Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Reflections on the workhouse

For any one born before my generation the workhouse held a particular dread and its one that features in many stories of British Home Children.

It is true the workhouse and the 1834 Act which introduced the new system of relief have many critics.

Much was written on the conditions in the workhouse, and these Poor Law Bastilles were both hated and feared particularly amongst those who had to rely on them.  There were also many in the establishment who were hostile. These included Thomas Carlyle, and Charles Dickens, along with the Tory Richard Oastler who had long campaigned for factory reform and the radical William Cobbet. They were joined by the Times newspaper which from the late 1830s into the 40s carried letters highlighting some of the worst abuses.

Like all campaigning propaganda some of what was written was at best exaggeration and at worst falsehoods. The powerful scenes in Oliver Twist are in case in point. There was brutality and at times a callous disregard of the inmates which reaches its highpoint in Oliver’s diet “of three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week on Sundays.” But contemporary accounts and modern research suggest that this diet owed more to Dickens’s own hatred of the workhouses than reality.

But this should not blind us to what awaited any of those from our township who sought relief in the years after 1834. A precondition of admission was that families were segregated. It mattered little if the couple had been together for almost all their entire adult life or that they entered as a family unit.

The sad fact was that many working families could expect to seek relief at some point and the hated “bastilles” were one of the strategies to cope with unforeseen circumstances by all of those on the margin of poverty. This extended to those who were ill and might be admitted to the infirmary as well as those giving birth outside wedlock.
The Poor Law Commissioners reasoned that to provide medical care for a bread winner would in the long run be more economical than having to provide assistance to the whole family in the event that the illness proved long term. In the same way they were keen to promote schemes to resettle agricultural families from the depressed south to the growing industrial north and sponsor emigration to Canada and Australia.

It is always dangerous to make judgements about the past. The economic and political landscape as well as the prevailing philosophy of self help are, or at least were so different from our own that it can be misleading to criticise the system of poor relief. On the other hand Britain was the workshop of the world with vast riches flowing into the country from a growing empire.

But that wealth was held by a small section of the community who saw fit to devise a system of relief which regarded the sick, the unemployed and the old as feckless and grasping and whose poverty had to be punished.

Nor was the outcome of the 1834 Act a departure from existing thinking on caring for the poor. During the 18th century experiments had been undertaken to group parishes together with a central workhouse with the guiding principle that conditions inside should be so harsh that only the desperate would seek help. Nor should we forget that the policy of issuing settlement and removal orders had been in existence since the early 17th century. These made settling in a parish conditional on the family or individuals being able to prove they had the means to support themselves and in the event that they couldn’t provided for removal to their place or origin.

Extracts from Chorlton-cum-Hardy, by Andrew Simpson to be published in April 2012.

Friends of Chorlton Meadows

It is a long time since I last referred to my old friend David Bishop’s excellent blog about Chorlton Meadows. David introduced me to Richard Buxton the working class botanist. I have been featuring his life in a series of instalments and would recommend his stories on Buxton and the other working class botanists at

Picture; Snow storm on the meadows from the collection of David Bishop

Ghost signs

You don’t see many ghost signs around but a few can still be found here in Chorlton. They are the hand painted adverts which adorned the walls of buildings from the last decades of the 19th century right through in the middle years of the 20th.

To be accurate a ghost sign is one that for whatever reason has been preserved, often long after the product, company or shop has vanished.
I found three today, although one has already been painted over, but a faint out line is still visible. There may be more.

Of course in town there will be plenty and where I grew up in south east London there was also the faded signs for air raid shelters and emergency water supplies.

I must find out more about Cooper's and the garage where the last of my signs comes from. It has been a garage for over 50 years.
Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Horse drawn delivery vans, gas lights, coal fires and net curtains, North Meade 1914

Here is another of those occasional pictures celebrating just over one hundred years of Chorltonville. It was taken not long after the “ville” had been built and is looking out from Claude Road along North Meade towards the Meade.

In some ways it is a scene that has not changed much. The trees have now matured and the passage of time has made it necessary to replace the wooden fences, but essentially it is almost the same.

But what it reveals is a world remote from our own. The horse drawn delivery vans of which there are two in the picture hark back to a time when local shops however local made house calls. So on this quiet day as one plies his way onto North Meade, another has taken to stop on the island, which would sit badly with the generations of residents who have told children off for playing on the grass.

Nor does it stop there. Behind those front doors there was gas lighting, coal fires and the regulation style window nets. And a total absence of cars.

The roads in the “ville” are narrow but then when no one had a car it didn’t matter over much. It was perhaps fortunate that in planning the front gardens the design allowed for a drive and garage to be added later in mid century.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Monday, 27 February 2012

Richard Buxton, ............ part four

The continuing story of working class botanist, Richard Buxton

By the middle of the nineteenth century when Buxton was writing his book most of the area had slid into slums through overcrowding and neglect.

And into this warren of dark, dank and dismal streets Richard grew up lived and worked. During most of his life he inhabited just a few streets separated by less than a half a mile.

“About sixty years ago ........I came to live in Bond-street Ancoats; and I now live near the same place, in Gun-street. Being a single man, I have never had a house of my own, but lodged with an elder sister of mine, of the name of Robinson.”

The house in Gun Street brimmed over with people. Not only was there his sister Mary and her husband but along with Richard six other people shared the house.

No records exist of what type of shop Richard Robinson ran so it is impossible to ascertain how well off he was, but a look at the occupations of the others in the house show that they existed at the bottom of the economic ladder. We know that Richard Buxton was a poor man
who has had the greatest difficulty in procuring the necessaries of life in a worn-out trade, like that of a child’s leather shoe maker, and in delivering a few newspapers on a Saturday” and so were the others in the house. Jobs like charwoman and weaving were low paid occupations.

Overcrowding was quite common at that time and many of the neighbouring houses on Gun Street had similar numbers living in them. Often each family in the house lived in just one room and where there were cellars even these were occupied.

Not far away in John Street could be found the 14 back to back houses of John Street, Back Ashley Lane, Parker Street and Back Irk Street. They were built between 1780 and 1820. Here in 1851 lived 118 people in just these 14 houses. About 40% of the inhabitants had been born in Ireland and this is consistent with other parts of the area. They were one up one downs, with equally awful levels of overcrowding. At number 3 John Street for example, there were 18 people living in the one house. Six lived in the cellar but the remaining twelve lived in the two rooms. There was the Riley family consisting of Martin, Hannah and their son, along with four lodgers, and the Williamson family. While back at Bradley Street In 1851 at number 4 three generations of one family were crammed into this small dwelling place.

The house in Gun Street has long gone and so it very difficult to work out it would have been like. None of the maps of the period are much help. Richard Robinson described himself as a shop keeper and so it is logical to suppose the ground floor might have consisted of a shop and an adjoining room with two more above and two cellars, but this is just speculation at present.

Picture; Gun Street looking from Blossom Street by A Bradman 1901, m11341,Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Buxton R A, Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns Moses and Algae found Indigenous within Sixteen Miles of Manchester second edition of 1849 page iii
1841 census Enu 15 Page 3 Ancoats Manchester, Richard Robinson was also listed as a shopkeeper at 72 Gun Street in Slaters’ Directory of Manchester & Salford for 1841Page 212
Buxton R A, page v
In 1851 Angel Street “was regarded as the spine of the Irish quarter even though only 56.5%were Irish in 1851” Not far away just beyond Angel Meadow was New Town. Here in streets like “School Street and the small courts and alleys off it were over 75% Irish.” Busteed Mervyn, Hindle Paul, Angel Meadow: the Irish and Cholera in Manchester 1998
1851 census
1851 census Enu Page 28 Market Street Manchester Lancashire There were the parents in their late 60s, a son and his family, a grandchild and even a lodger.

