Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Reading popular history

I don’t usually plug history magazines but I do enjoy BBC History and BBC Who Do You Think You Are?

What you get are short informative stories with links to new interpretations and recent developments.

All of which mean you can dip in or use it as an introduction to a more in depth study.  So in this month’s in BBC History “following the confirmation that the Leicester remains are indeed Richard III’s, historians and experts share their views on the discovery – and what should happen next,” along with articles on Thomas Cromewell, Henry V and the men who fought in Nelson’s navy.

Nor is the material purely about famous men or centred on events here in Europe. This month also includes a look at he history of the Central African Republic and in previous editions much on the hidden history of the contribution of women to our cultural, political and social past.

Added to that there are book reviews, and both magazines have on line links.*

My own favoured story from this month is THE AGE OF OPPORTUNITY in which Emma Griffin** explains how 19th century working-class autobiographies could revise our understanding of the industrial revolution.”

There may be more of these than we have so far thought and “if we listen to these, we hear a story very different from the one we are used to”

It’s an interesting and challenging new look at a conventional story and is nicely timed to take any one who is interested on to her new book Liberty's Dawn, A People's History of the Industrial Revolution, due out at the end of March.

According to the publishers, "it is a  remarkable book [which] looks at hundreds of autobiographies penned between 1760 and 1900 to offer an intimate firsthand account of how the Industrial Revolution was experienced by the working class. 

The Industrial Revolution brought not simply misery and poverty. On the contrary, Griffin shows how it raised incomes, improved literacy, and offered exciting opportunities for political action. For many, this was a period of new, and much valued, sexual and cultural freedom. This rich personal account focuses on the social impact of the Industrial Revolution, rather than its economic and political histories."

All of which takes me back to that simple point that such magazines as BBC History, and BBC Who Do You Think You Are? are not just light popular reads, designed to pander to that growing interest in the past.

So to conclude then, well worth the cover price, or for that matter a subscription.


**Emma Griffin, senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia

Pictures; cover from the March edition of BBC History, the February edition of BBC Who Do You Think You Are? and an illustration from the novel, Life & Adventures of Michael Armstrong Factory Boy, by Francis Trollope, published in 1844

Monday, 25 February 2013

Annie Shaw, playing her part in the rescue of children off our streets

I had better get started on the new project because the Local History Studies Centre in Central Library will close from September 2013 till March 2014, and yes that is where the records of the Manchester & Salford Boys’ & Girls’ Refuges are located.

So in the meantime the new blog story on the work of the charity is to be welcomed.  All the more so because it centres on the work of Annie Shaw which is refreshing given “the influences male individuals had on the charity.”

All too often a handful of men dominate the story of child care and rescue in the late 19th century despite the contribution of women like Annie MacPherson and Maria Rye.

Now I know the jury is still out on the whole issue of migrating our children to Canada and I have made no secret that I think it was misguided but history has not served women well in the story of the charities set up to help young people.

Not that we should be surprised. The century into which all three women were born was one where the legal and political rights of women were severely curtailed as were their career prospects.

Now as ever I see no point in rewriting the work of others and so will just point you towards the blog at!)

Picture; by courtesy of the Together Trust

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Letters home from a son in wartime, ....... by convoy to South Africa and on to Suez

Roger Hall, 1922-43
In 1941, somewhere near Basra my uncle Roger wrote a 24 page letter to my grandmother.  

It was hand written and brought home by a friend and was the first real contact that my grandmother had had since he left Britain by convoy for South Africa, the Suez, and the war in the Mediterranean.

"Well, we got our tropical kit on Jan. 4th arrived at the boat the Duchess of Richmond, which was staying at Liverpool – I dare say you find all the gen you want in Lloyd's Shipping Register and I was put along with some very old friends of mine, into a hold which had been converted into Messes by the addition of hammock hooks, fixed tables and forms.  

The food was terrible, ghastly at first, but very soon the cooks got used to the rations and it improved immensely.  I couldn’t get a letter to you from the boat because it was guarded and the crew were confined to the ship.  
We sailed on the morning of 6th, lay out in the roads for a while, and moved over to Belfast in the night, where we packed up a good part of the convoy.  

We moved over to the coast of Scotland and picked up an escort and the rest of the convoy just off the Mull of something or other, 53 ships at the start not counting a navy escort, of which ours was by no means the largest.  

The Duchess of Richmond
I doubt if there was one under 10.000 tons; it was a wonderful sight – those five lines of massive steel hulls steaming along it seemed in sublime indifference to the dangers of the sea, wind or any other element. 

