Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Great War: Localities and Regional Identities

I came across this advance notice

One day conference held in Manchester,
Wednesday 20 June 2012
The event will be held in Manchester Metropolitan University
As the centenary of the Great War approaches and it slips from first-hand experience, shelves on military history in high-street bookshops testify to the misty-eyed mythical appeal it continues to have for many. This conference forestalls the coming public history bonanza by concentrating on the under-researched responses to the crisis from the regions and localities of Britain. Was there a common national response to unprecedented events or did strong local and regional identities cause significant variations?

This day conference will bring together twenty papers from scholars working on regional issues in the Great War and its aftermath. Strands include:

• Recruiting, volunteering and conscription
• Local patriotisms
• Agriculture, food and rural life
• Commemoration and religion
• Community and home front

Speakers will include:
Keith Grieves, Nick Mansfield, Helen McCartney
Professors Chris Williams and Karen Hunt

More details and application form at
Picture; taken from website origin Cambridge Collection, Cambridge Central Library

Letter from Viareggio .......... another day

The queue at the local bakery shop below our balcony shows no sign of going down. It is Sunday in Viareggio, or more accurately on the Via XX Settembre and it is just before 11. Ours is a narrow busy street, with people on bikes, noisy scooters and that blasted alarm from the school just round the corner. Odd said Simone that the alarm should keep going in the school holidays and joked it must be the only place that school children want to break into a school in the holidays.

But I digress, the line of shoppers has vanished but still there are small groups hanging around, renewing friendships, catching up on a week’s news or just watching the life on the street pass by. They spill out over the pavement into the road making it difficult for the cars to navigate around them. Surprisingly all of this is performed without road rage in a matter of fact way.

Sunday is a traditional time to visit family and many of the cakes bought from our shop will be taken as gifts. And as I write a rather striking woman in her 50s passes with a box wrapped in gold paper destined no doubt to be the centre piece of a visit. Just behind her follow an even statelier couple. She dressed immaculately walking hand in hand with a tall elderly man slowly as befitting two who have more years behind them than ahead.

It is a beautiful morning, the sky is a bright blue and the church behind the apartments adds to the atmosphere with a regular peal of bells. Earlier in the morning we had mass relayed to all the surrounding streets.
Rosa and Tina were up early, buying at the fish market and now the apartment is full of the smell of cooking fish. Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of fresh fish only hours from when they were pulled from the sea. I am introduced to flat broad ones, a few even odder looking ones and plenty of large shell specimens one of which still slowly moves its legs.

At home I doubt we would have the variety or the odd looking ones. Here what you get is what you are offered; the sea after all does not deliver to order. And the same applies to vegetables and fruit. Yesterday’s melon still came with the earth clinging to its sides while the tomatoes, peppers and aubergines were all sizes and all shapes. I only hope that it is a long time before we get regular sized, perfectly formed produce that are on offer at home.

Viareggio is a city and commune in Tuscany

Picture; the market in Viareggio, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Friday, 30 December 2011

Chasing a shadow .............. uncovering the war record of a British Home Child Part One

Now I have written quite extensively about British Home Children and my great uncle. He was one of the 100,000 British children who were sent to Canada to start a new life by organisations dedicated to saving the poor.

His early life was not an easy one. He was in care from the age of four, knew little about his father and narrowly escaped a term in a naval boot camp, preferring to cross the Atlantic in the May of 1914 and settle on a farm in Canada.

This would have been a challenge to any urban child and so it was with my great uncle who did not adjust to his new life. Instead after three placements which all proved unsuccessful he ran away in the August of 1915 and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Like many young men he lied about his age and unlike many he discarded his given name and adopted a new one, and as if to further distance himself from his old life, he claimed both parents were dead, and gave as his next of kin his aunt.

This should have made searching for him difficult. But the Library and Archives Canada which is similar to our own National Archives proved a goldmine of detail, they can be accessed at
Here were his Attestation papers which were the first official document a young recruit signed. For the historian and the family researcher they are the first port of call in summoning up a young man’s military career. Here can be found biographical details, physical description and names and addresses of next of kin.

These are valuable enough but in the case of my great uncle give an insight into what he was thinking when he enlisted and how he wanted to be seen.
Clearly lying about his age got him into the army and changing his name ensured the organisation that brought him over to Canada could not track him.

I am not sure why he lied about his parents. I guess because he had last seen his father when he was 4 and it was easy to assume him dead. But his mother he knew to be alive, having briefly lived with her a year before. Perhaps it was the circumstances of him being taken back into care because his mother “was unfit to have control” and given this it was easy to draw a line under family ties. But then having decided against a factious brother he named his real aunt citing her correct address.

The Canadian war archives have not suffered from damage from German bombing in the Second World War and so are complete, which meant it was possible to follow his career from enlistment and training camp in England to his time on the Western Front.

His personal records do not give any detail beyond his court martial’s, his units and his eventual demob. But sitting alongside these records are the War Diaries which each regiment had to complete. They describe the day to day actions of the unit both under fire and at rest which means it is possible to gain an insight into what men like my great uncle had to endure.
Picture; Recruitment poster for the Canadian Mounted Rifles, from Library and Archives Canada

Letter from Viareggio

Florence was all we had hoped for. True there were times when the sheer ebb and flow of nationalities all keen on soaking up some of Florentine history proved challenging but we accepted we were tourists, took the sightseeing bus and followed the guide book.

Now I have always been snooty about a sightseeing bus and guide book, never wanting to admit that I was a tourist, which was both silly and arrogant. Silly because I missed out on what there was to know, and arrogant because I didn’t know much about the cities we visited. So Tina bought the book and got seats on the bus and Florence became more comprehensible as a result.

But all adventures can only really begin with a train journey. Aeroplanes and coaches are a poor substitute for a fast powerful train and an unknown railway station. First there is the station, smaller and more intimate than an airport, but still with all the promise of distant places.
Viareggio station is a business work a like place. It can’t claim to have the majesty of the great London termini, or the graceful sweep of the train shed at York. Nor has it that stark modernism of the Termini in Rome. Viareggio is a concrete block which fronts 8 simple platforms, but it has trains and that makes it magic.

We were there for 7.30; the train to Florence takes an hour and half and leaves at 8.10 which gave us time for breakfast. Conetto with cream is a croissant with a sort of rich custard which with an expresso is a perfect way to start the day. You can get others filled with jam or chocolate and should not be confused with bombaloni which are donuts with the same fillings. We eat these on the platform watching as the first trains of the day pass through, south to Rome, and north to Florence and Pisa.
Italian trains are generally cleaner than ours. There are none of those discarded newspapers on seats and tables, nor the empty tins which roll up and down the aisle with the movement of the train. This has a lot to do with the team of cleaners who descend on the train as it arrives at the termini. With only a short window between its arrival and departure they move swiftly armed with bags and brooms. It is the sort of thing that did once happen at home which meant that if you were last off an inner city train you battled down the corridor trying not to impede their work with your suitcases.

The journey through the Italian countryside has its own rewards. There are the endless fields of maize and sunflowers in neat fields, cut through with streams and rivers while further away to the north small villages cling to the side of steep mountains, each with their own distinctive tall tower. I guess these were the refuges for a population plagued by war and marauding bands of mercenaries.
The heat of August is all too evident from the state of the rivers often shrunk to sluggish strips of water which have vacated great stretches of their original course.

