Sunday, 31 August 2014

Down at Darley Avenue in Chorlton

Now there can’t be many people who do not have some memories of the secondary school on Darley Avenue.

Darley Avenue, 1974
In my case it was where our two eldest lads went when it was part of Oakwood High School.

But by the time the younger two were ready to start secondary school the Darley site had closed, Oakwood High School had become Chorlton High School and both theupper and lower schools had been replaced by one 21st century establishment down at Nell Lane.

Darley Avenu 2014
All of which means that it must be a full decade since I was down on Darley Avenue and while I knew the old school had been demolished I didn’t give much thought to what was left which amounted to an expanse of grass, the old railings and brick pillars on either side of the entrance and a bit of the old road and car park.

Of course such a prime site was always going to be redeveloped and as Andy Robertson’s picture show that development is now in full swing.

So over the next few months I think the story of what is happening down on Darley will feature on the blog.

Pictures; Barlow Hall County Primary and Oakwood High School, April 1974, A Dawson, m64599, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,, and the site from the collection of Andy Robertson

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Perhaps the last few days of the building on Pollard Street

Now I hope this won’t quite be in the end of that building on Pollard Street.

It has excited a lot of interest and I rather hoped much against experience that it might just survive, even given its derelict state and the  granting of a demolition order.

Just last week I published a series of pictures by Andy Robertson which followed an earlier story* and as you do I was drawn to comment on how it was still standing, but on the day the story was posted news came in from people passing that the fencing had gone up .

So I guess the next time I visit the place it will just be a hole in the ground with the promise of something new which if I am honest may not be as exciting.

Not that I shall close on a low note instead here is what it looked like just 47 years ago and for those who like what they see I suggest you get down to Pollard Street before it’s gone.

Pictures; the building today from the collection of  Andy Robertson, 2014 and back in 1967 beside the Auld Lang Syne Inn by H.L. Price, m10453, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

*Pollard Street,

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Down at Oswald Road School, with a new term and a new building

Now it is that time of year again, and as August runs its wet course September will arrive with that “Back to school” theme.

It will be there in every supermarket you walk into, be uppermost in the minds of many young people and of course exercise the last minute preparations in homes across the city.

And down at Oswald Road school the new extension is having the finishing touches put to the interior.

Like many people I have been watching the progress since the middle of the year when the ground was first broken and the steel skeleton was being bolted together.

Much of that progress has been recorded by Andy Robertson who has been diligently photographing the stages of its construction and his work is one of those textbook examples in how how it should be done.

All too often we just take for granted the passing of one building and the creation of another, and that is a shame.

I would love to have seen Beech House which stood on the corner of Barlow Moor Road and Beech Road when it was being built in the early 19th century and later when it was pulled down sometime in 1909.

But that was not to be, so all credit to Andy who I hope will publish all the images in the fullness of time under the title.

And I rather like his own heading "hard hat on a cool tin roof" which came with for the last batch of pictures pictures.

Pictures; Oswald Road School, August 2014, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Of conquests, ethnic cleansing and a tourist trade

It was the little old man who first caught our attention on one of the adventures in the old town.

He was certainly old enough to have remembered those days when the place was bombed in 1943.  But more than that he had the sort of face and expression that would not have been out of place at any time in the last 300 years of Alghero’s history.

I rather fancied he was one of the 22% of the town’s population which spoke a version of Catalan.  Now we are in an Italian town on an Italian island which first came under the control of part of Italy in the 18th century.  But you don’t buck history that easily and for 400 years our town had been under the less than tender care of Catalonia and then united Spain who were quick to put down revolts by the people of the town eventually indulging in a bit of ethnic cleansing, where the indigenous inhabitants were moved out and Catalan settlers moved in.

I have yet to discover what happened to them and I doubt I will.  History is less than bothered with the defeated, and it is something like 800 years ago.  So put the two together and these original inhabitants don’t even warrant a full stop in a history of Alghero.

But the fort or at least bits of it still stand as witness to the importance of this spot on the north western side of Sardinia.  To the east of the island is Rome and further south Naples and Sicily.  Even to me the strategic importance of Alghero is obvious.  For the cities of Genova, and Pisa it was an important trading centre and later for anyone wanting to oversee the trade routes you could do worse than have a fortified presence at this point on the island.

So back to our old man in the Carrer de Petuna, Via Columbano.  Even if he remembered the bombing of 1943 he would have not been born when the Fascist government drained the marshes, although it would be under a democratic Italian government that the mosquito would be eradicated in the 1950s.