Piccadilly Railway Station

Waiting for a train
Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Stories of Empire, and a context for one British family

Sometimes you can just lose perspective when researching a family relative. I always told myself that in telling their stories I wanted to put them into the bigger picture. As intriguing as the life of my great uncle might be it is nothing unless you place him in the context of where he lived, when he lived and what was going on around him.

He was a British Home Child, and understandably his life and the difficulties of tracking down a man born in 1898 who spent his early years in institutions and then left for Canada in the May of 1914 can become so absorbing that you don’t see the wood for the trees.

Now all of us who have researched BHC are aware of the social and economic background that led well meaning organisations and individuals to sweep up children in Britain and relocate them to Canada, Australia and the other colonies of the former British Empire.

And I guess we have all come across those back in the home country with an eye to empire. For them these children were also about putting down a population in a colony still being built, who in time with family, a farm and a flag would bind these new territories to the mother country. Barnado himself is reputedly to have talked about the children he sent as “bricks for empire.”

Of course the bigger picture helps place BHC in a context. We had been sending our criminals and unwanted children to North America, the West Indies and later Australia since the 17th century while in the 1840s the Poor Law Commissioners and local land owners connived a scheme to send the unemployed across the Atlantic.

So I suppose I should have not been surprised to read about the Free Passage Scheme which at the end of the First World War offered a “Free Passage Scheme for ex-servicemen, ex-servicewomen and their dependants to emigrate to the colonies and dominions of the Empire,”* and was followed by the larger, Empire Settlement Act of 1922 to emigrate large numbers of British women as domestic servants.

Now I knew vaguely about the Empire Settlement Act, but it was her article in this month’s BBC History Magazine “Our Excess Girls” which drew me into the story. It has been written by Lucy Noakes who lectures in history at the University of Brighton and is a curtain raiser to her book
From War Service to Domestic Service: Ex-Servicewomen and the Free Passage Scheme 1919–22, OUP, 2010. It is a fascinating story and fits well with the idea of the mother country populating the outposts of Empire. There were she writes a “complex network of interlinked beliefs and policies concerning both the relationship between the metropole and the Empire, and the perceived necessity for social stability in Britain and in the dominions and colonies.” But in the case of over 4, 000 young women who had been in the services it was the opportunity for a new life often in domestic service.

And like so much in history there is a direct echo with my own family. My great aunt who had been born in the Derby Workhouse in 1902 and like my great uncle had spent her early years intuitions before being sent into service at the age of nine went across to Canada in 1925. She was one of the beneficiaries of the many schemes for the settlement of people in Canada. I guess she was part of the the program providing transportation assistance and guaranteeing standard wages and transition support for more than 22,000 domestic workers between 1919 and 1930.

Hers is a story I have yet to tell and it is one that my cousin who is her granddaughter and I have often talked about. Great aunt Dolly had planned to stay in Canada just a short while, and took only a few clothes in a suitcase. She had been encouraged to go by her brother who was my BHC. The plan was for her to meet him in British Columbia but she got no further than Ontario where she stayed, married and raised a large family.

Put their two life stories together and I begin to have something more than just a family history. Add in another uncle who spent his entire working life in Africa and great uncles who plied the oceans as ships engineers and it is the start of my family and an Empire.

Picture; the reference for my great aunt for her new life in Canada & with her husband in later life, date unknown, from the collection Jac Pember Barnum
*Lucy Noakes

Cinemas I wish I had known

A few days ago I featured this picture of the Grosvenor Picture Palace and pointed out its connections with our own Palais de Luxe on Barlow Moor Road, and I suppose I should have shown the two together.

And I was reminded of this other picture of the Palais. It is a detail from a postcard sent in 1943 but judging by the cars must be much older. I like it because it gives an idea of the cast iron glass canopy which most cinemas had when new. Try as I may I cannot make out the detail on the film notice which would I hoped give an exact date but I shall continue to work on it.

Pictures; The Grosvenor Picture Palace from the collection of Andrew Simpson, the Palais de Luxe, May 1959, A H Downes, m09248, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, detail of the Palais de Luxe, circa 1930-40s from the Lloyd collection

The story of a strike and of strikes yet to come, ............. part 4

During the August of 1911 the labourers in the engineering workshops came out in a series of disputes over poor pay and conditions across the city.

They were “the mere muscular machines that do the donkey work” and were paid between 14s [62p] and 18s [90p] and “certainly very few, ever worked for fifty-two weeks of the year.”*

This was in part due to slack times and breakdowns and to annual sickness which might amount to fifteen days a year which meant that they might work just forty-four weeks which according to one estimate put their weekly take home pay at just 13s [65p]. Then there were the deductions like the two pence [1p] docked from their wages for the hot water to make their tea.

It began in Gorton in early August and quickly the strikes spread across the engineering workshops of the city and were a success with the employers conceding a wage rise. No adult general labourer would receive less than 20s [£1] a week for 53 hours labour, semi skilled labourers between 21s [£1.5p] and 25s [£1.25p] a week and foundry labourers a minimum of 21s [£1.5p]. Those on piecework were put on new rates, which extended to overtime work as well. Finally the employers consented to recognise the Trade Unions and negotiate with the men’s officials.

The same issues of low pay and Union recognition were at the heart of the dispute between railway workers at the Companies during the same month. The railway labourers, also wanted a minimum wage of 20s [£1] and at the start of the month 1,300 labourers employed in the Carriage Works at Newton Heath walked out on unofficial strike. They were soon joined by others from all grades and by the end of the first week 6,000 men had joined them. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company which paid the lowest wages in the area, flatly refused to agree to the rise.**

In a growing spirit of “revolt, solidarity and self sacrifice”, the dispute continued to spread, with the strike widening to encompass support for the striking Liverpool railway workers. At a mass meeting held in Stevenson Square on the night of Friday August 4th railway workers agreed to link up with the workers in Liverpool and resolved there would be no return to work until all were satisfied.

The following day the staff at Central Station went on strike and at another mass meeting there was a decision to boycott all goods coming and going from Liverpool with decisions for an all out strike if the demands for a minimum wage were not met. The deadline for the strike was set for Monday August 7th and when there was no positive response from the Company the “railway transport workers of Manchester came out on strike.”

All the railway goods depots were closed, passenger services on the London and North Western Railway Station were affected, and by Tuesday the engine men at Longsight refused to take out their engines with those at Stockport moving to do the same. As a result train services south of Manchester from London Road station could not be maintained and at all Manchester and Salford Stations with one exception, the porters also struck.

The growing sense of confidence and militancy led the Manchester Trades and Labour Council held on the Wednesday night to accept a motion that “if ever the military are drafted into Manchester again during industrial disputes; the whole of the Trade Unions will cease work by way of protest.”

Nor were the events in Manchester and Liverpool isolated disputes, across the country railway workers were coming out on unofficial strike. Much of the grievance revolved around low pay and the refusal of the railway companies to recognise the unions. Five years earlier in an attempt to avert a national strike the Liberal Government had set up conciliation boards. But the companies still would not deal with the unions and the boards were not successful in improving pay and working conditions.
During the previous year the companies had been doing much better and were announcing improved railway dividends but had made no moves to share their growing prosperity with the workers in the form of pay rises.

Against this backdrop and with the wave of unofficial strike action continuing the four railway unions issued an ultimatum that if the companies did not either recognise the unions or start talks there would be an all out rail strike. The deadline was August 15th and when the companies remained defiant the strike began two days later. Consistent with his earlier actions Winston Churchill mobilized 58,000 troops which were deployed along the network at key points such as junctions, stations and signal boxes.

On the 16th he reported to the House that “at Manchester business is practically at a standstill, but there has been no disturbance. Two battalions and a Cavalry regiment are held in readiness to proceed on the request of the local authorities”

They were later deployed “to occupy the railway station, because there was an almost complete arrest of the deliveries of goods from the station, and that the traffic was being wantonly interfered with to a degree wholly different from any interference with the traffic in other parts of the railway system where the military had already given protection. I understood also yesterday evening that the Lord Mayor fully concurred in the steps which had been taken, and that the result had been extremely beneficial in permitting free movement of necessary supplies.”***

But already the strike had achieved its purpose with the Government bringing the unions and companies together face to face on the 17th. The companies conceded a small wage rise and a Royal Commission into the operation of the conciliation boards were promised.
How far the companies were genuine in their attempts at conciliation may be judged by how they treated those of their employees who had gone strike. Despite promises that there would be no victimization some workers in some companies found that their records highlighted the part they had played in the strike.

Moreover the Railway Gazette was convinced that the “principal lesson for the railway companies is the need of greater solidarity and greater firmness ... Having made up their minds to a certain course of action they should absolutely refuse to be turned from it by a mere public outcry. It dismissed claims of poor working conditions on the basis that from 1889 to 1911 there had been “only a very small number of labour disturbances” leading the paper to argue “that conditions of service in the British railway industry must be very much more satisfactory to the rank and file of the employees than would appear from the allegations of trade unionist officials, since an industry employing very nearly 600,000 men, in which strikes are, on the whole, very few, has hardly the look of 'seething with discontent’.” ****

I doubt that the railwaymen, engineering labourers or carters quite saw it that way. Strikes were costly, uncertain and fraught with the risk of dismissal. Working men and women had to think very carefully about withdrawing their labour. Just because at certain times they did not protest at their conditions does not mean they were happy or that they did not engage in other ways to further their condition. The unofficial strike of the Newton Heath carriage workers was coordinated from the Independent Labour Party Committee Rooms on Oldham Road in Newton Heath, and the ILP along with the Labour Party, other socialist groupings as well as the Co-operative Movement were places where working people could find a forum to articulate their wishes for a fair and just place.

Picture; Gorton Locomotive Works, 1960,m61101 & Victoria Station, 1910, m63286, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

* Richardson, H.M., The Manchester Strikes, The fight for a minimum wage, The Labour Leader , August 11, 1911, Working Class Movement Library, Salford
** This despite the fact that they were just about to declare a larger dividend than for the last eleven years, this amounted to 4½%, Richardson, H.M.,
*** Churchill, Winston, HC Deb August 16 1911 vol29
**** Churchill, Winston, HC Deb August 22 1911 vol29
***** The Railway Gazette, October 13 1911

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Richard Buxton .......... part three

The continuing story of Richard Buxton, working class botanist who record the plants of Chorlton

When the Buxton family arrived in the Ancoats it was just beginning to change from open fields with its own Hall to urban sprawl. The transformation was completed in just a few decades, and the casual visitor who might have once walked through fields in 1770 would have been met with a maze of narrow streets, dark courts, grim workshops and noisy cotton mills twenty years later.

The impetus for this development came with the building of the Rochdale Canal in 1804. It was built on the east side of the area and even before it was finished industrialists had begun erecting cotton mills along its route. In 1815 Ancoats had more cotton mills and the largest number of households than any of the other rating districts in the city. The population, swelled by large numbers of immigrants from Ireland as well as the surrounding area, rose from 11,039 in 1801 to 53,737 by 1861.
It was a crowded and teeming place, which visitors to Manchester either admired or like the Prussian, Johann Georg May thought was a “scene of melancholy.”

A view endorsed by another foreign visitor, who “saw the forest of chimneys pouring forth volumes of steam and smoke, forming an inky canopy which seemed to embrace and involve the whole place ......It is essentially a place of business, where pleasure is unknown as a pursuit, and scarcely rank as secondary considerations. Every person who passes you in the street has the look of thought and the step of haste”

Buxton who lived amongst the grime, smoke and melancholy was far more generous when he wrote “The operative who lives in a large manufacturing town, sees plenty of the handyworks of his fellow-men in the giant steam-engine, the ingenious mule, which rivals the gossamer in spinning threads, the never-tiring power loom, and the countless other contrivances of mechanical skill which have resulted from the fertile brain of man.”

But this paean to industrial Manchester only serves to act as a contrast to the wonders of flowering plants and open fields. The worker might see “the triumphs of science and art but little of the works of nature. This renders him an intelligent, but to a certain extent, an artificial man.”

It is no wonder I suppose that he should hold to the “many delightful walks, by pleasant streams through green woods.” All the more so when faced not only with the dirty industrial waterways, and satanic mills but awful hovels which were home to so many in Ancoats.

Speculators had followed the industrialist in laying out streets and building houses in the area and with no regulations much of the housing was of the worst type. It hadn’t always been so. Working class dwellings erected in the last two decades of the eighteenth century tended to be substantial and used good quality materials. Some of these like those on Lever Street were built in the 1790s and were constructed on three floors with cellars and were at first occupied by artisan families. The uppermost floor would have been used as workshops and some of these surviving on Liverpool Road still have the longer and wider windows designed to admit the maximum amount of daylight.

But under the impact of the growing population, builders responded with cheap poorly constructed buildings which used the cheapest materials. In an effort to maximise the number of houses that could be erected on a given plot speculators began building one up one down houses which were back to back. The outer wall would be one brick thick and internal walls just half a brick. Many would have been built in courts and access from the main road would have been by narrow alleys.

There are some one up one down houses on Bradley Street. The Bradley Street ‘three’ are the last remaining one up one down houses in Manchester. They were redeveloped in the late 90s and nothing is left of the original interior. Similar houses which have been excavated at Greengate in Salford opposite St Mary’s in Manchester reveal the small shoddy nature of this type of house. They had room sizes of less than 3.5 m square with foundations of one brick depth. Each ground floor room had a fireplace but there was no sign of floor covering nor a staircase and it is likely that access to the upper floor was by a wooden ladder.

Picture; One up one down houses, Bradley Street Manchester 1983, Courtsey of Manchester Early Dwellings Group

Hartwell Clare, Manchester2001 Penguin page273
May Johann Georg, quoted in Visitors to Manchester complied by L D Bradshw Neil Richardson Manchester 1987 page 25
Cooke Taylor William, Notes of a Tour in the Manufacturing Districts of Lancashire quoted in Visitors to Manchester page 36
Buxton R A page xii
Nevell Michael, Manchester the Hidden History The History Press page 149

The power of the Mersey

I posted this very tranquil scene of the Mersey at Red Bank Farm a few days ago and you would be forgiven for thinking that the river was a quiet and benign bit of water.

But anyone who has walked the banks of the river after a few days of heavy rain will no differently.

Our village and the isolated farms near the Mersey were all built beyond the flood plain. Even so this was not always sufficient protection. The Mersey has on countless occasions risen and breached these towering banks sometimes even sweeping away the defences themselves.

It was for this reason that the weir was built. Just beyond the point where the Brook joins the Mersey and at a bend in the river the weir was built to divert flood water from the Mersey down channels harmlessly out to Stretford and the Kicketty Brook.

Not that it always worked. Soon after it had been built flood water swept it away and during the nineteenth century neither the weir nor the heighted river banks prevented the Mersey bursting out across the plain. In July 1828 the Mersey flood water transported hay ricks from the farm behind Barlow Hall down to Stretford only later to bring them back, while later floods proved to be even more destructive.