We stop frequently and as the train heads north the fields give way to factories, and urban sprawl before arriving in Florence. We pass the sleek Euro Star Italia express train which should not be confused with the London to Paris Euro Star service. Just outside the station moving slowing out towards the south is the Silver Arrow and as we glide to a stop there beside us is the Red Arrow.
These are fast and elegant and will transport their passengers in style and comfort across Italy. They are the new Alta Velocitá trains which can take you from Milan to Rome in just 3½ hours compared to the old 5 hour service. Or from Milan to Bologne, Florence, Rome and onto Naples.

But it is the speed which more than anything impresses me. Milan to Florence in just 2 hours 10 minutes, Milan to Rome in under 4 and Rome to Naples in 1 hour 21 minutes. The Frecciarossa, or “Red Arrow,” is the fastest, with a maximum speed of 300-350KPH. The others are the Frecciargento, or Silver Arrow and the Frecciabianca or White Arrow which are slightly slower.

It’s not cheap a standard 2nd class seat on a train between Rome and Milan will cost around €70 one-way, and a 1st class ticket single will set you back more than €90. And the “flexi” tickets (which let you change trains without penalty) are even costlier – €111.70 for 1st class and €80.90 for 2nd class. But this seems reasonable set against our own high fares which are bewilderingly complicated.

By comparison our snail train cost us just over €13 each return. But it got us to Florence in comfort and the return journey had the bonus of being in a double decker train.

Picture; Viareggio station, the bar at 7.45 where all train journeys begin from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Thursday, 29 December 2011

100 years of one house in Chorlton ..................Part Six

I have been indulging my love of this house and telling its story and the people who lived in it set against the big and small changes to the way we lived through one hundred years.

The development of Chorlton as a pleasant dormitory suburb of Manchester had been going on a long time before we voted to be part of the city in 1904.

Some of the builders who took part in the building boom which attracted many newcomers were themselves new to the township. In the case of Joe Scott who features so much in the story of the house it was his father who had moved here from London just as new Chorlton was being developed.

But Joe preferred to build his houses in what had been the old rural centre of Chorlton and aimed at the rented market for small two up twp down properties with a kitchen extension. These dominate the little roads off Beech Road.

The site of his own house was well chosen. The front looked out onto the Rec and from the back he had an uninterrupted view across fields to the Brook and beyond towards Hardy Farm and the Mersey. As late as 1922 this was still true, although by then the new Chorltonville estate obscured the view of Hardy.

This land would not be seriously developed until the third decade of the 20th century when he began building semi-detached houses which in time would block even his view of the open land.

The house itself was a fine end terrace. The two ground floor living rooms had open fires with tiled surrounds and large wooden mantle pieces. The kitchen was small but had an open range which years later and in keeping with the fashion were replaced by a gas cooker and free standing units.

Now the Corporation had been supplying gas cookers for sale or rent from before the beginning of the 20th century and by the 1920s had show rooms on Deansgate and in Withington as well as travelling showrooms. It was keen to promote cookery demonstrations and collaborated with schools and the Women’s’ Guild.

I think we easily forget the degree to which the gas cooker transformed the lives of those who were involved in the day to day grind of household cooking. No more was there a need to bring in coal and keep clean an enormous range, for at the flick of a switch here was an abundant supply of fuel.

Our incorporation in to the city had many benefits, not least was that from 1906 the Corporation bought out the Stretford Gas Company and began supplying Manchester gas at a cheaper rate.

Joe however did not opt for gas lighting. There is no evidence in any of the houses in the terrace of gas lamps, unlike the newly built Chorltonville which constructed in the same year relied on gas. This I suppose shouldn’t surprise me given that Joe was already head of the game by offering for sale garages fitted with electricity.

Picture; advert for Joe Scott from the St Clements Church Bazaar for 1928, kindly supplied by Ida Bradshaw

Work, a romance, an illegitimate birth, marriage and seven more children in Whiteman's Yard

Wellington Street, the silk factory, a romance an illegitimate birth and marriage along with seven children and a life in Whiteman’s Yard.

I tried finding Smith’s Buildings on Wellington Street in Derby because it was here that one of my relatives lived before she got married. It was a daft idea really. She was there in 1861 when it was a close packed mix of houses and factories. Now it is just a stretch of car parks.

Maria Boot the mother of my great grandmother was born in 1845, brought up seven children and died in Whiteman’s Yard aged just 43.

She died of phthisis or tuberculosis which was a common enough disease in the 19th century and one that killed her father and mother. Like many who succumbed, she may well have been aware that the chronic cough; with its telltale signs of blood, the night sweats and weight loss were all signs that that she had been infected.

A poor diet, long hours of work and an absence of professional medical care made her vulnerable and like many of her generation she would have looked much older than she was.

No photograph has survived of Maria but I doubt we would have caught her smiling into the camera. This had less to do with being camera shy or a natural disposition to being stern but was a form of vanity. Smiling would reveal the row of missing and bad teeth which was the lot of so many of her class.

But once in the 1860s she would have been both youthful and I would like to think attractive. John Boot certainly thought so. He was a railway labourer and she a silk worker and they lived in the same house on Wellington Street.

Maria had worked as a silk winder which covered a number of different tasks, ranging from winding the silk on to the bobbins, cleaning the silk thread, to strengthening the filaments by a process called throwing. Much of the work was done by machines powered by overhead belts which in turn were connected to a drive powered by steam. These machines were spread out across the width of the mill floor.

Her job would have been to watch the bobbins on the machines, removing them when they filled with silk and replacing them with others and where necessary joining the ends of broken threads. It would have been repetitive and monotonous work, dominated by the clack thump and humming of the machines. Like as not she would have worked at either
the Mitchell and Slater silk mill or the Carrington Street Mill.

She was a boarder in the house that John Boot rented with his brother. Now I am at heart a romantic and I like to think that the two of them fell in love and planned when to marry. Alas as with so many love matches reality played out a little differently.

In 1862 Maria gave birth to her first son well away in Chesterfield while still single and it was not till 1864 that the two married. Perhaps it was out of consideration for decency that she gave Nelson Street as her residence on the marriage certificate.

I am less sure. Child birth outside marriage was less of a scandal than we like to think. In rural areas many brides were either pregnant when they stood in front of the altar, or had actually given birth before their marriage. In my own village there were sixty-seven illegitimate births during in seventy two years up to 1842 with some mothers having a second and even a third child. I doubt that it was any less so in the towns and cities.

Indeed one of Maria’s children did just that. Eliza was born in 1872 in Whiteman’s Yard fell in love with a young soldier and bore him five children. The children were born in Bedford, Birmingham Kent and lastly in the Derby Workhouse. The couple never married and sometime in 1902 they parted company. She came home to Derby with three children and pregnant with their fifth and he stayed in Kent where he married and had another five.

She went back to the same familiar patch living just streets away in Hope Street. This too has long gone and has also become a car park.
Picture; A silk machine,from A Day at Derby Silk Mill the Penny Magazine, 1843

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Family illiteracy ............... the story of so many

Occasional stories of my family who lived in Derby in the mid 19th century

How easy we take writing our name. Even in an electronic age we still sign for things at the door, commit to a legal agreement and perhaps even sign a letter.

All of which made me think again about my family and how such a simple task was denied them.

In the summer of 1848 George Lowe died of TB. He was the grandfather of my grandmother which takes me back in an unbroken line to the mid nineteenth century. His death plunged a family already on the edge of poverty into real hardship. His wife Maria was just thirty one and she had five children the youngest of whom was just twelve months old.

