Friday, 31 August 2012

Back with the Furness Vale Local History Society

One of the things that really excites me is the way small groups of local people get together to explore the history of their own community.

At one time they may have been sniffed at by serious historians as the tea time brigade, those retired and well meaning individuals with time on their hands and an over enthusiasm for all things parish pump.

But as my old friend Ian Meadowcroft often repeats these are the very people who not only make local history come alive but often are the ones who dig up and re-present vital information which feeds into the big picture that the so called serious historian writes about.

They are there in village, town and city suburb, collecting photographs, rescuing neglected documents and explaining how a building or an occupation is part of the local story and feeds into that big one.

And so today I am back with the Furness Vale Local History Society and their latest newsletter,* which is not only packed with some very interesting local activities and links but also mentions me and the blog, so come on down Furness.

Now I won’t spoil the voyage of discovery but in the light of what I have just said would point you to the link to a picture archive of New Mills.**  For most of us the old photograph is the first entry into a lost world and one which instantly helps open up the past, and then once drawn in it is the job of  local historians to make sense of that picture and give it meaning.

So enough of the serious stuff, go off and read the newsletter and get to see them.

Picture; courtesy of the Furness Vale Local History Society,

Leaving for Canada

It is more than likely that one or more of the children you can see playing football will have made the journey to Canada as a British Home Child.

They are in the yard of the Manchester & Salford Boys & Girls Refuge on Francis Street.  Now I can’t be exactly certain that some were destined for the other side of the Atlantic but the Refuge began sending children soon after the scheme started and by 1910 over 1,800 had been “rescued from dangerous surroundings in Manchester & Salford and sent to Ontario.”*

The photograph comes from the blog of the Together Trust which regularly features stories of the work of the Refuge drawn from their archives.  Now I am not in the habit of repeating the research and work of others so I would point you in the direction of the blog at!)

One of the exciting things about the blog is the growing number of posts which feature the letters stories and pictures of the children who went to Canada.  It is something I have commented on before but is well worth bringing back out into the fresh air.**

So to return to the photograph.  I don't have a date, and of course none of these may have been rescued and sent on to Ontario, but sometimes given the evidence is acceptable to make a bit of a leap, after all every good historian needs a little imagination.

*The Lord Mayor of Manchester, on the occasion of a farewell ceremony of  52 children from the Boys and Girls Refuge and Chorlton and Salford Poor Law Unions at the Town Hall April 14th 1910, Manchester Guardian, April 15th 1910


Picture; Courtesy of the Together Trust,

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Aaron Booth and his pictures of Martledge in 1882

In the summer and winter of 1882 Aaron Booth took a series of photographs from his house.  They are remarkable in many ways.

He was an amateur photographer and his pictures are some of the earliest we have of the township and they perfectly capture the area of Martledge just as it was about to change.

Martledge was that part of Chorlton roughly from the four banks up to the Library and in 1882 plots of the land were being sold off to speculative builders and businessmen.  In little over forty years the fields, farms and barns were to be lost to tall rows of terraced and semi detached shops and houses.

So my picture is a real find.  It was taken from an upstairs window of his house Sedge Lynn and looks out across Manchester Road.  In the distance are the cottage and farm building which had been home to Charles Renshaw who in the 1840s had farmed a mix of arable, pasture and meadow land across the township.  Out of sight and a little to our right was the new railway station opened just two years earlier.

It was a scene which was to vanish all too quickly.  There had been a recession which was coming to an end by 1882 and business confidence was returning which set off the building boom in Chorlton.  And so within the next decade, the farm buildings of Charles Renshaw, and the fields there about were to go.  This peaceful almost idyllic scene of Martledge on a summer’s day was lost.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

A day in Knaresborough

Yesterday we did Knaresborough in Yorkshire.

It was the only really sunny day at this end of the back of August and we grabbed the moment.

Now what attracted it to me was not the connection with Mother Shipton who lived in a cave suggested the future and provided the place with a neat tourist attraction, but the market square, castle and railway viaduct.

The market was all that you might expect of a small market town.  There were some picturesque shops and houses by the town cross, including three red telephone boxes which you don’t see back in the city so much and a place to park at reasonable prices.

Hard by was the castle dating from the 13th century taking in commanding views of the river below and the surrounding countryside.

I am drawn to castles.  This one despite being pretty much ruined was the sort I like.  It was small enough to get a sense of what it would have been like to live there.  So from each corner you take in its different features and get something of how closed in its occupants must have felt.

And then there are the views which back in the middle ages made it such an important place.  Anyone on sentry duty would have been for miles and in particular any traffic along the River Nidd which rises in on the Dales at Great Whernside and flows on down to join the River Ouse which in turn flows through York.

Today the Nidd has high water marks of anything between 1.3 metres and 2.36 along its route to the Ouse and while I have no idea how this compares with 700 hundred years ago I guess the river was an important line of communication up from York and so needed to be watched.

But for me the view is compounded by the railway viaduct.  It is a spectacular piece of engineering and like all such constructions seems to hang effortlessly over the valley.

It was finished in 1851 when farmers Higginbotham and Bailey were farming the land which is now the Rec.

So something of a nice connection and something for everyone. Now the castle has been there for hundreds of years the viaduct for just over 160 years and I rather hope the telephone boxes last for a few more decades.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Martledge, the lost and forgotten part of Chorlton

Few people today will have heard of Martledge, and yet it was as much a part of our township as Chorlton or Hardy.

It was that area stretching roughly from the four banks up towards the Library and fell victim to the housing development of late 19th century.

Here could be found the same mix of small farms, market gardens, cottages and beer shops that were typical of where we lived when we were still a rural community.  But from the 1880s the Egerton estate began selling parcels of land to speculative builders and businessmen.  I say sell but the deal was a little more complicated.  The land changed hands subject to the payment of a yearly chief rent which freed up capital for the developers to build the properties.*

And it worked.  Within 30 years much of Martledge was built over, and in recognition that something new and different had happened to this part of Chorlton became known as New Chorlton, leaving those who lived around the village and Beech Road to describe their area as Old Chorlton.  It was a division which lasted into the 1970s and can still be heard on the lips of some of our oldest residents.

