Thursday, 31 January 2013

Fast food for the workers on our Victorian streets

The morning routine here begins at 6 with the first espresso moves on pretty quickly to those who want breakfast and by 8 it’s just me and the washing up.

And because I am soft for as long as I can remember it has been breakfast in bed, and yes even in this age of central heating and the internet there are hot water bottles before bedtime.

We take for granted that breakfast was and still is for many something you have at home but this has not always been the case.  Throughout history people and it does tend to be the poor have eaten out, often from fast food vendors and not I suspect always out of choice.

You can pick any one of a number of reasons, which usually come down to the early start of their day or the simple fact that the means to cook much in a shared room was limited.

The extent to which people ate on the move is revealed in The Victorian City, Everyday Life in Dickens’ London by Judith Flanders*

I got it for Christmas and it perfectly complements my own interest in the Chorlton of the first half of the 19th century.  We were a small rural community with strong links to Manchester and so her book is a good contrast to our own life here in the countryside and by extension an introduction to what was going on just 4½ miles away in the big city.

So while today eating out can be expensive and a life choice, back in the early 19th century it was pretty much of a necessity.  Most of the working class lived in rooms not houses with just a fire place for rudimentary cooking extending to boiling a kettle or a pot of something, and anyway lighting a fire was a costly affair which would then continue to burn long after everyone had left for work.  Likewise water was not always readily available and might only be available from a street pump and then not all the time.

On the way to work there were the coffee stalls which had the added bonus that in cold weather the mugs would warm the hands as well.

Some stalls were just simply a board laid over a pair of sawhorses and a can of coffee kept warm by a charcoal burner and others elaborate tent like structures.  A cup of coffee and “two thin” – two pieces of bread and butter might cost half a penny.

And there is much more but then having become an author I am outrageously in favour of people buying the book so I shall say no more other than it is a fascinating read.

*Flanders, Judith, The Victorian City Everyday Life in Dickens’ London, Atlantic Books, 2012

Picture;  Hot food on sale on the streets, the pictures date from the 1890s which takes them a little out of the time frame of the book, The Infirmary Corner at the top of Market Street, The Rovers Return, Shudehill, and Angel Meadow,  by H.E. Tidmarsh from the book Manchester Old & New , Arthur William Shaw 1894

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Where in Chorlton am I in the summer of 1910?

I am somewhere in Chorlton in the summer of 1910 and it’s another one of those challenges to which there is no prize, save the satisfaction of showing off your knowledge.

All I ask is that you explain your answer which was what my old Maths teacher always said.

“It doesn’t matter about the answer show me the working out that took you to an answer which will show you understand the maths.”  

Which was fine but didn’t impress the O level examiner who failed me with a grade 9.

Ah well bitterness should not be allowed to stretch out from the June of 1966.

There are clues but I won’t say what they are.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Another letter from Viareggio ..... mainly about food

First posted in the summer of 2011

Rosa has a wealth of recipes. Last night it was the simple prosciutto, followed by a selection of cheeses and watermelon. 

 She uses the slightly stale bread from the day before, adds some small chopped up tomatoes, onions and drizzled with olive oil.

Today she shows me a bowl of little shell fish. They come in bag of sea water and I guess a few hours earlier before she bought them from the man in the market they were lifted from the sea. Left in the sea water they in Rosa words “begin drinking and any sand will come out.” Later she will cook them in boiling water and a few diced carrots and serve with pasta and parsley they will be cooked in water and open of their own accord and be served with pasta.

But the shell fish are only part of what she brought back. There are some small blue fish which once they have been sliced open and the back bone pushed out she dip in flour, beaten egg and fry in very hot oil. So far so good, but the octopus and squid challenge my squeamish side.

But I am genuinely inquisitive and watch as she takes an octopus; pulls out [the blue bit] followed by other bits and then cuts off the heads.

The squid she treats differently, after pulling out the blue bit and emptying the body sack she washes the tube, take out the bone and then cuts the body into round sections, carefully taking out what look like muscles. The squids she will fry, but says she hasn’t made her mind up about the octopuses, which might be boiled and added to a salad or cooked with a tomato sauce and served with pasta.

Meanwhile the rain continues to fall. And there is that sense that we are imprisoned. But holidays have moved on. We have a TV and a mended internet. This allows Luca to connect to Facebook and he is as good as lost to the world.

The day passes and lethargy settles on us all. We settle for take away pizza from the local restaurant. Now I have eaten many pizzas over the years but these and the ones we had back in Varese before we left for the sea side are not my favourite. Tina assures me the ones in Naples are the best and we still plan a trip south. For a long time this was to give Saul the opportunity to taste the real thing as of all the boys he has always preferred them over all other meals.

At last the night comes to and already there are worrying signs that our new neighbours are three young lads and this only adds to Tina and Simone’s forebodings. Young lads on their own can only mean late night noise to compliment that which comes from the bar opposite.

It seems to me that if tomorrow proves to be poor we should plan another trip out. Rome beckons.

 We shall see.

Picture;shell fish gently cooking, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

"his was the record of a life crowded with good work"

I don’t have much truck with that sort of history that bangs on about the great men and women who shaped the past.

So I was pleased yesterday to read about two unassuming  people who had a significant impact on the lives of homeless children here in Manchester in the last quarter of the 19th century.

The silent partner - Richard Taylor,* is from the latest edition of the Together Trust’s blog on the work of the Manchester & Salford Boys’ & Girls’ Refuges.

It begins to explore the motivation which led Leonard Kilbee Shaw and Richard Bramwell Taylor to start their work with those young people who lived on the streets of our city and offers also a short biography of the two.

And as such is a welcome addition to what we know about those men and women who got involved in these children’s charities.


Picture; Richard Taylor in 1873, (2nd row left hand side, courtesy of the Together Trust 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Chorlton in 1714

It’s pretty difficult to picture a Chorlton which had just 325 people.

