Monday, 29 April 2013

A water trough and three lost houses on Wilmslow Road in the summer of 1914

I think I remember the water trough just where Wilmslow Road joins Wellington Road in Withington.

I spent two years on and off just behind it during the early 70’s, and visited most of the shops along this stretch of the main road including the Victoria Hotel.

And because I was a student I did go into the Library on the corner facing the water trough, although I do have to confess perhaps not as often as I should have done.

Not that I would have been able to have gone there when this photograph was taken which I reckon to have been sometime just before the Great War because back then this site belonged to three rather impressive properties, which stood in a fair bit of land and whose gardens stretched back on to Wellington Road. The larger of the two had 11 and 13 rooms while the smallest just 8.

The walls and railings of the properties along with a large tree dominate the bottom right of our picture.

Now I rather fancy there will be a story to tell about what happened to the three houses, because in 1927 they have been demolished to be replaced by Withington Library.  This was the third and last of the three to built when Chorlton, Withington, Didsbury and Burnage voted to join the city in 1904.

It’s a story I have already told* so for the meantime I will stay with our picture of Withington on summers day. Judging by the sunlight and the school girls it must ne early morning.  The shops are open, the children are on their way to school but otherwise not much stirs.

Only the two work men with the usual handcart appear to be in gainful employment, although I suppose that is a bit unfair on the tram driver and conductor.

So that pretty much is it except for that water trough which sadly it would appear I don’t remember. Well not at the corner of Wilmslow Road and Wellington Road.  It had been here from 1876 to 1927  but as the Withington Civic Society records “was moved to the junction of Palatine Road and Wilmslow Road, opposite the White Lion. [and] was then moved to the Cotton Lane/Wilmslow Road corner. 

The trough then disappeared without trace for many years. It was eventually discovered, quite neglected, in a field at Chamber Hall Farm, Heald Green, and returned to Withington in 1985, thanks to the efforts and funding of Withington Civic Society. The inscription on the water trough
‘... that ye may drink, both ye and your cattle and your beasts’ [2 Kings, 3:17]
is appropriately chosen - the trough provided water for people (a drinking fountain), for horses and, at the side, for dogs.”**

Picture; Wilmslow Road circa 1914, courtesy of Mark Fynn

The Libraries of south Manchester, part 2, Didsbury and Withington,

**Withington Civic Society,

Thursday, 25 April 2013

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 32 building a boat in the back garden

The continuing story of the house Joe and Mary Ann Scott lived in for over 50 years and the families that have lived here since.*

I’m not sure how different our house is from many in Chorlton, although in all of its history it has only been home to four families of which ours is the only one to have children.

Now that I think makes it a little unique, that and the boat that John built in the back garden.  Most people have sheds in their gardens but from 1975 through to ’78 we had a boat.

The boat in the garden
It was John’s project.

Having bought the house in 1975 and redecorated throughout he set to on the boat.  Mary Ann had died the year before and the house had lain empty for a while.

I suppose looking back the boat was the logical next step after he had taken out the fireplaces, picture rails, dado rails and installed a 1970s’ look kitchen.

Many of the skills he would need for the boat were first developed in knocking the house about.

Now I moved in just before the Christmas of ’76 and already the project had advanced from the planning stage to the construction. Somewhere in the dining room are the screw holes which held in place some of the ribs of the hull, while in the cellar there are the traces of glass fibre and a particularly blue paint which was applied to much of sides of the boat.

Most evenings and all weekend John would disappear about the business of boat building and  in the spring of 1975 the garden was taken over by the skeleton of the boat which was built upside down. In the fullness of time this required a team of us to participate in the boat turning party which involved a Sunday afternoon of much grunting, rolling and pushing followed by the more delightful party of food by Lois and booze from all of us.

Jack Harker
Somewhere along the line the boat caught the attention of Jack Harker who having retired from Trafford Park and with little to do after breakfast until the pub in the evening was drawn into the venture.

And soon he was as much part of the boat as John.

It would be Jack who supervised the team of us who took down the side wall when the boat was finished and it was Jack along with John who saw it onto a low loader and down to Wales.

I have to admit was less interested, and sometime in the spring of 1978 briefly moved out, only to return four years later having bought the house from the people John sold it to.  And that is part of the story as well.

Having finished the boat, John put Joe and Mary Anne’s house on the market and was sold fairly quickly to a young couple who promptly went off to South Africa.  Briefly on a return visit they decided to sell and I bought.

The boat waiting to go to Wales
I am never quite sure what prompted me to do it or to keep quiet when the young couple described the previous owner and his fellow occupants who I was told were a thoroughly odd bunch, more interested in a good time than anything.

“Did I know that one of them had built a boat?”  And that "three men had shared with a woman?"  Added to that “they were all teachers.”

It was an odd episode in the history of the house and one which people still tell me about.

