Friday, 31 October 2014

The mystery of what the Manchester man who lived in Stockport was doing in Burnley

George, Nellie & Duncan, circa 1915
I am no nearer knowing the mystery of what George Davison was doing in Burnley and I think I am going to need some help.

He was born and grew up in Manchester, began his married life in Hulme and then settled in Stockport where the family pretty much lived for the rest of the 20th century.

And when George was sent to Woolwich and later Ireland during the Great War his wife Nellie and son followed him for short periods.

But the family home was from 1911 in Stockport which makes their time in Burnley in 1914 a bit of a mystery.

Now I know he was there because during the winter of 1914 he was in the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps and we have one letter addressed to number 4 Fairholme Road, Townley, Burnley.

The letter to Mrs Davison in Burnely
Sometime during the end of 1914 he had enlisted and by January he was in Woolwich.

Nellie appears to have moved back to Hulme for short periods but always retained the home in Stockport although at times she sub let it.

The obvious conclusion is that he was working in Burnley and given the later practice of sub letting the Stockport cottage that would seem reasonable.

But to be sure it will be a matter of checking out the electoral registers and rate records for Burnley and here it would be useful to have someone on the ground to do the research.

Of course there will be those who mutter that it is all very small beer but I think it is important because we do have a large amount of material much of it written by George to Nellie during the war along with some courting letters, school reports and official documents which follow him from his entry into school to his death on the Western Front in 1918 and continue into the middle 1950s.

St John's
There is also the chance that it will shed some more light on the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps which was the Home Guard of the First World War.

So far I have come across little about the organization other than newspaper reports, an enamelled badge and two pictures of the men on parade.

When one of these pictures was posted the church behind the men was identified as St John the Evangelist in Worsthorne which is just outside Burnley.

There are references to the Corps parading there and so it was nice to have a location for the picture.

And that is the value of local knowledge.

So I hope someone out there will help with finding out more about George and Nellie’s stay in Burnley

Picture; of the Davison family circa 1915 & St John the Evangelist date unknown from the collection of David Harrop

Saving the copper ........ a 5/- bag from sometime in the 1940s

Saving the copper, date unknown
Now there will be those who mutter this is not really much to do with history.

But there I would disagree, because it is one of those small everyday objects which are so part of our lives that we give them no significance.

I came across this one in a collection of material from my dad.

It is a paper money bag for the National Provincial Bank and would have been used to bag pennies, halfpenny and farthings.

Now I don’t have a date but it will be before 1971 when we went decimal and adopted a new set of coins junking the old pounds shillings and pence.

Before 1971 the pound was made up of 240 pennies with 12 pennies making a shilling and 20 shillings making a pound.

All very bewildering for any one born after 1971 but pretty clear to me and those who can also remember Five Boys chocolate bars,  drinking Kia-Ora orange at the pictures, and Rin Tin Tin.

The National Provincial Bank had a long history starting up in 1833 before becoming the National Westminster Bank in 1970.

All of which gives little clue to a date for the bag except for the request “IN VIEW OF THE APPEALS MADE FOR THE ECONOMY OF PAPER WILL CUSTOMERS KINDLY RETURN ALL THESE BAGS TO THE BANK FOR RE-USE.”

Hotel Regina, Venice, circa 1950s
Of course such appeals I guess have come at regular intervals but I suspect this may date the bag to the Second World War or the years directly afterwards.

Now given the sort of chap my dad was it would not surprise me that this money bag had been sitting amongst his stuff from that time, before coming north to us.

It had been used to hold a series of hotel suitcase labels from the 1950s and these too in the fullness of time will come out to feature as stories for the blog.

In the meantime my 70 year old money bag will return to its place of safe storage, and I shall go rummaging for some pennies, and haipeni’s and may even turn up the odd three penny bit and sixpence.

And who knows may well come across more stories of the trivial kind.

Pictures; money bag, date unknown and hotel suitcase label, circa 1950s,  from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Back visiting that old station on Westmount Road nine months later

Now they say you should never go back to your childhood haunts, especially if you have been away for a long time.

It is a rule I break all the time and as a result I am often disappointed at the mismatch between what I remember and what I see now.

And Eltham Park station is just such a place.

Back in February my friend Chrissie had visited the place and photographed the building, and today she went back.

I had hoped that in the months since her visit someone had breathed new life into the place.

But sadly not so, and it is a shame.

It was never a station I knew well.

Living on Well Hall Road I got off at the station by the Pleasaunce so I never really knew Eltham Park but for those who did this must be a sad ending.