But in 1714 that was it.  325 individuals in 65 families and sixty years later this had only increased to 53.  These 75 families inhabited 71 houses and like always most were situated around the parish church and out along the Row.*

There was another small concentration at Martledge** just north of the village and that was more or less it.

A few souls braved the isolation of Hardy beyond Chorlton Brook and a few more could be found dotted about the township.

Most would have lived in simple wattle and daub cottages, one room up and one down, while our farmers were beginning to build more substantial brick homes a few of which can still be seen around the green.

What is striking about our population in 1714 is its youthfulness.  So a full 39% were under the age of 15, another 40% spanned the years from 16 to 49, leaving just 21% sliding slowly into old age.**

It was a picture which had not changed over much by 1841 when the first detailed census figures for the township can be analysed.

We were still a young community but when where a whole range of ailments could prove fatal.

Child mortality was at its highest amongst the very young in the warm weather when they were vulnerable to diarrhoeal infections and again in the late winter and spring from respiratory ailments.

And those who survived would have been visible in the cottage gardens, running errands, engaged in cleaning or just minding their siblings.

But generally this period in the story of the township is vague and what documents have survived either relate to the Barlow family of Barlow Hall or the Mosley’s up at Hough End.  There is a tantalising reference to a dispute in the 17th century over rights to the extraction of marl on land around Longford Road but that is about it.

A few of our people are mentioned in settlement orders during the middle and late 18th century.

These were the documents which allowed a family a family to move into a community and were rigorously adhered to.

Anyone wishing to settle had to prove that they had the means to maintain a living or had connections with the township thus ensuring that at some future date they would not be a drain on the parish relief. And those who did settle without permission could be removed.  In the course of the century there were those who obtained their settlement order and those who were removed because they had moved in without it.

One such family were the Crowther’s. Richard and Ellen from Manchester were granted settlement with their daughters Elizabeth aged 2 and Mary just six month in 1732.***

In 1765 when Mary was 32 she was subject to a removal order and ordered out of Stretford to Chorlton.

One possible reason might have been that as Mary was pregnant Stretford was unwilling either to support her or go to the trouble of issuing a Bastardy Order and pursuing the father to foot the bill for her care and that of the child.

The following year she buried a son called John, and went on to have three more children out of wedlock.  These were James born in 1769, Martha in 1779 and Thomas in 1782.  All three were baptised at St Clements and the parish may have had to support them.

Martha had a short life, having been baptised on March 28th 1779 she was buried on April 6th 1780.

Once back in Chorlton Mary stayed, living in one of two wattle and daub cottages on the Row,**** and died aged 90 in 1837.  She is buried with her son Thomas who died the following year.

All of which has taken us a tad beyond the 18th century and is best left for another story

Picture; map of Chorlton in 1786 from Yates’s map of Lancashire, courtesy of Digital Archives, wattle and daub cottages, Bari Sparshot, Mary Crowther’s grave from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*The Row is now Beech Road
**Martledge is the area stretching north from the Four Banks
**Booker, Rev John, A History of the Ancient Chapels of Didsbury & Chorlton, 1857
**** Lancashire County Records, QSP/1356/7
***** The cottages stood roughly where the Trevor Arms stands today

Making the passata....... tradition and family

Simone and Rosa were born in Naples in the early 1940s and despite having lived in the north of Italy for nearly 40 years Rosa’s cooking is still from the south.

 It is full of roasted vegetables, small amounts of meat plenty of fish and lots of olive oil with an eye to colour as well as taste.

And they still meet up with the family to make their own passata.

Now passata is made from ripe tomatoes that have been puréed and sieved to remove the skin and seeds.

They make theirs in the late summer when there are loads of ripe tomatoes and once made it is bottled and used throughout the year. Rosa stores hers in the cellar of the flats they live in.

And when their own children were younger they too would be roped into the activity. It was their job to spoon the mixture into jars which would then be sealed.

It all seems a wonderful mix of tradition and an opportunity for a family gathering. But listening to Tina it could at times be a chore which took the children away from the playground at the bottom of her flats and confined them to a messy days work.

Despite the availability of shop bought passata, Simone and Rosa still will make their own which will then be used to make the tomato sauce. This is an essential standby for Rosa and like her we always have a pot of it to use almost on a daily basis.

The passata is added to a couple of tins of tomatoes which have been sieved in a food mill and cooked with some olive oil garlic and basil. In our house a large pot of the stuff lasts just a few days as it forms the basis for many of the meals I make.

Today I rather think it will be parmigiana di melanzane which is a wonderful dish of fried aubergine slices interspersed between a mix of parmesan and mozzarella cheese, a little beaten egg and topped by tomato sauce.

Now I prefer mine served cold but I seem to be alone in liking it this way for the rest of the family it has to be hot and bubbling.

Picture; tomatoes on sale in the late summer in Viareggio, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Friday, 25 January 2013

Some cooking stories mixed with some history and the visit of Rosa from Varese

On Monday Tina’s mum and sister are flying in from Milan.  They live in Varese which is about an hour from Milan and depending on the road you take just fifteen minutes from the Swiss border.

Now I have written about Varese quite a few times in the past.  It is a bustling lively place and all of us enjoy going there.

It has two railway stations, a market plenty of fascinating shops along with some delightful piazzas and intriguing old buildings.  And of course is the gateway to the Lakes.

Simone and Rosa settled there in the 1970s after a spell here in Britain and while they miss their native Naples are comfortable in Varese.

We saw them in the summer when the family went to Sardinia, and they were last here for the Christmas of 2010, and so we are all looking for to Rosa and Virginia’s arrival, not least because of Rosa’s cooking.

And with that in mind I thought I would re post a few stories about her cooking and the history of her country from Monday on wards.

Picture; Il Broletto, once part of the monastery and now a delightful little area off the piazza, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Romulus and Remus a story to be retold

I have always liked the story of Romulus and Remus, and retold it to Year 7s over the years as a starting point to explore  Roman history and the way the Romans thought about themselves.

