Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Winter on the meadows

Another of those wintry scenes of the township which perfectly captured a winter’s day somewhere on the meadows. As such it made a perfect Christmas card for friends in Leeds. I would love to know why it was not sent through the post. Perhaps the young ladies were visiting or maybe it was delivered personally.
Today the meadows have been reclaimed from the old sewage works and recovered from its use as a tip. Until recently it was used by our farmers as pasture and water meadows. In places the old irrigation ditches are still visible and there are those who remember falling into them while playing there.
Picture; from the collection of Rita Bishop

Monday, 30 January 2012

A British Home Child at war

I am proud of the contribution British Home Children made to the history of Canada. These young boys and girls crossed the Atlantic, facing daunting challenges in difficult circumstances and often on their own. Not for them the familiar streets in British towns or the comfort of close families.

Yet they made good, fulfilled their contracts, went on to productive lives, raising families and rarely talked about their past.
And I suppose the greatest contribution they made was to serve in the armed forces during the two world wars. Women as well as men “took part in Canada's war effort in large numbers, not only through direct participation in the armed forces and auxiliary services, but also in business, industry and agriculture while large numbers of Canadian men served overseas.” *

My great uncle was one of those who went. Aged just 17 and having been in Canada for just a year he enlisted in the August of 1915. Now I have written about his troubled first year in Canada on farms across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and his equally colourful record of four court-martials but today I just want to explore the experiences of a young man who lied about his age, changed his name and spent three years fighting for his adopted country.

I am sure his was a common experience. After enlisting he was posted to Britain in the November of 1915 and was stationed at East Sandling in Kent in preparation for going to France.

A few of his letters have survived and they reflected the routines of army life.
“I was shooting on the ranges a day ago. We are in huts and it is fearful muddy all around, we have bayonet fighting, physical drill etc.”
The usual preoccupation of waiting for pay day followed by the comment that “the Canadian Government put half our pay in the bank so that of our $33 a month $16 go in the bank”

In some ways army life was suiting him, “I have” he wrote “put a bit of flesh on since you saw me last.” But his inability to get on with authority led him to the first of his court-martials for refusing to follow orders. And in all of this there was that ever present knowledge that at some point soon he would be shipped to France.

There are no letters from his time on active service but there are his military records which track him across the three years he served and the regimental war diaries. Both are an invaluable insight into the life of a young soldier. His records cover everything from his state of health, further infringements of army discipline and his eventual discharge and journey from France to Britain and back to Canada.

But it is the war diary which best I think opens up the life of my great uncle. Now these regimental diaries had been introduced after the South African war and were meant to help assess how successful army units were under fire and so draw valuable lessons about how to improve performance. They do not record individual soldiers but describe the daily routines, including the periods of rest and recuperation, time in the front line, unit strength and even the weather. Here in great detail are descriptions of attacks and the losses incurred. So armed with these it is possible to know something of his life during those years.

So on October 15th 1917, “weather fine. Battalion carried on with musketry and squad drill during the morning. Afternoon Recreation. Attack in the north continued, all objectives gained”

So here is the usual mundane and routine of army life, but mixed in are the reports of planned actions, real fighting and the casualties. On the morning of October 30th 1917 the diary recorded that
“Barrage opened at 5.50 am sharp. Enemy artillery opened up immediately. Our troops left trench at 5.54 am. At 6.00 am covering fire became intense. At 6.20 am supporting platoons of “A” and “C” Coys left the trench. On account of smoke it is very difficult to see any movement beyond Woodland Copse. At 6.25 am, “B” Coy, went over the top. A considerable amount of our shrapnel in bursting short at this time, some bursts occurring right over our trench.”

These were made in the heat of battle and only later typed up. This particular entry was timed at 6.30 and signed by Captain W.J. Atherton. Shortly after wards the diary continued with
“one of the runners bringing the report was wounded enroute and the other runner Pte, LeMarquand, stopped and bandaged his comrade’s wounds before delivering the report."
A little over an hour later “C” Coy had reached its objective and the men were “digging in”

Later after the fighting was over the diary attempted
an assessment of the attack which reported that the artillery barrage was “generally faulty and unsatisfactory. Many causalities being inflicted by our own artillery barrage on our men before they left their trenches for attack”
The going was extremely heavy on account of the marshy nature of the ground over which the attacking troops had to pass. In many cases men could only advance by helping one and another long.” **
And concluded with the list of causalities which amounted to 400 men killed, missing or wounded out of a total of 590.

Now that the Great War has faded from living memory and the conflict becomes just a topic to be taught in schools and a source for books, films and television programmes, there may be a temptation to gloss over the sacrifice made by all those who fought. I hope not.

Most of us across Europe and in Canada, and all the countries of the old Empire as well as the USA will have relatives who took part. In my own family I can count two uncles, a great uncle, a grandfather and great grandfather as well as family who served in the forces of Imperial Germany. It didn’t turn out to be the war to end all wars but on their return those veterans tried to make the most of the peace that that followed. And I hope that my own British Home Child did the same.

Picture; detail of one of the letters written by my great uncle and George Bradford Simpson with friends, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

* Library and Archives Canada http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/military/025002-6070-e.html

**War Diary of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

Penny Readings, a Reading Room, and two libraries, ....... tales to support a new painting by Peter

In the age of the internet who would want to go to a library? For a start you have to go there, and mix with a lot of strangers who are always in front of you and seldom are in a hurry to get their book stamped. And you can bet there will be children laughing out loud as they read in the corner supposed to be the quiet room.

They are says one of my friends “a hangover from another age. Surely all that you could possibly want from pasta dishes to the date of the fall of Rome can be found somewhere on the net?”

Of course we all know that libraries have changed a lot. Our library can boast a range of computers with access to the world, an automatic book check out and a neat collection of DVDs. It is even possible to look up and reserve a book on line and have it delivered to the library.

Libraries have and still are a vital part of any community. In another age when books were not cheap and newspapers not so easily available the library and before it the “reading room” provided the only means by which many could further their knowledge or just read for pleasure.

Nor must we forget that for the generations born before the introduction of the 1870 Education Act, full time schooling was hit and miss and in agricultural communities school attendance vied with the needs of harvest time and plant sowing.

So the introduction of Penny Readings in 1867 in the village proved a great attraction and were supported by our own brass band and Vocal Society. The brass band I have already mentioned in the earlier post http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.com/2011/11/1893-brass-band-lives-revealed.html

In 1874 a reading room was opened on Beech Road in a rented house and despite a shaky start by 1879 had “700 volumes of well selected books principally of an educational character, but comprising all the best works of the standard novelists.”* Later the library settled in Rowe House which was on the corner of Acres and Beech Road.

But these were essentially voluntary aided and depended on local fund raising. So in 1879 £120 was collected towards equipping the reading room with new books. And this tend towards self help had been here from the early 19th century when both the Methodists and the parish church raised subscriptions for building the Wesleyan chapels and Sunday School on Chorlton Row** and rebuilding the National school on the green and Rectory on Edge Lane.

Not till 1908 did we get our first municipal library which was opened in a rented house on Oswald Road and was part of the agreement by which Chorlton and other townships voted for incorporation into the city. It was “furnished with a thousand carefully selected volumes for use in the library and home reading,.............. a good selection of magazines is placed in a separate reading room [and] a special feature of the new library is the provision of a room for meetings of Home Reading Union circles and similar organisations.” ***
Which brings me to our library on Manchester Road and another of Peter’s painting’s which are on display at a number of places across Chorlton and can also be seen on his facebook site https://www.facebook.com/paintingsfrompictures

I think he has captured perfectly the building and its customers on a busy library day. It opened in November 1914 with 7,420 books with capacity for another 3,000. On top of this there was a general reading room for adults and another for young people.

