Blue John Mines – Hope Valley

Blue John Caverns is one of numerous caverns and caves located within the beautiful Hope Valley in Derbyshire. It has been a popular attraction with locals and tourists alike for many years. According to the attractions website the Caverns were supposedly formed approximately 80,000 years ago after the melting of nearby Ice Glaciers formed  underground rivers, as a result it created the caverns which we see today.


Blue John Caverns, by Flickr user steve p2008 shared under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) Image Source

The history of the Blue John Caverns goes as far back as 2000 years when the Romans invaded Britain. Supposedly the Romans discovered the very rare Blue John Mineral which is solely located within Castleton, Derbyshire. The Blue John mineral is mined by hand using tools, as it is extremely fragile. Explosives are only ever used for special circumstances.

Blue john slices

Blue John Mineral, by Flickr user Pete Birkinshaw shared under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) Image Source

Here is a short clip from a BBC Radio Manchester programme called The Outsiders, broadcast around 1973. We are able to listen to presenter Ken Howarth on his trip to the Blue John Mines, the tour guide gives us some interesting information on the history of the mines and also Blue John mineral.

Blue John Caverns are a beautiful place to visit for anyone who enjoys adventure and  for anyone who fancies going underground for a great day out.

You can listen to the full radio show at Manchester Central Library (ref: MISCEL/524).


Local Oral History – Life in Rochdale

It has been very interesting whilst on placement at the Central Library, examining the histories of Greater Manchester. The theme of health and living conditions has been a great one to look at, as it lets us hear what town life like for many people when industry was still a huge part of life in the North West. The sound clip below is from an interview conducted in the year 2000, and it discusses living alongside the cotton mills in the twentieth century and how that affected aspects of daily life.

This particular clip has been taken from a much longer interview that discusses all aspects of life in Rochdale, with a “then-and-now” approach to life there. The aim of this project was to create an aspect of history that people can enjoy and relate to, whilst exploring the extensive sound archive at the Central Library.

If you would like to listen to more of this interview, it’s catalogue mark is: MOSSALL/15 2004.0182 and it is available in the search room.

Antonelli of Ancoats Little Italy


Domenico Antonelli

During the 19th century a community of Italian immigrants was established in Ancoats in an area that became known as “Ancoats Little Italy”. Last year we added a new collection to the archives, deposited by Roland Antonelli, which contains the story and documents relating to his grandfather Domenico’s arrival and life in Manchester.

Domenico Antonelli and his wife Christina arrived in Ancoats in 1894 having left their home town of Picinisco in southern Italy twelve years earlier in search of work. Domenico was a skilled carpenter and further developed his craft as a cabinet maker in Paris and then London before settling in Manchester.



Antonelli’s barrel piano business at  59 Great Ancoats Street and   2-4 Bloom Street

Soon after his arrival Domenico set up his first business. Using his cabinet making skills he started to produce ‘barrel pianos’ which were extremely popular at the end of the 19th century. The Antonelli barrel pianos became highly acclaimed and won several awards at international exhibitions.

Domenico and Christina’s sons and daughters (Ernest, Luigi, Romolo, Giulia, Elvira and Dolorato) joined their father in the family business and together they expanded and invested in several other enterprises including: an Italian grocery store on Great Ancoats Street; the Astley Arms Hotel, also on Great Ancoats Street; a wholesale wine merchants; and a factory making wafers and ice cream cones.

The barrel piano business was eventually closed in 1916 due to a combination of the effects of WW1 and a surge in radio listening which resulted in a decline in street music. This presented the Antonellis with an opportunity to concentrate more of their efforts on developing the wafer business.

The “International Wafer Company” was founded in 1912 at premises on Bridgewater Street in Salford. Demand for “International Wafers” and “Sugaco” cones grew rapidly and with the help of distribution agents and investment in process and production the business boomed. By 1926 Domenico Antonelli and his sons had opened a state of the art, purpose built factory at the “Progress Works” next to Lancashire County Cricket Ground at Old Trafford. Their archive contains a little booklet about the factory called “The Romance of Big Business” which highlights the key values of the company: a product of “a high grade quality” made in “absolutely hygienic conditions” by “expert workpeople” who were treated to “extensive playing fields” and “a large staff kitchen with a dining room to care for their every need”.