So I have been fascinated by this weeks In Our Time on Radio 4*

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Romulus and Remus, the central figures of the foundation myth of Rome. According to tradition, the twins were abandoned by their parents as babies, but were saved by a she-wolf who found and nursed them. Romulus killed his brother after a vicious quarrel, and went on to found a city, which was named after him.

The myth has been at the core of Roman identity since the 1st century AD, although the details vary in different versions of the story. For many Roman writers, the story embodied the ethos and institutions of their civilisation. The image of the she-wolf suckling the divinely fathered twins remains a potent icon of the city even today.

Mary Beard
Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge

Peter Wiseman
Emeritus Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter

Tim Cornell
Emeritus Professor of Ancient History at the University of Manchester.

BBC Programme Notes

Picture; The wolf-figure maybe Etruscan, dating from the 5th century BC, with figures of Romulus and Remus added in the 15th century AD by Antonio Pollaiuolo. Recent studies suggest that the wolf may be a medieval sculpture dating from the 13th century AD.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Libraries of south Manchester part 3, Burnage, Fallowfield and Levenshulme

Now I have been featuring the stories of the libraries of south Manchester.  Local artist Peter Topping has produced a series of contemporary paintings of each one and I have added the histories.

Chorlton, and Didsbury got theirs in 1914 and 1915, Withington in 1927 but  Burnage had to wait till 1931  and only then as  “a travelling library station” in a converted bus.

This was discontinued because of the black out during the war and was replaced by a converted house in 1940.

It was situated in Bournlea Avenue and as if to demonstrate the appetite for reading in Burnage it issued 3,000 books a week.

And finally in 1947 a new library was opened in three converted Civil Defence huts.

Fallowfield fared a little better, its library was opened in 1932 “on a corner site at the junction of Platt Lane and Waverton Road which was pivotal point for the whole estate.”  Originally called Wilbraham Library it broke new ground for the library service having the first junior library which “will be a borrower’s library of about 2,000 volumes” and along with Chorlton was to experiment “with the use of wireless talks in its evening classes.”

Wilbraham was the 25th branch library to be opened in the city since the first two in 1857.

All of which underlined the demand that existed in south Manchester for a library service.

Speaking at the opening of Withington library just five years earlier the Lord Mayor had reflected on the importance the Corporation placed on providing such branch libraries when the central one was housed in his words in a “conglomeration of sheds on the Piccadilly site.”

And then there was Levenshulme which did not join the city until 1909 but opened its own library five years earlier in 1904.

The Levenshulme Urban District Council had successfully gained a grant from the Carnegie Foundation to build the library which cost £2,500 and according to the Manchester Guardian had “two special features worthy of mention. There is a room set apart for juveniles, in which, besides papers and periodicals, such games as chess, draughts and dominoes may be enjoyed.  Adjoining the main reading-room and reached through a vestibule door is along verandah where people may sit and read in fine weather.”

All of which makes it rather important to mark a century of public library provision here in south Manchester with this exhibition.

Pictures; Burnage Libraries m77549, Wilbraham Library, m51386, and Levenshulme, m51623, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Postcards reveal all

When I was asked recently to suggest one of my favourite ways of finding out about the past I chose a post card. 

True, census information, wills, diaries and old maps are invaluable for tracking down an ancestor, but the postcard offers not only an image but can give context to where a family member lived. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries most cities and towns could boast a series of postcards illustrating places of interest. Along with the town hall a church and an old ruin, there might be popular street scenes and the odd empty field.

Some photographers made the effort to snap all the houses in a particular street with the hope that the inhabitants would buy a picture of where they lived. Now this is not so daft, given that few people owned a camera but might still want to show off their home to distant friends and relatives.

This was also a time of frequent letter collections and deliveries, so it was possible to post a card in the morning to arrange to meet somewhere in the afternoon. In the absence of mobile phones this remained a pretty neat way of keeping in touch.

During this period there might have been a whole series of postcards of a place which were then repeated just a few years later, allowing the modern historian to follow the changes made to buildings and the landscape. And providing the card was posted there will be a date to fix the moment in time.

But above all what I enjoy are the comments on the back. Some are simple and terse while others hint at darker and more interesting lives. Often the author is keen to mark where they live and at other times give out clues to the neighbourhood. One postcard from the late 19th century suggests they meet at Bank Corner in Chorlton, echoing the modern usage of the Four Banks as a name for the junction of Barlow Moor and Wilbraham Roads. Another written in the summer of 1908 records a visit to the gardens of the late John Holt who lived in a fine house and grounds at the top of Beech Road.

“I had afternoon tea on the lawn of the big house of which you can see the lodge in the picture. It will soon be sold and then will be divided into small plots.”

Sadly this was what happened. The Corporation bought some of the land to build the tram terminus and the rest eventually became the houses on Beech Road and Malton Avenue and the parade of shops among Barlow Moor Road to High Lane.

In other pictures the photographer attracted an audience of children who followed him and appear in most of the pictures. My own favourite is of the churchyard where a mixture of young people including some from the Pasley Laundry have gathered in their lunch break to be captured by the image.

Picture from the collection of Philip Lloyd

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Libraries of south Manchester, “built in fulfilment of a promise made in 1904.” ...part 1 Chorlton

The libraries of south Manchester come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and date from the decades after 1904

This was the year when Burnage, Chorlton, Withington and Didsbury voted to join the city.  In return for voting to become part of Manchester there was the promise of cheaper gas, electricity and water rates, and the provision of public libraries.

These were a little slow in coming.  In the case of Chorlton the first library was opened in 1908 in a rented house on Oswald Road and it would be another six years before a purpose built library was opened on Manchester Road.  It was “furnished with a thousand carefully selected volumes for use in the library and home reading,.............. a good selection of magazines is placed in a separate reading room [and] a special feature of the new library is the provision of a room for meetings of Home Reading Union circles and similar organisations.”