So in an effort to bring Martledge out of the shadows what follows is a short series on what was once there.
I have decided to start with the old cottage between Warwick and Selbourne Road.  It is difficult to date it but I don’t think despite its appearance that it was more than 30 years old when this photograph was taken around 1885.  Either way they had gone by the end of that decade just as the advance of the new properties began.

Despite the rural appearance on what looks like a sunny summer's day the railway had already come through Chorlton and its station  had been opened for business for five years, so just behind our cottage was the busy future.

Later we will visit the New Buildings usually known as Renshaw’s Buildings, and take another look at the Royal Oak and Redgates Farm.


Picture; from the collection of Alan Brown

Monday, 27 August 2012

A book and a dilemma

I have never really known which to embrace as my own. 

I could go with the Andy Warhol promise “That everyone should have 15 minutes of fame” or that play on the famous message “the meek will inherit the Earth if that’s alright with you God.”

So I approach posting an update about the book on the history of Chorlton-cum-Hardy in the 19th century with care.

But as I am sitting here with a copy of the manuscript to proof read and six alternative new covers to choose from I can’t let the moment pass.

The manuscript arrived on Friday and for the first time here is a version that could be a book.  The layout is complete, the pictures are in place and all I have to do is read through it looking for mistakes.  Now anyone who knows me will smile that indulgent smile at the thought of me correcting anything.  I can’t spell, my fingers can miss whole words on the key board and I am to grammar what the Mary Celeste was to safe sailing.  But I am assured by the publisher that there will be someone else also checking the book.  So that is good then.

And it is exciting choosing a new cover.  I say six alternative covers but the reality is that it’s more, for along with the choice of a picture there is the lay out. But when has anything been easy.

Now that all about uses my 15 minutes so if it’s OK with everyone I will just leave the topic and go off looking for more Chorlton tram pictures which remain some of the most popular pictures on the blog.

And in the meantime there are the other stories about the book at

Picture; from the collection of Carolyn Willitts

On arriving in Asos

The first time we came across Asos it was at the end of a long drive over Greek roads through the heart of the island ending with a descent down some spectacular mountains.  

It was a place we have come back to and will again.

There is history here but essentially the post is here because on a cold grey August Bank Holiday the rain continues to fall like stair rods.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Saturday, 25 August 2012

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 21, the wireless, the telly and the cost

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.*

I have been thinking and writing about how the consumer boom of the 1950s made an impact on our house and in particular the lives of Joe and Mary Ann.  Now I do have to be careful.  I never met either of them and by the time I washed up here for the first time in 1976 nothing was left of their possessions.  But they had installed a telephone by the mid 1920s and had a television in 1958.

I expect they had bought into the full run of new electrical equipment but these had all been cleared out after Mary died leaving only an old 1940s gas cooker.  But assuming they had that full range I have become intrigued at what the cost would be and how this squared with their income.

And there again I run into trouble.  Joe was a builder who owned a lot of houses which he had built and which he rented out all of which must have marked him off as earning above the national average, and in the 1950s he progressively moved to selling them off.  But I don’t have any figures for his income so we shall have to fall back on national average earnings and the price of the goods which while they were to fall during the 1950s were astonishingly high in 1949.

The minimum wage for a 47 hour week in 1949 was £4.14s, [£4.60p]* and there is anecdotal evidence which pushes the figure up to £5 and in one case £7.
The cost of the Murphy Radiogram was £92, with credit deals of a £1 a week and a deposit of £9.5s and even a 122m. 5 valve 3 waveband wireless cost £26.17s.9d [£26.89p].  All of which made these items quite expensive.

But there must have been cheaper versions, after all most homes had a wireless which was pretty much the main source of home entertainment from the 1930s through to the mid 1950s.  All those stories of neighbours coming into watch the Coronation in 1953 are well testified.

We must have got our telly sometime around 1955 so my earliest memories are of the wireless and in that respect there is a direct link to the Scott’s and to my own grandparents.  I don’t suppose that what I listened to was that much different from the wartime broadcasts from Saturday 1943**.  The Forces network became the Light Programme and was a mix of popular music and comedy while the Home Service provided more serious stuff in the form of news, drama and talks.

It all seems pretty tame stuff and for most people sitting at home on a wet Monday evening in February it was all there was, but there is no doubting that much of it was entertaining and certainly some of the drama and particularly the comedy has stood the test of time.

But moving pictures are magic and it is easy to see the attraction, even given the fact that the screen was small, broadcasts broke down and the programmes were sometimes just downright boring.  That said we adopted the approach that the telly was still not quite respectable and our first one had doors which closed the screen from view during the day, and allowing the casual visitor to see just a piece of furniture.

I wonder what Joe and Mary Ann would make of plasma screens which convert a wall into a cinema or the freedom the lap top gives to listen to music, follow the breaking news or just watch a repeat TV programme.  They would I suspect nod with approval, recognising the wonderful opportunities that are now possible.  No more the tyranny of all watching mum’s choice of programmes or waiting for the programmers to decide when we can watch again an old episode of Dad’s Army.  But there is always a downside.  The telly in the corner of the front room has been replaced by screens all over the house and in each room someone will be doing something on their own.

Pictures; from the collections of Graham Gill and Andrew Simpson

* based on figures from the Department of Employment and Productivity, 1981

** Derby Evening Telegraph July 3rd 1943

A bridge, a toll and illegal prize fights, all by the Mersey

You might be forgiven for passing quickly over the photograph of the bridge over the Mersey by Jackson’s Boat.  

I have seen better pictures, but as you would expect there is a story. The caption records “Looking down Rifle Road from the footbridge after the gate had been removed and the toll abolished.”
Now there is no date on the photograph but the reference to the abolition of the toll must place it sometime in the late 1940s, although I don’t have an exact year.

The right to charge goes back to before there was a bridge, when anyone wanting to cross the bridge at this point had to be ferried across by row boat, and as late as the 1830s long after the first wooden bridge had been erected the landlord of the pub retained the right to charge a fee to take people.