There had however been some opposition because it was in part funded by the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie who provided £5,000 towards its building.

Now the whole story of Carnegie libraries Is enough for another post as is the debate on the future of present site in the light of Council plans for redeveloping the leisure facilities of Chorlton.

Picture; ©Peter Topping 2011 www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk

*Thomas Ellwood, 1886
**Chorlton Row is now Beech Road
***Manchester Guardian November 23 1908

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A different Beech Road, sometime in the late ‘70s

It is hard to remember that there was a time before there were any restaurants, bars, gift shops and art galleries on Beech Road. Not long before the Conservatives won the 1979 election; there were still grocery shops, two bakeries, three butchers and a green grocer. And a wonderful hardware store where you could buy a nail, a ball of string and a gallon of paraffin. There was also this shop specializing in anything and everything. I remember them well, we drank in the Trevor and more recently they have shared their memories of Beech Road.
Picture; Beech Road from the collection of Lawrence Beedle

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Stories of old cinemas, ........Chorlton Theatre and Winter Gardens

There is something about going to see a film at the cinema. I know you can watch it on the telly, download it to the computer, or buy the DVD cheap from Amazon, but for sheer all round experience you can’t beat the pictures.

In that dark big space the film just takes over. We try to go twice a month and now theatre tickets are zooming through the roof I rather think it will be more movies and less live drama.

Now I have written about the sheer excitement of going to the traditional picture houses which I guess were at their best in the 1930s. http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.com/2012/01/one-hundred-years-of-one-house-in_26.html Then it really was all enveloping from the thick carpets and wide auditorium to the plush seats bright colours and that warm clean smell.

By comparison the multiplex isn’t the same, even though you have more choice, better seats and a whole cornucopia of goodies to eat.

It was while I was thinking about the contrast between the two that I remembered John Lloyd referring to the Pavilion which “amongst a variety of entertainments, presented the bioscope (moving pictures) to a bewildered audience.”

It may have opened in 1904 and despite being described as the Pavilion on the 1907 OS map by 1910 it had become the Chorlton Theatre and Winter Gardens. It stood on Wilbraham Road, just past the bridge where it runs into Buckingham Road.

It was bought in 1909 by H. D. Moorhouse a Manchester solicitor who built up a circuit of cinemas around the city and beyond during the years between the two world wars. Some at least had been theatres before they became picture houses and may well have continued showing live acts alongside films.

Looking at this 1910 photograph of the theatre it is hard to think anyone would be impressed in going there. It has all the appearance of a big wooden shed, which I guess is what it was. Again according to Lloyd it had been built on land which the railway company still intended to use for extra track and so only permitted buildings which could be easily demolished.

But maybe I am being a tad unfair because the monochrome picture cannot convey what must have been a brightly painted building. Even before you went into the theatre you first had to buy a ticket from the pay box which with its wrought and cast iron additions must have brought back memories of seaside piers. And greeting the theatre goer were the picture of the stars they were about to see.

But for me the real value of the picture is the billboard, which not only dates the photograph to the week beginning June 20th 1910 but announces the programme. I have tried tracking down the Whips but have so far been unsuccessful but they will turn up.

There are no pictures of the inside but it would have been a fairly simple affair with wooden seating, the stage at the far end, and wooden floor boards.

But despite still showing films in the years after the First World War, it had been eclipsed by the far more impressive Palais de Luxe Cinema which had been opened in 1915 on Barlow Moor Road close to the tram terminus. Now this really was a cinema, with its glazed white and green tiles on the front and the huge circular windows. But this along with the Rivoli is a story for another time.

Picture; the Chorlton Theatre and Winter Gardens, June 1910from the Lloyd collection and the Palais de Luxe Cinema, A H Downes May 1959, mo9248, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Friday, 27 January 2012

Looking for answers,............ the story of a British Home Child

What makes a young man on the edge of a long life full of promise and opportunity go off the rails and seemingly mess up everything in front of him? It is a question which has exercised social workers, teachers and judges as well politicians and journalists.

For some of course it can be explained away by bad parenting, or the influence of peers, or perhaps a combination of things including low social esteem, poverty or maybe just that they were born bad.

Now I don’t have the answers other than saying the idea that you are born bad is just tosh. But it is a topic that is close to me. My own great uncle went off the rails and despite a number of chances to set out a fresh he seems to have stubbornly ignored them.

At the age of 14 he was destined for a placement on the Training Ship Exmouth which was a sort of naval boot camp designed to sort out troublesome youths with a mix of military style discipline away from the old haunts and temptations. Later he was sent to Canada as a British Home Child, a scheme which transported 100,000 young people to new lives in a new country on the other side of the Atlantic. Not that he could settle here either.

In the space of one year he was placed on three different farms across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick before running away, and joining the army in 1915. Even here he showed a blatant disregard for truth and honesty. He lied about his age, and falsified the record of his next of kin. Nor did the army prove to be his life line. Despite being in the front line and seeing active service, he kicked against authority and underwent four court-martials.

The reports from the placement farms speak of a troubled young man, who on one occasion was suspected of trying to burn down the farmer’s barn. This was disputed by the Middlemore organization which was responsible for him, but other reports reveal that he was not happy. In the June of 1915, the farmer Mrs Moffat reported that he was “fairly good for three weeks since then it seems impossible to get him to do anything. He is heart and soul lazy.” She couldn’t “depend on him for when he is left alone to work he sleeps under the trees.”*

But Mrs Moffatt was a fair woman and so despite asking for him to removed she did report that he was “even tempered, good to the children, kind to animals, a great reader, does not run around and is quiet and usually good which is a great item.”

His army record shows a similar pattern of someone who would rather be somewhere else and while one of the court-martials involved him being absent while the unit was in the front line, the other three show him kicking against authority and refusing to do as he was told.
Now there are plenty of young people who would fit that description.

In the case of my great uncle maybe there was more. Certainly the early years of his life were chaotic, uncertain and eventful. He was born in Birmingham, grew up in Kent and at the age of four his parents separated and his pregnant mother and two brothers moved back north to Derby where his sister was born in the Derby Workhouse. During the next twelve years he was in care. His mother was briefly recorded as working away in service. For a short period he was reunited with his siblings and his mother during 1913 she was deemed unfit to care for them and one by one they were all placed back in care.

So this was not the most auspicious start to a life and one that didn’t get any better. At the age of 15 in the December of 1913 it was decided he should be sent to the Training Ship Exmouth. Training ships existed to give young boys a fresh start.

Training ships were used to train poor boys in all aspects of seamanship, preparing them for a career at sea. Boys were able to join the ship from the age of 12. Their first task was to learn how to mend and patch their own clothes, they also had to learn how to wash their clothes and keep their lockers and contents in good order. Each boy had his own hammock, which was stowed during the day, leaving the decks clear of bedding. As well as learning the skills of sailing, rowing, sail and rope making, gunnery and signalling, they continued ordinary school work and such physical activities such as swimming and gymnastics. The ship had its own band and bugle band.