The Manchester Guardian reported “the style is Classical with Ionic columns in Portland stone and had 7,420 books, [which] if necessary can be increased to 10,500 volumes. There is a general reading room for adults and one for juveniles.”

In an age which has seen libraries add computers to the resources available to the user it is perhaps surprising that the Lord Mayor in opening the library nearly 100 years ago “hoped that someday there would be a kinematograph connected to our libraries for the special benefit of boys and girls, enabling them the better to understand the histories they were reading.”

The exhibition with its mix pf Peter Topping's wonderful paintings and my stories of the libraries has just finished at Chorlton but  will soon be traveling across the south of the city to Burnage, Didsbury, Fallowfield and Withington.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

*The Lord Mayor of Manchester 1927

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Aged seven and on the streets of Manchester with no where to sleep in the winter of 1871

There’s a new story from Liz the archivist of the Together Trust on their blog* 

And given that the snow is still tumbling from the skies and the night promises to see the temperature drop dramatically her post on the homeless of Manchester just over 140 years ago is  a powerful reminder of what life was like for thousands of young people in the last quarter of the 19th century.

More so because it also  looks at the reasons why so many charities working with and for children all began around the late 1860s and early 1870s, and as always it provides some fascinating photographs drawn from the Trust’s archive and offers links to other sites.

Opposite; boys at work in one of Refuge's homes

Picture; courtesy of the Together Trust

The Together Trust was the Manchester & Salford Boys' & Girls' Refuges established in 1870 to provide shelter, care, training and legal representation for young people in the Manchester & Salford area.


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Working with the homeless children of Manchester, ...another story from the Together Trust

Amidst the great wealth and trappings of power there has always been terrible poverty, stunted lives and wasted potential.

It is a theme that regularly stalks the blog and rightly so.

All the more important then that there should be historians beavering away at how these awful conditions were being challenged.

For me it was those with vision and determination who could see the possibilities of alternative societies based on justice, equality and respect who have a special place in my research.  They formed the first trade unions, demanded the vote for all men and women and undertook the daily struggle to win a better world.

But then there were those with wealth, privilege and influence who did not want to change the prevailing social and economic set up but never the less saw that its many causalities needed help. Most involved themselves in charities seeking to ease the worst excesses of late 19th century capitalism.

And their efforts do need to be constantly looked at and brought out of the shadows, all of which leads me to the latest posting from the Together Trust which is the successor to the Manchester & Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges which along with others worked at rescuing destitute and abused children from the streets of our city and offering them safe accommodation and training in a variety of occupations.*

They are always a good read offering detail in to the work of the charity and original photographs from the archives.


Picture; courtesy of the Together Trust

The Twisted Wheel

I never visited the Twisted Wheel but I know plenty of people who did.

It opened in 1963 and closed in 1971.  I had arrived in the city in the summer of ’69 but was too absorbed by student life to visit a club which was literally at the end of the road where our college was.  And when I began to seriously explore Manchester the place had gone, so very much my loss.

It would be another few years before I washed up inside the club by which time it was called Placemate and I guess was a bit different.  Still I enjoyed my nights there and alternated between it and Band on Wall.

Now I am not one to rehash the research of others and so if you want to know more about either of the clubs there are excellent histories at and

All of which is another plug for that idea that history is not just what happened a hundred years ago.  Bet this story gets some memories going.

Picture; from the collection of Graham Gill

Monday, 14 January 2013

Of dark secrets and half revealed family lives

My great grandmother’s life was not unusual.

But it is that very ordinariness which makes her story remarkable and unlocks something of the history of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

She was born in 1872 in Whiteman’s Yard,* gave birth to five children the last of which was born in the Derby Workhouse, travelled across the country with her partner who she never married, and  returned to Derby in the winter of 1902 with three young boys.

My great grandfather remained in Kent and in the fullness of time married and had five more children.

Eliza Boot appears in eleven official documents and is mentioned in two letters, and one newspaper account.  Her partner and my great grandfather was Montague Hall, who served his Queen in the East York’s, saw service in the West Indies, Gibraltar and South Africa.

It is I guess fairly typical of many people’s lives at the time and not for the first led me to reflect that their lives were little ones lived out in a big century.

Many of us will be able track relatives touched by the workhouse and many will also have family members who spent part of their time in some far away part of the old empire or toiled in factory, mill or engineering works.

Theirs was a tempestuous relationship, and one which saw them move around the country.  In 1894 they were in Bedford, two years later in Birmingham and finally by 1902 in Kent.

There may have been more towns, and cities but the documentary evidence is not there to furnish the trail.

Despite all this travelling Eliza’s time before she left Derby and after she returned was centred on a few small streets all with a few minutes of each other.

Her part of Derby was a densely packed mix of small terraced housing, timber yards, silk, and lace and hosiery mills bounded on the east by the railway and to the north by the river.

They came from the families that helped make Derby.  Montague’s father worked on the railways as did hers, while her mother, aunt and cousins worked in the silk mills and she and her sister were in service.

Montague was an iron driller and would have found ready work in the foundries around the town, and it was this trade which took them across the country finally ending up as “machinist in a gun factory” in Gravesend.

And like so many lives of the period theirs are ones that all too often are obscured by a lack of family detail.  So where they lived between 1896 and 1902 are fixed by the birth certificates of their children and one census entry.

True, we do have his military records from 1888-1892, but the next years are almost a blank and those of Eliza’s from 1902 till her death in 1963 are sketchy and at the mercy of a few documents and some street memories.

But some glimpses shine through the murk like the newspaper report from the Derby Mercury dated Wednesday May 2 1894.

Not unlike today the journalist had been sent down to the local magistrate’s courts to rake over and represent to an eager public the doings of the less respectable.

