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the Darley site had closed, Oakwood High School had become Chorlton High School and both theupper and lower schools had been replaced by one 21st century establishment down at Nell Lane.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

At Chorlton Street Bus Station in the summer of 1955

Now I have been on a roll with the bus stations of central Manchester.  

And I have been feeling a little guilty at how harsh I have been about them.

Then I remembered Chorlton Street Bus Station.

It’s not a place I have visited often but on those rare occasions when I have had to see someone off on a coach journey I always came away with an overpowering sense of misery.

It stands underneath a multi-storey car park which made it darker than it should be and always seemed a cold and windy place.

And the tiny snack bar just seemed to add to the gloom.

All of which was in stark contrast to the last two times I saw our eldest off on a coach to Leeds.  The waiting area had been enlarged and enclosed.  It was bright and there were plenty of places to sit and keep warm until the coach was ready for you.  Now the transformation had occurred in 2002 and put a seal on the old station which had been opened in 1967.

What I didn’t know was that this was a 1960s’ make over and that the place dated back to 1950 when it had consisted of three platform islands with long shelters.

And looking back to pictures of the bus station in 1955 I do have to say that this earlier version had more going for it than its ‘60s successor.

True I guess it could still be a cold place but just look at the light and that sense that if you did have to leave the city at least you could see what you were leaving.

Our picture was taken at 2 pm on what looks to be a sunny day and it’s the detail I like.

Away to right are three passengers waiting in the sunshine.

He reads his newspaper and the two women are deep in conversation perhaps discussing the state of the sandwiches and judging by the bags at their feet they may also have been talking about their success at the shops while away to the left  there are men at work on the shelter roof and not a coach in sight.

Now I can't resist adding a bit more history, which in a way takes me back to the grim and miserable tone I opened with.

For here somewhere along Chorlton Street in the June of 1831 Dr Gaulter had attended those infected with Cholera.  In the course of his work he carefully detailed the conditions not only of the victims but of their surroundings.

All four of the Bullock family succumbed and died of Cholera within a few days.  All had been sharing the same bed.  The locality he reported was "crowded and full of filth."*

All of which is a trailer for a series of stories on Cholera in Manchester but as I so often say that is for another time.

In the meantime I wonder if the people captured by W.Higham in his picture  had any inkling of the grim history that surrounded them. I suspect not, and nor I venture to think will any of the countless thousands who pass along Chorlton Street today.

*The Origin and Progress of the Malignant Cholera in Manchester, 1833, Henry Gaulter, M.D

Picture; Chorlton Street Bus Station, W.Higham, 1955, m56903, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

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

Bus stations I knew and some I wish I had never known

Bus stations don’t do much for me.  

I suppose it’s partly because for a great chunk of my life bus journeys have been something to endure with that ever present threat of feeling ill on one of them.

And trolley buses were far worse.

Even now that smell of warm leather seats, disinfectant and the low hum of the machinery bring back unpleasant memories.

But it’s also that they lack any romance.  Unlike a railway station or even an airport they are just drab work a day places which all too often are pretty smelly.

And the worst example was the one built beside the Arndale in the 1970s.  It was dark, grim and beset with engine fumes.

Catching a bus there was just a practical thing, something you had to do to get somewhere, and the best thing you could say about it was that usually you weren’t in it for long.

Now I can talk from experience.  Over the years I have waited in bus stations in the most boring and ugly places.

All too often they are tucked away behind an office block or the wrong side of a market.  Most are just tolerable in daylight but take on a sinister feel at night.  Not helped by the absence of people which makes the odd passerby take on an altogether unwelcome appearance.  And all of them compete for a wind tunnel award.

But perhaps that is a bit harsh and so I have decided to go in search of the bus stations of the city centre.

Some like Piccadilly, which was once called Parker Street are stilll doing the business, while others, surplus to requirement or just in the way have vanished.

The old Arndale horror and the one down near the Cathedral I remember but others like the ones at Chorlton Street and Lower Mosley Street are places I did not know.

Now I say that but as soon as I started researching the one on Lower Mosley Street I discovered that it closed in 1972 and the site demolished the following year which was a full three years after I had arrived in Manchester.*

So much for the power of memory then, which I guess is one in the eye of those who triumph the power of oral history.  Not that I have anything against oral history it’s just that the memories have to be accurate. And in my case they are so wrong, or at least I should say vague because I cannot remember the bus station or for that matter what took its place.

All of which is a bit embarrassing given that after its demolition in 1973 it served as a car park until the Bridgewater Hall was built on the site. This might seem an easy slip of memory perhaps but one that lasted for twenty years from 1973 till the Hall’s completion in 1996.

The Lower Mosley Street Omnibus Station was opened in 1928 on the corner of Lower Mosley Street and Great Bridgwater Street, and was used by the long distance coach operators.  These were mainly the North Western Road Coach Company and the Ribble Motor Services along with vehicles from Lancashire United, Trent Motor Traction, Northern General, United Yorkshire Woolen District, Yorkshire Traction, Crossville, East Midland, and Midland Red.  And added to this there were also buses from Manchester Corporation and the Stalybridge, Hyde Mossley and Dukinfield Transport Board.

Given that it was opposite Central Station it was one of those examples of integrated transport hubs that are so useful.

None of which excuses the fact that its presence just passed me by.  But then that does raise that interesting observation that we often let history slide by.

