Thursday, 21 March 2019

Unknown faces from Barlow Hall sometime at the end of the 19th century

I doubt that I will ever find out much more about these young men.  

The caption just says “a company of the Boy’s Brigade at Barlow Hall.  Believed to be Manchester Road Methodists.”

But the clue might just be in the connection with the Manchester Road Methodists and I am hoping that the archivist at the church will be able to help.

After all for years I had a similar picture of our Brass Band at the hall in 1893, and then by chance the exact same picture came into the collection with the addition of the men’s names, and armed with that information I was able to track down almost the entire band.*

So as ever I travel in hope.

And just as I finished the story my old friend Philip the archivist at the Methodist Church told me that the Boys Brigade had been based at the MacFaydian Church but during a period when the building was undergoing some building work they moved across to Manchester Road.

The Methodist's ran scout and girl guide groups but with a twinkle in his eye Philip commented that the Boys Brigade rather liked their temporary new home but was unable to say whether it became a permanent home.

Picture; courtesy of W. Jackson, from the Lloyd collection

*Chorlton brass band,

Looking for the lost ...... one street over time in Ancoats ..... no 5 “debris and desolation”

The story of one street in Ancoats, and the people who lived and worked there.*

Ancoats residents, 1920
Now I am a little closer to being able to date the end of Homer Street.

It went in the big slum clearance push in the 1930s when a large chunk of the area around St Andrew’s Church in Ancoats went in matter of a few years.

Homer Street dated from 1837 and so just missed its hundredth birthday

And while some may have mourned its passing I doubt that there were many.

According to the Corporation there were 1,045 properties in the area around St Andrew’s Church of which “990 were occupied dwellings and 47 business premises leaving eight properties either derelict or unoccupied.”**

They were in the words of the Manchester Medical Officer of Health both unfit and “dangerous or injurious to health [and in his opinion were] a clearance area.”

Homer Street, 1894
He added that “in general the dwelling houses were of a similar type throughout the area, all fronting directly on to the streets, which generally speaking were somewhat narrow.  

These were conditions one generally found in the area of this type of small houses; narrow passages and high back yard walls. 

Of the houses 872 fronted into streets 39 feet or less in width, 469 on to streets of 24 feet or less.  The yards in the majority of cases were small and the property in the majority of cases was old.

There were 154 houses over 100 years old, 109 over 90, and 723 over 60 years old.  The density was 79 houses to the acre on net area and 52 to the acre on the gross area.”

Now like many I lived in a small two up two down terraced house in the 1970s and such properties can still be found across the country are still doing the business of keeping people warm, and comfortable and will still have a long life ahead of them.

But these were built at the end of the 19th century and by and large had been well maintained.

Those like the one my grandparents occupied in Hope Street, dated back to the beginning of the 19th century and were past their sell by date by the 1930s, but lingered on into the 60s.

Not so Homer Street or it neighbours, Andrew’s Square, Gees Place, Dryden Street and Marsden Square, all of which had all gone by 1938. The Corporation judged that many were worth less than £50 and “719 in the area were verminous.”

Of course there were objections, ranging from the landlords of some of the properties to those who thought that the replacement homes in Smedley were not suitable, leading one witness to at the inquiry on the clearance plans to describe them as “barracks” adding it was not acceptable to “make the British workman, after he has done his work climb six flights of stairs.”

Back of the demolished school, 1966
Some also questioned the policy of not rebuilding new homes in the area, pointing out that for some the cost of travelling from the new estates in places like Wythenshawe was very expensive.

But the Corporation “had zoned the whole of the area for light industrial purposes” and this was pretty much how it turned out.

The old school on the corner of Homer Street which had been opened in 1836 went, and the site became a sheet metal works while the rest of Homer Street was left as open land finally becoming a bus depot in the 1960s.

That industrial development was slow to come and in the August of 1939 the Reverend A. R. Denn of St Andrew’s wrote to the Manchester Guardian that the cleared area as “a scene of debris and desolation” with “the remains of houses in various stages of demolition.  Some buildings remain standing with broken windows and derelict doors.  

All around one may see the foundations of houses and the remains of door steps and yards, brick bats and odd pieces of stone are strewn about on all sides, whist here and there nature tries to cover up this hideousness with weary looking grass.”***

Adding that it “reminds one of the pictures of Flanders during the last war, and resembles nothing so much as the after-effects of an air raid.”