And there under the torturous heading “Rough experiences of lovers” are Eliza and Montague.  She of 9 Chapel Place and him of Sitwell Street.  They had been charged with “being drunk and disorderly in Chapel Place, Canal Street, shortly before twelve o’clock on Friday night.”  To add to the family shame both were further charged with attacking a policeman and resisting arrest.

From the distance of over 100 years it is easy to smile at the skeleton in the cupboard, but here I think there is more.

There are plenty of accounts of drunken behaviour and confrontations with the police in our inner cities and towns during this period which is not surprising given the number of places selling alcohol.

My own memories of my part of London were of pubs almost on every street corner, and on Canal Street in Derby there were three beer shops and two pubs on a not very long road which consisted of just 24 properties and two factories.

So there was plenty of opportunities and in the light of the severity of the punishment an indication that the authorities treated drink related crimes seriously.  Great grandmother was fined “5s and costs or seven days [imprisonment] for the drunkenness, and 20s and costs or 14 days for the assault,” while great grandfather received a fine of “40s and costs, or a month [in prison].  Neither fine was a small amount and would have represented a big chunk of their weekly earnings.

I would like to think this was a one off, but his army records and her subsequent life suggest that this may not have been so, added to which there is anecdotal evidence from Montague’s other family that “he liked a drink.”

This is vague and all together very subjective but hints at something.
And it is that other family which has over time come to intrigue me, not because of any animosity but more because of the way that Montague could just settle down with another partner and have five more children.

Now I would venture that it is today very difficult just to disappear and create a new identity. Not impossible I grant you but for most of us without limitless amounts of money and professional help no easy task.

But go back to the year Queen Victoria died and anything was possible.

In 1901 no one as yet had a National Insurance number, there was no sophisticated electronic surveillance technology to track your last supermarket purchase, or the route you took home, or even who you last spoke to. It was therefore entirely possible to quietly leave your family, friends, workmates and arrive somewhere else with a new name and fresh history. I guess the wonder is that more people didn’t do it.

My great grandfather did. Or at least in his case so confident was he that he would evade detection, he continued with his own name, but reinvented his birth year and conveniently failed to reveal to his bride that he had fathered four boys and a daughter with my great grandmother.

So a story of two unremarkable lives but ones which present fascinating insights into a time long gone.


Pictures; Whiteman’s Yard, Montague Hall circa 1914, Union Street, The Derby Mercury, May 1894, Montague's other family, Nora his wife, Jeff, Bessie and Beryl

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Uncovering shameful acts .... the story of British Home Children 1869-1970

We watched the film Oranges and Sunshine last night and like all good films it continues to be a topic of conversation this morning.

It is based on the work of Margaret Humphreys who uncovered the extent and degree of suffering undergone by children sent to Australia from 1947 till the early 1970s.

It is a stark and harrowing story of what can be done to people who have no voice by authorities acting in what they judged were the best of intentions and sat all but forgotten by almost everyone save the children and families caught up in the policy.

These were children who it was thought were being saved from parents who at best were unfit to have control* and at worst in the words of an official in the film just “degenerates”.

Some of the children were told their parents no longer wanted them and in other cases that they were dead.

The film is based on Margaret’s book Empty Cradles which to date has sold 75,000 copies since it was published in 1994 has helped fund the work of the Child Migrants Trust which was established in 1987 to addresses the issues surrounding the deportation of children from Britain in the post-war period, some of whom were as young as three and part of its work remains the simple one of providing the answer to the question Who am I? posed by so many of those who were sent to Australia, and also New Zealand and Rhodesia.

“The Child Migrants Trust, a registered charity in both Australia and Britain, and provides a range of social work services, including counselling and support for family reunions. The Trust's offices in Nottingham, UK as well as Perth and Melbourne in Australia also offer information, advice and family research to former child migrants and their families”.**

It is a story which through the work of Margaret, her husband and the trust has become much better known.

But sadly the story of the 100,000 who left these shores for Canada is less well known.  Theirs are equally tragic accounts of separation from siblings and of lives lived out in harsh environments at the mercy of employers who could be cruel and in some cases abusive.

But their stories are now coming to light through the hard work of historians and their descendants.  It is, as many who read these posts know a personal thing as one of my own went over in 1914.

Opposite; Manchester boys leaving for Canada, 1908

I remain proud of the work undertaken by my Canadian colleagues who continue to beaver away at “the great project”  and reflect that their work and that of the Child Migrant Trust is a vital contribution in keeping this piece of history alive as well as reuniting families be they those who went to Canada in the years after 1870 or those in the post war period to Australia, New Zealand and Rhodesia.

*the phrase used by the authorities when my grandfather, and his siblings were taken into care in the May of 1913.
**from the official site of the Child Migrants Trust

Picture; cover from the book Empty Cradles, and courtesy of the Together Trust

Saturday, 12 January 2013

King Arthur, Sir Thomas Mallory and a radio programme

“Yet som men say in many p[art]ys of Inglonde that kynge Arthur is nat ded, but h[ad] by the wyll of oure Lord Jesus into another place; and men say that he shall com agayne and shall wynne the Holy Crosse.  

Yet I woll nat sat that hit shall be so, but rather I wolde sey; here in thys worlde he changed hys lyff.  And many men say that there is ys written upon the tumbe thys;

Now there will be those who mutter pretentious old duffer beginning the blog post with a quote from a book written in the English of 1471, but I am unrepentant.

The lines were written by Sir Thomas Mallory while under house arrest for consistently backing the wrong side in the English civil war.  During his incarceration he produced a rattling good story of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the love affair between Arthur’s wife Guinevere and Lancelot.

I bought my edition in the winter of 1968 and regularly go back to it and while in places it is hard going there is nothing quite like reading the story in the way Mallory set it down.  All of which makes the chap quite special in my eyes, particularly as the book out lines that chivalrous code which was supposed to pertain on the battle field.

All of which was fine until I listened to Melvin Bragg’s Radio 4 In Our Time Programme and discovered that Mallory had been banged up not just because he was on the wrong side but was in the words of one of the contributors “top thug in an age of thugs.”

