Monday, 30 June 2014

Back at Middlewood Locks and the promise of a new vision for the River Irwell

Now I was recently  down at Middlewood Locks courtesy of some fascinating pictures taken by Andy Robertson who promised me more and so here they are.

The area is derelict but has the promise of something happening

And Neil Simpson alerted me to this link to URBAN RIVER REGENERATION IN MANCHESTER, which sets forth to argue for the regeneration of the river.

“Following years of neglect by governments, commerce and the public alike, the importance of the River Irwell as valuable asset in Manchester, Salford and Trafford is becoming increasingly apparent. 

Its benefits in terms of its historical legacy as well as its huge potential to drive economic, social and environmental healing and growth are enormous. 

It is with this in mind that plans are now underway to turn the tide on the years of neglect and once again embrace the River Irwell as a fundamental part of the cities heritage and future economic and social growth.”

It is an interesting mix of history and plans for the future and sits with other material I posted with the original story.

So I suggest you download the article and take in Andy’s pictures.

Pictures; Wilburn Basin, 2014, from the collection of Andy Robertson

*Middlwood Locks


Remembering those who served and died and are buried in Southern Cemetery

Emma Fox introduces the tour visitors
I wish I had been able to go on the tour of the war graves at Southern Cemetery on Saturday.

The guide was Emma Fox who is always interesting and has run a number of such walks over the last couple of years.

David Harrop who alerted me to the event and commented

“Six members of the Stockport Western Front Association attended plus four others.

I was able to show my commemorative display which is now part of the fixtures at the cemetery.

John Prettyjohns VC
All the visitors were pleased with the tour which terminated at the poppy field. 

Its pleasing to see that there are many folk taking such an interest in our war time history.”

Now David is quite modest about his collection which is I think quite unique.

It covers both world wars and includes photographs, postcards, letters and official correspondence as well as medals some of which is on display at the Remembrance Hall close to the cemetery gates.

But Emma's tour was wider than the two great wars of the last century and focused on some of the men who had taken part in the smaller colonial wars of the 19th century, including that of Frederick Milne  survivor of the engagement at Rorke's Drift in 1879.

So if the tour comes around again I shall make every effort to be there.

Picture; from the collection of David Harrop

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Where did the last half century and a bit go?

May 1966
I will soon have reached that age when I can go to the post office and collect my State pension which of course is that bitter sweet confirmation that I am officially an old man.

I have lived through two centuries, was almost there for the birth of the National Health Service, trembled at the awful implications of the Cuban Missile Crisis, marched against the Vietnam War and felt a little of my world had been lost at the news that Otis Redding had died.

But the immediate trigger for this bout of reflection was nothing more significant than the powerful fragrance of some flowers I passed this morning which transported me back to those long childhood summers when the sun always shone and each morning offered up new possibilities of adventures.

For a full minute I was back in the big garden that my grandparents retired to with its ornamental pools, the carriage shed and hay loft and big open field beyond.

March 1954
It was August 1958 and I was nine years old and like many summers during my childhood I was spending the holiday with my grandparents in the tiny village of Chellaston.

We didn’t have a television, there were none of my friends to play with but that month walking the country lanes, catching the humming of the telegraph wires and the odd bird song were magic.

Now of course none of that is unique to me, all of us will have memories as powerful, some good, some not so good but reaching “that age” does mean they can crowd in on you.

This bout of reflection is inevitable and will come and go with varying degrees of intensity mixed with the knowledge that there are fewer years ahead of me than behind.

September 1970

And everyone who looks back on the six or seven decades they have been around will perhaps reflect that in their life there was the most profound set of changes.

So had you been born during the last years of the long wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France you would have seen Britain transformed by the Industrial Revolution, entered middle age as the country acquired an empire and still have had a few years left to be able to sample gramophone records, make a telephone call and see a flying machine.

And some people experienced even more.

My uncle George was born in 1899, lived through the entire 20th century and died in 2001.

Sometime in 1960
He was given a present to mark  the passing of the old Queen in 1901, celebrated Empire Day, fought in the Great War and remembered when  he saw his first aeroplane.

And during that long life he mastered the telephone, bought an early wireless, enjoyed the first "talkies" and while he had little time for television wanted a computer.

The Nokia 3310, 2000
Against which I can advance the mobile. This when I was growing up  was still in the realms of science fiction.

