Saturday, 31 August 2013

Victoria Baths Local History Fair September 1st 2013

Now here is one for the diary.

On Sunday September 1st Victoria Baths will be staging a Local History Fair, with stalls, displays, workshops, archive films and guided tours.  All this and a Cafe on site, Children’s trail and free parking.

So “visit Victoria Baths, Manchester’s amazing grade 11 listed pool and explore the local history of the Greater Manchester area.

This is one of the regular Open Day events, the first Local History Fair in September 2010 had over 600 visitors.

As well as a range of stalls there will be additional activities including workshops on topics of interest to local history groups and members of the public. 

So far the organisers have planned a couple of workshops on researching family history in the First World War – one by the Lancashire & Manchester Family History Society and one by historian Bill Williams on how he researched his uncles’ involvement in the First World War.

As well as the Local History Fair, visitors and stall holders will be able to view the building and go on one of the guided tours on offer throughout the day, if they wish. Hot and cold refreshments will be on sale in our café and the Souvenir Shop will be open. There will also be  specially designed children’s activities.

There is a photo of the previous Fair on the “Beyond the Baths blog" 0161 224 2020 or email

Picture; courtesy of Victoria Baths

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Today that walk through the history of Manchester’s Jewish Community with Bill Williams on August 29

Jewish tailor's shop, circa 1900
Now this should be one not to miss.  

I have heard Bill Williams talk, read his books and been on one of his guided tours so I know it will be good.

It has been arranged by Chorlton History Group and Bernard our convenor writes

"At the last talk by Bill Williams on the early history of the Jewish community in Manchester we mentioned the possibility of a Jewish History walk in Manchester. 

Well this walk, led by Bill Williams is going to happen today  on Thursday 29th August from 2pm to 4.30pm and the weather is currently 
looking good for it. The plan is as follows:

1. Assemble for 2pm outside the gates of Chetham's School of Music in Long 
Millgate, central Manchester,  M3 1SB 
(this is very close to the site of one of the first Jewish settlements in Manchester). The easiest way to get there is via the metro to Victoria.

2. The route of the walk will be via Corporation St and then up Cheetham Hill Road, stopping at various places of interest on Cheetham Hill Road or just off it. Bill will give a commentary at these points. The distance is about 1 mile.

3. Our destination will be the Jewish Museum at 190 Cheetham Hill Road, M8 8LW. This will be kept open for us until 5pm. There is no charge for the walk but entry to the museum costs £3.95 (£2.95 concessions), but this gives you free entry pass until the end of 2013

5. Bernard's mobile number is 07960 888879 if there are any problems on the day

Bill Williams
For those coming by car, I suggest parking near the Jewish museum in advance, getting the 135 bus back to Victoria and then picking up their car 

The aim is to keep this group to around a dozen or so people so it will be first come first served by contacting me to say you would like to go on the 

So not one to miss then.

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

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The garden party St Clement's, Chorlton

Sometime on a warm summer’s day in the grounds of the new St Clements’s church. 

The picture remains a mystery. I have no date, do not know who took it or the event other than that it was a garden party.

But it captures perfectly a carefree afternoon when perhaps the most pressing concern is where to sit. Another in the series celebrating 500 years of the parish church.
Picture; from the Lloyd collection

On being ten with two shillings and sixpence to spend on an adventure

When you only have 2/6d [12p] pocket money where you can have an adventure away from home and still have something left for sweets is an important consideration when you are 10. 

Now I was an urban child born in south east London and my adventures were circumscribed by the sheer size of London.

Not for me the lonely walk along a country lane, or a journey through an enchanted wood hard by a babbling brook.

Apart from our back garden, trees, vast expanses of grass and water were by and large offered up by the local parks and the river.

But the Thames was a working river, which made it fascinating but dangerous and a place where great stretches were out of bounds.

Likewise the parks were where grown ups had sought to curtail your fun by flower beds, and signs warning you to keep off the grass.