Which I have to confess was a bit of a surprise, but none the less made for an interesting discussion and one that you can listen to at

And in the mean time there are always the notes from the programme to start you off.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Thomas Malory's "Le Morte Darthur", the epic tale of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. Sir Thomas Malory was a knight from Warwickshire, a respectable country gentleman and MP in the 1440s who later turned to a life of crime and spent various spells in prison. It was during Malory's final incarceration that he wrote "Le Morte Darthur", an epic work which was based primarily on French, but also some English, sources.

Malory died shortly after his release in 1470 and it was to be another fifteen years before "Le Morte Darthur" was published by William Caxton, to immediate popular acclaim. Although the book fell from favour in the seventeenth century, it was revived again in Victorian times and became an inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelite movement who were entranced by the chivalric and romantic world that Malory portrayed.

The Arthurian legend is one of the most enduring and popular in western literature and its characters - Sir Lancelot, Guinevere, Merlin and King Arthur himself, are as well-known today as they were then; and the book's themes - chivalry, betrayal, love and honour - remain as compelling.

Helen Cooper 
Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge
Helen Fulton
Professor of Medieval Literature and Head of Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York
Laura Ashe
CUF Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow at Worcester College at the University of Oxford

Picture; English: Illustration of the Battle of Barnet (14 April 1471) on the Ghent manuscript, a late 15th-century and a French illustration of Thomas de Fauconbergh beseiging London while inturn his forces are  attacked by Edward IV and his troops, circa 1471, from MS 1168 at the Besançon, image from French Ministry of Culture

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Classic Slum, Salford stories from 1900

When you get to my age whole swathes of your childhood landscape have gone.

Many of the homes of friends have vanished under slum clearance plans along with the corner shops, small factories and builder’s yards.

Some have been replaced with social housing, but many more by prime state of the art flats for young couples with plenty of disposable incomes.

I guess it’s what comes of growing up in what had become shabby run down parts of our towns and cities which more recently have been rediscovered and gentrified.

Or they have become car parks which was the fate of the houses and streets where my mother’s family lived in Derby from the 1840s through to the 1970s.

Not that this is a nostalgic ramble of warm memories and cosy stories of a world that was better than today.  I have always been suspicious of that repackaged brand of history.  True people did share, and doors were left unlocked but that had more to do with the pitiful amounts of possessions that people possessed.

Open air markets like Flatiron on Chapel Street in Salford may look quaint to us today but were places where “poverty busied itself”* and almost any item of second hand clothing was available for a price.

And it is that remembered phrase that has drawn me back to Robert Robert’s powerful description of growing up in Salford in the first quarter of the 20th century.

You won’t find any romantic tosh of lives of happy poverty.  People constantly battled against the grime, the vermin and the damp which threatened to invade their homes, in mean and often dark streets and courts where fresh air and sunlight rarely penetrated, and with the ever present threat that bad luck, ill health or unemployment might pitch the family into the workhouse.

Not that people gave up.

“On Sundays the artisan in his best suit looked like the artisan in his best suit; no one could ever mistake him for a member of the middle classes.  But any day at all the poor looked poor.  With us they wore, irrespective of fit, whatever would hide indecency; clogs or blutchers [Derby shoe] on their feet and about the neck a muffler – white, if possible, for the Lord’s Day.

Those in greatest need found even the old brokers’ shop too expensive ; they bought everything from the local Flatiron Market”

Now in recent years there has been a real attempt to turn the pawnbrokers shop into something respectable, something without the taint of poverty, and in the words of one friend “into a place for today, where bargains can be found and deals done to avoid using the credit card.”

But for me they will always be places where desperate families pawned possessions including treasured wedding rings to eke out the weeks income and just because it was part of the regular routine as much as seeing the dawn rise and the night fall it was no less demeaning.

In my own childhood in that “you have never had it so good" decade it was the tally man who brought the consumer goods and the essential clothing at ten shillings down and four shillings a week, and like all credit deals meant that you were often still paying for items which had worn away.

Not that you can compare life for most us in the 1950s with the existence described by Robert Roberts, where “Cheap Sunday boots for children were the bane of young lives.  Hard and ill-fitting, they rubbed the skin off the heels and toes without getting one’s sympathy much sympathy from adults who often were plagued themselves with corns, callouses, ‘segs’ and bunions.  In any crowd of workers on the move a sizeable number would have been seen walking badly”**

And it was also in the faces of those pre NHS generations.  Seldom do you see working class women smiling in photographs because to do so would reveal the extent to which a poor diet and lack of professional dental care had wrought havoc on their teeth.

Still in the 1930s it was possible to have a bad tooth pulled for a small fee in the open on Ashton market and in rural areas by the blacksmith.  And the surprise expressed by some at the huge numbers of spectacles and prescriptions issued in the first year of the National Health Service was less about the exploitation a free service but was an indication of the very real need for medical care which decades of poverty had meant were out of the reach of vast numbers of people.

So the Classic Slum is essential reading covering everything from possessions, to food and drink, manners and morals and high days and takes the story of the poorest parts of the city on from the writings of Dr Kay and Frederick Engels in the 1830s and 40s, and acts as measure for how far things have improved in the first quarter of our own new century.

*Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum, Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century, 1971, Pelican edition 1973

** ibid Robert Roberts

Pictures; Union Street Derby, 1950, from the collection of Cynthia Wigley, and Flatiron market Salford, Samuel Coulhurst, 1894, m59571 & m59569, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and Bradford Power Station and Stuart Street, circa 1970s from the collection Eileen Blake

Oranges & Sunshine the on going story of British Home Children

The story of the children sent to Canada from the late 19th century into the early 20th has almost passed out of living memory, but those who went to Australia were still leaving our shores in the 1970s.

Their stories are still there to listen to and so I am looking forward to watching Ken Loaches’s film Oranges and Sunshine based the true story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who has worked tirelessly to reunite members of families who were separated when one or more siblings were sent to Australia.

