There are many historic characters associated with St. Michael's Flags, Angel Meadow and the surrounding area. Some of them were just local people trying to make a difference, while others were national celebrities who were connected to the area in some way.


 Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) was the son of a successful German industrialist. As a young man his father sent him to England to help manage his cotton-factory in Manchester. Engels was shocked by the poverty in the city and began writing an account that was published as the Condition of the Working Classes in England (1844). His account includes a graphic description of the pauper burial ground which may have been St. Michael's Flags. Engels later collaborated with Karl Marx at Chetham's Library in the city, which famously resulted in the writing of the Communist Manifesto. The desk they worked at is still located at the current school.

  Elizabeth Prout

Mother Mary Joseph of Jesus (1820-1864) was born Elizabeth Prout in Shrewsbury. She moved to St. Chad's Catholic Church, Cheetham Hill under the guidance of Fr. Gaudentius Rossi where she founded the Passionist Sister Catholic Institute. She worked among the poor and dispossessed of Manchester including at the affiliated church of St. Williams on Simpson St in Angel Meadow. Much of her work involved teaching in the cotton mill and those fleeing the Irish famine as well as seeking improvements in female rights.

Recent renewed interest in Elizabeth's life has resulted in petitions to the Pope in Rome for the Canonisation of "Manchester 's Saint."

Reverend Mercer

Reverend Mercer was appointed rector of St Michael's Church and wrote vividly of the 'grinding poverty', 'besotted drinking' and prostitution which he strove to alleviate. He became a leading member of the Christian Social Union and was involved in the newly formed Prevention of Cruelty to Children Society (1884) - now known as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Mercer was appointed fifth Anglican Bishop of Tasmania in 1902 serving until 1914.

After a period at Brighton he was appointed assistant to the bishop of Chester, accepting a residential canonry in September 1916 and in 1919 he added the archdeaconry of Macclesfield to his duties and participated vigorously in the Church of England convocation. His death from erysipelas on 28 April 1922 came as a shock. 

  Princess Mary, Duchess of York

Mary of Teck (1867-1953) was the great granddaughter of George III and second cousin of Queen Victoria. Victoria was keen to see Mary become Queen after the death of Mary's betrothed- the heir to the throne). Victoria convinced her youngest son George, the next in line to marry Mary. She then became the Duchess of York. During this time she visited the Charter Street Ragged School. She later became Queen and was the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II.

  Jerome Caminada

Jerome Caminada (1844-1914) was Manchester's very own Sherlock Holmes. Born of Irish-Italian descent, he became a high-ranking detective in the police force and was responsible for patrolling both Deansgate and Ancoats. Jerome was a great believer in law and order, even though he was aware of the harshness of some convictions. His "Moriaty" was Bob Horridge, a Blacksmith in Angel Meadow by day and violent armed robber by night. Towards the end of his life, he wrote an account of his time as a policeman, entitled 25 Years of Detective Life - a Fascinating Account of Crime in Victorian Manchester.

  Lydia Becker

Lydia Becker (1827-1890) was born to a family of German industrialists.She was a botanist, suffragette and founder of the Women's Suffrage Journal.

In 1870 women gained the right to vote for and to stand for election to, the new School Boards. Lydia stood successfully for the Manchester School Board as an independent member, receiving 15,000 votes. She was a passionate supporter of the Ragged Schools in Angel Meadow until her death.

Like her suffrage work, her education work gave her a high public profile as she gave speeches and attended the opening of new Board Schools. Laying the foundation stone one new school she said "it was a great mistake to suppose that domestic duties were limited to girls and women, every boy in Manchester should be taught to darn his own socks and cook his own chops."

Winston Churchill

Then Liberal MP Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was invited to visit the Charter Street Ragged School by its superintendent, Thomas "Tommy" Johnson, in 1906. He was the first member of government ever to set foot within the school, donated £5 according to records and sang his favourite hymn- Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory.

Later, on hearing of Tommy's death, Churchill wrote a moving letter about meeting him and visiting the area.

 Duchess of Sutherland

Lady Millicent Fanny St. Clair-Erskine, (1867-1955) and wife of the 4th Duke of Sutherland, was a social reformer and writer who gained the nickname "Meddlesome Millie" for her campaigning.

She opened the Working Girls' Home, next to the Charter Street Ragged School, on 26th July 1900.

 Charles Dickens

Dickens (1812-1870) briefly worked at the Grant's Warehouse in Angel Meadow. He had the sense to leave,  but the slum conditions may have influenced his Industrial Revolution novel Hard Times.

The Grant brothers, William and Daniel, were also the prototypes for the philanthropic Cheeryble brothers in Nicholas Nickleby.

His novel A Christmas Carol was written after a visit to a Field Lane Ragged School in London and a meeting with the movements President Lord Shaftsbury. He based the character of the crippled Tiny Tim on the son of a friend who owned an Ardwick cotton mill.

  Alexis de Tocqueville

Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a French political thinker and historian, best known for his Democracy in America (two volumes: 1835 and 1840) and The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856). In both these works he explored the effects of the rising inequalities in social conditions on the individual and the state in western societies. He visited Manchester in 1835, describing it in his work of the same year Journeys to England and Ireland.