It was the enterprising Sam Wilton sometime publican who built the first wooden bridge in 1818 with a mind no doubt to cash in on the illegal sport of prize fighting which attracted huge crowds and took place on the meadows.  His pub was well placed to benefit from the trade of the thirsty spectators, who might also use the bridge to escape into Cheshire should the authorities turn up to affect arrests.

"And so it was that in the summer of 1848 Samuel Warburton was twenty minutes into a fight watched by two to three hundred spectators when the police turned up.  They had been alerted by Samuel Dean of Barlow Farm who had been alarmed at such a large gathering at 5.30 on a Sunday morning.    The crowd and the boxers duly escaped but a little after seven the same morning Samuel was arrested in the Horse and Jockey," but that is another story, which is told in the book.*

*Chorlton-cum-Hardy, the story of the township in the 19th century, due out later in the year,

Picture; by Thomas Turner from the Lloyd collection

Manchester People

Sometimes you come across a  picture which needs few words.

And so I was pleased when I got permission to run a series of photographs of Manchester in the 1960s and 70s.  They were first shown on facebook.

It is a picture I wish I had taken.

Friday, 24 August 2012

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 20, washing machines, televisions and much more

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.*

On any one day the number of electrical appliances running in our house would I think bemuse Joe and Mary Ann who moved into the house when it was brand new in 1920.  I have no way of knowing what electrical appliances they had but you can bet that back  then there weren’t many of them.

But Joe looked to the future and the house along with the other five in the terrace were built with electricity, unlike the ones he had built earlier and the select Chorltonville estate which had a mix of both electricity and gas for lighting.  In the late 1920s Joe was advertising that his new houses on Hackness and Highfield and Vicars had “every modern convenience” including. “electric lights.”

All of which I suspect would have meant that Joe and Mary Ann would have joined the consumer boom which began in the late 1930s and really took off during the 1950s.  And they may very well have looked at this 1952 advert and planned what they would buy both for easing Mary Ann’s domestic workload and their overall comfort.  Certainly by 1958 they had a television and a car and had been listed with a phone in during the 1920s.

Now it is all too easy to smile indulgently at this fixation with the new consumer revolution, and I have to confess to being a little critical in my early grown up years of the rush to outdo the neighbours with everything from hostess trolleys to bigger and better TVs, washing machines and teammates. Not that it stopped me enjoying the benefits that these objects offered up but in my priggish youth they all seemed part of that great conspiracy to draw us into a world we would then become dependent on and which made us forget some of the more horrible things that were going on around the world.

But then with maturity came the realisation that the generation who fell on these consumer products were people like my parents who had lived through a tough world war, experienced the hard times of the 1930s with its mix of mass unemployment and the Means Test and for those older there had been the Great War and the bitter peace that followed that conflict.

And of course there is that simple fact that all of these have made life so much easier.  Who now would want to wake up to a house where there was ice on the inside of windows, or where wash day meant a full day and a half of hard labour collecting and heating water in order to soak, wash, rub and squeeze dry the weeks washing?

They were sold as part of that bright new future and were central to the prosperity of post war Britain.  Of course there may be those who point to the fact that even given this prosperity it was relative and the rich remained very rich and the divide between them and the rest was still a gaping chasm.  Added to this some at least of the new products were bought on credit and as this 1950s Chorlton shop front shows were pushed with a real intensity. But they were nevertheless built to last our Cannon cooker marched proudly into its fourth decade before being scrapped, and many other appliances have equally stood the test of time.

Joe and Mary Ann may not have anticipated many of the machines we take for granted but they lived in a house which with just a little adjustment has accommodated them all.  Not bad for a property built just under a hundred years ago.

Pictures from the collection Graham Gill and the Xlent shop by A E Landers, 1959, M18455, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council


You are never far away from a power station

During the 1970s  east Manchester underwent profound change.  

The old rows of terraced housing came down, and the heavy industries which had provided work for thousands went into decline.

Eileen Blake photographed some of the changes, and in particular the way that the new social housing was still dominated by the areas industrial past.

Pictures; from the collection of Eileen Blake

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Westonby and the Twilight Sleep Home for painless child birth

I said that there were two more stories about Westonby* that big Edwardian pile on the edge of Chorlton which was built in 1903 and demolished sometime in the 1940s or 1950s.

One was the family who lived there soon after it was built and the other was the mystery surrounding the birth of Sheila Healy who was born at “Westonby, Edge Lane” in 1923. I say mystery because Sheila’s parents lived in Old Trafford which begged the question of how she came to be in Westonby.

Now the obvious conclusion was that by 1923 our fine pile had become a nursing home.  All then that was left to do was crawl over the street directories for the period and track when it changed use.

Easy enough and there for 1922 was the answer, Westonby had become the Old Trafford Twilight Sleep Home.  Not I grant you the zippiest of names and one with feint comic overtones  which opened a new field or research.  For on the same page of classified adverts was another Twilight Sleep Home on Upper Chorlton Road.

It is an odd name and takes you back to one of those fashionable medical practices of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and centred on the attempt to find a painless way for giving birth.

The standard approach had been to administer chloroform but in Germany experiements had been undertaken to see if women could give birth while asleep.  The mother was given a mix of morphine and scopolamine and early results were so promising that by the early 20th century the method had been adopted in the USA and Canada.

Our own Twilight Sleep Home opened in 1917 on Henrietta Street in Old Trafford and moved to Westonby sometime in 1921 or early 1922.  It advertised itself as offering “Painless Childbirth” and featured regularly in the classified section of the Manchester Guardian until 1927.  During those ten years it’s name varied slightly but always retained  Twilight Sleep.

So far I haven’t uncovered a reference to the company or to its winding up.  Nor has a copy of the booklet which it offered come to light, but I travel in hope.  Along with the adverts there are a succession of birth announcements which refer to Westonby in the early 1920s so perhaps there must be more to uncover.

And again it will be the street directories which will help.  The Westonby home does not feature after 1927 but its competitor on Upper Chorlton Road was still advertsining in 1936 after which it too vanished.

The answer might lie in the loss of faith in the medical practice.  As early as 1915 there had been deaths associated with the method and much mainstream medical opinion was at best luke warm. There were also stories of poor quality care and an absence of trained doctors and nurses as well as horror stories of women having to be strapped to the birthing beds.