Oranges & Sunshine Saturday evening 21.45 BBC 2

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

In Furness Vale

One of the nice things about leaving your comfort zone is how rewarding it can be.

So last night I accepted the invitation of the Furness Vale Local History Society and did a talk.

I have to be honest and admit that alighting from the train at Furness Vale Station was daunting. It was cold, wet and pretty empty.  But the company and staff at the Soldier Dick were welcoming and David my host at the Society made me feel at home.

And that was just the start.  On that wet very unpromising night nearly 30 people had turned which for a community of about a thousand people is not bad going.  And the added bonus was that my old pal Joe, came over from Disley to join in.

Now I have written about the society already and I am always impressed by the variety of their activities, and publications, ranging from a collection of historical photographs, a new book on the print works and a very interesting blog.

For anyone like me interested in history there is always something exciting about local groups who want to share their common history, exploring the memories, lives and landscape of where they live.

I rather think I will be going back to Furness Vale to enjoy some of their events.

Pictures; from the collection of Furness Vale Local History Society

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Of conkers in Nunhead Cemetery, and the Great Chorlton Burial Scandal

Even in daylight a cemetery can seem a bit of a scary place when you are nine and on a forbidden adventure.

Now I am not talking about village graveyards which by and large during the day and even at night are benign and not very intimidating.

Our own may have had many burials but was still small enough for the young and curious to see the farm houses and cottages to the east and west of its walls, the church directly ahead and hear the reassuring sounds of the Bowling Green Hotel behind it as well as the lights of the Horse and Jockey on the green.

No, I am thinking of those vast Victorian expanses of grass, trees, neglected internments and conkers.  Yes conkers, because when you are nine the beauty of the memorials and the tranquillity of the place are nothing compared to the huge numbers of freshly fallen conkers.

But to get them you have to enter the place without being seen which usually involved climbing over the high railings in the early evening so as not to come across any one.  But that in turn meant you ran the risk of forgetting the time and being caught as dusk fell, which is not so good an idea.

I remember one day late in September and a decision to get into Nunhead Cemetery where my friend Jimmy maintained there was always a huge pile to be had.  All went well until it became apparent that we had been caught out by the time and with the light fading fast it did not seem such an inviting place.  Moreover it was difficult to retrace our steps towards the safety of the outside and so bit by bit the tall trees and the imposing gravestones took on a more sinister and menacing appearance.

And it was with a degree of relief and a bit of shamefaced embarrassment that we found the railings and made good our escape down Linden Grove and home, sadly with less conkers that we had planned and a little later than we had promised our parents.

Looking back at those railings I am amazed we were able to get over them.

Now I have never been back to Nunhead Cemetery, which is a shame.  It was opened in 1840 by the wonderfully named London Necropolis Company.  By the time I was wandering through the place it was almost full and had all been but abandoned.  And as you would expect it slowly became an overgrown expanse of trees and wild life, which has in turn been rescued by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery,

All of which drew me into the story of the London Necropolis Company, Victorian cemeteries and our own here in Manchester.

“The London Necropolis Company (LNC), formally the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company until 1927, was a cemetery operator established by Act of Parliament in 1852 in reaction to the crisis caused by the closure of London's graveyards in 1851. The LNC intended to establish a single cemetery large enough to accommodate all of London's future burials in perpetuity. 

The company's founders recognised that the recently invented technology of the railway provided the ability to conduct burials a long distance from populated areas, mitigating concerns over public health risks from living near burial sites. Accordingly, the company bought a very large tract of land in Brookwood, Surrey, around 25 miles (40 km) from London, and converted a portion of it into Brookwood Cemetery. A dedicated railway line, the London Necropolis Railway, linked the new cemetery to the city.”*

And what followed were more of the same of which Nunhead was the seventh.
Manchester’s first municipal cemetery was opened in 1865 on the east of the city and was named after Mark Philips and was followed by Southern Cemetery in 1879.  Much the same reasons were there for the expansion of these big Victorian cemeteries.  Inner city church yards had become full and were endangering the health of the living.

In the small church yard of St John’s off Deansgate an inscription on the memorial records 22,000 were buried there during the  18th and 19th centuries,and  in Angel Meadow 44,000 people were interred between 1789-1816.

Here in Chorlton, our own Great Burial Scandal** highlighted the need for a large modern cemetery.  A Home Office inquiry in the November of 1881 uncovered grim reports of “human bones .... knocking about the highway. Only that morning a jawbone with teeth in had been picked up.” 

There were also past sextons who reported the difficulty in finding space to place a coffin and the ever present danger of unearthing past burials. William Caldwell described how he regularly “disturbed human remains in digging” and once before he “could get down to any depth I smashed into another grave, and I was flooded by liquor and human remains.”

All of which I suppose is a long way from conker hunting on a warm September evening in south east London, but then I no longer need to venture into such places.  The Rec opposite supplies all we might need which sadly is few, given that all my lads are now grown up and have long since exchanged a conker and string for far more mature pastimes.



Pictures; the parish churchyard and Southern Cemetery from the Lloyd Collection

Monday, 7 January 2013

Revisiting favourite places with a twist of history ............... nu 4 Varese

An occasional series which just aims to reflect old places or places with a story.

A bright spring day in the square

Picture; Varese, 2011, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Friday, 4 January 2013

143 years of caring for Manchester children

In the middle years of the 19th century the contrast between the great wealth of our city and the abject poverty endured by so many turned on a street corner.  

So the elegant houses of St John’s Street off Deansgate were surrounded by meaner dwellings where those on the margins of disaster worked long hours for meagre earnings and contended with the ever present threat that ill health or unemployment would pitch them into destitution and the workhouse.

All of which I suppose makes it unsurprising that on January 4th 1870 a group of wealthy men chose to open a refuge for homeless boys just minutes from St John’s Street.

