Take a stroll around Ancoats and the eagle-eyed amongst you might notice an occasional brass or iron eyepiece set into a wall.
Peer through, and you’ll discover one of the area’s best-kept secrets: a series of hidden artworks sequestered in the architecture that once made Ancoats a global industrial icon.
These concealed artworks can be found all over the suburb, in a tunnel, a bell tower, a closed up mill space that had been desolate since the war, and even a toilet to name just a few.
But there’s no real map to guide you. Nor is it known exactly how many pieces there are to discover – although it’s estimated the number is somewhere between ten and twenty.
The closest we have is an abstract looking map that sets the peeps over what Ancoats used to look like, and a bit of word of mouth – which is pretty much exactly how the artist wanted it.
Created by British artist Dan Dubowitz, the spy hole artworks take inspiration from an old superstition that would see people wall-in objects within buildings for good luck. An ancient insurance policy, if you will.
During the regeneration of Ancoats, a number of such lucky charms were uncovered by developers who found a number of tokens from the past, like money and even a child’s shoe, hidden within walls.
Centered in and inspired by the area’s local history, each ‘peep’ gives a glimpse into a series of hidden artworks within a walled-up space.
Each lit from within, each brimming with history, all you need to do is peer through to uncover everything from abstract installations using light to perfectly-preserved sewing machine workshops from the hey-days of Cottonopolis.
The key thread running through them all? The sense of a space that’s ‘not entirely still’, as the artist puts it, or rather a feeling of glimpsing directly into the past and feeling it still has life.
You might say that the peeps are a way of preserving the rich history of what Ancoats was within what it is now, whilst reminding us first and foremost of the area’s specialness – and, also, that we live in a constant state of flux.
The world’s first great industrial city, the artworks make visible submerged historical parts of the suburb that would otherwise have been lost forever.