No records have survived of how they coped, but I know she took in lodgers and the children all went into the textile industry as soon as they could. She had a series of jobs including collecting old linen and later in her later 50s as a charwoman.
Maria was illiterate as were all her daughters. They each left their mark instead of a signature on official documents. In the summer of 1848 Maria had left her mark on the death certificate of her husband and twenty-seven years later Mary her daughter also put a cross when registering the death of her mother Maria. All of the girls had each left their mark on their wedding certificates.

As shocking as this seems to us today it was not unusual. In 1840 when Maria was bringing up her daughters over 30% of men signed the marriage register with a mark.
The level of literacy was in part measured by the test of the marriage mark. The authors of the 1851 census on Education fell back on this simple test of how many people were able to sign their name on the marriage certificate as against those who put a cross or mark as a judge of the level of literacy. They were gratified that the number who put a cross had been falling but felt that it was still not good that well over a third of the population accented to marriage with a cross.

Here in Derby there were sixteen schools in the 1850s ranging from those catering for the well off to those aimed at catholic and Methodist families. But for the rest it would be a National School. These were church schools and provided elementary education for the children of the poor based on teaching of the church.

There were two of these not far from where Maria lived. On Edward Street was St Alkamund’s and on Curzon Street was St Werburgh’s on Curzon Street. What was offered was fairly basic ranging from reading writing and arithmetic and maybe languages, music, drawing and geography. The degree to which these were taught varied from subject to subject, and there was a gender split, so while almost all boys and girls were taught the ‘three Rs’, few studied modern languages. Boys were more likely to be taught mathematics than girls while more girls than boys were instructed in industrial occupations.

Nor were these gentle places of education. There was strict discipline and lessons were delivered with the help of monitors who were trained on the job, and much of this would focus on learning by rote. Standing outside the school the passerby would have heard the repetitive chanting as row by row the children repeated the prepared text. And if he had strayed inside, hanging from the walls around the room were embroidered verses extorting the virtues of thrift and hard work.

All of which I guess meant there was not much incentive for the girls to attend. And attendance was a problem, so while in the private sector the number of children attending on any particular day was over 90% in public schools which catered for the labouring classes the number it was much less.

For families like the Lowe’s the priority was bringing money into the house and so inspectors often commented that children were away from school and at work.

Not until 1870 was there universal provision for primary school education for working class children and even then it was still possible to gain exemption for even this limited schooling.
Listening to my mother’s experiences of school things had not changed over much by the 1920s. She had attended Traffic Street School as did my great grandmother sixties years earlier. Traffic Street School had been built in 1879 one of the new Board Schools of which many are still around today.

They were grand constructions, well built of brick, with high windows and were warm in winter and cool in summer. By comparison their replacements which went up in the 1950s may have looked better but had plenty of their own problems. The huge amounts of glass in these new wave schools made classrooms very hot in the summer but draughty in the winter and presented us with all the distractions due to being able to look out and see the passing world.

But as grand as Traffic School was it did not impress my family. Mother was regularly hit with an ebony ruler across her hands as an infant and during grandmother’s time attendance still only stood at 89%.

Still my mother came out of Traffic Street able to read and write and later wrote plays which were published. The descendants of the Lowe’s went on to University and some have become teachers. How easy it seems for one generation to make a living in a world denied to earlier members of their family.
Picture;the marriage mark of Maria Lowe in 1864, daughter of George and Maria 1864, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Harrogate, a Turkish Bath and a short history on the Romans

Yesterday we were in Harrogate visiting the Turkish Baths there. The notes tell me that we will move "from Steam Room which is the hot room with high levels of humidity, combined with eucalyptus infused steam, allows your body to relax, melts away tension in the muscles and opens pores helping to eliminate toxins.Then on to Tepidarium (Warm Room) where the
heat warms the body. This room prepares your body for the hotter Chamberswhich are the Calidarium (Hot Room) which is the intermediate heated room allowing the warmth to continue its therapeutic effect on the musculature and then the Laconium (hottest Room)
A more relaxing, less intense environment than a modern sauna, the Laconium purifies and detoxifies the body by opening the pores and stimulating the circulation. Lastly come the
Plunge Pool where you immerse your body in this cold invigorating pool. The change in temperature on the body improves circulation, flushes out toxins in the muscles and provides a toning effect and finally the Relaxation Room where you can spend 30 minutes cooling down in the elegant Frigidarium to round off the Turkish experience."

Now I have never been in a Turkish bath, but was an experience to savour, particularly as I have taught the story of the Roman bath house to countless children, and they are a direct descendant of the Roman bath house.

The Roman bath system was marvel, open to all and the grandest were like palaces. They were more than just a place to get clean, often including a gym and a library, they were a meeting place, to discuss the events of the day hatch plots and just relax.

Their remains can be found across the empire, from the fine homes of the rich to the garrisons of the military and even the humblest posting station offering accommodation to traveller on the road.
The finest were as you would expect in the great cities. The Baths of Caracalla were huge. Its central bath was 55.7 by 24 meters under three vaults reaching over 32 meters in the air. There was a doubl pool in the tepidarium, two gyms, and on the north side a huge roofless swimming pool with bronze mounted mirrors mounted overhead to direct sunlight into the chamber.

But I guess my favourites will always be the more humble ones, found in a modest villa or on outside one of the forts on the frontier. Simple affairs bit still keeping the idea of the Roman way of life going in some remote part of empire.
Picture; a reconstruction of the interior of the Baths of Caracalla 1899, from an article in Wikipedia, the Baths of Caracalla

Changing uses ................ the village school on the green

I had mixed feelings when I heard that the old school on the green was to be developed and turned into four homes.

It had been built in 1878 and replaced an older one dating from the 1840s. The conversion of any old building is a source for sadness, partly I guess because in its original form it has out lived its usefulness and will be lost to the community. In the case of the school this is particularly so given that I know people who attended it, have spoken to others who remember it as the venue for the Penny Savings Bank and hold one wonderful picture of the VE Day celebrations held inside in 1945.

But then as ever I am too romantic. After its closure as a school it had a number of uses and has been empty for years. I remember back in the '80s one discussion between friends to turn it into a restaurant which of course predated the transformation of Beech Road as a place of wine bars, cafes and restaurants by a decade. Rhona had the right idea but maybe we were ten years ahead of the game.

Still there was a danger that the place would if it remained empty begin to deteriorate and become a focus for vandalism. So at least this way the core of the building has been retained and has come back to life.

All of which is a way of introducing the map and picture of the proposed extension of the school in 1897. The plan was to add another floor and double the accommodation. It says much for the rapid growth of the township that this was necessary. As the authors of the report commented that the 1878 building “was thought suffice for many generations. However the abnormal growth of the parish within the last five years, has rendered a further enlargement imperative.”

The cost was estimated at £2,000 the bulk of which was expected to be raised through voluntary subscriptions. Today it seems rather odd that a public building like a school should depends on this form of funding but this was the norm, and both the two older National Schools and the three Methodist chapels and church along with Sunday schools had been built by such contributions.

Pictures; proposed plan and drawing for the enlargement of the village school, from the St Clements Bazaar Handbook, 1897, by kind permission of Ida Bradshaw

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Refuge Building

Picture; The Refuge Building, Manchester from the collection of Andrew Simpson

100 Years of one house in Chorlton .........Part Five

The continuing story of one house in Chorlton during the last hundred years.