Which no doubt helped when the tourist trade took off.  Now I have been to areas where mosquitos still flourish and while they do not trouble me, I know the misery they can bring.  At best it is the perpetual nightly preparations of spry and tablets, and at worse sleepless nights and painful bites.

So I wonder just how much of this recent history this old man has witnessed and what he made of it.
Certainly tourism has brought money.  The sprawl of holiday apartments and the profusion of restaurants are testimony to this.  As are the large numbers of gift shops.  But beneath the entire tourist buzz you can see things are not all that they seem to be.  Away from the old town along the way to the apartments the restaurants are empty and even in the old town many shops display sale signs offering up to 50% off and this before we reach the high season.

So maybe this is the return to tougher times, but nothing like the Italy before the 1950s.  Then there was real grinding poverty for many, where life was played out under the control of powerful landlords, and later Fascist thugs.

All of which is a long way from our cheerful afternoon’s walk in the streets of the old town.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

"See better days and do better things" ....... that old building on Pollard Street still defying the developers

Now I fully expected that this old building would have been swept away by now, but it continues to cling on despite the absence of any other contemporary buildings.

It stands on Pollard Street just off Great Ancoats Street between what is left of Boond Street and Mundy Street.

I was first alerted to it by Angie who told me that
“it dates from 1889 and was the private dining rooms for Hetherington’s Vulcan Works on Pollard Street".*

I wrote about it back in July and said at the time I thought it would soon vanish from the scene.

And yet as Andy Robertson’s pictures show it is still there looking all the more forlorn with its boarded up windows and the gaping holes in its roof.

Added to this the surrounding area is being filled by new flats which adds to the sense that this once proud and busy building has had its day.

But it hasn’t gone yet and maybe it won’t.  With a bit of tender care, and a fair amount of money I reckon it could be back in business again, after all there must be plenty of people passing it on the tram who might just think they could do something with it.

I do hope so.  Consent was granted back in 2013 to demolish it but it has yet to fall to the bulldozer.

But on the day the story was posted news came in from people passing that the fencing had gone up and I guess the next time I visit the place it will just be a hole in the ground with the promise of something new which if I am honest may not be as exciting.

Pictures; the old Hetherington’s Vulcan Works August 2014, from the collection of Andy Robertson

*Another little bit of our history soon to disappear? ............. Out on Pollard Street,

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Messages from Alghero

It is by way of a postscript and a reflection on a holiday now gone.

When I first started visiting Greece, all that was available as a way of communicating with home was the postcard.  It never occurred to me that you should search out a phone box and call Manchester.

Now the postcard has a long and proud history and for historians the cards sent not just from the sea side but from towns, villages to family elsewhere are a wonderful historical record.

I have plundered the collections for pictures of old Chorlton and from time to time have wandered across the personal comments written on the back.  Most of course are mundane, but sometimes the drama of the period they were written comes through, like the one expressing concern that his employees were planning to go on strike.

This was the age of frequent collections and deliveries, so a card sent in the morning would arrive by lunch time, enabling the sender to arrange to meet or warn the family they would be home for tea.

Sending a card from the Greek Islands was of course always something you did knowing that in all probability you would be home before the message.  Still choosing, writing and sending postcards is part of the holiday.

Or was as my friend Lawrence ruefully pointed out once, who now sends postcards?  Now Simone and Rosa still do but for most of us technology has pretty much advanced.

It began with the telephone card, making it easier to speak to the UK.  You bought it in advance knew how much time it gave you and used it accordingly.  Of course you still had to find a telephone box which was empty and hope the lines were not too busy.  Neither of which was always easy on the islands.

Then of course along came the mobile phone, expensive I grant you to phone home, but handy and again providing you kept it quick a useful way of keeping in touch.

Last year it was the computer, linked to wi fi, and the year before the internet café.  And now on a resort in an apartment where we do not have wi fi I can talk to the world via a link I push into the computer and it connects me via a mobile in an instant.  We brought out our own knowing it would be expensive, but switched to Vodafone Italia, and so there you have it, in the space of a few short decades, I have gone from pen and post card to instant communication.

On the other hand I now sit on the balcony instead of the beach, typing away instead of getting sand on the card and getting the tan I came for.

Ah well you can’t win’em all.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Monday, 25 August 2014

At the Horse and Jockey on a night when the snow fell

Now as it is August the sun maybe cracking the paving stones this morning, alternatively the rain could be coming down like stair rods and as this story was written in late July I have no way of knowing.

That said I can be fairly certain it will not be snowing.

But then you can never be quite sure so here is a photograph of the Horse and Jockey by Roger Shelley which compliments an early picture of the parish graveyard also covered in a blanket of snow.