We moved round the north coast of Ireland and at the end of three days we were well out in Mid Atlantic.  We turned south in good time too, for it was bitterly cold, fortunately it was calm all the way and in due course arrived at Freetown.  

Our routine on the boat was this – up, reveille, till 8, wash tidy around, break till 5, tea at 5, free till 9, - darken ship.  And damned boring it was too.  After a fortnight of this and playing cards it was warmer (the weather I mean) and were able to sun-bathe.  

A few days after this (approx 3 weeks from sailing, I lost my diary in Greece)  we sailed into Freetown and wasn’t the sight of land welcome?  We anchored in the river and were immediately surrounded by fruit sellers and native divers for pennies.  

We were there for four days and I can well understand why Service Men are only allowed to stay six months there.  Such a heavy sweet damp smell came off shore – somewhat like a hothouse smell only with a only with a hothouse there is at least an honest smell of newly turned earth.  We were given quinine every day too, as a protection I presume against mosquitoes.  

Uncle Roger in 1939
We stayed  there for four days  - unloaded some R.A.F men.  Oh all this time I was broke – my money ran out as we reached Liverpool.  A good deal of the convoy had left us by now – for the Americas, and for Gibraltar, we only had about 27 ships, and 6 escorting vessels, 4 destroyers and 2 cruisers I understand.  

We put to sea again, and after about two weeks at sea we sighted the Cape, we couldn’t see much of it because of the spray and mist but it was possible to make out the mountains easily.  We had a smooth passage  (comparatively at least)  

There was a steep swell on but it didn’t trouble me at all.  Oh, long before this, after we had left Freetown we had a crossing the line ceremony.  I was one of the Mermen – the Son of Neptune – I wore a string skirt and spear – that was all I had!  I only hope the nurses and ATS girls on the next boat hadn’t a telescope!  

Two days from Cape Town we entered Durban Harbour on my birthday February 11th.  I was also paid for the first time here 10 ⁄- in English money.  The day after we changed it, and were allowed a shore from 12.00 hours to 23.00 hours."

Next week, the delights of South Africa in wartime

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and photograph of the Duchess of Richmond from

Saturday, 23 February 2013

More from the Rusholme and Victoria Park Archive, all you ever wanted to know but never knew who to ask

One of the things that I really enjoy is reading other sites on local history.

It’s that mix of things, ranging from new ideas on how to communicate stories of the past, the opportunity to follow links and fresh lines of enquiry and just the sheer pleasure in learning more about places.

So it’s time I think to mention Bruce Anderson’s site, Rusholme and Victoria Park Archive again

It is one that I have referred to already* but is well worth coming back to.  I first came across it while following up some research on Mrs W.C Williamson who wrote Sketches of Fallowfield and the Surrounding Manors Past and Present in 1888. Like our own Thomas Ellwood Mrs Williams recorded the memories of people who lived in the area when it was still a rural community.

And so there are parallels with our own township’s agricultural past and its transformation into a suburb of Manchester.

It’s written with that same love of the locality and a keen sense of research which makes all such sites a good read.

Moreover I rather think you cannot fully understand how Chorlton changed if you do not read about the neighbouring areas, after all what happened to us was also happening to Fallowfield, Burnage, Withington and Didsbury.

First it was the wealthy seeking homes well away from the city centre, then the development of housing estates for the “middling people” and “the 6 shilling a week” families who took advantage of the new train and tram networks to travel into the heart of Manchester but live on the edge of the countryside. And so within the space of three decades what had been rural communities became dormitory  suburbs, and the landscape, people and customs which Mrs C.W. Williamson and Thomas Ellwood described had long gone.


Pictures; from the collection of Bruce Anderson

Standing by the Rochdale Pioneers

I shall be voting for the Rochdale Pioneer Museum this week because it has been shortlisted in a competition.

Now I don't usually do competitions, mainly because I never win and more to the point I am lazy.

But given that I can't win anything and the competition is part of Museums at Night I am up for it.

 The Museums at Night project is a three day event stretching over the nights of May 16th through to May 18th and will take place in hundreds of museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK.

Even more exciting is that the Rochdale Pioneer Museum has been short listed to participate in a competition which if they win will “bring acclaimed contemporary artist Susan Forsyth to Rochdale for an event involving the whole community.

We are competing against the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Sheffield’s Kelham Island Museum and Liverpool’s Victoria Museum Gallery and the decision will go to a public vote. 