It was, wrote Thomas Ellwood the local historian
“no uncommon thing to see the great level of green fields completely covered with water presenting the appearance of a large lake , several miles in circuit.”

On a cold bleak and rain swept morning it was possible to sense the importance of the weir. Stretching out from the wall was a deep and placid pool of water home to ducks and broken by bunches of water plants. But with just a little imagination how different it might have been on a stormy night when the river swollen with rain water burst over the weir.

A friend has talked about his own scary moment earlier in the year when after what seemed to be weeks of rain the river rose and topped the protective banks, leaving him scrabbling for safety.

And indeed these historic floods were quite sudden. One such event left a farmer just enough time to release his horses from the cart and stamped them to higher ground, while on another occasion one man was forced to take refuge in a birch tree till the following morning.

Pictures; The Mersey at Red Bank & the wier 1915 from the Lloyd collection, Higginbotham’s flooded field 1946 from a painting by J Montgomery 1963, m80092, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Thank you Canada ...... thoughts on researching the family and why cooperation is always better than self interest

Now one of the great pleasures of researching family history is that it is not a solitary pursuit. True there are times when locked away in the cellar of an archive centre or trawling online records from the other side of the world it can seem so, but these are the exceptions.

More often the work is done in collaboration with others. In the archive and local history library in Manchester people engaged in their own work will stop to seek advice or just ask what you are doing and show a genuine interest. In much the same way I have to report how helpful my Canadian colleagues and friends have been in suggesting where to go to look for clues to the story of my own great uncle.

It started after I was deluged with responses from people living in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who replied to my letters in their local newspapers. I knew my great uncle had been placed on three farms during 1915 and armed with the address of the farms and the names of the farmers I floated requests for anyone who might help.

I don’t think I was prepared for the interest and information that came back. People asked around, searched out relatives, neighbours and friends and in some cases went on their own journeys of discovery. Not only did I receive back stories and newspaper cuttings but some went out of the way to travel to the site of farms and photograph what was left. Now like so many of the places that my family has lived, the farms are gone. It is I suppose the fate of all of us born into working families that so much of our history is now car parks, motorways and open spaces.

Since then I have become part of a network of local historians tracking their BHC. We swop information, post links and above all try and search the archives on both sides of the Atlantic in an effort to find clues to our families. Along the way I have made some nice friends, learned a lot about Canada and just enjoyed myself.

It challenges all that nonsense that there is no such thing as society or that individuals will always put self interest above helping others. Self interest even enlightened self interest would not motivate two retired senior citizens to drive something like 100 miles to a site in NS to take pictures of the old farmhouse where my great uncle stayed or others in far away Ottawa to make contact with family and ask them to do dig around in the small towns in NB .

Just yesterday my friend Cindy went out of her way to trawl the marriage records in British Columbia following a hunch about who my great uncle married. And then there is Lori who has vetted my power point talks on BHC and has provided me with some wonderful material on young people who passed through Barnados.

Cooperation is how we progress; it was after all by working together that our ancestors maintained a precarious existence as hunter gathers for thousands of years before making that great step forward with farming and the development of settled communities and the first civilizations.

Now for me I think the trail has petered out. My great uncle may have married in the 1930s in BC having settled there sometime after 1920, but given that he changed his name once and that anonymity runs in the family I fear I have lost him. But “something always turns up” and usually when you least expect it and I have to say sometimes at the hand of someone else.

We shall see. In the meantime I owe my growing body of friends and colleagues in Canada a thank you, for the help and encouragement they have given me.

Pictures; site of the first farm my great uncle stayed on in Sheffield NB from the collection of Angela Faubert , and site of the second farm in Sidney, NS from the collection of Clive Hatton

Grosvenor Picture Palace

It is an impressive building and one I have passed countless times over the years. It is on the corner of Oxford Road and I only knew it as a pub, but I would rather have fancied visiting when it was a cinema.

 It is the old Grosvenor Picture Palace which was designed by Percy Hothersall in 1913 and it opened in 1915. So it dates from same time as our own Palais de Luxe on Barlow Moor Road. It was in its time the biggest cinema in Manchester seating a 1,000 people.

What draws me to the building is that although much bigger than our own Palais de Luxe there is much here that we would recognise from the smaller cinema on Barlow Moor Road. 

Both had green and terracotta tiles and something of the same embellishments around the circular windows and blanks.

And there is one last connection. The Palais was part of the Moorhouse chain from 1939 while H.D. Moorhouse was a director of the Grosvenor.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Chorlton in 1818

I like this map. It does not have the detail of the OS of 1841 but Greenwood’s map dated 1818 is a fine one and gives a good idea of what the small townships to the south of Manchester were like at the beginning of the 19th century. It is part of a collection of digital maps of the north produced by Digital Archives at reasonable prices

Picture; Greenwood’s map, 1818, from Digital Archives

Another side of Chorltonville

Another view of the Meade, what strikes me about this image from the 1920s is the degree of uniformity about the “Ville.”

Picture from the Lloyd collection

A 70 year old loaf and thoughts on recreating and representing the past

I have been making our own bread recently. It is one of those things that I have been telling myself I should do for years. But in the past the results often resembled bullets that could have been thrown at the walls of a medieval castle with more effect than a cannon ball and even the more successful ones were likely to give you indigestion.

But it is something we do here in Chorlton and over the last few weeks with a special recipe, a new type of flour it has all come together.

So imagine my interest in the news that my old friend Lawrence has been experimenting with something called the National Loaf. “It was introduced in 1942 due to a shortage of shipping space for flour from Canada and the USA. It was sold unwrapped and unsliced to save packaging. There are references to it being sold a day old despite bread being best when fresh as possible. White bread was then no longer produced so if you wanted bread you bought the National Loaf” and you can follow the full story on his blog at

Yesterday he recreated the National loaf in his own kitchen and now that my own bread is acceptable to the family I think it is time to branch out and have ago. It is all there the recipe, and the results.

All of which got me thinking about how we present the past. Today it is a growth industry ranging from the quest to uncover family history to the recreation of coal mines, period houses and whole communities. I have stood outside an early 20th century shop in the Midlands, peered into the downstairs room of a one up and one down cottage in Salford and stood beside the rebuilt Roman gate house facing out on to Castlefield.

And I have mixed feelings. It is something I have written about before now. As correct as the detail can be are we really able to fully understand what life was like 100, 200 or 2, 000 years ago from these reproductions? And is there not a danger that what people walk away with is a sanitized view of the past neatly packaged and somehow reinforcing what we were taught at school or confirming that warm comforting view of Edwardian Britain from the Hovis advert?

This is not to rubbish experimental archaeology. I am a great fan of Peter Connolly who tried to uncover some of the details of Classical warfare recreating the equipment. In the same way I don’t denigrate all those enactment groups. I know dressing up in period costume and pretending to do battle can seem strange but certainly in the case the Ermine Guard who are “a society dedicated to research into the Roman Army and the reconstruction of Roman armour and equipment” their work is both very useful and does bring the subject to a wider audience.

Now there is a danger that what the public see is just not right, a point made by Chris Haines MBE of the Ermine Guard in a recent post

Not only do they then walk away with a sanitized view of the past but it is one that is wrong. Does it matter I hear someone mumble? Well I think it does. I know some family historians who just hoover up people who have a tenuous link to their own family because the name and date are right without fully researching the background. This of course is bad history and helps no one.

But when done well I think the recreation of the past has value. We can never be sure that we always get it right, and what is put forward today as accurate may have to be modified in the light of future research, but I guess as long as we have that simple idea in our mind we can have some fun and learn something from that cottage in Salford.