Washing the family clothes was a tedious job and it may well be that Mary Ann paid to have the washing done.

Across the city there were 281 laundries some of which had more than one branch. Here in the township there were five, with another on Upper Chorlton Road, and another on Range Road as well as more in nearby Stretford, and Withington.

Of the five Chorlton ones, Mary was spoilt for choice, with Mrs Martha Keel on Beech Road, Miss Mary Jones at Ivy Cottage on Barlow Moor Road and the large Pasley Laundry on Crescent Road, now renamed Crossland Road. She may even have used Wing Sam & Co at Hastings Buildings on Manchester Road which was next to where they had lived in the spring of 1911.

Laundries are a measure not only of the size of a community but of their prosperity. Given the arduous nature of wash day it is not surprising that those who could afford to pay for the weekly washing to be cleaned did so. The population had doubled in the ten years before 1901 and the next decade saw an equal increase. The occupations of the residents of new Chorlton ranged from manufacturers, bank managers and solicitors to clerical and skilled workers. The very mix which is reflected in the large detached and semi detached houses stretching along Edge Lane and High Lane and the tall terraced properties radiating out from the station.

Here were the customers of our five laundries which in themselves were a mix. Yapp’s Laundry was big enough to have branches on Ashton Old Road, Chorlton on Medlock and in Whitefield and Stretford. Others like Wing Sam operated from one shop while Martha Keal’s premises on Beech Road was also the home of a her builder husband John. The biggest was the Pasley, later renamed the Queen and Pasley on Crescent Road. It opened in 1893, and at one point employed 50 staff.

All the washing machines were belt driven by a huge steam engine and were the first to install the “float-iron system” which consisted of the multiple roller pressing machine. This was 15 feet wide and 15 feet long and
“was a mass production ironing machine, with delicately poised rollers. You could put a shirt with pearl buttons on it and it wouldn’t leave a mark.”

Vans from the laundry would collect the washing and deliver it to the sorting office where each item would be marked, and classified into bins, before the loads were emptied into the ten washing machines. After being washed the clothes went through stages of being dried before being set out still slightly damp for the ironing and pressing and finally being resorted in the packing room and returned in the vans to the customers.

Whether Mary washed at home or used a laundry there would still have been much to do. It was after all a time before most families had a hover and sweeping dusting and general household cleaning was done the old way.

Picture; The Grange Laundry,Beech Road, Chorlton, c.1918
The Grange Laundry was opposite the smithy on Beech Road, Chorlton. c.1918.DPA/328/20 Courtesy of Greater Manchester County Record Office

Monday, 26 December 2011

The People’s History Museum.

I always get a real sense of the past when I visit The People’s History Museum. Here in a place dedicated to working men and women, are the stories of their struggle for the right to vote, to decent working conditions and above all the freedom to organize themselves in to trade unions, friendly societies and freely express their point of view.
The museum also carries out the important job of conserving banners of the trade union movement and has an extensive archive. I well remember standing in the old venue on Princess Street where the T.U.C. first met and held the minutes of the first meeting of the Labour Representation Committee soon to be renamed the Labour Party, and there at the bottom of the page was the signature of its first secretary, Ramsay MacDonald, who became the first Labour Prime Minister and less than a decade later split the Party by forming a National Government with the Conservatives and Liberals.
Along with the permanent displays there are plenty of temporary events and exhibitions. Running at preset is Picturing Politics – exploring the political poster in Britain which runs till June 2012. To keep up to date with the ongoing research on political posters, background information on some of the individual posters and the odd sneak preview of material, visit the blog written by Chris Burgess
The Museum is located at the bottom of Bridge Street, at the Left Bank, Spinningfields,
Picture; by Lawrence Beedle from the exhibition Exploring the political poster in Britain

Politics in the township ............ stories for the New Year

Coming soon to a blog you can read.

Who were the 31 men who could vote in the 1832 General Election?

Voter intimidation in the 1835 General Election

How farmers dominated the local Poor Law and Rates meetings

The fist local elections after Chorlton became part of the City of Manchester

Socialists on the Green

Picture; The election address of the Three Progessive Candidates on the 1904 Municpal Elections, from the collection of Lawrence Beedle

Sunday, 25 December 2011

British Home Children Poverty in the capital of a great Empire

Britain's slumdogs: The ragged and filthy East End children of just 100 years ago living a life of grime, Daily Mail, July 21st 2011
Read more:
Now the Daily Mail is not my newspaper of choice and the headline of the story on child poverty at the beginning of the 20th century is to say the least questionable. But the story and the accompanying pictures are a reminder that at this time of year there were those who did not and many who today will not share in a pleasant Christmas.
There are those who might question the motive behind the pictures, but it is as well to remember that in those early years of the 20th century we were a rich country even if not all shared in that wealth.
Between 1889 and 1910 the cost of food rose by 10 per cent and the cost of coal by 18 per cent. The life expectancy for working men was just 50 years of age and 54 for women, five per cent of children aged between 10 and 14 were already at work and the richest one percent held 70 percent of the wealth.
Picture; taken by photographer Horace Warner 100 years ago in Spitalfields in London’s East End, were later used by social campaigners to illustrate the plight of the poorest children in London.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

100 Years of one house in Chorlton .........Part Four

This is the continuing story of one house in Chorlton, which Joe Scott the builder made for himself and his wife Mary Ann in 1911

I don’t know if Mary Ann had a servant but it is unlikely, so wash day was all down to her. This was both a time consuming activity and an ardours one.

The clothes would first be separated and placed in different wooden tubs to soak. The sheets and bed linen went in to one tub to soak in warm water and a little dissolved soda. The greasy clothes and dirtier things went into a second tub.

The clothes would then be taken out of the tub and rinsed and wrung before being washed, which involved applying carbolic soap to the garment and rubbing the material together in hot water. Alternatively she may have used a wash board.

Alternatively or additionally the washing was poked and agitated around in the hot soapy water with a wooden contraption called a dolly. There were some quite sophisticated ones with handles and 'stumpy 'legs' but it was also common just to use a wooden stick. This also served to lift the washing out of the water for rinsing, although wooden tongs were also used.

The clothes then had to be rinsed several times as well being put through the mangle which got rid of some of the dirty water. Finally they would be put in the copper of hot water and left for upwards of 90 minutes before being rinsed, first in hot water and finally again in cold water, and then rung out and hung out. Mrs Beeton writing over a half century earlier also advised putting the clothes into a canvas bag before putting in the copper to protect the clothes from the scum and sides of the copper. All this done and the clothes drying it only remained to wash the tubs and clean the copper.