But that is perhaps a little harsh on the park authorities.  For some time after it was opened as Telegraph Hill Park in 1895 a small section of the lower park had been given over to a play area, including a hollowed out tree truck which became in succession the conning tower of a submarine, a tank and the gate of an old castle.

Later in the great freeze of 1962-63 the park benches became toboggans to be pulled with great difficulty up the hill only to be turned around and ridden down the same icy incline.

And there were of course still plenty of bombsites but by the 1950s most had been cleared, flattened and boarded off.

Although there was the old bombed out church around the corner whose crypt had survived and this became an assembly point for groups of children armed with candles to explore the labyrinth of passages below.

Which I suppose is the point that most of our adventures didn’t require much money and like children all over it was up to you to make the adventure from what you could find.

So David growing up in Chorlton played in the old brick works along with what was left of the clay pits and a dark and encountering the  sinister figure of Duffy who guarded the place.

He remembered “the Clay Pits” which were “situated to the immediate east of Longford Park, just the other side of the interrupted Rye Bank Road - it was a series of mounds and gulleys, the left over from previous workings of the old brick works factory with its tall chimney.

It was a forbidden play place and it was guarded by an almost mythical man named Duffy.  With another 9 year old boy, I recall daring ourselves to go into this derelict building one day and even crawling under the tunnel - through rubble to a place where I could look up inside the chimney and see the small hole of daylight at the top.

On re-emerging we continued to play until - that knowledge of being watched - made its presence felt - and we looked around to see a man who I think was called Duffy staring at us, stood on a small wall about 12 yards away. Scared witless we fled the scene, and although not chased, the memory of Duffy, the clay pits, and the old building, has played a part in several nightmares since that day!”

On the other hand London offered a huge network of buses, trains and the Underground and for 2/6d you could travel to the edges of the city and beyond.

Personally I never saw the point in sitting on the Circle Line of the Underground and constantly looping past the same 27 stations, alternating between daylight and the noisy and smelly tunnels.

Even if the game of guessing which station people got off could be fun.

No, for me it was the booking hall of Queens Road railway station on a Saturday morning and the promise of a bright new adventure.

Sometimes you struck gold and got to the end of a line, all open fields, posh houses and sunshine.  And sometimes you ended up in a drab nondescript mix of streets old timber yards and as often as not a canal which with that wonderful sense of timing of such disasters was always accompanied by rain.

Never ever believe anyone who tells you that summers were always dry sunny and hot when they were young, because they could never have paid one shilling return to travel to South Bermondsey Railway Station and try to find a bright spot in the warren of streets which snaked under the railway line.

Some childhood memories and adventures are best left in the past.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson & Cynthia Wigley

Thursday, 22 August 2013

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 33, where have all the shops gone?

The Launderette, 2013
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 wonder what Joe and Mary Ann would make of Beech Road on this August day just ahead of a Bank Holiday?

I never met them but I have talked to lots of people who knew them and I suspect they would have embraced the changes which in just over a decade and a half has seen the road go from a mix of shops selling everything from paraffin oil and wax to wet fish, newspapers and wool to bars, restaurants and gift places.

They moved in to their house sometime in 1920.  The Rec across the road had only been a park for just over two decades and the line of shops down from Wilton Road to the fish and chip shop had yet to be built.

And it is of that first shop on the corner of Wilton and Beech that I wish to write about.

John Williams & Sons, 1930
It began life as a grocery and provision shop owned by John Williams & Sons on the site that had originally been occupied by Sutton’s Cottage which was a wattle and daub dwelling and may well have been built in the early 1800s and was demolished in 1891.

Now I have no idea whether once it opened it was frequented by Mary Ann, but if did not she had a bewildering choice of grocers, butchers, green grocers as well bakers, and wet fish shops along Beech Road, and on to the green in one direction and off up Barlow Moor Road into New Chorlton.
She may even have had stuff delivered.

Not all of these shops would have been large or carried a great variety of food stuffs, but there were plenty of them for her to shop around.

The corner of Wilton & Beech, 1930
And if she tired of washing the clothes in the washroom in the front cellar then there were a number of laundries who would do it for her including the Queen and Pasley Laundry in what is now Crossland Road.

