Thursday, 29 June 2017

The benign and fairly gentle River Mersey

The Mersey up by the meadows and down past Jackson’s Boat can seem a benign and fairly gentle stretch of water.

And this picture taken some time in the early 20th century captures just such a moment.

It was taken on the edge of the township by Red Bank Farm which was lonely outposts hard by the river, well away from the rest of community.

It is a peaceful scene on a warm sunny day and you can see why our commercial photographer went to the trouble to take the scene.  As it turns out he took more than one and there are a whole series shot on the same day along this part of the water.

He must have had it easier then to get the water’s edge.  Most of the river at this point is today viewed from towering banks built and added to over the centuries as the main defence against a powerful threat to the lives and livelihoods of all those who lived beside it.

Generations of farmers have laboured to construct this natural wall to repel the flood waters of the Mersey and three are plenty of moments when our benign and fairly gentle stretch of water burst even these defences, in what were sometimes flash floods and often such an immense tide of water that it created a huge lake several miles wide across the meadows.

Here below in the February of 1991 the Mersey was just lapping the top of the uppermost bank.

A scene so different from another warm summers day in 2009.

Pictures; from the Lloyd collection and the collections of David Bishop and Andrew Simpson

A souvenir of Eltham ................ and a bit of a story

Now like lots of people I collect stuff, but unlike most I prefer to keep the collections digital.

That way there is no need to dust, no danger that you will damage the precious object and no chance that one day Aunt Ethel’s present will end up in the bin or sold on eBay.

It also means that you can collect other people’s favourite items and so share their pleasure.

All of which brings me to crested china which is the a general name for those porcelain “things” bought on holiday as a souvenir and carrying the name, badge or coat of arms of a town, city or seaside resort.

I can’t say I ever bothered with them until I came across a selection made during the Great War ranging from tanks, to battleships ambulance, and war memorials and the result was a series of stories.*

They were turned out in their thousands and each carried a different coat of arms.

It made perfect sense when the majority of people could no longer go on holiday as travel became restricted and ever more expensive.

This way the porcelain companies stayed in business, people still had jobs and the war effort and moral were boosted.

That said these three of Eltham from Mark Johnson have as far as I know nothing to do with the Great War, but they are Eltham where I grew up and that is good enough for me.

Although it would be nice to come across one of the Royal Arsenal.

Location’ Eltham

Pictures; crested China from the collection of Mark Johnson, date unknown

*Crested China,

Walking in the City

Now for no particular reason other than I took them and they are of Manchester, here is a short series celebrating places I like.

All have appeared before and some a long time ago.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; around Manchester 2002-2015

Another excellent blog on BHC from the Together Trust

History is as I always say messy and I am never surprised when one piece of research leads to another.

So back many years ago when I first started on the journey of discovery about my own British Home Child I came across the Together Trust.

It was one of those random shots in the dark.  My great uncle was migrated by Middlemore on behalf of the Derby Union which is nowhere near Manchester which was the original home for the Together Trust.

But I now live in Manchester and curious to know how other cities dealt with child care  I came across the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges which began in 1870 and is now the Together Trust.

The rest as they say is a shed load of blog stories about the Trust and a new book on the story of this children’s charity by me and their archivist Liz Sykes which will be published to commemorate their 150th anniversary in 2020.*

And in the course of the research for the book I have learnt lots more about the state of child care, and the migration of young people in the late 19th century.

Liz publishes a regular blog which is always informative, fascinating and sends me off in all sorts of enquiries.**

The latest is on Marchmont, and the records of the visits made on behalf of the charity to youngsters placed in the surrounding area.***

“The charity retains books on all of the young people who were emigrated across to Canada and provides a service to close relatives, who want to discover more about their ancestor. Interested individuals can find out more by contacting the Together Trust.”***

Now given that some people have had some difficulties in tracking relatives via other agencies I am always impressed by the efforts made by Liz to help descendants of children migrated by the Trust, and there are those who have told me hoe helpful she has been.

So that just leaves me to look over the blog story again and suggest you do too.

Pictures; courtesy of the Together Trust; 

*A new book on the Together Trust 

**Getting Down and Dusty

***Records at Marchmont

****Contacting the Trust 

One family’s war......... stories behind the book nu 20

Now neither my parents or grandparent talked about either of the two world wars they lived through.