Difficult as washday was, the volume of washing was nowhere near as much as today. Underwear was certainly washed frequently, but thick top clothes tended have to last with just dirty spots being sponged off. One sheet from each bed was washed weekly with the last week's top sheet becoming the next week's bottom sheet. The blankets were washed once a year in good drying weather in the summer.
from a page of the first edition of Woman's Weekly November 1911

Friday, 23 December 2011

Another time

There are those who harp back to a more innocent age, usually somewhere between their 5th and 15th birthdays. Before five it is all a bit of blur, and after 15 the many attractions of being on the threshold of adult life take you off on a roller coaster of grown up fun.
But those ten years were magic for most of us.
For me in the 1950s and early 60’s it a mix of playing on bomb sites, making Airfix models and being allowed out all day in the holidays. Often we would return just for something to eat and sometimes not even that. The milk was still delivered to the door and well into the middle of that decade by horse drawn cart, there was a newspaper in the letter box and boiled sweets were often the best you could expect.
All nostalgic tosh I know. It was also the decade of some very nasty wars including Korea and the many colonial conflicts the old European countries fought before granting independence to bits of their old empires. Polio still killed and maimed many children and thousands across Britain continued to live in sub standard dwellings which should have been demolished before the last world war.
But then you come across a picture which recreates that cosy world. Here are two of the Bailey family at the Didsbury show in 1947. Everything about the picture takes you back to a lost world. The school caps and short trousers, the horse drawn cart and the old spectacles.
Oliver Bailey commented on his picture "Have you forgotten the delights of a pennyworth (old money)of chips in the late forties? Also bear in find that shows like Didsbury brought the country to the city for a single day and there would be the equivalent of a concours d'elegance of horse drawn trade vehicles all immaculately painted and in one year the number of people was so great they broke open the fences to reduce the queuing. In days of rationing they were a flash of colour in a drab world"
Picture; from the collection of Oliver Bailey

Larkhill Place, Victorian Salford street museum

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be” nevertheless the past can be a cosy and comforting place. I was reminded of this recently when I was telling a friend about Larkhill Place. It’s a reproduction of a Victorian street in Salford Museum and Art Gallery.
Lark Hill Place was originally created in 1957 when many shops and houses in central Salford were being demolished to make way for new developments. Some of the shop fronts that were saved restored and interiors were added with f authentic objects, recreating the way they were used in Victorian times.
Here along the street are Mathew Tomlinson's General Store, a music shop, printers, pub, smithy and wheelwright as well as the chemist and druggist and dressmaker.
Today such theme places are more common than they were in 1957 and there is a danger that they present a sanitized interpretation of the past. The real noises smells and unwashed humanity are missing from the streets as is the dirt and ever present evidence of poverty.
But as an introduction particularly for children it is first rate. A good starting point is the museum’s own site at
Picture; the interior of one up one down cottage, in Larkhill Place, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

The Postal Workers Strike of 1890 and an excellent Radio 4 series

There was a time when there could be as many as six postal deliveries and collections in a day. A service which allowed people to post a card in the morning and arrange to meet that afternoon or for day trippers at the sea side to alert the family for when they would be at home.
But of course there was a human dimension to such a service. A Commission of Inquiry heard evidence in 1896 of the extraordinary conditions some postmen endured. The work was heavy, their walks were long, and the hours were longer. Some had been known to walk 26 miles in a single day. Others worked split duties beginning at 6am and ending at 10pm, meaning they rarely saw their families. Some of the city offices were cold and damp in winter, where the staff had few amenities and only the most rudimentary toilet arrangements. Of course these were the worst-case scenarios, but there were other, more widely shared grievances such as low pay, stifling uniforms, minimal leave and a severe disciplinary code that included the awarding of the contentious and often divisive "good conduct stripes".*
Six years earlier these intolerable conditions led to the Postal Workers Strike of 1890 which can be read about at
And appeared in the BBC Radio 4 series The People's Post: A Narrative History of the Post Office - 10. The Postal Worker's Strike,
*The Postal Workers Strike, from The British Postal Museum & Archive

100 years of one house in Chorlton ................ Part Three

This is the continuing story of one house built in 1911 and set against the changes in Chorlton and the country over a century

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Chorlton had expanded and with this expansion there came a clear shift of the centre of the township to the area around the station. So much so that there seemed to be a clear divide between these new communities close to the station and the older centre of population around the green and the Row. This divide was still there in the minds of some as late as the 1970s that could still be heard talking about old and new Chorlton. And it was also reflected in the positioning of the banks. All of these were close to the station while the Row and green had only the post office and the Penny Savings Bank which conducted its business once a week from the school house.

Historians of the township have drawn the link between these developments and the opening of the railway in Chorlton. But the coming of the railway is only part of the explanation for the housing boom, and those who sought to make the link between the train and new Chorlton have ignored the importance of water. Ours was a township which had relied on wells, ponds and water courses for all its water. Even in the 1840s and 50s these may have only just been an adequate and by the 1880s the wells were either polluted or drying up and the water courses disappearing into culverts.

The pivotal year was 1864. George Whitelegg had just finished building his four fine houses on High Lane known as Stockton Range in 1863 and had supplied them with indoor wells. But in the following year Manchester Corporation responding to a request from 17 rate payers had resolved “to authorise the laying of a [water] service Main in Edge Lane ........... for the supply of the houses included in the Schedule submitted and situate in Chorlton cum Hardy” The 3 inch main extended down Edge Lane, along St Clements Road to the Horse & Jockey. At the time there were only 11 houses along the course of the main, but during the next 13 years it was frequently extended till in 1877 a new 12 inch main was laid from Brooks Bar, along Manchester Road, Wilbraham Road and Edge Lane to Stretford which was as well as within another ten years the remaining wells were all but empty and becoming contaminated. Alongside which came plans to improve the sanitation of the township which led to the building of a sewage farm in 1879. It was as it had been for the ancients that the provision of clean water marked the moment a rural community looked towards becoming an urban one. This was in our case much advanced when in 1904 along with Withington and Didsbury we elected to join the city of Manchester.
Picture;Holland Road early 20th century still open land in the early

1890s, renamed Zetland Road from the collection of Tony Walker

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Practical and useful, manuals for the modest household

If you want to really understand a moment in time I think you can do no better than read their magazines. In this case it was the first edition of Woman’s Weekly which hit the newsstands on November 4th 1911 and reproduced last month. Then as now the magazine was designed to provide domestic advice from everything from how to make mistletoe lace to the problems of infant feeding.
Now such guides had existed since the beginning of the 19th century but I rather think Women’s Weekly was aimed at a new audience of modest means. It cost 1d and came out each week. It did not provide suggestions on how to deal with servants or how to stage a dinner party but instead catered for the woman who ran her own home and was expected to do everything, from making the family clothes to saving money. These women were those who had benefitted from educational reforms of the 1870s and were a new market to be exploited.
I guess many were aspiring to a better life and while Britain at the beginning of the 20th century was still a seriously unequal society the pages of Women’s Weekly offered a “practical and useful” way of improving their lives.
Picture: Souvenir edition of Woman’s Weekly 1911

100 years of one house in Chorlton .......... Part Two

This is the story of one house here in Chorlton.

Joe Scott built the house in 1911 and it was the first house the 23 year old builder lived in with his wife Mary Ann. It was part of a terrace of six and to mark it out as the home of the man who built it Joe gave it bay windows at the back, the only one of the six. His father and brothers were also in the building trade and it may be that they helped build it. His father Henry was a lath renderer or plasterer and I guess it would have been possible for him to have helped out here.

The Scott family are part of the history of the township. Henry had moved from London sometime in the 1870s, just as the housing boom had begun and he continued working into the twentieth century. Both of his sons became builders in their own right and Scott houses abound across the township.

There was also William Rochell from Yorkshire and later still Frederick Walker who also built homes for people. Just as the township attracted new people to live here it brought in the men who were going to build it.

By 1901 the brickworks had opened on Longford Road providing the material for lots of elegant villas and not so elegant terraces of brick houses which stretched out towards Martlege and back along new roads to the village.

