Tuesday, 18 February 2020

From Plumstead to Croyden via Canada, and the Western Front ........ with a sideways trip to Rochdale

I am looking at a picture of Alfred Frederick Shrub, taken in the studios of Joseph Gothard.

The story of this young man is a fascinating one, which like many of his generation ended on the Western Front during the Great War.

The photograph belongs to my old friend David Harrop, who because he knows I grew up in Woolwich, thought I would be interested.

And so, began a journey across the early 20th century, taking me by stages to Canada, Croyden and on to New Zealand and Rochdale, and linking together the young Alfred with his photographer.

On the surface there was not much to go on.

The address of the studio was 45 Plumstead Road, which was that short street between Burrage Road and Maxey Road facing the Royal Arsenal.

Sadly, none of the properties still exist, and judging from the historical records Mr. Gothard did not linger over long  in Woolwich.

Nor would it seem did Alfred’s family.  I know they were here by 1900, because of the inscription on the back of the photograph, and the census record for 1901 which has them at 9 Nyanza Street, but they may not have stayed much longer.

And the clue is suggested by the admission book of Plumstead Road school which has Alfred attending from November till just December 1902.  There after the next official record is of them living in Croyden in 1911.

But it is the Canadian connection which has yet to be fully researched, because I know from Alfred’s military records that he was born in Braccebridge, Winnipeg, in Manitoba in 1896.

I suppose the family must have spent time there, and given that his father was a general labourer Mr. Shrub may have been working on a civil engineering project, or they have just taken a chance on the New World.

Either way they were back by 1900 to have the picture taken in Mr. Gothard’s studio and for some one to write on the back of the photograph, “This his Alfred Frederick Shrub 4 years  old 1900”, and for some else to add “WW1 Casualty, The Queens Regiment Pte No S/5792”

The military records show that he enlisted in the October of 1914,  aged 18, and died on March 18th, 1915.

But here there is a slight confusion given that a Private Alfred Frederick Shrube was present at the wedding of James Edward Lawrence, also a soldier and Eva Amelia Shrub on September 2nd, 1917, at Christ Church, Croyden.

It may be a coincidence, but our Alfred had a sister by that name and the family had been in Croyden six years earlier.

It is one of those twisty turny stories I like, made that bit more interesting because his mother was born in India in 1869.

And because the search for Mr. Gothard was equally messy.  He came from Yorkshire, was in Norfolk in 1891, listing his occupation as photographer, a decade later was in Plumstead, only to move again to Rochdale in 1911, with his New Zealand wife and child.

All of which leaves me to say I doubt we have heard the end of either families.

Not least because my friend Tricia has promised  to go looking n the archives, down at Greenwich.

Location; pretty much all over

Pictures; picture postcard of Alfred Frederick Shrub, 1900 from the collection of David Harrop

On the turn of a sixpence, the continuing story of Manley Hall and Sam Mendel

The Hall in 1879
Yesterday I was pondering a visit to Manley Hall in the June of 1879.*

This had been the grand home of Samuel Mendel popularly known at the time as the “merchant prince”

It was a magnificent house of fifty rooms set in 80 acres of grounds which included a greenhouse, an orangery, deer park, fountains and ornamental lakes.**

The estate extended east from Upper Chorlton Road as far as the Independent College, and south to Clarendon Road.  Today Manley Park is all that is left of those extensive grounds and the rest is a mix of houses.

Manley Hall 1888-93
But back in the 1860s and 70s Sam Mendel’s home was reckoned to be everything a wealthy self made man could desire and the inside of the house was as impressive as the grounds.

Here were paintings by Constable, Gainsborough, Leighton, Millais and Turner along with fine furniture, silver plate and old Chelsea porcelain.

So much that when in the spring of 1875 the contents of the house were put up for sale, the auction lasted for five days.

Not that Mr Mendel stayed around to watch for after more than a decade at Manley Hall he moved south to London and on to Hastings coming to terms with his dramatic fall from prosperity.

He had made his wealth transporting textiles to India and Australia around the Cape of Good Hope faster than any of his rivals, and from his offices in Cooper Street and a succession of warehouses around the city he was recognised as a successful entrepreneur who was never out of the papers.


But the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 undermined his business and in 1875 he went bankrupt, which prompted the sale of the house and its contents.

Samuel Mendel
For a while the general public were able for a charge to wander the gardens and enjoy both the floral displays as well as performances by a variety of brass bands.