Later still she might just have felt up to it in later life to use the Maypole Launderette on Wilton and Beech Road.  This was what had become of our grocer’s shop of John Williams and Son, and in time was change its name to the Soap Opera, although I have some recollection of at least one other name in between.

But the launderette or washateria as my friend John from Leeds always called it was no more able to buck the consumer revolution than the laundry before it.  So apart from service washes, and duvet day the Soap Opera became an ever lonelier place.

And putting it into a context since the mid 1980s the number has fallen by two thirds while the onward march of the bar/cafe and small restaurant seems unstoppable.

As I write there is news that another will open up by the bookshop and a tea room has been mooted for Beech Road.

The Soap Opera, 2012
And I suspect here in Chorlton that is just how it will be.

Most have weathered the depression, and there seems little demand for alternatives, despite the call for something different by the critics.

For just as the cheap washing machine saw off both the laundry and launderette the big supermarkets have pretty much done for the small independent traditional food outlet.

I lament their passing especially as I did almost all my shopping in the Italian Deli and Muriel’s but the economics no longer worked.

The corner of Wilton and Beech, 2013
And even Barry who operated a very small fruit and veg stall on the corner of Beech and Chequers eventually conceded defeat.  The idea that people might only want to buy a carrot and two apples was a sound one but the trade was just not there.

So now in place of the Soap Opera there is the Laundrette not I hasten to add another place for service washes and duvet days but a bar and restaurant, which on the recommendation of a neighbour we tried out.

The cocktails were fun the pizza passed muster and the place was buzzing.

I rather enjoyed it, and while we now have to travel to the Quadrant to do the duvets, atleast we aren’t facing another empty shop on Beech Road.

Pictures; from the Lloyd Collection and the collection of Andrew Simpson.

*The story of a house,

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Raphael Tuck and Sons Ltd who sold postcards for most of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The main Arsenal Gates, 1905
The picture postcard of the late 19th and 20th centuries remains a wonderful source for anyone interested in the past.

They covered everything from landscapes to individual houses and in the fullness of time the amusing and slightly rude seaside card.

At the most basic level they allow you to track how a place has changed, comparing a street in say 1900 with one today.

But for me it is also the messages written on the back which open up the world of our grandparents and great parents.

So from the trivial and mundane like a Christmas greeting or details of where and when to meet up there are the concerns for each other’s health and comments on politics and the current social issues.

Writing to mother
In one sent in 1911 there are comments about the election of a local Conservative councillor and the news that the factory is about to go on strike while in another a Gladys is keen to point out on the card where she lives and the progress on the redevelopment of an old estate close by.

The one opposite is the reverse of  the photograph and describes a young man's first day at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.

He reassures his mother he is fine describes leaving by "the big gat" and comments on the size of the place.

Like so many I have read the message is terse with the odd spelling mistake and was dashed off in a hurry.

I do puzzle at the absence of a stamp but perhaps it was one that just never got sent.

Outside the showrooms
And as you would expect there are collectors and sites dedicated to both selling the cards and furthering research on the companies that marketed them and the photographers who took the pictures.

All of which is a lead into a new series on those collectors and the sites they run.

I am starting with TuckDB which “aims to be the go-to reference for Tuck postcard collectors, historians or anybody who enjoys artistic paintings and photographs.”*

Raphael Tuck and Sons Ltd sold postcards for most of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Theirs was a very big concern with offices across Europe and America and in 1883, were granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment by Queen Victoria and thereafter Tuck cards bore the message, "Art Publishers to Her Majesty the Queen".

The site is an extensive one which provides a history of the company and a free database of the cards produced.

I have to admit being lost for hours wandering across cities, rural landscapes and heading off across the world.

And inside the show rooms with all the gas appliances you could wish for
But as ever I was drawn back to the places which have always meant most to me.

Sadly there are few of Chorlton and those that are there are ones that crop up in most collections.  Of Eltham there are but three.

Happily as you might expect there are plenty of Manchester many of which I have never seen before and plenty that are a pure joy to look at.