It may also be that Westonby was too small it had only eleven rooms.  Then there would have been the cost.  I don’t have any figures yet but such care would not have come cheap and even though some nursing homes catered for poorer clients it is hard to see that this was a first choice for all but the comfortably well off.

We shall see.  I have a feeling that Westonby has still more to reveal.

Pictures; advert from the Manchester Guardian, April 6 1926, and what might be Westonby from the collection of Averil Kovacs

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A history of Chorlton in just 20 objects number 20, a tram and the railway line that is 132 years old

Concluding the story of Chorlton in just a paragraph. They are in no particular order, and have been selected purely at random.

For my last object I have selected what must be the newest and one that takes our story into the 21st century.  It is a painting by Peter Topping of a metro tram near the station at Chorlton, and I think it is appropriate for many reasons.  The extension of the metro service brings back into use the old railway line.  When it was opened in  1880 it was a significant contribution to the development of the township making it possible to work in the city but commute home in just fifteen minutes to a pleasant enough place on the edge of open countryside.  So here there is continuity with the past but also the promise of things to come. And the painting is part of a new venture where Peter paints pictures of contemporary Chorlton and I tell stories of its past.  It works well enough and many of these can be read on the blog at and Peter’s full collection is available to see at

Pictures; ©Peter Topping 2011

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Letter from Viareggio ...... a wedding anniversary and an authentic Neapolitan pizza and a chance encounter with two Americans from New York

Today is Simone and Rosa’s 49th wedding anniversary and tonight we are off to a local pizzeria. But this is no ordinary pizzeria. It is run by Neapolitans who if they are to ne believed invented the pizza.

Now Simone and Rosa are from Naples so this seems a good place to go. From the street it is the sort of place that could be easily missed. A small entrance lets into a long restrauent with garden beyond. The real focus is of course the traditional oven, which uses wood. Tina remains a little apprehensive. The web site is generally complimentary but warms of long waits.

But the owner is nice enough and we have asked him to provide a cake. A simple sponge and patisserie affair topped with fruit and cream with a message. This will be made by the owner’s brother. We come away and Tina is struck with more foreboding. “We never got an exact price for the cake; he said €20 maybe but he could charge us anything.” I acknowledge that he might, but as ever put my trust in the comforting thought that this wasn’t likely and things usually all work out alright in the end.

The owner also bakes bread and like his pizzas the bread is cooked in a wood burning oven. It is nothing like I have eaten before. It has a nutty taste with a light open texture contrasts with its hard crust.

We have prepared well for the anniversary meal. Earlier in the day we went shopping for presents for the two of them. Simone is easy to buy for. He enjoys smoking and so Tina bought him cigarettes. What to buy Rosa proves more difficult and we rail around the town looking for inspiration as much as an actual present.

Then we struck lucky. In the space of 30 minutes we found her a necklace made of blue stones and some special soap and bath oil both called Rosa. But the real find was a tiny gift shop tucked away at the edge of the market which sold everything from plastic little statues of a bride and groom to glassware and picture albums.

As ever it was the simplest and cheapest things which proved perfect. These consisted of a tiny porcelain pair of red chillies, and a porcelain sunflower. Both were just €1.50 each. In Naples red chillies are regarded as good luck charms and sunflowers are one of the symbols of Tuscany. Now Simone and Rosa come from Naples and Viareggio is in Tuscany. These were used to decorate a small bag of sugared almonds.

The restaurant was the setting for giving them their gifts and despite Tina’s misgivings it was just what we wanted. Tina had already said that Simone was less bothered about the fact that it was run by Neapolitans and more concerned about the food. Now I had been less than impressed with the pizzas I had eaten this holiday but these were different. Perhaps it was the wood burning oven or maybe just that these pizzas were being made by experts, but they were good.

What marked the place out was that the menu was simple and made no attempt to add exotic toppings which might sound interesting but do nothing for the pizza’s appearance or its taste. Not that this stopped the chef customising one pizza with chips but I suppose you give the punter what he wants.

In the cold light of day our garden was no more than the yard at the back, with its plastic roof obscured by straw matting, and from where we sat it was just possible to make out the back of the buildings above the restaurant. Not that this spoilt the night.

Nor we were alone in thinking so. In the space of the hour and half we were there the place filled up. There were a few couples but mostly it was families, coming for a Friday night out and in some cases extended families. The largest consisted of a gaggle of children of different ages, their parents and a grandparent. None were particularly dressed up, for them the special event was that they were all together on a Friday night. It was a happy animated party where the conversation ebbed and flowed around the table and no one was ignored and everyone’s opinion valued.

Then there was the American couple. They sat in the centre of the garden and he wrestled with his phrase book. They were in their late 50s, and he dominated the conversation with an elegant New York accent. I always find it fascinating how strangers interact together in restaurants. He while deeply involved in his own monologue seemed a little puzzled at us and I can understand why. To any casual observer it must seem odd how the conversation at our table bounced between Italian and English with no apparent break and in some cases switching in midsentence.

But it was the arrival of the cake which brought us together. Tina realized that she needn’t have been concerned about how it would turn out. As promised it was a sponge cake with rich patisserie icing inside and out and decorated with strawberries with the sentiment inscribed on top, and here came the connection, for as we wrestled with taking pictures of the cake and Rosa cutting it, the tall American offered to take a photograph of us. As ever that was the link.

Simone proudly told them it was his 49th wedding anniversary, and they who had clocked up 34 were genuinely impressed which turned to something else when he offered them the first slices of the cut cake. It is those simple shared gestures which cross national boundaries.
Of course a shared language also helped and revealed other common points of contact. New York remains a special place for Tina and Luca. They were there last summer and could talk about locations they all knew and by coincidence the woman was like Tina a social worker.

But there it stopped. They were heading back to Rome the following day to pick up a flight to the States, and we would heading north. Afterwards I wondered if we should have exchanged addresses but then I am always very romantic about such exchanges and latter disappointed when there is no rely to the email or it all fizzles out in a matter of months. But that is me all over, I read too deeply into things and expect too much.