The Exmouth was run on strict military grounds and with up to 700 boys on board discipline was strict, with misdemeanours punished by forfeiting shore leave and spending the afternoon marching and drilling instead, or scrubbing the deck. Caning, in front of the entire ships company, was also used as a warning to others. Sunday morning was Captain’s inspection with the Captain making his rounds below decks to inspect all the messes. He would wear white gloves for this inspection, rubbing his fingers under the edges of tables, forms and lockers to find hidden dirt. The mess that was considered to be the best was rewarded with extra rations,”
from http://www.workhouses.org.uk/trainingships/

My grandfather had already been sent to Exmouth, and stuck it out, spending a year on board before being sent to sea in 1914. Not so my great uncle. Perhaps that rebellious side asserted itself, but the records show he ever attended and instead was placed with the Middlemore organisation and sent to Canada. Middlemore was one of the charitable groups which organised sending young people from poor and disadvantaged back grounds Canada.

And I suppose that is part of the answer to the way his life went. His early years had not been very stable. He last saw his father when he was four and he was separated from his brothers and sister. When he came up against any form of authority it tended to be impersonal or draconian. I doubt that there was much loving care in the institutions he found himself in, nor could he expect any in the Training Ship. Likewise his period with Middlemore would have been Spartan and fairly impersonal.

So is it any wonder that he felt uncomfortable in Canada in a life chosen for him which bore no relation to what he was used to? After all he was an urban boy pitched into rural Canada with only a few months training in how to work on a farm.

Nor can I be surprised that when he decided to run away and join the army in the August of 1915 he falsified the records of his age and next of kin and changed his name.. He was after all under age and there seemed little point in recording the name of his father who he could barely remember or his mother whose own bouts of stability seem limited. And he had run away so need a new name.

But he did seem to cling to some family links and after inventing a factious brother as next of kin settled on his aunt who had recently married. And he retained elements of his given name. He was born Roger James Hall which he shortened to James Rogers. Not you might think the most original name change but perhaps another link with his past.

I remain saddened when I think of what might have been, and how his early life had such a false start, even more so because parts of that early life seem forever closed to him. When asked his place of birth on joining up he gave Derby not Birmingham, but then I doubt that he even knew that simple fact about his early life.

Picture; detail from his Attestation Papers August 1915 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*letter from Mrs Lottie Moffatt, June 24th 1915

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Our history through the post,........ the British Postal Museum & Archive

Now I have been a fan of the British Postal Museum and Archive since they helped me out with some research into the type of early telegraph system which operated in the township on the Row in the mid 19th century.

They can be accessed at http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/ and they produce a wonderful news letter. Mine arrived today and contains a review of the BBC Radio 4 The People’s Post which I featured last year, in a story about the Postal workers Strike, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.com/2011/12/postal-workers-strike-of-1890-and.html and articles on The Great Train Robbery, the Culture of Letters, the history of Christmas cards, and the History of the GPO Film Unit.

And now they have a blog at http://postalheritage.wordpress.com/ My favourite so far is the story posted on Janaury 23 2012 on the GPO film Night Mail

Picture; Night Mail from the blog of the British Postal Museum & Archive

One Hundred years of one house in Chorlton ...... Part Ten, going to the cinema

The continuing story of the house Joe and Mary Ann Scott lved in for over sixty years and the families that have lived here since.

The Scott’s had a phone by 1924 and a television by 1958 and in between many of those other items which landmark the growing prosperity of ordinary people.

Theirs was a generation born before the first motor cars, aeroplanes and radios. During their early adult life they would have mastered first the radio, and then the telephone and no doubt one of the still rare motor cars.

And at some stage in their newly married life they may have sat in a darkened hall and been mesmerized by the moving images on the giant screen and still later by the mix of sound and pictures. I have no way of knowing if they went to the Pictures but I guess so. There were enough of them here in Chorlton. Some like the Palais de Luxe Cinema on Barlow Moor Road had opened by 1915, while the Rivoli which was the last opened its doors in 1937.

It is difficult today in the age of the multiplex to fully appreciate the novelty, magic and sense of luxury of “going to the flicks.” The very first picture houses may have been in small assembly rooms or converted music halls, but by the 1930s they were sumptuous almost decadent places. Everything about them was designed to lift the cinema goer into a different world.

Here was a sort of comfort few could enjoy at home, which ranged from the rich carpeted floors and plush seating to the bright lights of the foyer and the clean crisp lines of the kiosks. The interiors were bright with reds, blues and gold and the large curtain in front of the screen was always of a thick rich material which would have looked so wonderful in your front room.

And it started at the door, with the uniformed attendants who marshalled and welcomed the queues of cinema goers. Remember few buildings remained lit up at night and the cinema was a beacon of coloured electric lights and many retained their wrought iron canopies which sheltered you from the rain, advertised the show and was the first contact with the picture experience to come.

They were also warm and smelt clean, all of which made you feel special. And there was the class thing, like theatres you got what you paid for. The cheapest seats were downstairs the most expensive upstairs in the balcony. Even in the 60s there was a choice to be made. If you were out with your mates, it was the cheap seats and if it was a Saturday and a special date then you splashed out for the balcony. Forget all that stuff aboutthe back row which I cannot deny I did but a special date meant a special seat.

I doubt that Joe or Mary Ann would have bothered with the back seats; by the time the Savoy on Manchester Road and the Rivoli up by the bridge over the Brook on Barlow Moor Road were opened I think their main preoccupation would have been watching the picture.

And of course there was so much to see, from the “feature” and the B movie to the short news reel. We forget that before the television these short news slots were the only visual way most experienced the events of the day. And my generation still had that odd practice that because shows were continuous you could go in at any time, picking up the film from that moment and watch round to the point where you had come in, which today I find a bizarre way to see a film but then was quite normal.
Ida has told me of the restaurant at the old Rivoli which was opened to coincide with its restoration after it had been bombed. The first day the owners issued special vouchers and there after it remained a wonderful place to eat.

Of all our cinemas I have to say the Palais de Luxe Cinema remains one of my favourites. Smaller and less grand than the others its designer had managed to add something quirky with the large circular windows which I guess reminded you of eyes and its green and white glazed tiles.

But for me the saddest image is the transformation of the Savoy on Manchester Road which in a way sums up the decline of the old cinema houses. Looking at the 1930 picture by Harold Clarke all the wonderful elements are there, from the twin dooms and the ornate stone frontage to its wrought iron canopy. And compare it with its appearance in 1958. In keeping with the 50’s look the ornate fiddly bits have either been taken down or hidden by the wooden panelling, and the entrance canopy banished to some scrap yard.

I suppose it was all part of the picture houses adapting to new times, and there was plenty of life left in them, after all some of the great spectacular movies ranging from Cleopatra, Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia had yet to me made, not to mention James Bond, but the telly had arrived.

The Scott’s had theirs by 1958 and the idea of going out on a cold winter’s night to seek entertainment may not have been as attractive. And cinemas were not as inviting as they had been. Some were looking shabby while others suffered from that craze to slash the cinema seat with a flick knife which created that whoosh of air as you sat down in the chair.

In 1972 John Lloyd the historian lamented the passing of the cinema and much that had been the cultural life of Chorlton. It was he wrote ”painfully obvious that Chorlton in the evening is dead,” concluding that at “about eleven o’clock those who have been out shuffle back and a few more ghostly blue shadows flick across the curtains to join the many more that have been flickering all night.”*

But things have a habit of going full circle and the wide range of cultural and educational activities which Lloyd so missed are returning. I mentioned these in an earlier posting http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.com/2011/11/chorlton-history-group.html

In 1910 there were 36 such organisations including seven tennis clubs, three lacrosse clubs, nine football clubs as well as cricket, drama groups and political parties.

I have no way of knowing if Joe and Mary Ann got involved in them but I will be returning to these later in the year.

