By Jacqueline Grima
In 1906, writer and illustrator, Roger Oldham, published a book called The Manchester Alphabet, filling it with 26 humorous poems and illustrations inspired by the city, a different one for each letter of the alphabet. In the book, Oldham, who lived for most of his life in Manchester, poked gentle fun at aspects of the city he loved, such as the Manchester tram system and the Lord Mayor. Oldham went on to lose his life in 1916 during the First World War.
Recently, students from the Manchester Writing School and Manchester School of Art, working alongside Manchester Metropolitan University’s (Manchester Met) Special Collections team, set about updating The Manchester Alphabet for the modern day reader. The project was initiated by Special Collections Events and Outreach Officer, Louise Clennell, after she unearthed Oldham’s book in the Manchester Society of Architects’ library whilst she was researching for the current Special Collections exhibition: We Built This City: Manchester Architects at 150.
Louise said, “It was such a delightful book and really well written and illustrated, and so I felt I wanted to update it.”
The updated version of the book, put together by the students and entitled A New Manchester Alphabet, was launched at a recent celebration evening at Manchester Art gallery, one of the buildings that featured in the original book. Guests at the event were treated to an evening of readings from the new book and a chance to view some of Oldham’s original illustrations. Instead of focussing on issues such as public transport, A New Manchester Alphabet takes the 2015 reader on a journey around Manchester City centre, taking in all its modern places of interest from Afflecks Palace to Ziferblat.
Ian Whadcock, Senior Lecturer in Illustration with Animation at the Manchester School of Art, said of the project, “This is the third publishing collaboration for Illustration with Animation with the School of Writing over recent years, this time having the additional input and project initiation from Special Collections. The New Manchester Alphabet has served to reinforce and build on strong existing working relationships, that fall outside the scope of the day to day course programme.”
For more information about Manchester Met’s Special Collections, including details of the ‘Architects at 150’ exhibition, please see the Special Collections webpage.