And while his observations may well have been accurate and echoed many who felt “it was not a square deal for those who have to live and work amid it”, it is worth pausing to reflect on what the Corporation was trying to do.

According to Alderman Jackson that was nothing less than a programme “to tackle about 30,000 houses in Manchester” at a time when the City was still recovering in many ways from the Depression.

There is nothing now to see of Homer Street.

For a while the plan of the streets continues to appear on maps but by 1960 even these have gone.

But nature and commerce abhor a vacuum and the site had undergone new development with the empty and derelict bus depot replaced by a large modern food warehouse.

Location; Ancoats

Pictures; Mothers' Outing, St Andrew’s Church,1920,  m70137, and Sheffield Street back of St Andrew's Church,  Revill and Son Ltd, 1966 Brooks T, m12041 courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and Homer Street, 1894, from the OS South Lancashire, 1894, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

*Homer Street,

**Ancoats Clearance Order, Manchester Guardian, September 26, 1934

***Debris and Desolation, A.R. Denn, letter to the Manchester Guardian, August 4, 1939

****Amato Food Products,

With Alice McIlwrick, fighting elections in the 1920s in Chorlton and Didsbury

Alice McIlwrick should be remembered.

She was the first Labour candidate to contest a local election here in Chorlton in the November of 1928 and she did very well gaining 14% of the vote.*

But beyond some brief details of her role in the election campaign there was little I could find out about her.

Not that I ever forgot Alice, and I always told myself that at some point something new would turn up and of course it did.  In this case from her grandson who posted a comment on my orginal story.

Tony McIlwrick lives in Scotland and he wrote

“Alice McIlwrick (1881-1964) was my grandmother. She married in 1919 and had two children. She was a graduate and a strong believer in the value of education - both her children went to Manchester University, her son becoming an electrical engineer and her daughter becoming a GP. 

As well as education she was also an ardent feminist and held strong left wing views. Her husband's parents had emigrated to Kansas from Manchester in the 1880's but following the premature death of his mother Frederick McIlwrick and his two young siblings were brought to Manchester and raised by a maternal aunt. Frederick, Alice and their two children lived in Parrs Wood Road in the early 1920's but in 1926 moved to Barlow Moor Road where they stayed until 1945 when they moved to Bowdon, Altrincham. 

In 1961 Frederick & Alice moved to Davenham, near Northwich to live with their daughter and it was there that she died.”

This was all I needed to reignite the search and sure enough in the course of the morning I came across a reference to their marriage and the celebration of their daughter’s coming of age in 1943 and some tantalizing hints of a concert career as a contralto in the early 1920s.

Along the way I uncovered Frederick’s 1911 census return.

And then I was drawn back to the politics.

She was the first and for many years the only Labour candidate to have fought the Didsbury ward in a municipal election which accordng to the Labour historian Rhys Davies was a real challenge “in that forsaken quarter, knowing what our fate must be.”  Neverthess “after much thought and doubt, Mrs McIlwrick, B.A., an ardent Labourite, a very forcible speaker, well versed in municipal affairs decided to don our colours, in a by-election there on May 17th 1927.”**

The result was not really in question, with the Conservative candidate gaining 55% of the vote, the Liberal 34% and Alice garnering 11%.

But this was a significant achievement for the Labour party given “that our cause was so weak that there was hardly any help forthcoming even on the day of the poll.”

And rereading the accounts of the two elections she fought here in Chorlton in the November and December of 1928 there is no doubting that she was a formidable politican.

The Manchester Guardian had reported that she was a serious candidate who would do well in the contest, a view endorsed by the Labour Party who sent its M.P., R J Davies and the Councillor Wright Robinson to speak on the same platform.

And the record shows that she gained 14% of the vote in the November election and despite a much lower turn out in the following month lost only 2% at the December by-election.

The years either side of that election saw the Labour Party strengthen it postion.  In 1923 it formed its first ever government and  became the largest party in the House of Commons six years later.

And these were the years when Alice was particularly active here in south Manchester.

The posters from the 1924 General Election at the beginning of the story would have been familiar enough to her and would have been the first Labour posters supporting a parliamentary candidate to be posted up in Chorlton.

The years after the Great War had seen unemployment increase particularly in the old traditional heavy industries and touched on that feeling that the country had not become a  place “fit for heroes.”

Nor had that basic problem of unemployment gone away.  Only once did the figure of those out of work drop below 8% during the decade and so Labour’s call for the country to turn out the Conservatives coupled with an appeal to woman to vote Labour “for the children’s sake did not go unheeded.

Nationally Labour gained 287 seats while in Withington which included Chorlton Labour took 16% of the vote which was an increase of 7% five years earlier.

I would love to know Alice’s part in all of this and I rather think it will not be long before it is revealed.

Pictures; Labour Party campaign posters from 1924 and 1929

*When all eyes were on Chorlton, the local elections of 1928,

** Socialism in Surburbia, Rhys Davies, 1930

See also Posters from the 20th century,

What a difference 40 years makes, outside the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich

Sometimes a picture takes you right back and reminds me just how things have changed in a comparatively short period of time.

So here I am at the gate of the Arsenal in the autumn of last year.

Now the redevelopment of Woolwich has passed me by and looking at the photograph taken by our Colin I have to say it is pretty unfamiliar.

I recognise the entrance and have to say that it is looking better than I remember it back in the early 1970s but the surrounding area might as well be a scene from Planet Zogg and if it weren’t for the Arsenal I would be hard pressed to tell you where it was.

Which I why Jean’s photograph of the same spot in 1977 is so valuable, allowing me not only to fix the scene as it was when I used to walk past but is another reminder of just how quickly places can change within the space of two generations.

So thank you to Jean who has unearthed a whole collection of images of Eltham and Woolwich as it was.
And of course I am not going to pass off the opportunity of showing many more of them.

Pictures; the Arsenal in September 2013, from the collection of Colin Fitzpatrick and the Arsenal in 1977 courtesy of Jean Gammons

How should you use old pictures of Didsbury?

Now just occasionally I go off on a rant and this is one of them.

Lansdown House circa 1950
It started in a pub which had bought into one of those montage pictures of Manchester and had displayed it on the wall opposite the bar.

It was tastefully done and in its way an interesting picture of how we lived.

That said it included one photograph which was not from the city and set me going.

At which point there will be those muttering “get a life, it’s only a picture” and of course in the great sweep of things getting a tad upset is silly.

But I think it does matter otherwise we might just as well include a picture of the San Francisco Bay Bridge in sepia along with a Pearly King and Queen.

It is about historical accuracy.

Walking with the parade, 1911
And in turn it opens up that other issue of publishing pictures found randomly on the net with no acknowledgement and no attempt to give a context to the picture.

I fully accept that copyright is a minefield and that if you have laboured over something you deserve the credit and possibly some financial recognition.

But it can be baffling to see why an old image can only be used by paying an inflated fee.

Of course many organisations and individuals are happy to let an image be used with just a credit and a link back and others operate a sliding scale preferring not to charge non commercial users.

Either way what also matters is that the context is fully explored.

Putting up a photograph of a group of people somewhere in Manchester, sometime in the past does little to advance our knowledge.

On School Lane circa 1911
Not that I want to stop people sharing the past but just offer up this cautionary tale.

I remember coming across a picture of the old Palais de Luxe cinema on Barlow Moor Road.  It was a small image and much of the detail was lost.

But I tracked it back to a local studies centre in east Scotland and  established that it had been taken by Charles Ireland a local photographer.

Jointly the archivist and I explored how it had come into their possession and the research revealed a fascinating story linking a Scottish iron works with our Chorlton cinema and Mr Ireland with the added bonus that they supplied a very good quality picture which allowed me to read the posters advertising the films and a musical concert thereby providing a possible date for the picture

None of which came to light when some one hovered up the picture from the blog and just reproduced it in a social network site.

So yes getting it right does matter.

Pictures, detail from Lansdown House, circa 1950s and outside Mrs Martha Meredith fish and chip shop on School Lane circa 1911, and a detail of the celebrations for King George V from the Souvenir of the Coronation Festivities Held at Didsbury, June 22nd 1911, Fletcher Moss

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Losing Fleming Hall in Chorlton

How easy it is to lose a building.  

In this case it was Fleming Hall which in the 1950s and 1960s was used by various organizations but has long since all but passed out of living memory.

I say almost passed out of living memory but not quite, because my old friend Wendy emailed me yesterday with, “Fleming Hall was on Wilbraham Road and I thought it was where the Post Office now is but the Chorlton Townswomen's Guild held their last meeting in the Hall on the 15 October 1963 according to their Minutes,  but on page 159 of your book, "The Quirks of Chorlton-cum-Hardy" there  is a photograph of ‘The New Post Office 1961’.  

It could have been where Sue Ryder's charity shop is, but it would have covered more land”.

And that set me going, because this spot was the home of the old Chorlton Post Office which was damaged when neighbouring houses were destroyed during the Manchester Blitz in the December of 1940.

Looking at photographs from the period it is possible that Fleming Hall was located in what had been that bit of the Post Office that survived the bombing.

I asked Oliver Bailey for help and it remembered “Fleming Hall on Wilbraham Road, on the left hand side heading towards Barlow Moor Road junction maybe forty metres past where Corkland Rd comes in, almost opposite where Stevensons the hairdressers were, and H T Burt/ Brown Brothers, right next to where the parade of shops started that continues to the traffic lights.

My recollection is that it was used a lot by the Conservatives for various get- togethers, dances, young conservatives, whist drives and so on. 

It might even have been owned by them as I remember on several occasions moving stuff, including chairs and tables from there to one of the fields off Wilbraham Road in the stretch past St Werburghs, beyond Morville Road. 

On one occasion we even had to move an upright piano down the steps of the Fleming Hall and get it into the back of my father's land rover as there was going to be some dancing at one of the Fetes and offload it. All done by muscle power. But young conservatives generally responded well to the whip.

Internal layout; at the end away from Wilbraham road there was a stage for jollifications and speechifying, then the body of the hall and nearest Wilbraham Road a kitchen of sorts, but only for brewing tea and coffee and cutting up cakes. I think there might have been offices above the kitchen and loos, but memory is hazy on that”.

All of which chimes in with the two images from 1959 and 1961, which clearly show the sign announcing the Conservative Party Committee Rooms and an election poster on the side of the building.

And for those with a keen eye for detail, the front of the building matches that of the old post office.
But, and there always is a but, Oliver added, “I don't remember it looking like the old Post Office though clearly someone kept the entrance structure for a while”.

So, there is still more to find out, including who actually took over the bomb-damaged Post Office, converted it into the Fleming Hall, and who was Fleming? Wendy remembers a prominent Chorlton individual named Fleming and I think we can rule out Sir Alexander Fleming.

Finally, I don’t yet have a date for its demolition, although I know it will be before 1969, because in that year the site is listed as the Maypole Grocers, which later became Lipton’s and is now Sue Ryder.

And after 1963 when the Chorlton Townswomen Guild met there.

So that is that, ………… I now just await someone with a story or a picture of the place. 

And Anne, responded almost immediately with "Fleming Hall used to be where the Sue Rider shop is, I remember going there for Christmas and Birthday parties in the 1960s" with Margaret adding, "I remember going to a dance there when I was at Whalley Range High School. Probably a barn dance as we had a club after school of country dancing to which boys from Chorlton Grammar attended. That would be about 1955/6/7".

Location; Chorlton

Pictures; Former Post Office, Wilbraham Road, 1959, A.E.Landers, m18242, and in 1961, m18511, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and the Post Office in 1907 from the Lloyd Collection

Playing on the Nine Fields, all the way from Well Hall to Kidbrook

Kidbrook Lane in 1872 with the Nine Fields to the north
Now I know there will be people who know of the existence of the Nine Fields just beyond Well Hall out towards Kidbrook.

But I think there will not be that many, and certainly now few who will have played on them

Their existence was unknown to me and it was my friend Jean who set me off on a search for them.

She rememberd that “my father told me there were fields stretching from Well Hall Road from the Catholic Church,right across to Kidbrook, before the Kidbrook estate was built. 

Dad was talking about the 1920s when he was growing up at 47 Lovelace Green.”

And with the power of the internet there almost as soon as I started was a reference to the open land that was called Nine Fields, before the Page Brook estate was built.  Moreover she remembered that they were one vast children’s play area.  At one time small bi-planes were there offering cheap flights.”*

And in turn this led me on to an excellent description of the estates being built in the 1920.**

In the great sweep of world history I grant you that this little discovery is hardly earth shattering, but for people like me who have wandered that bit of Eltham and my sister who lives on Bournbrook Road it remains an interesting insight into what was and what has now gone.

Even more so because when we washed up on Well Hall Road in the 1960s those fields were still within living memory.

Now I am not so sure.

Location, Eltham, London

*Lily Tyrrell (Brown), from Eltham, Mottingham, New Eltham SE9
Royal Borough of Greenwich,
**Municipal Dreams,

And in turn this led me on to an excellent description of the eststaes being built in the 1920.**

Picture; detail from the OS for London 1862-72, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,