A recent report from the government's Office of Population Censuses and Surveys confirms Manchester as having the highest death rate for men between 1989 and 1993. Manchester, therefore, that cultural centre of laddishness, so effortlessly and eloquently expressed in the conurbation's football clubs and pop groups, is strangely enough also a killer of lads. Is there something self-destructive about the multiple, industrialised male - explaining, perhaps, how the north west region produced so many sacrificial 'lads regiments', slaughtered in Flanders during the First World War?
Militarism and the massed, armed male have had an influence on Manchester's growth from the time of the Romans onwards. The Roman fort and town of Mamucium, built at Castlefield, overlooked the road linking the legionary bases of Chester and York, at the point where it crossed the Irwell. A Roman temple unearthed in Hulme in 1821 was dedicated to Mithras, a sun deity with Persian origins, who enjoyed a cult following in the army. Worship of Mithras during the latter stages of the Roman Empire rivalled that other popular cult, Christianity, and shared similarities with it, including emphasis on the immortality of the soul. Typically, the Hulme temple was built to the south west of the fort, and would probably also have faced west. Many temples to Mithras were also partially subterranean and utilised a single window to let in a beam of light into the overall gloom to illuminate the altar. Mithras was often shown killing a bull - a symbol of seasonal, or sun-dominated, death - and rebirth. He would often be accompanied in his British temples by accessory characters. One of the carvings found in Hulme depicted the Romano-British deity Cautopates, who was depicted burying a torch into the ground.
This subterranean world of darkness, representing death, is also remembered now in the form of the labyrinth or maze pattern, described in the Theseus/Minotaur legend, but also repeated endlessly in designs found in Britain and Europe on church floors and cut into turf. The labyrinth of tunnels dug underneath London in the nineteenth century, and used and extended subsequently for military and security purposes, has been well documented.
Manchester has never had a public underground railway service, but it does have a thriving anecdotal network of tunnels, workings, and cities beneath the streets. Rumour has it that the most recent project to get an equivalent to the Tube operating during the late 1970s (the so-called Picc-Vic line) was prevented by the existence of a system of bunkers and rail lines creating a Regional Seat of Government (RSG) beneath Piccadilly Station - part of the network which would have come in action in the event of nuclear war during the sixties. More rumours have been circulating recently about the discovery of part of this 'secret city' being discovered in 1995 by Nynex cable TV workers, who were promptly ordered to fill the cavity they had unearthed with several tons of concrete. It is tempting to speculate on the geographical alignment along which Piccadilly Station, Manchester Town Hall and Crown Square all lie: a GPO cable and/or rail link may conceivably have been laid during the 1960s as a feature of the RSG.
Dozens of other stories exist concerning tunnels under Manchester and Salford, many centring on the Cathedral and Corn Exchange, in the heart of the Saxon and early medieval town of Manchester. Here, notably, is where John Dee, Elizabethan mathematician, geographer, astrologer and alchemist, lived when he was Warden of the Collegiate Church (before it became a cathedral). Remains of Dee's house are supposed to be preserved under the Corn Exchange, which was built over earlier street levels. Oddly enough, the original Victorian Corn Exchange, opened in 1837, was a copy of a Roman temple to Ceres on the River Ilyssus. Ceres, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Demeter, was goddess of crops and vegetation. For six months of every year she withdrew her influence on the world, in mourning for her daughter Persephone, who had been lured into the underworld by Pluto (the Greek Hades).
It follows quite naturally that the Corn Exchange should now be a focal point for all manner of obscurantist, occultist concerns. Beliefs vary from stories about Dee performing rituals in the cellars under the Church to the Corn Exchange being the focal point for a series of powerful ley lines. The occult and the political/military complex, guarded by their surface elites, shrouded in secrecy, express their influence upon the modern city via symbols which literally undermine the everyday world of streets given over to increasingly simulationist consumerism.
And now, the 1996 Situationist conference in Manchester reminds us 'games are forbidden in the labyrinth', a theme which has constantly haunted Manchester's geographic and geomantic existence. Funny to think how the Hacienda, which plays host to conference, and which owes its moniker to the Situationist project, now forms one of several focal points for the posturing and prevarications of young male gang followers most weekend evenings. Ah, the lure of the basement...
We want to lift the lid on the subterranean power-circuit. Consequently, we have decided to gather on the 400th anniversary of Dr Dee's arrival in Manchester, at a point near his probable home, with a view to the levitation of the Corn Exchange. Anyone sympathetic, please meet us outside the aforementioned building, on the corner of Hanging Ditch and Cathedral Street, on Saturday February 10, at 11.00 am.
First published in Manchester Area Psychogeographic 2, January 1996.
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