In a few short years Scott, Rochelle and others were transforming the township, so much so that the Manchester Evening News commented that there was “great enterprises a foot and new roads are being monthly added to the local directory.”

Much of this new development was aimed at the clerical and artisan end of the market. As the same Evening News article said, “The clerk no less than the merchant must be catered for.” Many of these smaller terraced houses around Beech Road were Scott houses.

There was also the “Sandy Lane colony”, the three long new roads of Nicholas, Beresford and Newport and the “six shilling a week homes” on Hawthorne Road. All were modest four roomed houses, with a small front garden and back yard. In that respect the township remained a very down to earth place. There may well have been the grand houses which sat well back on Edge and High Lane but they were matched by those rows of small terraces.

Most of Scott’s houses were these smaller, modest houses in what was the old Chorlton. They were basic two up two downs with a kitchen tagged on and an outside lavatory and were built for rent. Later he began building semi detached houses on the remaining farmland off Beech Road and the green.
Picture;43-51 Beech Road, built by Joe Scott, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Councilm17663, taken in November 1958 by R.E. Stanley

The full collection of images can be viewed at

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Hough End Hall Part Two

Today some of its charm has been overshadowed by the office blocks that obscure its graceful appearance. Nor has the inside escaped: a fine oak staircase was taken out by the Egerton family, and the ground floor has been knocked through to accommodate a restaurant.
Had we stood outside the hall in 1841 we might have caught a glimpse of Henry Jackson who rented it from the Egertons. Within the decade it would pass to Samuel Lomas, whose family would still be there in 1911. In 1851 Samuel was just 34 and farmed 220 acres; he employed five labourers and two house servants.
In the years before the Second World War there were plans to restore the hall and use it for community use but despite a petition the plans came to nothing.
Picture; the Hall circa 1905 from the collection of Philip Lloyd

The first passenger railway station now home to the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry

The Museum of Science & Industry has come a long way from its early days on the corner of Upper Brook Street and Cavendish Street. It was housed in a fine building with a wonderful mural on the gable end but the place was really too small to do justice to what was on show.

So the move to the old railway station and warehouse complex on Liverpool road was a wonderful step forward. Here was an historic site with plenty of space to expand and develop. There are exhibitions on public health, the gas and electricty industries along with steam locomotives, textile machines and archive.

And this is one of the reasons why I return so often to the museum because at the heart of the place is the Liverpool Road railway station and the 1830 warehouse. These were built as part of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which had been constructed to transport goods to and from Liverpool more cheaply and more quickly.

The railway and these buildings were at the cutting edge of technology. No one had built such an ambitious railway before and the designers and engineers were working at the limits of what they knew. Much was copied from the knowledge of building canals, and many of the men employed on its construction would have also worked on the canal network which had crisscrossed Britain during the last half century.

But there were new demands. Not least was how you physically transported the goods along the iron railway. Very early on the plan to use static steam engines using metal cable was abandoned in favour of steam locomotives. And this led to the Rainhill Trials where interested parties were invited to submit their own locomotive to compete in a competition to see which was best suited to haul a number of wagons from Liverpool to Manchester. It was as if today NASA asked for companies to build a new spacecraft and test it at the further reaches of Venus with a plan to start an interstellar passenger service.

Not that the directors were at first keen to entertain a passenger service. One reluctantly conceded that they might just carry some, but it would be in open boxes and at night. Once the decision was taken to ferry people the obvious design choice was an adapted stage coach complete with luggage on the roof and an outside seat for the guard. But this was for their first class passengers, the rest travelled in open blue boxes.

And there were other ways that this first real railway line looked back into the past. The first warehouse was a direct copy from the canal warehouses, and even contained arches to allow wagons to be taken directly into the building. But unlike the canals where a barge could turn in the water, in the case of the 1830 warehouse each wagon had to be uncoupled and turned 90⁰ degrees on a turntable from the track before it could enter the warehouse.

In other ways they mixed the old with the new. The roof of the carriage shed where the trains came into the station was constructed of wooden beams and would have been familiar to anyone who lived or worked in a wooden building but the roof rested on cast iron pillars.

The museum has used these building with a degree of imagination and a keen eye on how they can enhance the exhibitions. And while in an early phase much damage was done to part of the 1830 warehouse, more recently the remainder has been restored with a keen sense of what the original was like.

For a full picture of the exhibitions and events visit or turn up to Liverpool Road.
Pictures; restored carriage circa 1837 restored by the Friends of the Museum and part of the carriage shed of the station from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Hough End Hall Part One

Built in 1596, it is a traditional Elizabethan brick house designed to imitate the letter E. The design of these houses tended to follow the same pattern: on the ground floor there was the hall, which took up most of the building and had a long gallery directly above it. This latter was used for a variety of purposes, including entertaining, a family area, displaying the family portraits and walking when the weather was poor. There were windows on three sides and a fireplace on the fourth. The kitchen and living areas were contained in the two arms that jutted out from the main part of the building. The large communal areas were sometimes later partitioned off as smaller rooms, and the census of 1911 describes Hough End Hall as having 11 rooms.
Picture; the Hall from a postcard sent in 1909 in the collection of Rita Bishop

British Home Children Descendants .............. a place to search for children sent to Canada

Yesterday I took another step in the rehabilitation of my great uncle. I never knew him and until recently he was just a name on a birth certificate and a sentence in a letter from his sister written over 40 years ago.

We didn’t even know of his existence until I began looking into my mother’s family. But there he was, born in 1898 and sent en to Canada in 1914. He was a British Home Child, just one of the 100,000sent to start a new life.
I had discovered some of his early life from documents in Birmingham and Derby and from the Library and Archive, Canada.

And yesterday I entered him on the data base of the British Home Children. This online organisation is dedicated to the children who were sent to Canada, and to their descendants. As well as the database there are stories about the children who were settled, and from their families. The site can be found at

Picture; passenger list of the ship which took my great uncle to Canada in the May of 1914 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Monday, 19 December 2011

100 years of one house in Chorlton .......... Part One

Why is it that only the rich and more especially the old landed rich can talk of holding a great house or estate for posterity?

They tell us as if we should be grateful that they are custodians, not owners and it is their duty to maintain it and hand it on to the next generation. All of which is fine, but theirs is always the family that holds onto it and raises the question of what about the rest of us? Do we not also do the same?

Some might argue that there is no comparison between Blenheim Palace, and a 1930 semi built on the outer reaches of Manchester. Or that a post war council house has anything in common with one of the country’s national treasures. Such a grand place with its Adam furniture, Capability Brown landscaped gardens, priceless paintings, steeped in history is unique and therefore ranks well beyond the mass produced, often ugly and in some cases poorly maintained social housing.

But both have histories, both were built for someone to live in and both were cherished by their inhabitants.

This is a roundabout way of writing about our house. It was built a hundred years ago, has had only four custodians, of which we are the only ones to have had children here. More than that this is the only home our eldest three have known and it was where one of them was born. It is also a place where countless friends have come and stayed before moving on, seen Christmas parties, a boat turning event in the back garden, and a succession of decorating fashions.