Voting opens at 11am on Tuesday 19th Feb and closes on Tuesday 5th March at 5pm. The winner will be announced on the 7th March.

If our bid is successful, a ‘Zusammen Choir Procession’, led by Susan Forsyth, and involving the whole community will take place around Rochdale Town Centre." From the museum's web site.

There will be those who say pitting one good museum against another is a bit invidious. On the other hand until I got wind of the competition I didn't know of the existence of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Kelham Island Museum or The Victoria Museum Gallery, all of which I have now rectified and rather think each should have a place on the blog in the fullness of time.

So with that I shall post the link to the competition and let everyone of you make your own decision.  Nor will I influence any one by explaining why I chose Rochdale.

Pictures; courtesy of the Rochdale Pioneer Museum

Elections in Italy

Now its election time in Italy and I have never hidden my fascination for all things electoral.

So I have taken great pleasure in looking over some of the campaign material that has come my way.

And what you see is what we got.

Given that I don’t speak Italian working out what the parties are saying in their leaflets has been a challenge, but with the help of my Italian family, and Google translation I have got by, and any way this post is not a call to vote for one of them or even to pass a commentary on what’s going on, I just want to share how someone else does it.

Three of them crossed our door recently and if I have got things wrong I am sure I will be corrected.

Rivoluzione Civile, Civil Revolution is a left-wing coalition of political parties in Italy. 

It is headed by Antonio Ingroia, who was an anti-mafia prosecutor of Palermo from 1992 to 2012 and the director of a UN investigation into narcotraffic in Guatemala in 2012.

Il Popolo della Libertà,  The People of Freedom is a centre-right political party in Italy. 

With the Democratic Party, it is one of the two major parties of the current Italian party system.

The party was launched by Silvio Berlusconi on 18 November 2007 and officially founded in a party congress on 27–29 March 2009, when Forza Italia and National Alliance were merged.

Partito Democratico, The Democratic Party is a social-democratic political party in Italy. 

Along with The People of Freedom, it is one of the two major parties of the current Italian party system. 

The party was founded on 14 October 2007 as a merger of various left-wing and centrist parties which were part of The Union in the 2006 general election. 

Several parties merged into the Democratic Party, however its bulk was formed by the Democrats of the Left (heirs of the Italian Communist Party) and Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy. 

Within the party, an important role is played also by Christian leftists, who are direct heirs of the late Christian Democracy party's left.”*

And the elections are on February 24 and 25th.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Crossing in to Stretford in the winter of 1857

Sometimes it is so easy to become parochial and so today I decided to reflect on how things were at the end of Edge Lane, over the Duke’s Canal in Stretford.

The writer Edwin Muir came in the winter of 1857, travelling from the heart of the city by train along a railway which was just eight years old.

It was a journey of contrasts.

Leaving “the huge manufacturies, and the miserable chimney tops of Little Ireland, down by the dirty Medlock; we ran over a web of dingy streets, swarming with dingy people............  left the black stagnant canal, coiled in the hollow, stretching its dark length into the distance , like some slimy  snake.”*  

And clearing the “cotton mills, and dye works, and chemical manufactories of Cornbrook,”    the train entered open countryside before arriving at Stretford station which had been built in 1849 and on leaving that station Muir saw  a “great tract of meadows, gardens and pasture land.”   

Stretford like Chorlton was by the 1840s and 50s  pouring its agricultural produce into the city.  In 1845 over 500 tons of farm produce were coming by road into the City each week from Stretford.**  

These carts were piled high with fruit and vegetables of which rhubarb was a particularly profitable crop.  The carts left Stretford just after midnight for the markets and while one family member remained to sell the produce the rest returned with the cart loaded with manure reading to repeat the operation the following day.  

This prompted one observer to describe the place as “the garden of Lancashire.”***  

And it had become  a major centre for the processing of pigs for the Manchester market as well the manufacture of black puddings and had gained the nicknames of Swineopolis and Porkhampton.  

During the 1830's, between 800 and 1,000 pigs were slaughtered each week and sent into the city.****  

Most came from Ireland, via Liverpool and were transported into Stretford by barge.  On arrival the pigs were kept in cotes kept by the local landlords.

The Trafford Arms charged one penny per pig a night and had cotes for 400 pigs.*****    Not surprisingly in 1834 there were 31 pork butchers in Stretford compared to one in Chorlton and five in Urmston.  

It was also he wrote all “fruit, flowers, green market stuff, black puddings, and swine’s flesh in general – these are the pride of village.”  