According to Discover Eltham* this was the original station building for what was Shooters Hill and Eltham Park “having between the wars become a parade of shops; no 96 with its distinctive upper floor was the original entrance to the booking hall.”

The station’s name was changed to Eltham Park in 1927 and was closed in 1985.

Since then it has been a series of retail units overshadowed by the shops further along Westmount Road.

Pictures; courtesy of Chrissie Rose 2014

*On Westmount Road with ST TIO PARADE in January 2014,

**Discover Eltham and its Environs, Darrell Spurgeon, 1992, revised edition 2000

Thursday, 30 October 2014

In Naples for the Day of the Dead

Sorrento, 2014
Yesterday we said goodbye to Rosa and Simone who were making the long journey south from just outside Milan to Naples.

It is a journey they have taken each year since they left Naples in the summer of 1960.

And it has nothing to do with holidays or getting away from the increasingly cooler weather of the north of Italy but simply to celebrate the dead.

The Festival of the Day of the Dead is not unique to Italy; our Saul will be taking part in a similar festival with his partner and her family in Warsaw.

Now to many it may seem macabre but it has its roots deep in our common culture and predates Christianity.

If I have understood it correctly the dead return to the living on the night between the first and second of November and stay until Epiphany.

Naples, 1890
On the first night the family will include some of the favourite dishes of their loved ones, and after the main meal set the table again with fresh plates for those who will be returning.

Like so many rituals surrounding death and the loss of family members it plays its part in both honouring the departed and helping ease the pain.

It is more widely followed in the south than the north and I guess for some Italians today it is just a holiday, but for Simone and Rosa it has a special meaning.

Naples, 1890
And maybe one year, sooner rather than later we will join them if only to avoid the over hyped banal and commercialised event which is Halloween.

As things go I know which I prefer.

Pictures; The Via R. Reginaldo Giuliani, 2014, Sorrento from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and Naples circa 1890, from Napoli coom’era, 2013, courtesy of the publishers, Intra Mo

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Another from the Chorlton of the 1970s

This is another of those scenes which countless photographers have taken over the years.

In the collection I have one from the around 1900 and another from three decades later, but what I like about this one is that soon after it was taken the scene would have changed forever.

We are in the winter of 1976 and within a few years the churchyard beyond that wall was landscaped and most of the gravestones taken away.

Later still the barn to our left just outside the camera shot was converted into residential properties and more recently the Horse and Jockey went through the start of the many alterations which have transformed its appearance adding the sitting area with its roof and heaters.

That said something of what has been lost can be seen again in earlier blogs of Chorlton in the 1970s.*

Picture; looking towards Chorlton green in 1976 from the collection of Lois Elsden

*Chorlton in the 1970s,

Recording the passing of our great public lavatories .......... nu 1 down by Southern Cemetery

Now I doubt I am alone in mourning the loss of so many of our Victorian and Edwardian public lavatories.

They ranged from the sumptuous ones all glazed tile, shiny brass and rich dark wood, to the simpler public urinals and in their way they were as much a statement of municipal provision as the parks, the schools, the supply of gas and clean water and of course the tram and bus.

And most have gone, some rationalized out of the equation by bigger more modern conveniences and others just because they cost too much.

I still remember those in Albert Square and that one at the top of Great Bridgewater Street which became a pub.

All of which is a way of starting a new series from the camera of Andy Robertson who suggested that it was time for a “bog for the blog.”

He chose that one on Barlow Moor Road by Southern Cemetery to accompany the idea, and I rather think he has now walked his way into recording as many as he can because they are like the public water fountains and stone horse troughs vanishing from our streets and parks.

The horse troughs were the first to begin disappearing and while I can remember plenty when I was young I have to think hard about when I last passed one.

And if I were to ask my sons who are all now grown up I expect none of them will even know what I am talking about.

As for the public lavatories by the cemetery I doubt that they have even clocked they were there.

I know their closure passed me by.  But as you do I went looking for their history and the best I could come up with was that they were built sometime between 1894 and 1934.

Not much I grant you but there it is.

All of which just leaves Andy to go off and find some more with perhaps help from others.

Pictures; of the former public lavatories at Southern Cemetery, 2014, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Home Thoughts of Well Hall from a distance 4

Now I am not one to get over homesick but this is the time of year I left Well Hall for Manchester.

In the intervening 45 years I haven’t been back as many times as I would wish and so for all those like me that miss the place and in particular the Tudor Barn here over the next few days courtesy of Chrissie Rose is what we are missing.

