Saturday, 29 June 2013

Two pictures separated by 139 years ...... popular protest on the streets and squares of Manchester

Now I could have chosen images from the food riots at New Cross in the early 19th century, the massacre at Peterloo in 1819 or the public meetings in Stevenson Square, Albert Square and Whitworth Park at the start of the last century. 

But instead I have settled on this image of the huge demonstration at Piccadilly in 1874 for the locked out agricultural workers alongside one of the recent day of action staged by teachers in the same place.*

There has never been a quiet time in British political history and despite what we are often told by the media the people of this country have used street protest and pamphlets as a legitimate way of expressing their opinion.

It appears in folk songs across the centuries is there in the revolutionary literature of the 17th century and crops up from the French Revolution onwards.

Here in Manchester there was the attack by a Church and King mob on the home of the radical Thomas Walker in December 1792, which goes to show that the Establishment has long been willing to call out people onto the streets in defence of the status quo as have those who wished for change.

Thomas Walker who lived in Barlow Hall in the summer months and wintered at South Parade which faces what is now Parsonage Gardens was forced to fire at the crowd to deter an attack on his home and family.

So perhaps this alternative view of political action over the centuries needs to come out of the shadows which I suppose will be the trailer for a series of stories over the next few months on Manchester’s opposition to the Slave Trade, the industrial and political disputes of much of the 19th century from Chartism to strikes and the campaign by the suffragettes and trade unions for the right of universal suffrage.

Pictures; from the Graphic Newspaper 1874, and the collection of Andrew Simpson, June 2013

*When Manchester turned out to support locked out farm labourers

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

On Market Street with just a century apart

Market Street has always been a busy place.

During the 19th and for most of the 20th centuries the crowds were confined to the pavements or risked taking their chances with congested traffic which edged its way up and down often at a snail’s pace.

And it is pretty much the same today.  True, the traffic has gone but you still have to keep a mindful eye on the junction with High Street and Fountain Street for trams.

So this was where I found myself last weekend waiting outside Debenhams across from Primark and the tram stop.

At the turn of the last century the spot contained fifteen different businesses, ranging from the London City and Midland Bank, the Angel Hotel, H Samuel watchmaker, tobacconists, a tourist agency and my own favourite Finningans Ltd, portmanteau manufactures.

Then like the crowd in our photograph I slowly made my way down towards the Arndale and just like then had to negotiate street sellers, and the wave of pedestrians.

Pictures: postcard from 1908 from the collection of Rita Bishop, remaining images from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Catching the tram on Corporation Street in 1902 and waiting at the metro stop on Market Street one hundred and eleven years later

Corporation Street, 1902
I have never lost that fascination with trams.

Back at the turn of the last century they were noisy and rattled along but were an essential part of the transport network.

And a hundred years later they are still one of the most effective ways of getting around the city and out to the places beyond.

So from Corporation Street to the metro stop at Market Street which I rather think has become one of the busiest tram stations on the network.

We had had trams for a long time but in 1928 the decision had been taken to replace the 53 route from Stretford to Cheetham Hill with motor buses.

Sitting on the tram to East Didsbury, June 3013

And by the late 1940s the last trams were running on their last journeys.

According to one source the switch to buses on the 53 route was to increase passenger numbers by 11%.

Added to this was the real need to put in substantial capital investment if the trams were to continue to run and so in 1937 the Corporation took the decision to phase out the tram in favour of the bus and trolley bus.

It meant the end of a network of 292 miles of tram track which in 1928 carried passengers on 953 trams across 46 routes. And of course the end of that delicate tracery of cables suspended above the roads which gave power to the trams.

Waiting for a tram on Market Street
But now they are back, crisscrossing the city centr and travelling out south to East Didsbury and Altrincham and east to Oldham, Rochdale and soon Ashton Under Lyne.

All of which will make the metro stop at Market Street an even more busy place.

And with that plenty more opportunities for me to snap away.

Pictures; detail of a tram on Corporation Street in 1902 from the collection of Rita Bishop remaining images from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Castle Hotel selling beer since 1778 and still going strong on Oldham Street

Oldham Street, circa 1910
I was back in the Northern Quarter recently.*

We don’t go as often as we should and that is a pity because you can always be rewarded by a nice bit of history, some quirky shops and of course those pubs which have survived the commercial rationalization of brewery outlets, the planners determination to tidy place up and various periods of urban blight.

And so to Oldham Street, which I remember as a thriving shopping centre in the 60s, which degenerated after the Arndale and has now come alive again as a place to buy interesting things you won’t find in the chain stores.

Like many who grew up in the 1950s and set up home in the 70s I am always drawn to the Pop Boutique store which opened in 1994 and pretty much sells everything from vintage clothing to all manner of things your everyday vintage junkie might find interesting and even buy.

Junk, 32 Dale Street
I guess part of the attraction is just to speculate on what we did with the ghastly table mats from the 1972 or the equally awful plastic flowers given away by a soap company in the 50s.

And having tired with that place I never tire of the Castle.

It dates from the late 1770s has undergone changes of name and appearances but remains a fascinating little pub.

I first went there in 1971 and sat in one of the back rooms debating politics and drinking the bitter.

It is a remarkable survival of the sort of drinking place you could have found on almost any street corner in the city centre from the 18th century onwards.

Castle Hotel
Now at this point I shall hand over to the experts and the wonderful Pubs of Manchester Past and Present blog, which tells the story of the pubs both in the city and the surrounding area.

And of course the individual stories provide a powerful collective history of Manchester and the people who have lived here.



Window of Junk
Picture; courtesy of Pubs of Manchester Past and Present blog, Oldham Street, circa 1910 from the collection of Rita Bishop and Junk, 32 Dale Street from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Twilight Sleep Home for painless child birth, a chance conversation and a story revealed

Now it is another one of those stories I thought had come to an end, but the Twilight Sleep Home at Westonby on Edge Lane has popped up again.*

Westonby is a big Edwardian pile on the edge of Chorlton which was built in 1903 and was grand enough to have been “cellared throughout contains three well-lighted entertaining rooms; billiard-room spacious hall, five bedrooms, box room, bathroom, and separate w.c, lavatory and w.c on ground floor, excellent kitchen, usual conveniences and large garden........ contains 3,074 square yards or thereabouts and has a frontage of about 200 feet on Edge Lane.”**

All of which made it an attractive place to live, but sometime around 1922 it had become the Old Trafford Twilight Sleep Home.  Not I grant you the zippiest of names and one with feint comic overtones  which opened a new field or research.  For on the same page of classified adverts was another Twilight Sleep Home on Upper Chorlton Road.

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

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

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

And last night in a chance conversation I discovered someone who had been there and given birth to a daughter.  The woman is now in her mid 90s and so this will place the birth sometime in the 1940s which was later than I had thought.

The Westonby home does not feature after 1927 but its competitor on Upper Chorlton Road was still advertsining in 1936 after which it too vanished.

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

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

Add to this by 1948 the Nationa Health Service may have made such places redundant.

Of course the key will be a conversation with the mother and a trawl of the street directories. My friend also remembered another Twilight Sleep Home somewhere in Trafford.

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

Pictures; advert from the Manchester Guardian, 1905 and April 6 1926, and what might be Westonby from the collection of Averil Kovacs

**Sales advert Manchester Guardian, 1905

Waiting for a tram on Market Street on a June afternoon

It is already hard to remember a time when Market Street still had traffic, and I have come to take for granted the metro stop at the Piccadilly end.

And for no particular reason other than I was on Market Street on a June day recently watching the crowds I decided to post the metro people waiting for a tram somewhere.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A piece of Beech Road which will soon be gone

The Home of Daniel Sharpe in 2013
It is a place with plenty of history but I fear won’t be with us for much longer.

It is 131 Beech Road and I have written about it in the past.

Once it was home to Daniel Sharp who lived here from certainly 1841 and maybe earlier.

He was a wine merchant and may have moved into the property with his new wife after their marriage in 1833.

Sadly she died in 1846 leaving him a widow until his own death in 1861.

Although that is not the full picture because in 1852 he married his servant Ann Bailey who was much younger than him.

The house in 1980
The marriage seemed not to be successful for nine years later she is no longer with him and in his will made shortly before he died having left her nothing he adds a codicil and awards her a small sum of money.  It is a story I will return to.

The house has had a varied set of occupants since then gaining the jutty out bit at the end of the 19th century, and now after a second fire which destroyed part of the roof it sits neglected.

A planning application last year has come to nothing and I suspect this fine example of what may be only one of two remaining town houses built in the 1830s will soon disappear.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson, 2013 and Tony Walker, 1980

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Something of the history of Southern Cemetery

Entrance to Southern Cemetery, date unknown
"Opened in 1879, Southern Cemetery is situated on Barlow Moor Road, South Manchester. 

It is the largest municipal cemetery in the UK and the second largest in Europe, with stunning gardens and pathways, and six grade 2 listed buildings, four of which are chapels. 

The cemetery is also the final resting place for many great Mancunians including philanthropist John Rylands, British aviator John Alcock and former Manchester United Manager, Sir Matt Busby”*

Now as a brief introduction to Southern Cemetery this pretty much does the business.

And there is no doubting the importance of the place both for those with relatives buried there and the general public some of whom visit the cemetery for the peace and tranquilly it offers along with some impressive scenery and wildlife.

For me of course there is also the history like the other big Manchester cemeteries it was built in response to the problem of inner city church yards which had become full and were according to many endangering the health of the living.

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

The Crematorium, date unknown
All of which led to the creation of these fit for purpose cemeteries on the edge of the city.

This started with Philips Park which was opened in 1865 on the east of the city and Southern Cemetery fourteen years later.

Alongside the push for a more rational policy of dealing with the dead came the move towards cremation and the formation of the Manchester Cremation society in 1888 which in turn set up the Manchester Cremation Company in 1890 with a capital of £10,000 raised by subscription.*

It bought a plot of  6.75 acres of land close to Southern Cemetery, upon which it built a Crematorium with a chapel and a covered walk way with niches for urns.  It was officially opened on October 2nd 1892, and was only the second crematorium to be opened in the country.

But the number of cremations remained low.  So that in the first ten years there were only 471 which may have had something to do with the cost.

“The price of a basic cremation was £5-5s-0d and to this could be added a further £1-1s-0d for the clergyman and 15s-0d for burial of the ashes in the grounds. 

A niche would cost a further £2-12s-6d in the outside columbarium or £5-5s-0d inside the chapel to which a further £1-1s-0d would be added for carving the inscription on the slab. 

By comparison, a simple burial for an adult might cost as little as 10s or for a child 7s with the clergyman charging a further 2s 6d. Furthermore, burial might be available close to home while cremation would involve a time consuming and costly journey to the one crematorium in south Manchester.”

Sadly some of the registers and most other early records of the Crematorium were lost when the company's office in York Street, Manchester, was destroyed during the winter blitz of 1940.  But the list of the first 412 cremations up to 1900 is available in the library at Clayton House and while those from 1900 to December 23  1940, have been lost it may be possible to find a reference in a local newspaper death notice or a memorial plaque at the crematorium.

Gravestone of Satinik Kouyoumjian
But that still remains the vast number of gravestones which can be visited and for those with an interest in family history the City Council provides a link to the online database which holds the records of those buried in Manchester cemeteries.****

Armed with this and a map of the plots it should be possible to track down a relative some one of interest.

Pictures;, entrance to Southern Cemetery from the Lloyd collection, gravestone of Satinik Kouyoumjian from Manchester’s Armenian community from the collection of Andrew Simpson

* Manchester Cemeteries and Crematorium
*** A Brief History of Cremation: The Manchester Experience, originally published in the Manchester Genealogist Volume 37/2 in 2001,

One for the diary............ paintings by Chagall at the Manchester Jewish Museum in June

"An exhibition showcasing work by some of the most famous Jewish artists in history will be opening at Manchester Jewish Museum from June 20. 

The exhibition, Chagall, Soutine & the School of Paris will include original work by artists including Marc Chagall and Chaim Soutine. On loan from the Ben Uri Gallery, the exhibition opens in the same month as Tate Liverpool’s Chagall: Modern Master exhibition.

The Museum’s exhibition will include over 20 works of art by 14 artists, including Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, Lazar Berson and Sonia Delaunay. *

Picture, courtesy of the Manchester Jewsish Museum,

*Manchester Jewish Museum, 190 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester, M8 8LW, 0161 834 9879, E:

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Out on Beech Road on a June afternoon

With the the imminent opening of another bar on the corner of Beech Road and Wilton Road where the Soap Opera used to be I decided it was time to capture more of the new bar and cafe culture.  

For once I will not slide into a history of the road I have known for nearly 40 years.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Summer camps for Manchester children

Leaving  Southport
The story of British Home Children is one of those episodes which just goes to show how messy history can be.

Back in the late 19th century when it was in full swing the idea of taking destitute children who were at risk away from the danger and dirt of our cities to new lives in Canada seemed the right thing to do.

There were those who objected to the policy both on political and practical grounds.  For the socialist Guardians on the board of the Chorlton Union the case for sending children was unproven.

Not only did it smack of exporting a problem we should deal with here but there were serious questions about the degree to which the children were treated and the lack of follow up reports.

All of which was bound up with the bigger issues of how the poor were treated, the failure of the capitalist economy and the vision of an alternative society.

Others had expressed their concerns almost from the beginning.

But then as now there were plenty who saw the policy as a genuine way of saving young people. A few saw it as a way of getting rid of children who might slide into criminality others as a a means of populating Canada, while the Unions had done their arithmetic and were persuaded that the cost of sending children across the Atlantic was cheaper than marinating them here.

And as ever there were those who did well in their adopted country and others who were abused, neglected and exploited.

All of which shows just how messy history can be.

More so when it comes to looking in detail at the organisations who sent the children.  Some were heavily involved and have not come out of the inspection well, while others engaged in the policy for just a short time and saw it as only one of a number of strategies to be used in helping young people.

At the summer camp, Southport
The Manchester & Salford Boys’ and Girls’ ‘Refuges while they participated in the scheme were more interested in providing the means by which young people could make a fresh start here in Britain.  

And part of this work involved them in providing holidays and summer camps all of which is covered in the latest posting form their archivist should be on the provision of a summer break.
They've been chucking salt in it!

Pictures; courtesy of the Together Trust,

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bill Williams on "The origins of Jewish Manchester” today at Chorlton History Group

Bill Williams
Bill Williams will be talking to the Chorlton History Group on "The origins of Jewish Manchester.”*

I first met Bill on a guided tour of the Strangeways and Redbank area of Manchester.

It was here that many Jewish families settled in the last quarter of the 19th century.

They were fleeing from Czarist persecution and found a home in the narrow streets and small terraced houses of this part of the city. I then went on to read his book The Making of Manchester Jewry and recently Jewish Manchester: An Illustrated History.*

A Jewish tailoring workshop circa 1910
He was a founder member of the Jewish Museum which I joined I sometime in the 1980s.

The group meets regularly at Wilbraham St Ninian’s Church, Egerton Road South.

For further information about future talks and Chorlton History Group contact Bernard Leach,, or ring Chorlton Good Neighbours on 881 2925

More details at

Picture; from the collection of the Manchester Jewish Museum, and photograph of Bill by Andrew Simpson

*The Making of Manchester Jewry, Manchester University Press 1976, Jewish Manchester: An Illustrated History, DB Publishing, 2008

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Bill Williams on "The origins of Jewish Manchester” tomorrow on June 6th

Jewish tailoring workshop, circa 1910
Tomorrow Bill Williams will be talking to the Chorlton History Group on "The origins of Jewish Manchester.”*

The group meets regularly at Wilbraham St Ninian’s Church, Egerton Road South.

"Bill was one of the founders of the Manchester Jewish Museum based in an old synagogue in Cheetham Hill and has been instrumental in documenting and curating the history of the Jewish community in Manchester and has written several books on the topic

This talk will focus on the early years of the Jewish community in Manchester, with the aim of holding a second talk some time later on which will focus on developments in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

And one for the future, ...... the History Group will be holding a history walk around  Jewish Manchester, led by Bill, starting near Victoria Station, walking down Cheetham Hill Road and ending at the Jewish Museum. 

The Manchester Jewish Museum
A date for this walk will be decided at the June 6th meeting and people coming to that talk will have a first opportunity to put their names down for this walk, which we will aim to keep to a small number

As usual the talk will be held at Wilbraham St Ninian’s Church, Egerton Road South, Chorlton, M21 0XJ

For further information about future talks and Chorlton History Group contact Bernard Leach,, or ring Chorlton Good Neighbours on 881 2925"

More details at

Picture; Jewish tailoring workshop in Manchester circa 1910 courtesy of Bill Williams, the Manchester Jewish Museum, 

Monday, 3 June 2013

On leaving Didsbury Station with loco 45602 in 1954 and recreating the journey by tram 44 years later

I couldn’t resist another journey on the new tram from Chorlton to Didsbury Village.

Until last week no passengers had travelled the route for nearly half a century.  It had from 1880 taken people from Central Station south out through Chorlton and Didsbury on into Derbyshire.

But the service had closed in 1967 and we have had to wait till now to  do the journey again.

And in one of those classic then and now stories here is the  old Didsbury Station in 1954 as an express train pulled by Locomotive-45602 is passing through.  Michael Baxandale tell me that "the loco is the Stanier Jubilee 45602, British Honduras, 1935-1965, headed in the up direction, that is, south-east.  I (can just about) recall standing on the footbridge when a (steam-hauled) London express came through.  By the time they had reached Didsbury they were going at a hell of a pace.”

Didsbury Station was opened in the January of 1880 and by 1900 over 200,000 tickets were sold from the station while a decade later it was served by 38 trains running south and 40 running north with a frequency of every ten minutes in  peak time.

Now the new metro stop is a little to the south of the  station and lacks some of the elegance of the old place, but then when it comes to steam and railways I am a bit of a romantic.

A flaw which my mother was always quick to point out should be guarded against when it came steam engines, for as she often pointed out “they were smelly dirty and noisy” and woe betide anyone who had put their washing out on the line as an express train went past.  Romance and majesty might be the image as the locomotive swept past but the chances were it had left a calling card of soot on the white sheets.

So I shall just leave you with Peter Topping’s painting of the tram and the unromatic can reflect on the clean quiet journey to be had by tram number 3014 as it gets ready to leave for East Didsbury.

I on the other hand while I travel the Metro with pleasure will lament the loss of loco 45602 as it hauls its way north out of the station  accompanied by the sound and smell of steam doing it magical business.

Pictures: painting of tram at Didsbury Village © Peter Topping 2013 and Locomotive-45602 and train heading north to Manchester in 1954, m63444, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Spitalfields Life ........ a blog to follow

“In the midst of life I woke to find myself living in an old house beside Brick Lane in the East End of London.”

As an opening line for a blog I have to say it has something, and so does the blog, which is a comment on life in Spitalfields, past and present. Spitalfields Life

37 Spital Square
What I like about the stories is that they recreate life in an area roaming over time and packed with rich detail and above all it’s the sheer quirky idea.

“Over the coming days, weeks, months and years, I am going to write every single day and tell you about life here in Spitalfields at the heart of London. How can I ever describe the exuberant richness and multiplicity of culture in this place to you?  This is both my task and my delight.”

And that is certainly what you get, everything from night life in modern Spitalfields to what came out of a well which had been in use since the Middle Ages.

The depth of scholarship is impressive and the variety of stories is enticing.  Now as a south east London boy born in Lambeth, and who grew up in Peckham and Eltham, Spitalfields was off the beaten track.  Even more so after forty years of living in the North, but I read “the Gentle Author’s daily posts and have yet to be disappointed.

Pictures;  37 Spital Square, courtesy of Spitalfields Life