Sunday, 23 October 2016

Who was this young man?

I wonder who this young man was.

This question has been preoccupying the thoughts of my friend Tricia from Bexley who sent me the picture with the comment

“Would you do me a favour and walk the streets of Manchester and pin the attached picture of the mysterious Manchester Soldier to every lamp post in the hope that someone may recognize him.

I am getting no nearer to identifying the young man the only info I have is on the postcard with the exception of the fact that underneath the photo it stated he was a 2nd Lieutenant I assume they came to that conclusion through the evidence of his one pip shown in the photo. 

It may be the person who wrote on the postcard knew the young man perhaps a relative.

I have been through all the cemetery records at Deville Wood where he fell and am halfway through the Thiepval Memorial but have had no luck. 

I have also tried Ancestry but the outcome was the same.”

Now the reverse of the card simply says, "16th Manchester, (30th Division.) Missing
Reported “Wounded and Missing” from 26th July 1916, probably taking Deville Wood.”

It is not much to go on but if Tricia has the names of those officers killed at Deville Wood or in the July of 1916 we may be able to move forward.

My old friend David Harrop has lent me the huge volume containing the Roll of Honour of the Manchester Pals and between the two we might be able to identify him.

And this is an appropriate moment to try and find him given that next month marks the end of that battle a century ago and of course will also be dominated by the acts of Remembrance across the country.

Here in Manchester as elsewhere there will be ceremonies for the anniversary of the Armistice as well as Remembrance services.

David will be participating in a “remembrance walk and talk” in Southern Cemetery with Emma Fox and has also added to his permanent exhibition in the Remembrance Lodge in Southern Cemetery, of which more later.

But for now it may just be that someone recognises the picture and can help us.
Location; Manchester

Picture; Unknown Soldier from the Manchester Regiment, date unknown from the collection of Tricia Leslie

When East Manchester became Eastlands

Now there will be those who accuse me today of just taking a few pictures of east Manchester and coming up with some not very subtle sentences to connect them together.  

And that is not so far off the mark.  Yesterday I was reflecting on the changes that overtook the area in just over a decade and half and today I want to continue the theme.

We washed up on Butterworth Street in the January of 1973 and I suppose made a little bit of history.  We and the other five couples were all students or husband and wives of students who attended Manchester Polytechnic which had taken over six flats in the complex that had once housed the Mill Street Police Station, Fire Station and Ambulance Station.  Only the police remained and the six flats which had once been home to the families of fire fighters were now the first residential accommodation run by Manchester Poly.  So in a sense we were making history, while all around us something of a bigger bit of history was unfolding.

East Manchester was one of the centres of industrial production.  Here was the colliery, gasworks, chemical plants, and iron and steel foundaries bounded by the canal and railway lines, and because all these places of enterprise needed a work force here too were the rows of terraced houses, corner shops and pubs.

We arrived just as the area was changing.  Bradford Colliery had closed in 1968 and at the same time many of the old terraced houses were being cleared to make way for the large block of flats close to Grey Mare Lane.

Gazing out across the market at the decks of flats at night was I have to say an impressive sight and reminded me of ocean liners out at sea.  But Fort Beswick had a much shorter life than the terraced houses it had replaced and came down just twenty or so years after they had gone up.  Even at the time they presented a grim appearance in daylight and the idea that families with very young children would be comfortable or safe on the top decks of the block now seems a little absurd.

But there were still plenty of the old traditional houses around and what contributed to their demise was the swift deindustrialization of the area.  In 1951 72% of Britain’s working population was engaged in manual labour* and here in east Manchester they had their pick of places to work.

Just up the New Road was Clayton Aniline, with its tall chimney which belched out different coloured gasses at different times and turned the sky different shades.  Then there were the wireless works up by Philips Park, the canal, the railway lines and countless small lock workshops along with the gas works and the big engineering factories down through Openshaw and into Gorton.

Despite the closure of the colliery in 1968 there was much still working when we arrived five years later. But just a decade and a bit after that much of it had gone. The area was renamed Eastlands and ambitious plans were drawn up to make it the centre of our bid for the 1996 and 2000 summer Olympic Games.  Neither submissions were successful but it was where Manchester hosted the 2002 Commonwealth Games with its exciting new stadium on the site of the old Bradford Colliery.

In a rather odd twist of coincidence my eldest son found work during the Commonwealth Games at the stadium which had been built almost on the spot where just thirty years earlier I had lived.  Nor was this all, for his journey to work along the Ashton Old Road took him close to where I had worked.

I went looking for both sites recently.  The scaffolding yard on Pottery Lane is an open space, and Butterworth Street and our block of flats is just hardcore under Alan Turing Way.  Although I did find a tiny stretch of the road that ran between Mill Street and Butterworth Street along the side of our block, not a blue plaque I grant you but all that is left of when we were there, and of course in a bigger way a little bit of what was there when Eastlands was East Manchester and there were factories, and foundries and much else that was industrial.

Pictures; Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, Butterworth Street, Luft M 1991, m55776, Grey Mare Lane, 1962 Hotchin, F, m15440, Grey Mare Lane, Hotchin, F, m15450, Grey Mare Lane flats, Milligan, H, 1971, m12519,

A little of what we have lost, Wilbraham Road in 1955

Sometimes I think it is the more recent photographs of Chorlton which are the more fascinating, and in their way the more revealing of how we lived.

And so I am drawn to this one of Wilbraham Road looking north towards the railway station.

Now I don’t have an exact date but I think it must have been taken in the 1950s which of course is a hostage to fortune, and I await the first expert on cars of the period or public transport to give me a definitive date based on the make of car or the type of bus.

Some of the other more basic clues like the registration plates and advertising hoardings don’t yield anything, so it will be a matter of visiting Central Library and slowly going through the directories to match the names on the shop fronts with a year.

But the tram lines appear to be missing which would suggest a date after the last trams had run their last journeys and the tracks had been taken up which would take us into the 50s.

What strikes you is still how old fashioned the shop fronts appear with many of them still retaining their old signage and shop fronts.

And then there is what they sold, ranging from paint to shoes, mystery coach excursions to lace doilies.

Now I accept that we still had a DIY store in the precinct into the 1980s and the last shoe shop only closed a few years ago followed by Burt’s, the gentleman’s outfitters in 2011.

But back in 1955 it was the sheer number of these shops.  There were lots of clothes shops and shoe shops, as well as countless grocers, green grocers, and butchers which for good measure were by and large all independent traders.

And some will mutter there were also two wool shops, private lending libraries and of course plenty of old fashioned, smelly, sell everything hardware stores.

Quantity did not always equate with either quality or choice.  In our grocers shop there was white cheese and there was red cheese along with lots of tinned things.

Which given the period may be a little unfair and opens me up to people feeling a little miffed that their bit of nostalgia has just taken a kicking not to mention those who ran good quality shops here in Chorlton, so back to the picture.

Looking at it again you get to see just how the shops in the distance were really just later  add ones to what had been traditional houses.

And then jutting out from the end of that first parade of shops is a cast iron veranda while the absence of traffic allows you to see how the road rises as it goes over the bridge.

And we still had a railway station with trains that took you into the city in under ten minutes.

So there you have it a little of what we were like, not that long ago.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

In praise of Central Ref

Now I never tire of visiting Central Ref

The Social Sciences Library, 2014
This is where I spent most Saturday mornings from September 1969 till June ’72 and it remained a place of serious study for the next forty years.

I always got there early no matter where the Friday night had taken me and always chose to sit on one of those tables close to the central admin hub.

And over the years the spot rather became a special one from where I could gaze upward at the dome and out across the vast room.

I have to confess I did do a lot of staring out both from underneath and over the top of the reading lights over the years.

This was partly because of the tedium of some of what I had to read and also just because there was so much to distract me.

It would start with that sudden bang as a book was dropped on a table and carried on as you picked up  whispered conversations somewhere around the hall and continued as long as there were people walking past.

The same place, 1938
Looking at Neil Simpson’s picture of the renovated Social Sciences Library is to be taken back a full four decades and it compares well with Kurt Hübschmann’s 1938 photograph of the same spot.

Now I am a keen admirer of Mr Hübschmann’s work much of which featured in Picture Post. He left Germany in 1934 and was one of founders of the magazine which started up in 1938 and ran to 1957.

I grew up with Picture Post which regularly came through our letter box but it was also available to flip through at the doctor’s and some even made their way into our school.

So I am not surprised that Mr Hübschmann should have been on hand to snap the Central Ref in the October of 1938 just four years after it had been opened.

Nor was he alone in wanting to capture something of the Ref.  The first exhibition staged in the Library was photographed by Stewart Bale Ltd who perfectly recorded the simple beauty of the building’s design.

The Exhibition of Library Treasures, 1934
I think we are in the area which became Archives and Local History and as much as the area was a second home to me over the last decade I have to say this picture showing the “Opening Exhibition of Library Treasures” makes me wish I had known it like this.

And that neatly brings me to the appeal for memories of the Ref as it was.

There will still be people who will have visited the library as students and those who accompanied their parents to Christmas shows in the basement theatre which opened its curtains in 1952 and perhaps like me also remember the light displays which played over the safety curtains in the interval.

