Ancoats

Before the invention of steam power and the creation of canals, industry took place where the means of harnessing power was easiest - at the heads of valleys where water flow was fast and reliable. Steam power liberated the production process from remote valleys, and canals provided a convenient means of getting raw materials and finished goods to and from their markets. The dynamics of manufacture changed forever.

Ancoats, a collection of fields on the edge of Manchester, where sheep grazed before being taken to the selling fairs, suddenly became prime real estate. In the late 1700s the owner of that land noticed that Lord Bridgewater had announced the construction of a canal to transport coal from his mine to his other properties and business concerns. Alive to new opportunities, the owner set out Ancoats in plots, based on a gridiron layout and offered them to developers wanting to take advantage of the soon to arrive canal. The result was that Ancoats became the world’s first industrial suburb within Manchester, the world’s first industrial city. At its zenith, the world price of spun cotton was set by the mill owners on Redhill Street in Ancoats. Across the world the term ‘Manchester goods’ was a bye-word for quality and excellence and many towns and cities were named Manchester as homage to that reputation and as a statement of aspiration to aim high.

An icon of Industrialisation

By 2000 the cotton industry had long since collapsed in the UK and the Ancoats area of Manchester was an industrial wasteland. In 2003 a regeneration team for the area including planners, landscape architects and engineers, added an artist into the mix, and the projects seen here between 2003-2011 were the outcome.

Ancoats had once been all about the manufacture of cotton, but what could Ancoats be next? The cultural masterplanning project that followed was concerned with how a continuity of culture might be achieved from what Ancoats had been to what it might become. It is quite extraordinary how Ancoats has served as an icon of both capitalism and communism. Manchester's iconic achievements at the forefront of the industrial revolution are widely recognised. Paradoxically in the 1840s Engels explored Manchester for his book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, and revealed Ancoats as having some of the most appalling working and living conditions that the industrialisation of labour had effected.

So what exactly are the Peeps

Walking around the Ancoats area of Manchester you will come across brass eyepieces set into walls. Through these peepholes you can glimpse a space that has been walled up for some time, but that is not entirely still.

If it seems that there is no clear explanation as to what the Peeps are, or exactly how many there are, or where they are, that is because there is no explanation to be had. The Peeps are to be stumbled across. They may not all be found, and there is no single explanation as to what they are, or what they are about. That said, this website and the book ‘The Peeps’ set out to convey the context in which the Peeps were made; the area, the culture and the buildings into which the Peeps are immured.

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