But I will finish with another two from Woolwich which perfectly capture what makes these postcards so wonderful.  They are from the series on the South Metropolitan Gas Company and feature the interior and exterior of the shop at 36 Powis Street.

Not I grant you most zippiest of subjects but someone will have thought so at the time.  And looking at the same spot today I rather think the South Metropolitan Gas Company stole a march on what stands there today.

Added to the there is this wonderful view of the gas appliances on sale.

Pictures; Main Arsenal Gates & Road, July 25 1905,and the reverse & SHOW - ROOMS,- 36, POWIS ST. WOOLWICH, from a set entitled, London, SOUTH METROPOLITAN GAS COMPANY, un dated courtesy of TuckDB


Saturday, 17 August 2013

A Didsbury bookshop, an interesting blog and an interview

Now I never tire of writing about the past and recently some of the Didsbury stories attracted the interest of David who runs an excellent blog on books, history and lots more.

It also features a wonderful bookshop tucked away behind The Art of Tea on Barlow Moor Road.

“It is a  fantastic second-hand book store literally crammed floor-to-ceiling with books of all descriptions and in the type of environment perfect for rummaging through old books, especially when you have a couple of hours spare.”

All of which is an outrageous route to the interview I gave to David earlier this month.

As I said having read the Didsbury stories he asked if I would meet and be interviewed which I did.

We both came away having enjoyed a good few hours of conversation a bit of which became the interview.

So there you are, everyone should have their 15 minutes fame and I rather think David did me proud.
And there are lots more there to read.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Looking for links between Chorlton and a wartime airman

Uden War Cemetery
Anyone who has got involved in family history will know both the excitement at making a new discovery about a relative and the frustrations when an individual just stubbornly refuses to come out of the shadows.

And it is no different when you are trying to uncover a complete stranger at the request of a fellow historian.  

It is something I have done before and always takes you on unexpected journeys.*

The enquiry came from a Dutch researcher looking for relatives in Chorlton of a young airman who had been killed in action and was buried in a local war cemetery.

I had his name, age and the names of his parents but all three remained elusive and even after revisiting the usual genealogical haunts all I could come up with was a reference to his birth in Prestwich.

Now the usual practice at this point is to go away and try again later often from a totally different angle.

And this was how the breakthrough came about because there in the Commonwealth graves site was the young man, including his service number and the day he died.  

He had been air gunner and died on June 23rd 1943.

Now on that particular day the RAF had mounted an attack on a German rocket factory. The records provided details of the aircraft, the squadron and something of the outcome.  This was Operation Bellicose

Armed with this information it will be possible to track the operational records at the National Archive and identify the plane and the crew that our young RAF sergeant was part of.

But in a sense this was not the brief but once you start crawling over peoples’ lives you get drawn in.
And so the search revealed that his father had been born in Manchester in 1885, and that in 1911 aged 26 he was a ships steward, who was at home with his widowed mother in George Leigh Street off Great Ancoats Street.

A decade earlier the family had been running the Trafford Arms on the corner of Chadderton Street and Thompson Street.  It is an area I know well but the blitz and redevelopment have long since cleared most of what was once a densely packed area of shops houses, and factories on the edge of Oldham Road Goods Station.

George Leigh Stret, 1900
It is just a few minutes’ walk away from George Leigh Street and I guess with the death of his father his mother had moved to George Leigh Street where she opened a provisions shop which was enough of a going concern for her to employ a servant but didn’t warrant a mention of the directories of the period.

All of which is a little bit away from Sergeant Vincent Sugden who the story began with and the search for living relatives here in Chorlton.
Now Mr Sugden’s parents were married in 1914 and Vincent in 1921, but as yet there seems to be no connection with here.  His father may have died in 1945, followed by his wife a year, but equally there is a reference to someone who could have been his father dying eight years earlier in north Manchester.

There remains at present one possible line of enquiry and that involves a relative who posted details of the Sugden’s on one of the genealogical platforms.  It is a long shot because she has not been active on the site for a year, but I travel in hope.