And he was also full of praise for both the black puddings and the local speciality known as the Stretford goose.  This was made from pork stuffed with sage and onions, which he thought “was not a bad substitute for that pleasant bird.”  

So, Stretford had much going for it and in the late 1840s and 1850s with a population which was already about six times larger than ours so I rather think I shall continue with Stretford travels, and in the fullness of time, “Pick up the package and travel post haste to Castlefield along the Duke’s Canal”  explore asking for “parish relief from the overseer of St Mathew’s”  as well taking a fresh look at the Kickety Brook and maybe just gawping at the fine houses along Edge Lane on the way home to Chorlton.

Pictures; detail from the OS map of Lancashire, 1841-53, courtesy of Digital Archives,

*Muir, Edwin, Lancashire Sketches, Alexander Ireland & Co  Manchester p
  **Scola, Roger, Feeding the Victorian City, Manchester University, Manchester,
  ***Leech, Sir Bosdin, Old Stretford, Privately Printed 1910

  ****Cliff, Karen & Masterton, Vicki, Stretford: An Illustrated History

  *****Brundrett, Charles, Brundrett Family Chronicle The Book Guild

A Co-op, an exhibition and a museum, it's got the lot

Well here is one of those double opportunities to pass on some history news.

My old friend Lawrence has an excellent blog and this week he is writing about the Rochdale Pioneers Museum,*“and a display of photographs with text at the Unicorn Co-Operative Grocery store in Chorlton.”

Now I tried downloading the images but they have been cleverly blocked but no matter, that just means you will have to visit his site, along with a trip to Unicorn on Manchester Road.

And once you have stocked up on all that this Co-operative Grocery store has to offer there is always the museum in Rochdale,** “which is the birthplace of the modern co-operative movement, where, on December 21st 1844 the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened their store selling pure food at fair prices and honest weights and measures. 

The business revolution that started here now involves a billion co-operators as members of 1.4 million co-operative societies across the world.

The Rochdale Pioneers Museum exists to preserve the original store of the Rochdale Pioneers and to generate an understanding of the ideals and principles of the co-operative movement.”

So as I said double opportunities all round.

*Hardy Lane

** Rochdale Pioneers Museum

Picture; from the Museum site at

Thursday, 21 February 2013

On Trafford Bridge in the summer of 1908 wishing Elaice all the best

Of all the post industrial landscapes it is the area around Salford Docks which seems to represent the huge changes that have happened in the last three decades to the twin cities.

From a grimy and dangerous place processing the produce of the world it is now home to Media City, an art gallery, theatre, museum and lots of modern flats and houses.

Its transformation has fared better than east Manchester which I knew well.  There during the 1970s and 80s the old industrial infrastructure slowy passed away and the regeneration has yet really to happen.

But the Salford dock area has managed to pull it off. Although I have to say on a cold February morning with a chilling wind from the west and a hint of sleet, those long tree lined avenues beside all that open water can be daunting.

However on a warm summer’s day with the promise of the Lowry and a light meal overlooking the water it is not a bad place to spend a few hours.  Certainly our Italian family think so.

All of which is a lead into to this picture of Trafford Bridge sometime around 1908.  I can’t be certain of the exact date but it was sent as a postcard to Elaice Smith on August 8th 1908.

On one level it hasn’t changed over much.  Today the metal girders have lost their uniform grey colour and have been painted a mix of white and rusty red colour and the gates across the southern entrance have gone.

But on a finer level all that industrial landscape including the tall chimneys, the tram lines, telegraph poles and hand painted signs for places like Woods Wharf and Cycle Stores are gone.  In the background are those glass and steel towers which could be any office centre in the world.

Likewise today the traffic across the bridge travels at a real lick oblivious to the few people on foot who make the same crossing.

Of course back in 1908 it was mainly heavy horse drawn carts and waggons and that I suppose is one of those warning shots for anyone slipping in to nostalgia about what the docks used to be like.

And I have to be honest I too have on occasion been drawn into all that romantic tosh about what we have lost, including those wistful reminiscences of listening to the ships sirens on New Year’s Eve.

Not of course that they could be heard today over the  incessant burst of noisy fireworks which have become the norm from about 11pm till rain extinguishes the matches and the cold drives those responsible back inside.

In that same grumpy vein I have to reflect on the level of hard labour in the docks which was often dangerous.

Nor was the work of the carters that easy.  Theirs was the task of transporting the goods in all weathers across the streets from docks, warehouses and factories.