And yet today we use that tiny hand held device not only to speak to friends and family but also to check the weather, make a hotel reservation and send an image of Manchester halfway across the globe.

And yet we remain blind to the history we are losing be it photographs, buildings or people’s memories.

I still have a very real soft spot for my first mobile but it is now as ancient and outdated as the telegram, the Model T Ford or the fountain pen.

It has long since been lost, and while it only allowed you to speak and text it did have a battery which didn't die by midday and played snake.

Now that was something worth preserving.

So I guess I know how I want to spend the time after collecting the pension and I hope others will help me by continuing to send me their pictures, their stories and contribute their own little bit of the story of this and the last century.

And the places are all there from Well Hall and Eltham to Chorlton, Manchester, Salford, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Stretford and Stockport.

And while I am at it I will just throw in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Sunderland and big chunks of Canada which of course pretty much gives away the family history.  I doubt however whether Naples, Varese and Cologne will surface .......... well not yet any way.

Pictures; Albert Square and the Town Hall, 1960, courtesy of Sally Dervan and the rest from the collection of Andrew Simpson

In celebration of the Northern Quarter

Now I have lived long enough in Manchester to have seen that area behind the modern Arndale, slowly decline and bounce back.

And the crusty old historian in me was always very sniffy about the name the Northern Quarter which smacked of developer’s hype and something the place was not.

But that was and is unfair.  The new developments brought people back into this part of the city and offered a home to those quirky independent businesses which might find it difficult to set up elsewhere in the centre of town.

So with that in mind I think it is time over the next few weeks to feature the Northern Quarter, and here are two of Andy’s pictures which nicely show what has survived from the Blitz and the redevelopment plans of the late 1960s and 70s.

The stories are in no particular order and at least a few have been posted already, but in the interests of celebrating the place they are being brought out gain from the shadows.

And to start here are two from Shudehill.

I am constantly amazed at how the row that includes the Arndale Exchange has survived, and equally pleased that the Lower Turks Head has reopened.

Pictures; from the Shudehill collection by Andy Robertson

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Remembering Hough End Hall part two

Hough End Hall continues to be a puzzle.  

The Hall in 1924
Given that it has stood on the edge of Chorlton since 1596 there is very little about the place other than photographs of the exterior and some anecdotal evidence dating from the mid 20th century.

To my knowledge the only floor plan of the place from before the 1960s was that made by the Egerton Estate in 1938.

And for reasons I do not understand it cannot be copied or photographed.
It sits with much older documents from the Egerton Papers in the Archive at Central Ref, some dating back to the 18th century and all available to be reproduced.

One day I will find out why.  But for now I have had to turn to my old friend Oliver whose family had taken possession of the hall and the surrounding buildings and land at the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Hall in 1945 with one of the Bailey horses
I asked him to describe the hall as he remembered it during the 1950s and it is both a fascinating record of the place and an invaluable piece of its history.

It includes a plan of the hall and outlying buildings, along with what will be the most detailed account I have come across of the place before it was taken over by developers.

“Along the side of the plot that borders Mauldeth Rd there was a field and in front of that a line of what had been loose boxes where my father kept pigs and the ones nearest Nell Lane were used for horses for a while – as kids we kept ours there, Silver, Nils and Betty when they weren’t out in the fields. 

Later on there was a pair of Russian Wolfhounds Michael and Heather and after they went, two Irish wolfhounds Terry and Fergus that later moved to Park Brow Farm

At the far end of the same building (nearer the Hall) in one of the lofts a man called Jimmy Ryan bred rabbits for show as a hobby; he worked at MetroVick as a day job and later joined Boeing in the US. 
At the other end – nearer Nell Lane – one of the corner stones was inscribed with the bar and arrow as an Ordnance Survey Bench Mark

On the corner of Nell Lane and Mauldeth Rd there was an L-shaped building and on the lower level my father kept pigs and on the upper level he had about 200 deep litter hens. 

The Hall in 1954
When there were no pigs it created a severe problem of frost as the pipes kept freezing up in winter and one of my jobs was to use a blowlamp to thaw them out and fix the occasional burst so the hens could drink 

Another problem was that from time to time the pigs got out and it was not a great deal of fun rounding them up. 

It was in that same yard we finally captured the St Kilda ram that had led us and the police a merry dance from the field near Chorlton Station, along Wilbraham Rd and St Werburgh’s Rd and we cornered it in a pen we put together from the show jumps from Didsbury Show that were stored there. 

