Saturday, 25 March 2017

In the Piazza Monte Grappa

The Piazza Monte Grappa would not be my first choice of a place to sit and watch the world go by.

It is a rather drab place surrounded by unremarkable tall buildings and dominated by a fountain with concrete seats.

Even the bars are less than enticing.  The two of them face each other across the square but the tables are arranged under a series of arches which while they give you protection from the rain do little to give a sense of cafe life.   So on those days when the sun shines down and you want to feel it on your back you sit instead in a cavernous arch way and endure the gloom.

Occasionally there will be a concession to the sun and the tables and chairs on the eastern side will be pulled out from building but still you are in the shadow of those arches.
And so it was when we wandered through on our way to somewhere more interesting and I stopped to take a photograph.

And maybe on a bright early summer's morning with that freshness in the air, the fountain playing out, and the the huge tree to the south of the piazza it's not such a bad place.  So with this in mind perhaps I will inflict you with more from Varese.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson


Of Naples in 1961 and Little Italy in Ancoats in 1901

Rosa in Naples 1961
This is one of my favourite pictures of Rosa.

It was taken in Naples when she was just 21 during the summer of 1961 just after she had collected her passport.

Later that year she left Italy with Simone her husband and moved to Cambridge.*

They were two of those economic migrants much derided by some who sought a new life in a new country.

In the same way and just sixty years earlier my father’s parents crossed the border from Scotland and settled in Gateshead while just a little later my maternal grandfather  came home to Derby with his German war bride.

And it carried on.  Dad and mum finally made their way to London where I was born and over the course of twenty years moved around south east London, and just under a decade later I left for Manchester.

All of which reinforces that simple idea that people move around, make new homes in new places and along the way add to the communities they have joined.

Nor is it all one way.  My great uncle left for Canada in 1914 followed by his sister eleven years later. One of my uncles carved out a career in India and east Africa before settling down in South Africa and to close the Italian connection Rosa and Simone finally left Cambridge for Italy returning not to Naples but Varese in the north.  Only for one of their daughters to return to Cambridge, relocate to Manchester and in the fullness of time to set up home with me.

13-15 Blossom Street, 1903
All of which is an introduction to the many who found a home here in Manchester in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ours was the shock city of the Industrial Revolution and the mills, engineering plants, chemical works and collieries drew in the rural poor from the surrounding countryside, which were added to by those fleeing the famine in Ireland and later still those escaping the persecution in eastern Europe and the grinding poverty of southern Europe.

For some this was the eventual destination while for others it was the half way stage before crossing the Atlantic.

And their presence can still be found in the synagogues and Torah School of the Jewish community of Strangeways and Redbank and in names like Little Ireland and Little Italy.

Most have had their historians who have recorded their presence, ** which is all to the good because these communities have by and large vanished.  Little Ireland which had become one of our worst slums fell victim not to the sweep of town planners but to the railway, which cut through the area.

Not for the first time did a  railway company act as a means for slum clearance.  Much the same happened to sections of Angel Meadow in the north of the city and to parts of London’s slums.

In the case of the Jewish communities of Strangways and Redbank it was that other familiar social development which saw the better off moving out along Cheetham Hill Road to leafy more pleasant places.

Jersey Street, 2011
And so finally to Little Italy in Ancoats which became home to those from Italy who were seeking a better life.

They came from the great cities of the north like Milan, Turin and Genoa from the rural hinterland as well Naples, Sorrento, and Palermo.

It was a small close knit community inhabiting the area behind Great Ancoats Street and primarily located around Jersey Street, Blossom Street, and Henry Street.

Jersey Street, 1908, with No 2 Jackson Court to the left
Now as I often maintain if someone has done the research I have no intention of stealing their thunder, so for those who want to know more about Little Italy there is not only Anthony Rea’s book Little Italy, which was first published in 1988 but his equally fine site where you can find a wealth of information, stories and pictures.***

Added to this there are links to a whole range of other sites which give a comprehensive picture of he life they left and the contribution they made to their adopted city.

Pictures; Rosa in Naples, 1961 from the collection of the Balzano family, 13-15 Blossom Street,  A, Bradburn, 1903, m11033, and Jersey Street, 1908 m10153, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and Blossom Street from Great Ancoats Street with Gun Street and Henry Street beyond, 2010 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Messy history .......... Part One Migration,

** Bill Williams, The Making of Manchester Jewry, Manchester University Press 1976, Jewish Manchester: An Illustrated History, DB Publishing, 2008, and a new book on Manchester’s Pre Black History 1750-1926, Anthony Rea, Little Italy, Neil Richardson, 1988, and of course Little Ireland in Conditions of the Working Classes in England , Friedrich Engels, 1844

***Manchester's Ancoats, Little Italy,

Reflecting on Mr Amato’s Italian deli and Del’s cakes ...... changing Chorlton no 3

Now when they come to write the history of Beech Road, and they will, there will be a debate on what caused its regeneration.