So over the next few months I want to tell the story of this one house set against the bigger picture of what was going on here in Chorlton and the national backdrop.
Picture; The house built by Joe Scot in 1911, from R.E. Stanley’s photograph taken in November 1958, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council m17662
The complete archive is available to see at

Manchester Museums

Manchester Museums
You would expect a city with such a rich history would have some good museums and we do. My own favourite is the Museum of Science and Industry on Liverpool Road at the bottom of Deansgate. At the other end of that long fine road is the Peoples History Museum at the bottom of Bridge Street. Slightly further north on Cheetham Hill Road is the Jewish Museum while south of the city centre is the Manchester Museum and in the centre close to Piccadilly on Newton Street is the Police Museum.
And across the Irwell there is a wonderful set of shop and house fronts dating from the late 18th through to the Victorian period in the Salford Art Gallery, while east of Manchester in Ashton-Under- Lyne is the museum of the Manchester Regiment.
Pictures; Jewish Museum Cheetham Hill Road, the Peoples’ History Museum, Left Bank, Spinningfields

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Still almost a rural scene, the parish church yard 1921

As I often tell people my real interest in the history of Chorlton centres on the time it was still a small farming community. I have even admitted to regret that it ever had to change. But there was still enough of that rural past around well into the 20th century. The Bailey’s who had farmed on the Row and moved down to the bottom of Sandy Lane still kept bulls on land close to the old station well into the 1950s, and there are plenty of people who have memories of buying milk from local farms. My own favourite story comes from Marjorie Holmes who was often late to school in the 1930s because she had stopped to watch the blacksmith on Beech road “heating and hammering” at his forge.
So this postcard of the lych gate around the early 1920s is fascinating. It was taken in late autumn and the trees are just beginning to lose their leaves. The signboard beside the gate advertises the Harvest festivalstill a real link to our farming past and a reminder that the old parish church would continue to welcome worshippers for another 20 years before it was closed due to frost damage. Beside the gate is the old farmhouse and barn. During the 19th century there had been three farmhouses around the green which dated back to the 18th century. Later its farm yard would become workshops. Also on the green was the farmhouse of the Higginbotham’s who had farmed here since the 1840s. Old Mr Higginbotham was still in residence in the 1960s and the sight of him bringing his cows back from the meadows has yet to fade from living memory.
Picture; from the collection of Philip Lloyd

Wakefield Street

From the collection of Andrew Simpson

Manchester History Festivals more news

Two years ago there was plenty to see including,
Great Talks...
Centrepiece of the Festival were the exhibition spaces in the rich architectural surroundings of Manchester Town Hall, which were packed with dozens of enticing displays on Manchester's past from 70 local museums, galleries, cultural institutions, historical societies and community groups, not to mention 40 Manchester schools and the city's universities.

Guided Walks...
For many people, the best way to appreciate all that happened in Manchester is by exploring it for themselves. The Histories Festival featured a series of guided walks covering everything and everyone from John Dalton to Joy Division, with expeditions to uncover hidden stories in familiar locations across the city centre, shorter walks around the curiosities in and around the Town Hall and tours of the Ford Maddox Brown murals in the Great Hall.
The site can be reached at

Friday, 16 December 2011

Chorlton’s Lych Gate .......... a collaboration between a local artist and writer

Yesterday I announced the collaboration between Peter Topping the artist and me the writer. We decided to tell the stories behind some of his paintings and the one we decided to start with was Lych Gate on the green at the entrance to the old parish churchyard.
I suppose for most of us it is one of the iconic images of where we live and conjures up that timeless English rural scene. For centuries in villages across the country people have walked through a Lych Gate on their way to worship. It is as traditional as the harvest festival, cricket on the green or the taste of warm beer and cider after a day in the fields.

And yet our Lych Gate dates only from the last quarter of the 19th century and was both a recognition of the old Queen’s Golden Jubilee and another round in the fight over where the parish church should be sited. The gate was the gift of the banker Cunliffe Brooks who lived at Barlow Hall. He and his wife had special reason to feel close to the church on the green because two of their children were buried there.
But in the 1860s the old church had become too small and there had been a plan to rebuild it on the corner of what are now St Clements Road and Edge Lane. A committee was formed, money raised at a special bazaar in the Royal Exchange, but a breakaway group refused to move and so despite the erection of the present church, the old church on the green beside the ancient graveyard stayed the official parish church. Cunliffe and his wife Jane Elizabeth continued to support it with generous gifts including a new east window, which people remember as a splendid affair. All of which makes the Lych Gate rather more than a celebration of Victoria’s 50 years on the throne but a clear statement of the importance of the old church.
And people did adopt sides. Marjorie Holmes who remembers the old church just before its demolition in 1949 preferred to worship there and I believe never stepped foot into the new one.
Despite such loyalty the age of the old church and its graveyard came back to challenge its supporters. In the 1880s the great burial scandal hit the national newspapers and the Home Secretary intervened to close it, and sadly the church itself suffered from severe frost damage in 1940 and was closed.*
Peter's work hangs in a number of venues across Chorlton and can also be seen on his facebook site Paintings from Pictures

Picture © Peter Topping 2011

*The story of the great burial scandal will appear soon

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Paintings of Chorlton and their stories........... a collaboration between a local artist and writer

I have always liked telling stories and so for or over thirty years for me the best part of being a history teacher was the telling of tales. I must admit the marking of student’s work and the process of advancing their levels were always secondary to the sheer pleasure of standing in front of a class and knowing that you held their rapt attention as the plight of Henry V111’s wives unfolded or the fate of thousands of ordinary people were decided in one day and night when Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae.
So I am quite excited at the prospect of collaborating with my old friend Peter Topping. We have known each other for three decades and while I went off and began researching and writing about the past Peter has been painting the buildings and people of Chorlton. His works hang in a number of venues across Chorlton and can also be seen on his facebook site Paintings from Pictures
It seemed a grand idea to put the stories of the buildings along side his pictures and show both to a wider audience. So tomorrow there will be Peter’s painting of the Lych Gate by the old parish church yard and its story.
In the meantime here is another of his iconic images. It was built as a Temperance Billiard Hall, is now The Sedge Lynn and takes its name from the house that stood close by and whose owner took some wonderful early photographs of Chorlton.
Picture © Peter Topping 2011

The great debate on the oldest business in Chorlton. Has the Co-op got it?

In the great sweep of historical debate and controversy, the question of which was the oldest shop here in Chorlton may be small beer, but it’s local, and lots of people will know and use all the businesses who are being championed. Yesterday there were two candidates put forward and today Philip has come up with a new slant. It appears says Philip "Pepperdines have had several offices in the area, some at the same time, presumably different members of the family, I remember one on Seymour Grove. There was one in Chorlton for many years, but I can't tell you when it started without going to the library and looking in the trade directories. It was in the house which is now Robin Burman & Co. Solicitors, on Barlow Moor Road." So there you have it no doubt this will run.

And if you read the story from yesterday you will have read Lawrence's comment. The Coop on the corner of Hardy Lane and Barlow Moor Road was opened in 1929, so the Co-op have it. Well the purists out there will no doubt correct me by saying that the Hardy Lane shop was opened by the Manchester & Salford Equitable

Co-operative Society which has since been merged with other societies, so not the orginal start up then. Are we about to enter that great Medieval debate on how many angels could dance on a pin? Either way you can read lots more about the Hardy Lane store at

Picture; Hardy Lane Co-op Store, March 1959, R E Stanley, m17538, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The great debate ................ which is the oldest business in Chorlton?