Pictures; Palais de Luxe Cinema, H. A. Downes May 1959, m09248, Savoy Picture House, A.H. Clarke 1930, m09290, and Gaumont Cinema, A.H. Downes November 1958, m09220, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

*Lloyd, John M, The Township of Chorlton cum Hardy, E.J.Morten, 1972, pp 108-109

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Millie the Mole, Boy Boy Jones and a garden shed, ............ London in the 1950s

Millie the Mole lived in our house in the 1950s and she lived with Boy Boy Jones who drove the getaway car for a smash and grab gang.

I was too young to remember them but they were just some of the people who rented rooms in my parent’s house on Lausanne Road.

Now this was the period just after the last world war and housing was still in short supply, and most people lived in rented accommodation. It was the age of the private landlord and “living in rooms” was commonplace. We were I think unique in owning our own house and most of my friends lived in grand old Victorian houses which long ago had been sub divided in to flats. One family lived in the basement of a row of terraced houses near the old fire station, and another in one of those prefabs which had been put up to meet post war housing needs and which over 60 years later are still going strong.

Ours was a tall terraced house built sometime in the last quarter of the 19th century. It had nine rooms spread out over three floors, with cellars and a long garden. The land must have once been an orchard because our garden and the surrounding ones were full of fruit trees. In our case we had collard the corner on pear trees, of which there were at least five, along with a worn out apple tree and a tired vine which clung to the back of the house but to my knowledge never produced any grapes.

I don’t know how many lodgers we had at any one time, but until the arrival of my twin sisters in 1955, there was just mum dad and me. So after accounting for the three downstairs rooms and the bath room, this still left enough for a collection of paying customers.

True to the period each upstairs room had a coin operated gas fire and father had fitted radio outlets around the house. I remember them well. By turning the switch you could tune into the Home Service or the Light Programme. My early years were radio years and listening to the wireless remains one of the joys of my life.

But back dear reader to Millie the Mole and Boy Boy Jones. Now smash and grab raids were at the cutting age of big time crime. The gang would choose a suitable jewellers and using a brick and pick axe handle smash the window, grab the loot and escape in the waiting car. Boy Boy Jones was the driver. A career which came to an abrupt end when he drove off during a raid, leaving the gang to struggle along a crowded Peckham High Street, with assorted diamond rings, a necklace and several watches. Needless to say their progress was somewhat hampered by the loot and the Saturday shoppers and they were caught.

Boy Boy Jones remained free which was not necessarily a good thing for Millie, whose relationship with him was tempestuous at the best of times and led on one occasion to Boy Boy arousing the street as he dangled her out of one of the upstairs windows by her wrists.

Then there was Flo and Les who ran an antique shop which wasn’t making enough so they had to work three days in the timber yards. I say an antique shop but I suspect it was really a second had shop with pretentions. This was Peckham in the early 1950s and however genteel Lausanne Road had once been I don’t recall there being much call for posh stuff when I was growing up.

Many of the houses still had a faded glow about them but six years of war; bombing and neglect had rather taken the shine off the area. A trend best reflected by some of the other lodgers we had staying with us.

In particular I remember a young outgoing chap who worked delivering sweets but turned out to be a bigamist which was still a serious offence if you were caught. This was after all a time when divorce was not an easy thing to do, especially amongst the working class. Nor was just living with someone easily tolerated and so in his case he just moved across London and married again. Mother trusted him enough to allow me to accompany him to the swimming baths and on one occasion to drive us to see my grandparents in Derby.

The last of our lodgers were a couple who met in Lausanne Road. She was single and German and he was Polish. Their romance began with midnight trysts and ended with the two getting married. To me they were something different. Occasionally I would be invited to share a cup of real coffee and some Polish biscuits which arrived from the “homeland”.

Like so many of the stories I have posted their experiences reflect the awful events of the century they lived in. Theirs were “little lives lived out in a big century.” Both had been victims of the displacement of millions of ordinary people who had been in the wrong place when the war broke out and found themselves part of that tide of homeless refugees in 1945.

I don’t know their stories and like many of their generation they didn’t talk about the past. But he was Polish and may have spent time as a Soviet prisoner, which begs the question had he been on the wrong side in the conflict, or just a causality of the Cold War?

Either way there is a lasting testimony to their stay in the house, because the garden shed he built in the late 1950s is still there. I had almost completely forgotten about it. And then on an impulse while on a visit to London for a family wedding we visited the old house.

It is almost 50 years since we left but there is much about the place that I remember. I am grateful to Rachel and David the new owners who did not mind that we had invaded their Sunday and were happy to show us around.

The garden seemed smaller and more alive with plants than I remember it. The trees had gone but the shed remained.

I rather liked the fact that something from all those people who had passed through had survived.

Picture; Lausanne Road today, & the long back garden with the shed, Lausanne Road circa 1957 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

1942 was a bad year............. letters from a mother to her son

1942 was a bad year. The war news remained grim. American and Commonwealth forces were in retreat. Singapore had surrendered to the Japanese in February, Rommel’s Africa Korps had captured Tobruk in North Africa, Leningrad was besieged by German forces and the Russian people were about to make their heroic stand to defend Stalingrad from another of Hitler’s armies.

Here in Derby in the family home things were equally grim and surrounded with uncertainty. There had been no letter from Uncle Roger since the long letter in mid January. Not that this stopped Nana sending letters to him.

As ever they were full of the personal and mundane.
There was concern about my mother, who was herself serving at RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire,
“she had been in hospital with her eyes. One doctor said it was acute Glaucoma, necessitates operation etc. So I thought I’d better see for myself. Apparently she had a cold in time, pain to the point of vomiting, seems alright to me but will have to see another specialist the week”

And the usual news about how cold it had been, the visits from school friends and her new job in the accounts office at Hampshire’s. “By the way I am working ½ days ay Hampshire’s now in the office as long as it lasts” which it did and “became five mornings and two afternoons.” All of which presented its own problems including what to do with Willy the dog when she was out at work.

But sitting behind all the trivia was the constant nagging concern that there had been no news from her son. In her February letter she hoped the birthday greetings telegram had arrived and wondered out loud, “how do you feel having reached the first20, grown in health strength and wisdom?”

Like all parents she clung to what she had, re read his long letter and commented on the photos he had sent, wishing “that your photo would have been a little larger on top of that mast.”

With no letters and against worsening war news she continued to write about walks in the countryside, the health of my mother, and her own ill health which was played down. At times her frustration at the lack of letters spilled over into her writing. In August she wrote “everybody keeps asking about you, we all can’t understand your silence.” But communications were chaotic and a letter he had written to his Uncle Jack had taken three months to arrive.

So despite writing “to various people to see if they had any news of you I have had no reply.” All she could do was continue to send the air grams which allowed just a few short sentences. These remained full of family stuff; “we are all going black berrying tomorrow. They are just about ripe. We would have gone for crab apples, but we cannot find your spot at Breadsell.”

Ominously in the October the family received a letter from the Air Ministry to “say he had arrived at Sumatra, Java on February 18th 1942. Since then no use probably a prisoner of war of the Japanese”

It was another four months before Nana recorded in her diary “that lists of POWs were coming through slowly” and ”that Roger was 21 on the 11 of February.” Just two months later came the official news “that Roger is missing, his name might still be in some lists not received yet, he may be at large on one of the islands.”

On April 18th 1943 the Derby Telegraph printed his photo which accompanies this story and two days later Mrs Wright of Victory Road “came today to tell us that her son was in the same transport as R and he missing as well.”

