour of factory work, and Manchester must have offered more of both kinds of employment, and been home to large numbers of itinerant females. By the late 1880s an alternative was needed to what the school’s annual report called 'the contaminating influence of the common lodging house' on girls in low-paid work such as domestic service.

An extension committee was chaired by William Crossley, who bought the necessary land for £1,650 and presented it to the school. From April 1892, to the south of the 1866 school, a three-storey block fronting Aspin Lane (then called Ashley Lane) provided safe and affordable lodgings for working girls, as well as a large mixed school, cooking and dining for day-school children, a mission hall and men’s and boys’ clubs. A nursery for infants of working mothers filled the space between the old and new buildings at the level of the semi-basement of the 1866 building, with a glazed roof. This with its access, yard and toilet block occupied the site of the former Bone Street and its blind-back houses, and four back-to-back houses and associated buildings at Leaf Court.

Despite the 1892 building providing for approximately 1,200 pupils, 500 infants and 40 to 50 resident girls, further extension was needed to properly fulfil the planned mission. Plans were already prepared by 1896, but these were superseded in 1898, with the official opening in July 1900. The 1866 building was completely replaced, with part of its site being used to widen Dantzic Street (then called Charter Street) and the rest for a replacement building to the north-west of the nursery, partly funded by compensation for the road widening.

Another extension to the north-east of the 1892 building replaced some cottages. These extensions were primarily for the girls’ home and included work rooms, a laundry, kitchen, additional cubicles and bathrooms, and a large playroom. The men’s and lads’ club rooms, matron’s suite, caretaker’s house and master’s office are also of this phase.

The plan-form of the building is little-altered and although some historic features have been lost, many remain. The glazed roof to the nursery has been covered and a false ceiling inserted. Modern kitchen fittings have been installed in the work rooms and the infants’ yard infilled. Glazed dado tiles in the clubrooms have been over-painted. The laundry has been subdivided with partitions. The majority of the cubicles have been removed although some remain; the survival of these in buildings of this type is now very rare. The chimneypiece has been removed in the girls’ sitting room, and the playroom added in 1900 has been altered to provide classrooms.

The full report can be read/downloaded here