I am sure they will for a while recount the night in pizzeria in Viareggio when an Italian family shared a cake on a special evening under the stars. Equally Rosa and Simone were touched. In her practical way Rosa carefully opened each package admiring the gifts and then equally carefully folding the wrapping paper. But there was no mistaking how moved she was, nor Simon who let a tear fall.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Saye Vernier Griffith a British Home Child Farmer

I have been thinking about the farmers who received the children from Britain into their homes and set them to work on their farms.

Now quite rightly a lot of work has gone into recovering the lives of the children who by and large have slipped into the shadows.

Their stories, experiences and something of what they did with themselves are at last there for us to read.  But not so the farmers.  Some are judged to be the villains while most just saw an opportunity to avail themselves of cheap labour and became part of a much bigger exchange of youngsters from the streets, orphanages and workhouses of Britain to the open lands and small towns and communities of Canada.

This will be no easy task given that I am over 3,000 miles from the source material.  But you can cut corners.  There is the excellent book by Joy Parr, Labouring Children,* which places the British Home Children scheme into the wider economic and cultural context of the period both here and in Canada and much attention is given to its impact on the rural Canadian economy.

Then there is the Library and Archives Canada** which I have happily roamed over.  Finally there are my Canadian friends many of whom have been bevering away for years searching, recording and describing the lives of these young people.***

And so I want to start not with the grand design but with one of the two farmers who I am close to.  He was Saye Vernier Griffith and he farmed out by Sheffield in Sunbury County N.B.  In 1914 he applied and was given a BHC who was my great uncle.

He was born in 1876 and he was first generation Canadian.

His farm was close to the St John River, but at present I have no idea of its size or what he farmed but given that potatoes and dairy farming are the main source of agriculture I guess that was what he did.  Now potato farming can be labour intensive and given that during the period from 1870 to 1921 the rural population was in decline the attractiveness of a boy from Britain to work for just $3 a month must have appealed to Saye.

And the same must have been true of other farmers, a fact which did not escape the attention of William Skivington  the Poor Law Guardian  who asserted that in 1910 for each of the 2,300 children sent to Canada that year  there had been seven applications by farmers.****

I am not sure I would have taken to old Saye, who certainly did not take to my great uncle and requested his removal on the allegation that he suspected the boy of burning down the barn.

Or perhaps Saye Vernier Griffith was just set in his ways.  He was after all 38 when he took in my uncle and 54 when he got married.

His wife moreover was just 23.  I have no idea about the success of the marriage but there were children.

Saye died in 1952 aged 76 and the farm appears to have been sold before his death.

Not a lot to go on but a start and the beginnings of looking into the lives of the men and woman who took the children of Britain for the farms of Canada.

* Parr, Joy, Labouring Children, British Immigrant Apprentices to Canada, 1869-1924, 1994, University of Toronto Press,
***Of these there are many but I would recommend which is a growing source of research and stories and pictures.
**** Manchester Guardian April 4 1910
Pictures; from Libraries and Archives Canada, from the collections of Andrew Simpson and Angela Faubert

Westonby on Edge Lane and a mystery

Yesterday I returned to the story of Westonby on Edge Lane, and in the way of things it has blossomed into two stories.

So I shall start in 1923 with the birth of Winifred Constance Sheila Healy born to Francis Joseph and Catherine Maud Healy, nee McDonnell which is really how I came again to visit this house on the edge of Chorlton.

 Her daughter had come across the Westonby story and wondered what more we might find out about the house and her mother’s early life and not for the first time it led off in all sorts of directions.

Sheila Healy as she was known was born at Westonby in April 1923 but therein lies the mystery because her parents came from Trafford Park, and it was in Trafford Park where her mother died just four months after the birth.

They had been married in 1920 at St Antony's Catholic Church on Fourth Street, Trafford Park and had lived on Eleventh Street.  Looking at a picture of Eleventh Street from 1910 it is a world away from the large Edwardian house which was Westonby set in its own grounds and overlooking fields.

Fourth Street and Eleventh Street were part of an industrial community built by the British Westinghouse Electric Company for its workers.  It was laid out “on the American style grid system of avenues and streets and had shops, eating rooms, a dance hall, schools, a church and a cinema.”*

Sheila’s mother was working for Westinghouse in 1911 and it may have been there in the electric works that she met Francis who gave his occupation as an “electrical and mechanical engineer” in 1920.

All of which begs the question of how Sheila came to be born in Westonby.  The answer will lie in the street directories which may reveal a changed use for the property.  Large buildings like Westonby were not as economic to run as they had been before the Great War and it may have become a small private hospital or nursing home.  It may even be that there is a link with Westinghouse who were regarded as “progressive employers”** and so could have funded a small hospital.

And that pretty much severs the link at present between Sheila and Westonby.  With the death of her mother Catherine more usually known as Kitty, Sheila was “raised by her grandparents Thomas & Margaret Healy in Chorley and Horwich. They came to England from Ballyfermoyle, Co. Roscommon, Ireland in the early 1880s and Thomas was one of the founders of St Mary's Catholic Church, Horwich,” which predated our own Catholic chapel by just eight years.

This was St Peter on Barlow Moor Road which was replaced by the now familiar church of St John on High Lane in 1927.

I doubt that there is any connection but there might be and so along with a search of the street directories for the early 1920s there may be something amongst the church records.

We shall see.

Pictures; Eleventh Street, 1910 from Wikipedia Commons, and Westonby and newspaper extract from the collection of Averil Kovacs

*Trafford Park Village,

**As early as 1869 the American parent company had introduced a 9 hour day provided adequate housing for its workforce, as well as educational and cultural facilities and insurance schemes, Working Conditions in the Westinghouse Works,

*** Averil Kovacs, Sheila’s daughter

Friday, 17 August 2012

Westonby reveals its history

Something always turns up.

It is a phrase I use a lot and I guess very much sums up the optimistic side of me.

And I was reminded just how true this was when out of the blue I got a comment to a story I had posted back in May about Westonby, a lost house on Edge Lane.*  In the piece I had gone looking for the remains of a fine old early Edwardian house which had come on the market in 1905 just two years after it had been built.

I remember saying that I thought “there was a story here about the development of Chorlton,” and a little bit more of that story has come to light.

