Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Here’s an offer you can’t refuse

It’s not every day that you get the chance to decide on becoming part of a city.

But that was exactly what happened in the January of 1904, when the ratepayers of Chorlton along with those of Burnage, Didsbury, and Withington were asked to take a leap and join the big city neighbour.

We had been part of the Withington Urban District Council since it was set up in 1876  and bits of its legacy are sill knocking around if you know where to look.  Some of the streets grids still bear the name Withington UDC and out by the meadows are the remains of the sewage works, although I have to confess my favourite bit of this long vanished little local authority is Withington Town Hall.

Now it is one of those places I have passed countless times and even once sat in the great hall during an election meeting in 1987 but at the time never really thought much of it.  I always thought of it as a pale imitation of the Town Hall in Albert Square, but then there was a time I didn’t much care for it either.   Of course I have changed my opinion about both.

In that town hall on Lapwing Lane took place some of the really important debates about the development of the township including the extension of the sewage system, the provision of more schools and of course the amalgamation with the city.
Manchester had been steadily expanding from its creation as a borough in 1838.* So it was natural that those areas to south which included the Withington UDC and Moss Side should at some point look to the advantages of being incorporated. 

For some the advantages were so clear that they openly campaigned for our inclusion.  The Withington Amalgamation League set up in 1902 argued that the rates would fall, and we would gain “libraries, baths, reduction in water and gas rates, lower cemetery charges, music in recreation grounds better fire and police protection more deliveries of letters, technical classes, shares in tramway and electricity profits and the prospect of Ship Canal and School Board rates decreasing.”**

This was for many an offer to good to refuse and one that was shared by the City Council.  At their October meeting in 1903, much was made of the assets that Withington would hand over to the Corporation, including the newly built “hospital to which attracted 20-30 acres of land, ....[and] beyond that land for a smallpox hospital, a field for the extension of the tram services and the sewage farm, 80 acres in extent.”  And as Fletcher Moss pointed out amalgamation would bring Alexandra Park “that large park into the hands of the Council” and furthermore “the Corporation was the largest ratepayer in the Withington district and by far the largest owner of freehold estate with the possible exception of Earl Egerton” which meant they would be no longer paying out rates to Withington UDC.

And it seemed only to get better.  Under the terms of amalgamation all existing staff of the Withington UDC were taken on by the Corporation and “the price and conditions of supply of gas, water and electricity to the inhabitants of Withington shall be the same as those of the citizens of Manchester.  That all future tramways inthe district of Withington shall be laid as double linesalong carriage ways not less than 32 feet wide between curbs.  That two free libraries and two swimming baths to be established in different parts of Withington within five years..... that for a period of twenty years the rate  shall not exceed 4s in the £.”  There was to be a special Withington Committee of the City Council.

Of course there was opposition some of which centred on whether the rate deal could have been improved, and the degree to which the assets were being handed over too cheaply but even these tended to accept that eventual amalgamation was inevitable.

So it fell to the vote of all rate payers which curiously was done by postcard.  “A circular on the subject to be posted to ratepayers on the Thursday of January 21st, along with a reply postcard to be returned by the morning of the 26th”which according to one aggrieved letter writer gave only the weekend and the Monday with no public meetings before returning the vote.  This might strike us as an odd way to vote but was the method which had been adopted by the various poor law councils in the townships since 1834.

The result was pretty conclusive with 4,086 voting for incorporation and 805 against.  And in the April of the same year Moss Side UDC also voted by 2,781 to 643to join the city.

Now if like me you enjoy crawling over election results then the first one of the new Chorlton Ward is fascinating.  The story of the campaign including the candidates, their election platforms will come later, but on Tuesday November 1st 1904 the electors here in Chorlton ward had a choice six candidates for three seats.  The Progressive Party fielded three, the Conservatives two and there was an independent.  In some ways the Progressives were the most interesting and you can read about them at http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/more-reflections-on-international.html

The result was bizarre, because the electors chose one from each of the parties standing, which may reflect the wish to give each party a fair chance which was how one voter told me she would vote in 1982 when all three council seats here in Chorlton were being contested.

Picture; Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, Withington Town Hall, October 16th 1906 m52133, election result from the collection of Lawrence Beedle

* When it was formed from the city centre, Ardwick, Beswick, Cheetham, Chorlton upon Medlock and Hulme.  And despite being unable to expand to the west because of Salford, took in Harpurhey, Bradford with Beswick and Rusholme in 1885, followed by Blackley, Clayton, Crumpsall, Moston, Newton Heath, Openshaw and West Gorton five years later and Heaton Park in 1903.

**The advantages to be derived by this district becoming amalgamated within the boundaries of the city of Manchester, Withington Amalgamation League, 1903

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