Picture; Well Hall Pleasuance, from the collection of Chrissie Rose, 201

Monday, 27 October 2014

Looking into the old parish churchyard in 1976

Now sometime or other most of us have ended up taking one of those pictures of the old parish churchyard through the entrance of the lych gate.

I know I have, but what marks this one out as a tad different is the scene beyond the entrance.

We are back with one of Lois’s pictures taken in 1976 long before the area was landscaped and all those monuments to past Chorlton residents were swept away.

I still think the decision was wrong because while I enjoy sitting in the churchyard with its mix of grass trees and bushed, I yearn for those old gravestones.

A few have been retained but most have long since gone to be hard core and with them has gone the history of the township.

Here were the stories of families which lived, worked and played around the green and in the hamlets and farmhouses across Chorlton.

Many are families I came to know when writing the book and it saddens me that their epitaphs are no longer here to see.

Now I know that the church yard had become neglected, and many of the gravestones were in need of tender care but their going is a loss.

That said something of what has been lost can be seen again in earlier blogs of Chorlton in the 1970s.

Picture; looking into the churchyard in 1976 from the location of Lois Elsden


**Chorlton in the 1970s,

Sunday, 26 October 2014

With Mr Higginbothan on Row Acre in Chorlton in 1892 and 500,000 readers

Well I started the blog in October 2011 and in those three years it has covered a varied set of stories of our past including a growing set of contributions from those with their own stories. 

And today the blog passed the 500,000 point.

Well to be accurate 500,152 people have read one of the stories since that first one on October 21 2011.

So thank you to all that those read the blog, and those who have commented and contributed.

And to celebrate that record here is one of my all time favourite pictures which featured very early in the blog’s history.

We are on the Rec on that strip of land on the corner of Beech Road and Crossland Road with Mr Higginbotham.  The date is around 1892 when the field was still called Row Acre.

Picture; Mr Higginbotham on Row Acre circa 1892 courtesy of the late Mr Higginbotham and in the Lloyd collection

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Who laments the passing of the Castle, the Welcome Inn and many more Eltham pubs?

The Rising Sun
If there was one certainty after death and taxes it was that almost everywhere would have a pub.

They might be those old comfortable and picturesque places hard by the village green steeped in history and beer where countless generations of farm labourers had sat and drank or those tall brick built Victorian public houses, all gleaming with brass and frosted glass.

In between there were the small beer houses made possible by the 1830 Beer Act which for the cost a small license allowed the publican to brew and sell his or her own beer often from the back room of the family home.

And finally there were the gin palaces, some trading elaborate settings along with the gin others no better than a dive where in Hogarth’s words you could get drunk for a penny, blind drunk for tupence and  the straw on the floor was free for those who fell down and slept the sleep of the drunk.

When I was growing up and the slum clearances were wiping away a century of poor housing it always seemed that the pub on the corner was the last building to go.  Even now long after most of the warehouses and factories along with the dwelling houses have vanished the pub still clings on.

But even these are vanishing like snow in the full glare of the winter snow.  The Pomona Palace on Runcorn Street facing Chester Road was one of the last on this stretch into town and now it has shut up shop.

I always had a fond spot for this pub whose name echoed the big Pomona Gardens which along with Bell Vue were for a big chunk of the 19th century where you went to enjoy the scenery but above all the variety acts, the fireworks and the special exhibitions.

The King's Arms
And just as the Gardens have gone more and more of the pubs be they on village greens with centuries of history or their Victorian city equivalents are losing the battle to survive.

In Eltham I remember the King’s Arms, the Castle, and out on the edges of Well Hall the Welcome Inn and even further away the Yorkshire Grey and the Dover Patrol.  All now gone and with them I bet many powerful memories from those who frequented them.

I suppose the Castle and the King’s Arms hadn’t that much going for them.  They were new build replacing much older venues with long histories but I did enjoy going to them.

The other three I thought would fare better, after all each was a lonely out post surrounded by residential properties with little else on offer.

But I guess the economics comes into play.  The bigger pubs especially those built to cater for coaching parties or people with cars are just not viable any more.  The coach parties have slowly dwindled and no one quite rightly will consider drinking and driving.

The Castle
Some lingered on as venues for variety acts offering big names at reasonable prices.  But that too has all but come to an end and with it the regular live acts which gave young comedians and musicians a place to play.

Here in Chorlton for the price a cheap bus ticket or even just a 15 minute walk it was possible to be entertained by some of the greats of show biz.

And I rather think the Welcome Inn and the Yorkshire Grey may have hosted more moderate entertainment.

Sitting at home with the chilled dry white, that cheeky but fruity red or the selection of fine organic beers and ciders is all very well but even on a wet February evening I still sometimes miss the call of last orders, and the happy walk home reflecting on the conversation of friends.

Which I suspect is fast turning into sentimental tosh so better just leave it with the thought that at least at home I am not told to drink up.

Pictures; from the collection of Jean Gammons

If you go down to Darley Avenue

Now after the success of Andy Robertson’s project of recording the new build at Oswald Road school he is back with another venture.

This time he is down at Darley Avenue and promises that he will return at regular intervals to chart the changes

And you may well want to check out his first visit back at the end of August.*

Picture; Darley Avenue, October 2014 from the collection of Andy Robertson

*Down at Darley Avenue in Chorlton,

Friday, 24 October 2014

Singing Asleep in the Deep with the Oldham P.S.A. on Saturday March 2nd 1907 in Bismark Street

I just wonder how the Tea Party and Concert staged by the Oldham P.S.A. Society went down on Saturday March 2nd 1907 in the Wesleyan School on Bismark Street.

Now I had come across the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Brotherhood back in the 1970s in Ashton Under Lyne.*

They were what they said they were an organization designed to provide a pleasant afternoon with a Christian slant on a Sunday.

The first seem to have sprung up in the mid 1870s and their first national conference was in London in 1906.

There was a political dimension  “The long standing relationship between political Liberalism and Nonconformity brought active Liberals into the movement. In the early twentieth century key Labour and Trade Union leaders became actively involved in the PSA/Brotherhood Movement. 

Labour MPs Arthur Henderson and Will Crooks, and the Liberal MP Theodore C. Taylor were all present at the founding of the National Association of Brotherhoods, PSAs etc in London in 1906. 

Keir Hardie, was also actively involved, he was a main speaker for a Brotherhood Crusade in Lille in 1910. Arthur Henderson MP was elected National President in 1914. 

The National Adult School Union’s ‘One and All’ journal reported 7 out 9 ‘adult school men’ who stood for parliament were successful in 1910.”***

And so back to that tea party and concert.

Judging by Asleep in the Deep I doubt that I would have been entertained by the afternoon.

The song was written by Arthur J Lamb and composed by Henry W.Petrie and had the rousing chorus

“Loudly the bell in the old tower rings,
Bidding us list to the warning it brings. Sailor, take care! Sailor, take care!
Danger is near thee. Beware! Beware! Beware! Beware!
Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep, So beware! beware!
Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep, So beware! beware!"***

But perhaps I am being a tad harsh.  I dare say I would have been intrigued by the “Humorous Section.”

It was after all a serious attempt to challenge the power of the pub.

And the Oldham P.S.A. at least had an eye to how to get an audience, for the reverse of the card had a very striking image of Miss Nina Severning.

Now she was I think an actress but all I have turned up is another picture postcard sent in 1904, but there will be someone who can offer me some more information.

In the meantime I shall return to that magical afternoon in 1907, and the promise that  I shall go looking for the Oldham P.S.A. and its secretary Mr J Mcintosh.

At least Bismark Street in Oldham is still there.

It is a narrow street off Park Road, close to Alexandra Park and back in 1890 was dominated by the Trinity Chapel.

Picture; Oldham P.S.A. invitation to its Tea Party and Concert, 1907 courtesy of David Harrop

*The Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Brotherhood,

** The Early Adult School and Brotherhood Movements in the West Midlands: Adult Education, Evangelism or Social Activism?, European Social Science History Conference, Glasgow, April 14 2012

***Asleep in the Deep,

Back on Hadrian's Wall rediscovering a love of all things Roman

Dubnonum circa 250AD
I have been thinking about what started my long love affair with history and in particular the Romans.

It began while I was in school and well over half a century later it is still with me.

Now most of the time I crawl over the lives of people from the last two centuries but it doesn’t take much to trigger that old fascination with all things Roman.

Looking back it will have been those simple line drawings from the books by R.J. Unstead and later that magical book A Valley Grows Up followed by the fine illustrations of Alan Sorrell and Ron Embleton.

A view of the Wall, drawn in 1955
At its most basic it will have been a young boy’s interest in all things military from the legions and their campaigns and slowly blossomed out to all aspects of Roman life.

It has taken me to Rome and Pompeii and from Bath to Hadrian’s Wall along with countless museums across the country always with that simple wish to discover more.

Of all these places it will be Hadrian’s Wall which is there amongst the top three.

It is partly the romance of the place, the continuing discoveries that come up out of the ground and of course the way that every time I go back there are fresh interpretations.

Only yesterday my friend Lois shared the idea that the Wall was a way of containing the troops in what one academic has called “Wolf cages.”

And of course every Roman Emperor knew that to secure his position he had to ensure the loyalty of the army, whether that came from donations, profitable military campaigns or simply keeping them busy like building Hadrian’s Wall.

When I was at school the Wall was simply a way of stopping marauding tribes from invading the peaceful bits of Britain.

Later it was seen as more a statement of power and that bold assertion that this was the end of the civilized world.

But those that lived beyond it might have much to gain from the presence of the army which made  the Wall a customs and control point supervising the cross border economy.

Wood writing tablet
Now I don’t pretend to be anything but a novice when it comes to interpretations of the Wall’s part in the complicated history of Roman Britain but it has thrown up some fascinating glimpses of life on the frontier.

Of these it must be the  the Vindolanda writing tablets which I still go back to.

They range from simple lists of military supplies to letters home, requests for clothes and the invitation to a birthday party written around AD 100 from Claudia Severa, the wife of the commander of a nearby fort, to Sulpicia Lepidina.

Now these bring me as close as I can get to the Romans and along with that blog by Lois  on Hadrian’s Wall have sent me off on a quest again.

I have dusted down the map of the Wall, dug out the books I have on its history and started looking at train timetables.

All of which just leaves me wondering on whether I shall go east to Wallsend close to where father was born or head directly north from Manchester to explore the western side.  Cumbria beware.

Pictures; the Wall as interpreted in 1955, from Looking at History, R.J.Unstead, the imaginary Roman town of Dubnonum from A Valley Grows Up, Edward Osmond, 1953 and Wood writing tablet with a party invitation written in ink, in two hands, from Claudia Severa to Lepidina, uploaded by Fæ, 1986 and  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unportedlicense.

*New thoughts on Hadrian’s Wall and and exciting open on-line courses from universities around the world, Lois Elsden,

**Lois Elsden Writer,

Thursday, 23 October 2014

New thoughts on Hadrian’s Wall and and exciting open on-line courses from universities around the world

One of those occasional posts from my friend Lois about Hadrian’s Wall and  exciting open on-line courses offered from universities around the world

Many people are enjoying leaning new subjects or exploring topics they know already about but  in more depth, and they may be doing this at home by studying a MOOC. MOOC… a massive open on-line course run by a variety of universities across the world in every subject you could imagine.

Earlier this year I studied a ten week MOOC run by Brown University in Pennsylvania, and now I am following ‘Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier’, run by Newcastle University.

It is fascinating; much of the material we are looking at and reading about is to do with the Roman soldiers who were stationed along the wall, and the life they lived. However, what is in a way more interesting, is the different perspective we are offered on what most of us would generally just take for granted.

I guess most of us have an image of what life was like along the wall, a desolate place; dreadful no doubt in winter, with soldiers who may have come from anywhere in the empire to serve their time guarding this distant outpost.

I guess we would imagine life to be tough at certain times, rough weather and attacks from the 'barbarians'; we might also imagine that in between the fighting, life might be much the same as anywhere else in the empire.

The soldiers would buy and trade with locals, be provisioned by them, have them as servants and slaves, maybe marry local women and have families. All the time, I guess we would think of the fortresses along the wall as the place of safety, where these hardy men could retreat to when they were under attack.

Professor Simon James from the University of Leicester offers a different view; maybe the forts were to contain the soldiers, 'wolf cages' as he describes them.

Initially I thought it meant that the forts kept the soldiers under control and prevented them from going out looting and preying on the local villages and settlements; however, many of the soldiers actually didn't want to be there at all.

Soldiers would desert, riot, and even mutiny. These ‘cages’ were to keep the soldiers in, not to keep them safe but to keep them virtually imprisoned.

This is what so many MOOCs do; they make you look at things the other way round, make you look at something from a differently perspective.  Wolf cages... to keep the enemy out, or to keep the soldiers in?

Future Learn,


And there are plenty more stories on archaeology, writing, history, food and beer  at Lois Elsden Writer,

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Another of Chorlton in the mid 1980s

Now sticking with pictures of Chorlton’s recent history, here is another from the camera of Tom McGrath taken in 1985.

It speaks for itself but if you want the original story it is From Temperance snooker hall to a Wetherspoon's pub.

And then you can wander off to follow up on Temperance Halls or  Chorlton in the 1980s.

Picture;  by Tom McGrath

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Waiting for a tram at St Peter's Square .............. soon just a memory

At that metro stop that will soon be gone

Now in the great sweep of transport history the Metro link has not been with us for long.

The first route opened in 1992 but since then it has expanded quickly and is the chosen form of transport for many.

In the course of that expansion some stops have closed and new ones built.

So as the Second City Crossing moves forward I guess it won’t be long before the sight of people waiting for a tram opposite Central Ref will be just be a memory making this picture a little bit of history.

It was taken back in June 2014.

Picture; waiting for the tram, at St Peter’s Square, June 2014, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Winning the football pools in1939

Now in the age of the National Lottery when a win can total £143 million and  there is a bewildering way of becoming rich from instant scratch cards to online entry the football pools seem as old fashioned as Winnergram Willie.

I am old enough to remember both the telegram and the blue uniformed lad who delivered it, and for all my life there have been the football pools.

The first was begun in 1923 and three more followed between 1925 and 1946.

Ours came by Little Fred who delivered the sheet with a smile a joke and the promise that the expected win would mean we wouldn’t see him again.

But the early evening Saturday ritual of listening to all the results being read out was followed by dark comments from granddad about Little Fred’s promises.

So with that sad memory I shall return to the picture which comes from the collection of David Harrop.

Like so many period pieces, there is a lot here to take in.

It starts with the amount of prize money on offer which back in 1939 was a real fortune for a working family, and runs on to the telegram which was the quickest form of communication given that most didn’t have a phone, and finishes with the bike which was for many the universal method of transport.

All of which just leaves the date, Saturday September 9th 1939, just a week after the outbreak of the Second World War.

I might one day go looking for who won the Littlewood's Pools for September 1939 but for now that is it apart from that obvious reflection that the winners of September 2nd might well have pondered on what they would do with their winnings on the Sunday of the 3rd as Nevile Chamberlain told Britain we were at war

Picture; Littlewood’s Pools coopon, September 9, 1939, from the collection of David Harrop

Monday, 20 October 2014

Never ignore a memory ............ the smell of bread and hay and the Twilight Sleep Home for painless child birth in Chorlton

“Oh yes I was born at The Twilight Sleep Home on Upper Chorlton Road.”

Advert from the Manchester Guardian, 1920s
And with that casual remark Ann set me off again with the Twilight Sleep Home for painless child birth and thoughts on just how important are listening and recording people’s memories.*

In the past some historians were sniffy about oral history preferring objective and verifiable sources of historical information.

And memories can be highly subjective and unreliable but that said they can also be a powerful way of getting right to the heart of an event in the past.

Only yesterday Tina was baking bread.

It was the Doris Grant’s loaf which had been perfected by Ms Grant in the 1940s, and its claim to fame is that it is made by leaving out the kneading process. Ms Grant had forgotten to knead the bread but it turned out alright, and with a bit more experimentation produced a loaf which was a bit heavier but quicker to make.

And it was pretty much exactly like that made by my grandmother sixty years ago on a range in the kitchen of the family house in Chellaston.

Nothing more simple than the taste of a wholemeal loaf and I was back half a century ago in a tiny village outside Derby.

And in much the same way the smell of warm hay and old plaster and timbers always sends me back to the loft of their barn on hot summer’s days when the only sound was that of insects and the humming of the telegraph wires outside the hatch.

So back to the Twilight Sleep Home.

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

The standard approach had been to administer chloroform but in Germany experiments had been undertaken to see if women could give birth while asleep.

The mother was given a mix of morphine and scopolamine and early results were so promising that by the early 20th century the method had been adopted in the USA and Canada.

There was Twilight Sleep Home which opened in 1917 on Henrietta Street in Old Trafford and moved to Westonby on Edge Lane sometime in 1921 or early 1922.

It advertised itself as offering “Painless Childbirth” and featured regularly in the classified section of the Manchester Guardian until 1927.  During those ten years its name varied slightly but always retained Twilight Sleep

But by the end of that decade there is no further reference to it and given that the practice had received some bad publicity when expectant mothers had died it was reasonable enough to assume it had closed down.

And so our home on Edge Lane was renamed but was still operating as a rest home during the late 1940s but using more conventional methods.

Ann however was born at The Twilight Sleep Home on Upper Chorlton Road in 1944.

Now I can’t be sure whether the Twilight Sleep methods was used but the name was still the same over the door.

Either way mother and child stayed in the home for a fortnight which may seem a long time but will have had more to do with ensuring that mother’s were not pitched straight back into the routines of running a home which with far fewer labour saving machines will have been a tough task.

So that one chance has got me a little further along the trail of knowing more about that Twilight Sleep Home.

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

*The Twilight Sleep home for painless child birth,

Saturday, 18 October 2014

On locating the spot where the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps paraded in the winter of 1914

Now I like the way that stories are picked up and added to.

So when I posted two stories on the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps in 1914 I vaguely knew of the connection with Worsthorne but this was confirmed by Craig Simpson who identified the location of  this picture of the Corps on parade.

It “was taken in front of St. John the Evangelist Church in the village of Worsthorne on the edge of Burnley.”

And sure enough the location today is still pretty much the same even down to the lamppost, which I think may have moved marginally in the century since the picture was take,

But that said it is possible to stand on that open space in front of the church exactly where the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps stood in 1914 which is a powerful link to that group of men a full hundred years ago.

Picture; the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps, from the George Davison collection, courtesy of David Harrop

Friday, 17 October 2014

‘Carrying on for Children’ .......the story of the Manchester & Salford charity during the Great War

Now I plan to attend the event ‘Carrying on for Children’ at Central Ref on November 7 which will focus on the work of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges.

It was established in 1870 to help destitute children in the twin cities and expanded into almost all aspects of child welfare, providing homes, and training for young people along with actively campaigning against the exploitation of children.

During the Great War many of those it helped volunteered and some of their stories have regularly appeared on the charity’s blog.

But what I had not fully appreciated was the pressure the War put on those voluntary contributions that the charity needed to do its work.

As the archivist of the trust points out “the outbreak of the First World War however, saw the charity buffeted on many sides. 

Fighting for donations against the various War funds that were set up, it saw its financial income cut drastically; an increased number of children needing aid and those boys previously cared for head across the seas, some never to return. 

Despite heavy debt it spent the next four years fighting to continue to provide for those children in Manchester left desolate by the War. It came out in 1918, scarred but alive.”*

All of which brings me back to the event ‘Carrying on for Children’  which will feature stories of the charities work during the Great War which is on Friday November 7 at 2 pm in Central Ref, and if you want to know more you can contact the Together Trust.

The charity is now known as the Together Trust and not only continues it work on behalf of young people but has an extensive archive of material about its work and those who both worked for it and were helped by it.

Picture; courtesy of the Together Trust, 

*‘Carrying on for Children’ from the blog, Getting down and dusty,

Newport Road, the Unknown Warrior’s Grave in Westminster Abbey and a picture postcard sent in the April of 1952

Now I am the first to admit the quality of the image is a tad iffy but we are dealing with a picture postcard which is over 60 years old.

It comes from the collection of David Harrop and is another one of those pictures which bring little bits of stories together.

The card was sent on April 14 1952 and ‘S’ thought that Sam “would like this card” which is of the Unknown Warrior’s Grave in Westminster Abbey.

Given the we are now deep into the centenary of the Great War the card has a resonance and would have done so back in 1952 when both the First and Second World Wars were still recent history.

I have no way of knowing why S thought Sam would find like the card but there maybe a clue in the address.

Sam lived at 127 Newport Road and with a bit of digging we should be able to find out a little bit more about him and a possible connection with that war.

As for the picture postcard the  reference number from the front of the card dates it to 1930 when it was registered in the company catalogue and this may also be the year the photograph was taken.

It is a Valentine postcard marketed by Valentine & Sons Ltd of Dundee and London and courtesy of St Andrew’s University Library I have a catalogue which links the reference number to the year of issue.

So perhaps not an earth shattering story but one which I like and in the fullness of time will reveal more.

Picture; Unknown Warrior’s Grave in Westminster Abbey, circa 1950, from the collection of David Harrop

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Who will pay for the uniforms of the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps in December 1914?

Now I know that there has always been a strong tradition of voluntary support for our armed services during war time.

Officers of the Burnley Volunteer Traiing Corps circa December 1914
There are plenty of examples of wealthy individuals recruiting and equipping military units to go off and fight bestowing their name in the title of the regiment.

And I suppose for some at least the early months of the Great War were no different.  

Across the country Voluntary Red Cross hospitals were established which were staffed and supported by the efforts of the local community.

Here in Manchester private companies undertook to support families of men who were enlisting in the Pal’s regiments and promising to guarantee jobs after the war.

All of which brings me to the Volunteer Training Corps which was a  home defence militia made up of men who were over military age or engaged in important occupations.

They  sprang up all over the country in the months after the outbreak of the Great War and 
although there was a central committee which was recognised by the War Office the individual volunteer training units were not and had to be financially self supporting providing their own uniforms which could not be Khaki.

On parade, circa December 1914
Later during 1915 these units were recognised as Volunteer Regiments and in the following year the War Office decided to include them into the County Infantry Regiment and they became “Volunteer” battalions of their local regiments.

Now I didn’t know of their existence until recently and have yet to explore those based in Manchester, but I have begun to discover something of the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps.

This was the unit that George Davison joined soon after the war began.  So far all I have are some photographs an enamelled badge and a series of newspaper stories which appeared in the Burnley newspapers.

And the first of those comes from the Burnely News for December 1914 which reported on the first inspection of the Volunteers by a Captain Renham who “was impressed by the military bearing of those on parade.”

But the article is far more revealing about attitudes towards the corps and in particular to how they were to be funded and equipped.

Enamelled badge
From the outset there was concern that some of military age might use enlistment in the Volunteers as a way of avoiding joining the regular army.

“The committee have been most particular about the admission of men of military age, without very good reason being first given why they have not enlisted.”

A similar concern had exercised some in Manchester at the young men who had become voluntary medical orderlies in Red Cross hospitals and led to the Red Cross patiently explaining the role of these men and the fact that many did go on to serve.

That said the newspaper reported that "the Central Association had decided upon a grey green cloth [for a uniform] ........ and it is probable that the Burnely Corps will have grey green fatigue uniforms with brown buttons and the letters B.V.T.C. on the shoulder.”

And this would involve “a large sum of money.”  To this end an equipment fund had been opened with a target sum “of a 100,000 shillings.”

Now I have to confess that in the early months of what would eventually become a war where the whole nation was mobilized, either through conscription in 1916, rationing a year later and subjected to new regulations and the vast amount of propaganda this seems odd.

But that maybe to judge the outbreak with modern eyes.

Pictures; of the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps from the George Davison Collection courtesy of David Harrop

*Burnley News December 19 1914, courtesy of Sally Dervan

Another little bit of transport history ......travelling by tram to the airport

Well another little bit of transport history is about to begin when trams start regularly running from the city to the airport.

Reflections in the windows of a tram at St Peter's Square, 2014
It is well ahead of the scheduled opening date and offers an alternative to the existing train and bus services.

My good friend Michael Thompson has posted that from Monday  pre launch test trams will be running every twelve minutes between Cornbrook and the airport and from November 3rd there will be a full passenger service.

Now it was Ruskin who said “your railway, when you come to understand it is only a device for making the world smaller” and that I suspect will be  how people along the route from Wythenshawe will see the coming of the tram.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

What's new in St Peter's Square?

I have got to say I am a fan of the new relocated Cenotaph outside the western door of the Town Hall.

Like many I watched the demolition of the sunken gardens and the surrounding square, tried to gain a glimpse of the work being done behind the huge hoardings and wondered about how it would finally turn out.

For me it does work with the added bonus that from the steps of Central Ref north to the Cenotaph and eventually out across towards One St Peter’s Square there is a brand new open space which affords great views of the  surrounding buildings.

Now compared with many Italian and French towns I do not think we do open spaces particularly well.

Like the old Crown Square they can be dismal windy places offering a few uncomfortable seats, a stretch of uneven paving stones and the odd bit of litter interspersed with a few weeds.

The area around St Peter’s Square is still a work in progress and I am not sure if the enlarged metro stop will encroach on the Cenotaph.

But in the mean time the area shows off those buildings along Princess Street in a way you couldn’t have seen them until recently and in the same way provides new views off across the tram lines down towards Oxford Street.

I still haven't made my mind up about One St Peter’s Square but know that I never liked the previous building and think I can remember what was there before that.

The test for all this new open space will be whether people feel comfortable sitting there.

On Saturday there were indeed lots of people taking in the last of the sun while sitting on the benches, and stopping to photograph the Ref, and the Cenotaph .

It will all have changed again in a matter of months, so with that in mind this was what it all looked like on the Saturday that St Helens played Widnes at Old Trafford and the sun briefly came out.

Pictures; St Peter’s Square and the Cenotaph, October 2014 from the collection of Andrew Simpson