Monday, 16 February 2009

Beer, Cotton and Argentina.

Just to the North of the City Centre of Manchester is Ancoats which, for the fan of industrial history, as your scribe today is, can be described as a Victorian theme park. Apart from this transport interchange above, there is a network of old streets, parks, squares and churches, including some of the first corporation housing in the country (Victoria Square, and very nice it is too) which shows the periphery of the industrial might of Manchester, or 'Cottonopolis' as it was known. Alderley Edge shows the grand mansions built for the cotton barons at the end of the new railway, way out in leafy Cheshire, which led to the abandoning of the houses built by the Russian Orthodox mill owners in Broughton, down the road from me, which are built on 'The Cliff'; now all the houses are flats or bedsits, but highly prised by television producers as a Victorian set. Ancoats, however, is occasionally dressed up as New York's garment district a hundred years ago or as seedy alleys for Sherlock Holmes to pursue toughs down. There are still garment manufacturing sweatshops round here, as well as the curry cafes which feed the workers and the kitchen porters of the nearby great hotels - as well as me and many others.

The old markets are still extant, mainly now apartment blocks but many small, independent bars and the occasional brave restaurant have settled here as well as religious bookshops and other (alas) minority interest outlets, attracted by low rents and closeness to town for the intrepid shopper. There is Saint Michael's Church, abandoned by the Roman Catholic Diocese, but still home to a (growing) band of one-time worshippers who meet outside every Sunday and sing hymns. Opus Dei wanted to take the building over, but did not manage to gain the bishop's approval. Now the annual Italian parade of the Madonna from here around town, once symbol of the devotion of the Italians who made their homes and their ice cream factories in Ancoats, is still a major event, bringing traffic to a standstill around town and thousands of wellwishers to line the streets still goes on, but priestly participation is both, unfortunately, political and unlikely to further one's career. This strand of defiance and religion is deeply embedded in the local area, even though the other great event, the annual procession of the Blessed Sacrament through Ancoats with a brass band has gone, the great basilica where it began is boarded-up and falling derelict. We do no better as Anglicans, having shut down the only church in the area years ago, apart from the new Miracles of Fire and Water Ministries on Oldham Road, the only ecclesial community is the long established Particular Baptish Chapel.

The Smithfield Tavern, one time market pub, is in the centre of this area. It has bedrooms for ten pounds a night and not a few permanent residents. It is a surprising pub and having a conversation about the SSPX there seemed par for the course; real ale attracting a diverse group of people. It appears, I am told, that they are forming two distinct camps. The (fit and well) Rector of La Reja, Mgr. Williamson and Mgr. De Mallerais (Bishop Galaretta has been living in a flat in Madrid for a while, I was told) are marshalling, very quietly, those who have no intention of returning to what they have been describing for years as the 'harlot of Rome' (sounds almost Baptist), to La Reja, where Bishop Williamson still is, as this week's post on his BLOG makes clear. What exactly they plan I do not know, but we shall follow this with great interest, as indeed I am following the news that the TAC /Walsingham story was the product of, let us say, an imaginative mind.

The Pitch Black cask conditioned Stout was the winner, for my taste at least. I shall have to find out where the good real ale pubs in Preston are before I go. Going out for a drink is a rare treat and not one to be wasted on bad beer in a grim pub. Things are a bit busy now, before I move house and go on my pre-ordination retreat in Whalley Abbey and there is, of course, concern at the situation in Forward in Faith potentially mirroring that of the SSPX. We are a little different, I suppose, between the North and the South, let us see how much so.

Finally, a happy picture of the beginning of the Candlemas ceremonies at Stonyhurst College this year, with the Superior of the Community and the previous Rector of the College behind him about to lead the procession to the Chapel.