A treasured memory of that morning was me on a bike following a police van with a policeman leaning out of the door trying to lasso the errant ram we were both chasing. 

According to one policeman a colleague thought he had it cornered in an alley near the old telephone exchange but it butted him in the chest then trotted away – he was laughing like hell when he told the story but I never knew if he was winding me up.”

© Oliver Bailey, 2014

Pictures; the Hall in 1924 from a watercolour by E A Phipson m80206, the hall from the south east, 1945 T Baddeley, m47846, and in 1952, T Baddeley m47851, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

Next, a bomb and a riding school

Friday, 27 June 2014

Finding history on facebook

Central Ref, May 2014
Now I know social networking comes in for a bit of  stick from some people, and I also accept that it does have its dangers.

But it can also be a pretty neat way of talking to people, exchanging ideas, stories and pictures.

For many it is also an opportunity to share their photographs and get them seen by a wide audience.

The alternative would be a gallery which usually has a long list of people waiting to exhibit and might not want to show an “unknown.”

But out there on flicker and more especially facebook you can do just that and I am constantly impressed by the quality of the material which is posted.

Many of those who post have done a lifetime of work, supporting families, paying the bills and just doing “work” but also have a keen eye for what makes a good picture and here on facebook their talents can be seen.

A ghost sign, 2013
My own favourite is MANCHESTER A PICTORIAL AND FILM HISTORY* and there will be others covering every part of the country.

The site has regular contributors and the occasional photographer, and I just love what they come up with.

But facebook also delivers plenty of history, ranging from sites which are a vehicle for peoples’ memories like Manchester Memories, Stockport Memories, and Classic Salford to those edging towards an attempt to talk about the history of an area, including buildings and events.

Everyone will have their own favourites and mine include Ashton Under Lyne Now and Then and Greater Manchester History, Architecture, Faces and Places.**

The first tram to Sale, 2014

At which point I can’t pass up mentioning my own Chorlton History and Well Hall in Eltham, its stories and its history*** which are specific to places I have lived and still do.

And then there are those like Didsbury Through Time and Hough End Hall which feature a specific place or building.****

What many of these history sites do is provide a popular link into more serious study, and here I am thinking of those which deal with British Home Children who were the young people migrated to Canada, Australia and other parts of the old British Empire from the 1870s.

An 18th century staircase, 2013
Some were found destitute on the streets others had been committed to the workhouse and orphanages and some came from families who were persuaded that a better life was on offer across the Atlantic.

It is not a good story and for all of us with relatives who were sent it was a revelation that it happened to one of our own and that for a large part of the last century governments and the institutions that sent them were at best silent and in some cases obstructive at letting the story come out.

And for those wanting to start out on that journey of discovery the facebook sites like British Home Children Advocacy &  Research Association, provide information, links to other sites and above all a network of people engaged on the same research.*****

I belong to five and all are from Canada, which is not surprising given that 100,000 young people were migrated from 1870 to 1930.

George Everitt Green, 1895
But without facebook as a start I would have found it just a tad more difficult to search out places dealing with BHC.

And the very nature of social networking sites is that they welcome you, accept that you may not know much but are always willing to help and share their historical knowledge.

So less a story about facebook and more a comment on what your facebook site can do for you and what you can do for others.

Pictures; Central Ref, from the collection of Andrew Simpson, May 2014, ghost sign at number 8 Thomas Street,, courtesy of David Easton, May 2013, the first tram on the line from Chorlton to Sale, June 2014, Michael J Thompson,   inside the Pump House, Didsbury, Pierre Grace, April 2013,  George Everitt Green, 1895, from the collection of Lori Oschefski


**Greater Manchester History, Architecture, Faces and Places,

***Chorlton History, Well Hall,

****Didsbury Through Time,, Hough End Hall,

***** British Home Children Advocacy &  Research Association,

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Eating out in the Northern Quarter, now and 100 years ago

Al-Faisal Tandoori, Thomas Street, 2014
It’s is nice to know that I am not the only one who finds the Northern Quarter a fascinating place.

I was talking to Peter recently about the area and sure enough he had a series of stories from when he worked there and quite a few revolved around the Al-Faisal Tandoori which is on the corner of Thomas Street and John Street.

Those I shall save for later, but he had just finished a painting of the restaurant and this I couldn’t miss out on.

Now when I was there a few weeks back the place was doing a respectable trade which is always a good sign and all the more so given the number of other eating places and bars that have sprung up along Thomas Street.