The news was only going to get worse.

Picture; one of the letters sent by grandmother in the January of 1942, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

The Lloyd’s ............... once known as the Lloyd Platt, and home to a bowling green and tennis club and now a new picture by Peter Topping

Somebody must have a photograph of the inside of the Lloyd's before its conversion over a decade ago. There may even be the plans that were used in transforming an old Victorian pub into to a welcoming modern open plan place.

But if they exist I have yet to find them. In fact so far I have yet to come across any pictures of the inside of any of our pubs and hotels here in Chorlton. Now there must be some, after all there are plenty of the outsides of all of the pubs and these date back to the late 19th century and on through in to the next century.

I suppose pictures of the interiors of pubs fall into two groups. There are the promotional ones done by the brewery and those private snaps taken during a happy and alcoholic evening. The sort of promotional ones we are familiar with from web sites will not have survived I fear, and as for those private pictures most will concentrate on the people and not the surroundings.

So back to the Lloyd's. I remember it before its modernization. Like many big pubs of the period it consisted of smallish rooms an old fashioned bar and a wide staircase. I might be wrong but there may also still have been waiter service. But my memories of the place are a bit like that much used phrase describing the 1960s, “if you can remember the decade you weren’t there.” Which pretty well sums up my nights in the place. We often went there on election night, and the three pints in the Lloyds saying thank you to the Party workers, and then the many pints more in the Press Club after the count meant that memories of the old pub are vague.

So I was very pleased when Peter asked me to add a story for his painting of the Lloyd's. These have become a feature of the blog over the last two months with Peter painting the picture and me writing the story.

The Lloyd’s was built in 1870 and arose out of a partnership between George Lloyd who owned the land and James Platt who built it and the partnership is recorded on a stone inset into the wall. But once Platt died the place was renamed the Lloyd. During the 1880s it was bought by a William Roberts and it was the landlady a Mrs Crabtree who by all accounts “improved the place considerably in various particulars”* and it may have been her who encouraged the bowling green members to build their own club house which was open on Wednesdays during the season. I am still puzzling where the lawn tennis club she also encouraged played but it may have been on the open land along side Whitelow Road.

You can get a fine view of the bowling green from the dining area. My friend Keith has long been associated with it and speaks warmly of his evenings at the annual dinners the club has held.

Peter has his paintings on display at a number of places across Chorlton and can also be seen on his facebook site https://www.facebook.com/paintingsfrompictures

Picture; ©Peter Topping 2011 www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk
*Thomas Ellwood, Chorlton historian writing in the 1886

Monday, 23 January 2012

A new forum for the families of British Home Children

Regular readers of the blog will know that I have become interested in British Home Children * and for those out there who share that interest there is a new chat forum set up by my friend Lori which can be accessed at http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com/bhc-chat-forum.html#/

Picture; A Barnado postcard, from the collection of Lori Oschefski

*British Home Children is the name given to the thousands of young people who were sent first to Canada, and later Australia as well as other parts of the old British Empire from the 1870s onwards. Most were from poor backgrounds, some living on the streets and others in institutions and the aim was to provide them with a fresh start in life. You can follow my posts by looking for the label British Home Children.
British Home Children

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton ................Part Nine, five brief years

The continuing story of the house Joe and Mary Ann Scott lived in for over sixty years and the families that have lived here since.

Mary Ann died in April 1973. The condition of Joe’s will was that on her death the property would go to an animal charity who sold it to my friend John.

We had been at college together and sometime in the spring of 1974, John Mike and Lois moved in and so began five brief years of the house’s history set against the growing industrial unrest of the 1970s.

I have to say I have fond memories of the period and have never thought of it as one of those “low dishonest decades”. It was after all when I became an adult, graduated, got married and began work. All of which meant it was a fairly exciting time with of course the odd dull bits.

And much of that same optimistic energy was directed by John at stamping his identity on the house. Down came the picture rails and out went the open fireplaces to be replaced by smooth plastered walls from floor to ceiling covered in woodchip which was the great favourite of the time. Cheap to buy, easy to put up because there was no pattern to worry about and ready for any colour of emulsion paint you wanted. Bright but neutral was what John choose for everywhere in the house.

It became an advert for Habitat living, clean modern and bright a blank landscape to show off the habitat light fittings, pictures and furniture. We were the Habitat generation in love with Conran’s simple design and above all attracted to what was then cheap.

But there was a downside, with the old fire places ripped out and no central heating we survived with one gas fire in the front room. In the winter months we huddled around that fire and fiercely contested whose turn it was to make the coffee, for this involved leaving the comfort zone and enter a zone of intense cold which began in the front room just beyond the sofa.

The rest of the house would be even colder. I remember washing up in the kitchen with all four gas burners going and pans of boiling water because the immersion heater was never turned on. Showers were something you did as quickly as possible and the bedrooms resembled an igloo.

I moved in during the December of 1976 and it was a wonderful time. I was divorced still smarting from the pain of it and here I was back in a community which was almost like being a student again, except because we were all working we had had money.

And so the house took on an almost endless round of fun, whether it was the nightly trips to the pub returning with a carry out, or the evenings friends came round for meals. The high point was always the Christmas dinner eaten as it had been since we were students just a few days before everyone went off home to spend the holiday with family.

There was no getting away from serious side of things. 1974 was the year of the two elections. The Conservative Government had taken on the miners and gone to the country for an electoral mandate to continue the fight, and they lost. It has to be said only marginally and the victorious new Labour administration called a fresh election in the October to secure a majority.

The country was divided and so were we with furious arguments usually late at night fuelled by an evening in the pub. Mike always took the side on the Tories more to wind me up and Lois would shout down contributions from upstairs while I held good to the cause of the Left.
But this was also the time John built a boat. Parts of the frame were screwed for a while to the dining room floor while they were shaped, which was a process I didn’t really understand. At the same time great quantities of blue resin were applied to things in the cellar and slowly the hull began to take shape in the back garden. Even now thirty six years later there are still blobs of the blue resin in the cellar and the odd bit of glass fibre turns up in the garden.

During the course of the boat building period we made friends with Jack Harker who was retired and with time on his hands volunteered to help John and soon became a part of the household.

So in the fullness of time we had the boat turning day when one Sunday a gang of us turned the boat in the garden right side up followed by one of Lois’s buffet’s and later still the day the side wall came down to allow the boat to be craned out. I might add I only got round to putting the wall back last February.

In the course of those five years many people came and went, some just passing through and others staying for a while. I guess there will be many who will have some memory of the place. So much so that when one friend was sat in the garden, the little old lady at 43 was heard to mutter “I wonder which one that is?”

There were the French friends who Lois John and Mike had met one summer who regularly visited, and Whispering Dave, who worked with John and came to help with the boat and others like me who came for a few weeks, stayed four months and eventually returned in the summer of ’82 as the new owner of Scot’s house.

Pictures; The house in the summer of 1974, the boat in the garden 1977, Jack on the boat during the winter of 1978 and the Christmas of 1977, from the collection of Lois Sparshot

Salford scenes .............a cinema

I must have passed this old cinema many times with no regard to the story behind it

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Old Bowling Green Hotel

Yesterday I promised more stories of the Bowling Green Hotel, and so here they are, taken from my forthcoming book, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, A Community Transformed. http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.com/2011/11/chorlton-cum-hardy-community.html

“It boasted a bay window and with its other additions at the side and back had a haphazard appearance as if it had yet to be finished off. Having said that, it was still more impressive than the other pubs and there was no mistaking its name for it not only had it painted a little way above the bay window but had a large sign board proclaiming itself as the Bowling Green Hotel running the length of the building.

