East Manchester used to be one of the most vibrant areas of the city. People flocked there to work in engineering, manufacturing and its own colliery in Bradford. My parents moved there after they got married in the early 50s, following in the wake of many of my aunts and uncles who worked in the local industries. The Irish community was one of the biggest in the city and it had the Gorton Monastery as its cathedral.
Famous activists on the left lived there including Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the Communist party; Eddie Frow, another Communist and co-founder of the WCML, Len Johnson, the black boxer and Communist party member, as well as all the other unamed women who made up the socialist and suffragette movements.
Children (and adults) in east Manchester were lucky to have their own amusement park at Belle Vue. It started in 1836 as Belle Vue zoo which was a small private collection of birds owned by gardener John Jennison. By the beginning of the twentieth century it had grown into a theme park and was the country’s third largest zoo as well as a showground and amusement park.
Belle Vue played an important role in the hurly burly of the anti-fascist movement in Manchester. In 1934 Oswald Mosley, leader of the far right British Union of Fascists, organised a meeting inside Belle Vue. Local anti-fascists organised a protest, both inside and outside the venue. Mosley’s speech was drowned out by the anti-fascists and the meeting broke up.The Communist Party organised a Peoples Festival at Belle Vue in the 1970s. In the 70s the latest generation of anti-fascists organised a Rock against Racism gig at Belle Vue which brought together an interesting mix of young people who opposed the hatred spouted by the National Front.
The Kings Hall at Belle Vue was a venue for all the up and coming local and national bands. I stood in the queue with my sister’s partner as he tried to get tickets for the Rolling Stones. Later on my Mum and I worked in the kitchens, and I met the roadie for the Bay City Rollers who were performing there that night. Offered complimentary tickets I refused as I wasn’t a fan whilst thousands of girls were outside howling for them!
By the 1970s people’s ideas of amusement had changed, the local area was stripped of its manufacturing industry and through a mistaken idea of “slum clearance” many decent terrace housing, including my own family house, had been knocked down. In 1982 Belle Vue was closed down for good just leaving its many memories. In the Manchester Histories Festival there will be a series of events that will try and recapture these memories of a cherished Manchester way of life. See