In Haunt

The 7th Gothic Manchester Festival brought an array of dark delights, interactive events and creative opportunities to venues across the region – focusing on the theme of ‘Gothic Times’ for 2019 and taking place for a whole month (1 October – 1 November) for the first time ever.

Testament to the hard work of Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, as well as RAH! – Research in Arts and Humanities at Manchester Met (listen to the special Gothic Manchester Festival 2019 RAH! Podcast episode here)– and a range of staff and students from Manchester Metropolitan University, this year’s Gothic Manchester Festival was the biggest yet.  It also saw exciting collaborations with the likes of Grimmfest, MASSmcr, Rochdale Town Centre Halloween Festival, and Halloween in the City, to name just a few. Evidently making an impression, the festival featured an impressive 19 events over 31 days and at least 1000 guests, putting Manchester on the map as a key destination for Gothic celebrations, by following on from the International Gothic Association (IGA) conference coming to the city last year. The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University is after all one of the biggest centres of its kind in the world, involving a number of specialists working within the genre as well as engaging the public with it and expanding the impact.


2019’s festival took the theme of ‘Gothic Times’ – considering in particular how the Gothic mode can place both the present and past under scrutiny, as well as having timely implications for the future. Encountering the terrors and tensions of the age, delving into dark histories and exploring the fantasies and possible realities of the future all played a part. Academics and interested parties from across the fields of literature, art, film, history, gaming, music, cultural geography and more came together to create an eclectic array of festival content. This included everything from a Gothic Games Jam to a paranormal study, the intriguingly titled ‘Faking Gothic Furniture’ to ‘Rural Eerie’!  Many of the events themselves were free to attend.

Each year the festival also features a conference (full overview here), with 2019 highlighting the theme of ‘Gothic Times’ for a full day of fascinating paper presentations from  a range of local as well as national and internationally based academics on Saturday 26 October – with the conference organised by Dr Linnie Blake.

How did it begin? The launch event took the form of a Manchester Gothic Arts Group Exhibition under the title of ‘Gothic Times’ and opened at Sandbar on 1 October, at 6.30pm. This provided guests with a fantastic free opportunity to browse a range of resonant and powerful artistry from this local Gothic-inspired arts collective – with the exhibition itself open to visit throughout the month of October. There was also added entertainment thanks to the DJs Kol and Matt. (Pictured below: the 'Gothic Times' exhibition at Sandbar)

Gothic Times

A number of events then featured in the following week, the first being a screening of the 2017 film ‘Get Out’, taking place at 70 Oxford Street on October 9th. This included a fascinating framing talk from Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies’ experts Dr Linnie Blake and Dr Sarah Ilott, considering examples of Gothic Realism and the Female Gothic in the film in particular. Then Thursday 10 October saw a special talk take place in the atmospheric, historic setting of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House on the subject ‘Ruskin, Manchester and the Gothic’. Organised by Dr Rachel Dickinson and Professor Dale Townshend, this was an opportunity for an audience to learn more about the influential Victorian John Ruskin, his connections to Gothic architecture and Manchester.

The Gothic Manchester Festival 2019 featured events at the weekend too, with a number of family-friendly activities. An example was the ‘Bad Bugs: Zombie Outbreak! – Play and Read’ experience, organised by Professor Joanna Verran, Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley and Dr Matthew Crossley. Delving into the subjects of science, gaming and even the apocalypse, this was a Saturday 12 October workshop in the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School considering the fiction and science of zombies! Involving an eager room of participants aged 11 and above, the afternoon’s events included a zombie game to test survival skills, as well as encountering scientific models and story scenarios.

Gothic Times

The following week featured an even more packed selection of Gothic content, the first being Writing Manchester Gothic: An Audience with Tania Hershman and Rosie Garland on Tuesday 15 October inside Manchester Metropolitan University’s Geoffrey Manton building.  Both Tania and Rosie are locally-based writers with each, respectively, being the writer-in-residence of a historic site in the city; Tania is writer-in-residence at Southern Cemetery whilst Rosie is writer-in-residence of The John Rylands Library. In turn, there was plenty of Gothic content to discuss through an evening of in-conversation , organised and chaired by Professor Dale Townshend (read the full Haunt Manchester overview and interview special here).  The authors also read enchanting excerpts from their own work and welcomed questions from the audience in what was a truly enjoyable evening.

