How Manchester’s Red Bank slum welcomed Jews and Ukrainians before changing the world – as it faces its biggest transformation

Red Bank, on the northern outskirts of Manchester city center, has witnessed huge changes over the years.

It’s long been a melting pot of cultures and nationalities and it’s played a pivotal role in the development of both Manchester’s Jewish and Ukrainian communities.

And now, as plans to create a giant new neighborhood along the River Irk move forward, the area is once again on the verge of transformation.

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In the mid 19th Century Red Bank became the center of Jewish working-class life in the city. Hundreds of poor Eastern European Jewish immigrants settled in the cramped, squalid warren of terraced houses at the bottom of Cheetham Hill Road.

It was, according to Bill Williams, a renowned historian of Manchester’s Jewish history, a ‘classic slum’.

He wrote: “Self-contained and shielded from view by the lie of the land and a facade of shops and public buildings, socially barricaded in by the railway and industries of the polluted valley of the Irk and so neglected and ill-lit as to be in a state of perpetual midnight. “

The plans for Red Bank as part of the Victoria North project

But Red Bank was also a hive of industry. Initially many of its inhabitants scraped a living as hawkers or street peddlers. But as the community grew they became tailors, cap-makers, glaziers and took jobs in the relatively new water-proofing industry.

By the 1850s Red Bank was also home to a tannery, piggery and a brewery, while across the river were several corn mills, and the main railway viaduct of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The district was also a breeding ground for working class radicalism as its residents joined and established trade unions.

Red Bank in 1936

Red Bank’s influence reached a global stage when it featured in Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England. In the 1840s Engels, who later went on to write the Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx, described Red Bank as ‘utterly uninhabitable’.

He wrote: ” The landlords are not ashamed to let dwellings like the six or seven cellars on the quay directly below Scotland Bridge, the floors of which stand at least two feet below the low water level of the Irk that flows not six feet away from them; utterly uninhabitable, [it] stands deprived of all fittings for doors and windows, a case by no means rare in this region, when an open ground-floor is used as a privy by the whole neighborhood for want of other facilities! “

Despite the horrendous conditions Red Bank had a huge influence on Jewish life in Manchester. A 2010 exhibition about the area at the Jewish History Museum described it as a ‘seedbed’ of the Jewish community in terms of its population, its religious life and its social care system.

It also laid the foundations for the enterprises of countless Eastern European entrepreneurs. But, by the late 19th and early 20th Century Red Bank was changing again. As their fortunes improved many Jewish families had moved north into Cheetham Hill, Prestwich and Broughton.

Around the same around 100 Ukrainian families found their way to Manchester and settled in the area, where they established the first Ukrainian community in the UK. They found work, often in the tailors established by their Jewish predecessors, and soon others followed.

In time the Ukrainians would also move north, establishing themselves around Cheetham Hill. And by the 1930s most of the houses in Red Bank were demolished and replaced by industrial units, until eventually they were also torn down.

Plans for St Catherines Wood, part of the Victoria North scheme in the Red Bank neighborhood
A new riverside park could be created as part of the plans

Red Bank’s next major transformation came in the early 2000s when the vast Green Quarter was built. Expensive, modern flats tower over the place where the ‘uninhabitable’ slums once stood.

Now, once again the area is on the verge of huge change. A major regeneration of Red Bank will see new housing estates and a ‘river park’ created. It’s part of the first phase of a new neighborhood which could eventually see 5,500 homes built.

It’s all part of the wider Victoria North project which will see around 15,000 new houses built on the edge of the city center over the next 20 years. Manchester council has joined forces with the Far East Consortium to deliver the scheme, which will also see 274 new properties built in Collyhurst Village.

Speaking earlier this week Manchester council leader Bev Craig said the plans will ‘completely transform this part of our city’.

She added: “This is a long-term, aspirational program of regeneration – and represents exactly the type of vision we should be striving for in our city to meet demand for new housing, many of which will be social and genuinely affordable homes while creating sustainable and attractive neighborhoods. It’s brilliant to see this ambition begin to come to life. “

Read more about the Victoria North project: First glimpse of brand new neighborhood and river park behind Victoria Station

Also read: New train station for Cheadle ‘tantalisingly close’ as plans set for final government sign off

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