We now have a picture of the place, or at least we think we have. It was supplied by Averil who wrote to me that having come across the blog story,

"At last I have an answer as to where my late Mother was born in 1923. On her birth certificate it says Westorby, Edge Lane but I could find no trace. Then I saw on eBay a Guide for Chorlton that mentioned Edge Lane. 

In with my late Mother's aunt's photos was a photo of a very large old house. She didn't know where it was, and I am wondering if this could in fact be Westorby. Her Mother died shortly after my Mother was born.”

So together we are beginning to look for more clues as to the history of the house, its later occupants and its fate, for this grand pile has long since gone.

The first task will be to check out the street directories and electoral registers which will give us names and a date for when it was demolished.

And we know a little bit more about the place.  According to the 1911 census it had nine rooms as well as a bathroom and kitchen which pretty much fits the estates agents blurb from 1905.

At the back end of 1910 it was occupied by Mrs Fanny Cottam, but by the April of the following year she may have died because the house is occupied by her two married daughters. Florence had married Harry Richmond in 1907 and Ruby was married to Edward Ruby Stevens in 1911.  Both were young couples and the Richmond’s had two young children.

All of which does add to the story of the township’s development.  Harry Richmond was a sub manager in  the family business which he describes as “mail contractors,” but was also according to the firm's advert "Funeral Carriage Proprietors Mail Contractors and Job Masters,"  while Edward Stevens was an electrical engineer, which puts them in that new group of people who had steadily been moving into Chorlton since the 1880s. These were professional, managerial and clerical people who are best described as the middling people who worked in the city or the newly created Trafford industrial area but fancied living on the edge of the countryside.

And in 1911 Westonby was just that.  A little down the road was Stretford Railway Station while not more than 15 minutes away was Chorlton Railway station both offering a quick service into the heart of Manchester and yet our house looked out on fields stretching down to the Mersey.

Averil’s mother was born there in the April of 1923 so the gap in years is not much and I am confident that we will have more answers soon.


Picture; from the collection of Averil Kovacs

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Coming soon, ....... the book, a few stories on how it was written and the people who helped

"The summer of 1847 promised to be a good one which was an important consideration for a rural community and a good starting point for our story.  

After all 96 of our families were engaged in some form of farming and so a good harvest would put food on the table, guarantee work for the many and help the village through the dark cold winter a head."*  

Well that’s the start of the book and for all those who have already ordered a copy, or stopped to ask me about its progress we are almost there. It is now in the final stages of production and I have to say I am quite excited.

There are many people I would like to thank who have helped me with its writing and over the next few weeks I have decided on a short series of posts which will describe why and how I wrote it and in the process record my debt to those who told me stories, lent me material or just showed encouragement.


Letters and reports from British Home Children

Yesterday I was looking at a selection of indenture forms and applications made by Canadian farmers who wanted British Home Children to work on their farms.

For me they represent a powerful link with the men and women who were charged with the responsibility of caring for these young people.  And I rather think it is time to bring them out of the shadows.  Good, bad, happy or sad, their stories interest me as much as the children.  Some will no doubt reaffirm the conviction that home children were often exploited, neglected and abused and that their presence was vital to the success of agriculture in certain parts of Canada.

But there is also the contradictory evidence and that I hope will also be revealed.  History is messy and sometimes the neat and simple models just don’t work. So for every story of abuse and neglect there is a Tom Bowers pictured above.

His can be found in the blog produced by the Together Trust which was formally the Manchester and Salford Boys and Girls Refuge and who settled children in Canada from the early 1870s up to the Great War.  The blog is a wonderful treasure house of stories and pictures including letters and reports that were sent back to Manchester.

They take us directly into the lives of those young people and open up the door to how they were treated and the role of their farming hosts. 

There were those at the time who pointed to critical reports and moving letters from children highlighting the harsh side of life on remote farms which at the very least proved challenging to city children cut off from family and enduring harsh winters and unrelenting hot summers.*

By contrast there were success stories like that of Thomas and Francis “an old Refuge boy and Cheetham Hill girl” contained in the official report.

Both were from Manchester sent out as BHC, where they met, fell in love and got married, forging a strong relationship with a local farmer, who employed both of them and rented them somewhere to live.

Now I have never been one for lifting other people’s research especially when they do it better so I will point you towards where Liz the archivist tells the full story and touches on other successes as well as love stories from the letters sent home.

Pictures; courtesy of the Together Trust.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Of the farmers who took British Home Children

I am looking at an indenture form between Robert and Ellen Bilborough-Wallace and the Marchmont Home in Belleville, Ontario for sometime in the 1890s.

It comes courtesy of Liz Sykes the archivist for the Together Trust and can be found on their latest blog post*

Anyone familiar with the placement of British Home Children will have seen such a document. It is only a little different from the one filled in by Saye Verner Griffith in the February of 1914 when he agreed to take my great uncle.

On the surface these are reassuring.  Here laid out in pretty precise details are the requirements put on the farmer who agreed to take the child and in some cases the role of the placing home should things go wrong.

So the farmer agreed that the child should “attend Day School at least four months a year [and] attend Church and Sunday School regularly”

Regular reports on the health and education were to be submitted to the placement home along with “an accurate account to be kept by Employers of the wages spent in children’s clothing.  The account to be balanced each year, and the said balance to be deposited in Saving’s Bank.  A copy of the account to be sent to the Home, at the end of the year, showing the balance and what is done with it.” 

And “employers are requested to see that the children write occasionally, [and] communicate with us in the event of illness or change of address.”**

For children like my great uncle who were over the age of 16 there was the further stipulation that they should “pay him instead of providing clothing and schooling $5.00 per month for services he may render and also to retain him in employ to the age of 18”***

Of course the realities of working on a farm in a remote part of Canada did sometimes fall short of the promises made in the contracts.  Children were exploited, neglected and in some cases suffered abuse and experienced harsh working conditions.

But there were success stories like Tom and Frances who were sent separately from Manchester in the first decade of the last century, met and married in Canada and made a go of it or Jesse, “who married his employee’s daughter, had four children and went on to own 275 acres of land and a motor car. He was a Trustee of the church, a member of the Township Council and President of the local cheese board.”****

All of which are increasingly well documented, and so over the next few weeks I want to explore the economics behind the employment of BHC on the farms and above all the role of the farmers who took the children on.