We tend to forget just how much was shifted by horse and cart.  Each railway company had their own stables and in all there were 157 carriers listed in the 1911 street directory.  It was a hard job involving plenty of heavy lifting and a measure of horse knowledge. And in the summer of 1911 the Carters came out on strike.  But that is another story I have already covered.*


Pictures; from the collection of Rita Bishop and Andrew Simpson

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Up in Hollinwood in the August of 1938, all shawls, trams and cotton mills

We are in Hollinwood in the summer of 1938.  

And if I have got this right car 878 is travelling south from Oldham and maybe about to go in to the tram terminus which is off to our left.

Now I have to confess I don’t know Hollingwood but using the picture and the OS map for 1935* I am pretty sure that is where we are.

Now that may well open me up to be shot down within minutes of people seeing the story, but so be it.

“The area was initially largely occupied by workers in Oldham's cotton mills and miners at the large collieries at Oak and Bower, and several smaller ones. Much of Hollinwood's more recent growth was due to the Ferranti factory which produced power transformers in its heyday. Later the factory produced container lifting trucks as the building had the height to do so. The transformer works building, built after the war on the old Bower site, is now used as a newspaper printing plant. A neighbouring, much older, Ferranti factory produced electricity meters. The meter factory was sold to Siemens in the 1980s and became known as FML; Siemens later closed the FML factory.”**

All of which is captured in the detail on the picture.

August 2nd when the photograph was taken was a Tuesday and where we are standing was always a busy spot.

Beyond Oldham Corporation’s Tramway Depot was the large engineering works, while behind the White Hart Hotel was the gas works, the Rose Mill specialising in cotton waste, the Windsor Mill making India Rubber waterproofing and the three cotton mills of Lime Mill, Albert Mills and Hollinwood Mill.

Completing this industrial scene running in from Ashton was the Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne Canal which terminated at the Bradley Bent Basin a little to the north east of the hotel.

Shawl, apron and that tram
For me as ever it is the detail that brings back that August day 75 years ago when things were different from today.

So despite the growing use of vans and lorries, there were still a reliance on horse drawn vehicles and the old stately rattling tram cars.

These trams would last well into the next decade but by the end of the 1940s they were no more.

In much the same way so would the shawl that all too typical piece of woman's clothing.

And so I am drawn to the women in the shawl and apron.

She would not have looked out of place at any time in the century before the picture was taken but I very much doubt that shawls survived much beyond the end of the last world war on the streets of Hollinwood.

And that pretty much brings us up to date.

The White Hart Hotel is still there, although it has lost its chimneys and the long roof sign advertising its name and the brewery and acquired a white plastered exterior.

But even more than that it stands amongst relatively new social housing which are fronted by wide open green banks and plenty of trees.  What is missing is all that industrial landscape.

Looking at pictures of the place today especially in the sunshine it is hard to make the connection with our grimy busy scene in the August of 1938.

Pictures; from the collection of Alan Brown



The year is 1910 but where was the picture taken?

Now I have wandered out of the usual haunts for this competition.  

Name the church and and for an extra bonus the name of the road running away into the distance.  The date is 1910.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Making your mark, the badge of illiteracy

Yesterday I reflected on how in 1874 Patience Whitelegg witnessed her sister’s marriage with her mark.

There can be no more telling evidence of the degree of illiteracy than coming across an official document where someone has provided a simple cross for their name because they could not write.

And along with the discovery that someone in the family was in the workhouse it will be a simple fact of family history that many of us will have relatives who had never learned to write.  In my case it was one of my great grandmother’s aunts and her daughters who were all illiterate.

So on documents ranging over the 1840s through to the 1860s they put their mark on a variety of official records from those announcing their marriage to those which registered the birth and deaths of loved ones.

In the case of Patience it seems quite late for her and indeed her husband to be denied such a simple basic entitlement.

And yet in 1874 Patience would have been 27 and Thomas Whitelegg 33, which means their school years would have been during the 1840s and 50s, which was not a time of universal education.

Indeed in the April of 1851 when she was 4 and he was 10 the census on education uncovered that nationally only 61% of all children were in a school.

Actual attendances varied enormously.  In private schools the number of children attending on any particular day was 91% of the number belonging to the schools, while in public schools which catered for the labouring classes the number in attendance was 79%.    Which the authors of the report on education calculated amounted to a loss of half a year’s schooling.

No attendance figures have survived for the township.  The best we have are attendance figures for south Manchester which formed the Chorlton Poor Law Union and included our school.  These showed that on Friday March 29th 1851 the attendance was 83%.