Which brings me back to Lawrence’s National loaf which I shall try making this weekend. It will be a bit of fun and get me a little closer to what my parents and grandparent ate just seven years before I was born. On a more serious note Lawrence has highlighted an aspect of the last world war which does not always get much coverage. Setting aside the battles and the air raids what people ate and why is an important part of that history.

Picture; the real thing one up one down cottages in Bradley Street, 1983 the Early Manchester Dwellings Group. The three were built in the late 18th century and were converted into offices at the close of the 20th century

A painting, a row of shops and a hidden story

I bet a lot of us will know these shops on Wilbraham Road. I have shopped in a few of them and drank coffee in another couple and once bought take away pizza in the boarded up one on the corner.

They are I suppose a typical cross section of retail outlets here in Chorlton. Along with the empty one and the charity shop there are the bars which seem the real growth industry of the last decade. And there are those that just seem to cling on like the Linen Room, the Barbecue and fishmongers. Each have loyal customers and always seem to be busy places.

My favourite is the Modern Army Store which like the old hardware shops offers a variety of things which you can’t seem to get anywhere else. A few months ago it was a plastic camping set and the previous year a pair of marching boots, and during a thunderstorm recently I found the perfect small umbrella.

My friend Peter painted the row recently. It is part of a new project to record street scenes around Chorlton. Like all of his paintings it is full of colour. But for me it also helps explain something of the history of where we live.

Like his other painting of the shops running from Albany Road down to Keppel Road, it helps explain how an impressive terrace of houses built in the early 1880s became a row of shops catering for the ever expanding population.

The shops were built in the gardens and extended into the ground floor of the houses. But these were a later conversion. All were still residential properties as late as 1911, and despite the location on what was to become an increasingly busy road, their back gardens abutted the much larger gardens of the houses on Manchester and Barlow Moor Roads.

So I am drawn back to Peter’s painting, which captures something of those houses and will be an important record of where Chorlton was at the beginning of the 21st century. There are plenty more many of which can be seen in venues across the township and at

Picture; ©Peter Topping 2011 & the same site in the early 20th century from the Lloyd collection

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A new painting and a discovery

I have often wondered what the proud owners of numbers 2- 18 Wilbraham Road would have made of what happened to their homes sometime around 1906.

These nine impressive houses stretched between Albany Road down to Keppel Road were some of the finest new terraced properties built during our housing boom in the last quarter of the century. They were spread over three floors had cellars and quite decent front gardens which were hidden from the road by tall hedges and trees.

Today of course they are fronted by a row of shops ranging from the chemist’s, a fast food out let, a cafe and the inevitable charity shop. Here also until recently was the men’s clothes shop owned by the Burt family which had been established in 1895 and must have been one of the first businesses to locate into the newly added shops.

I doubt many people know that the shops have not always been there. Which is why Peter’s new painting is something of a revelation. It captures perfectly a moment in time on a not so busy Chorlton shopping day. But it also allows you to see the mismatch between the shops and the buildings. Look closely and it’s clear that something very odd has happened. The shops look like an afterthought tagged on and partly obscure the first floor of the dwellings behind.

The houses date from sometime around the early 1880s and were home to the middling sort of people who were fast settling in Chorlton. So in 1891 there were two yarn agents, a of Music,Professor and a mix of clerks. Most of the families employed at least one servant and some took in lodgers.

The houses were in a prime spot. The railway was just yards away and allowed the business types to get into the city in minutes. And maybe this was the problem. The site was just too busy. That short walk to the station involved passing the coal agent’s offices and behind these were the coal yards and the railway tracks and sidings. Noisy, smelly and unsightly.

Or perhaps someone with an eye to business could see that this was a prime location. Everyone needs shops and there were plenty of people in the surrounding roads who needed catering for. So sometime around 1906, the gardens went and the shop fronts arrived. It was not a perfect arrangement and the builders had to put in stairs at the back of the shops to allow access to what had once been the halls and front rooms of the old houses. It also involved taking out the impressive bay windows from the ground and first floors.

Look again at Peter’s painting and compare it with the old black and white image from about 1885. Nothing I think could better show the transformation from solid Victorian domestic life to the edgy Edwardian world of commerce.

Here were the typical collection of businesses. In 1911 these included not only a chemist and Burt’s, but also a confectioners, grocers, hairdresser, boot maker and milliner. And some of these clung on throughout the century. Stevenson’s the hairdressers were still there in the 1980s and Burt’s only closed in 2010.

Peter as you know paints the pictures and I add a story. His growing body of work can be seen at plenty of places in Chorlton including all the pubs and some of the bars. His work is also available to see at

Picture; ©Peter Topping 2011 & numbers 2-18 Wilbraham Road circa 1885 from the Lloyd collection

The story of a strike and of strikes yet to come........... part three

Over the last two days I have been writing about the impact of the industrial action during 1911 and 1912.

We were still a very unequal society. 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.
Between 1889 and 1910 the cost of food rose by 10 per cent and the cost of coal by 18 per cent. In stark terms this meant that the “purchasing power of 20s. in the hands of a working class housewife in 1895 went down to 18s. 5d. in 1900, to 17s. 11d. in 1905, to 16s. 11d. in 1910 and to 14s.7d. in 1914.”*

And as wages were decreasing in value the profits of companies were increasing which was not lost on working families. It is this realization that they were growing poorer as their employers were getting richer which accounts for the bitterness of the great strike struggles of the early 20th century. It is fair to say that “no such open class antagonism had been seen in Britain since the time of the Chartists.” **

So it was against this background that the Carters struck. We tend to forget just how much was shifted by horse and cart. Each railway company had their own stables and in all there were 157 carriers listed in the 1911 street directory. It was a hard job involving plenty of heavy lifting and a measure of horse knowledge. The absence of carters from the road not only meant shortages of food. Coal was not being moved to heat the boilers which powered the countless machines across the city, and finished manufactured goods were left in factories where they had been made.

The police in our picture were escorting one of the non striking carters travelling from Piccadilly Gardens along Newton Street. Their destination could have been the wholesale market.

There were concerns on the part of the authorities for the continuation of food supplies and at one point mounted officers of the Manchester City Police drew swords on a crowd. This was followed by the dispatch of troops to the city. Winston Churchill, answered questions in the House about the decision to send troops to Manchester on July 6th and Salford on the 13th. The troops, Churchill said were sent not only in accordance with the regulations "to send Military aid to the civil power .... but in this case they had also the express instructions from the War Office, sent after consultation with me."

The Times carried a story that the Stock Exchange felt “a certain amount of uneasiness aroused by the reports of riots among the carters on strike at Manchester,” and further reported a fall in shares. The events were also carried by the New York Times which reported that “crowds of women joined the men, stopping traffic and destroying or scattering the market produce in the streets” and it took the police till midnight to disperse the crowd making “frequent charges with their batons.”

Picture;Police officers beside a wagon travelling from Piccadilly Gardens along Newton Street, © Greater Manchester Police Archive, July 1911

*Morton, A. L., A People’s History of England, Lawrence & Wishart 1961 p 509
**Ibid Morton p510
House of Commons Debates, July 6, 1911, vol 27 c1341 & July 10, 1911 vol 28 cc13-4
The Times, July 3rd 1911
New York Times, July 5th 1911

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The story of a strike and of strikes yet to come, part two .... and a Chorlton postcard

The Carters came out on strike in Manchester at the beginning of July 1911.

It was the picture of police escorting a strike breaker which first caught my interest and led to the first story yesterday.

But they were not the first or the last during the next few years to withdraw their labour to advance a demand for better pay and conditions. Early in 1912 the miners had come out following a ballot “in favour of giving notice to establish the principle of a minimum wage for every man and boy working underground,”* and at the beginning of March Manchester Municipal workers voted to follow those of Stalybridge, Salford and Stockport and strike for higher pay.

You can get a sense of the mounting conflict from the newspapers of the period. The Manchester Guardian was quick to comment on the concerns over coal stocks in the Greater Manchester area just weeks after the miners had come out, and carried reports that in Nottingham the bakers and painters were about to go on strike while in Manchester there was serious disruption to the rail network.

And here in Chorlton on the day the Guardian reported that 60% of trains from one Manchester railway station had been “knocked off” Leonard wrote to a friend of his worries about his mother’s illness and that “all our staff intend to come out on strike this weekend.” Now it may never be possible to discover the business that he ran or what happened on Friday March 15th when the strike was due to start, but I shall endeavour to try.

He was “busy making arrangements to fill their places” and thought that “this Coal crisis ..... is a terrible affair.”

All of which rather eclipsed his pleasure that at the Parliamentary bye-election earlier in the year “our man got in (Good old Blue) turned a liberal majority from over 2,000 to a conservative one of 500, great excitement.”

It is a fascinating glimpse on how people here in Chorlton looked out on the mounting political and industrial unrest and sadly represents the only comment we have so far.

As it was the strikes rumbled on through the year, but more about them tomorrow.

Picture; detail of a postcard sent on March 12th 1912 from the Lloyd collection

*Balllot paper issued by the Miner’s Federation of Great Britain, January 1912

Friday, 17 February 2012

Rediscovering the story of a relative, one hundred years on, fragments of the life of a British Home Child

Talk to most family historians and once you have got past the stories of great aunt Edna and the elephant they will admit to the frustrations of crawling over the past to find a relative. It is a bit like looking through a dirty window, the outlines are there but the detail cannot be seen.

How much more difficult than for those of us engaged in researching British Home Children. Not only do we have to contend with organisations that are not always helpful and will charge an arm and a leg, but the records can be deposited 3,000 miles away.

For my Canadian colleagues trying to track children born over here and navigate diverse sources of information which can be anywhere in the country must be daunting. In some cases the records of the workhouses where the children stayed have been destroyed, in my case just heaped on a skip to moulder 15 feet down on a landsite tip. Many of the personal files still held by the agencies which sent the children are locked by the 100 year rule of disclosure and are costly to access. Nor given the fact that most Canadian BHC are now dead and did not talk much about their early life it can be almost impossible to track down family members.

On the other hand for those of us wanting to follow the trail of a family member in Canada we stumble soon after they set foot in their adopted country. During the early years of the settlement of these young people records were not always kept and when they left their placements in their late teens not all were checked to see that they had prospered in the outside world.

Having said that the online resources of the Library and Archive of Canada are a wonderful first stop, and there are sites set up by the Canadian descendants of BHC, offering forums, help, news and databases.

I have been luckier than most. Some of my great uncle's personal records have survived. This is the application form made out by a farmer in NB requesting a BHC and it was the first farm my relative was placed.
It reveals much of the expectation and relationship between the farmer, and the Middlemore agency and what was expected for the welfare of the child.

So it was agreed that the farmer would “provide proper food and clothing”, “medical attendance” and attendance at school for at least 5 months of each year as well as “Sunday School and Divine Worship.” The young person was to be paid $5 per month once he had reached 16 and would be retained until the age of 18.

And in the event that things turned out badly the child would be returned to the Middlemore Home “after not less than a month’s notice with a good supply of clothes as when I received him.”

Moreover to avoid the exploitation of the child he could not be “placed in another home.” Finally there was provision for regular reports back on the boy to the agency. In the case of my great uncle these have also survived but make for grim reading.

All this was fine and dandy but was less the case in the early years of settlement and there are both anecdotal and official reports from both children and inspectors that the reality did not live up to the intentions of the agreements.

Some children lived awful lives, badly treated and enduring the harsh winters of Canada and while a few were fully adopted by the families they worked for it was never the idea that they should become an integral part of the family. They were there as hands and as the document makes clear it was the manager of the Middlemore home who was to be regarded as “guardian”.

There will be those who dismiss such agreements as fiction arguing that the attitude of some farmers fell along way short of the spirit of the contract. Even so they are a priceless insight into a brief period in my great uncle’s life.

Not only do I have the names of the farmers he stayed with but I have tracked down the locations including one farmhouse which still stands and written to people who remember the families who took him in. Not much I know but still a powerful link to a relative I never met.

Picture; detail from the Middlemore agreement with Sayer Vernier Griffiths of Sheffield, Sunbury NB, February 10th 1914, in the collection of Andrew Simpson

Making sense of the unfamiliar

Here is one of those pictures which the more you look at it the less familiar it is. Well I say that but some will recognise it as Wilbraham Road looking down towards the junction with Barlow Moor Road and away there in the distance is the slight rise in the road which marks out the railway bridge.

Some at least of these fine Victorian buildings are still there but most have gone. To the left of the picture the shops were demolished to make way for the Precinct.

I am more interested in the other side. On the corner of Brundrett’s and Wilbraham Road a woman peers into the window of the outfitters of N East & Co, next door was a butcher’s shop and beside that a photographer. The site became Woolworths, while further on the tall houses were to suffer the fate of many along Wilbraham Road and were converted into shops.

And at the extreme right of the picture on the other corner of Brundrett’s Road were two fine houses demolished in 1959 as a part of the new shopping and residential block. All of which is a trailer for two more of Peter Toppings paintings.

Picture; from the collection of Rita Bishop, early 20th century

Looking beyond the obvious, a photograph and the story of a strike and of strikes yet to come ..... part one

Photographs are not always what they seem. We can stare at an image and on the face of it draw all sorts of conclusions. Conclusions about when it was taken, who the people were and what purpose it served.

I had seen this photograph countless times and never really studied it. There was a suggestion that the date was 1880 and clearly the presence of the police hinted at trouble.

But study the picture and it tells its own story. A line of policeman are walking beside the horse and cart and alongside flanking them is a crowd, many of whom are keeping pace with the procession. Usually at least one person would be caught smiling at the camera perhaps even fooling around but not today. Look more closely and their faces suggest a collective sense of seriousness perhaps even anxiety. To our right a young woman is running and the purposeful expression on her face hints that all is not well.

There are questions that need to be asked of the image. Why are the police escorting a cart? Perhaps it was stolen but would this bring so many people out on to the streets? And why is the young woman running to get ahead of the police?

The caption in the police archives reveals that the cart is heading from Piccadilly Gardens along Newton Street. Now there was a police station on Newton Street, but it is also the direction you might take to get to the wholesale food market.

The clothes of the crowd are much later than the 1880s and put the photograph at the beginning of the twentieth century. This was a time of major industrial confrontation and the years around 1911 saw some of the bitterest clashes between employers and the Government on one side and organised labour on the other.

There were strikes in the south Wales coal fields, and trouble in Liverpool which began with a sailors strike and spread across the city involving other industries. And while the miners lost the workers in Liverpool were mostly successful and pointed the way forward for other workers in other industries around the country. There was a growing feeling that industrial action would deliver a better life for working people. And the agitation even spread to the schools. In over sixty cities and towns children came out as well. The number of working days lost because of strikes climbed as did the number of trade union members, and In Parliament Churchill, the Home Secretary was often preoccupied with questions on the industrial unrest.

All of this was against a backdrop of wage cuts, poor working conditions, and rapid inflation. 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.

Tensions mounted and the army was sent into the striking areas with fatal consequences. A miner was killed in south Wales and two workers in Liverpool.

Here in the city the same awful poverty, dreadful housing conditions and bleak prospects were evident to anyone who cared to walk just a few minutes from the tall impressive headquarters of commerce.
Just a little east of the scene in our photograph were the crowded streets and courts of Ancoats and Ardwick, while in the direction the procession was taking could be found New Cross , Redbank and Strangeways, all of which commentators agreed should be raised to the ground.

The photograph also provides a clue to the time of year. Our young woman is in shirt sleeves and the men in the crowd are dressed in suits. The summer of 1911 was particularly warm. June had been a mix of sun and showers but July was fine and hot and gave rise to fears of a prolonged drought and it is in early July that our picture was taken. It may have been Tuesday July 4th but certainly during that week.

I can be fairly certain because it was during this week that the carters went on strike here in the city. Twelve thousand men were on strike and in pursuance of their claim were picketing the docks to prevent the movement of food to the wholesale market.

Picture; Greater Manchester Police Archive, July 1911 by kind permission of Greater Manchester Police Archive, July 1911

Thursday, 16 February 2012

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton, ......Part 12 the all electric home

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

We only took the old junction box off the cellar wall a few years ago. I cherish plans to clean it up and put it on display. It is a simple heavy metal box with a glass inspection window and has the letters M.C. E.W at the bottom just above the symbol of the sun.

It is a functional but I think beautiful piece of house furniture and it currently sits beside the old fuse box which still has three of the six ceramic fuses.

In 1935 Manchester Corporation boasted of its all electric houses, reporting that
The Housing Department recently completed 50 houses with all-electric equipment on the Brownlev Green Estate. These houses are provided with a coal fire in the living room, by means of which domestic hot water supply is also provided and a cooking oven heated. An electric griller for breakfast and lighter cooking and a kettle are provided, and inset electric fires are fitted in the two main bedrooms. An electric wash-boiler completes the equipment. Socket outlets for an iron or radio equipment are also provided, and the installations are supplied through prepayment meters. The results of the operation appear to be quite satisfactory. Similar installations are being provided in flats at Smedlev Point and Kirkmanshuhme lane and will undoubtedly indicate the suitability both as regards cost and convenience of electrical equipment for working-class dwellings.*

Just three years later in Your City written to celebrate the centenary of Manchester as a city the Corporation had proudly reported that the new Barton B power station “produces the power which you command by depressing a switch. Have you ever thought how much children benefit from electricity both physically and mentally” and accompanied this with illustrations of children reading by electric light, being warmed in their playpen by electric heating, helping their mother cook on an electric cooker as well as sitting in a steaming bath heated by the electric immersion heater and sitting under an electric ray lamp. **

Now Joe and Mary Ann never fully embraced electricity for their home but were forward enough not to have gone with the old gas lighting technology. As I wrote yesterday the garden estate of Chorltonville built in 1911 had gas lighting fitted as standard.

There is something quite quaint about using gas as a source of lighting. When it was introduced it was described as “illuminated air” and must have been a truly liberating innovation. Here was a source of light far more powerful than the old oil lamps or candles. And they had a long life. Manchester Corporation installed new improved gas lights in St Peter’s Square as late as 1935.

But on this the Scott’s were with electricity although I doubt they made use of the Corporation’s service of
"Assisted-Wiring and Prepayment-Wiring schemes, whereby consumers may have their houses wired at a small or without any initial payment. Hiring schemes for motors, cookers, wash-boilers, and water-heaters. Hire-purchase schemes for nearly all appliances (except lighting fittings) costing £2 and over."
He was after all a builder.

Sadly nothing else is left of the old electrical fittings, although there is one plastic power point still sitting forlornly on the skirting board in the front room. Where the others were is a mystery. There may even have not been any upstairs if the experiences of friends of mine are anything to go by. They bought a tall imposing terraced house facing the railway in Ashton Under Lyne back in the 1970s. All had looked fine when they went to see the house with a mind to buying it but when they moved in all the power points upstairs were missing, there were just neat screw holes on the skirting boards. There never had been any power to the bedrooms other than the lights.

Not that I can see Joe or Mary Ann having tolerated such an idea. By 1924 they had installed a telephone and must have been one of the first in Chorlton in the 1950s to have a TV. But for now the story of the all electric house here on Beech Road has yet to be discovered.

Pictures; advert from Manchester Electric Supply and picture of an all electric kitchen 1935, Manchester Corporation, and gas fitting in the collection of Lawrence Beedle

*Manchester Electric Supply 1935, Manchester Corporation
**Your City, Manchester 1838 1938, Manchester Corporation

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton, ........ Part 11 cooking on gas and electricity around the home

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

I have a confession. One hundred years of one house in Chorlton should read 93 years or there about. But more about that later.
The date is important and perhaps explains why there are no gas light fittings in our house. Just across the Brook the Chorltonville estate built a hundred years ago had gas lighting. It always seemed odd to me that if our house were the same age we too should have had gas lighting.

I had always thought that this was because Joe had seen the future and it was electricity but now I am not so sure and I have gone back to thinking the space in the kitchen with its chimney above must have been a range. It would have had one or more ovens and hot plates. After all until the mid 1970s the old brick and metal copper for heating water for washing the clothes was still in the cellar.

But I do think Joe and Marry Ann would have moved into gas cookers fairly early on. Gas cookers had become increasingly popular from the 1880s and Manchester Corporation through its Gas Committees had pioneered rental schemes from 1884. In 1935 they had showrooms at 140 Deansgate and 116 Wilmslow Road, and I guess Joe and Mary Ann would have had one as soon as they could and may even have installed one when the house was built. The design of the more basic models is little different from today, with an oven which could take 4 shelf settings, a top with the gas rings and a toaster above that.

In 1929 the Gas Committee had sold five and half thousand cookers and rented out another 1,798.* It may even be that the cooker which still stood in the kitchen in 1975 was the one the Scott’s had purchased.
But for many electricity was the coming thing. It was marketed as clean, new and the thing of the future. But few in the 1920s and 30s could have foreseen the number of things which would be run off electricity especially in the kitchen, all of which might need a power point.

I have to admit we are a little excessive; there are twenty power points around the kitchen. Some languish abandoned after a redesign but most are used and on a busy day with the kettle, toaster and microwave in use, plus the radio and a lap top the over abundant provision seems less so. Indeed with another taken up by the fridge freezer this leaves just nine to power the steamer, blender and food processor, along with other electronic kitchen gadgets which might come into play. So, no double adaptors here.

And that I suppose is the point, I doubt that Mary Ann used many tools which needed electricity. It was and I remember this from the 1950s possible to power some things including an electric iron with an adaptor run from a light fitting.

After the cooker the two household items which have made housework lighter are the Hoover and the electric iron. Beating rugs in the open air and sweeping carpets was hard manual labour and so the development of the carpet sweeper, and then a manual vacuum cleaner was important. The first manual models using bellows came in the 1860s.

Although they were lightweight and compact they were difficult to operate because of the need to turn a hand crank at the same time as pushing it across the floor. The first motorised vacuum cleaner was invented in 1901 but I guess it would have been well into the twentieth century before there was one here in 41.

Before the invention of the first electric iron in 1882, irons were either heated over an open fire or the range. This involved the use of several irons, and as one cooled down another would be taken from the heat source. There were also irons heated by various liquids, including paraffin, but what Mary Ann used is now lost.

I am sure that they had electricity from very early on if not from when the house was built. In the late 1920s Joe was advertising that his new houses on Hackness and Highfield and Vicars had “every modern convenience” including. “electric lights.”

So I reckon they must also have been quick to get both a telephone and televisions. As for the telephone this was in place by 1924 and the TV thirty years later.

Pictures; advert from the St Clements Bazaar Handbook 1928

*How Manchester is managed, Manchester Corporation, 1935

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Horse and Jockey, the painting and a story

This Wednesday Peter and I are planning to be in the Horse and Jockey during early doors.

His painting of the pub has been mounted at the entrance and we shall be back there to add my story. Now if you have been following the blog you will know that Peter paints pictures and I tell stories. Not a bad combination. Peter’s work can be seen in many venues around Chorlton and also at

Pictures; the pub circa 1900 from the Lloyd collection and the pub as painted by Peter in 2011 ©Peter Topping 2011

A British Home Child who had a choice?

I think my great uncle may have been an exception to the rule. The decision to send British Home Children* to Canada and later Australia only played lip service to the idea of freedom of choice.

Exactly how it was explained to children in orphanages and workhouse institutions will always be a little in doubt. There are stories of some very young children being shown the shapes of countries as a way of making them choose a destination and there are anecdotal tales of children returning home to find their parents gone and the deal with the agencies done and dusted. To what extent pressure was put on some parents is hazy but Bernardo was reported as referring to “philanthropic abduction” as the motive and the means by which some children were offered up for shipment to Canada.

And recently I spoke to a fellow researcher who herself was nearly sent to Australia in the 1960s and was only saved by the intervention of her grandmother.

All of which marks my great uncle out as a little different. He had been born in Birmingham in 1898 to a couple who if I am kind were unpredictable and possibly not well suited to bringing up a family. On their separation my great grandfather stayed in Kent later to marry and father a family of five, while my great grandmother headed back north to have her last child in the workhouse in 1902.

During the next ten years the surviving four children grew up in various institutions and despite a brief period with their mother were taken back into care in 1913 after great grandmother was judged "unfit to have control.”
All of which took its toll on the children. Sixty years later my great aunt wrote that “I will say our lives were not too bad at the homes in Derby but I went to 6 different schools and I know that your grandfather went to some of them and according to the teachers they hoped I was not like him.”

Which I suspect explains why at the age of 14 he was sent to a naval boot camp in the form of the Training Ship Exmouth. These places were designed to offer basic training in seamanship in a highly disciplined environment.
My great uncle was also destined for the same place but appears to have jibbed at the idea which is why I think at the age of 15 he was offered the alternative of settlement in Canada as a British Home Child.

I have no idea how it was put to him or whether he was offered other alternatives. But I doubt it, after all the Guardians of the Derby Workhouse will not have had many options for a wilful young lad. So it was a choice then between naval boot camp and the wide open land of Canada with the added attraction of a sea journey.

I suppose the added irony is that he made a second free choice and that was to run away from his third placement and join the Canadian army just one year in the Great War.

Pictures; from the collection of Lori Oschefski

*British Home Children is the name given to thousands of young people from poor backgrounds who were settled in the former colonies of the British Empire during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Richard Buxton, ............ part two

The continuing story of Richard Buxton
Richard Buxton was born in 1786 and died in 1865. He was one of those remarkable working men who were self taught. He became an expert on botany, wrote books and struggled against poverty before dying obscurely. “I am well aware” he wrote “that a narrative of the life of a poor man like myself .... is anything but interesting.” and yet it has proved to be so.

Buxton was a remarkable man living at a time when Manchester was fast becoming the “shock city of the industrial revolution.” During his lifetime the city became the centre of cotton manufacture and a huge sprawling place of overcrowded, mean and shoddy housing. He witnessed some of the great political events of the nineteenth century as the working class attempted to assert their share of the wealth that their labours had created and yet it appears he remained aloof from it. He was of a “quiet and retiring disposition” with a “humble opinion his own great powers.”

He was born at Sedgley Farm in Prestwich. In 1788 his father “became much reduced in circumstances and had to leave his farm”, moving the family to Ancoats . The Buxton’s were not alone. During the late eighteenth century and through the nineteenth century thousands left the countryside for the cities, exchanging open fields for narrow streets.

Buxton did not expand on the reasons for the family move. It may be that they overstretched themselves or were just unlucky. But rural life could be hard and unpredictable. The standard of living was if anything worse than conditions in the fast expanding industrial towns.

Many farm workers’ homes were little more than hovels with earthen floors, and thin walls. The traditional wattle and daub construction was easy to make and maintain, and if the walls were thick enough gave good insulation, but the porous nature of the material meant that damp was an ever present problem and the crumbling clay needed endless repairs. According to a Parliamentary report “Many of them have not been lined with lath and plaster inside and so are fearfully cold in winter. The walls may not be an inch in thickness and where the lathes are decayed the fingers may be easily pushed through. The roof is of thatch, which if kept in good repair forms a good covering, warm in winter and cool in summer, though doubtless in many instances served as harbour for vermin, for dirt, for the condensed exhalations from the bodies of the occupants of the bedrooms....”

As in Chorlton brick would slowly replace wattle and daub and slate take over from thatch but this would not be until long after Buxton’s family had left Prestwich.

Their food could be monotonous and often scarce. Here in the north things were better, because wages were higher and the locally produced food was more nutritious. There was a greater reliance on an oatmeal diet made more palatable with the addition of milk which was more easily available as were meat and animals fats because of the predominance of pastoral farming. Potatoes too formed a greater part of the diet than in the south. Lastly the farm labourer here in the north benefited from the persistence of the practice of yearly hiring of labour. It was customary with this system to pay the labourer partly in grain or meal irrespective of the fluctuations in market prices. He might also be granted cow pasture, potato ground, or accommodation for pigs and poultry.

And while farm wages in the north were better than the south and east they were lower than some of those in the new industrial trades. In 1824 a survey of agricultural wages in the south and east showed levels of wages as low as 3s a week for a single man and 4s 6d for a married man, and in some parts of Kent they were as low as 6d a day to 1s 6d a day. In the north wages were generally higher because of the need to compete with the opportunities from industrial employment. A brick layer’s labourer in Manchester in 1830 might earn 18s a week and a street labourer 16s. Locally here in Chorlton farm wages a decade and half later were still much lower. Cow men working for James Higginbotham on the Green earned between 4s 6d and 5s. Similar wages were paid to carters and those of farm servants who lived with the farmer ranged from 4s. down to 1s.6d. The lower pay of farm servants reflected the fact that their board and food came as part of their living with the farmer’s family.

William Cobbet in his Rural Rides compiled between 1822-1830 calculated that a family of five needed £62 6s 8d a year merely for bread meat and beer, yet with wage of 9s a week supplemented by an allowance of 7s 6d he could as best afford only half the minimum necessary for basic food. Finally however awful these new towns seemed to be they did as they had since the Middle Ages offered a chance of upward social mobility.

All this paints a very grim picture which the Buxton’s might not have experienced. He was after all born on a farm and farmers would have commanded a better style of life than the farm labourer. But at this stage without more research it is difficult to know the status of the family.

Picture;gravestone of Richard Buxton photograph taken in 1916 by T Badderley, m72545,Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council
Briggs Asa Victoria Cities Penguin Books 1963
‘Death of Mr Richard Buxton, the botanist’, Manchester Guardian January 5th 1865
Gauldie Enid Country Homes, page 531 The Victorian Countryside Vol 2 Rouledge & Kegan Paul 1981edited by Mingay G. E
British Parliamentary Papers 1893-4 XXXV V,1, page 103 qouted by Gauldie page532
Burnett John, Country Diet , The Victorian Countryside page 556
Burnett John, page 554 & Higginbotham’s Farm Accounts 1816-1849 Simpson A