At best we take places for granted and at worst do not even clock that they have gone which I suppose is a salutary lesson to anyone interested in history.

All of which just leaves me to reflect that the price of maintaining our past is eternal vigilance, or something like that anyway.

Pictures; Parker Street Bus Station, 1934, A. Dawson, m56922, Parker Street/Piccadilly Bus Station at 5pm, W. Higham, 1961, m56932, Chorlton Street Bus Station, at 2pm W.Higham, 1961, m56889, Lower Mosley Street Bus Station, H. Milligan, 1955 m56903, Lower Mosley Street Bus Station, H. Milligan, 1955 m56905,  courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council


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

Capturing a moment on Corporation Street in the December of 1902

It took some working out but I know exactly where I am and when.

We are on Corporation Street just after it has crossed Market Street and if we hitched a lift with the chap on the wagon as it passed M. Drapkin we would be heading towards Victoria Station.

Today this corner is dominated by Marks and Spencer’s, but then it was a collection of shops and offices which included at number 1 a chemist at number 3 Drapkin Major & Co tobaconists, and a music seller at number 5.  Beyond that stretched out more offices before Corporation Street crossed Cannon Street, skirting the Corn Exchange and passing on to Victoria Station.

Of course all that has gone, swept away by the redevelopment which included the Arndale on the opposite side of the road and Exchange Square which pretty much stands on top of Cannon Street.

I won’t bore you with the detective story but placing the wagon and tram car 327 on Corporation Street on December 7th 1902 required a sifting excercise.  Drapkin’s had a number of tobacconists in the centre of the city but only one by a music shop and this was on Corporation Street.

I suppose the clincher was the tram with its destination board showing a route from Victorai Station and on to Albert Square.

Now my sense of direction is not very good and it took a bit of time to place the tram in the right direction and square it up with the buildings behind.

What helped was Goad’s Fire Insurance map which details many of the properties in the city centre including the materials used and the design of the property.

So as they say the boy got there in the end. And I rather think the pillar box in front of the shop selling “Pianos by the best makers for cash or hire” is in the same spot as the one which survived the IRA bomb.

This was the main route from Albert Square to Victoria Station and Cheetham Hill and so was a busy place, along with the people thronging the streets there are plenty of  horse drawn vehicles that catch the eye which is a reminder that as late as the start of the last century most goods were still transported by horse.

There were stables, vets and blacksmiths still operating in the centre of the city to support these horses and all the railway companies had their own stables close to their warehouses.

But it is that tram that draws me long after I have clocked the contents on the wagons or gazed at the pedestrians.

The tram driver turns to talk to the conductor while on the top deck amongst the animated conversations one man leans on the rail, his attention caught by something on the street below which maybe the young woman just at the extreme edge of the picture.

Nor is he alone for another on the top deck  looks down in the same general direction.

And while all this is going on one passenger chooses that moment to leave the rear of the tram.

There is just one little point that I can’t quite resolve and that is the date.

I902 seems fine but I rather think we can not be in December given the lack of overcoats, but that is down to who ever wrote the caption and after a century there seems little point in shouting about that.

So I shall finish with one last tiny bit of detective work for which again I will never know the answer but down to our right to the right might just be the subject of our man on the tram''s gaze.

She is that young woman at the extreme edge of the picture.  Dressed in a blouse and fashionable hat she may have just turned on to Corporation Street from Market Street.  But as there will be those who accuse me of idle speculation I will let all that hang in the air.

Picture; from the collection Alan Brown

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

When young Bertha Geary heard history in the summer of 1911

I am looking at a postcard of Didsbury sent in the summer of 1911.

But the scene is not as important as the message on the back, for Bertha Geary aged just 13 of School Lane has heard history.

“We saw the flying man on Tuesday night fly over head.  Beaumont is his name.  I wish you could have seen him.  It made such a noise.”

He was André Beaumont and he was one of 30 competitors in the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain Air Race in 1911. Flying in a Blériot XI he was the first to complete the course which was no mean achievement as many of the aircraft either failed to take off or crashed along the way.

So to him went the £10,000 prize awarded to a man whose real name was Lieutenant Jean Louis Conneau of the French Navy.

All of which today we take for granted but was pure magic and wonderment to young Bertha, after all the persistent buzzing of the aircraft’s engine above her head was something new and I guess louder than anything she had yet encountered.

The streets were still dominated by the horse drawn vehicle, few had telephones, and radio as a form of mass entertainment was still in its infancy.

So hers was a generation which would embrace profound changes, and this drew me towards Bertha Geary.

She was born in Prestwich in 1898, and her father described himself variously as a school keeper and general labourer.  One of her elder sisters worked as “children’s milliner” and the other made “children’s costumes.”

There the trail goes quiet for Bertha, because if she married I can find no record, nor of when she died but she did leave one clue and that was her address on the postcard.

It is a simple but vital clue which allowed me to track her family on the street directory for 1911, establish a surname and search the census for that year.

Her story and many others appear in Didsbury Through Time by Andrew Simpson and Peter Topping.

Picture; Bertha’s postcard from the book Didsbury Through Time

Didsbury Through Time is available in Didsbury from Morten’s Bookshop on Warburton Road, Didsbury, and of course from all other bookshops.

* E.J. Morten Booksellers, 6 Warburton Street, Didsbury, Manchester M20 6WA,
Telephone: 0161 445 7629, Email:

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