From author talks to interactive events, the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019 demonstrated a varied programme with plenty of opportunity for audiences to learn new skills and enjoy alternative experiences. Heading on into Saturday 19 October for example was a Gothic Games Jam, organised by PhD Students Charlotte Gislam and Jon Garrard, creating an immersive full-day session of demos, workshop activities and dev kits exploring the Gothic side of board games, with the opportunity for participants to play as well as make their own.

And it certainly was a packed weekend, with a range of Gothic Manchester Festival events across the two days. Saturday also saw the ‘Meet Haunt Manchester network fair and gathering’ take place at The Peer Hat – bringing together a range of individuals, creatives and businesses who have been involved in the Haunt Manchester network and site; whether in terms of having their events listed or documented in article form. Whilst writers J.J. Wray, Drew Forest and Karen Lee Street were on-hand with copies of their work and able to tell guests more, there also was an ‘Artists Snug’ with displays from Jane Samuels, Michelle Shore (featured in this previous Haunt article) and Lynn Mckay with Kiku Boutique, as well as writer Isabella Hunter who was modelling one of the boutique designs. Bjorn Scribbles also completed some impressive live artwork. (Pictured below: first image - display from  Jane Samuels at the Haunt Manchester network fair. Second image - Michelle Shore and art at the Haunt Manchester network fair).

Jane Samuels Art

Michelle Shore

Haunt Manchester has previously provided coverage of the much-loved Levenshulme Market and therefore it was exciting to have two of the regular traders in attendance: Mary’s Jewellery Bakery and Hotchpotchpanda. The Woodland Trust and Ian Rothwell also had stands at the fair. Ian has been a kind supporter of Haunt Manchester and he hosts the show ‘A Bit of Everything’ on Salford City Radio. The fair was open to the public from 12-4pm, with a range of RAH! merchandise available, as well as information from a range of local organisations and venues Haunt Manchester has written about, such as the Working Class Movement Library and the related Bones of Paine project with Walk the Plank. This included the exciting addition of themed Bones of Paine button badges!

The Peer Hat then was plunged into more Gothic festivities for the evening as the immersive event ‘Rural Eerie – Exploring the strange countryside through sounds and words’ took place in the atmospheric basement space, which was cloaked in ivy, complete with enchanting visuals and a soundscape created by Flange Circus. Organised jointly by Flange Circus, MASS Mcr and Haunt Manchester, this was an event intent on encountering the Gothic grit and uncanny aspects of nature and edgeland spaces. As part of this exploration, five writers read from their work as the visuals and sound stirred around them – Mark Pajak, Sarah Hymas, Helen Darby, Andrew Michael Hurley, Emily Oldfield and Richard Skelton (read the full overview here and a review by Dr Becky Alexis Martin here) all taking to the stage. Performed to a packed audience, ‘Rural Eerie’ certainly made an impression. (Pictured below: Helen Darby at The Rural Eerie)

Helen Darby

The following Friday and Saturday also saw a number of Gothic Manchester Festival events in the area– many with unique audience involvement.  Take the example of the ArA Gothic Club Night which brought music, dancing and a real communal feel to the historic Sacred Trinity Church in Salford on Friday 25 October, from 9pm onwards. Then it was from clubbing to conferences as part of the festival bill, as Saturday 26 October saw the Annual Gothic Manchester Festival conference at Manchester Metropolitan University, on the aforementioned 7th festival theme of ‘Gothic Times’. Organised by Dr Linnie Blake, this was a thought-provoking and fascinating day of Gothic-inspired paper presentations, discussions and debate, along with stalls from publishers and Haunt network members (read the full overview of the conference by Rebecca Wynne-Walsh here). Saturday evening also offered entertainment in the form of ‘The Witching Way – The Gig Set’, bringing a bold and exciting Gothic rock opera to Manchester city centre’s The Printworks (read more about it in this review by Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley), also part of Halloween in the City for 2019.