And even if there are no links between Mr Sugden and Chorlton, well at least a little bit of his story had come back out of the shadows.

It may even be that my Dutch colleague is keen to follow my friend Rudd who set me off investigating another young airman who also died in action over Holland.  He was Sergeant George Blatherwick and like Vincent died when his plane was shot down a year earlier in the summer of 1942.

Rudd has been campaigning for a civic memorial to all those on both sides who died around the tiny Dutch village of Geffen.

Aircrew of 467 Squadron RAAF, August 1944
**Operation Bellicose targeted the Nazi Germany Zeppelin Works in Friedrichshafen and the La Spezia, Inaval base in Italy and was the first use of shuttle bombing in World War II.

Shuttle bombing involved bombers flying from their home base to bomb a first target and continue to a different location where they are refuelled and rearmed. 

The aircraft then bombed a second target on the return leg to their home base.

Operation Bellicose was the  first shuttle bombing mission. On the night of 20/21 June the RAF bombers departed from their bases in the United Kingdom and bombed Friedrichshafen, landing in Algeria where they refuelled and rearmed. 

On the return leg they bombed the Italian naval base at La Spezia

Pictures; Uden War Cemetery, where Sergeant Vincent Sugden is buried, Commonwealth Graves Commission,  aircrew and ground staff from No. 467 Squadron RAAF with one of the Squadron's Lancaster bombers at RAF Station Waddington after the squadron had returned from a daylight attack on enemy airfields in Holland, August 14th, 1944, a year after the squadron attacked Zeppelin Works in Friedrichshafen and the La Spezia, Italy, naval base, Wikipedia Commons and George Leigh Street, 1900, H Entwhistle, m11229, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

On a warm summers evening in Eltham in 1850

The Bridal Lane with the Palace in the distance, 1909
“This interesting lane, one of the favourite walks of Eltham people on summer evenings leads from Eltham to Mottingham passing the Palace grounds on the western side.  

It is sometimes called ‘King’ John’s Lane.” Possibly from the association of King John, of France, with the Palace, or as a corruption of “Prince John’s Lane.’ ”*

It is easy to forget that in the absence of televisions, radio and computers a walk on a fine summer’s evening was a pretty good way to pass a few hours.

This is something we keep promising to do more often but there is usually a reason why we don’t.

But back in 1850 it would have been one of the main leisure activities open to us.  After all I don’t flatter my chances as a member of the gentry or even the professional classes who might sit around discussing the latest plays or listning to a musical presentation.

Walking along the Bridal Lane south to Mottingham 1850
I come from a long line of agricultural labourers and itinerant traders who in the fullness of time moved into the big industrial cities exchanging the hard and seasonal work on the land for equally hard and uncertain labour in the factories and forges.

All of which meant that on a warm summer’s evening I may well have taken the Bridal Lane from Eltham down towards Mottingham, pointing out the Palace in the distance and telling the children half forgotten history stories of its Kings.

Tales which owed more to my imagination than to anything I would have been taught in the National School.

Pictures; The Bridal Lane from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, and a detail from the OS for Kent 1858-74

*Gregory, R.R.C., The Story of Royal Eltham, 1909

Monday, 12 August 2013

A little bit of 19th century Manchester at the Post Box Cafe on October 10th

Angel Street, 1900
I am looking forward to the talk by Andrew Davies on the Social Conditions of Victorian Manchester & Salford at the Post Box Cafe on October 10th*.

Mr Davies is the author of The Gangs of Manchester which is a powerful description of the gang culture of the city in the late 19th century and along the way gives a vivid description of the poorer parts of the twin cities.**

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

I have not only read the book but heard Mr Davies talk on the Scuttlers and the conditions which gave rise to the gangs and came away from both with a better understanding of the period.

The Gangs of Manchester, 2008
Now October 10th may seem a long way off but I know that the talks down at the Cafe are both popular and get booked up early, so as they say to avoid disappointment book early and as ever at the bottom of the post is a link to Chris and Jay who run the Cafe.

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

* The Post Box  0161 881 4853

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

Saturday, 10 August 2013

One hundred years of one newsagents on Manchester Road and a lost sign

I have a fascination for ghost signs.

These are those long lost adverts for businesses which have long since vanished but the names of the company, the proprietor and what they sold have survived.

Some were painted on the sides of walls and are slowly fading or peeling away and others have been hidden under new shop fronts.

The hidden sign
So I was pleased when Ted facebooked me with this sign for Kays the newsagents which has come out into the daylight.

I am not sure when it was covered by that creamy off white sign announcing KAYS NEWS, but I know there is someone who does, and in the fullness of time will tell me.

I hope also that something of their history will come to light.  I know the shop has been there a long time but like so many things familiarity leads to complacency added to the fact that it is at the other end of the Chorlton I live.  So while I went in to buy the odd packet of sweets for the children when we were at the library I can’t say it registered with me.

All of which is a shame because there has been a newsagents on this spot for over a hundred years.

The businesses in Hastings Buildings in 1911
Back in 1911 it was run by the Dunks family.

James and Annie had been married for 19 years and did the serious business of selling papers, tobacco and sweets from the shop, assisted at times by their two children and their house servant.

The block was known as Hastings Avenue and also contained a boot and shoe dealer, a fish and chip shop, a green grocer and the Sam Wong Laundry.

But here the mystery deepens a little because just eight years earlier Mrs Kay had operated a confectioner’s shop on the corner of Oswald Lane.

All of which requires more research and I reckon a lot more stories.

Picture; from the collection of Ted Harris

Friday, 9 August 2013

Back with Westonby and the Twilight Sleep Home

As stories go it is more of a postscript but Westonby and the Twilight Sleep Home just refuses to go away.

Westonby was a big Edwardian house on the edge of Chorlton and passed from private residence to become the Old Trafford Twilight Sleep Home.*

Now the Twilight Sleep Home is not the zippiest of names and has feint comic overtones, but it takes you back to one of those fashionable medical practises of the late 19th and early 20th centuries centring on the attempt to find a painless way for giving birth.

The standard approach had been to administer chloroform but in Germany experiments 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 its name varied slightly but always retained Twilight Sleep.

And I thought I had all but exhausted the story but then when you least expect it the Twilight Sleep Home bounced back, and not in a way I had expected.

I was talking to my new friend Ann who has lived in Chorlton all her life and was helping me out at a recent talk at the Post Box Cafe.

The conversation roamed across events in the township over the last 70 years during which I mentioned Westonby and the Twilight Sleep Home, and of course you have guessed it was the type of birth Ann’s parents had opted for.

Now Ann had been born at the Twilight Sleep Home on Upper Chorlton Road, but she knew of Westonby and remembered it as the Chorlton Nursing Home.

All of which takes Westonby a little further in to the 20th century.

I had assumed that when the practice of giving birth asleep fell out of favour in the 1920s our house ceased to offer the service.

This was an assumption which seemed to be confirmed by the absence of adverts for Twilight Sleep Homes in the Manchester Guardian after the late 1920s and yet a full decade later Ann was born at the Twilight Sleep Home on Upper Chorlton Road.

All of which goes to reinforce those simple observations that there is a lot more history out there and a pointer to me to go back to the Directories and search for Westonby from the 1920s.

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 Post Box and 0161 881 48

Walking east towards the High Street in 1870

We are walking east towards the High Street in the summer of 1870.

Ahead of us is the old church and to our right the Chequers Inn and on the left the railings of the old Vicarage Field.

I am being thoroughly lazy today and have decided not to research the pub and its landlord in 1870 other than to say that there had been a pub on this site for a long time.

But I am intrigued by the signs on the gable end and may well explore these at a later date.

Picture; the old vicarage, from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers,

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Back in Platt Hall with Christian Dior and the gallery of costumes

It is one of those places I haven’t been to for years, which is a shame, because Platt Hall and its costume gallery are well worth a visit.

It was built in 1746 and replaced an older timber farmed building which had been the home of the Worsley family.

Now the interiors are still pretty stunning including the main staircase and entrance hall.

