Tucked away down an unassuming side street that runs directly along the side of The John Rylands Library, you’ll find one of Manchester’s longest running charities The Wood Street Mission.
Founded 30 years before the Rylands was opened, the Mission was set up in 1869 in an area of Manchester that was predominantly a slum. Much like the Rylands, the mission was set up to help the poor factory workers of the area, in particular the children, who were also often working in the same factories as their parents.
For almost 150 years the charity has carried on it’s incredibly important work, working from the same Wood Street base to help alleviate the effects of poverty on local children and families.
‘The City may have changed; society may have changed; the world in which we all live certainly has changed; but remaining at our core is a belief and commitment that if we can respond to a need for help from a neighbour then we should and thanks to the generosity of so many local people today and throughout our history we have been able to meet that need for help.’ – from the Wood Street Mission website.
The John Rylands Library holds the fascinating archive from the Wood Street Mission, containing an incredible amount of material like diaries, account books, cuttings, and many, many beautiful photographs from the Mission’s almost 150 year history.
One of the important aspects of the Missions work was the erection of a seaside camp among the dunes of St Annes near Blackpool. Every year, hundreds of children were given the opportunity to leave the soot and smog of Manchester and spend time at the beach, playing games and swimming in the sea.
This week 9th September, a fascinating exhibition containing many images from the collection housed in the Rylands opens, Queues, Clogs & Redemption. The exhibition will look at the work of the Mission since mid-Victorian times from the days of “rescuing” street children in the nineteenth century, sending tens of thousands to the seaside in the twentieth through to running a city gym in the 1980s.
As well as a historical timeline, it will feature some fascinating artefacts and photographs from the past, and first hand accounts from former service users about their experience of poverty as a child and being helped by ‘the Mission’.
Running in conjunction with the exhibition are a number of historical walking tours, taking in some of Manchester’s most important sites, starting at the Wood Street Mission, The Rylands, St Anne’s Church, Manchester Cathedral, Chethams Library, the beautiful (but steeped in a darker past) Angel Meadows, ending finally in The Marble Arch Pub, where you can try a pint of Wood Street bitter, specially brewed for the charity. The exhibition opens on Wednesday the 9th of September and runs until the 9th of October. Details and bookings here.