Now my mother always maintained that history was just facts and facts don’t change, which is sort of true. Of course how you interpret the facts is the thing that makes the subject so much fun, and also a bit contentious. Nikita Khrushchev was well aware of this when he said “Historians are dangerous people. They are capable of upsetting everything.”
And so I have to record the first moves in a debate on which is the oldest shop here in Chorlton. The title belonged to H.T. Burt the gentleman’s outfitter on Wilbraham Road which sadly closed last month. Bernard Leech has pointed to the claim made by Ken Foster’s Cycle Logic on Barlow Moor Road which has tweeted: “Now H.T. Burt is no longer in Chorlton does that make us Chorlton's longest established family run business? est. 1954”. Phillip Lloyd, has suggested R. Pepperdine & Sons, Funeral Directors on Manchester Rd ( ), but though it was started in 1873, it only moved to Chorlton from Alexandra Rd in Moss Side in the late 1970’s. So perhaps the title belongs to Richardson’s the bakers on Beech Road. Their web site records that
“J. B. Richardson Bakers was formed in 1947 by James and Nellie Richardson, after Nellie died in1953, James remarried in 1956 to Barbara, hence the name J.B.Richardson.
Working at the company since 1975, Peter Kellett went into partnership with Colin Richardson in 1983.
Colin's farther Mr David Richardson was born at the premises in 1934 whilst his farther was working for Mrs Chester the original owner. The company is now in its third generation of Richardson Bakers hands.”
The site also offers some very interesting historic documents.
On the other hand if the question becomes which is the oldest continuous building still operating commercially I guess it would be the Horse and Jockey which dates from the beginning of the 19th century followed by numbers 68 & 70 Beech Road which were operating by the 1830s as a stationers and a beer shop.
Picture; the shop of W.Nicholson on the corner of Beech Road and Neale Road circa 1911. Now the site of Richardson’s the shop had been a bakery in 1903 and a dairy in 1909. From the collection of Rita Bishop

Messy history .......... Part One Migration

I remember being taught that we were a static society and that it was not till quite recently that people moved much beyond the comfort of their birth place.

It was vision that conjured up generations who rarely travelled more than a few miles and whose distant horizons were limited by the nearby market town.

Wars, rumours of wars and tales of distant places were by and large fitted in at the edges of daily lives. America, Australia and the doings of peoples in Russia and other places were secondary to worrying about the weather, getting the harvest in and ensuring there was fuel for the fire, food for the table and enough work for the year ahead.

But bit by bit this has been challenged. Here in Chorlton in the opening decades of the 19th century the lanes and roads would have been full of the accents of people born in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland as well as from most of the regions of England.

My friend Lois has likewise discovered that some of her family were regularly making the long sea journey to and from Australia and New Zealand on business during the same period.

And my father’s family slowly moved from the west of Scotland in the 1800s ever southward first across Scotland then into the northern reaches of England before finally washing up in the late 1920s in London.

This was no stay at home society and as ever it was driven by economic need. The same need was the motive for my partner’s parents to move from Naples to Cambridge before returning to Italy and settling just north of Milan.

These migrations were not the conventionally described moves from rural backwaters to the cities, whether it was to feed the new industrial centres of 19th century Britain or the economic miracle of Italy in the 1950s.

In their search for work people were moving from one rural area to another and again in the case of Chorlton moving out of Manchester to work here in the township.

Some at least of these migrants were not the wealthy looking for a retirement home in the leafy lanes south of the big city, but tradesmen with an eye to an opportunity, and domestic servants recruited because they were strangers and less likely to pass on the secret doings of their employers to family in the district. Finally there were the agricultural labourers who had been born when Chorlton on Medlock and Hulme were still rural but were now uncomfortable with places which were rapidly being transformed by factories, mills, and houses.

So the simple neat school history of my youth is increasingly no more. This I like, after all history is messy and the past does not always do what you want or expect.
Picture; Naples 1961, the day Rosa collected her passport from the Balzano collection

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

More from Geffen in the Netherlands

Just when some question the value and relevance of closer European ties a correspondence from a Dutch friend reinforces my belief that we are stronger as a continent if we work closer together.

I first began corresponding with Ruud about a year ago and have mentioned his work researching the young men who died fighting around his home town of Geffen close to the Rhine.

 We worked on the story of Sgt Blatherwick who was killed when his aircraft was shot down in the July of 1942 and went on to collaborate in tracking the details of British soldiers who died as the allies pushed toward to the Rhine crossings in the closing stages of the war. 

Ruud has also tracked some of the German servicemen who died in the area. Upper most in his mind has been the wish to commemorate all who sacrificed their lives including the civilians of the town and to pass on details to surviving family members which he has been able to do.

I was so pleased that his efforts will now be rewarded by a permanent memorial in Geffen to all who died and a reminder of the conflicts which tore Europe apart in the 20th century.

My generation was born just after the war when the physical evidence of the conflict was everywhere, and I grew up against a backdrop of films and comics which focused on the struggle with Germany and Italy. And yet today I find it inconceivable that such wars were fought.

 All the more reason that we should work together not only to solve the problems of the present and the future but also try to uncover and share the fate of some who perished.

Picture; war grave in Geffen from the collection of Ruud Verhagen

Monday, 12 December 2011

The new festival website launches this week

The new festival website launches this week
• The Manchester Histories Festival runs for ten days from 24 February - 4 March 2012 following on from the first festival that was on for two days in 2009. It aims to celebrate the history and heritage of Manchester (Greater Manchester) and to enable people to engage and share their knowledge and stories.
• A wide range of individuals and organisations are getting involved with the festival from the key partners of University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and Renaissance, to People's History Museum, Gaskell House, Bolton Historical Association, Manchester Library Theatre, Band on the Wall and many more.
• Activities take place across the ten days in locations across Greater Manchester, covering a wide range of topics including football, music, textiles, literature, film and more.
Visit them at

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Spaghetti aglio,olio e peperconcino or pasta with garlic and olive oil.

Today Bari’s chillies arrived. He has been growing them for about a year and they seem to thrive on those long sunny days you get in Somerset with of course a lot of loving care and attention.
Now for me there is only one way to cook them and that is spaghetti aglio,olio e peperconcino or pasta with garlic and olive oil. Now my Silver Spoon Cook Book says I should just fry the garlic and chillies in some olive oil and add the spaghetti and it is nice, but I prefer using linguini and throwing in some chopped tomatoes and a little tomato sauce. Once this is done you pull the pasta out with a fork rather than draining it. This keeps the pasta moist and just softens the dish.
I have cooked it at home, eaten it at a restaurant and had it made for me by Rosa. Rosa is just a wonderful cook who comes from Naples and has that knack of taking raw ingredients and making them into perfection. I know which one I prefer but Rosa is in Italy and so I have to fall back on my own. This is not to rubbish the version served up to me in Florence.
We had spent the morning doing what all tourists do, a mix of watching the city whizz by on a sightseeing bus, trying to match the scene in front with the guide book description and getting lost in the narrow side streets. The restaurant was in the Piazza di Santa Croce. This is one of the large piazzas with a fountain at one end the Duoma at the other and in between a mix of shops and eating places. Ours was less grand than the others and the chairs a bit rickety, but we it was full and no one seemed in a hurry to leave so I guessed we had chosen wisely.
Now not everyone gets to sit where they want and it fell to me to be on the outside just out of reach of the sunshade. Midday in the Piazza di Santa Croce with no umbrella could have been uncomfortable but there was a bonus. When that dish of pasta, tomatoes, garlic and chillies arrived the bright sunlight combined to make it look just perfect.

Pictures;Barri's chillies before and after