This was the chosen venue for the sick and burial club meetings, and no doubt a popular stopping off place on route from the church and despite it close proximity to a farm it could boast views of the village pond with its little island and opportunities for fishing.

Its publican George Whitelegg was a busy man. As well as running the pub he farmed 22 acres and played an important part in village life. He was appointed Overseer for the Poor in 1841 and took his turn at chairing the meetings of the rate payers. And at one meeting the interests of pub and ratepayers overlapped as the meeting resolved to adjourn to his pub. George may have needed many different ways of making money. By 1851 he had four daughters one son and employed four servants. And other ways of making money he found. In 1860 he built the houses which still stand on High Lane known as Stockton Range.”

Picture; seldom seen side of the old Bowling Green Hotel from the collection of Tony Walker

Memories of cheap paper backs, the teaching of English in a secondary modern and Bryan the Book

It started with an email from Oliver.

We had been discussing those private lending libraries and Oliver argued that despite the cheapness of paper books in the 1950s it was for many still more economical to borrow from the local newsagent.

“Pan Books were 2/- and Great Pan the princely sum of 2/6...... so for the cost of one book you could borrow half a dozen or even more from the local newsagents and that was in paperbacks post war. I guess when Penguin first came out in the 30s a similar ratio applied.”

And this brought back memories of my own Pan Books. By the early 1960s the cost had risen slightly but still within the range of my pocket money. Pan in particular was a favourite because they published the James Bond novels, one of which saw me across Europe on a school journey.

Apparently many of these Ian Fleming books are now collectable but sadly all mines were lost a long time ago, although I did come across some on our bookshelves by the historian and journalist Leonard Cottrell who wrote with a directness which even now I find a pleasure to read.

Sitting here in the dining room I have in front of me his book on the Roman invasion of Britain.* They say the best writing comes from an author’s own experience and in describing the moment before the legionaries landed he reflected that
Among the readers of this book may be some who have known what it is like to wade on to an enemy beach under heavy fire. Others may have commanded troops in such action, and experienced that nerve racking moment when all hangs in the balance, when the defenders have the advantage or protected positions, and the attackers have not had time to establish their fighting formations.”

From this he quoted Julius Caesar’s account of the military expedition to Britain in 55 BC observing that it “could almost describe an attack on the Normandy beaches or a Japanese island in the Pacific.”

Now Cottrell had himself been a war correspondent and this book was written only 13 years after the end of the last world war and must have had a real resonance with many of his readers.

It is a book I doubt I will ever get rid of, but the same cannot be said for many of the other paperback novels I have bought. Most have gone to friends or the local Oxfam shop. I like the idea of sharing a good read.

And this I suppose was the motivation behind one of my English teachers back in the mid ’60s. His simple approach to teaching working class boys from south east London was to collect a wide range of paperbacks and leave them on the bookshelves at the back of the classroom for us to dip into.

Later I would come and enjoy the great classics of English literature, but on the basis that we all have to start somewhere, pulp Westerns and Science Fiction was a sound introduction from which some of us at least went on to H G Wells, John Wyndham and along the way I read Exodus by Leon Uris, as well as stuff I instantly forgot.

Handling second hand books is all about giving them a chance which is why I was attracted to Bryan the Book’s shop on Beech Road. Three or four times a week I would fall in through the door, browse for what seemed an eternity and come away with a treasure or just a cheap read.

It was here that I rediscovered my love of the old Eagle Annuals, and began seriously collecting copies from the Left Book Club, Penguin Specials and old children’s books. But more about all these at another time.
Bryan sat at the back of the shop, was content that you stay as long as you wanted and was always prepared to barter. Like many I missed the shop when he finally decided to move on to other things. There are other second hand book shops but somehow they are not the same.

*The Great Invasion, Leonard Cottrell, Pan Books, 1958, reprinted in 1961 and sold for 3’6

Pictures; cover of the Great Invasion from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and the final day of Bryan’s Bookshop from the collection of Lawrence Beedle

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Bowling Green ................ another painting by Peter Topping and story by me

I would like to have sat and had a pint in the old Bowling Green Hotel. It was built sometime around the 1780s and replaced an old wattle and daub house. It was at first a farmhouse and pub combined and belonged to the Egerton family, but more about this tomorrow.

The present Bowling Green or “Bowler” was built at the beginning of the 20th century, just a little to the east of the old one.

I began drinking there in the early 1980’s when and like the Trevor it would be a busy place at weekends. During the week it was quieter and despite its open plan the lounge was a comfortable and relaxed place to while away an evening.

The vault to the side was often a livelier place, and it was here that I would find my old friend Mike, who I had known from the late 1960s. He would spend every evening having an evening meal with us in the house we had once shared but prompt at 9, having done the washing up said good night to the children he would disappear into a taxi for the vault of the Bowling Green where he would consume four pints of lager, no more, no less and leave with his “carry out.” Only years later in the aftermath of his sudden death did we learn that his name was not Mike but Stanley and that the and his birthday had been borrowed from his brother.

Still he was fun to be with and the nights he reluctantly crossed over to join us in the big room of the pub were bound to be hilarious. So when I look at Peter’s painting of the Bowling Green I am reminded of those good nights.

Peter has been painting pictures of Chorlton and recently I joined him by adding stories. This particular painting is on show behind the bar, while others can be seen in various locations. To follow Peter’s work the link is http://www.facebook.com/paintingsfrompictures

These were the years when the place was run by Tommy who took great pride in his pub and its history. I well remember him showing any one that had the time to spare the brass plate commemorating the murder of a policeman who was buried in the churchyard beside the pub. Tommy was also keen to promote local charities and sponsored special events and collaborated on a day of fun one summer on the Rec and the green.

Picture; The Bowling Green Hotel © Peter Topping

News from the Ministry of Food.............. December 1946 Making the most of the FAT RATION

An occasional look at the advice issued by the Ministry of Food in the years directly after the last world war.
Britain continued to ration food and so it made sense for the Government to offer a free advice service on how to plan, prepare and cook meals. Here are over the next few weeks are a selection of the advice issued by the Food Free Advice Service of the Ministry of Food. It is dated December 1946 and gave advice on how best to use rationed food in the run up to Christmas.

Here were suggestions for Butter Extenders which involved adding a tablespoon of flour, some salt and ½ a pint of milk to either 6oz of margarine of butter and mixing to a paste which was then heated in a saucepan with 2oz of melted butter till it was smooth and thick and then left to cool.

It also advised that "roasting potatoes round the joint uses more fat than if the potatoes are cooked separatley." One method was to slice the potatoes and place them in a greased tin "and they will brown without added fat" Or cook thinly sliced potatoes in a "roasting tin with water and salt. There should be enough room for them to lie comfortably without touching and there should be enough water to half fill the roasting tin. Put the tin into a hot oven and bake for one and ½ hours. The water evaporates and leaves shiny golden balls with floury insides."

Picture; from a leaflet issed by the Ministry of Food, December 1946 in the collection of Vince Piggott

Castlefield the story .......... Part Six, success, gentle decline and a new renaissance

It is easy also to forget that until recently fresh livestock came into Manchester to be delivered to butchers shops. So at the bottom of Water Street there is a ramp, which would originally have served the purpose of unloading animals. The alignment was changed at the beginning of the 20th century to run parallel with Water Street instead of feeding into the road. This may have been done when the original 1830 bridge over Water Street was rebuilt and reflects the growing busy nature of Water Street. Robert Roberts in his book The Classic Slum records his memories of animals still being walked through the streets of Salford to butchers shops.

