Friday, 7 December 2012

A new exhibition on Longford Park and Hall at Chorlton Library throughout December

I’m looking at a picture I have never seen before of part of Longford Park in 1933.  

It is fascinating for a number of reasons, not least because there in the top right hand corner, beyond the line of trees is the chimney of our own Chorlton brick works.

But for me it is also the detail of the verandahs, which fronted the length of the bowling greens and extended further east, as shown here.

Few now will remember them.  They were cleared away in 1936 to make way for the art deco shelters and cafe.

And so it is timely that there is an exhibition on the history of Longford Park at Chorlton Library which will run for the whole of December.

It is the work of Richard Bond who until recently was head of Manchester Archives and Local Studies and takes the story of the Hall and Park beyond its purchase in 1912 by Stretford Council and nicely brings stories of the estate and our own township together.

As Richard writes, "there are a lot of Chorlton connections with the park. Indeed, much of the area in the 1933 picture was actually part of Chorlton at the time. 

The boundary between Stretford and Chorlton bisected the park running roughly between the two long paths, and then headed to the right of the verandahs. Only in 1993 was the whole of the Park, and the Athletics Stadium incorporated in to Trafford.

The exhibition reveals the Chorlton connections go back a long way. The first prominent resident at Longford was Thomas Walker, who moved there from Barlow Hall in 1787 - shortly before he became Manchester's boroughreeve. 

He died in 1817 and I have located a tombstone in memory of him in old St Clement's churchyard, one of the last stones on the path before exiting at the Bowling Green end. 

The stone also records his son Charles James Stanley Walker, who converted what had been a farm into a hall before selling to John Rylands in 1855 (who then built his own hall). 
Moving forward to around 1912, Stretford Council persuaded its ratepayers to agree to purchase the Park on the basis there would be no extra charge, as they would recover costs by selling some of the land for houses. They then tried to sell the 11 acres on the Chorlton side of the boundary for housing but such was Manchester's opposition that this idea was then dropped, and indeed the land is still undeveloped to this day. 
Stretford Council quickly adapted the estate as a park but weren't sure what to do with the hall. Following an offer from Mr John Hilditch of Chorlton, an exhibition featuring some of his extensive collection of Chinese and Japanese art was opened in 1914. 

This was seen by 59,113 visitors by the end of October, when it closed as the hall was to be used as a home for Belgian refugees. 
The hall later became a Red Cross hospital but when this closed in 1921, the use of the hall was a problem again. In 1926, a Museum and Art Gallery was opened, which again featured Mr Hilditch's collection (who by this time had moved to Crumpsall). He died in 1930, and the Council then discovered he had not left the items to them in his will - as he was said to have promised - as in fact he left no will. “

All of which makes the exhibition an important contribution to our history as well as helping celebrate the centenary of the park this year. The Longford Park history display, at Chorlton Library throughout December

Pictures; the park in 1933, courtesy of Trafford Lifetimes, TL0996, Longford Hall, 1920, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, m67353, and the Walker family gravestone in the parish churchyard from the collection of Richard Bond.

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