There were also various schemes floated to turn the estate into a “great pleasure resort.  A winter palace was to be erected which should contain an art gallery, concert hall, promenade, library, assembly room, skating rinks, baths, and refreshment rooms.  Shareholders were to be allowed to use the park for promenade purposes on Sundays, and the hall was to be converted into a club, membership of which should be limited to holders of one hundred or more shares in the company.”***

But these and other plans came to nothing and it was pretty much death by a succession of small building plots as bits of the estate were sold off for development or turned into a golf course for the Manchester Golf Club.

The Hall still attracted the curious, and so it was in the June of 1904 that this couple wandered into the grounds and had their picture taken at the rear of the grand old house.  By then its years of neglect were only all too clear to see from the overgrown kitchen garden and bricked up rear windows and was demolished in 1905.

The rear of the Hall in June 1904
But like all such stories there is still more.  Back in 1875 the house had been bought by the coal merchant Ellis Lever for £120,000 and according to the historian Cliff Hayes Mr Ellis never paid up.****

This in itself is intriguing but made more so by a letter from Mr Ellis in the Times from June 1887 in which he deplored the abandonment of the plan to transform the estate into pleasure resort.

“There is not in the United Kingdom a town that has greater need than Manchester of healthy and refining influences, and there is not a more attractive and charming property than Manley-park.  

But while the people of Manchester and Salford are perishing for lack of pure and healthy surroundings this magnificent property is being allowed to go to decay or become absorbed  by the builder.

The Hall soon after the sale in 1875
Manley-park is thoroughly well wooded, and all the trees being vigorous and healthy.  That there should fall to the axe man to be replaced by rows of houses I look upon as a misfortune to the city.”*****

Which raises all sorts of questions about the involvement of Mr Ellis in the estate but those are for another time.

As for Samuel Mendel he died in 1884.

Pictures; from the Lloyd Collection and map of Manley Hall from the OS map of South Lancashire, 1888-93, courtesy of Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.co.uk/ and  picture of Sam Mendel, from a photograph by Franz Baum, 22 St Ann’s Square, Manchester Old & New, 1896, Manchester

*"the frown of fortune"...... the story of Sam Mendel and Manley Hall in Whalley Range,

** The land had cost £250,000 and the house another £50,000 to build.

*** City News on October 8, 1904, quoted in Manley Hall, http://manchesterhistory.net/manchester/gone/manleyhall.html

****Hayes. Cliff, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, 1999
.***** The Times, June 11 1887

The scene that has all but passed out of living memory

Now I know that to suggest the scene has passed out of living memory is an outrageous claim, given that the picture was taken in 1963, which means I have short changed lots of people.

But in many ways almost everything in the picture has vanished or been moved.

And with that tantalizing set of clues, I shall leave it to others to nominate the buildings that have gone, and what has been moved.

Along with what would have met the traveler in 1963 had they followed those railings.

Location, Manchester, 1963, Courtesy of Manchester Archives+ Town Hall Photographers' Collection, https://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterarchiveplus/albums/72157684413651581?fbclid=IwAR35NR9v6lzJfkiSsHgHdQyL2CCuQUHuCuVr8xnd403q534MNgY5g1nAZfY

Blackfriars Street and the story behind the Palatine Photographic Company and a young woman

Now it was Mark Twain who said "never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, unless you can't think of anything better" and I have to admit I was tempted.

Sometime in the early 20th century this young women wandered into the studios of the Palatine Photographic Company and had her picture taken.

I don’t know who she was, exactly when she posed for the picture or if this was a special occasion.

The photograph was one of a large number of images that Ron Stubley passed over to me recently.

They consist of picture postcards, birthday cards and a group of family photos.

And it is these family pictures which have come to interest me.

There are no names or addresses and only a few have a date but they are local because some carry the name of photographers who were active across the twin cities.

Most are old fashioned portraits and are of single individuals, but one has a young soldier in uniform and his wife and looks to be from the Great War.

Another is of a teenager and carries the caption “Passed away Feb 4 1918,” which may be a reference to the great flu epidemic but could so easily be any one of a number of illnesses.

All of which just leaves those phot0pgrapher, some of whom were big national or regional companies and others who operated from just one studio.

And this is where the Palatine Photographic Company seemed to offer a clue.  Their address was 50 Blackfriars Street and for a brief few minutes I wandered up and down Blackfriars Street looking for them, for that would at least suggest that she came from Salford.

But, and it is a big but Blackfriars stretches from Chapel Street over the bridge to terminate at Deansgate in Manchester, and yes, 50 Blackfriars Street was in that block which inhabited the corner with Deansgate.

The company post date 1895 and were still in business at their Manchester address in 1911 and that is it.

 They do appear on a database but it seems to be the only record of their existence.