Pictures; from the collection of Lois Elsden


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Offering help at the prison gates, stories from the Manchester and Salford Boys and Girls Refuges at Strangeways in 1900

This is one of those photographs that will have many stories but most will never be revealed.

It comes from the collection of the Together Trust and featured in their most recent blog post*

And this provides a clue to unlocking one of the stories.

We are at the gate of Strangeways prison on a morning sometime at the beginning of the last century.

The men filing out are being released and the two in the smart hats and coats are representatives of the Trust which was then known as the Manchester and Salford Boys and Girls Refuges.

It had begun in 1870 with a mission of helping the destitute children of the city by offering a bed and a morning meal for boys found on the streets.  From there it expanded into caring for girls as well as boys providing homes, training and annual holidays.

Always a pro active organisation it was also involved in using the law to protect children from parental abuse and neglect and campaigned to make illegal the use of young children as street sellers.

From them it was a small step to an involvement with those who had been arrested and held for the night as vagrants.  As the archivist of the Together Trust writes, “before 1901 children were often sent to adult prisons for misdemeanours. Sleeping rough was a crime during the nineteenth century and any children found outside at night by a policeman were taken to the courts. Many found themselves behind bars for short periods of time. 

This fact, along with the charity’s proximity to Strangeways prison, resulted in the Refuges starting a new service in 1887, the Prison Gate Mission. Every morning, as the gate opened to discharged prisoners, a simple breakfast was provided of coffee and bread and butter at a Mission Room. 

Here advice was given and note taken of the children. In the 23 years of its existence 265,959 men, women and children were helped.”

Looking at these men as they walk free I wonder how many had a place to go, a family to stay with or any clear idea of the future ahead.

But this is not the end of the story, for 1901 the Youthful Offenders Act extended the use of alternatives to prison for young offenders.

The charity already used the Children’s Shelter on Chatham Street, as an alternative to prison, where young people accused of a crime could be taken.

And there is no doubt that banging young people up with adults did little for children and may well have made it easier for some to fall down the path of further offending.  Not least because of the absence of a real programme of training along with that most of all important belief that within the supportive environment of of the Refuges there was the chance that they would develop into upstanding citizens.

But that takes us away from our picture and into new stories which can be read in this edition of the Trust's post, Prison Gate Mission.

Pictures; courtesy of the Together Trust


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Those amazing Arnott stoves which heated our parish church in 1847

The church and Bowling Green Hotel from Chorlton Croft circa 1890

Recently I featured that picture looking towards the village from Chorlton Croft.

And in the course of the story mentioned the arnott stoves which heated our parish church.

Now I have lived with arnott stoves ever since I first came across them listed in the contents of the church in the 1847.*

But I realeize that for most people they may not so familiar.  So here courtesy of F J Ferris is a description of
Dr Neil Arnott and his stove.**

'Dr Neil Arnott 1788 - 1874  was a man of many talents including physician, public health reformer, inventor, patentee, lecturer and author. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society on 5th January 1838 with the following citation 

"Neil Arnott MD of Bedford Square a Gentleman well aquainted with the various branches of science being desirous of becoming a fellow of The Royal Society. We the undersigned of our personal knowledge recommend him a deserving of that honour and as likely to prove a valuable and useful member" 

Dr Arnott
He was born in Arbroath Forfarshire Scotland on the 15th May 1788. Educated by his mother at the parish school of Lunan, then at Aberdeen grammar school. In 1806 he graduated with an MD from Marischal College Aberdeen. He received his Diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1813 and was awarded his MD the following year.

 He expressed his concern about what he called the four necessaties of life, Air Warmth, Aliment and Exercise. All these factors must have created his interest in heating and ventilating which started with his involvement in matters related to public health and the need for improved ventilation in buildings. 

This led in 1838 to his publishing of the book titled "Warming and Ventilating" which explained the principles used in the Arnott slow combustion stove. The Royal Society awarded him the Rumford medal on 30th November 1854. The medal citation read "For the successful construction of the smokeless firegrate lately introduced by him and for other valuable improvements in the application of heat to warming and ventilating of apartments". In 1855 he published another book on the smokeless fireplace.
During the 1840's and 1850's Arnott is living at 38 Bedford Place in London. By 1861 he marries for the first time late in life to Marianne, and they move to a new residence at 2 Cumberland Terrace, Marylebone in London.
It appears that the Arnott stove was first manufactured following the publishing of his 1838 book."Warming and Ventilating", and although it states that the stove was Patented this was not the case. Letters to The Times newspaper called the absence of a Patent  "a serious misfortune to the public".
The fact that Arnott did not patent the invention of his stove allowed other people to copy the design principle, and many different firms then manufactured the Arnott Stove making variations to his original design which subsequently led to problems with the stoves performance, reliability and safety. 