Photographic illustration of the packing process at Progress Works from “The Romance of a Big Business”

Throughout his life Domenico Antonelli was very involved in community activities and often took the lead on initiating and organising events. In 1913 he established and funded the “Star of Italy” a musical society set up to encourage an interest in music amongst the sons of the local Italian families.


Domenico Antonelli with his three sons in the “Stella D’Italia” (Star of Italy) musical society

The band was a great success and within a year of its founding thirty boys led the Italian Catholic Society’s procession in the Whit Walks. They were highly regarded for their musical abilities and uniqueness, wearing the uniform of Domenico’s Bersaglieri regiment of the Italian army, and even helped with recruitment into the British Army.

Domenico Antonelli became the first president of the ‘Italian Catholic Society’ and between 1926 and 1932 he and son, Romolo, organised the annual pilgrimage to Holywell.

AntonelliIn recognition of his extensive business achievements and work within the Manchester Italian community Domenico Antonelli was knighted by the Italian monarchy in 1932 taking the title “Cavaliere della Corona d’Italia” which means “Knight of the Crown of Italy”.  Thirty years later his son Romolo Antonelli was also honoured with a knighthood for his equivalent outstanding contribution to Manchester’s Italian community.

To find out more about the Antonelli story you can view the Antonelli family archive online here.

Roland Antonelli, son of Romolo, has continued to take a big interest in the area where his grandfather settled and you can see his collection of Ancoats regeneration documents and newsletters here.

To find out about Domenico Antonelli’s descendents in Manchester and what happened to the Antonelli wafer and cone business, have a look here.

Progress Works, Old Trafford


Sound Art Workshops at @theproudtrust

LGBT Voices takes place at Manchester Central Library on Friday 26th February. The event will celebrate and raise awareness of the rich LGBT Oral History material in the Greater Manchester Sound Archive and showcase some new sonic material.

As part of the outreach for the event, Manchester sound artist Vicky Clarke ran workshops with young people at the Proud Trust. Thinking about sounds that are in our environment, everyday and not always considered musical we wanted the group to find, play and record sounds and noises within their centre.

Recording the sounds of the bottle-top mural

The idea being that the group would find sounds that were intrinsic to their building from surfaces, materials, shapes and images. These sounds will feature in a new soundscape composition to be premiered at the event.

In the first session we made noises using theremins, turntables and paper, this involved the group sketching shapes and patterns of objects and images from around the venue and turning these into repetitive paper stencils or graphical scores.

Collection tin shapes at the Proud Trust Some of the objects/shapes were triangles found in the roof of the building and flags adorning the centre, sine wave shaped boxes and even a bottle of hotsauce from the cafe!

Turntable theremin madness

Each shape and object produced a unique electronic synth space sound, when played on the turntables with the oscillators, which was particularly apt with the group conversations around David Bowie and space that week.

In the second session we made our own noise machines, building light theremin circuits and the group played these in pairs responding to the light and their bodies within the building.

Building at theremin at the Proud Trust

We then searched for hidden sounds around the venue, using contact mics and mini amps, placing mics on different surfaces and objects, the group uncovered some amazing sounds, such as chair legs that sounded like trumpets, boiling kettles that sounded like jet planes and crinkly sounding salt shakers.

Recording the sounds of hot sauce!

You can hear the sounds the young people made in this mashup.

Want to know more? Come along to the LGBT Voices event at Central Library on 26 February.

If you’re feeling creative, have a listen to some of the oral history clips and submit your own creative piece based on the stories. You could be performing at the event!


Blog by Vicky Clarke     @vickyclarke_

The Town Hall Photographers’ Collection

In the last few months we have added a vast photographic collection to the archives. There are tens of thousands of images, covering many aspects of Manchester across all areas and spanning the entire 20th Century. The photographs were taken and stored by the City Council’s staff photographers who documented various aspects of Manchester life as well as significant changes to the Manchester landscape. The collection includes many different formats from glass negatives, to slides, prints, CDs and even a couple of cine films. What is especially exciting is that the majority of these images have never before been available in a digital format and therefore have only ever been seen by a handful of people.

