Saturday, 31 March 2012

Reflections on an exhibition .... Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present

I said I wondered how we would feel at the end of the day, and tired and pleased pretty well sums it. The Big Green Festival attracted 4,000 people last year and I think this year was even better.

Certainly enough of them came through the exhibition to make Peter, Linda, Rachael* and I feel that the exhibition had been a success. It opened with a series of six tall panels taken from a post card of Beech Road in 1910, interspersed with story boards and photographs describing the road and shops in 1850, 1900 and 1980. These were key moments in the history of the road, covering the last time we were truly a rural community, moving on to the point when the shops and buildings pretty much took the form we can see today and ending at the point when the traditional character of the place was undergoing the change which eventually led to what we have now.

All of which led neatly into Peter’s paintings which capture the road today in six street scenes. Now I am a historian who Peter calls a story teller and I provided the text and original photographs. But it was Peter who put this mix of words and images together and turned them into a real visual experience.

So thank you to all our friends, including those who regularly read the blog, those who came to see Peter’s wonderful pictures and all the others who wandered in for a coffee and stayed to be part of the exhibition.

We will be staging the exhibition at a number of events over the rest of the year and so if you missed it rest assured that it will be coming to a venue near you.

* Peter and Linda Topping,
Rachael McGowan,!/media/set/?set=oa.388939324459139&type=1
and me

Stories of beer shops, a druggist called Lightly Simpson and William Davis the blackmith all on the Row in the June of 1841

Well, depending on when you are reading this, Peter and I will be at the Glad to be In Chorlton Past and Present Exhibition at the Big Green Festival in St Clements Church on Edge Lane, or wondering just exactly where the day went.

We will be exploring what Chorlton was like in the 1850s and again at the beginning of the last century, and how it has changed. Peter will have some of his paintings of Beech Road on display and there will be photographs and stories by me of the road and its shops in the past. This in turn will provide a basis for a discussion on what we want for our community for the future.

And as part of this event we want you to enter the competition to win a Glad to be In Chorlton mug and a copy of my book* which will be out in the autumn by correctly identifying the picture detail from one of the paintings and one of the old photographs on display as well as telling us the shop which now trades on Beech Road from the location of what was Sunflowers.

Peter’s work is on display around Chorlton and can also be seen at

Picture; one of the panels devised by Peter from a postcard of Beech Road in the collection of Rita Bishop

Friday, 30 March 2012

One hundred Years of one house in Chorlton .... part 15 the midwife calls

The continuing story of the house Joe and Mary Ann Scott lived in for over 50 years and the families that have lived here since.

It is one of those odd things that in the 90 odd years that our house has stood on Beech Road ours are the only children to have been born here. And in a very real sense actually born in the house upstairs in the big bedroom just as it would have been in the past.

Joe and Mary Ann spent almost their entire married life here but had no children, John, Mike and Lois were single and before I bought the house there was only a young couple who were here for just for two years and for most of that were living abroad.

So that brings us to our children, one of whom was born upstairs on an August morning nineteen years ago.

Now in 1992 home births were still a little unusual and even today only account for 2% of all births herein the UK although in Torbay it was 20% in 2010. And there was some gentle medical opposition mostly around the “what if there were complications?” But Withington Hospital was only 5 minutes away and anyway as friends pointed out, who would want to have a baby in a hospital which was full of sick people?

When I tell older friends of the opposition they point to the fact that they and their siblings and parents were all born at home.

Historically hospitals were places where only the poor went. The rich were treated at home. My old friend Alan Brown remembers having his tonsils out in their back bedroom and in the memoirs of the “Mitford girls” there is a delightful story of one of them having their appendix out in the nursery.

Now this is in no way to rubbish the NHS or argue for a golden time before it was introduced. I was born just one year after its creation and have been able to rely on a first class free medical service which is in contrast to the stories from my parents of small dismal cottage hospitals, expensive doctors fees and underfunded general hospitals.

There will be those in Chorlton who will remember the local Rose Queen events of the 1930s which were essentially a vehicle to raise money for our hospitals. And for those of us who have studied and researched the 19th century there are the awful stories of the poor who had to rely on the workhouse hospital or dig deep into the family budget to contribute to their sick and burial societies.

The decision to have our child at home was a conscious one and there was expert advice on hand including Sister Williams who over the years assisted in the birth of all three of the elder boys. And our youngest was nearly not the only one to be born in the big bedroom. When our middle son was due I dutifully called for an ambulance, but just as it arrived there was an accident outside the house involving a man, a bike and the kerb. It was my call, and the ambulance left with the man, leaving me the difficult task of explains why we needed another ambulance to a sceptical switchboard operator, such are the pitfalls of the Good Samaritan.

So for over a quarter of the time our house has been here it has been a home to our children, which I reckon makes us a first in the story of the house.
Follow all the stories of the house at

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present exhibition tomorrow at St Clement's on Edge Lane

There is an Old Salvation Army call which I think I can correctly remember from my youth in south east London.
It would come as the band and chorus finished one of their rousing hymns and ran “come and join us, come and join us” to which we always responded “with a free cup of tea and a bun.” But I have to confess that this is all very hazy and it maybe that the band offered us the free cup of tea and the bun or maybe I just picked it up from some gentle dig at the Saly Army. I guess someone will correct me.

Either way it serves as an invite to the Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present exhibition at the Big Green Festival tomorrow in St Clements’ Church on Edge Lane, and apologies to all those who live outside Chorlton.
We will be exploring what Chorlton was like in the 1850s and again at the beginning of the last century, and how it has changed. Peter will have some of his paintings on Beech Road on display and there will be photographs and stories by me of the road and its shops in the past. This in turn will provide a basis for a discussion on what we want for our community for the future.

And as part of this event we want you to enter the competition to win a a copy of my book* which will be out in the autumn with other prizes of Glad to be in Chorlton mugs by correctly identifying the picture detail from one of the paintings and one of the old photographs on display as well as telling us the shop which now trades on Beech Road from the location of what was Sunflowers.

Peter’s work is on display around Chorlton and can also be seen at

Picture; © Peter Topping 2011

*Chorlton-cum-Hardy A Society Transformed

Harvest Festival 1903

The old church in 1903.

Picture; from the collection of Carolyn Willits

Thursday, 29 March 2012

What price a British Home Child?

Now I am not one of those people who automatically look for a darker motive in the actions of others. And so I can see that those who were engaged in the resettlement of children from the streets, orphanages and workhouse institutions were genuine in their concern for the well being of these young people and worked hard to ensure that the outcome was for the good.

There is no doubting the sincerity of people like Miss Macpherson, Dr Barnado and John T Middlemore who were driven by deep religious convictions and a sense of horror at the blighted lives and poor futures of the young people they encountered.

Or the concerns of Poor Law Guardians at how the children they sent to Canada were being treated. More than once members of the Chorlton Union during the early years of the 20th century called for a halt to sending any more workhouse children. They were uneasy at the letters sent by children complaining of bad treatment and were appalled at the lack of regular reports from the Canadian authorities on the welfare of the young people who they had resettled.