Buonissimo, 2000
In the mid 1980s many of the shops were closing and it was unclear what the future held.

Just a decade before the road had boasted everything from an iron monger’s two bakeries, three butcher’s and a couple of grocers along with Richard and Murial’s fruit and vegetables business.

And slip back another ten years and you could add a fresh fish outlet, a television shop and much more.

But the onward sweep of supermarkets put an end to these traditional shops and for a while there were more than a few empty ones.

And then along came Primavera followed by the Lead Station and it was clear Beech Road might just be going in a new direction.

I don’t doubt the importance of these two establishments, but for me the tipping point might well have been the opening of the Italian deli in what had once been an off license.

Bob Amato opened it in 1993 and from the beginning Buonissimo was a success, offering a range of fresh food from pasta, to bread, to cakes and all things Italian.

No 56 Beech Road, 1985
Added to which he and his partner Del would order up stuff which were not available from Hanbury’s.

And the importance of Buonissimo was that it was bringing people onto Beech Road during the day, and from there they popped next door to Richard and Murial’s crossing the road to Joy Seal’s the Chemist and the Post Office and wandering up to Richardson’s for a pie or pasty.

Now I am fully prepared to admit that with Richardson’s, Sunflowers and the two butcher’s shops run by David and by Mr Henderson food hadn’t completely vanished from Beech Road.

Nor would I make an exaggerated claim for the role of the deli in regenerating where I live but it helped and what followed were the gift shops, and the bars.

Beech Road, 1975
There will be those who argue that the gift and bar economy has gone too far so that while it is perfectly easy to get some imitation Victorian soap there is no chance of picking up 4lbs of potatoes a bag of grapes and two melons.

On the other hand we still do have a pet shop, along with a new deli, and of course a paper shop.

Looking back Beech Road was the first, and has been followed by similar developments on Wilbraham Road and Barlow Moor Road, although we were beaten to it by Burton Road in West Didsbury which offers up that same mix of shopping experiences.

Beech Road, 2008
Bob and Del are still in the food business and continue to operate their wholesale business from a new building in St Andrew’s Square in town, and I still visit their old deli but now order a selection of tapas and white wine.

Location Beech Road

Pictures; Number 56 Beech Road, 1985, courtesy of Tom McGrath, Beech Road in 1975 from the collection of Tomy Walker, and Buonissimo two decades later and relaxing on Beech Road, 2008, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Amato Food Products,

William & Julia Relph of the Rising Sun a promise fulfilled

This is William Relph who ran the Rising Sun on the High Street from sometime in the 1880s till his death in 1909.

Now you can never be certain but it is more than likely that when a photographer turned up in the High Street in the summer of 1890 it will have been the landlord of the Rising Sun who came to the door to see what all the fuss was about.

And so this is William Relph and I have to own up to a mix of quiet satisfaction and fascination that I have tracked him down.

It was a promise I made in earlier stories and have now completed that promise.*

He was born in Greenwich in 1847 and came from a family that ran public houses.

What marks him out as a little special is that William saw his time out in both the old Rising Sun and the new one which still stands on the High Street.

The old pub according to our historian R.R.C Gregory was about 200 years old when it was demolished and replaced by the present pub in 1904.

Nor is that the only thing that intrigues me about William.

I had almost given up hope of finding him and then as you do I came across his widow Julia who was still in charge in 1911, and it was Julia who caught my imagination.

She was born in Cadiz, Spain and of course that raises all sorts of intriguing speculation.

But before I could go off on a flight of fancy I discovered her maiden name was West and like William her father was a publican.

That said her parents were in Spain between the birth of her brother in 1852 and when she was born two years later which may explain why they are missing from the census returns for the middle decades of the 19th century.

So there is more to find out but finding William and Julia of the Rising Sun is enough for now.

Pictures; from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers,  and Chrissie Rose February 2014

*Eltham’s Rising Sun,

Me, a camera and bits of the City I like ..............Nu 6 Knott Mill

Now all these pictures have already appeared but that has never stopped me wanting to use them all over again to explore my City.

Location, Castlefield, Manchester

Picture; Knott Mill, 2003, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Lost and forgotten streets of Salford nu 5 ............ what you find on Blackfriars Road

I am always fascinated by those narrow little passageways which hold the promise of all sorts of dark stories.

Passageway, 2016
Now this one has no name, and leads to Harding Street which today just gives access to a car park under the railway arches from Salford Approach.

So our little passageway seems hardly worth a second glance, but not so.

Go back to 1849 and it led to a closed court called Nightingale Square which in turn took you on to Harding’s Buildings which was the original Harding Street.

Here could be found 23 properties some of which were back to back and a whole warren of alleys on either side.

All were lost with the construction of the new railway viaduct and Exchange Station in 1884.

All of which just leaves me to go looking for the two buildings that stood on either side of our passage.

These were the Salford Library and Mechanic’s Institution to the left and The Royal Archer Public House to the right.

Now I am pretty sure there will be someone who can point me towards pictures of the Library and offer up rich stories of its contribution to Salford life.

In the same way I am also confident that The Royal Archer will reveal something of its past/

This I suspect will start with the names of some of the landords and if we are lucky a date for its opening.

It was there by 1849 and may well be much older than that.  In 1851 it was run by Margaret Horton and with a name we may be able to find out more.

Sadly Harding's Buildiings and Nightingale Square were not considered important enough for inclusion in the directories.

But Margaret Horton should be on the 1851 census and by following the streets from her pub it might be possible to come across both Harding's Buildings and Nightingale Square and in turn uncover the people who lived there.

We shall see.

Location; Salford

Pictures; passageway on Blackfriars Road, 2016 from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and the area in 1849, from the OS for Manchester and Salford, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

Making a new start, Canada in 1851, an introduction to a story of immigration

James Hampson was born in 1816 and married Sarah Tildesley in December 1838 at the Parish Church of Eccles.

In 1841 he described himself as a cotton dyer and in that year was living in Pendleton.  Sometime after 1849, James, Sarah and their children left for Canada which was a popular destination for emigrants.  Now I can be fairly certain of this because their last child was born in  England in 1849 and the Canadian census of 1851 records them as there.

Thousands of people, many of them from Ireland left these shores in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Most hoped that a new country would mean a fresh start with new opportunities and a better life.

The 1840s were a hard time for all but the rich and there were schemes to resettle working families across the Empire. This was a policy that was actively pursued by the Poor Law Commissioners with parochial aid or assistance from local landlords.   The Commissioners reported that over 2, 000 had gone to Canada in 1841 which was an increase on the year before, and that assistance was also being given to move to Australia and New Zealand.

The main sea port for their departure was Liverpool.  In the hundred years from 1830 to 1930 over nine million emigrants sailed from to the US, Canada and Australia.  I don’t think we will ever know exactly why the Hampson's left and there is no record of when they went but they were part of a steadily rising number of people which  reached a high point in 1849.

Even today the decision to emigrate cannot be an easy one to take, but a hundred and sixty years ago the cost, the problems and the very real dangers must have weighed heavily.  A ticket for just one person travelling on the cheapest passage might be three to five times James’s weekly wage, and of course there were four of them.**

Then there were the ever present threats from unscrupulous dealers, ship owners and the crew who might cheat the passengers at every turn of the journey. Lastly there was the sea passage itself, a trip of a month in a sailing ship at the mercy of an unpredictable weather on the open sea, crammed together with people some of whom were ill with disease.

So, taking that decision was as much an act of faith as it was a rational choice with a secure conclusion.
The ships might hold up wards of four hundred passengers although some like the Isaac Wright could carry 900 people. The Hampson's could expect a fairly basic diet on the journey.  Each passenger was given a weekly ration of bread, rice, tea, sugar as well as oatmeal flour, molasses and vinegar and one pound of pork.   Passengers could however supplement this with their own provisions but there was an upper limit.  There are contemporary stories of passengers being cheated of their rightful ration either because it was delivered late or just not at all.

Conditions on board were not ideal.  Packed together there was the ever present threat of disease and death.  All the passengers were by law inspected by a doctor before they embarked but this did not always prevent the outbreak of illnesses.  In one month in 1847 twelve ships making landfall at Grosse Island reported a total of 198 dead passengers out of just over 3,000.  Some ships arrived safely with no deaths others like Bark Larch from Sligo lost 108 of its 440 passengers with another 150 reported ill.  The highest death rates seemed to be ships bound from Ireland escaping the effects of the famine some years earlier.***

Location; Salford, Greater Manchester

*The Eighth Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners, HMSO 1842, Page 37 Google edition page 58

** In 1847 a ticket might cost between £3.10/- and £5. From a newspaper article The tide of emigration in the Illustrated London  News July 1850

***Immigrants to Canada, 

Picture; detail of Pendleton from OS Lancashire 1841 courtesy of Digital Archives Association