Town Hall Photography Workroom

The photographers’ workroom where the photographs were discovered.

Cataloguing on CALM

Archivist, Liane MacIver, cataloguing the collection on CALM

My role has been to select individual images for digitisation and ultimately to connect them to the public through a range of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, blogs, our interactive exhibition at Central Library and, in the future, our local images online database. Digitisation of photographs is not a quick process.

As well as scanning images and preparing them in Photoshop they need to be tagged with keywords (for search purposes) and sometimes further research is required to identify locations and buildings. Due to time limitations it will not be possible for me to scan all of the photographs so part of the process has been to select those images which I think will have the most appeal and interest.

I came across some great images of the Northern Quarter area before its recent transformation so they became the first set of photographs to be digitised and shared in a new flickr album alongside a few older images that we already had. The response on Twitter and Facebook was phenomenal. Over 7,000 people have looked at the album and there has been much sharing and commenting across all the social media platforms.

Tib Street 1984

Tib Street (now part of the Northern Quarter) 1984

What I love about this collection is how the images can affect different people in different ways. Although they are not our personal or family photographs if you live, work or grew up in Manchester there will be something here that you will feel connected to. This happened to me when I came across a photograph taken in Ancoats in 1965 (below). To most people the image is probably quite mundane but to me it was particularly exciting because I recognised the building on the right, it looked just like the converted cotton mill where I live, however the view itself was completely unfamiliar. Once I had digitised the photograph I was able to zoom in on the detail and read the road sign in the middle of the frame which confirmed it as my street. It is now fifty years since this photograph was taken and the only thing that exists of this view now is the image itself. Of all the buildings only the mill is still standing but from this vantage point it is now entirely obstructed by new multi-story buildings.

Great Ancoats Street and Redhill Street, 1965

Great Ancoats Street and Redhill Street, 1965

As this collection is gradually digitised and made widely available to view I’m really looking forward to following the reactions and stories that come out of them. If you are interested to follow this project then keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter for future posts and in the meantime you might like to take a look at some of the newly digitised images in the Ancoats flickr album.




A First-hand account of the Somme from the Greater Manchester Sound Archive

This past week I have been working with the Greater Manchester Sound Archive collection and trying to find oral histories about WWI. One of the recordings I have been dealing with is an interview with Richard Hart, born 1892 in Standish, Greater Manchester, who fought at the Somme and was also part of the British force in Ireland following the Easter Rising in 1916.

The interview which was recorded in 1981 starts with Richard describing his memories of men being recruited for the Boer War while playing marbles which is a really interesting story and goes to show just how far back oral histories can take the listener.


Richard then talks about joining the army as soon as war breaks out and actually being turned away on the first day because there were apparently too many men trying to sign up! He was able to join the next week though and ended up joining the Royal Engineers having studied Engineering at school.


Richard describes a posting of his as part of the Royal Engineers which was in Ireland after the Easter Rising of 1916. He speaks at length about how the Irish people were positive towards him and his fellow soldiers and would tell him that their problem was with the police rather than the army.


Richard also enlightens us about how much he was paid while remaining as a Sapper throughout the First World War. This gives a really interesting insight into the life of a soldier and whether they would have been fairly compensated for the great sacrifices they were forced to make if that could ever be possible.


Richard goes on to talk about the Somme which started 100 years ago this year on the 1st July and Manchester will be hosting the national commemoration later this year – He describes in detail his experience of the Somme and listening to the clip you find yourself able to picture the horror and chaos of war much clearer than by just reading a book which shows the real power of oral history. He concludes that what he remembers most about the battle is the piles of bodies which is a very poignant ending.


Overall, it is a fascinating interview that helps the listener get a real sense of what it was like to be a soldier in the First World War. I will be working with more oral history clips relating to the First World War over the next few months and will blog about what I find. For anyone who wants to listen to the whole interview with Richard, which includes memories from his schooling and later life working in the pits then you can do so on the link below.


You can also follow us on soundcloud by heading over here there are lots of great clips to listen to and more are being added all the time!