But I have begun to wonder at the relationship between the costs of maintaining a child in the workhouse compared with the cost of resettlement in Canada. I have to confess it is early days and all I have so far are a few reports but I think it is enough to prompt some research.

In the April of 1910 the secretary of the Manchester Boys and Girls Refuge argued that in pure monetary terms it was cheaper to send children to Canada. “As to the expense, to maintain a child in the workhouse school or in a charitable institution cost at least £15. In some Poor Law Unions it had gone up to £30. Allowing an average stay of four or five years the total expenditure was at least from £60 to £75 for each child. The cost to emigrate a child was £12, and for this the first and final sum he or she was provided for during life.” All of which was a fine balance sheet calculation and one which was strengthen by the fact that “only 3% of the number of children whom they had emigrated could be put down to failures.” So “on the ground of economy alone this juvenile emigration was a saving to the country.”*

Moreover the London Guardians had observed that after just two years from the start of the scheme in 1870 the numbers of “pauper children attending workhouse and district schools [was} less than in the previous year [and] has probably been occasioned in a great measure by the extension of the boarding out system and partly also by the emigration of a considerable number of children to Canada.”**

Now this represented a considerable saving as the cost of teaching the 39,542 children in their care had been £36, 778 in 1871, but during the following year “the number under instruction was 2,032 less than in the previous year.” I will leave you to do the sums. The Guardians reported that it cost 18s 7d [86p] per child.

Of course you have to be careful. It would be easy to reduce this to a crude and simplistic equation which turned merely on the cost of a child and while I have no doubt this was a consideration it is also clear that there was a genuine belief that by lifting the children off the streets and out of the institutions they were being “rescued from degrading and dangerous surroundings.”***

And for a charity mindful of its expenditure and its donations and a government body charged with the sound use of public money any argument which drew on “value for money” was an attractive one and one that organisations might feel duty bound to make.

We of course might think that the care of our most vulnerable children then as now is about more than a balance sheet. It will be an interesting line of enquiry but in the meantime I shall finish with those lines from the Brecht poem,
So many particulars.
So many questions.

Picture; Manchester Boys Refuge, Quay Street 1910, m68184, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

*Manchester Guardian April 10th 1910
** Manchester Guardian June 14 1872
*** Manchester Guardian April 10th 1910

Looking for fields and an orchard on Beech Road

This is the last of Peter’s paintings of Beech Road in 2012 which are part of the Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present exhibition at the Big Green Festival on March 31st.
Together we have been focusing on how Beech Road and the experience of shopping have changed over the last 160 years. Back then in the spring of 1850 none of these buildings would have been here, instead there would have been open land, a mix of pasture, meadowland and the garden of Thomas White. If you had stood on the edge of the road and looked south beyond this stretch of farmland there was an orchard and more open farmland down to the brook.

I have to admit I have done little in the way of research on this stretch, but by 1860 there was a grand new impressive brick house called Joel View where the new development stands. Talking to my old friend Marjorie she remembers it was set slightly back and looking at photographs from 1970 it was a solid two storey brick property which today would be much sought after.

There is one surviving photograph of the shop which is now the Clinic. In 1958 it was the grocer’s shop of H. Westwell, who had commissioned a painted hoarding just below the top window advertising the arrival of tinned fish.

Many of us will remember the double fronted shop of J. Johnny where you could pick up anything from screws to insulating tape and where in my experience the price of the same item was never the same. In its place we have the semi gated community whose name has a link to the smithy of William Davis and Charles Clarke which stood a little to the west of this building.

Peter’s work is on display around Chorlton and can also be seen at

Picture; © Peter Topping 2011

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Shopping at the Market Place on Beech Road

Now whenever I think of a market place two thoughts come into my mind. One is an image from school history with the villagers or townspeople going about their lives, stopping perhaps for a conversation by the old Medieval cross and if they were feeling particularly vengeful lobbing rotten fruit at anyone in the stocks.

The other is from weekend stay aways in rural Yorkshire or somewhere down south. The most recent was a delightful stay in Ripley which on the Saturday had taken us in to Ripon and the market place. It was all that you might expect with old and not so old buildings cluttered around a square with the obligatory cross, market stalls, some Morris dancers and a red telephone box.

All of which is a far cry from our own Market Place on Beech Road which consists of the seven shops running west from the old Police Station. Although back in the 1890s you might have also meant the parade on the opposite side. Now there is something odd about calling this small row of shops a Market Place, but given that before the 1880s there were very few shops on Beech Road the addition of so many in such a short amount of time must have seemed like the offer of bewildering choice. Later still there was another market place up on Barlow Moor Road by the bridge and yet another on the corner of Oswald Road and Nicolas Road.

So to people who had been born when we were still a small rural community this was indeed a veritable market, but one fairly quickly cut down and dwarfed by the retail development along Wilbraham and Barlow Moor Road, which heightened the divide between our old Chorlton and the new brash one which had the banks, railway station and large numbers of new people, few of whom made their money from the land.

Now I have written in the past about the divide between old and new Chorlton and the distinction has all but been forgotten, but not quite.

There are those who still talk of the two and point to the fact that while the area around Martledge stretching out from the Wilbraham and Barlow Moor junction had the banks all we had was the post office and the Penny Savings Bank which met in the old school hall on the green.

But then we did have the Police Station and I suppose I must have been one of the last people to visit it before it became the Lead Station, but as ever that story along with the shops on its eastern side are for another time.

Looking at Peter's painting it is possible to get a sense of the splendid sweep of the old Market Place. Peter’s work is on display around Chorlton and can also be seen at

An occasional series of stories and pictures in the run up to the Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present exhibition during the Big Green Festival on March 31st.

Picture; Picture; the Market Place circa 1910 from the collection of Rita Bishop and the Row today © Peter Topping 2011

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Who spoke out against sending my great uncle to Canada?

There is a growing debate about the British Home Child policy which resettled over a 100, 000 young people in Canada between 1870 and 1930.

At it its simplest it centres on the premise that it is right to “rescue” children from poor and often dangerous conditions and offer them a new life. Put like that I suspect few of us could complain, but of course that is not how it worked and great harm was done to many of those who were sent.

Apologists for the scheme often point to the danger of trying to judge a past moment in time by our own standards. Now I have already argued elsewhere that there were those who raised serious objections during the very period it all happened.*

And these were not just those whose children were sent, or journalists scenting a story but the very people charged with the responsibility of administrating the scheme. These were the Poor Law Guardians who participated in the scheme by nominating children and paying for them to be sent.

My great uncle was sent by the Derby Poor Law Guardians who charged the Middlemore organisation with his care from Liverpool, to Halifax and onto the three farms he stayed between 1914 and 1915. Now this research is still in its early stages and at present has been drawn only from reports which appeared in the Manchester Guardian from 1872 through to 1910. But they do begin to show the unease and outright hostility by some of the Guardians.