Something like three and bit decades separate the two images but that said there is a link over and above the snow because both our parish church and the building which how plays host to the Jockey date from the early 16th century.

Now I could go all technical and ask Roger to quote the date, the camera and the settings for this picture, instead I will just say it is one I like and judging by the railings and the umbrella was soon after it was bought from the brewery and established as an independent pub and restaurant.

In those few brief years before it was sold on to another big brewery it stepped back a little into the past, planning to brew its own beer like many pubs did in the past, retained its stoned flagged floor and even discovered an interior wall which had been made of wattle and daub.*

Of course the pub had started life as a beer house occupying just one of the three properties which made up the block.

All of which I have already written about but will no doubt return to.
Picture; from the collection of Roger Shelley, roger shelley on Flickr

*The Horse and Jockey,

An adventure away from the beaches of Aleghro part one

Yesterday we hired a car and did some serious exploring.  For most of the family it was about looking for those little deserted beaches well away from the big resorts.

But for me it was just about seeing the countryside.  You can get lost in the bubble of a beach holiday.  It is that daily routine of beach in the morning, followed by lunch in the apartment, a return to the water in the afternoon and regular forays out into the old town.  Don’t get me wrong this is what I signed up for and after more than our fair share of rain and dismal Manchester weather this is a tonic.

And yet with an open road ahead and only a vague plan of where to go you inevitably drawn to places you would not normally see.  For me it is the fields and the farms as well as the small hamlets we pass through
that really fascinate me.

It looks from my uneducated eye that the harvest is in and we see no one in the fields, but then with the temperature climbing to 35° I am not surprised.  It is of course so different from what you can see at home.

Here in the north west tip of the island, the land rises and falls and twists and some of the farming plots are not much more than pockets while in other places they stretch out into the distance, broken by just a few trees and bushes.

Now farming is pretty hard in most places but I wonder just how much more effort has to be put into bringing in the crops here.  But then we are seeing it at its driest which as my mother used to say about the family home at the end of the summer holidays was perhaps not the best time to make judgements about her house keeping.

We see plenty of cows and I read that the island had the largest number of herds in Italy and they vie with goat and sheep rearing.  All of which is concentrated on milk and cheese making like the Pecorino Sardo and the Pecorino Romano which we have happily eaten through our stay.

We also passed those little hamlets that most of the time you wheeze past, as the taxi or coach hurries from the airport to drop jet tired holiday makers in one of a number of resorts.
In our case we had taken the bus from Alghero airport into the heart of the town for a € each which was a nice way to get to know the place.  But then we had booked the holiday and the flying times to suit us so we had none of those graveyard flights which deposited us at some unearthly hour before even the first bus service left the garage.

But I digress.  We passed and stopped at some interesting little hamlets, each with a small church, bar, shop and often a big work a day building belonging to the local agricultural co-operative.  They were quiet enough with few people stirring but it was a Saturday and most were in doors keeping cool.

The key to the success of any such adventure is to know where you want to go, be prepared with lots of things to eat and drink and above all set off early.  All of which allowed us to arrive an almost deserted cove just thirty minutes or so after leaving Alghero.  It was a wonderful spot.  The sea was crystal clear, the beach almost empty and there were fine views.

I doubt that we could have found a better place to explore.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Out on Oldham Street sometime before 1910

Now there is something quite quirky about Oldham Street.

Here you can find that wonderful shop selling stuff from the 60s and 70s, places specializing in the vinyl records of my youth and pubs like the Castle.

It went through an iffy time in the late 1970s when it seemed to loose out to the Arndale as a place to shop, but not now.

And so here from sometime in the first decade of the last century is how it used to look.  My picture is taken from a postcard sent on December 28th 1910 but I guess it will be from any time in the early years of the 20th century.

Tram car number 181 bound for Clayton has just swung around from that slight bend in the road by Back Piccadilly past the Yate’s Wine Lodge.

Picture; from the collection of Rita Bishop, courtesy of David Bishop.

More adventures far from Alghero

The thing about adventures is that you are never really sure what is going to happen, which of course makes them adventures.

So on Saturday we had set off in a rented car to explore part of the north west coast, and in the process we came across some delightful deserted beaches, got to see some pretty stunning countryside and ended up in a tiny harbour which might have been created for a film set.

Now the deserted beaches had been part of the plan and of course I knew we would see plenty of countryside but the tiny harbour and village were something else.

There were two harbours and looking out over the outer one was the bar.  It’s dozen or so tables were full of a mix of nationalities, many just passing through and a few who had chosen this tiny place to holiday.