This is not a good attendance figure judged by the expectations of our modern schools and can still be misleading.  March is a quiet time in agricultural areas and a record taken in the summer or at harvest time might be more revealing of how many of our children had walked through the school doors.

This may in part have been due to children working rather than learning. An agricultural labourer’s child could earn between 1s.6d and 2s. [7½p-10p] a week which was an important addition to a family’s income and in the words of one government report was

“so great a relief to the parents as to render it almost hopeless that they can withstand the inducement and retain the child at school”

But in some cases this child labour would have been seasonal.   In one Devon school up to a third of boys over the age of seven were absent helping with the harvest, while in another school during the spring upwards of thirty were assisted their parents sow the potato crop and then dig it up in the summer.

It was just part of the rural cycle and which one contributor to the Poor Law Commissioners on the employment of women and children in agriculture in 1843 said would at least teach children “the habit of industry,”    which fitted in with the belief much held in the countryside that “the business of a farm labourer cannot be thoroughly acquired if work be not commenced before eleven or twelve.”

This along with the quality and range of subjects taught raised serious concerns about the standard on knowledge and understanding amongst the population.

And as a measure of that standard the authors of the 1851 census on Education fell back on the simple test of how many people were able to sign their marriage certificate as against those who put a cross or mark.

The “test of marriage marks” was not in itself an over accurate form of assessment as the report pointed out “the art of writing is with great facility forgotten by the poor who find no application for it, while for various causes some who can write nevertheless decline to sign the register.”

It did however show that the number of people signing with a mark had progressively been dropping from 1839, although this hid a disparity between the sexes. Men using their mark dropped from 33.7% in 1839 to 30.8% in 1851 while in women it fell from 49.5% to 45.3%,

So perhaps we should not be over surprised that Patience and Thomas along with members of my family were unable to read and write. Not I hasten to add that such a handicap fills me with any pleasure.

From The Story of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, published in November 2012 and available from Chorlton Book Shop, and other book sellers.

Pictures; from the collection of Tony Walker

Monday, 18 February 2013

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 27 ..... family stories

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.*

This began as the story of Joe and Mary Ann. I have lived in their house for nearly 40 years and know so little about them. And theirs is a story still to be told but not to day, because today almost without me knowing it I slipped back into the mid 19th century and ended up following the lives of Joe Scott’s parents.

All of which was not what I had planned but the more that was revealed the more I realized here was the link between our rural past and that short history which turned the township into a suburb of Manchester.

Henry Scott was Joes’ father. He was a plasterer from London who settled here sometime around 1876 and was part of that influx of new people who were responsible for the building boom which from the 1880s turned great chunks of Chorlton into rows of terraced and semi detached homes.

Little Atherton Street
This much I knew and I suppose just assumed his wife Lucy was also a Londoner, but not so, she had been born in 1855 here in Chorlton in the New Buildings on the site of the present Royal Oak pub.

Her father was Joseph Taylor and he described himself variously as an agricultural labourer and farmer.

It was just lazy thinking and on the turn of a correction the story opens up. Joseph and his wife Lucy’s family were agricultural labourers at a time when over 50% of the workforce derived a living from the land.

The Taylor’s lived in one of the new blocks of brick built houses which were less than 20 years old when they settled there after their marriage in 1848.

The occupational opportunities for Lucy as she entered working age were fairly limited. Some helped their mothers take in washing, some might work in the fields, but most like her sister Patience went into domestic service.

Not that many of these young women would be employed locally. Those Chorlton families who could afford servants tended to seek their employees from further away for few would want family secrets to become the gossip of the neighbourhood.

Lower Byron Street 1967 with Little Atherton Street off to the right
All of which perhaps explains why Lucy found work in Manchester and I rather think this was where she met Henry. In 1861 aged 17 and still in Chorlton she had described herself as a nurse, but by 1874 she was living at number 4 Little Atherton Street which was bounded by Quay Street to the north and Lower Byrom Street to the east in the Deansgate area of Manchester.

It’s gone now, and the closest you will get is to stand on Atherton Street with the Granada Studios to your right and Quay Street to your back, and stand at the entrance to the car park for here just off to the left under what is a grassed over lawn was Little Atherton Street.

Back then it was a densely packed area of small terraced houses, surrounded by warehouses, the Manchester and Salford Canal, and the goods depot of the London and North Western Railway. It was a world away from rural Chorlton.

Here during the working day and into the night would be the clunk of shutting engines working the goods wagons, and the smell from the smoke of countless locomotives and factory chimneys. I guess Henry might have felt a little more at home here than Lucy.

A few years earlier if I have got the right Henry Scott he was in Edmonton just six miles from Charing Cross in London. And sometime between 1871 and ’74 he came to Manchester and moved into 1 Little Atherton Street. No pictures have survived of either houses or the surrounding streets.

The best I can come up with is a detail from Goad’s Fire insurance map which shows the area including “Dwellings Yards and outbuildings” at the bottom of Atherton Street, and a 1965 photograph looking up Lower Byrom Street from Great John Street, by which our properties had long gone.

But I do know the houses had 4 rooms and I guess both Henry and Lucy were lodgers. I don’t know r how they met, but given the close proximity of numbers 1 and 4 I shall assume the oblivious and leave any temptation to speculate on how the romance developed.

Suffice to say that they married on December 27th 1874 and the ceremony was held in St John’s Church which was just a few minutes’ walk away, across Lower Byrom Street. The marriage was witnessed by Lucy’s sister Patience and her husband Thomas Whitelegg neither of whom could write and both left their mark.

Nothing quite prepares you for that simple insight into the level of literacy in this country in the last quarter of the 19th century. But in the years when Patience was growing up the authorities were still concerned at the level of illiteracy which begs the question of whether Patience ever saw the inside of our village school which had been built in the 1840s..

But that is for another story if only because it takes me a long way away from Henry and Lucy. So I shall finish by following them to Chorlton where they had settled by 1876 in one of a row of cottages off what is now Oswald Road close to Patience and Thomas Whitelegg, and over the next few years busied themselves with bringing up a family and helping transform the township.


Pictures; the home of Joe and Mary Ann in 1974, from the collection of Andrew Simpson, Little Atherton Street, from Goad’s Fire Insurance map 1900, courtesy of Digital Archives, Lower Byrom Street, J.Ryder, 1965, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, m02895, detail of the marriage document, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and

Sunday, 17 February 2013

On Chester Road in the early 20th century

Now I am well out of my comfort zone and more than a bit out of what I know with this picture postcard.

We are on Chester Road.  I know that because that is what the caption says and the pub on the right is familiar enough.  It is that stretch heading up towards where the road divide and judging by the leaves and the shadows it must the morning of a summers day.

It was and still is the Old Cock Hotel but like so much of the area it has undergone much change, so while the building looks the same it no longer sells alcohol. It is a place I never visited and I am the loser.

In the same way  I wish I had taken more interest in the building hidden by the pub which was the old Manchester Carriage and Tram Depot which is no more.

Which begs the question of what the tram in the middle of the is doing.  The driver is facing us and the conductor is alighting from the rear, so perhaps the tram has come to the end of the route.

I know the lines run on but looking at a map of the network in this period this does seem to be the case and of course the carriage depot is close by.

All of which leaves  the building on our right which was there from 1895 and may be much older.  Its foot print suggests it ran off from the road, stretching with a longer wing or group of houses at right angles.

The rest I leave to someone who knows the history of the area far better than me.

Picture; from the collection of Alan Brown and detail of Chester Road from the OS map of 1888-1895, courtesy of Digital Archives,

Never forget to ask, ....... reflections on missed opportunities

Dad in 1962

It was the closing remark on a short film I watched on Friday evening where a celebratory revisits the home of his youth.

In this case it was Robert Winston, professor, medical doctor, scientist, television presenter and politician.

The pattern is much the same.  In the course of a wander around the house and garden the celebratory shares memories of the place and growing up there.

And it was the final comment Mr Winston made with his back to camera walking away from the property that has stayed with me.

His father had died when he was just nine and as so often happens that had made for a very quick growing up as he shared the responsibility for looking after his siblings.

And the comment was about his father and how it was only as an adult that he really came to miss him.

Dad circa 1918
It was a feeling that I too share about my father and I suppose a regret that I never took the time to really explore his early life with him.  Nor if I am honest was it just my dad that I took for granted.  There are whole acres of years for which I know so little about my mum or my grandparents.

This I freely accept is the way it is.  We all take our parents for granted while we are growing up and why should it be otherwise?  They are there, the providers of a warm caring home, the tellers of awful jokes and on occasion an acute source of embarrassment.  Not that I have ever shown current partners or girlfriends photos of the boys when they were young.  There are some things you just do not do.

But the serious point especially for a historian is the way that much of our family history and the lives of our loved ones are lost, and the task of filling in the gaps becomes at times difficult and frustrating.

Ah I hear you mutter there are some stories, some bits of their lives which should remain in the shadows and I agree but there is much also that I wish I knew.

Dad in the uniform of Glentours circa 1959
So for all young readers of the blog, get asking those questions now, piecing together the clues from Ancestry, old letters and photographs is no substitute to having the living tales presented in all that wonderful mix of exaggeration, modesty and just surprise.

So I leave you all with the tale of my dad on a thick pea souper of night wandering around the bombed out remains of the local church trying to find his way off the traffic island and across the road home to his family sometime in the mid 1950s.

Is it true?  I don’t know.  I remember the same thick days and nights of fog and smog, did my turn around the traffic island and treasure the story well.  I only wish I had written it down properly when he told me it back in 1963.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Friday, 15 February 2013

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 26 on Beech Road sometime around 1949

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.*

Joe and Mary Ann were married in 1910 and moved here in 1920 and in all the stories I have posted about them and this house I have never tried to see Chorlton through their eyes.

Now I know I will never know what they thought of the place or what they made of the changes in the half century they lived in this house, but it occurred to me that it should be possible to collect enough pictures of Beech Road to begin to get a sense of what they knew.

Some will be ones you have already seen, others will be fresh out of the collection but what they all have in common is that they were taken during the time they lived here and would be scenes they knew and took for granted.

They are not in any particular order which I know is not how a historian should behave, but just snap shots of moments in time.

And so to the first which was taken on a warm sunny summer’s day sometime in the early afternoon.  I don’t have an exact date but it must be not long after the end of the last world war and judging from the presence of the Morris Minor it must be after 1948.

The railings around the Rec had been taken down for scrap during the war and had not been replaced.

It is one of those interesting little bits of history that has fascinated me ever since I learned that in the drive to make weapons and bits for tanks and aircraft all manner of metal railings saucepans and pots were collected and melted down.

To this day I have wondered whether the metal content was really that useful or whether it was just one of those propaganda ploys to make people feel a part of the war effort.

Either way the effects were all too plain and while some of the old hedges were still in place for most of its three sides the Rec was open to all comers.

It had also lost its formal beds and borders and from where we are standing looks just to be a grassed field.

And this is a good spot to get a clear view up Beech Road.  To our right just beyond the lamp post are the old farm buildings of the Renshaw/Bailey family who have worked the land from this site since 1765.  But by the time Joe and Mary passed along here on that summer’s day it’s time as a working farm were gone.  The barn had been converted into a shop and part of the yard into garages.

Beyond that is the row that Joe and Mary Ann lived in just hidden behind the hedges of the farm yard.

Our six houses can be seen as the road takes another of its twists and there behind them is the cherry tree that they planted.

It lasted into the beginning of this century but sadly by then it needed to come down.  But in the same way that the great and good replace the old we have replanted a cherry tree, in the same spot and of the same type of cherry.

Now I know that all photographs capture a moment in time but there is something a little special about this one.  For a start it does not feature in other collections and there will be few who now remember Beech Road like this.

But also it is another reminder of Chorlton’s rural past because standing at the point where the picture was taken you can see the way the road twists and turns taking in ancient obstacles now long gone.   Beyond our house the road takes a slightly different direction to accommodate an old Beech tree.  And if you look down towards the green it is possible to see as it curves this way and that.

On a personal level it does draw me closer to the Scott’s which I know sounds romantic tosh but there it is.  Away in the distance is our house, it was once theirs and now it’s ours and like all good historians I like that idea of continuity.  They had been there for over fifty years, we have achieved nearly 40.  They were the first occupants and we are the fourth and the first to have had children here.  Indeed my youngest was born upstairs in the big front bedroom.

Which brings me back to the beginning and thoughts of Joes and Mary Ann.


Pictures; the home of Joe and Mary Ann in 1974, from the collection of Andrew Simpson and Beech Road from the Lloyd collection

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Scenes of Piccadilly sometime in the early 20th century

It’s one of those pictures I have found difficult to date, but I bet there is someone who can tell me.

The fashions would suggest sometime before the Great War, but that car in the corner just confuses me a little.

But what a wonderful photograph it is, perfectly capturing Piccadilly at one of its busiest times.

Forcing ther way through the crowds are trams heading out to Belle Vue, Denton and Sale and plenty more whose destination I can only guess at.

And in the absence of much more to say I thought I would isolate little scenes from the big picture and just let your interest and imagination do the rest.

Picture; Car 346 in Piccadilly, from the collection of Alan Brown