 On the following day, Sunday 27 October, Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley was also involved in the organisation of the ‘Writing Gothic Fiction: A workshop for young writers’ which took place at the Anthony Burgess Foundation. Young adults can get to grips with the Gothic too! This was an exciting opportunity for young people to learn from the writing expertise of the award-winning YA authors Catherine Johnson and Chris Priestly during the afternoon, 2-4pm. Another family-friendly feature taking place on the Sunday was a ‘Ghostly Storytelling Day’ at Ordsall Hall, with Dr Emma Liggins and Dr Matt Foley presenting tales of wicked witches, strange settings and enchanted places suitable for children aged 5 and above. This underlines the Gothic Manchester Festival’s wide selection of inclusive content, with something for everyone, celebrating the Gothic as a mode all can potentially enjoy. Both family-friendly Sunday events were also part of the Halloween in the City listings.

The Gothic can be seen in a variety of cultural forms after all, with multiple applications, as was seen in the final week of festival events for 2019.  One of the highlights was ‘Monster Mash: a Halloween dance spectacular’, organised by Dr Emma Liggins, which took place at The Dancehouse, with a full review online here – by Rebecca Wynne-Walsh.  Another was ‘Faking Gothic Furniture’, organised by Dr Peter Lindfield and Professor Dale Townshend, amidst the historic setting of Chetham’s Library Baronial Hall. On Tuesday 29 October, this was a fascinating lecture delivered by Dr Peter Lindfield, looking at the work of George Shaw (1810-76) a local lad from Upper Mill, responsible for creating a number of pieces of fake furniture mimicking historic originals. These Gothic Forgeries were the focus of the talk, which also included an opportunity afterwards to inspect some of Shaw’s furniture, as held at the Library.

Rochdale Town Hall

Historic halls were busy sites of activity for festival events, as ‘Haunted Spaces at Ordsall Hall’ also took place on the same evening, organised by Dr Emma Liggins, Dr Matt Foley, Dr Ken Drinkwater and Fabrizio Cocchiarella, exploring themes of haunting with a thriving audience. Haunt Manchester at Rochdale Town Hall – also part of the Rochdale Town Centre Halloween Festival - took place later in the week on Thursday 31 October, Halloween itself! This involved free talks and stories, followed by an optional tour of the impressive neo-Gothic building (with a full overview of the Ordsall and Rochdale Gothic Manchester Festival events online here).  Ensuring the Halloween festivities carried on well into the night was a special Halloween Paranormal Study: ‘In Search of the Anomalous’, then taking place at Ordsall Hall 11pm all the way until 3am, organised by Dr Ken Drinkwater and Fabrizio Cocchiarella. This was a unique event, plunging participants into a scientific study to investigate the paranormal encounters and stories associated with the space, alongside researchers and academics from Manchester Metropolitan University.  Parapsychology, research on perceptual experiences and accounts of the anomalous all played a part, for a fascinating evening.

And the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019 did not end on Halloween! In fact, there was a further evening  of Gothic encounter thanks to a Horror Movie night co-organised with Grimmfest – a Clive Barker Double Bill screening at No 70 Oxford Street on Friday 1 November. Organised by Grimmfest and Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, who also provided a special introduction to the evening, this was an opportunity to watch Candyman and The Hellbound Heart with added insight!

Gothic Times

As can be seen by the amount and variety of exciting Gothic Manchester Festival content, ‘Gothic Times’ certainly made an impact for 2019 – celebrating the relevance, resonance and excitement of the Gothic – with thanks to the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, RAH!, and everyone involved.

By Emily Oldfield 

Photography (except images 2, 3, 4 and 5) with thanks to Alannis Barnes and Elaina Daley




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