Here along the main street were a mix of traditional houses, shops catering for local needs and few touristy places.  And amongst all of this were a collection of striking photographs of the men who fished the waters on the walls around the harbour and main street.  They may have been the result of local cultural grants or a bit of clever tourist hype, but either way they demonstrated a real sense of pride in the men who had provided a key industry for the village.

And they spanned at least half a century of endeavour.  Some were clearly from before the tourists had discovered the village while others might have been taken just a few years ago.  I liked them and I wondered how many of the passing people preoccupied with the sun, and interesting places armed with expensive cameras and traveling the roads in air conditioned cars gave much of a glance to them.  I have to say that no one glanced at them or like me went from one wall to another photographing each board.

But then perhaps I am being a tad over critical.  I was after all with my less expensive camera doing the tourist thing as well.

So enough of knocking the casual stranger and onto the adventure which by degree ended in another tiny little cove.  We were heading back when we saw it from the road and on a whim drove down to look it over. The enterprising owner of the bar, well aware of the secluded and remote location charged not only a € to use the shower but 50 cents for the lavatory.

This said it was the perfect place not just for what it had to offer but for the people who turned up while we were there.  There were two or three families, the woman with a walking stick and the couple.  They had come in a boat.  He was clearly older than her but not enough to excite speculation.  Now as a casual observer I found myself staring at them and wondered if I was not becoming a tad voyeuristic, so I took a picture and turned away to the people collecting coral at the water’s edge.

They were an interesting group.  The father sat reading a magazine while every so often his wife and two daughters dropped their coral finds into a plastic cup.  They were from Brindisi and were staying on the nearby air force base, which set me off on another round of speculation.  The daughters were middle aged, one married and one single.  I supposed that one of them must have connections with the air force but it was not something we pursued; some holiday conversations I concluded remain only half finished.

And in true holiday fashion the boys posed for a picture with the group, Simone took more pictures of them using their camera and then it was all over.  We had to get the car back and they having finished their coral hunt were themselves preparing to leave.

Not a bad end to the unplanned bit of the adventure.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Walking in Southern Cemetery in early summer and thinking of conkers

A walk in Southern Cemetery will not appeal to everyone, but there is a tranquilly, and beauty in the place.

And of course a lot of history and for David my facebook chum plenty of memories of collecting conkers on warm autumn evenings.

Which is pretty much what I was doing at much the same time in Nunhead Cemetery in south east London.

Now conkers are something of the past, even my sons no longer collect them.  We of course were lucky in that there are plenty of conker trees in the Rec directly opposite us. And in the early autumn it was part of the day to go across and pick them up.

But I always think there is etiquette.  You don’t go throwing lumps of wood up into the trees to dislodge them.  The correct thing and the fun thing is to go looking for them on the ground, always hoping that they are still in their shells and when prised open are that deep shiny brown and not still white.  Or worse still just the size of a peanut.

I have to say that many of these conker searches were probably more to do with me reliving my own childhood than anything else.  As I recall my boys enjoyed many activities which were actually just a rerun of my own young activities in the 1950s.

So they had the Beano and Dandy, played monopoly at Christmas and helped Dad make cardboard rockets from cereal boxes.

And still safely stored away is the red, yellow and black car made from a squeezy bottle for a school competition.

It comes out occasionally which is more than can be said for the conkers.  These we gathered in such numbers that even all of our lads plus assorted friends never managed to use up.

And so they sat in a plasi bag in a corner of the cellar.

If we were lucky they just shrivelled but sometimes they went mouldy and ended up in the bin usually just before the first of the new harvest fell to the ground.

Throwing them out always seemed a waste and a bit of a reproach for not doing more with them.

But there are only so many that you can soak in vinegar and bake in the oven.

Not that we resorted to such underhand forms of cheating.

You just gently made the hole with a crewdriver, threaded the shoe lace of string through the conker and went in to the park or playground hoping that  all the effort of collectiong and preparing was not shattered with one hit for a rival.

After all no one wanted to do all this just to see the prize and joy not even become a "oner."

All of which is a long way from Southern Cemetery so for those not interested in conkers but wishing to follow up on a name on a gravestone or wishing to track down a family member there is always the City Council online database which holds the records of those buried in Manchester cemeteries.*

There is also a map which allows you to locate the grave.


Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

The hand that signed the paper ........ stories of a Regicide, visions of the future and Marple Hall

Every so often people on social networks ask that question “if you could meet anyone in history who would it be?”

Now I try to avoid the question because there are just so many individuals ranging from the great and good, the not so good and of course members of my own family.

But I have to confess that I am intrigued by John Bradshaw the English judge who as President of the High Court of Justice presided over the trial of King Charles and whose signature topped the death warrant.