As you would expect there were a number of different arguments and perhaps the most unsettling for me is that put forward by Mrs Sale at the 1903 Poor Law Conference when she said “She did not care for it, for it took away the best and left the worst and feeblest at home.” A concern echoed by a member of the Chorlton Union who felt that while “Canada would not have the mentally deficient we were sending the cream of the proletariat and building asylums for and crowding the streets with the others.”

It was for some a compelling argument but one that was turned a little on its head by the renowned Canadian medical expert who counselled “we are deliberately adding to our population hundreds of children bearing the stigmata of physical and mental degeneracy.” Back here there were those who could see the merit in providing new chances for the poor and abandoned children but feared for the future in that “this country would suffer from the loss of these children.”
And for some it turned on the issue of exploitation. During the early years of the 19th century workhouse children according to Mr Skevington of the Chorlton Union had been sent into the textile mills and while this had ended the use of children on the farms and as domestic servants in Canada pointed to the fact that “the principle of the exploitation of children remained.”

This was compounded by the growing unease that once in Canada children aged between 10 and 12 were not adopted as some Guardians believed but worked as hired hands which it was pointed out was against the law in Britain. Here in south Manchester the Chorlton Union were also very unhappy that there was a gap of two years before reports on the children they sent were received which led for calls in 1905 for the Union to abandon its participation in the settlement of children in Canada. This had followed on from a similar discussion the year before when concerns was expressed at letters of complaint sent by the children themselves.

More perceptive was the assertion from one of the most vocal opponents on the Chorlton Union who in 1906 suggested that the policy was “was easing the congestion of our social conditions. It was like lifting of the safety valve, and if it were not done conditions of labour would arrive at such a state that there would be revolution.” Now there will be those who might feel this was at best an exaggeration and at worse downright class politics, but it would be well to remember that we were entering a more volatile period in labour relations which in the years around 1911 led to huge industrial unrest and the dispatch of troops to Manchester, Liverpool and the south Wales coal fields.

But and there is always a but, there were others who saw virtue and hope in the policy. As early as 1875 one correspondent to the Manchester Guardian defended Miss Mapherson “whose primary objective has been to rescue from their degraded condition those destitute children wandering homeless, and so little cared for streets, to gather them into homes where they are fed, clothed and taught, and carefully trained for future life in Canada.”

A view endorsed just twenty years later here in Manchester where a conference on the work of the Manchester Boys and Girls Refuge reflected “they were doing good to the children, relieving the overcrowded population at home and conferring benefit on the land they went.”

Now the debate on the merits of the programme will continue but at least we can now say that in judging the resettlement of 100, 000 British children in Canada we today are just continuing the exchange of views which were in full swing long before my great uncle left Derby for Halifax.

Pictures; from the collection of Lori Oschefski and Boys Refuge, Old Refuge Yard, Francis Street 1873, m68158, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

*Some of the blog posts

Coming soon, .............. The Great Chorlton Burial Scandal

Tomorrow the story our local church authorities denied
Picture from the collection of Carolyn Willitts

One family trading on Beech Road from 1841

One of the things about Peter’s paintings of Beech Road is the way they make you look again at the buildings and reflect on their history. So it is with this one.

When you walk down the road past what was once the Soap Opera towards the chippy and Etchells it is easy to regard the parade as one building but of course it isn’t.

The row of five shops is relatively new dating I think from the 1920s while the remaining two were built sometime between 1881 and 86.

And it is these that have caught my interest, because despite the passage of time there is continuity about what was traded from these two shops.
Today the Beech Road Takeaway sells what their own sign says are “Probably the best fish and chips” as no doubt did Isaac Wheatly in 1901 from the same spot. Next door Etchell’s newsagent continues to trade in newspapers as did Lionel Nixon in 1909 and his successors in the 1950and 60s.

Now this is not the only link with the past because Lionel’s family had been trading in Chorlton from the 1830s. His father and mother had sold books from what is now number 68 Beech Road, his grandparents had sold beer from the Traveller’s Rest which was next door from 1841 and his great grandfather had run the pub across the meadows by Jackson’s Bridge. And if this wasn’t enough, Lionel had married Hilda Brownhill in 1907, and Hilda was the granddaughter of William Brownhill who was the wheelwright up at Lane End.

Peter’s work is on display around Chorlton and can also be seen at

An occasional series of stories and pictures in the run up to the Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present exhibition during the Big Green Festival on March 31st.

Picture; Hilda and Lionel Nixon, date unknown from the collection of Sapfo Agapinopoulou , and © Peter Topping 2011

Monday, 26 March 2012

Another shopping centre and another time

I thought I needed a contrast to Beech Road and a time between then and now, so I chose this image. No prizes for guessing where it is but so much has changed since the picture was taken in the late 1970s or early 80s.

I bought veg in the Liptons, had a special meal with friends in the Indian restaurant and bought a holiday to Paris in the Travel agents next door.

Liptons were one of those old grocery chains which began in the late 19th century went through a series of mergers in the early 20th century and died after a takeover in the 1980s.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Another painting by Peter of the changing nature of Beech Road

Now I think there may be something in the old idea that stick around a parade of shops long enough and eventually some at least will return to their former trade. But the problem is that you may have to wait a long time, which is a roundabout way of saying that there has been an off license of sorts on the corner of Beech and Chequers Road for a hundred years.

In 1903 it was Mason and Burrows, grocers and wine merchants and was still trading as C.P. Burrows in 1958 when R.E. Stanley photographed the shop. Since then it has been an off license run by a national chain and is now a deli trading as an independent which is what Chorlton does best.

Back just over a hundred years ago there were also confectioners, a furniture dealer, draper and butcher. And in that way of continuity the butcher’s was also still there fifty years later and today is a clothes shop just one door down from the drapers shop of Mrs Mary Ann Holland.

Now Peter’s painting and my stories will be part of the exhibition Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present at the Big Green Festival on March 31st which is in part a reflection on the changing nature of Beech Road and its retailing history.

Looking again at these five shops it is possible to capture that change. True there is again a grocer’s shop at one end and a clothes shop at the other but in between we has the new style businesses typical of Chorlton today, including two restaurants and a picture gallery.

Now there will be those of us who remember when the grocer’s, barber’s and book shop as well as the plumbing business at the end of the row. The plumber fixed our boiler one cold winter in the early 80s, I was one of the last to get a short back and sides from the barber’s and was certainly one of the last customers in the grocery shop and Brian the Books.

So there you have it the changing history of Beech Road.

Peter’s work is on display around Chorlton and can also be seen at

Picture; Mason and Burrows circa 1910, from the collection of Rita Bishop and ©Peter Topping 2011

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The lost pub of Beech Road

Peter has painted the Beech before and I have written about it.

But today I want to concentrate on the other buildings in his picture. What are now numbers 70 and 68 are I think the oldest commercial properties still in use in Chorlton and they have intrigued me ever since I began writing my book on the history of the township.*

You might even say it was what got me going. You see Samuel and Sarah Nixon ran the Travellers Rest which was the beer shop next to the Beech for 40 years. They are buried in the parish church yard and it was the chance discovery of their gravestone that started me on researching the history of the village.

Samuel’s father had run the pub across the meadows by Jackson’s Bridge from the 1830s and sometime in the 1840s Samuel and Sarah took over the Travellers Rest. It was the only drinking place on what was then known as the Row and had been made possible by the Beer Act of 1830 which allowed people to set up beer shops for the price of a beer licence.

Stand inside number 70 today and you can get a sense of how small the beer shop would have been, and remember it was only the first half of the present shop which served as the room dispensing beer. Next to it was the stationer’s of Thomas Taylor. Now Taylor was an interesting chap who may have deprived the Methodists of the their Sunday school and owned both numbers 70 and 68 which may date from the 1830s, because he was happy to allow Thomas White later of the Horse and Jockey to apply for the first beer license for number 70 in 1832. But as they say that is all in the book, so no more about them at present.

The two buildings have had a mixed history since and for a long time served as one of our bakery shops here on Beech Road only closing as the Oven Door in the early 1980s. They were then converted back into single units and were much knocked about so today little is left of the original buildings. Even the roof was heightened much to the annoyance of friends who live along Stockton Road and the old stone urinal of the beer shop removed.

Peter’s work is on display around Chorlton and can also be seen at

An occasional series of stories and pictures in the run up to the Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present Exhibition during the Big Green Festival on March 31s

Picture; Peter Topping 2011

*Chorlton cum Hardy A Society Transformed

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Memories of this part of Beech Road

I often wonder what William Davis would have made of Beech Road today. He was the blacksmith who performed the magic of heating and hammering from his forge from the early 1830s until sometime just before 1860.

Of course back then it was called Chorlton Row and standing at his open workshop he would have had an almost uninterrupted view across the fields to High Lane and on to Martledge. His immediate neighbour was the gentleman Daniel Sharpe whose fine brick house stood a little back from the road in its own grounds. It is still there today, partly disfigured by an extension at the front and missing half its roof after a fire. Beyond it was the Wesleyan Chapel rebuilt in 1825 and a row of wattle and daub cottages which stood at the end of Row where it ran into the green.

This end of the Row would have been just as busy as it is today. The smithy attracted a regular flow of people calling in to have farm and household tools repaired and in the nature of these things they stayed to gossip before perhaps moving off to Samuel Nixon’s beer shop almost opposite at what is now number 70, and then there would be the children attracted by the sparks and the noise they would stand and watch.

Just as my old friend Marjorie Holmes did on her way to school in the early 1930s. And there is the continuity because when William Davis left the Row the Clarke family took over and continued to work the metal from 1860 till the middle of the 20th century.

By 1913 when this picture of Charles Clarke was taken this end of the Row had changed dramatically. True the smithy was still there but otherwise much of Peter’s painting would have in place including the Whitaker's who had been selling groceries on the Row from 1851 and by the beginning of the last century had a fine shop on the corner of Beech Road and Chorlton Green, but that is for another story.

Peter as you know paints pictures and I tell stories. His work is on display around Chorlton and can also be seen at

An occasional series of stories and pictures in the run up to the Glad to be in Chorlton Past and Present exhibition during the Big Green Festival on March 31st.

Picture; Peter Topping 2011, and picture of Charles Clarke, Courtesy of Greater Manchester Archives DPA 32818

Friday, 23 March 2012

Our families in their Workhouses

Born in the workhouse. Even now over 80 years after they were abolished the image of a family member being admitted to one of these places has a powerful impact on the family historian.

They had been called Poor Law Bastilles and in the years after the Poor Law Amendment Act which reorganised the way benefits were applied they were often a target to be attacked during periods of social and class tension.

But despite the fact that they were feared and hated they were a regular and recognised part of the strategies that the poor might use when faced with unemployment or sickness.

And the Unions did help the sick. There was apparently no legal obligation to do so but the Poor Law commissioners recognised “if a man is able to provide himself and family with food, and lodging, and clothing, whilst in health, but is unable in cases of sickness to provide medical aid, he is entitled to receive medical relief at the charge of the poor rates”. However humanitarian this appeared there were sound economic reasons to do. If those who sought relief did so because they were ill the Poor Law Commissioners reasoned, it was “therefore most important to get them cured as speedily as possible” thereby saving them from “coming on the rates for maintenance.”

So the Unions employed qualified medical officers to care for those who applied for help in the infirmary. But there were no clear guidelines on who could qualify and so “in some Unions Medical Relief is withheld except where the families are large and young; in other Unions it is given to all applicants.”

It was the job of the Relieving Officer to assess the needs of the applicants, both those asking for medical help and those requesting general assistance. His assessment would be passed on to the Guardians and if he considered they were eligible for relief he issued an order to the medical officer or doctor who was employed by the Union.*

And this is how my great grandmother got to be in the Derby Workhouse in the December of 1902. Now I do not think we will ever know why she and my great grandfather separated after having had four children but it may have been partly to do with the death of their infant son in the February. My great grandfather stayed in the south and she returned to Derby with their surviving three sons and the soon to be born daughter.

Now as we all know the workhouse was the last place for the desperate, and was predicated on the idea that only those who had explored all the other possibilities would walk through its doors. It was also the case that my grandmother had to prove that neither of her parents were in a position to help and neither were. Her mother was dead and her father was himself in the workhouse. So that was where she went and that was where my great aunt was born.

Most of us who find a relative in the workhouse are moved by a mix of pity and outrage, and if the truth be known most of us will be able to track some family member to a workhouse somewhere in the country. Now I do not have any love of the workhouse. They were grim harsh places where families were separated, individuals often given menial and tiring tasks and marked you out as an outcast. Yet in a sense the workhouse is not what should anger us, it is the philiosphy underpinning the provision of poor relief.

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 had ushered in the system of Poor Law Unions and the practice of less eligibility which aimed to make conditions in the workhouse worse than anything the applicant had so far experienced thereby acting as a deterrent on seeking relief. But there had already been a trend to grouping some parishes together with a super workhouse and long before 1834 the regimes in some of these places had reflected the idea that the poor must be desperate before seeking help.

In what was by any standards a wealthy country we were prepared to judge the poor as feckless and as targets for punishment. Nor can we hide behind the excuse that this was the prevailing idea and that somehow to criticise the system is to judge it by the values of a later time. There were plenty back in the 19th century who said it was wrong.

But equally it would be a distortion of what I know to blame the Derby
Workhouse for what happened to my great grandmother and her children who in the case of the three boys ran wild and loose in their early years. There was something not quite right about great grandmother Eliza, and the hints are there in the drunken brawl with the police back in the 1890s and the fact that in 1913 after having struggled to get most of children out of insititions she lost them again because she was “unfit to have control.”

Now I don’t absolve my great grandfather. His early life in the army of the old Queen suggests he too was unable to conform and was quite prepared to set up a new family unit in the south, have five more children and not make any attempt to contact his other children.

The Derby Poor Law Guardians provided for my grandfather and his siblings and did find occupations for all of them. The eldest was apprenticed to a blacksmith, my great aunt sent into service and grandfather placed in the training ship Exmouth while great uncle Roger was sent to Canada as a British Home Child. I doubt that the Guardians’ motives were any less pragmatic than the Poor Law Commissioners arguments for sick provision for poor working men but at least all were cared for.

So where does that leave the family historian who tumbles over a connection with a workhouse?

I suspect it will be a mix of feelings but above all a renewed desire to dig deep into the history of the Workhouse and also the provision of poor relief, and I would recommend

*From Chorlton cum Hardy A Society Transformed due out in the autumn

Pictures; inside our own workhouse, the sick ward m08952, 1900, T. Morley-Brook, and staff and inmates of our own workhouse date unknown m81238, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Thursday, 22 March 2012

St Clements’s Sunday School Procession of Witness in 1936

Now this is the 500th anniversary of our church on the green and I thought I would share a few pictures and stories from its past.
This was the St Clements’s Sunday School Procession of Witness in 1936, leaving the green. Leading the procession is Mr H.C. Steele the headmaster followed by our own brass band.
Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Coming soon a new exhibition on Chorlton

An exciting exhibition staged by local artist Peter Topping and historian Andrew Simpson as part of the Big Green Festival. It aims to explore the changing nature of Beech Road over the last 170 years and compliments the debate on what we want of the area in the future.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

When sorry can be enough

Today I read the comments of Mr Tom Flanagan in Wednesday’s edition of the Globe and Mail, Past wrongs can’t always be undone, which is an attempt to rebut the call for an apology by the Canadian Government in relation to British Home Children and I cannot let it pass.

I read very carefully what Mr Flanagan had to say and I cannot but think he has twisted the arguments. No one to my knowledge is asking for compensation, and I suspect we are all aware of the falseness of an apology by people who had no direct connection with the events. Moreover it is absurd to suggest that we do not understand that past wrongs cannot be undone. Of course they can’t, who has ever said they can?

I personally wish the Holocaust had never happened along with many murky events that were done by the country I belong to but they were and the responsible question is how do we deal with them as deal we must? Lessons can be learned from history and victims deserve recognition and these are the issues that are at the centre of the call for an apology. Sorry is not what really it is about.

I doubt that the stoic and often very brave children who were sent to Canada would be interested in a sorry, they after all got on with their lives helped build their adopted country and rarely talked about what happened to them.

But what an apology does do is give force to the fact that this was wrong.
And don’t for one moment tell me that this was a different time governed by different values. Not only is it wrong by today’s attitudes but there were enough people here in Britain who said it was wrong at the time and criticised a system which allowed vast number of people to live hard and desperate lives, only to end their time in the workhouse.

With an apology even given all the caveats the last of the BHC and their descendants can look to more official support for the issue to be taught in schools as a compulsory part of the curriculum, for more awareness in the media and above all a fresh discussion on how we treat looked after children.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Living at Lane End in two rooms, more stories of one up one downs, part 2

This is a familiar enough picture and has cropped up in various collections over the years. It may date from the 1890s and there will be many who still remembered this junction of High Lane, Barlow Moor Road and Sandy Lane by its old name of Lane End, and a few might still have referred to it as Brundrett’s corner by virtue of the Brundrett family who had run a grocery shop at this point since the early 19th century.

And in away the Brundrett’s are the starting point to the story. Back in the 1840s Jeremiah Brundrett had owned the collection of four houses to the left of the white building which was the home and workshop of William Brownhill the wheelwright.

I suppose most of us looking at the picture would be drawn to the large house on the corner, and then to Brownhill's home, while the 4 terraced houses in a row would scarcely count a glance.
But that is a pity because they are another example of those one up one down cottages which the casual visitor could have seen across the township. These may well have been here by 1818 and certainly date from 1832 when their ownership qualified Jeremiah for a vote in the reformed Parliament of 1832.

Now looking at them it is hard to work out that they were one up one down properties, but the census returns record them as such. The internal lay out is lost to us but the front door would have opened directly into the downstairs room and a steep boxed in staircase would have led from the back of this room to the one upstairs. Earlier more simple properties dispensed with the stairs and just had a ladder made from a plank of wood with hand and foot holes. The ground floor would may have originally just been beaten earth or more likely stone slabs lay directly onto the bare earth.

In common with most such dwellings the lavatory would be at the back, and may have been shared. The rate books for the 1840s suggest that his tenants were paying about 2/6d a week. They were mainly manual workers and while by the end of the century the link with the land was broken there was still a gardener, a labourer, a chimney sweep and lamp lighter. In the earlier part of that century tracking how long families stayed is difficult but in the eight years from 1903 to 1911 each property changed hands at least once and in some cases twice in one year.

There were also cases of severe overcrowding. At the first of those houses in 1911, John and Margret Evans shared their two rooms with their three children while by contrast in another two the widowers Mary Ann Neild and Charles Walkden lived out their last years in the company of ageing children.

All three along with Brownhill’s home and business have long gone, and been replaced by two early 20th century semis while the land next to them which were the site of three slightly larger doubled fronted two op two downs is still and empty space. These also date from sometime in the early 19th century but I shall leave them till another day.

Picture; the Lloyd collection

Enoch Royle and the Chorlton Carnival sometime in the 1930s

This is another of those occasional pictures reminding us that we did community activities in the past. It is one of a number of photographs of the Chorlton Carnival which was staged during the 1930s. This is Enoch Royle who was a coal merchant and his decorated cart on Albany Road sometime in the 1930s.

Picture; courtesy of William Jackson from the Lloyd collection

This Month at the Manchester Jewish Museum

Now as you know from time to time I indulge my love of Manchester Museums, so here at the Jewish Musuem are events during this month

EXHIBITION: THE WINDERMERE BOYS (until 31May 2012)The Windermere Boys exhibition tells the story of 300 Jewish childrenwho, having survived the Holocaust, found a haven in Windermere,before joining Jewish communities in Manchester and London.A fascinating and uplifting story of survival and newbeginnings, this is an exhibition not to be missed! (Museum admission charge) Funded by Arts Council England.

HISTORY TALK: “A Sanhedrin - in France”! Sun 25 Mar, 2pm (Future talks: 15 Apr, 13 May and 3 June)The second in a series of modern Jewish history talks by Jeremy MichelsonThis talk explores why Emperor Napoleon was reviving the ancientSanhedrin, the law making body of world Jewry and what effect it wouldhave on Jews throughout Europe. (FREE but booking essential)

JEWISH FAMILY HISTORY ROADSHOW Sun 22 April (both 11am-3pm)Bring in your family archives or personal objects handed down by Jewishfamily members. A panel of experts will be on hand to examine them and answer yourquestions. (Museum admission charges apply)

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Vitruvius' De Architectura. Written almost exactly two thousand years ago, Vitruvius' work is a ten-volume treatise on engineering and architecture, the only surviving work on the subject from the ancient world. This fascinating book offers unique insights into Roman technology and contains discussion of the general principles of architecture, the training of architects and the design of temples, houses and public buildings.

The rediscovery of this seminal treatise in the 15th century provided the impetus for the neoclassical architectural movement, and Vitruvius exerted a significant influence on the work of Renaissance architects including Palladio, Brunelleschi and Alberti. It remains a hugely important text today, two millennia after it was written.
Serafina Cuomo
Reader in Roman History at Birkbeck, University of London
Robert Tavernor
Emeritus Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the London School of Economics
Alice Koenig
Lecturer in Latin and Classical Studies at the University of St Andrews.
Producer: Thomas Morris.

Picture; from In Our Time page

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Memories of three Chorlton cinemas

Now I have always believed in that old saying that you can wait half an hour for a bus and then three come along at the same time, which pretty much sums up my research for the day because I have just been reading The Golden Years of Manchester Picture Houses by Derek Southall, from the History Press, 2010.

I was told it might be difficult to get hold of, but here it is on our kitchen table, and I would recommend it. As its name implies it is a short detailed description of the cinemas in and around Manchester, and of course includes three of our own.

For the first time I can confidently write that the Palais de Luxe opened in May 1914, could seat 1,200 and closed on December 4th 1957 with the Western the Lonely Man and the Lost Treasure of the Amazon. Neither film seems a fitting way to end what had been our first proper picture house. In Lonely Man an aging gunslinger Jacob Wade hopes to settle down with his estranged son, but his old enemies have other plans for him while Lost Treasure features a Brazilin jungle head hunters and that old stand by an unrequited love affair.

And there is more. The Savoy on Manchester Road opened in 1920 as the Picture House before being renamed the Savoy when it was leased to the Savoy Cinemas. And that the Rivoli having opened on November 20 1936 was damaged an air raid in December 1940 and had to be partially rebuilt before it began again on November 17th 1954.

There are also stories from people who remember sitting in the dark in all three and of the staff as well as something of the chequered history of subsequent owners.

Picture; late in the life of the Rivoli, after its name change from the Essoldo to the Classic and before it became the Shalimar, 1999, m17470, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Friday, 16 March 2012

Spring and the film crews are back in Chorlton

Well it’s that time of year again, just as we head towards spring there will be a film crew somewhere in Chorlton and usually on Beech Road.
Now I know it is going on this week because the crew and the vans and equipment are there in the car park of the Irish Centre. Looking out across the Rec you can see the bus with all its lights on late into the night and listen to the sound of the generator, which starts up around six in the morning and can be clearly heard again in the quiet of the evening.

Sometimes it is for the television and sometimes it will be a film. I say this because every time we have family up from London and across from Italy we show them Looking for Eric, and one of us, usually me keeps up a running commentary of where the shots were taken, which is fine but also a little frustrating as from the park bench on the Rec you just miss out seeing our house.

So not even Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame then.

Now I have often wondered when the first crew appeared I can remember the shop front of what is now the Gallery on Beech Road but was then the barber’s being blown out in a scene from some long forgotten TV programme, and being puzzled by the London bus and hackney cab along with the name Bulman above the entrance to the building beside the Methodist Chapel, until it became clear they were shooting an episode of the show.

So being a historian I did begin to wonder when the first film crew appeared here in Chorlton. Now I am prepared to be proved wrong but I rather think it was in 1949 when Mancunian Films came down from their studio on Dickenson Road.

The film was Bella’s Birthday and was a short film made up of out-takes from School for Randle and they came down and staged a short clip of Frank Randle accompanied by Dan Young, Alec Pleon and Maudie Edwards who played Bella walking into the pub. You can read more about Mancunian Films at

Now I have no idea of what is being filmed but in the nature of these things I will be sitting at home one day and there will be a familiar location.

Pictures; from the collections of Tony Walker, Chris Lee and the North West Film Archive

The Great Storm of 1839 a talk by Eddie Little at the Chorlton History Group

“In the early hours of Monday 7th January 1839 the British Isles was struck by a destructive and severe hurricane. In the North-West of England it inflicted widespread damage on a scale that would not be seen until the German air raids of the 1940’s. Yet it remains a sadly neglected episode in the history of the North-West.”*

Eddie’s talk went a long way to bring that storm out of the shadows and what I particularly liked was the way he used documentary evidence from the 1953 floods to highlight the enormity of the natural disaster. Here were ordinary people recounting a night of fear and in some cases great heroism with Eddie making the point that much the same happened 173 years ago.
This as they say was a once in a generation event and one that had a profound effect on anyone caught in its path.

Now I am not going to repeat the story just point you toward his book which at £3.50 is a snip.

Instead I am going to reflect on how the group has grown over the last few years. We began very much as a small band of people sharing our local historical interests and attempting to make links with each other’s work. Along the way we also began to exchange the skills we had in researching local history.

And nothing succeeds like success so as we became more confident in talking about what we knew we began to attract more people, and this has led to a broadening of the scope of the group. So
the future programme will include the well known and respected historian Bill Williams speaking on “Black History in Manchester,” and Brian Hallworth on the life and times of George Formby. There will also be a walk aimed to recreate Beech Road as it was in 1840 and an examination of the history of Longford Hall.

Now Longford Hall was rebuilt in 1857 but the previous hall had been the home of the radical Thomas Walker who campaigned against the slave trade supported the French Revolution, lived at Barlow Hall and was buried in our own parish graveyard by the green. I guess with this as a backdrop it is fitting that we should also have Gurbir Singh talking on when “Yuri Gagarin come to Chorlton.” Of course it wasn’t just Chorlton which he passed through on his way to Trafford Park to visit fellow engineering workers which has been his trade before the military and his famous trip into space.

And it says much for that visit that at least three people in the room instantly admitted to having seen him. This is one of the strengths of the group that people bring not only their knowledge and interests but also their experiences. When Philip gave his talk on Chorltonville he drew on his own memories of the prototype which had been built at West End to give a vivid description of both.

Nor is it just that we have widened the subject matter there is also a growing confidence amongst members to come along and talk about things that are close to them.

So all in all and under Bernard’s gentle but efficient hand the group goes from strength to strength with our next meeting in a new venue Chorlton Good Neighbours, St Ninians Church, Egerton Road South on Tuesday May 1st 1.30 with Bill Williams.

Pictures; from the collection of Bernard Leach.

*The Great Storm of 1839, Eddie Little, Reword Publishers, 2002

Thursday, 15 March 2012

British Home Children Another talk

If you followed the post yesterday on British Home Children, you will know that I was talking last night on the subject in the meeting room of the Co-op on Hardy Lane.

It went down well and like all these things you never know where it will lead, so I was pleased that after it was over, one of the audience asked if I could pass the power point on to a friend who couldn’t get to the meeting. She is a Canadian history teacher who had only recently become aware of BHC.

And that for me increasingly is the purpose of the talk and posts. Having almost given up on finding anymore about my own great uncle who went over in 1914 it is knowing that I am doing my own little bit to bring the story of BHC to people over here.

Picture; from the collection of Lori Oschefski

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Learning more about British Home Children and another talk

Now I am going to state what on the surface seems blindingly obvious that history is the story of people. But it is easy to lose sight of this as you burrow away in an archive or ponder on the details of some diplomatic event that happened long ago. This is even more so when you begin to debate the rights and wrongs of a decision of one of those turning points in history.

True enough you start off with the question of how this played out on individuals but all too quickly it becomes hijacked by the desire to stay objective, weigh the facts, look for the balanced picture and somewhere along the way the person has been reduced to a statistic.

Which is how it can be with the story of British Home Children, who were the young people “rescued” from the streets, orphanages and homes of uncaring parents and transported to Canada, Australia and other out posts of empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

All of us who are descendants of these children start with an admission they knew little of the programme, even less that one of their relatives was involved and quickly slip into anger when stories of neglect, abuse and loneliness come to the surface. But then you try to be objective look for the reasons why it happened, trawl the motives of the organisers and ponder on whether it was all for the best.

So I would like to share these three photographs, all taken from the excellent web site British Home Children run by Lori Oschefski.

George Everitt Green was sent to Canada by Barnado’s in 1895 and died 6 months later from a combination of neglect abuse and starvation, Frederick Cheesman was separated from his four siblings and never saw them again, Ralf Cheesman was born sometime around 1922, arrived in Canada in 1924 and fought for his adopted country in the Second World War and Rosa Dunn was sent by Barnado's in 1895.

Each has a part of the story of British Home Children, and I could have included many more like my own great uncle or Annie Geavaux who was taken over by Barnado’s in 1921 and made a new life in Canada marrying in 1940.
But the web site is more than just a collection of pictures but is a growing fund of information about the programme and the plight of these young people.

And for us over here I would also recommend British Home Children which is a "site dedicated to the Descendants of British Home Children (BHC); Families of British Child Migrants and all home children and child migrants still living, no matter where in the world.”

Their story is still one that is not very well known in Britain but there is a growing interest and I will be speaking on the subject tonight at the Co-op hall above the Co-op store on the corner of Hardy Lane and Barlow Moor Road at 7.30.

Pictures; from the collection of Lori Oschefski

Where is this?

It is I think another of those pictures which is not easy to place and without the title at the bottom of the card would stump most of us for a little while. So I shall omit the name of the road and wait for someone to identify it. There are no prizes but as my old Maths teacher used to say “show me the working out” which led to your answer. Should I offer a date? No I don’t think so. Perhaps that could be the supplimentary question.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Why I would like to sign the petition on British Home Children

It is a pity that I cannot sign the petition calling on the Canadian Government to offer an apology for the wrongs done to British Home Children.

Now I have written before about national apologies and I remain of the opinion that the apology is more about bringing these young people out of the shadows than just a belated sorry.

Like many descendants of British Home Children I had no idea until recently that one of my family took part or the scale of the programme. I am indebted to my Canadian colleagues who have been working for years collating the lists of those who were sent and attempting to raise the profile of BHC.

But history is messy and sometimes the interpretation that people put on the story is not the one you expect. I was reminded of this when I picked up on the debate at one history group where the conversation centred on the opportunities that the programme offered for new lives in a new country.

And I suppose on one level it is the numbers game. For every child who experienced hardship loneliness and cruelty there were others who were lifted from poverty neglect and blighted lives. So is it possible to balance the two and come to a neat end sum of happiness versus sadness? Which I guess echoes that infamous discussion between Holly Martins and Harry Lime high above the streets of post war Vienna looking down on a crowd of people.
“Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?”*

But this of course is the way that progress is measured in history. Ultimately the Industrial Revolution was a good thing because despite the awful conditions experienced in our cities and factories it transformed Britain from a rural economy and laid the basis for a modern country. The Great War was a disaster because the loss of life far outweighed the attempt to check the dominance of Germany in Europe.

On the other hand is there not a danger in dwelling on the negative side of the British Home Children project which in turn creates an image of these young people as victims? It was once put to me that in Holocaust studies the constant emphasis on the persecution of the Jewish people can be counterproductive and reinforces that anti-Semitic idea that here are a group of people different from the rest of us. In the camps and the ghettoes there was Jewish resistance and a culture that 2,000 years of persecution has not managed to destroy.

Likewise British Home Children made new lives for themselves helping to build their adopted country and are due that recognition so I hope this will also be a result of the petition. And even if I can’t sign I will make everyone tomorrow at my next talk above the Co-op rooms on Hardy Lane here in Chorlton aware of that petition and the story behind it.

Picture; from the collection of Lori OSchefski
*The Third Man 1949

Monday, 12 March 2012

The changing face of Beech Road

More by luck than good judgement I landed up on Beech Road in the winter of 1976. Of course back then it was a pretty ordinary collection of houses at the eastern end and the sort of shops and pubs that could be found anywhere across south Manchester running down to the green.

In the mid 1980s it went through a bit of a crisis as shops closed and stayed empty but along came the Lead Station and Primavera and the rest as they say is history.

Back then I was not fully attuned to the history of my road. Most of the buildings date from the 19th century and look pretty ordinary but there are still glimpse of its past which may date back to 16th century. The last wattle and daub cottage only went just over a hundred years ago and two of the oldest commercial buildings in the township are still there at numbers 68 and 70.

Almost opposite is the Wesleyan chapel built in 1825, replacing an earlier one and standing next to it the home of Daniel Sharpe who lived there from the 1840s through to the 1860s.
Sadly his home has not fared well and at present is empty with half its roof missing. But at least it is still there. Not so the once beautiful house on the corner with Acres Road which was demolished one day with little ceremony.

Of course things change, and so it is with Beech Road or Chorlton Row as it was known till the 1870s. And Peter’s painting captures some of that change. To the left the modern shop, office and residential block was the site of that beautiful house while to the right was the Co-op, whose yard in the 1980s had been taken over by the firm of Strippo who for about a tenner a door would strip decades of old paint away to reveal the original wood.

But amongst all the shiny new premises, there tucked away is Leo who has run his plastering business Gazelle since the 1980s from the tiny lock up between the old Co-op building and the new block.

There are plenty more of Peter’s paintings on display in venues across the township and at

Picture; © Peter Topping 2011

One Hundred Years of one house in Chorlton ...... part 14 events

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.

Live in a house long enough and there is a danger that past events slide into one another, and only when you think really hard do they tumble out one after another. Now I have been here since 1976 and that is a long time but none of the memories has overwhelmed me, all fit comfortably together and act as a gentle backdrop to what is going on right now.

As you would expect in that thirty six years the house has been a home at times to many of our friends and also somewhere which has touched many more.

Just last week I met up with an old flat mate. Greevz who I had last seen in the summer of ’73 but as we sat in the dining room he remembered being here and the talk naturally turned to other friends and people we had known who passed through 41.

When I washed up here in the December of 1976, John Mike and Lois had been in for about a year. Mary Ann had died in the April of ’73 and the house had been left to an animal charity which had not really known what to do with it but eventually put in the market.

Lois always maintains that her first impression of the place was that despite the old fashioned wall paper and the slightly musty smell it seemed a comfortable place, and I must admit that I have felt the same. It is somewhere to come home to and as I said a place where many others travelling through have said the same.

In the early years while we were all working we were all single and it was like being a student again but with money. So John built his boat, from scratch bending many of the timbers on the dining room floor by simply fastening them to the floor boards in the angle he wanted. The screw holes are still there. And when the time came there was boat turning day. Jenn who came for a week and stayed three months helped Lois, while Jack and Whispering Dave provided the advice and I, well I just pushed when told.

Even now I don’t know who gave Whispering Dave his name, although I guess it was Lois who at the time watched the old Grey Whistle Test and thought there was more than a passing resemblance to Bob Harries. Certainly they both had a way of talking which made you strain to pick out the next four sentences. But then most of our conversations only really began in the hours after we returned home from the Trevor, replete with four pints and the promise of a carry out.

It didn’t really matter when you got into the pub, you always seemed to drink four pints except on a Friday night when the first pint disappeared in the time it took to sit down and acknowledge everyone. Then and on Saturday you doubled up at last orders and the journey home was but a slip of a trip.

This is not to say there weren’t other diversions. Lois and would go up to the Essoldo and catch a movie and it was here that we saw Gone with the Wind which seemed appropriate enough since we were in a cinema which had opened in 1937. And I did regular trips to the Royal Exchange and Library Theatre.

Now Joe and Mary Ann I am sure would have approved of the Library Theatre. It was a no nonsense place and the first time I went in late 1969 they not only displayed adverts on the safety curtain in the interval but also had that wonderful light display where slides with different coloured wax were allowed to slide and drip across the screen. It would be another five years before I came across a java light in a pub off Penny Meadow in Ashton under Lyne.

But I guess for me it was the nights we entertained. To call them dinner parties would be to over stretch the event, but they were good. Plied with wine from litre plastic bottles and the food Lois cooked the evenings had a momentum of their own. Even now over thirty years later long after I have forgotten what we ate I can remember the fun and conversation and I think it would have been a first for the house. I doubt that Joe and Mary Anne entertained like that but it set the seal for the future and has been how we have lived since.

Pictures; from the collection of Lois Sparshot

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Stories of the Rivoli and Essoldo

Now there are plenty of stories yet to be told about the Rivioli or Essoldo on Barlow Moor Road. None of them are page turners but they were recounted by people who lived through the years of this now long gone cinema.

It was opened in 1937 and our own brass band played at the opening ceremony. My old friend Alan Brown was there and the icing on the cake was that he got into see Errol Flynn in Captain Blood which was one of his better swashbuckling movies. Made two years earlier it had got the lot, including the infamous Hanging Judge Jeffrey’s, wrongful arrest, the inevitable romance and of course the triumph of good over bad.

The Rivoli was last to be built and was aimed at the new council estates which were being built south of Chorlton. We forget that in the absence of TV picture houses were one of the main ways of entertainment when it was opened.

I guess this was why it was rebuilt after it had been bombed during the war. Now it might be possible to recreate the events of that night. There are records made by local ARP and defence volunteers who tracked aerial attacks as tracings on maps.

The destruction of houses around Corkland Road on May 1st 1941 were recorded and are in the National Archive and it is likely that there is a similar report of the stick of bombs which fell across Barlow Moor and Claude Road destroying the cinema and nearby houses. It is still possible to see the route of the aircraft from the new houses on Claude Road which stand out from their Edwardian neighbours.

The cinema was reopened in 1954 and as part of the advertising campaign the manager offered complimentary tickets for the restaurant. Ida Bradshaw remembers her father receiving tickets and getting off work early to attend. She tells me it continued to run through the rest of the ‘50s and was popular as a lunch time venue.

But it is the mystery surrounding the painting by J Montgomery that most fascinates me. I first wrote about the artist back in November hoping that someone might know him. He painted pictures of Chorlton and Whalley Range during the late 1940s through to the mid ‘60s. Most if not all were painted from postcards or photographs which led me to wonder if was not local. There are a lot of his paintings in the digital archive of Manchester Library but so nothing has come to light, except one brief entry in a catalogue.

And it was there that I came across this one. It was painted according to the catalogue in 1965 and based on photograph taken in 1945. Looking at it it’s not clear what damage the cinema had sustained but perhaps it had been to the roof or the rear of the building. I have to admit it is not one of his best but if it is accurate it tells us something of what it had once looked like and the changes that were made in 1954.

The tile frontage was retained but the shape and size of the windows was dramatically altered as was the entrance. It is and may remain one of those little mysteries which does not matter over much but has got me wanting to know.

Now it is possible that a snap of the old place will turn up, it usually does, although a search through the local papers has drawn a blank.

Perhaps when it does it may also reveal something of J Montgomery including the picture he used. We shall see.

Pictures; The Rivoli by J Montgomery, 1976, m80107, and the Essoldo, R E Stanley m09200 May 1959, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

A view of a new Chorlton

Now local artist Peter Topping and I have been collaborating successfully for some time. He as you know paints pictures of Chorlton and I think of something to say about them.

Of all his pictures this one best captures how the township has changed during the last 50 years. There will be plenty of people who remember this stretch of Wilbraham Road as a collection of late Victorian shops and houses, and the buildings to the right of the painting are all that is left of them.

Here were a collection of the usual shops that can be found on any high street. In 1959 when A E Landers walked this way he caught on camera a tobacconist, a wallpaper and paint shop, The Stocking Shop and the Flower Shop along with the Wilbraham Garage.

It was still possible to see the concrete stumps which were all that was left of the petrol pumps outside what was in the 90s the pottery co-operative and is now a pizza takeaway.

Step back just another forty years and this stretch would have all been private houses one of which was the home of Mr Moorhouse who bought the Pavilion on Wilbraham Road turned it into a cinema and created the Moorhouse chain of cinemas across Greater Manchester in the 1920s and 30s and then went on to be a founder member of the Manchester Studios on Dickenson Road.

What is now the Co-operative store was until recently Somerfield’s and a closer look at the building reveals that it is older than the block which includes Oddbins down to the Red Cross. It was built sometime around 1959 or 1960 while the remaining seven shop fronts and flats date from the ‘70s.

But in another way Peter’s picture records a typical row of Chorlton shops. Here is a fashionable off license, a restaurant, and cafe and of course the collection of charity shops and takeaways. There are plenty more of Peter's paintings which can be seen in venues across the township and at

Picture; © Peter Topping 2011