The ramp terminates in the Museum car park and it is possible to gain access through the arches of the viaduct to see what is left of stables used to house horses. A similar
building with ramps still existed in the 1970s near Piccadilly Station.

The station complex continued to grow; although the very success of the passenger side meant that this was transferred in 1844 to a new station.

The area continued to be at the very heart of the transport network. And it is still possible to stand on the site and look over to the Irwell, while beyond the river, main line trains still pass on their way into the city over viaducts resting in the canal basin, one of which now carries the Metro. And while the new motorway has taken some of the heavy traffic away from Liverpool Road, there is enough to remind one of how busy an area this really is.

So, it is no exaggeration to describe Castlefield as a giant switching point for rail river canal and road. As late as the 1950s it must have been even more busy than today. Since the closing of Central Station in the late 60s and the demolition of the approach bridges over Deansgate, much of the rail traffic has disappeared.

By the 1950s Castlefield had become the centre of the motor trade. Now very little is left. Andrews at 12-14 Southern Street, and a few workshops in the viaduct arches on Bridgewater Street. While the few remaining bike shops are closing with two going off Deansgate in the last 5 years. One remains on Liverpool Road at 13/15. Originally two buildings in 1848, number 13 sold beer and number 15 was a furniture brokers. It is a constant surprise how you can still come across features that must date back along time. So the floor of the bike shop still retains its wooden floor.
Working at numbers 12-14 Southern Street was a man who had worked in the area since he was 15 and could remember Castlefield in the 1950s.

The area was still full of houses many of which were back to back. Liverpool Road, and the surrounding streets of Barton Street, Great Bridgewater Street were still lived in. He confirmed that the area was the centre of the motor trade. At the top of Liverpool Road there was a wire works. The gentleman in question had started work in a cellar round the corner. Numbers 12-14 was a print works but now is a garage. Little remains of the original house. There is evidence inside of the two houses and the dividing wall. This has been demolished and replaced by brick pillars, which hold up steel girders. We couldn’t get access to the upstairs but the owner may be willing to supply further information.

Printing was also a feature of the area. The early street directories record printing activities in various streets. A few have survived. At 8-12 Bridgewater Street, which joins Southern Street there is a printing, sign making engraving business, and in the cellar of number 11 Liverpool Road after it had been demolished following a fire, there was evidence that it had once been used a print works as had 12-14 Southern Street.

The owner of 8-12 Bridgewater Street referred to the deeds of the building, which dates it back to the 18th century, which rather confirms the earlier research. He also drew comparisons with the rooms on the upper floors with the famous picture of 13 Southern Street drawn during the Cotton Famine of 1862-1864.

The local police station is still standing on Bridgewater Street. The badge of the Corporation is there. And Mr Harris remembers when the police station was still in use. The building dates from the 1890s. After the 1850s the City Council was charged with running a local police force. It included a horse ambulance station and mortuary.

In the last fifteen years many of the old buildings I remember have gone. Some were long past their time while others might have been saved. But the upside of this has been that people have returned to live in the area. The old crumbling and damp houses of the past have been replaced by flats and town houses, so the place is no longer a desolate and empty collection of streets but a vibrant part of the city.
Pictures; the ramp on Water Street, the canal basin & the old police station now a block of flats from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Friday, 20 January 2012

Reaching an audience, the story of British Home Children

Now I have been banging on about British Home Children for some months. Not that I pretend to be an expert. I really only became aware of their existence less than a year ago and this because one of my own family was sent to Canada in the May of 1914 as a British Home Child.

Even after I had discovered he was sent it was still some while before I made the connection with the fact that this was a deliberate act on the part of some individuals and organisations who saw it as their duty to save these children from a life of dire poverty and worse.

I suspected before I gave the talk to the history group that most people in the room were only dimly aware of this policy of forced migration and if they did know of its existence tended to associate it with Australia. After all children were still being sent to Australia as late as the 1970s and there has been a fair amount of media coverage on their story.
But the Canadian venture finished in the 1930s which means that even the youngest who might have been sent across the Atlantic are now in their 90’s.

I hope I did my best to tell the story. The real test always comes in the questions and observations at the end of the meeting. It did become clear that while many knew of the connection with Australia few were aware of the existence or extent of the migration to Canada. During the discussion people began to remember individuals who had talked or just hinted about the connection with children sent to Canada. In one case it was an elderly woman in hospital who spoke of having been sent as a young girl.

So I guess the talk did a little to bring the subject out of the shadows and that’s all you can ask.

Pictures; from the collection of Bernard Leach

A planned archaeological dig in Hulme and two retired teachers

There is something very remarkable about an object taken from the ground which belonged to someone in the past.

As I write I have in front of me an oyster shell, which you might think is nothing out of the ordinary, even given the cost of oysters today and the fact that I am a vegetarian.

But this oyster shell is over 1,000 years old and is still marked with the smears of earth when it was lifted from an archaeological site in the Viking part of York in the late ‘70s.

We had gone up for the day and been drawn to where there was a major dig underway. And beside the excavations in a tub for sale was my oyster shell, along with loads more, and the price reflected the quantity on show.

So I paid just 10p. Nothing can ever take away the feeling of excitement and awe at holding an object however so humble that was handled and causally thrown away by some so long ago.

I was reminded of this when I read of the plans to run a dig in Hulme at Birley Fields in March of this year. Hulme has a medieval history but for most of us it will be its 19th century landscape that we are more familiar with.

It grew quickly during those early decades of that century and some at least from Chorlton ended up there, either in the workhouse on Leaf Street or in the narrow terraced housing. Some even made the journey out to wander the lanes of our township, drink in the beer shops and pubs and to work on the farms.

Some are known to me like William Hodge who stood trial for the murder of local woman Mary Moore in the summer of 1838 who was killed on her way home from the Manchester markets just short of her destination at Dog House Farm.

Then there was James Jackson who lived in Hulme and was listed in the 1821-22 edition of Piggott and Dean’s New Directory of Manchester and Salford as Directory as a farmer and carrier. He owned 15 acres of land at Round Thorn which is the area north of Chorlton Brook roughly covering the stretch from the allotments and part of Chorlton Park down to Nell Lane but it was sold to in 1839 after he had gone bankrupt.

Now this isn’t the archaeology which will bring up a Roman coin or Viking oyster shell but it I reckon it will be exciting. Later in the year I plan to write about our own archaeological dig in the parish graveyard during the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

But in the meantime I will leave you with this scene.

Picture the coffee bar of the Urbis in town, with the usual group of mid morning people sipping their lattes and tapping on their lap tops or talking to friends. In one corner there are two retired teachers acting like naughty school children giggling over their latest prank.

And this was exactly what we had just been engaged in.

 My old friend Joe and I had been to Millar Street where they were finishing off an excavation of late 18th and early 19th century working class homes, hard by the CIS building. This wasn’t a day for visitors but we seemed harmless enough, were clearly very enthusiastic and above all over 60, so no danger of causing trouble.

We were politely shown round allowed to take pictures and at the end to the benign smiles of the archaeologists permitted to walk away with a brick each. Handmade, sometime I guess in the 1780s they were as much a treasure as any gold coin or piece of jewellery. Mine has pride of place on one of our bookshelves, and before we are accused of looting, the other piles of bricks were all destined for infilling and yes we had asked.

So there you have it two little pieces of history separated by 900 years give a take a decade and still guaranteed to excite me.
Later I will post a story on these and other excavations of working class homes in Manchester & Salford.

Picture; cellar dwellings at the Miller Street dig October 2009, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

100 years of one house in Chorlton ........... Part Eight making the fires

The continuing story of the house Joe and Mary Ann Scott lived in for over sixty years and the families that have lived here since.

I often wonder how Mary Ann passed the days once Joe had gone to work. She was 27 when they moved into their newly built house on Beech Road, facing the Rec. Of course there were all the usual chores, from cleaning and washing to shopping and preparing a midday and evening meal but there must have been quiet times.

Sitting in our dining room and looking out Mary would have had an interrupted view across fields all the way to the Brook and beyond.
In the winter I guess there were the fires to see too. Ours can be a cold house, especially the front rooms which face north. Even in summer with the sun cracking the paving stones there can be a chill about these two rooms.

Now I would like to think that we who followed Scott have always been sympathetic with the original design when doing things to the house. Alas this hasn’t been so. John who bought the house when Mary Ann died in the mid 1970s ripped out the fire places, took down the picture rails and even took out the copper from the cellar. In turn I took out a lovely bathroom cabinet and managed to find a builder who could put picture rails on upside down.

And there are salutary lessons to be learned. In blocking up the fire places, and in one case putting in a gas fire there could have been real damage done to the flues, damage which can be very costly to repair.
But what John took out we have put back. The original fire placess were very high and to my mind took over the rooms or at least this is what I used to think.

Now I have a sneaking wish to reinstate the originals. But with all things you have to be practical. Houses are for living in, they are not museums, which is why I suppose we will never open up the coal cellar again. I rather hanker after the sound of the coal coming into the house. I remember it as a long roll of thunder followed by a few clunks as the last of the sack’s contents were shaken out, and then the slow slithering noise as the coal slowly settled with that faint odour of coal dust which hung in the air despite a closed cellar door.This I fear may be one restoration project too far.

However there is no questioning the fact that I like open fires and all that goes with having them. This starts with cleaning out the ashes from the night before. This I have learned is best done when I first get up at six, allowing the ash to cool by seven so it can be handled and taken out.

Then after everything has been swept and the hearth given a clean it is time to lay and light the fires. Over the years I have come to know that newspaper, kindling and fire lighters make for a good mix, with one of the two types of smokeless fuel added the flames take hold.

We use two types, a fast burning one followed by a much slower fuel which gives off a terrific red heat. Ofcourse Mary Ann would have used coal which usually burns quicker. Even so sometimes the coal needed a little help and in the case of my grandmother this involved a sheet of newspaper placed in front of the open fireplace. Now I have never had the courage just to hold it there and I well remember on occasion the sheet being sucked into the open fire which for a six year old was a terrifying sight.
Now the sooner you have set them going the sooner they will warm the house. In the case of grandmother this was before seven in the morning, and the combination of the open fire in the front room and the range in the kitchen served to heat her little two up two down house.

But there was a price to pay. On a cold still day when the smoke from countless home fires hung in the air with that distinctive sooty smell which seemed to reach into the back of your throat and coated everything in dark grime. I still remember coming home with sooty hands and smears like skid marks all over my clothes from climbing in the upper reaches of some tree. Or the way clothes out on the line could come in flecked with soot. Lois remembers her mum regularly wiping down the washing line in the winter months before hanging out the wet clothes.

But the Clean Air Acts of the 1950s have banished all that and even those awful smogs which we kids mistook for fog are gone. I have to say that there was something quite magical about the way the fog would swirl around you, deadening the noise of everything and wrapping you up in its silent mist.

My father never shared this pleasure having got lost on many occasions and even on one densely foggy day passing our front door. And of course the smog did nothing for the lungs.

So yes, the open fires are nice as my Italian in laws and Tina’s siblings will testify when they come over to stay, but just perhaps Mary Ann hankered for something a little less messy and labour intensive.

Pictures; the open fire places in Scott's house at Christmas 2011, from the collection of Andrew Simpson & advert from the St Clements 1928 Church Bazzaar Booklet by permission of Ida Bradshaw

Tales from the Trevor, another story and another painting

There are some places in your life that are frozen in time and for that brief moment seem as vivid now as they were when you experienced them. Such was the Trevor Arms on Beech Road in late 1970s, and early ‘80s.

Now I do still occasionally go in, usually for early doors but once upon a time it was every night mostly for the last hour. I was sharing a house with friends who had established the pattern of attendance before I arrived and I just slipped in behind them.

I say the last hour but Stan and Mona who ran the place were generous in the time they allowed for drinking up and we rarely staggered in through the front door much before a quarter to twelve.
Friday and Saturday night the place heaved and if you were unfortunate enough not to have found a seat, you swayed and moved with the crowd.

During the week it was a quieter place but one where you could still count on there being a few people you could talk to. There was the architect and his pals, Steve and the Judo crowd, plus Scotch Ken, Ken and Barbara and of course Jack and Ann.

Jack and Ann lived on Wilton Road. They had married in the ‘50s, got divorced, going their separate ways and starting new relationships before coming across each other in the Robin Hood in Stretford in their early ‘60s and starting all over again.

They had the table between the bar and the door to the lavatories and claimed their position early on every evening. From this vantage point Jack would hold audience and his conversations would stretch the length of the place as would his knowledge of most of the clientele. And those he did not know still became an object of comment. No that anything he said was ever harsh, rude or cruel, just gently funny and the nick names he gave people lasted and were shared by the pub.

Stan had to hold down a full time job leaving his wife and daughter to run things during the day and only appearing in the evening. So it was mostly Mona and her daughter who pulled the pints joked with the customers and made you feel at home. Unlike many places they had a strict policy of working along the bar and then back which insured that everyone whether regular or not was served without favour to anyone.

So for a brief period from 1976 till about ’84 this was my pub and if those I drank and laughed with have dispersed it will always be special to me and a source of endless stories which I hope will appear during the year.
But even as a historian I do not over dwell in the past and on those occasions I have fallen into the Trevor I have been made to feel at home. So places go on which is as it should be. Peter’s painting of the Trevor on festival day is a great way of asserting the present. He is a local artist who paints Chorlton today, I just persuaded him to include my stories of the past alongside his images.

His works hang in a number of venues across Chorlton and can also be seen on his facebook site Paintings from Pictures https://www.facebook.com/paintingsfrompictures

Picture © Peter Topping 2011 www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Today I met the historian Bill Williams

Well as you all know I was speaking to our history group today on British Home Children, and it went well. There were 28 people there and loads of questions at the end.

But what for me was the most exciting part of the afternoon was meeting the historian Bill Williams. I have heard him talk, read his books and even used some of his work for a GCSE assignment I produced in the mid ‘80s.
Even then I was careful to acknowledge my source which is I think the duty of any responsible historian. These days I also ask first and if permission is not forthcoming I don’t use it.

But I digress. I first met Bill on a guided tour of the Strangeways and Redbank area of Manchester. It was here that many Jewish families settled in the last quarter of the 19th century. They were fleeing from Czarist persecution and found a home in the narrow streets and small terraced houses of this part of the city. I then went on to read his book The Making of Manchester Jewry and recently Jewish Manchester: An Illustrated History.*

He was a founder member of the Jewish Museum which I joined i sometime in the 1980s.

All of which is an advance notice for his appearance at the history group in May talking on Black History.
Picture; cover of Jewish Manchester: An Illustrated History

* The Making of Manchester Jewry, Manchester University Press 1976, Jewish Manchester: An Illustrated History, DB Publishing, 2008