So we are left with little that can identify our young woman who may be from Salford but in the interests of disowning Mark Twain I have to say I don't know.

Location; somewhere in Manchester or Salford

Picture; unknown young women, date unknown from the collection of Ron Stubley

Southern Cemetery ….. a house in West Didsbury …….. and a certain Jeanne Vignot of á Neuilly-sur-Seine

I am the first to admit that speculating on the relationship between a Jeanne Vignot in France and the mystery resident of Clyde Road , is both unhistorical and unlikely to take you anywhere.

But the romantic in me wonders just why aJeanne received this picture postcard in the January of 1908, and what she thought of being sent a photograph of a cemetery, even if it was the impressive Southern Cemetery.

In time I might go looking for Jeanne, but for now, because it is easier I will go for the person who sent it.  The clue is on the postcard in the form of the sender’s address, which is 93 Clyde Road.
The house is still there today and is one of a pair which as then goes under the title of Kinloss Villas, and dates from 1882.

But here is the problem, I know who was there in 1901 and who was there eight years later, but for now pinpointing the residents in the year the card was sent still alludes.

That discovery will have to wait for the next visit to Central Ref and a trawl of the directories for 1908.

Suffice to say in 1901 it was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hale, their four children and two servants.

By 1909 it is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Amirayan, but they have proved quite elusive.  I know he was a “Manager of Exports” and in 1929 had offices at 29 Princess Street, and that his wife and daughter had traveled from Australia and Japan in the 1920s, but apart from one official record from 1939, I can’t find much else, and that much else extends to no census records.

So it remains a but of a mystery, but nature and all historians abhor a mystery so I shall plug on to find the identity of the person at 93 Clyde Road and a possible connection with France.

Location; West Didsbury

Picture postcard. Southern Cemetery, 1908 from the collection of David Harrop

The history of Eltham in just 20 objects ........Nu 3 the Rock Band and the Welcome Inn from Paula

The challenge is to write a history of Eltham in just 20 objects which are in no particular order, and have been selected purely at random.

Here is Paula's choice

ROCK legends Status Quo were filled with nostalgia after they were honoured with a plaque commemorating their first gig.

The Music Heritage Plaque from the Performing Rights Society was unveiled at the former site of the Welcome Inn in Well Hall Road, Eltham, where the band first performed in 1967.

The pub, at the junction of Westmount Road, burnt down in 2006 and is now a block of flats.

Location' Eltham

Contributed by Paula Nottle

Picture; supplied by Paula Nottle

Collecting another Roman Villa ....... Brading in the Isle of Wight

You can never get enough Roman Villas in my opinion.

And so I was pleased when Angela Buckley, shared some pictures of the mosaic floor of the Roman Villa at Brading in the Isle of Wight.

Angela is a historian who has written some excellent books on Victorian crime, along with a regular blog.*

The villa at Brading is not one I have visited, and if you can’t get there, then other people’s pictures are the next best thing, along with the offical guide  from the museum of the villa.**

“The museum preserves the West Range, built around AD300, which is the last and grandest of three buildings on the site. 

The foundations of two earlier North and South Ranges are now outlined in chalk outside. 

The South Range was erected around AD 100, not long after the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 and was followed by the completion of the grander North Range around AD 200.

Since its re-discovery the villa and surrounding land have been excavated many times. Using artefacts and archaeological reports, the museum will take you on a tour from prehistory up to the modern day.

Why choose the site at Brading?
For those living here, this location was a perfect choice. 

It enabled these freedom to communicate with and travel to local Island settlements, mainland Britain and cross the Channel to Gaul (France).

Fertile arable lands around the Villa complex allowed good crops of grain to be grown. Sheep and cattle could fertilise the land between seasons and springs nearby gave a good water supply.

The West Range
By the early fourth century this high status house was completed. 

As a winged corridor villa, common in southern Britain, it provided separate private living accommodation for the owner and their family together with space for entertaining guests. 

Like modern homes today the West Range had many changes and adaptions to the living space. This included removing and moving internal walls and adding new mosaics."

So that is it ……… another bit of Roman history to add to my collection, leaving me just to thank Angela for letting me use her pictures, and to say that the Villa has its own facebook site.

How neat is that?


Location; The Isle of Wight

Pictures; mosaic floor, from Brading Roman Villa, 2020, courtesy of Angela Buckley


*Victorian Supersleuth, https://victorian-supersleuth.com/?fbclid=IwAR3p-ieeN8snFOBL7QM9ULFtuIs00KAoB5f5DgU_MpMdK0ZFrVM9SGaR1tk

***Brading Roman Villa, https://bradingromanvilla.org.uk/discover/#introducing-the-villa