The English Civil War has always fascinated me not least because in the middle of the war representatives of the army met and debated the future of England.*

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

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

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

But unlike the Forces Parliament which saw much of what they voted for come to reality after the election of the Labour Government in 1945 the expectations of many of the 17th century progressives, and visionaries came to nought in the face of Royal repression.

And this was seen not only in the way that some of those who fought for Parliament were treated but extended to the exhumation of the bodies of leading members of the Commonwealth who had died before 1660, including John Bradshaw whose bits were put on public display.

Now this much I knew but until recently had never come across the home of John Bradshaw which was in Marple, and which we came across at the end of a long walk on a hot spring day.

That said if you want to know more then you can either visit the excellent web site Marple Hall,** or take a trip out to Furness Vale and join the Furness Vale Historical Society listen to Neil Mullineux present a virtual history of the Hall on Tuesday September 2nd at 7.30 in the Community Centre Yeardsley Lane.***

Picture; advertising poster

*The Putney Debates,

**Marple Hall,

***Furness Vale Local History Society,

Friday, 22 August 2014

Of tourists and locals on a sunny day in Alghero

If you stay long enough in a place even on a holiday you soon get to distinguish between the locals and the others.

Now I know that is stating the obvious and it is all too easy to spot the holidaymaker.  All too often some of them act like an occupying force, oblivious to the local customs or sensibilities forgetting that cardinal rule that you are a guest in another country.

True you are spending money, boosting the local economy and providing jobs for people but there can be an arrogance about tourists.  When we are in Greece we try to learn some Greek words.  Now Tina who masters all languages with ease is good at it, me I just end up wishing the shop owner that his donkey’s testicles are heavy.

So given that Tina is Italian it is to Italy that we come for our holidays, usually spending it with her parents who are Naples and we usually end up in resorts which are primarily favoured by Italians.
But this year we are in Alghero which attracts many more from the north of Europe and on the beach and in the old town there is a babble of languages, a few English, some French and others from further north.

Today as I set off on an indifferent day for the harbour to record the fishing boats I find myself people watching.  There they are in the bars and on the long seats by the sea wall.  Most of the locals are hard at work but some like these were taking it easy.  The old man  was giving advice to some chaps from the Council debating which of the grids needed lifting before an inspection of the storm drain could take place while the man with the bike had cycled down from somewhere outside Alghero on his day off.

All of which left the man from Milan, sitting with his espresso waiting for the family to reappear from the old town laden down with tourist treasures culled from the many gift shops.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

One week of the Great War exhibition in Southport

This will be the last story on the Great War exhibition at Southport.

It is one of the travelling exhibitions using some of David Harrop’s collection of memorabilia from the conflict.*

Much of the material is about Southport and the surrounding area and there may well be people who come across a grandparent or great grandparent in the postcards, pictures and medals on display.

This as he said is "a major exhibition from a private collection and is a fitting reminder of the people who went through the Great War."

It is also a tribute to the unstinting work David has done, first in collecting the material and secondly in seeking out venues to display it across the North West.**

All of which just leaves me to hope as many people as possible can visit the Southport exhibition and failing that the smaller but equally impressive show at Oldham next month.

Pictures; material at the Southport exhibition courtesy of David Harrop

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

**David Harrop,

“The Rise and Fall of The Working Class” ...... a talk & dinner tonight at 7.30 at the Post Box Cafe

Now I am intrigued by the latest history talk at The Post Box Cafe.

This will be on  “The Rise and Fall of The Working Class” tonight at 7.30.

The book* is according to Ms Todd  “based on the voices of working-class people themselves, [and] charts the history of ordinary workers, housewives, children and pensioners over the turbulent 20th century. 

I aim to bust some of the ridiculous myths that politicians peddle about the past: that everything was alright in the age of the grammar school; that working-class people in the past were ‘deserving’ of help, but aren’t any longer; that women never ‘traditionally’ worked; that if people just accepted their place everything would be ok. 

My history is one of anger and defiance and, yes, sometimes of pessimism and despair – but ultimately of hope for a better future, a future that we can build by knowing more about our past.”**

So should be a good night, tickets can be got from the Post Box Cafe, 0161 881 4853,

*The People, Selina Todd, Hodder & Stoughton, £25

**Selina Todd,

Post Box Cafe,


Thursday, 21 August 2014

On seeing Alghero from the sea

There could be nothing more welcoming than the site of Alghero from the sea.

Even now you can get a sense of just how reassuring it would have been to a ship out from Genoa or Catalonia.