Some were certainly the villains of the piece who could be cruel, hard or worse.  My own great uncle who was no saint appears to have been wrongly accused of plotting arson by old Saye Verner Griffith who I suspect just didn’t like him.

On the other hand there was Mrs Lottie Moffat who undertook to pay $3.00 over the going rate for my great uncle and while she too asked for his removal because he was “lazy” and found it “impossible to get him to do anything” was gracious enough to write that “he is even tempered, good to the children, kind to animals, a great reader, does not run around and is quiet and morally good, which is a great item.”

It will be a journey which should reveal something of how farming was conducted during the period, the relationship between the farmers and the children and the degree to which this was a system of exploitation.

Pictures; indenture circa 1890, courtesy of the Together Trust, application to Middlemore from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and the farmhouse of Saye Verner Griffith by Angela Faubert

** indenture form between Robert and Ellen Bilborough-Wallace and the Marchmont Home in Belleville, Ontario
***application form completed by Saye Verner Griffith February 1914 and Mrs Lottie Moffatt, April 1915 and the Middlemore Home, Faireview Station Halifax, NS

The not so soft and gentle touch of Royal power

I am looking forward to reading “The King’s Revenge: Charles 11 and the greatest Manhunt in British History.”*

It describes the ruthless way the restored monarchy in 1660 set about eliminating those it judged enemies of the new regime.

Here is no smiley, nice story of a gentle government intent on healing the wounds of the English Civil War. Instead we have according to the reviews I have read a determined hunt to punish those who participated in the execution of Charles 1. It is one of those tales which seldom feature much in the history books.

My own school histories were big on the “merry monarch” reaching out the hand of reconciliation and ruling in a way his father hadn’t, but failed to even to mention his promise made in exile that “We shall by all ways and means possible endeavour to pursue and bring to their punishment those bloody traitors....”

And this is what he did. In the years following the Restoration the leading participants in the old king’s trial were arrested tried and executed. Those who had escaped were hunted across Europe and North America and assassinated. The bodies of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw who were dead were dug up and placed on public display in a grim copy of those found guilty at the show trials who were hung drawn and quartered.

This royal retribution had begun as early as 1649 with the murder of a leading Republican on a diplomatic visit to Holland and extended some 39 years later with the attempt to arrest the 72 year old Edmund Ludlow. In all 20 regicides were executed, others died in prison and 12 in exile. It’s a little bit of that alternative history which so rarely gets given the light.

Picture; From "Nalson's Record of the Trial of Charles I, 1688" in the British Museum. Taken by J. Nalson, L. L. D., Jan.4th, 1683 London, 1684, folio and published by Wikipedia Commons

*The King’s Revenge: Charles 11 and the greatest Manhunt in British History, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, Little Brown £20

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 19, how big is your garden?

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.*

Now the prerequisite to living in the fast lane is not I have to say a quest to link the size of gardens to the development of Chorlton in the first few decades of the 20th century.  The two just don’t go together.

Once and I have to confess  it was before Italy surrendered the lira and Greece the drachma I spent my time staying up late, watching the dawn rise over another Greek island or planning who I would walk into the Trevi Fountain with.  But now I crawl over old census returns, examine those commercial postcards of Chorlton sent in their thousands and read property deeds.

Our garden and the gardens of the other five in the terrace built by the Scott family in 1920 are small.  And that marks them off as fairly typical of most of the properties in Chorlton.  There is not much difference in the space of the gardens in either the two up two down houses built before the last century, or the taller more stately homes built for clerical and professional families It is the same for the houses built in Chorltonville and again for those built between the wars.

You have to go back before the housing boom of the late 1870s to find properties with more substantial gardens.  I am thinking of those built around 1874 on Cross Road, or the more modest houses off Groby Road.  True there are other exceptions like the long gardens which fall down towards Chorlton Brook from Belwood but most of the development from the early 1880s through to the 1930s were designed with relatively small gardens.

I wonder if in parcelling up the land units the Egerton and Lloyd estates worked to some set size.  Looking at different blocks often built at different times but adjoining each other there does seem a degree of parity.

Now I bet there will be someone who will tell me that of course that is the case, and anything else would be very silly.

What is clear is that the development happened piecemeal, dictated by the desire on the part of the landlords to pace development, the economic climate and the availability of builders and developers as well as the demand.

Now having said all of that what people did and continue to do with the small plots remains very individual.
Scott had planted three trees which sadly had to come down as they had outgrown the space, and appears to have buried many of his pets under the lawn.  John built a boat we have just messed about with it more recently planting some fruit trees, a vine and because one of the lads liked raspberries and set of them along one wall.

But the issue of the size of the plots interests me.  I just need more deeds.

Pictures from the collections of Lois Elsden and Andrew Simpson


Monday, 13 August 2012

Of lakes, BBQs and days out

This Saturday we went north to the lakes on the promise that this would be the last sunny day of August.

Now apart from a visit back in the early 70s I had never been to the Lake District and so was up for where ever we went.  This turned out to be the southern end of Windermere and pretty impressive it was.  Although I have to say if it’s a choice between lakes and the sea I favour the sea.

But Lake Windermere on this hot Saturday was a good place to be and as we sat by the water’s edge in the grounds of a hotel I reflected on how a day at the lakes is done by my Italian family.

They have been doing such lake excursions for nearly forty years, and it begins with a trip the day before where we drive the 30 or so miles to the possible sites, scout out the best spot and do a deal with the local owner.  This done the following day with the food, bought and partly prepared and packed in the car we set out early.  We travel in convoy for along with the food are the tables chairs and BBQ equipment.  

This is no casual spur of the moment trip.  Any good day from the beginning of Easter is a potential “lake day.”

And it is essential to get there early so that you can park up in the most convenient spot to haul everything to the chosen place.  In our case this has a good view of the lake with a tree for hanging things and enough space to spread.