Charles George Gordon

Celebrated British Military servicemen, General Gordon "of Khartoum" (1833-1885) saw colonialist action in China and Egypt before becoming Governor-General of Sudan and later killed during an uprising.

When not on duty, Gordon worked tirelessly on behalf of the Ragged Schools Movement and for a short period taught at Charter St Ragged School on Aspin Lane.

The manner of Gordon's death is uncertain, but it was romanticised in a popular painting by George William Joy - General Gordon's Last Stand (1893, currently in the Leeds City Art Gallery), and again in the film Khartoum (1966) with Charlton Heston as Gordon.  

 L S Lowry

Artist Lawrence Stephen Lowry's (1887-1976) maternal grandparents lived on Oldham Road, near to Saint Michael's Flags (his grandfather was known locally as a "moderately prosperous" hatter). Hence, Lowry had links with the area long before sketching and then painting St Michael and All Angels, Angel Meadow.

LS Lowry and Angel Meadow: Paintings & Sketches

Thomas Wright  "The Prisoners Friend"

Thomas Wright (1789-1875) played an active part in befriending the many homeless and destitute children of Manchester. He was a frequent visitor to the Charter Street Ragged School and was described as '"the philanthropist of Manchester, distinguished as the true friend of forlorn prisoners. He was a man of no position in society. He possessed no wealth, excepting only a rich and loving heart."

He counted among his friends Lord Shaftsbury (the 7th Earl) and author Elizabeth Gaskell.


  Alderman Abel Heywood

Abel Heywood was born in Prestwich in 1810 before moving to Angel Meadow as a child when his father died. He grew up in extreme poverty, attending the nearby Bennett St Sunday School and later the Mechanics Institute. He became a publisher, supporting many of the Chartist ideals and providing cheap literature for the poor.

He became a wealthy and influential businessman and local politician, serving twice as Mayor of Manchester in 1862/3 (during the cotton famine) and 1876/7 respectively. Heywood oversaw the construction of Waterhouse's Town Hall during his second tenure and the clock town is called the Great Abel.

He died in 1893 but his ancestors continued his business, with a shop on Oldham Street still in existence in the 1970s.  


 Thomas "Tommy" Johnson

Thomas Johnson was well known in the history of the Manchester Ragged School movement. Born and bred in Angel Meadow, Tommy was orphaned at an early age and spent his childhood in extreme poverty earning a living through street hawking.

His saviour came with the opening of the Charter Street Ragged School, which gave him a rudimentary education as well as food and clothing.

As an adult he was determined to devote his time to helping the poor, needy and fallen around Angel Meadow.

He eventually took over as Superintendent of the Charter Street Ragged School and was instrumental in its extension to include a medical mission, recreative evenings and educational classes, lad's club and working girls' home. 

He died in 1915.

Reverend Jowitt Wilson

When the Rev Jowitt Wilson was appointed rector in 1913, he arrived to find a church heavily in debt, a church door without a handle and cats and kittens in the organ! Nevertheless in his 14 years as rector he did tremendous work - he persuaded the parks committee to turn the dismal churchyard into a garden, opened the tower prayer room for daily prayer and a rectory was built.

Rev. Wilson raised £10,000. At first he was helped by his friends - when they gradually died, he turned to the Shudehill markets and local restaurants, going around every week with a galvanized iron bucket collection pennies. Worn out, Mr. Wilson died in 1928 after being an invalid for 9 months.
His obituary in the Manchester City News described him as:
"the stalwart figure, with the big, kind genial face, so well known to every man, woman and child in Saint Michael's parish".

Image courtesy of relatives now living in Australia.

Johnny King (Boxer)

Johnny King (1912-1963) was born in a lodging house owned by his father Henry on St. Michael's Place leading from Angel St.

He fought professionally at fly/bantam/feather and lightweight between 1926 and 1947, totalling 227 fights and winning 161 of them

King was both British and Commonwealth (British Empire) champion before losing a World title bout with Panama Al Brown in 1933 at King's Hall Belle Vue in Manchester.

 Norbert "Nobby" Stiles (Footballer)

Stiles was born in Collyhurst in 1942 and reputedly honed his skills on St. Michael's Flags.

He played 311 times for Manchester United winning two league titles and one European Cup.

Most famously, Stiles played in the 1966 World Cup Final against West Germany which England won 4-2. His post match celebration has become one of the most famous images in English sport history. The sight of Stiles dancing on the Wembley pitch, holding the World Cup trophy in one hand and his false teeth in the other, has lived for decades.


  Violet Carson (Actress)

Carson was born in Ancoats in 1898 and starred as battleaxe Ena Shaples in long-running television soap opera Coronation Street. She was a long standing patron of the Sharp St Ragged School. During her tenure the Annual Christmas Party became famed for the celebrity friends who would attend including singer Dusty Springfield, William Roche and Michael Le Vell from the soap (Ken Barlow and Kevin Webster) and local-born comedian Les Dawson. She died in 1983 aged 85.

 Les Dawson (Comedian)

Comedian Les Dawson was born in Collyhurst in 1939. He's worked in various Co-op offices including the Angel Meadow Tobacco Factory before finding fame on televsion. Nearby Harpurhey Comedian Bernard Manning also worked here briefly.

An ITV documentary follows him around Angel Meadow including the Sharp St Ragged School recounting his childhood.