Pictures; the Social Sciences Library, 2014 from the collection of Neil Simpson, the same in 1934, Kurt Hübschmann, m51687, & Opening Exhibition of Library Treasures” Stewart Bale Ltd, m81672, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

A Classic Slum and other books by Robert Roberts ........... on the place he was born

I first came across Robert Roberts and the Classic Slum in 1973.

Waterloo Street, 1893
I can’t remember if it was recommended to me or I just found it on the bookshop shelf.

Either way the phrase “poverty busied itself” leapt off the page and I was hooked.  Here is a vivid description of Salford life at the beginning of the 20th century.*

It is an account not tarnished by romanticism or bedevilled by lofty and detached criticism but a vivid description of what it was like to live a working class area.

It could so easily also have been Manchester or a clutch of other northern cities and towns and for that many any one of the equally grimy bits of south east London where I grew up.

Robert Roberts was born in 1905 and lived at 1 Waterloo Street at the junction with West Wellington Street.  The house had four rooms and one of those was the shop.

Here he lived with his parents and his four siblings.  His father was a brass finisher and his mother ran the shop.

At which point many will groan and mutter “not another story about dirty old Salford, from a southerner who only plays at being a northerner.  Why can’t he offer up something on the Salford of today?”

It’s a criticism with a tiny bit of validity.  I am from south east London, having been born in Lambeth, spent my early years in Peckham and then Eltham which is the place near Woolwich.  That said I have lived here from 1969, had a dad who was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and a mother who grew up in Derby.

But what makes the Classic Slum and its companion A Ragged Schooling more than just a set of memories is that they are supported with a heap of scholarship drawn from newspapers and official documents all mixed with descriptions of ordinary people Mr Bickam a veteran from the Boer War who on August 5 1914 tried to enlist the day after war broke out.

The bigger Salford picture in 1893
“He stopped my mother as she hung washing across the street. ‘Turned down!” he said disgustingly – ‘Bad teeth!.  They must want blokes to bite the damned Germans!’  She laughed.  Mr Bickham went on his way.  ‘They’ll be pulling me in though,’ he called over his shoulder, ‘before this lot’s done!”

An amusing comment on the outburst of patriotism at the start of the war but which doesn’t prepare you for what happened because “By August 5 1915 he had been lying dead three months in France.”

Many will know the book but for those that don’t or like me are coming back to it after a long break it is well worth a read.

All of which leaves me to say I chose not to offer up a picture of Flatiron Market or a grimy street, instead just a detail from the 1893 OS map of South Lancashire showing Waterloo Street.

Although it is worth mentioning that in the 1911 street directory only Mr Roberts and another shopkeeper are listed the rest of the street were not.

Picture; Waterloo Street, 1893 from the OS for South Lancashire, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

*The Classic Slum, Robert Roberts, 1973 page 39

The history of Eltham in just 20 objects ........Nu 8 the artist and Pound Place

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.

These cottages have long gone but once they were the subject of this drawing by Mr Llwyd Roberts who lived in Eltham in the 1930s.

During his stay here he drew many pictures and some of these appeared in the Kentish Times in 1930 and were reprinted in Old Eltham sixty-six years later.

So here you get two for one.  A reminder of an artist whose pictures are still popular and the memory of the village pound or pinfold which was used to accommodate stray animals.

Location; Eltham, London

Picture; Pound Court, Llwyd Roberts, circa 1929-30, from Old Eltham, 1966, courtesy of Margaret Copeland Gain

*Llwyd Roberts,

**Pound Place,

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The old church on the green in 1933

This is one of my favourite pictures of the old parish church.

It was taken by F. Blyth and appeared in A Short History of Chorlton-cum-Hardy written by J. D. Blyth in 1933.

Now at present I don’t know whether J.D. Blyth was the father or brother of the photographer, and both remain shadowy figures.

The text is drawn from the work of the late 19th century historian Thomas Ellwood and pretty much repeats the earlier work word by word.

Not that there is anything wrong in that.

Mr Ellwood’s work had been published as a series of newspaper articles between 1885 and 86 and while some of them reappeared in church magazines during the early 20th century I rather think that that by 1933 they were less well known.

That said it is the three photographs that draw you into the short history, and this is partly because we do not have many floating around from the 1930s.

This one of the church was taken from the south and it shows off some of the detail which is often missing from other pictures.  The side aisles were added in 1837 around the time that two Arnot stoves were installed for heating and the flue and chimney of one of them is just visible behind the spire.

The church had just another seven years of working life because it was closed in 1940 and demolished in 1949.

The grave stones remained in place until the area was landscaped in the early 1980s and many of the headstones taken away.

Picture; the parish church from the south, 1933, by F. Blyth, from A Short history of Chorlton-cum-Hardy by J.D. Blyth, 1933