Navvies (2022)

Navvies recognises the role of the 17,000 navvies who dug the Manchester Ship Canal. From their labour flowed the city of Salford, Greater Manchester’s industrial success, and eventually: Salford Quays and Media City itself. The Navvies Union estimates that up to 1,100 of these navvies died digging the Canal, with more injured. These men migrated from all areas of the UK, alongside thousands from Ireland, who, in particular, faced extreme prejudice.

The composition weaves together the voices of the Salford Loaves and Fishes community group, who share their insights into the navvies' experiences and reflections on their present-day lives in Salford. These personal accounts are combined with field recordings and music performed by the BBC Philharmonic.

This project was commissioned by Mediale and premiered at Lightwaves Festival 2022 in Media City. The composition accompanied visuals by Matthew Rossier, which saw dozens of anonymous individuals endlessly digging under the water, being projected into the Manchester Ship Canal – only their white spades and barrows moving.