Nor will we be alone on those first warm and often hot days in Easter for large numbers will also make their claim to be a bit of the lake side and so by midday the place will be a buzz.  And like an Italian beach there are the facilities where you want for nothing.  This is no wooden shack with rickety chairs, peeling paint and last year’s summer posters on the walls. At the heart of the business is a large comfortable restaurant with a paddling pool for the kids and spectacular views across the water.

But Rosa and Simone have brought it all and so apart from a wander for curiosity’s sake where we are has it all.  The kids play ball games Tina and her siblings talk of their own child hood memories of doing the same thing and at the centre of it all is Rosa, cooking and making sure everyone is care for.

And that is pretty much how the day pans out.  A few brave the water but most are content to sit eat and talk the day away.  It looks and in its way is totally anarchic.  People spread out across the open ground there are BBQs and the odd camp fire everywhere, but despite the large numbers everyone just gets on with the pleasure of the day.

And by the end of the day there is little in the way of litter to show any of us were ever there.

All of which is a contrast to our day at Windermere, with its expensive hotel, plethora of companies offering boat trips and a neat car park where you have a choice of paying £2.50 for one hour of £3.50 for then hours.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Sunday, 12 August 2012

On discovering the Picturedrome in Holmfirth and a thriving cinema industry

We were up in Holmfirth recently visiting the winery but that is a story for another time.  

It was while we were there that I came across the Picturedrome, opened in 1912 and in its day offering films and variety.  Now it looks as if it has been much mucked about with over the last hundred years but something of its former grandeur is still there.

It is a big enough to seat a couple of hundred people, has a double set of doors, with a veranda above it and must have made you feel special each time you went to watch that magic of light and moving pictures played out in the dark.

It reminded me of many similar old picture houses I have known but tended to ignore because they had long since passed into other use, closed by the grander cinemas that opened in the 1920s and 30s.
I guess in its time there would not have been many other buildings of its size in the Holmfirth. There was a blue plaque giving a few details but nothing about the enterprising individual or individuals who saw the potential those films as entertainment were going to have.

But then perhaps I should not have been surprised at the opening of a cinema in Holmfirth given that it was a centre of film making in the years either side of the 20th century.  It was the company of Bamforth Ltd capitalising on their magic lantern business which from 1898 made films in this tiny west Yorkshire town.  Between 1898-1900 they made 14 and in the two years 1913-1915 turned out 120 before switching production to London.

Nor were they alone, for across the country and especially here in Manchester there were film companies knocking out films in the years before and after the Great War.  Some survived well into the 2Oth century, which is a neat way of mentioning the History Group again and C.P. Lee who spoke to us about our own cinematic history.

Now, I have a very simple rule when someone has told a story better than I can the best thing to do is point you in their direction, so anyone wanting to know more about should visit and

But having said that you might also want to read about our own palaces of fun and cinematic magic at

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Saturday, 11 August 2012

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton .... part 18 what to do with the kitchen?

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.*

I have been thinking about our kitchen or more accurately of the kitchens of some of our neighbours because we are not alone. There are in total six houses in the terrace that Joe Scot built just under a hundred years ago and as you would expect each of the six has been altered at some time or other.

Over the course of the last 38 years ours had had its fair share of being knocked about, some of which worked better than others.  I shudder now at the wholesale lack of thought that led to John ripping out the fireplaces, picture rails and old copper in the cellar and remain amused at some of our own attempts to restore the place ranging from installing an Edwardian cast iron bath, old wooden lavatory system and a set of picture rails which Norman the builder put in upside down.

Which brings me to the kitchen.  There is a lot of tosh talked about modern kitchens of which the idea that it is the heart of the house is one of them.  Now I have always liked the idea of a big room where the family could sit and talk while food was being prepared thereby making it a focal point for the family.  But I just don’t see it.

We have long since moved away from the idea of communal living.  We don’t all sleep in the same room and have chosen to separate chores like washing the clothes from relaxing with some leisure time, and so I am not convinced that the big all in one multi-purpose kitchen works.

I do have to confess once liking the idea of the all in one room and bought a place on the strength of it having had the front and back room knocked through, which looked good but pushed up the heating bills and gave you little privacy.

And that on reflection is pretty much why now I am pleased I didn’t knock our two big rooms together, or go for a sideways move and combine the kitchen with the dining room.

As our children have grown up, left home and returned there is a real advantage in separate rooms allowing them to have the privacy and comfort to do what they want in one downstairs room and for us to do the same in another.  Those golden days when the family all sat around the telly watching the same TV programmes are gone and from memory were pretty much a recipe for the grownups to determine the nights entertainment and get the prime chairs and for us kids to watch repeats of This Is Your Life, Gardening in Antwerp and sit on scatter cushions on the floor.

And this I think is very much the case with the kitchen.  Ours is small, sits at the side of the house was designed to be a place to cook and store food and apart from the odd snatched meal was not where you ate, that took place in another room as befitted a house which in every respect was a step up from the small two up two down properties which Joe had built during the early decades of the 20th century.  These had very tiny kitchens which were really just an add on at the back of the house and led into the main backroom which was the main living area.

But ours was different.  It was larger with an eye to the new consumer goods which were beginning to come on to the market and offered Mary Ann the flexibility of eating away from the steam and smell of cooking in a fine room overlooking the garden.

Now we have dabbled with our kitchen, re positioning the sink and cooker and are now on to the third set of units.  I have to admit we were a little excessive with power points. There are twenty around the kitchen. Some languish abandoned after the latest 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.  On the other hand there was ample space for when new gadgets came along.

At some point perhaps even as the houses were being built a gas cooker replaced the old range; although the space where the range would have been is still there as is the chimney flue and the properties were supplied with electricity unlike others which had been built less than ten years earlier.

Despite this forward looking approach it remained a separate room and the design of the house works accordingly.  It may appear conventional, and basic and perhaps even old fashioned but there is simplicity in the layout of the house.  The kitchen faces you as you come in, there are rooms off the main hall and you do not have to go through other rooms to get to it.

It remains a functional and discreet part of the house in the way that Joes intended it to be, and it worked then and I rather think still works today.

Pictures; The Frankfurt Kitchen, 1926, Wikipedia Commons, advert for the Co-op table wringer 1937 from Graham Gill and the kitchen today from the collection of Andrew Simpson