From Uncle Fergus 1918
Not that there is anything strange in that.

They went and fought or made the best of staying at home and like many they coped with the loss of a loved one.

But we were lucky, of the eight who served in those two world wars we lost just the one.  He was my uncle Roger who died far away in Thailand in a prisoner of war camp.

The rest which consisted of my great grandfather, my grandfather, two great uncles and two uncles,  as well as my mother all came safely home. But of my cousins in Germany fighting on the other side, I have yet to discover their fates.

Uncle George, 1918
But because those wars were never spoken of much that they experienced is lost to me.

And so like others you try to piece together the stories from the handful of pictures, the small collection of official documents and their letters home.

We have only one full set of military records for one of the six who served during the Great War and that was because he had enlisted in Canada.

The remaining five are fragmentary or were lost when the records office was destroyed during the Blitz.

So I know so little.  But then almost out of the blue you make a discovery which was there all the time I just hadn’t made the connection.

I knew my grandfather was in Cologne in 1920 because it was there that he met and married my grandmother who was German.

And given that the Allies had moved into Germany at the end of the war I rather think he will have been there from 1918 which was just when my uncle serving with a Highland Regiment also arrived.

Great grandfather, Montague Hall, 1916
This I know because along with a Christmas card he sent my father in the December of that year he also wrote a long letter.

It was dated December 12th 1918. The Great War had ended just a month before and uncle Fergus and his battalion of the Black Watch were in Cologne, relieved no doubt that the fighting was over.

On that Thursday in December he wrote that “Cologne was a lovely city with some fine cinemas” but they were prohibited from fraternizing with the civilians which for a young man of just 21 was a bit of a bore given the attractive young women he came across.

But duty was never far away and preparations were a foot because “we are crossing the Rhine tomorrow” and there was a determination “to show the rest of the division the way as we proved to be the finest marchers during the trek to Germany.”

Extract from grandfather's discharge papers, 1922
At the time they never knew each other and would not even be aware of each other till my father met my mother sometime in the late 1940s.

Of course they may have missed each other entirely and the historian in me demands a degree of objectivity but ever the romantic it would be fun to think that they inhabited the same German city at the same time.

Location Cologne

Picture; With Best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year, December 1918, Uncle George, 1918, Montague Hall our great grand father, 1916, discharge papers for William Henry Hall, our grandfather, 1922, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

The Manchester Tennis and Racquets Club ........... the day Andy Robertson wandered into Salford nu 4

Now there might be some who are confused as to why in Blackfriars Street in Salford you could find the Manchester Tennis and Racquets Club.

Well according to Andy Robertson who took the pictures it started life on Miller Street in 1876 but had to move with expansion of the railways.

It relocated o Salford and that as they say is that.

In 1925 a squash court was added and in 1996 English Heritage warded the building Grade II status.

I have never been inside and until Andy sent over the pictures I had no idea that a Manchester tennis and racquet club existed in Salford, which clearly shows my ignorance.

Location; Salford

Pictures; The Manchester Tennis and Racquets Club from the collection of Andy Robertson

Turning up history .......... the cigarette case and a map of Germany in 1938

Now I say Germany in 1938, but the cigarette case could stretch from 1938 all the way through to 1945.

But I can be pretty sure that it was made after 1938 because the map engraved on the case shows Austria as part of Greater Germany and the Anschluss happened in March 1938.

Of course there is just the outside possibility that the case is older, and the map was engraved in 1938.

Or we could even be looking at a bit of wish fulfilment because there were those after Germany’s unification in 1871 who argued that Austria should be included and after the Great War the newly created Republic of Austria indicated a desire to join Germany but this was forbidden by the peace treaties.

So there you have it, either way a little bit of history.
Ann who sent me the image wrote that “I have had this in a drawer for years. My Uncle Richard brought it back from Germany. It too is rather rusty, but you can just about make out place names.

Think this was when Austria was part of Germany. I went on a family exchange to Austria in 1956, with the Anglo Austrian Society, who were trying to build friendship links between the two countries. 

I stayed with a family who took me to Vienna, and we were close to the Hungarian border. Didn't realise for years how close we had been to the Hungarian revolution. Didn't know much about politics when I was 13.”

Location; Germany, Austria, circa 1938-45

Picture; cigarette case, 1938-45 from the collection of Ann Love