I have gazed at its southern side for most of the holiday.  Beyond the harbour are the walls and behind these are the tall buildings which like the defences stare out to sea.  But what strike you most are the church steeples.  Dominating the skyline is the tall tower of the Cathedral and a little to the left is the cupola of the Chiesa di S. Michele which has a wonderfully patterned roof of different coloured tiles. 

Looking at them I am reminded of the impact which our own Cathedrals must have had on travellers heading towards medieval Canterbury, York of Durham.

Long before they saw the city walls they would have caught a glimpse of the towers and spires of the great cathedrals and no doubt felt relieved that their journey was at an end.  And I suppose for the traveller in medieval England or his Catalan counterpart spires signified safety,

I have no idea how dangerous the countryside around Alghero might have been back when it was a trading port first for Genoa and then Catalonia.  But I do know that I would have been pretty pleased to arrive inside the walls of medieval York. There might have been many people on the road but those roads were little more than dirt tracks.  In winter they were a sea of mud where horses and the wheels of carts might sink in the oozy gunge while in summer when they had dried out they presented a fresh hazard from the deep ruts.

And of course the priority was to reach the city before the gates closed and our traveller faced a night alone in the open.

Of course such considerations are no longer the case, but as you wander through the narrow streets I can see how our Catalan sailors as much as the merchant travelling the open countryside might regard the church spires of Alghero as the first hint of comfort and the safety to come.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A story of recent Chorlton in 20 objects nu 2 ......... A badge

It was at the height of the second Cold War when there was a growing feeling that the world was a less safe place.

Relationships between the two super powers had entered a more hostile phase.

This was only in part due to the election of hard line politicians in the west and the elevation of equally conservative leaders in the Soviet Union but also to events across the world where the USA and USSR were engaged in a new round of support for proxy governments.

What made it all the more dangerous was that a new generation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems had come on stream just as the Cold War deepened and hardened.

The US cruise missile which was being deployed in Britain and West Germany took just 15 minutes to reach its targets in the USSR while American Pershing missiles and the Russian equivalent took just 4 minutes from launch to detonation over the cities of Europe.

So there we were in the Rec on a hot day listening to music, engaged in some politics but above all just relaxing with friends and family.*

It all seems a long time ago and despite the continual conflicts around the world, nothing quite prepares you for a world where the obliteration of millions of people in a nuclear instant were a background to everyday life.

And for those of us who were aware of the crisis in the October of 1962 when the USA and the Soviet Union faced each other in an all too scary brinkmanship it now seems all faintly surreal, including that chilling concept of Mutual Assured Destruction.

So twenty or so years later when it all seemed to be heading the same way again, badges and festivals were a natural response.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson & Tony Walker

*Dangerous times and peaceful protests

Sitting at a bar in Alghero

We were in the old town, and as ever each of the narrow tall streets led out on to a small piazza and as usual there was a restaurant or small bar with someone sitting and watching the passer-by.

Most were too busy in their own thoughts or conversations to catch me taking their photograph, and of the few that did some waved back and others just looked absently at the camera.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Rain and the promise of more rain in Alghero

It has just got a little more difficult for the beach traders.

It’s hard enough walking up and down selling everything from imitation designer bags and clothes to towels watches and toys and sun glasses which even on a good day doesn’t get many takers. And today the weather has closed in.  There was rain yesterday and late this afternoon the grey clouds and wind have cleared the beaches.

A few of the traders decided to find an early pitch on the long promenade while the sun still shone.  Now the best spots are by the fairground and close to the harbour.

The fair acts as a huge magnet attracting young and old and even if you don’t like what is on offer there is no getting away from the magic of flashing lights and loud music.

But for me it is the harbour which has more.  For a start there are the boats ranging from humble fishing craft to stately yachts and the very vulgar big boats which drip wealth, and a total lack of taste.

And the harbour is also the gateway to the old town. So it is here that the crowds come and are rewarded by all sorts of attractions from mime artists to folk singers and of course our traders.  But there is a whole different way of attempting to get a sale.  Our traders rarely approach potential customers but instead spread their wares out on the ground confident that people will come to them.  And they do, and in enough numbers to provide an income for the night.

But the warm sun shine of the early afternoon will not last.  Not that the  African trader sprawled out on his bench or the old man resting by the sea wall are aware that a change in the weather is about to descend on us.

They are passed by countless numbers of holiday makers heading for the harbour and the old town, but by the time I get back to the apartment the sky has filled with heavy grey clouds and the rain has begun which will make selling on the streets even more difficult.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Pictures of Chorlton and a rant

Now just occasionally I go off on a rant and this is one of them.

Beech Road in the 1980s
It started in a pub which had bought into one of those montage pictures of Manchester and had displayed it on the wall opposite the bar.