It reopened in 2010 following a major £1million renovation project.

"Entirely funded by Manchester City Council, the Grade 2* listed Georgian house has had a much-needed makeover, including essential repairs and improvements behind the scenes.

The public facilities have been updated too. 

The costume displays have been refreshed and there’s a new changing exhibitions gallery, improved disabled access and a large lecture room and workshop space.

The Gallery of Costume houses one of the most important costume collections in Britain, second only to the V&A in London. It contains over 20,000 fashion items from the 17th century to the present day."*

Now I have always liked the 18th and early 19th century displays but we were drawn by the new exhibition, Christian Dior: Designer in Focus which runs from now till January 2014

“Christian Dior's brief but supremely influential career began with his iconic 'New Look' in 1947. He reigned supreme in Parisian fashion for ten years until his untimely death in 1957.

This unique exhibition features Paris and London couture, many outfits recently acquired by the Gallery of Costume. Stunning displays include day, cocktail and evening wear, and represent many of Dior's seminal collections."**

Pictures; of Platt Hall from the collection of Andrew Simpson and the interior courtesy of Manchester City Council
*Manchester City Council
**Manchester City Council

Monday, 5 August 2013

On a grey morning in Asos wondering about the tourist trade

We awoke to heavy leaden skies and by 10 am there seemed no promise of a better day.

By the beach the sun beds were all still stacked and only a few hardy souls had ventured out to watch the wave’s crash across the shore.

Back in the village square, the umbrellas in the restaurants were all down and no one was taking breakfast.

The few brief moments when the clouds vanished to reveal a blue sky were short lived.

And for the first time I pondered on how the holiday business in Asos on Cephalonia was bearing up.

By common consent there seemed to be fewer tourists on the island.

But memory is not always a good guide to these things and the owner of the restaurant in the village square assured us that “lots of people were coming here instead of staying in their own country.”

And I believe him, after all he recognised us as the family who made him pasta with garlic and olive oil.

It is a story long in the telling but suffice to say that Rosa who is from Naples took pity on him when he complained his mother could never quite make it right.

And judging by the full tables around us business is good which of course it has to be because a lot of Greeks invest much in the tourist months.

You see it all round you, from the local farmers bringing in fresh produce everyday for the restaurants to the women who clean the holiday homes and those who travel from the mainland just for the season working the long hours through the day and late into the night.

But when you actually weigh it up there are in fact very few enterprises here on Assos.  Apart from the two mini markets there are just four restaurants, an overpriced cocktail bar two beech bars and two tourist shops.

And there is a concentration of control for the two mini markets are owned by one family, one of the bars and a restaurant by two brothers while the Wi-Fi cafe and harbour restaurant by another couple.

Now it is not always easy to determine whether they are the owners or merely working the business for someone else.

Either way there is no questioning how hard they work.  The mini markets are open by 9 in the morning and will not close till 10 pm, while all the bars and restaurants will be serving all day and late into the evening.

Nor are we talking about shift work for it’s the same staff who will be serving breakfast at 10 and finishing off the night with the last of the diners.

Of course this is not something that tends to cross your mind.  Most of us get friendly with a waiter, joke about the weather ask superficial questions about their lives and if pushed brush away their long hours of labour with the thought that when the season closes these waiters, shop keepers and cleaners can relax.

But I wonder, particularly in the light of the current state of the Greek economy.

Which is almost where I began because the concerns over the state of the tourist business on the island had been prompted by the grey sky and unpromising morning.

We took coffee at the beech bar watching the sea and waiting for the sun to burn the clouds away and sure enough by mid day the water had settled, the sky was blue and the relentless sunshine was back.

And along with the sun were the coach parties.  They arrive regularly in the morning in their air conditioned buses; spend upwards of an hour and half taking pictures and sampling the bars.

It is easy to become sniffy about this intrusion into the peace of the resort.

There are a lot of them, they clog the road past the house and make a lot of noise, but they also spend money, and that for traders and residents is an important consideration.  Moreover the grey clouds had not put them off.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson