CHT Blog post 2: Murals and symbolism in Rochdale

Over the Bank Holiday weekend 23rd to 26th of August 2019, the UPRISING street art festival in Rochdale Town Centre saw 12 giant murals painted as well as workshops, tours, displays and fringe events. Artists from the region flocked to Rochdale to take part and created some astounding urban artworks as part of an initiative sponsored by Rochdale Borough Council and Town Centre BID to breathe new life into some of the town's urban spaces.

The Heritage Trust were involved in the project and worked with one of the Artists, Tasha Whittle to prepare a mural for the rear of the Rochdale Pioneers Museum building backing onto Hunters Lane and St Mary's Gate.

Part of the reason we wanted a mural in this spot was to help visitors to find our building in the conservation area of Toad Lane, as well as to brighten up a part of Rochdale Town Centre which is partially hidden behind the Exchange Shopping Centre and the Bypass Road.

Some of the murals represent different aspects of Rochdale's past as well as its present and 'You are home here' feature the bee symbol which is part of our logo and a commonly recognised symbol of co-operation, long before it was adopted by Manchester City Council. The image of the worker bees, living and working together in harmony for the good of the hive was strongly associated with the struggle of the industrial workforce, and the need for community in a new and disorientating urban environment created as a result of the Industrial Revolution and disruption of traditional patterns of life in Britain.

The dominating symbol is the daisy flower which symbolises the daylight as well as honesty and purity. The 'day's eye' flower was so called because it symbolised the sun and the light, opening its petals in the daytime and the delicate white flowers came to represent the wheel of life and community for people living in the rural hamlets of England before mass manufacture changed the way of life in the North West. Even the song 'Daisy Daisy' about entering into marriage with honesty reflects what the flower meant traditionally, as part of the Victorian fashion for the symbolic language of flowers or 'Floriography'. 

Traditionally, the daisy was incorporated into patterns and carved on the handlooms used by weavers in this part of the world as a symbol of good fortune and to provide a kind of blessing on the industry of the family. Hand loom weaving in Lancashire usually took place in upper rooms, by large windows to make the best use of natural light as a way to sustain a family on land which was poor for growing arable crops. Farming sheep and processing wool (later cotton) became the specialist livelihood of local communities and would provide the specialist knowledge for the industrial powerhouses that the Pennine towns like Rochdale would become in the 19th century. The modern use of the flower reminds, without rose-tinted glasses of the way landscape and culture change one another through time.

The wet and hilly landscape of Rochdale was responsible for the wealth it would gain as an industrial hub, first for wool, and later, trading in mass produced cotton textiles. The abundant local coal and stone measures as well as transport infrastructure by canal and railway linked Rochdale to the rest of the world. The trade links the town had are represented in the stained glass panels in the windows of the Town Hall's Civic Staircase and some of the symbolism of the landscape can be found in public art, decoration and even place names in the district. In the late 1700's the River Roch was recorded as having lost all its natural fish stocks due to the urban growth and pollution of the factories. Today, the River Roch is home to Brown Trout, Tench, Rudd and Ruff and in the Rochdale Canal, fishing enthusiasts catch Roach, Perch and Bream which would have been unthinkable during the time it was an industrial waterway. Although the urban landscape in Rochdale has changed, it still offers most of the landscape features which made it a wealthy town and a centre of population 200 years ago. Rochdale contains 4% of all Greater Manchester's broadleaf woodland in the ancient forests of Healey Dell, Ashworth, Chesden, Lord's Wood and Hopwood. Flowering plants, fungi and mosses which were vital medicines for the pre-industrial population and supported the eco-system have recovered in the post industrial environment following the Clean Air Act of 1956.

Rochdale has changed and continues to develop; by embracing change while remembering the events of the past, those which had an impact on the character and identity of a place, residents are better able to make their own connections to what has been, what is gone and help create what is to come.

From 2019 to 2020, the Heritage Trust's theme for displays and events will be Environment and Sustainability. We will be looking at how co-operatives can make a difference to making the most of environment and landscapes and reducing the impact of waste.