Street art has come to Rochdale with artists descending on the town to give it a fresh lick of paint. Known as ‘Rochdale Uprising‘ twelve new murals have been created around the town.
Hosted by the popular street art duo, the Nomad Clan. They have worked with Rochdale Council and other partners including local artists such as Tasha Whittle to bring street art to the area. One half of the duo, Hayley Garner, is actually from the town so the festival has a special meaning for her.
“One of the core motives for running a mural festival in Rochdale is to inspire and engage the young people through direct visual action” explains Hayley. “Rochdale’s famed pioneering spirit, heritage and people deserve to be celebrated in a vibrant and fitting way.”
The murals are dotted around the town and all within an easy walk from one another. This post will show you where to find them and will explain what they are all about. If you start from the main square in the centre of town then exploring in the order below would be a good way to see them all.
The Murals of Rochdale Uprising
1. London Police – Drake Street / Nelson Street
Painting their famous ‘LADS’ characters. The one thing that strikes you immediately about the work of the London Police is their use of bright block colours and their sense of fun. This mural is meant to be just that. A bright contrast to some of the streets around. Backed in bright yellow, it’s a hard mural to miss. Situated on Drake Street it was once a thriving street full of shops and businesses powered by the towns rich cotton weaving past. Now it’s a regeneration area with a lot of focus going towards it and this mural is a part of that.
The London Police’s mural is about positivity and it’s as simple as that. Immediately the mural makes a difference to the space and by doing so makes people stop and take notice. The main character is giving a cheeky wink to passers by whilst the others play around. As an added extra feature on this wall, the artist ‘This One’ has also added a piece of work. Drawing a crayfish next to the main wall it is meant to draw attention to the fact that their numbers are declining in the Rochdale Canal.
2. Billy – Champness Hall, Drake Street
Working alongside the youth group, RECLAIM, Billy has co-created a mural inside the Champness Hall on Drake Street. Bright, bold and colourful her work is generally inspired by her adventures travelling the world. The end result is intended to bring a playful energy to the environment she paints in. With RECLAIM she has worked with local young people to create a route map of positivity. Preferring to work on community projects such as this, the inspirations for the mural have been taken from the lives of the young people themselves. Taking the shape of a road the rather abstract route map is in some part inspired by the streets of Rochdale and dotted with positive stops along the way.
3. Folie aka Cookie Love – Volta Lab Studios
Manchesters Cookie Love paints in variety of mediums from body paint to spray paint. Her artist name ‘Folie‘ derives from the French for ‘madness’ and is her means of celebrating the relationship between mental health and art. Her mural on the side of the Volta Lab studios is a what she describes as a nudge to women in music and their under-representation. Her ‘Girls to the Front‘ message is about just that.
The mural also depicts a reference to Rochdales former Ashfield Valley Flats taking the form of a mixing desk. Famed for their links to the punk and alternative music scene they had nonetheless soon gained a notorious reputation which ultimately led to their demolition by 1992. Three of the tower blocks still survive in the town as Stoneyvale Court with the rest of the area becoming Sandbrook Park.
Another element of the mural celebrates Volta Lab Studios itself. An unassuming building it has a rich history as part of the Manchester music scene. Playing host to various iterations of recording studios of the years, it has recorded the likes of Joy Division, Happy Mondays, Elbow and the Stone Roses. The pulsing radio signal seen in her work is a reference to that. Taken from Joy Divisions 1979 album cover ‘Unknown Pleasures‘ it was recorded at the studio. A further random fact associated with that particular image is that it was taken from the first recorded pulsating signal recorded from deep space. It was discovered by Jocelyn Bell in 1967 and initially called LGM-1 (Little Green Men) as it was believed by others to be alien. It wasn’t of course but it’s an interesting story and you can read that here.
4. Philth – Water Street
From Nuneaton originally Philth paints both as a solo artist and as part of the Never Ready crew. His work will often incorporate patterns and inspirations from the natural world as well as the environment he is painting in. His mural in Rochdale is no exception. Paying homage to the towns cotton weaving past he has weaved in symbolism and links the areas history throughout.
There are eight cotton bolls in the mural, seven opened and one unopened. The opened bolls are a reference to the areas textile past. The choice of seven has also been carefully crafted. It has another nod to the nearby St Edmunds Church, a building packed with masonic symbolism. At the time it was built in 1870 there would have been seven visible planets possible to see with the naked eye. The number seven also recognises the more modern constructions of the Seven Sisters tower blocks which look out over the town. The unopened boll represents the future and the possibility of fresh new things to come.
The colour and style of the piece is also influenced by the local environment, namely the interior of the local town hall. The use of latin in the piece recognises the latin inscriptions in the town hall as well as in St Edmunds Church. One such inscription ‘Semper Paratus’ on the top of the church translates as ‘Always Ready’. That’s not too far away from ‘Never Ready’ which is the graffiti crew that Philth has been a part of for the past 14 years. He’s translated that into latin and he plans to include those words at the top of the mural,
5. Penfold – The Walk / The Butts
Creating bright abstract murals Penfold is influenced by the pop art movement. It’s something you can see in his work. He uses bright colours, shapes and patterns which blend together to create his immersive works. For his mural in Rochdale he has taken inspiration from the interior of the Town Hall which his piece almost overlooks. Although perhaps not immediately apparent he has depicted the columns as well as the patterned ceiling. The rest of the mural represents a the modern world and particularly street art culture. It’s an abstract blend of the old with the new. A side note since finishing is that the mural has since been named by the artist ‘LoL’. This is mainly because an unintended consequence of the piece was that when finished a lot of people thought that’s what it was saying. Mr Penfold told me he’s happy with that though as sometimes it’s what people see in the piece that matters.
6. Lei Mai – The Walk / Yorkshire Street
An artist and designer from Liverpool, Lei Mai now lives in Manchester. She has a background in graffiti and street wear and is known for her bright modern lettering and illustration. For her piece in Rochdale she has written the nane of the alley in which she has been painting, ‘The Walk’. The alley is one of a number in the area which still follow the medieval road structure of old Rochdale.
In the background of her piece the patterns and flowers used are inspired by the work of William Morris. Some of the stained glass windows in the Rochdale Parish Church of St Chads, were been designed by Morris in the late 1800’s. Morris’s work also inspired some of the refurbishment of the Town Hall in the early 1900’s. Initially built as a kind of monument to progress and power, that was replicated in the early decoration of the hall. At the turn of the century however those ideas started to change as people began to hark back to a more pure age. This eventually led to the work of Morris having a resurgence. His style takes inference from the natural world and natural patterns as an example of what perfect artisanship represents.
7. Tea One – The Baum / Yorkshire Street
Combining elements of classical painting with inspirations from the world of graffiti Tea One is influenced by the post industrial landscape of Northern Britain. Particularly he draws from those remnants left over from the areas once abundant past. Painting on the alley known as the Baum he has weaved seven stories together from seven different women. Calling the piece the ‘Seven Sisters’ he is of course also referencing the famous apartment blocks through placing real life stories into that context.
His stories are those which many of us would have experienced. Each of the women in the mural have their own tale to tell but they are tales that all of us could associate with. From left to right the first woman holds something up to a light. It’s unknown what it is but it could be an opportunity or it could be a burden. She doesn’t know it yet but her life might be about to change either way. Next to her a woman sits in a boat rowing with her back to her destination. She isn’t sure what lies ahead yet she still travels into the unknown, she is on her own personal odyssey.
The third woman is wearing a mask. She is struggling with her own identity. Perhaps living a charade or just not sure what journey she is on or whether it is indeed the right one. The silhouetted figure next to her represents travel. Either leaving or arriving she could be about to go on a journey or may be coming home after a voyage. The fifth woman represents rebirth, pregnant she is about to bring new life into the world. Next to her meanwhile a tear falls down the face of the sixth woman. She is experiencing her own private tragedy. Though we don’t know what it is we will have all had similar emotions from time to time.
The final woman as part of this mural is deeply personal to the artist. Showing a woman undergoing treatment for breast cancer. He calls this “overcoming the monster”. It is that battle that may hit us from the side and which has the potential to turn life upside down. Yet it is also representing that ability to fight back and to overcome.
8. Tasha Whittle – Rochdale Pioneers Museum / Toad Lane
A multi-disciplinary artist from Manchester. Tashas Whittle’s bright murals celebrate nature whilst making links to everyday objects. In the case of Rochdale her work also makes strong links to the social history of the town. Depicting a collection of smiling daisies, Tashas’ piece is a homage to the daisies used as good luck charms by cotton weavers who would carve them onto their hand looms during Victorian times.
The use of the daisy would have been symbolically powerful to the early cotton weavers. Initially known as ‘days eyes’ the flowers would open in the day and close at night. It was important for those early cotton weavers who always needed as much light as possible to work. Even their cottages would be built to ensure that as much natural light could filter in through the upper windows. Throughout history the daisy has also symbolised purity, innocence and true love as well as the spirit of harmony and co-operation.
Situated on the side of the Rochdale Pioneers Museum it is part of a conservation area. Famed for being the location of the first successful co-operative in 1844 with a shop on 31 Toad Lane. The etymology of the word ‘toad’ by the way is uncertain. There is a popular theory in that it might have evolved through local dialect from the word ‘old’. So you might say ‘t’old’ lane which may have morphed over the years into toad.
9. Northern Line & Dirty Faces – Alley by Poundworld
A collaboration between Rochdale based mural company ‘Dirty Faces‘ and Manchester based paint outfit, Northern Line. The piece is a homage to Rochdale and in particular it’s previous mural history. Writing the name of the town, it is set against a flowery backdrop, itself a recognition of a man often referred to as one of Britains first muralists, Walter Kershaw. Kershaw lives in Rochdale and his ‘Pansies’ piece first painted in 1972 was famous in the town. It was also his first ever large scale mural. Long since gone, this current piece is a modern day representation of that. Not a copy but a homage to Rochdales actually quite long association with muralism.
10. Curtis Hylton – Baillie Street
Known for his giant murals which incorporate elements of the natural world. Hylton’s work effortlessly blends nature together. Impactful and bold he has chosen to paint a giant rooster on the back of the Marks and Spencers building. Hylton is particularly interested in anatomy so the blends of different elements are all a part of helping him further explore the natural form. Overlooking the main square of the town, it is the second bird Hylton has painted in the north. Last year in Blackburn he also painted a huge duck.
Known for his vivid portraits, Tankpetrol started out in the graffiti scene but became known for his stencil art. Now he paints in a variety of mediums. His work embraces the diversity of his sitters. They show emotional complexity such as fear, anger, nostalgia or self confidence. Towering out from the side of a shopping complex in Rochdale his work here remembers the role of women in the cotton industry.
Based on a photograph from the 1950’s it shows a woman ironing and mending the cloth which would have just come off the loom. First picking through the cloth for loose fibres in a process known as burling and mending. The process of ironing would then press the cloth, evening out its surface both to give a smooth finish and to give it equal weight for market. The process would almost exclusively be done by women. It was highly skilled work as often imperfections and damaged cloth would be taken out of their wages. There was a huge incentive therfore to ensure the cloth was as perfect as possible before heading to be sold.
12. Nomad Clan – Church Lane
The driving force behind bringing the festival to Rochdale. The Nomad Clan are internationally renowned artists who are known for their giant, immersive and historically relevant murals. Painted onto the side of the Regal Moon pub, it is a venue which had once been a cinema. First opened in 1938 it started out as the Regal before coming the ABC and then the Cannon. It closed in 1992 to become a Bingo Hall before becoming a pub in 1997. The mural from the Nomad Clan plays into this rich heritage of film.
Showing an old style projector, it is playing the story of Rochdale and towns like it through its lens. First showing a woman winding yarn onto a giant bobbin, it then evolves into two miners working against the backdrop of burning coal. This is the story of industrial growth so familiar to towns in northern England. The piece then approaches the more modern day. It remembers the building of the seven sisters and it’s hope as a solution of better housing for all. Projecting further it moves into the modern day looking out onto the nearby Knowl Hill with it’s wind turbines. It’s changing industry stark against the landscape of the pennines.
Rochdale Uprising took place between 24-26 August 2019. Hosted by the Nomad Clan and Rochdale Council, it was visited by Inspiring City over the duration of the festival. Many thanks to Liz Mcivor from Rochdale Pioneers and Nick Barton from Rochdale Council for sharing with me their knowledge of the town and making the detailed writing of this article possible.