Opposite; the first refuge, opened on January 4th 1870 on Quay Street

There was nothing here which would have excited the indignation of those then and now who see the poor as feckless and somehow to blame for their plight.

“The little dark room on the ground floor behind the Master and Matron’s was the eating room; the front cellar did duty as a general living room by day and a school room at night.  The back cellar, dark and damp as a cavern was the bathroom and lavatory, while the sleeping accommodation upstairs was in shape of hammocks which were hung out round the rooms for from strong hooks on the walls.”*

On its first night the Refuge accepted six boys and in the morning had to turn them out to fend on the streets.

Within a decade the charity had expanded to larger premises catering for girls as well as boys and seeking to off training and in time holiday homes as well as seeking to take legal redress to protect children from brutal parents.

Now the work of the Refuge and the reason for its existence is a subject I have visited before and will again, but what makes it special today is that it is 143 years since the charity opened its doors and so is a good moment to mention this week’s posting from its archivist. **

Happy Birthday to us is both a brief celebration and a description of the work to help young people during the late 19th century.

The charity has undergone changes, moved out of the city to Cheadle and changed its name to the Together Trust but continues the work begun 143 years ago today.

*Edmondson William, Making Rough Places Plain, 1920


Pictures; the first refuge opened in 1870 and a group of young boys from the charity in 1883, courtesy of the Together Trust.

"Built in fulfilment of a promise made in 1904" a celebration of the libraries of south Manchester

It’s another of our exhibitions and tells the story of the libraries of south Manchester.
From the promise made to the people of south Manchester in return for voting to join the city in 1904, to the our three Carnegie Libraries, and along the way some wonderful little stories.  All of this with Peter’s paintings of each library as they look today. Or read the book at

The libraries of south Manchester come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and date from the decades after 1904

This was the year when Burnage, Chorlton, Withington and Didsbury voted to join the city.  In return for voting to become part of Manchester there was the promise of cheaper gas, electricity and water rates, and the provision of public libraries.

But the libraries  were a little slow in coming.  In the case of Chorlton the first library was opened in 1908 in a rented house on Oswald Road and it would be another six years before a purpose built library was opened on Manchester Road.

It was “furnished with a thousand carefully selected volumes for use in the library and home reading,.............. a good selection of magazines is placed in a separate reading room [and] a special feature of the new library is the provision of a room for meetings of Home Reading Union circles and similar organisations.”

The Manchester Guardian reported “the style is Classical with Ionic columns in Portland stone and had 7,420 books, [which] if necessary can be increased to 10,500 volumes. There is a general reading room for adults and one for juveniles.”

In an age which has seen libraries add computers to the resources available to the user it is perhaps surprising that the Lord Mayor in opening the library nearly 100 years ago “hoped that someday there would be a kinematograph connected to our libraries for the special benefit of boys and girls, enabling them the better to understand the histories they were reading.”

The exhibition will be in Chorlton Library till the end of the month and then we plan to roll it out across the south of the city with a final showing in Central Library on Deansgate.

Picture; art work and picture from the current exhibition in Chorlton Library from the collection of Peter Topping

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Of Scuttlers, and street violence

I am re reading The Gangs of Manchester.*

It is a powerful description of the gang culture of the city in the late 19th century and along the way gives a vivid description of the poorer parts of Manchester.

The gangs were known as Scuttlers and most inhabited the warren of streets in places like Ancoats, Hulme, and Bradford.

Now there is nothing new about disaffected young people taking to the streets, fighting with each other and attacking innocent passersby.

They were there in ancient Rome and in all the centuries that followed.  In the 1920s and 30s it was the Razor gangs** and when I was growing up there were the Teddy Boys, the Mods and Rockers and later still the skinheads.

Some were more violent than others and as usual the extreme behaviour of the few were elevated by the media into something much bigger and made to seem more dangerous.

There were the stories of innocent young lads being slashed with knives and you knew where you could go and places especially at night to avoid.  Not that my streets were violent places but sometimes it proved prudent to be careful.

Having said all that, the worst I remember were the slashed seats at the cinema, which gave out a quick rush of air when you sat down on them, victims of a flick knife during a slow point in the film.

Now in the great sweep of disorders ours is very small beer and is nothing when compared to the gangs of Andrew Davies’s book.  They operated against a backdrop of mean and often appalling housing in streets hard by noisy smoky mills and factories with the ever present threat of unemployment and hard times.

Like gangs all through history they had their own territory which they fiercely guarded, wore distinctive clothes and revelled in a culture of violence and street fighting.

They had names like the Meadow Lads, Bengal Tigers, and the Bungal Boys, but most drew their names from the streets they inhabited, like the Prussia Street Gang, the Pollard Street and Bradford Street Gangs, while others were known by the district.

These included Deansgate, Gorton, Openshaw and Harpuerhey.

Opposite, Gun Street part of the territory of the Bengal Tigers.

South of the city between Chester Road and City Road was the Silver Street Gang and off Stretford Road in Hulme the Clopton Street Gang.

They engaged in vicious street fighting, maimed and murdered and as a matter of course intimidated their neighbourhoods.

The parallels with today are striking, and then as now the media made much of the deaths, gang fights and township wars, no doubt motivated as much by a “good” sensational story as a record of shocking events.

And as you read the contemporary accounts and follow as Davies explores the culture you are drawn back into the Manchester of the late 19th century.

This in itself is a valuable history lesson and seeks to remind us that sections of our city could still be mean and dangerous places.

Opposite; Angel Street, home to the Meadow Lads.

True they were perhaps not as awful as they had been during the early decades of that century but they were still pretty bad.

* The Gangs of Manchester, Andrew Davies, Milo Books, 2008

** The Glasgow razor gangs existed in the South Side of Glasgow in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Pictures; cover from the original edition of The Gangs of Manchester, Andrew Davies, , Gun Street, 1901, A Bradburn, m11341, and Angel Street, 1900, Samuel Coulhurst, m08978 courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council