All of which got me thinking about that stretch of properties running east back from John Street to Kelvin Street.  All of them are now closed and waiting for something to happen and that I expect will happen soon judging by the number of smart suited people with earnest faces who were inspecting them when I was down there.

And given their interest I decided to look back into the history of this bit of Thomas Street and came up with the names and trades which were there just over a century ago.

So at number 58 now the Al-Faisal Tandoori was George R Clegg, stationers, and next door at 56 was E. Tapp and Co, ticket writers.

56 & 58 Thomas Street, 2014
Taking up the rest of the row was Lord’s Restaurant run by Mr Elliot L Lord who had been born in 1854 in Rochdale and was living just a tad distance away at 297 Cheetham Hill Road at the turn of the last century.

Now the Lord’s must have been doing well because a decade earlier in 1891 they were living above the shop and shared number 54 Thomas Street with their daughter and six other people including Elizabeth White, the cook, Mary Roberts the chambermaid, two lodgers and Patti Read and Edith Wiseman who also worked in the restaurant.

A decade before that they were in more humble surroundings on Oldham Road and Mr Lord gave his occupation as “Dining Room Keeper.”

But after 1911 I lose them I think Elliot Lord died in 1938 but that is it.

All of which begs the question what will be next for numbers 56 and58 Thomas Street and whether Peter will be back to paint the development?

We shall see.

Painting;  Al-Faisel ©2014 Peter Topping Paintings from Pictures

Picture; 56 7 58 Thomas Street, 2014 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

So how do you say goodbye to something that is more than two hundred years old?

Well that was what some of the staff, students, past students and friends did today at Didsbury.

The college of education has been there on this site for a long time and before that it was the site of the Methodist theological college and before that a school for young ladies.

All of which means that the place has had something to do with education since 1812 and its passing should be marked in a significant way.

Now I don’t know how the MMU will officially call time on the school of Education in Didsbury but today there was a gentle and very pleasant picnic which said goodbye in a very human way.

There were no pompous speeches from the great and good, just a few songs, a cake and presentations for those people who were leaving and not making the journey to the new building in Hulme.

It was quite a gathering including plenty who are still on the "books" and more than a few who walked through its doors almost a full half century ago.

I should know I rolled up in the September of 1972 and apart from one visit have not been back in 42 years.

But there were those who could claim to have been here in the 1960s and so the event was very much about memories, memories of being a student five decades ago and of the different theories of how to train teachers that have surfaced during that time.

For me and I have to confess I can’t remember a lot, mine were very specific.  They included a tutorial in the admin block, the odd visit to the library and the shame of almost failing the AV course.

I only did the year post grad and if I am honest did not invest the same time or emotion as friends who did the full three and four year courses but a bit of me still mourns the passing of the institution from Didsbury.

That said education is one of those areas where the past is easily lost in the present.

After all every year a cohort of students leaves to be replaced by another and staff move on, so I shall not over dwell on the passing over the college, instead I shall ponder on the sites future, and think about the schools new home in Hulme.

Listening to the conversations around the the picnic that was uppermost in people's minds.

So while there were the affectionate stories of past events and individuals there was also plenty about what it would be like to be on the new campus within a short bus ride of the city centre.

And one member of staff had set himself the task of recording the different sounds of the college grounds in Didsbury with those of Hulme.

Now that should be an interesting project and fascinating legacy for those who will never know the present site.

And I know that the Univeristy have asked a former member of staff to produce a history of the  the college which will be a must to read.

Pictures; the Goodbye Picnic June 25th 2014 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

You can look for a ghost sign and then two turn up at the same time, ......... on Burton Road with T Seymour and Dawson

Now this is one of those stories which in the course of telling changed quite dramatically.

It began with a picture of a faded ghost sign on Burton Road which had recently been obscured by a new sign.

But having written the account and shown it to Andy who took the picture he dug deeper and the story went off in a totally unexpected way.

So here is the original followed by Andy’s new research.

Now I find ghost signs fascinating but sometimes the weather, the passing years and just neglect conspire to all but obscure their story.

And so it is with this one which Andy saw recently on the corner of Burton Road and Cavendish Road.

Usually there is something more to use to explore who had the sign painted and what they offered.

But in this case what was left is now hidden and I doubt will ever give up its secrets.

There will be those who mutter “so what?” which I think is a shame.  Ghost signs are part of our history and lead you off into wonderful stories of the people who lived there.

But perhaps not this one, which is a shame.

Not content with my defeatism Andy went off and combed the old images from the City’s digital collection and came up with not one ghost sign but two and a little bit more into the bargain.

Back in 1962 our sign proudly advertised T Seymour Mead & Co Ltd, Tea and Provision Merchant.

They were a chain of grocers which had spread across the city and beyond during the early 20th century.

But go back to 1908 and the gable end announced the business of Dawson who specialised in Boots.

Now I have yet to find out anything about Dawson, but just a few years later the same shop was in the hands of  John William’s and Sons who were grocers.

Nor is that all for on both of these older photographs the premises next door had yet to expand in to the gap next to Mr Williams shop.

So there you have it, a story within a story and a lesson in doing the research first.

Pictures; of the sign today from Andy Robertson, and in 1962 by J F Harris, m42948, and in 1908, m41729, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

Research by Andy Roberston

Picture; courtesy of Andy Robertson, 2014

One of the compeitions with no prizes but a smug feeling when you get it right

Now I haven’t done a competition for ages.

So for no particular reason other than I took the picture in a building I very much like, the quest is to name the building  where these sinks are located.

And I have to say that both the male and female ones are identical.

The location is in Manchester and the building is open to the general public.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson, May 2014

Goodbye and thanks for all the students, the farewell picnic at Didsbury College today at 12.30

Well today we have almost arrived at the moment when it really is good bye to that college in Didsbury.

It has been a place to train teachers, men for the clergy and before that a family home but soon in perhaps just over a month the books, the students and the lecturers will have left.

I was there 42 years ago and over the years have worked with many others who went through its doors.

All of us will have a mix of memories, mine include the AV course without which you couldn’t qualify and consisted of being shown how to thread a film into a projector, the right way to put a master onto a banda machine and above all how to wire a plug.

All of which were perhaps the most important preparation for the classroom.

Of course the whiteboard linked to a computer, the availability of thousands of film clips on youtube and desk top publishing have changed all that.

So as the end of more than an era dawns I am happy to be going to the college today for the “Farewell to Didsbury Big Picnic.”

There will be entertainment and opportunity to say goodbye to staff who are leaving and an invitation to record your memories as part of the “The Memory Project.”

And although I personally shy away from such things, “THE FINAL PHOTOCALL” at 1.45pm of staff students and friends.

I rather think it has the lot.

So the not to be missed Farewell to Didsbury Big Picnic, starts at 12.30, goes on till 2pm on the lawns near the front gate.

And as my old friend Pierre and I often mumble to each other “Goodbye and Thanks for the fish” the significance of which along with its origin can be obtained from either of us today.

Pictures; of MMU Admin Building 2013 from the collection of Pierre Grace

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

On Thomas Street with a ghost sign

On Thomas Street with a ghost sign
Now here I am indulging my fascination for ghost signs.  

They crop up on buildings advertising traders and products and often survive long after the people of the product have long gone, but they are slowing fading from sight.

In some cases they have been deliberately painted over leaving just a feint hint of what was there.

In other cases they are slowly disappearing as the paint peels away.

This one was found by my friend David at number 8 Thomas Street.

I have to admit he is better at finding them than I am; I was on Thomas Street yesterday and just walked past it.

So the price of recording ghost signs just has to be eternal vigilance.

I can’t date the sign at present as I don’t have access to the street directories after 1911, but I can confidently say it was not there in that year.

Hair cutting for 2d
Back then numbers 2 through to 8 were occupied by Mr Walter Allen, “tobacconist and sundry man” who must have been doing something well because sometime between 1903 and 1909 he had expanded from just occupying numbers 2 and 4 to the adjoining properties.

And just a decade before that in 1895 he operated from just the one shop at 9 Cannon Street.

Not of course that this dates our sign but this is how I like my history, messy rambling and often off on a tangent. So I shall close with the map of Thomas Street from the Goad Fire Insurance Plans.

These were produced for insurance purposes, and show the details of the building and in some cases the materials used in the construction as well as the lay out.

Dating buildings from the maps is a little tricky because they cover a twelve year period from 1889 to 1901, and when buildings were resurveyed the practice was merely to past any corrections over the original.  But they are wonderful plans and I often wander over them.

Thomas Street, 1889-1903
But given that the final edition shown here was 1901, our Mr Allen must have begun his business enterprise on Thomas Street sometime between then and 1903 when he is listed on the directories at numbers 2 and 4.

Thank you David and keep looking for your more signs.

Pictures; ghost sign at number 8 Thomas Street, 2013, courtesy of David Easton and detail of Thomas Street from the Goad Maps of Manchester,  courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

“Farewell to Didsbury Big Picnic.” tomorrow at 12.30, who could miss it?

Well we have almost arrived at the moment when it really is good bye to that college in Didsbury.

It has been a place to train teachers, men for the clergy and before that a family home but soon in perhaps just over a month the books, the students and the lecturers will have left.

I was there 42 years ago and over the years have worked with many others who went through its doors.

All of us will have a mix of memories, mine include the AV course without which you couldn’t qualify and consisted of being shown how to thread a film into a projector, the right way to put a master onto a banda machine and above all how to wire a plug.

All of which were perhaps the most important preparation for the classroom.

Of course the whiteboard linked to a computer, the availability of thousands of film clips on youtube and desk top publishing have changed all that.

So as the end of more than an era dawns I am happy to have been invited down to the college tomorrow for the “Farewell to Didsbury Big Picnic.”

There will be entertainment and opportunity to say goodbye to staff who are leaving and an invitation to record your memories as part of the “The Memory Project.”

And although I personally shy away from such things, “THE FINAL PHOTOCALL” at 1.45pm of staff students and friends.

I rather think it has the lot.

So the not to be missed Farewell to Didsbury Big Picnic, starts at 12.30, goes on till 2pm on the lawns near the front gate.

And as my old friend Pierre and I often mumble to each other “Goodbye and Thanks for the fish” the significance of which along with its origin can be obtained from either of us tomorrow.

Picture; of MMU Admin Building 2013 from the collection of Pierre Grace

Monday, 23 June 2014

A little bit of history, on Hardy Lane on June 23rd

Now this is a little bit of history.

It is 2.30 on Monday June 23rd and we are on Hardy Lane as one of the Metro Trams on test heads off towards Sale.

The company have announced  that the line has been completed a year ahead of schedule which means by December it will be possible to travel from town to the Airport.

I have to confess I was a little critical of both the plan and its progress.

I wondered how many people would use the tram to travel to the airport given the fast train service and couldn’t quite understand why it was taking so long to build a short route when a century and a bit before we had pretty much built a national rail network in a couple of decades.

Added to that there was that bit across the meadows which many felt threatened the natural wild life that had grown up over the last thirty years.

But back in the 19th century most of the line routes were through open country or cut through the slums of our inner cities and the engineers of the time did not have to worry over much about what was underneath the tracks.

Today on the other hand they had to strengthen existing sewers and underground communication ducts and steer a course down the middle of busy roads.

Above all I was being rather insular.  From Chorlton we already had a fast tram service and one I prefer over the bus, but as I know from years of travelling to Civic Centre the bus journey to Wythenshawe is long and torturous depending on the service you choose.

All of which now means that Wythenshawe for so long on the edge of the city will be that little bit closer.

And to celebrate the new service Hardy Productions UK have made and posted a short video on youtube.

It is just the sort of history I like.

Travelling at a snail’s pace with a man with in front and flanked by engineers and workmen the test tram slowly works its way from St Werburghs to Sale, and a bit of me wonders whether the first Corporation trams coming into Chorlton at the beginning of the 20th century were accompanied in such away.

Well that is a bit of research I shall now go off and do.

Picture; courtesy of Michael J Thompson, June 2014

*"Tram under Test" on Hardy Lane, in the early hours of this morning. The video can be found at•

Sunday, 22 June 2014

At the bus stop thinking of Beech Cottage in 1847

It was one of those warm sunny October days and I was by the bus station on Barlow Moor Road and not for the first time I began thinking of the Holt family and in particular James Holt and his grand house which stood a little to the west of the bus stand.

In its time Beech Cottage was one of the grandest houses in the township.  Not that the term cottage does justice to the Holt’s home which was a huge building with an impressive frontage of tall windows and high chimneys.  It was set in its own grounds amounting to an acre and was surrounded by high walls.

The estate stretched from the corner of the Beech Road along Barlow Moor Lane to Lane End and then down High Lane, before cutting across the fields to the Beech Road.  Tall lines of trees skirted the gardens and hid the family from gaze of the uninvited.

And where I was standing by the bus stop terminus would have been just inside their walled garden which included a fair number of trees flower beds and well laid out paths along with greenhouses and a lodge house at the entrance, roughly where the police station stands.

James Holt had made his money from calico printing and the family continued in business well into the century.  They had an extensive property portfolio in the city which at one point included most of the houses on the southern side of St John’s Street along with more humble dwellings in the neighbouring streets and two public houses.

Here in Chorlton, James Holt owned 17 of acres making him one of the largest landowners after the Egerton’s and the Lloyd's.  Some of this land which was rented out to tenant farmers mostly stretched out from Barlow Moor Lane along the Brook towards Hough End.  Closer to home was land with rented cottages.

He had moved to Chorlton sometime in the early 1830s and the family continued to occupy the place until 1908 when the property was demolished and the land sold off.

Now I have written about the Holt's and the house before on the blog* and in another of the outrageous pieces of self publicity there is a lot more about both in the book.

Pictures; Beech House once called Beech Cottage, 1907, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council m17645, 11 John Street, home of the Holt family from the late 18th century, from the collection of Andrew Simpson, Beech Cottage in 1841, detail from the OS map of Lancashire, courtesy of Digital Archives,

Dear Alice, my address as follows, stories of separation and loss in 1915

This will be the last for a while of the postcards from the Great War.

Over the last two months I have been looking at some of the cards from David Harrop’s collection and it occurred to me that none of them have focused on that rich vein of comic cards.*

They range from the little boy sheltering under the huge stomach of a policeman with the caption “I’m taking cover from Zeppelins” to ones which I guess just got past the postman.

Not that this one strictly fits that bill but it is lighter and less sentimental than some and has a message which cuts to the heart of what was going on.

For on the reverse young Alice is told the address, service number and company of what must have been her boyfriend.

She was just fifteen when she received her card and she was still living at home with her parents.

Mr William Davis was a cab driver.  He had married Ellen in 1896 and they had two sons and two daughters.

Now whatever the relationship was between Alice and this young man it never blossomed into marriage.

In 1930 she married Ernest James Downton and if I have got this right she died in 1969, a full eleven years before her husband.

Sadly at present there is no record of the young bugler who was so keen on Alice knowing where he was stationed.

But I am confident that something of E Blyde, number 376053, of A Company POR’s will turn up, even if I have to go looking for the Alma Barracks, Blackdown Camp in Hampshire.

So it is a fitting card to finish on carrying as it does the knowledge of separation and a hint of something darker.  Of course at present we don’t know what happened to him.  He may have come through and like so many people did not or could not pick up where he left off.

And that I think is an appropriate note to close on except to say that there are two exhibitions of David’s collections later in the summer.

Picture; from the collection of David Harrop

*David Harrop,

**The Atkinson, Lord Street, Southport from July 28 and Oldham Archives, Union Street, Oldham, from August 4

Saturday, 21 June 2014

See it before it goes, in the Northern Quarter on a June day in 2014

In the old market
Once in the Northern Quarter it is difficult to stay away.  

I have been coming here on and off since I first washed up in Manchester in 1969.

I remember it as a busy, basic sort of place at the heart of which were the wholesale markets and of course the pet shops on Tib Street.

And then for all sorts of reasons I stopped going until the opening of the craft centre in the old fish market in 1982 which has continued to draw me back to the area.

Today the Northern Quarter is a vibrant and interesting place which continues to develop with new shops bars and restaurants.

But there is still much that is old Manchester and for every new business selling quirky things there are buildings which have not changed in a hundred years complete with old doors, windows and even loading bays reminding you that this was once a working bit of the city with workshops and Dickensian style offices.

looking in through a shop window
They are going fast and so not for the first time I shall reflect on the need to record what still stands from our 19th century past along with what has replaced them.

And in the process capture some of those new shops and bars and eating places before they too are replaced.

I went looking for old images of the Northern Quarter and as you would expect it is a mixed bunch.

Some places like Tib Street and the markets have fared well, but others like Thomas Street and Kelvin Street have been barely photographed if at all.

So I suppose there is a bit of a challenge here which is to to go out and record as much of the area as possible before it goes for ever.

Not that I mourn over much what is passing.  Many of the buildings were empty and pretty much about to fall down.

Their door frames and window surrounds looked beyond repair and one which I passed recently had a gable wall that bulged ominously.

On Tib Street
Of course all these can be rectified and do not need the bulldozer and demolition team and with a new purpose and tenant can be survive for another few decades.

All of which is what is happening in the Quarter, and this makes it just a wonderful place to wander.

And unlike some cities the old street plan still exists, allowing you to slip behind one small road to an even smaller one and in the process coming across a hidden gem.

So perhaps it is time to compile the guide to what was once and what is now.

But I rather think it will have been done, so I just now await for the message from Outraged of Oldham Street who has already written the definitive guide to the "History and present topography of the Northern Quarter" which I can browse while taking in an espresso on Tib Street

Pictures; the Northern Quarter June 2014 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Friday, 20 June 2014

A lost photograph and a story yet to be uncovered

I just wonder what the story is behind this picture.

It was found today under the floor boards of a house in Stalybridge.

Of course the picture might not be linked to the house.

We all have photographs of family taken elsewhere and which are reckoned important enough to be kept but which get lost over time.

And some at least along with plenty of other things find their way under the floor of most houses.

I once found a bill for a cwt of coal, a selection of buttons and those flimsy tokens the Co-op used to issue in the days before plastic loyalty cards and air mile offers.

That said I have never matched the young couple who in the summer of 1975 came across a parcel under their floor while rewiring the property.

It was light, wrapped in old newspaper which was brown and brittle with age and seemed to offer up both a mystery and the possibility of a windfall.

They left it with the local museum who promised to carefully explore this relic from the past.

And a few days later they did just that.

Judging by the date on the newspaper it most probably had been deposited under the floor in the June of 1901 but as to treasure and a life changing find that was just not going to happen.

There was no stash of jewels or documents to a long forgotten pile of money just a cheese sandwich  placed there by one of the men building the property.

Unknown to him while he was away one of his colleagues had nailed down the floor boards sealing his dinner away for 74 years.

All of which places our find into a context but I am confident that something of these four young people staring back at us will be revealed.

Bryan who found the picture thinks it dates from the 1960s, so that is a starting point.

Someone may recognise them and indeed someone may well recognise themselves which is how these things can pan out.

And there are official documents starting with electoral registers and street directories.

Then with a name can come a search through the General Registry Office for a birth or a marriage.

And then perhaps the stories can really begin.

Well we shall see.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

What you can turn up in the garden of a Chorlton farm house

Now one day I will ask Oliver Bailey just how, why and when his father took possession of the stone figure which sat in the garden of Park Brow Farm at the bottom of Sandy Lane where it joins St Werburghs Road.

My friend Tony Walker maintained that it came from the old Manchester Assize Courts on Great Ducie Street in Strangeways and looking at pictures of the building the figures do look the same. It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and finished in 1864. Sadly this magnificent building did not last a century and after being hit during the blitz of December 1940 and again in ’41 it was demolished in 1957.

Some of the exterior sculptures were designed by Thomas Woolner who was one of the founding members of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, but I rather think our figure was the work of the Irish stonemason firm of O’Shea and Whelan.

Picture; from the collection of Tony Walker

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

"Oh it seemed the thing to do at the time", revealing the lives of Home Children in western Canada

Books on British Home Children on this side of the Atlantic are still quite rare.

I can think of only a few published in the last decade and a bit and so I seized on the opportunity of ordering up Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest Canada’s Home Children in the West which was published recently.

That said it did have to come from Canada but it took just thirteen days to arrive and  I was only charged £2.80 in postage which was a snip given Sean’s dire experiences of being told that it would cost an arm and leg to send across the Atlantic.

It is an impressive volume stretching to 350 pages with extensive notes and focuses on the experiences of a number of Home Children who settled in the western part of Canada.

Like many of us who become interested in the story Sean is a descendant of one of the 100,000 young people migrated from Britain from 1869 through to 1930.

Elements of his grandfather’s life were a mystery and in attempting to solve them he became aware “of one of the least known aspects of Canadian history” and I might add our own British history, for it was as much a shock and revelation to me that a great uncle I never knew had also crossed the Atlantic.

And when you talk to people about British Home Children in the country that sent them out across the Empire you are met with surprise and bafflement.

A few will admit to knowing about the more recent Australian migrations which were still going on in the 1970s but not Canada.

So I welcome Sean’s book and hope that it will get wider coverage over here.

And for what it’s worth once I have read it I shall be featuring on the blog.

Picture; British immigrant children 

* Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest, Sean Arthur Joyce, 2014, Hagios Press