See The Times newspaper articles.   In every street in London stoves were offered for sale bearing Arnotts name, of which not 1 in 50 was made in accordance with the design principles described by Arnott. So, imperfect stoves together with their incorrect use and firing method brought the invention into disrepute.

The Arnott Stove
During the 1840's and 1850's Arnott is living at 38 Bedford Place in London. By 1861 he marries for the first time late in life to Marianne, and they move to a new residence at 2 Cumberland Terrace, Marylebone in London.

It appears that the Arnott stove was first manufactured following the publishing of his 1838 book."Warming and Ventilating", and although it states that the stove was Patented this was not the case. Letters to The Times newspaper called the absence of a Patent  "a serious misfortune to the public".
The fact that Arnott did not patent the invention of his stove allowed other people to copy the design principle, and many different firms then manufactured the Arnott Stove making variations to his original design which subsequently led to problems with the stoves performance, reliability and safety.'

*Archdeacon Rushton’s Visitation 1847

** Researched, prepared and written by F J Ferris for the Heritage Group of the CIBSE,

Pictures; looking from Chorlton Croft from the Lloyd collection and picture of DR Arnott and stove courtesy of  F J Ferris

Sheffield in 1935

Fitzalan Square in 1935

Never let be said that the blog is hide bound by geography.  

And so today we are in Fitzalan Square in Sheffield, in 1935.

This I know because the postcard was produced by the Valentine Company and the reference number dates it to that year.

Of course it has changed quite a bit since then and I did have some difficulty recognising it at first.

Some of the old land marks remain like the bronze statue of Edward VII erected in 1913 which cost the square its large cab stand and clock.

King Edward V11 statue
Ahead of us the big white building which twists round from High Street to Haymarket is also still there but seems to have been truncated somewhat.

But others have long gone, like the London Mart which stood on the corner of Flat Street and High Street and can just be glimpsed in the top left hand corner of the picture opposite the C&A building.

It was first occupied as a hotel in 1870 and was taken over by John Marples in 1886 who gave it the name of the London Mart but as was locally known as the Marples.

During the Sheffield Blitz on the night of December 12th the building received a direct hit from a bomb which plunged through the building and detonated just above the cellars killing approximately 70 people who had taken shelter in the cellars.

Flat Street & corner of the London Mart 
The building was reduced to a 15 foot high pile of rubble.  Despite this, the following day 7 men were rescued alive from a section of the cellars which had been protected when the cellar roof had not collapsed.

The site remained derelict until 1959 when the brewing company John Smith opened a pub on the site which was called the Marples.

Square received a facelift during the summer of 2003 when  the Edward VII statue was cleaned and  lights were added to illuminate it at night.

New sandstone paving and steel benches were installed, the trees were pruned back and improved street lighting put in.

I could go on but think I have strayed well away from 1935.  Suffice to say that in writing this I discovered that one of my new facebook pals knew the pub well and our own Josh and Polly live close by.

So another small world.

Picture; Fitzalan Square, 1935 from the collection of Alan Brown, listing of Marples, John & Co, wine & spirit merchants from Whites Directory for Sheffield and Rotherham, 1911

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Under Camp Street in 1938 in an abandoned and forgotten canal

In the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal Tunnel, 1938
I am on Camp Street just off Deansgate.

And if I wanted to be more accurate we are standing in the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal Tunnel in 1938.

It is one of series of pictures which were taken by the City Engineers just under a hundred years after the canal opened to traffic in the October of 1839.

Forty years earlier the first proposals for a canal link from the river Irwell to the Rochdale Canal were floated in an effort to overcome the difficulties of off loading goods at the river and transporting them along the congested city streets.

The route of the canal across the city involved constructing a tunnel from Charles Street to Watson Street from which the waterway then ran in the open east as far as Lower Mosley Street before twisting south and running parallel with Chepstow Street before joining the Rochdale Canal just beyond Great Bridgewater Street.

Camp Street 1947, showing what might be a shaft down to the canal
Much of the street pattern and many of the industrial buildings from that period have long since gone and I guess most people are not even aware that there was this cross city canal.

I first came across it when researching Camp Street a few years back and then discovered more of its story in Underground Manchester.*

This is a fascinating book and feeds that interest many of us have in mysterious and long forgotten tunnels.  Manchester has plenty of them and the book allows you to explore them through a collection of photographs, memories and documents.

It is a book I have long pondered on buying, but which in the end was passed onto me by David who often contributes to the blog.  He was born here in Chorlton and has vivid memories of the place in the 1950s and 60s.

Now this fascination with our lost tunnels is an interesting one and stems I suppose from a mix of genuine historical curiosity and that preoccupation with the slightly mysterious.

After all most of them were built so long ago that in some cases there are no official plans of where they are and certainly no real idea of their original purpose.

Added to this they pop up as tantalizing half clues which might be a bricked up entrance in a city cellar, or a faded newspaper clipping of a chance discovery by workman at the beginning of the last century.

In the case of our waterway it was a letter in the Manchester City News of 1882 which described seeing both the “the canal tunnel with a towing path [which] came out near the Black Horse Hotel, Alport, where now stands Central Station.”**

Camp Street today
Now sometimes they border on the conspiratorial and many of us will be have been told the story from the friend of a friend who came across an underground communication centre built in the 1950s during the Cold War.

Most of which make perfect sense given the heightened conflict of the period.

But sometimes I have to say they just feed the imagination like the myth that a passageway runs under the green from the old parish church to the Horse & Jockey.

It is one of those fanciful ideas born of half remembered school history involving religious persecution, priest holes and a walloping big dose of wishful thinking.

We certainly did have our own martyr to the old religion but I doubt that the Barlow family would have constructed a tunnel across the green.  And even had they done so I rather think it would have come to light during the last 400 years, either from one of the frequent burials that took place in the graveyard or the archaeological dig of the late 1970s and early 80s.

That said there is no doubt that many things lurk below our city streets which takes me back to Mr Warrender’s book and more particularly the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal Tunnel.

Camp Street and route of the canal, 1849

It was probably built as a cutting and then roofed over.  Just at the entrance to the tunnel hard by Charles Street was a gasometer which supplied “power of the lamps every thirty yards.”

Charles Street disappeared as the Liverpool Road warehouse complex expanded, along with Ashton Street, New Street and Dumbar Street and Garden Court.

Camp Street, 1944
But Camp Street is still there although the houses in this 1944 picture have long gone.

They were there during the construction of the canal which must have been irksome to the residents.

Not that I suspect either the owners of the land, or the houses or even the canal company were over bothered for the wishes of the occupants of the houses facing the work.

These were mostly families who earned a living from the work of skilled craftsmen, labourers and those engaged in work in the cotton mills.

Not I suspect that these people gave much thought to the men who were labouring in the tunnel just a few feet from their front doors which brings me back to that picture of the underground canal in 1938.

I have to say that there is something a little uncomfortable at about the picture which I suppose stems from my own dislike of enclosed places which are both dark and full of water.

But then by the time this picture was taken the canal had been closed to commercial traffic for two years and was on the way to becoming a forgotten place.  Already the section from Watson Street to the Rochdale Canal had been closed for sixty three years and been backfilled in preparation for the construction of Central Station.

Back in the tunnel again in 1938
Pictures; Camp Street canal, City Engineers, 1938, m77571, Camp Street, T. Braddeley, m00701, Camp Street, City Engineers, 1944, m78767, Camp Street, C.Holt, 1938, m00700, and Camp Street today from the collection of Andrew Simpson, map of Camp Street showing underground route of the canal from the Manchester and Salford OS 1842-49, courtesy of Digital Archives, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

*Underground Manchester, Keith Warrender, Willow Press 2007, and also Below Manchester by the same author and publisher.

**ibid, Underground Manchester, page 23

“... the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live" The Putney Debates ....... visions of a future England in the October of 1647

There is something exciting in the idea that in the middle of a bitter Civil War in which one in four died the army of Parliament sat down to discuss the future of England after the war with the King.

Reading the discussions there is something very modern about the position of Colonel Rainsborough who argued that “... the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under...”

And it was the subject of the Radio 4 In our Time* programme today.  Always worth listening to this edition had  Melvyn Bragg and his guests  discussed how in “late 1647, after the defeat of King Charles I ... representatives of the New Model Army and the radical Levellers met in a church in Putney to debate the future of England. 

There was much to discuss: who should be allowed to vote, civil liberties and religious freedom. The debates were inconclusive, but the ideas aired in Putney had a considerable influence on centuries of political thought.”

Mr Bragg was joined by  Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London, Ann Hughes, Professor of Early Modern History at Keele University and Kate Peters, Fellow in History at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.

And this in turn reminded me of the Forces Parliaments which took place in the British Army in India and Egypt during the Second World War.  The Cairo Forces Parliament met in February 1944 and voted for the nationalization of the banks, land, mines and transport.

In their way it replicated those debates three hundred years earlier where the men who were fighting debated the future they wanted.

Now the Putney Debates and much more of the visions of the men who fought for Parliament was never taught to me.  What we got was pretty much what was produced in The Pictorial History Book**

It is an interpretation which is replicated in other children’s history book.

Part of the reason may well have been that the records of the discussions were lost until the beginning of the 20th century but I suspect the absence of this story may also be down to content.

In an age when history was still taught from top down the idea that there should be an alternative history where ordinary people wanted a share in how their country was run and believed that they had as much a right to that say as the rich and powerful was indeed a challenging one.

And so I not only recommend listening to the today’s programme but suggest you go off to the Putney Debates. The discussions will not only get you into the turmoil of exciting new political and social ideas bubbling through 17th century England but have a resonance in how we should order our society.

Pictures; An Agreement of the People, 1647, and from The Pictorial History Book

*In Our Times, The Putney Debates,

** The Pictorial History Book, & Co, Ltd Sampson Low, Marston, 1955

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 31, from fish flan to spaghetti aglio,olio e peperconcino

A Good Breakfast, 1947
The continuing story of the house Joe and Mary Ann Scott lived in for over 50 years and the families that have lived here since.*

Now I can’t be certain but I am pretty sure that back in the April of 1948, Mary Anne might well have offered up steak and potato pie, or fish flan for the evening meal followed by raisin crisps or rhubarb pie.

And if it was a special day perhaps a starter of cottage soup or artichokes in cheese batter.

A little over 27 years later and Mike John and I would have settled down to one of Lois’s baked ham and pineapple dishes, while tonight inspired by Rosa’ Neapolitan cooking we might well have spaghetti aglio,olio e peperconcino which is pasta with garlic and olive oil.

Also from A Good Breakfast 1947
And in that simple travelogue of meals I guess you pretty much have one of the history’s of the house.

There are others of course ranging from the changing fashions in interior decoration and furniture to how the house was heated and lit.

Each in their way offers up insights into how things have changed in a hundred years.

So the heavy varnished embossed wall paper with matching floral design became the emulsion and wood chip of the 1970s, the William Morris and Liberty prints of the late 80s and the patterned wall paper painted in pastel colours of today.

But throughout its history food has been a fairly constant barometer of how things have been lived in the house.

Now as I said I do not actually know what Mary Ann cooked but these dishes were all from the ABC of Cooking, issued by the Ministry of Food in the immediate post war years when there was still rationing.  The sheets were issued regularly and along with standard recipes there were guides to healthy eating and suggestions on how to make food go further.

Hedgerow Harvest, 1946
My own favourite were the sheets, Hedgerow Harvest from July 1946 which declared that “there is a wealth of wild foods in our hedgerows and fields for those who are within reach of the countryside” and provided recipes for Elderberry pudding, Blackberry or Elderberry Roly Poly, Blackberry or Elderberry Kissell and Blackberry or Elderberry Tart, along with suggestions for how to make pickles and chutneys, fruit bottling without sugar, how to preserve tomatoes and jam making.

By the 1970s when we wanted to be adventurous there were curries interesting ways to cook meat and because Mike Lois and John were Francophiles many of our special Saturday meals were heavily influenced by French cooking and enlivened by plenty of plasi wine so called because the local offi sold litre bottles of dry white and red which came in plastic containers.

The dining room 1976
They were wonderful nights when the rules of what to serve with what were overturned in the sheer pleasure of tasting new things around a dining room table often crammed with old friends.

Once or twice a year there was Marc and Giles  from Paris, Jen from round the corner and more often than not Whispering Dave who taught at John’s school and helped build the boat in the back garden

Fast forward another few years and as my boys were growing up it was the influence of Tina’s mother who was from Naples.

spagehetti aglio, olio e peperconcino, 2012
Now I have written about Rosa’s cooking** and so shall content myself with the reflection that the house has acted as a mirror to all those big changes which have washed over the country.

Back in 1976 after John had ripped out the fireplaces and in the absence of central heating the dining room in winter resembled the inside of a freezer, and so for an hour before we ate, the three bar electric fire with its pretend glow light would feebly do its best.

Now with the open fires restored like a big chunk of Chorlton the dining room once again  is a place to linger long over a slow meal dreaming of other places.

Hedgerow Harvest, 1946
Picture; from the ABC of Cooking, issued by the Ministry of Food, in the collection of Vince Piggott, and the collections of Lois Elsden and Andrew Simpson



What can you do in Kent in June?

Well as far away as Kent is from Chorlton I have to confess I am tempted by the one day conference the history of Canterbury, Dover, Faversham, Folkestone, Gillingham, Grange, Hythe and Sevenoaks.

From Roman remains, to a snap shot of Kentish life in 1641, interspersed by a look at a mid 19th century boom town.

So if you fancy all the new research into the history of some Kent towns then this one-day conference could be just what you want.  It is organized by the Kent Archaeological Society, the Historical Association and the CCCU (Canterbury Christ Church University) Centre for Public and Regional History

 ‘New Developments in Kentish Urban Studies’ will be held at Old Sessions House, Canterbury Christ Church
University, Canterbury on Saturday June 29 (9.30 – 16.45, tickets £12).

For full details and how to book visit or email

Pictures; courtesy of the Kent Archaeological Society

Friday, 12 April 2013

What should we know about William and Eliza Boot and Teddy Murphy and William Henry?

Extract from the death certificate of William Boot, 1893
When you spend your days looking into the corners of people’s lives who walked the streets of Manchester a hundred years ago it is always with a sense that you are intruding.

Even more so when you uncover a personal tragedy which makes you ponder on whether this is a story you should leave alone.

It is of course for this reason that many official records along with the files of institutions are closed for up to a hundred years, by which time enough distance has been put between the researcher and the researched to make any revelations less hurtful.

This can be a bit irksome especially if it is someone in your own family but I have to concede there will be moments in my own life that are best left sitting in the shadows.

All of which raises some interesting questions about disclosure, the rights of the dead to their lives against the understandable quest to learn more.

In the case of my grandfather and his family the records of the Derby Workhouse have been lost and the few fragmentary official accounts leave great gaps in his life story and more particularly that of my great grandmother.

Eliza Boot, my greatgrandmother, Derby Mercury February 1894
And the few bits we have of her life do not paint an endearing picture.

Likewise the army records of her partner for the years 1880-92 are shot through with some uncomfortable discoveries some which may still impact on the generations that have followed him.

So what are the ethics of research and is it possible to tread a middle path?

All of this has been prompted by the latest posting in the Together Trust blog on Accountability, culture and ethics and the degree to which the records and archives of institutions “play a key role in holding organisations to account and providing justice, while also acting as an important educational and cultural resource.”*

These are not questions which just vanish once that magic century has rolled over.  Most of the these individuals will have families who may or may not want to know what happened to them but once that Pandora’s box of ancient knowledge is revealed its impact can go off like a firecracker in all directions.

Teddy Murphy, 1885
Now one of my interests is the history of the British Home Children.  These were the young people who were sent from Britain to start new lives in Canada, Australia and other parts of the empire. Some were destitute, others from our workhouses and orphanages and always the guiding belief was that it was the chance for a new life.

Not everyone saw it as the solution to the problems of neglect, child cruelty and homelessness but enough did for thousands to have been shipped away.

Some of those institutions that sent them have in the past been reluctant to disclose information on the young people in their care, leaving in turn their children and grandchildren in a limbo of ignorance which has only been rectified by years of painstaking research. Research which in some cases has uncovered sad lives lived out in Canada while for others it was indeed a fresh start.

The debates on the rights and wrongs of the BHC programme rumble on fuelled by a mix of anger, disinformation, and compounded by the complexity of a policy which melds the prevailing social economic and political outlook of the period with a heap of prejudice and optimistic wishful thinking.

All of which throws up a minefield which the archivist, the researcher and the family historian negotiate with great care and in the process may even yet get it wrong.

But we are all in it to try and disentangle the past which brings me back to the two images from the Together post.

The young man staring out at us was looked after by the Trust and  as a parent I want to know what happened to him while as a historian I want to know what his early life can tell me about the social backdrop to the period he grew up in and how the Trust discharged its duty of care.

William Henry, school excemption certificate, 1903
In the same way the school exemption certificate raises huge questions about how we valued education in the early years of the 20th century.

The new Manchester School Board agreed to exempt William from full time attendance providing he had a job.

It is a tantalizing document which quite rightly obscures his identity, but with the address and father’s name it would be possible to track young William Henry across the decade before and the years after 1903.

And in so doing gain a better understanding of why perhaps he was exempted and offer a hint of his future life.

But that of course takes us into the very issues that the Together Trust has opened up so I suggest you visit the post and leave a comment.

Pictures; of a death certificate of William Boot and newspaper story of Eliza Boot from the collection of Andrew Simpson and remaining images courtesy of the Together Trust.

*Together Trust,

Of railway arches and neglected places

You can still find lots of that old Manchester, tucked away often in the more unfashionable parts of the city. 

Wakefield Street was once part of Little Ireland that notorious slum much written about in the 19th century.

It was done for by a combination of things.

The push by the Corporation to improve housing conditions, and the coming of the railways  tore great swathes out of the warren of courts and mean little streets close to the centre of the city.

These very railway arches provided space in their arches for lock up garages and all sorts of traders and when this picture was take, behind these doors was a car park.

Just across the city the redevelopment of Piccadilly Station in 2002 did little for this part of Fairfield Street.  It has been a neglected stretch for as long as I can remember.

Few people now walk along it since the closure of the stairs leading up to platforms 13 & 14 and the hotel opposite.

It is ripe for development and I guess it will be taken over and made into something “new, exciting and relevant to the Manchester of the 21st century.”

In the meantime, the constant flow of commuters and lorry drivers pass it with little thought to its history or what lies beyond the doors.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Remembering the German community of Manchester

“I know of no town in Great Britain, except London, which makes so deep an impression upon the stranger as Manchester.  London is alone of its kind and so is Manchester.  Never since the world began, was there a town like it, its outward appearance, its wonderful activity its mercantile and manufacturing prosperity, and its remarkable moral and political phenomena......”*

Well as a source for a description of our city it rings the changes from Friedrich Engels who was here in the 1840s and wrote about Manchester.

German Youth Hostelers, Buxton Youth Hostel, 1953
There were  in fact plenty of German visitors who came to see what all the fuss was about and along with the Frenchmen Leon Faucher and Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about what they saw.

And as the picture opposite shows they just kept on coming.

But I have to admit that all of this was just a contrived way to write about the German community of Manchester and in particular a new booklet on the Story of the German Church.**

It “is a most interesting, if brief work covering over 150 years of the German church in two parts.  The first is the resume of how the Protestant Church was founded and through the diligence of German congregations land was procured, funds raised and ,eventually a church built.  The development of the German church coincided with the rapid development of Manchester as Britain’s 9and perhaps the world’s) first industrial city....The authors have assembled an interesting range of German emigrants who contributed to Manchester’s 19th Century growth – industrially and culturally – notably the Halé Orchestra founded by Karl Hallé in 1857. [and] part two a resume of established members of the German community” including interviews.

So there you have it the story of another of those communities that made a contribution to the city.

Picture; German Youth Hostellers, Buxton Youth Hostel, 1953, m48502, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

*Johann Geor Kohl, “Journeys Through England & Wales 1844, quoted from Visitors to Manchester, complied by L.D. Bradshaw, 1987, Neil Richardson

**THE STORY OF THE  GERMAN CHURCH IN MANCHESTER History & Recollections £10 available from the Martin Luther Church, ( Park Road, Stretford, Manchester M32 EFF or from Ursula 07970676239*

Monday, 8 April 2013

A packet of cereal, a free offer and Flags of the World ..... selling in the 1950s

What I like about history is the way it comes in all shapes and sizes.

Now I have never been one for Kings, Queens and famous people who after all only shaped the past with the help of a lot of other people, most of whom were too poor, too illiterate or just too plain unlucky to get even a footnote in a history book.

And I rather think it is an approach which is shared by lots of other people who want their slice of history to be about the lives of people like themselves with just a century or too between them and their ancestors.

Not that this is in any way a plea for that romantic tosh which so often passes for  real life as lived in granddad’s time.  Heritage theme parks may seek to create an illusion of life in Victorian Times but when tourism and reality meet, few want the smells, the bed bugs or the noise of someone in the last throws of TB.

And so to the Eagle Society which seems an odd choice in the exploration of ordinary people’s lives, but contained in its quarterly magazine is a rare glimpse into the world of the 1950s.

True, it is mainly from the perspective of pre teenage boys and has a tendency to slip into nostalgia but if you want to get a feel for what it was like during that period of post war austerity moving in to the age of affluence the pages of Eagle Times* are as good a place any.

Often it is the products which become the story, whether it is those plastic kits which when assembled gave you a battleship or fighter aircraft or the primitive film strips viewed through a hand operated projector.

There was nothing over complicated about them but they were what today we might describe as both interactive and a means of developing many different functional skills.

Then there were the adverts, many of which are a fascinating insight into how products were promoted at a time when commercial television was in its infancy.

Three of my favourites featured regularly in the Eagle Comic which ran throughout the 1950s and what draws me back to them is not only the way that the advert worked but also that simple and personal thing that I remember all three, and have to admit that the advertising for all three worked on me.

I can’t say I was ever that keen on bubble gum and only ever really ate the stuff after buying that card series Flags of the World which had the national flag on one side, some interesting facts about the country on the reverse plus useful words and sayings if you ever washed up in France, the USSR or Japan.

But I guess I would have read the Bell Boy strip which featured Billy who always triumphed in the end.  It was fairly crude stuff and I doubt that any one bought the bubble gum on the strength of looking at the story but like all good advertising in the end it is the relentless and persistent messaging which makes the sale.

More interesting then and now for me were those products which gave you something.

In the case of that brand of cereal it varied from the stamp collecting set to the plastic racing cars and the model divers.

Of these I have to confess the last was the most disappointing.

The idea was to add a little baking powder into a hole in the helmet and drop the model into a bowl of water where upon it would shoot to the surface in a cascade of bubbles. Mine however just floated on the surface mocking all my efforts to make it work and reinforcing my German grandmother’s stern rebuke that “what you get for free isn’t worth a lot.”

And the 1950s were the decade of free promotions, whether it is the stamp kit, the boomerang or those plastic flowers which came with a certain brand of soap powder.

Two decades earlier it had been the newspapers which offered giveaways, now it is that seductive offer of two for one which invariably looks good in the supermarket but ends up not being used up by the sell by date.

So give me the free offer, and the more plastic and tacky the better, just as long as it’s not the deep sea diver.

This to me seems all the more attractive since the demise of Kingy** on Barlow Moor Road where every delightful plastic thing could be obtained.

*Eagle Times, published by the Eagle Society  dedicated to the memory of EAGLE - Britain's National
Picture Strip Weekly - the leading Boy's magazine of the 1950s and 1960s. We publish a quarterly journal - the Eagle Times.

**Kingspot, 360 Barlow Moor Road, a treasure trove of all things plastic and shiny, now a Japanese Restaurant

Picture; back & front cover of the Eagle Times, and adverts from Eagle May 30 1959

Getting things wrong ........... that house Westonby

Just when you thought you had nailed a story down up pops a disconcerting comment from a friend.

Now yesterday  I confidently wrote that “I think I may have found Westonby.*

It was a house on Edge Lane which has preoccupied me ever since I first came across it almost a year ago.
And the clue my well be this 1914 photograph of Edge Lane from the Stretford boundary.
Westonby was a large Edwardian house built in 1903 on the edge of the Township.

It boasted “three well lighted entertaining rooms, billiard-room, spacious hall, five bedrooms, box room, bathroom and separate w c, lavatory and w con ground floor, excellent kitchen, usual conveniences and large garden” and “was cellared throughout.”  It was set back in its own grounds had views across the fields to the Mersey “and was convent to Stretford trams and trains.”

It was perhaps the last of its type.  They were expensive to run and only worked well if there were servants on hand. They had names like Westonby, Sunwick and Ebor House.”

All of which might have been a tad premature.

My old friend Michael of Hardy Productions UK did a bit more digging and overlaying my 1907 map with a current satellite image of Edge Lane along with a picture of a house looking more than a little like my Westonby in 1914 has made me reconsider my confident assertion about both the house and its final demolition.

Now a little bit more research needs to be done but I suspect that will just prolong the dispute.

I could of course be petulant but I am rather pleased at the outcome to date.

And long may the blog continue to spark both comments and suggestions.  Thanks again Michael and I all of you to wander down Edge Lane and confirm my mistake.

Pictures; of Westonby and Edge Lane, 1914, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, m17757 and the OS map of 1907.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Westonby on Edge Lane reveals another secret

I think I may have found Westonby.*

It was a house on Edge Lane which has preoccupied me ever since I first came across it almost a year ago.

And the clue my well be this 1914 photograph of Edge Lane from the Stretford boundary.

Westonby was a large Edwardian house built in 1903 on the edge of the Township.

It boasted “three well lighted entertaining rooms, billiard-room, spacious hall, five bedrooms, box room, bathroom and separate w c, lavatory and w con ground floor, excellent kitchen, usual conveniences and large garden” and “was cellared throughout.”  It was set back in its own grounds had views across the fields to the Mersey “and was convent to Stretford trams and trains.”**

It was perhaps the last of its type.  They were expensive to run and only worked well if there were servants on hand. They had names like Westonby, Sunwick and Ebor House.

The biggest, which were those along Edge Lane and High Lane have long since gone, some of the smaller ones suffered the indignity of being converted into bed sits and a few into offices or commercial properties.

You can sometimes come across the odd gate post with the name of the house carved into the stone and perhaps even a stretch of the wall.

But as often as not the space where the grand building stood surrounded by it landscaped gardens are now filled with modern blocks of flats.

Most of these old elegant houses managed a century.  Not so Westonby.  It lasted just under twenty years.

By 1922 it was a private nursing home advertising itself as the Twilight Sleep Home for painless child birth*** and perhaps by the late 40s it had gone.

Its story is a fascinating one which unfolded in a series of chance discoveries and now I have finally found a picture of the house which I am pretty certain is the right one and in the process has eliminated the only other image of the property.

And like all good detective stories there was an element of luck, because our picture had sat in the digital collection of Manchester Libraries without me noticing it despite regularly trawling the site for pictures of Edge Lane.

Westonby was the first house on the eastern side of Edge Lane as you crossed the Stretford Chorlton border, just past where the modern Turn Moss Lane joins the main road.

Opposite were two grand semi detached properties whose stone wall stretches away from the picture.

The sheer size of Westonby is clear from the photograph and matches the foot print from the OS maps for 1907 and 1932/35 as well as the Guardian advert and is why it would have been suitable as a nursing home.

Like all good stories I suspect there is still more, but that will involve searching more directories and later OS maps and is for another time.

Pictures; of Westonby and Edge Lane, 1914, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, m17757 and the OS map of 1907.


**the Manchester Guardian, May 20th 1905


Something to do this evening in Manchester

At the Jewish Museum on Cheetham Hill Road this evening.

Acclaimed Manchester historian, Bill Williams, will be launching his latest book, 'Jews and other foreigners, Manchester and the rescue of the victims of European fascism, 1933-40' at the Museum tonight.

Short-listed for the 2012 Portico Prize for Non-Fiction, the book explores the response of the Manchester community to those threatened by the rise of Fascism in Europe in the 1930s.

Drawing on a wide range of documentary and oral sources, Williams takes a close look at the response of particular sections of Manchester society, from Jewish communal organisations and the Zionist movement to the Christian churches, pacifist organisations and private charities.

Mr Williams will be talking about the book and signing copies at the Museum.

Sun 7 April, 2pm
Normal admission charges

Picture; courtesy of the Jewish Musuem