It was tastefully done and in its way an interesting picture of how we lived.

That said it included one photograph which was not from the city and set me going.

At which point there will be those muttering “get a life, it’s only a picture” and of course in the great sweep of things getting a tad upset is silly.

But I think it does matter otherwise we might just as well include a picture of the San Francisco Bay Bridge in sepia along with a Pearly King and Queen.

It is about historical accuracy.

And in turn it opens up that other issue of publishing pictures found randomly on the net with no acknowledgement and no attempt to give a context to the picture.

I fully accept that copyright is a minefield and that if you have laboured over something you deserve the credit and possibly some financial recognition.

But it can be baffling to see why an old image can only be used by paying an inflated fee.

Richardson's, the fabric shop and a council office
Of course many organisations and individuals are happy to let an image be used with just a credit and a link back and others operate a sliding scale preferring not to charge non commercial users.

Either way what also matters is that the context is fully explored.

Putting up a photograph of a group of people somewhere in Manchester, sometime in the past does little to advance our knowledge.

Not that I want to stop people sharing the past but just offer up this cautionary tale.

I remember coming across a picture of the old Palais de Luxe cinema on Barlow Moor Road.  It was a small image and much of the detail was lost.

But I tracked it back to a local studies centre in east Scotland and  established that it had been taken by Charles Ireland a local photographer.

Jointly the archivist and I explored how it had come into their possession and the research revealed a fascinating story linking a Scottish iron works with our Chorlton cinema and Mr Ireland with the added bonus that they supplied a very good quality picture which allowed me to read the posters advertising the films and a musical concert thereby providing a possible date for the picture

None of which came to light when some one hovered up the picture from the blog and just reproduced it in a social network site.

So yes getting it right does matter.

Picture; Beech Road circa 1980s from the collection of Tony Walker

Of rain storms over Alghero and a winter apartment

Yesterday it rained in the night.  I say rained but that does little justice to the powerful downpour which lasted for most of the night.

You could see during the late afternoon that there was something brewing.  Heavy dark rain clouds had formed up to the east of us, but ever the optimist I judged that they were moving away which they were.  But as we came away from the beech around 7.30 another even more menacing group had formed up out to sea.

But the damage was done in the night and by the time we awoke at 6, the sun was just beginning to do its work and so while everywhere was still wet this would not be the case for long.

And now at just after nine, the pavements, balconies and roads are dry, the sky is blue and we are set for another fine day.  Already the free beach has its first customers and away to the south the paid sunbeds are filling up.

The town is also busy, but here it is that work a day business.  Tables in the bars and restaurants are being prepared, the local bakery has just had its third delivery of the day, and the gift shops are open to catch the first tourists of the morning.

From the height of the fort rampant we have a fine view of all that is going on.  Yesterday afternoon standing on the same spot I was drawn to the house directly opposite.  It is one of those that you can see on the arty postcards, and it draws the attention of passers-by who like me take a picture and dream of living there.

But I suppose that is always the danger of holidays in the sun in picturesque places.  The here and now is all too evident and lets you build a romantic image of life lived out in a house like this.  But I am not sure it would be so attractive in the winter months when most of the gift shops are closed, the restaurants and bars have retreated inside, and the wind and rain adds to the emptiness of the place.

True the old town will still have a lot going for it but along the coast road to the south the blocks of apartments will be empty, only a skeleton staff left in the many hotels and the beach will be deserted.  Not one of the beds or umbrellas will be left and the tiny bars which they accompany them will be shut up.

But enough of such dismal thoughts, the sun is shining and we have a guide book which means in the fullness of time we will start more adventures, this time armed with the knowledge of what to see and what to know.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson 

Monday, 18 August 2014

A book on the Manchester Pals by Michael Stedman

Now I may be looking in the wrong place, but I can’t find much for the general reader on Manchester and the Great War.

Cover f the book
In the fullness of time I shall plunge into the Ref and start reading the newspapers of the period and pickup on the diaries and letters of those who lived through the conflict but before all of that I wanted a broad picture of our city during the war.

The gap has been partly filled by Manchester Pals by Michael Steadman, which is a detailed account of the formation of the Manchester Pals battalions.*

Unlike its near neighbour, working-class Salford, Manchester proved able to raise eight Pals battalions. Initially, these battalions were composed of middle-class men who experience before the war years was within the commercial, financial and manufacturing interests which formed the foundations of Edwardian Manchester's life and prosperity.

Manchester was undeniably proud of its pals battalions; that the area was capable of raising.""**

Now I am only a third of the way through but it is my sort of history book drawing on the contemporary accounts of the men who volunteered along with a fine set of photographs.

