Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Travels with friends in Whitworth Park …. re-discovering the place by the gallery

Now, I have to admit that visiting Whitworth Park has always been an afterthought.

In the 1970s, it was just that big green place you passed on the bus from bed sit land into town, and when I began regularly going to the Whitworth Art Gallery a decade later it was the open space you saw from the side windows.

Occasionally, I might cut through on a warm summer’s day, clock the statute of the King, and take the first exit out to the bus stops.

All of which is a shame, because there is lots to see, and indeed, once upon a time even more. 

"The park was established as part of the Whitworth Institute, a memorial concept to famous engineer Sir Joseph Whitworth. 

The Institute secured the land for Whitworth Park in 1889, which was then known as Potters Field and the Park was opened in 1890. 

The park was formally handed over in October 1904 on a 1000-year lease. 

The Whitworth Institute was taken over by the University of Manchester in 1958 when it became the Whitworth Art Gallery. 

The University of Manchester remains the owner of the park and Manchester City Council is the lessee. There is a statue of 'Edward VII' by John Cassidy and a First World War memorial to the 7th Manchester’s”.*

Looking through the collection of old picture postcards, I came across a few which showed it off in all its glory, just a decade and a bit after it opened.

And to my surprise there amongst the images is one of the boating lake, which rather threw me given that it isn’t there now, and for a moment I wondered if the postcard company had got the wrong park.

But no, they hadn’t and there was indeed a lake in Whitworth park.

And this I know because I went to one of the authorities on the area which is Bruce Anderson and in particular to his wonderful site, Rusholme and Victoria Park which has several pages devoted to Whitworth Park.

At which stage I won’t steal his research, but rather direct you to the link and to an excellent history of the place.**

Leaving me just at ask Bruce when the lake disappeared, and to go looking for the spot.

Location; Whitworth Park

Pictures; looking out on the park, 2018, from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and picture postcards of the park, 1907, courtesy of David Harrop

*Whitworth Park,

*Whitworth Gallery and Park, Rusholme and Victoria Park,

A family of seven in a two roomed cottage on the Row, ........ one up one downs part 1

It is hard today to imagine bringing up a family in just two rooms and yet many people here in the township during the 19th century and before did just that.

These were houses with just two rooms often with only a ladder to give access to the upstairs room, and they were common enough across the country both in our towns and cities but also in the countryside.

Only three still exist in Manchester and these are on Bradley Street backing on to far grander buildings on Lever Street.

We had our fair share but they have all been demolished and the evidence is scanty.

One survived on the edge of Chorlton on Maitland Road into the 1930s  but those which would have been here in the centre of the township along the Row and around the green vanished a long time ago.

 Most would have been wattle and daub cottages and while we still had something like fifty in the 1840s all went during the next half century with the last on the corner of Beech Road and Wilton being pulled down in 1892.

Now it is possible using old photographs, OS maps and census returns to locate them on what are now Beech Road and the green.

There were a group of them on the northern side of Beech Road almost opposite Reynard Road, a solitary example opposite the parish church close to what is now the car park for the meadows and more on Sandy Lane and there will be more in Martledge and Hardy.

These were all brick built and most survived into the 20th century and back in the 1830s and 40s were owned by local landowners, businessmen, traders and farmers.

At present we know most about those on Beech Road. They were owned by James Holt who had made his money in Manchester and retired to Chorlton to live in Beech House sometime around the mid 1830s. In the May of 1845 he was renting them out to John Hooley, John Whitehead and James Whitby and the rents ran from just under 4/- down to 3/4d. John Hooley was a joiner and Whitehead an agricultural labourer.

Trying to make sense of what proportion of their wages was paid in rent is difficult. But an agricultural labourer in Lancashire might earn between 11s and 18s. But these varied, and so in the most intense period in the summer months this could rise to 13s and fall later in the year to 12s or less.

Likewise women and children were better paid during the warm busy months. It is also worth noting that women’s wages in parts of Lancashire were the highest in the country. Added to this there was the money that could be earned at harvest time, and from task work and activities like drainage work.

Now overcrowding was a common feature of rural life and the Whitehead’s had five children ranging in age from 12 down to six months with the added complication that of the five one was a boy aged 12 and the rest were girls.

Families fell back on different strategies to cope, with some farming out some of the children to a grandparent or making arrangements with neighbours where by the girls of the two families slept under one roof, and the boys under another. In other cases they just relied on the blanket across the room. All of which allowed moralists and social observers a field day and was reported in great detail by Poor Law Commissioners on the Employment of Women & Children in Agriculture in 1843.

The cottages on Beech Road were demolished sometime around 1911, but those on Sandy Lane and the one opposite the parish church lasted much longer, but more about those later.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection, circa 1895

By the lake at Mergozza ........ remembering those who marched away

It is a simple monument as befits the small village of Mergozzo.

The memorial looks out across the lake and stands in the main square, ringed by restaurants and surrounded by stone benches, making it part of the community.

Location; Mergozza

Picture; the war memorial Mergozza, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Snaps of Stockport no 2 buying a bargain sometime in the 1950s

This is the second in the series of images of Stockport from the 1950s.  

They were all taken sometime in the 1940s by William Ernest Edmondson whose son has kindly given me permission to publish them.

Some have almost passed out of living memory but this one is recognisably little different today.

The Boar’s Head on the corner of Vernon Street and Market place is still there as are the stalls.

Of course the traders have changed and the clothes belong to a very different time but otherwise there is much that Mr Edmondson would be familiar with.

Pictures; of Stockport, from the collection of William Ernest Edmondson, courtesy of Ian Edmondson

The Welcome Inn ................... the early days

Now some stories just have a habit of not wanting to go away.

They stay hanging around challenging you to go off and discover something new to add to what has already been said.

And so it is with the Welcome Inn which every time I feature the pub strikes a chord with many people usually about my age.

In particular it is tales of Sunday nights which continue to bubble up enriched by the memories of meeting future husbands or lasting friends.

And I should know because while I was just that bit too young to drink I would listen to the happy crowds coming back down Well Hall Road past our house in the mid 60s a little after closing time.

More recently I began looking for the history of the place, and while a few people were able to offer up names of past landlords the very early history of the pub proved illusory.

And then my old friend, fellow researcher and local historian Tricia Leslie told me about The Woolwich Story by E.F. E. Jefferson.

It is as she promised me a wonderful account of the Borough from the earliest of times up to its merger with Greenwich.

I have already used the book and know I shall go on plundering it for some time to come.

So in the chapter on the 1920s I came across this “On the brow of the hill stood a large wooden building used as a workmen’s club but demolished about 1927 when the Welcome Inn was built.  

This modern hostelry set new standards in both furnishing and service.  Seated in comfort, one had to preserve patience until the waiter came to take the order, for customers were not permitted to get their own drinks at the bar. 

But this arrangement proved too leisurely, annoyed those who only had time for a quick one and tended generally toward the restraint of trade. A wise host discontinued the practice.”

Now I have no idea when that service was discontinued but I well remember the practice was still in use in some of the big Manchester pubs in the late 1960s, with the waiters in white jackets and in some rooms a bell push to summon assistance.

Sadly there are few photographs of the waiters or indeed the interiors and it would be nice if any could be shared of the Welcome in its heyday.

So that is it.  I now know when the pub was open which was clearly aimed at the Progress Estate and the new build going up behind the pub and the appeal is out for pictures.

We shall see what we get.

But in the meantime I shall go looking at the electoral registers which will give us the names of the landlords or landladies from when it opened through to the 1960s.

Location, Eltham

Picture; the site of the Welcome courtesy of Jean and the cover of The Woolwich Story

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

A bit of Chorlton's cinema past ........... the lost and forgotten Picture House

Now I wasn’t born when The Picture House on Manchester Road thrilled Chorlton’s cinema audiences in the 1920s, and while I could have sat in the six penny stalls  four decades later I never did.

The ceiling, 2019
So I have no idea what the interiors was like, and despite many efforts over the years, the Co-op always turned down my requests to view the upper floor.

And the reason for that was that after years as a workshop for the Co-op funeral business, the floor was deemed unsafe, and I never got the chance.

But more recently Chris Peacock from the Chorlton Community Land Trust went in with a surveyor and took a remarkable set of photographs.

Despite nearly sixty years, there is plenty left which will strike a chord for all those who visited the cinema up to when it closed in 1962.

The Picture Houe, 1920s
The red domed roof, the plaster decorations and some of the other features of the place are still there, as are some of the original electrical fittings.

I won’t slip into the silly stuff of writing about stepping back in time and looking for the ghosts of Chorlton’s own cinematic past, but there is a sense that is what we have here.

More so, because apart from a bit of plaster moulding in the old The Palais De Lux on Barlow Moor Road, nothing now exists of any of our other picture houses.

Plaster detail, 2019
And it is perhaps fitting that it should be this one, which still offers up evidence of the days of going to the “flicks”.  The Picture House/ Savoy/Gaumont was the grandest of the five which offered up adventures, romances and comedies from the early 20th century through to 1991.

The exterior was in grand style and even after it had its Norwegian Wood make over it still looked the part.

So, for all those with fond memories of the place, and especially those who remember the appearance of the Bee Gees on stage, here are a few of the pictures Chris took and Simon Hooton placed on facebook.

Leaving me just to highlight the link to Chorlton Community Land Trust, which are “a group of local residents who are passionate about having a voice and influence to shape the area where we live for the benefit of Chorlton’s diverse community.

The stairs, 2019
We believe in people stepping up to help create a more fair and greener world where housing and urban regeneration works in our interests rather than those of big business”.

So that is it ............ except to say there lots of people who would like the old cinema saved, and perhaps brought back into use as a community hub, and maybe even a cinema, with an option for a permanent exhibition to the Bee Gees.

We shall see.

Location; Chorlton

Pictures;  The interior of the old cinema, from the collectionof Chris Peacock, 2019, The Picture House; 1920, from the Lloyd Collection, and in 1958, A H Downes, m09220, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

As the Gaumont, 1958
* Chorlton Community Land Trust,

Wilfred Pickles, the Chorlton Repertory Theatre Club and a whole new set of stories

Now you have to be a certain age to remember Wilfred Pickles, Mabel and Have Ago.

For most of us this will be at the edge of our growing up and will forever be linked to the Light Programme  the wireless and the catcphrases, "How do, how are yer?" "Are yer courting?" "What's on the table, Mabel?" and "Give him the money, Barney."

In 1954 it transferred to the television under the title “Ask Pickles.”

I can’t remember much about the show but I know it was very popular with a weekly audience of over 20 million, and featured ordinary people who were the sort you stood at the bus stop with, listened to in the shops and could be your friends.

That made it very different from the at TV show “What’s My Line" with its panel of well bred well behaved people with their plumy voices.

So I am not surprised that the Chorlton Repertory Theatre Club would ask Mr Pickles to be their President.

Over the years there were plenty of amateur dramatic groups in Chorlton and as early as 1910 one was listed in Kemp's Almanack and reflected the fact that as the township grew many of these were the “middling people” with jobs that allowed them time at night to explore all sorts of cultural and sporting interests.

Where many of these groups performed is lost, but some will have used the Public Hall which was part of the Conservative Club and others may acted out their dreams in church halls.

So Sally’s find is quite a find and while I don’t yet have a date it opens up a whole exciting new set of stories and will I hope set memories running and perhaps will also stir up comments on Mothers Pride.

Well we shall see.

Location; Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Picture; advert for the Chorlton Repertory Theatre Club, date unknown, from the collection of Sally Dervan