Embroidered postcard
Here too is a clear description of the city on the eve of the Great War including the grand commercial centre with its towering offices and exchanges, the mean and grim working class areas just a few minutes from that affluence and an account of the growing confrontation between labour on the one side and the powerful people of plenty on the other.

Added to this we get a sense of just how the Pal’s battalions were such a powerful force in drawing young men to the Colours in the first few months of the war.

Mr Callaghan
Men like William Eric Lunt from Chorlton who enlisted in the September of 1914 aged 19 and was posted to the 8th Battalion and my friend Joe’s dad who served in the same unit.

Bit by bit their stories are coming out of the shadows and so I welcome Mr Stedman’s book which is giving a context to their service.

So as I get to the half way mark I shall return with more from the book.

Pictures; cover from Manchester Pals, embroidered postcard of the Manchester Regiment from the collection of David Harrop, and Mr Callaghan courtesy of Joe Callaghan

*Manchester Pals, 16th, 17th, 18th,30th, 21st, 22nd & 23rd Battalions of the Manchester Regiment A History of the Two Manchester Brigades, Michael Stedman, 2004

**Michael Stedman.

***William Eric Lunt a soldier of the Great War,

Pictures from Sardinia, an old Nokia and an evening out with friends

I have been thinking of images that sum up our stay in Alghero and it is this old classic Nokia that I have chosen first.

Now I wrote in praise of this early classic Nokia back in February, and rather thought that was that.

But here in Italy amongst all the smart phones, there was Rosa’s Nokia, the very model I once owned and long since passed through the hands of various sons of mine.  It was and still is a sturdy phone.  It can be dropped, suffer almost all sorts of neglect and still keep you in touch with the world.  True it will only give you one game, has a small screen but its buttons are perfect for a ham fisted old codger like me.  Rosa must have had hers for nearly a decade, but then if it works why change it?*

And Simone has one going spare, which is tempting.  I can take it back put in a sim card and have a fully working piece of history.

Which I expect is what the men sitting at the roadside café by the sea front will use.  After all the old Nokia is not only reliable but uses so little in the way of battery that you can be confident that it will not need recharging only hours after you have left home.

Now I am quite attracted to the image of the men sitting and talking as the evening wears down.  Of course the climate delivers the opportunity.  The long warm nights are perfect for sitting and watching the town parade past.  And they do.  It is a very pleasant way to see the evening out.  You walk from the apartment into and around the old town, take in a few friends on the way, stop to sit and gaze at the others out for the night and finally finish with a coffee or ice cream.

On one level it serves little purpose, but it is a wonderful way to get out in the evening, enjoy the still very warm weather and is a balance to day on the beach doing little.  Although on our beech underneath the big thatched umbrellas by the bar are a group of old men playing cards.  They arrive about 11 and will play and talk all day.  I guess in the winter they retreat to a bar in the town when the sun departs and the weather is cooler, wet and very windy.

I suppose they have been playing together since they retired and may have known each other during their work days.  Certainly there is something in that social thing.  I remember a friend telling me how during a ship building strike in the 1970s in the North East, the pubs opened especially early and the men on strike would be in there not for the beer but for the company, playing cards, dominoes and darts.  After all if your entire working life has been in the company of a handful of workmates, from 8 till 6, five days a week it is difficult to break the habit.

And so to the men by the road side café.  It doesn’t take much imagination to shift the scene back a few hundred years and wonder if at the end of a day out at sea fishing there would have been a similar group just sitting by the harbour gazing out to sea and passing the time of day.

And as if on cue one of the men reaches into his pocket to answer the phone.  It is a modern smart device and I watch as he concludes the call, zips across the screen and calls up the weather for tomorrow.  Ah well not the ending I wanted but I bet someone in the group had an old Nokia like Rosa’s.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Of bars and history and holidays under an Italian sun

I would like to have seen Alghero fifty or so years ago.

Now someone was selling photographs of the old town but we would have needed a small fortune to buy enough of them to get an idea of what it was like.

So as ever in such circumstances it is down to that combination of imagination matched to a bit of historical knowledge and the memories of people who lived there.

I doubt that that the bar we settled on yesterday had a long history.  I asked the waiter but he was from Naples, here for the season and he just shrugged and went back to clearing tables and putting more out for the evening trade.  Which rather put oral history in its place.

For an instant I wished I had a street directory, census return or OS map from which to tease out the age of the property and its use over time, but remembered we were on holiday, and in deference to the rest of the family decided I should confine myself to a few more pictures and order up a limoncello. And reflect that like so many of the places we had found it was hard by one of those tall narrow streets.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson