Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A cinema classic in Bury

Now it is always a joy to open an email from Andy Robertson whose quest for recording our history knows no bounds, and is limited only by where his bus pass will take him. 

And so here after a tram ride on a wet grey March day Andy offered up this grand old relic of the cinema age.

It is the Art Picture House on Haymarket Street in Bury.

It was built in 1922 on the site of a theatre which had originally Baptist Chapel which was then converted into a warehouse.*

Today it is a Wetherspoons, all of which makes for a rich and varied
history which has been researched by the Theatre Trust.*

And the more I look at it there are distinct similarities with the that cinema on Oxford Road, once known to many as "Studios one to a million."

There is more, but for that you will have to read their blog and go up to Bury following in the tramstops of Andy Robertson.










Picture; the Art Theatre, Bury, 2015 from the collection of Andy Robertson

*The Theatres Trust Theatres Database, 
  http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/2233-art-picture-house

Monday, 30 March 2015

Tatton Hall ....... once the preserve of the rich and now a place to mix a bit of history with a load of fun

Now I am going to lay aside my prejudice for stately homes.

It is something which I have carried it with me since childhood and is based on that simple observation that all such posh places were funded by exploiting the labours of those who were doomed never to get closer than the estate gates and maintained by an army of servants and labourers whose contributions to the great house went largely unrecorded.

Nor do I totally accept that tosh about preserving the past.

So while some might argue that there is no comparison between Blenheim Palace and a 1930 semi built on the outer reaches of Manchester. I am not so sure.

But both have histories, both were built for someone to live in and both were cherished by their inhabitants.

In the case of Tatton Hall it is now open to all and run by the National Trust after the last owner, Maurice Egerton bequeathed the mansion and gardens to the National Trust on his death in 1958.

And for all those who live in south Manchester, the Egertons at one time pretty much owned all of it having begun to acquire great chunks from the 18th century onwards and only parting with the land in the late 19th and early 20 centuries.

All of which may seem a long way from a pleasant day in Tatton Park which if you choose the day correctly will offer up a shed load of attractions, from steam engines to the fun of the fair.

These Peter has captured well in his series of paintings on Tatton Hall.

My favourite remains that traction engine which reminds me of the time when steam was the thing powering everything from pumps and textile machines to trains and even to carousel rides.

Today it is hard to imagine that once that distinctive smell of steam and warm oil along with the noise and smoke of a steam machine was the backdrop to most people’s lives.

All of which makes Tatton Hall’s visitor attractions worth a visit, not that it over changes my views of stately homes, but I shall put that prejudice to one side.

Paintings; from the Tatton Hall series,  © 2011 and 2015 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,
Facebook:  Paintings from Pictures

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Unpicking the clues of a postcard, .... Piccadilly sometime in the early 20th


This is one of those photographs I keep coming back to because there is so much going on.

We are in Piccadilly and the old Queen dominates the picture.  I don’t have a date but guess it must be some time in the first two decades of the last century.

Now we can narrow the date down a little.  The card was marketed by Fred Judge who began the business in 1903.

And there is one further clue.  This card is numbered 1724 which was one of seven in a series on Manchester and included Albert Square, the Town Hall, Market Street, the Cathedral and the University and yes you guessed there is study group who may be able to date the series.*

But leaving aside the date it is the sheer amount of detail which makes the card such a treasure.  Sitting on the steps of the Queen’s statute are two boy scouts.  Now I can’t be certain but it looks like they may just have some cleaning implements at their feet which could link them to Good Turn Day which was introduced in 1914 and morphed into Bob a Job Week in 1949.

All of which takes me back to a date.

But there is so much more to see.  There is the man who is casually leaning against the lamp post and the pile of discarded rubbish in the litter bin.  Like others in the picture he is wearing one of the straw hats which seems to remain in fashion into the 1920s.

We must be sometime in the summer given the presence of women in blouses and our scouts without their coats.

The long line of trams reminds us that this was a busy part of the town with most of them destined to head down Market Street which  would also be thronged with pedestrians on route down to St Mary's Gate or visiting the many shops and offices which ran its length.

And judging by the number of passengers on the upper decks of the open trams plenty of people have chosen to take in the fine weather on this summers day.

My own favourite detail is the horse drawn cab, number 382.  As it waits for a fare the horse is feeding from its feed bag.

Now it should be possible check out the name of the cab driver and as they say a whole new story awaits the telling.

Picture; from the collection of Alan Brown

* JUDGES POSTCARD STUDY GROUP 
vigeoff.harris@virgin.net   

Park Row in Heaton Mersey gives up a few of its secrets

Now until a few days ago I was totally unaware of Park Row in Heaton Mersey or for that matter that there was once a bleach works close by.

But this tiny picturesque group of houses has drawn me in.

According to Pevsner they are “attractive early-mid Victorian terraces” and that I think is a good starting point, although in time I might also become interested in neighbouring Vale Close which “is probably 17th century.”*

It took me a bit of time to locate them on the census record and I have yet to find them in a street directory but after about half an hour of wandering across Lancashire I found them for 1911 and that revealed the entire records back to 1841.

Any one of those census records will be a wonderful insight into who lived in Park Row and how many of the residents owed their livelihood to that bleach works which was just minutes away from the houses.

And they will also tell us much about the people themselves, including where they came from, how many children they had and the degree to which people moved out of Park Row.

All of which will shed light on social mobility, overcrowding and much more.

But for now it is the 1901 census which offers up a picture of what was going on at Park Row.

In all there were 99 people living in the 17 houses of which 41 were working in the April of 1901 when the census was taken.

As you would expect over 50% worked with textiles, either as weavers, spinner’s dyers or at that bleach works.

That said only four of the forty-one would have made their way to the Upper Bleach works and it may even be that some or all of them worked at the neighbouring one.

And then there is the location of the cotton mill which employed another thirteen of our residents including nine weavers, three spinners and Mr Jackson of nu 17 Park Row who was a "weaver overseer."

Those works might also have employed  seven from the Row who described themselves variously as electricians, engineers, messengers and a carter.

In time I might even be able to discover where our three gardeners, domestic servant and housekeeper were employed.

All of which suggests that Park Row has much more to reveal.

Pictures, Park Row, 2015 and from a picture postcard date unknown, from the collection of David Harrop

*Lancashire: Manchester and the South East; Clare Hartwell, Matthew Hyde, Nikolause Pevsner, 2004

An Easter history walk .......... advance warning ........... now that's a zippy title

Now I make no apologies about mentioning Easter, and an Easter egg hunt in March given that the hunt is linked to those ever popular history walks.

And so returning by popular demand this Easter Sunday I will offering up a bit more of the history of Chorton, with that added attraction that along the way there will be opportunities to take part in the hunt for Easter eggs.

So starting starting at 3 on Easter Sunday from the Post Box Cafe we will be setting off to explore the history of Martledge in the late 19th century.*

Martledge was the area roughly from the Four Banks down to the Library and was so transformed from the 1880s that even its name was forgotten and locals referred to it as “New Chorlton” or the “new village.”

The walk will take us past some farms, the old Royal Oak pub, a very interesting block of houses dating from 1832 and by degree out across the Isles to gaze at the sight of the old Chorlton Ice Rink and finish off with the story of the Great Burial Scandal and the almost forgotten stories of Chorlton and the Blitz.

Along the way there will be tales of dark deeds, quite a bit about the people we might have encountered and more than one silly story.

Like the day the lady from Beech Road lost her skates while visiting our skating ring on Oswald Road and went on to make a fascinating discovery.

The event is being staged by the Post Box Cafe and for the price of £8 for adults, and £5 for children you get all the history you might want and more plus hot drink for the walk and then soup or cake on return for grownups and  juice and an Easter egg for the children.

And if you want more information follow the link.*

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/family-history-walk-with-childrens-easter-egg-hunt-with-chorlton-historian-andrew-simpson-tickets-15965229431

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Looking for Alice ...... 250,000 Bexley records now online and that postcard from Chislehurst

Now I would love to track Alice who sent this postcard of Sidcup Road on December 23 1915.

But while I have the name and the address of the person she sent it to, Alice will always evade me.

If only she had added her surname and then I might have been lucky and found her on the census return for the area and now also from one of the more than 250,000 parish records for the London Borough of Bexley.

Until now they were available from the Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre* but have been digitalised and can be accessed at Ancestry** and cover local baptisms, marriages and burial from1558 to 1985.

And along side these Ancestry has also released a set of Bexley civil cemetery records which include casualties of the Slade Green Munitions Factory disaster, which killed 11 female workers and a foreman in 1924.

Described by newspapers as a "‘tragedy that rocked the nation’, a memorial for those killed in the fire still remains at Erith Cemetery today" details of which have just been released by Who Do You Think You Are***

So for anyone in Eltham with an interest in Bexley there may well be a cornucopia of research opportunities.

Of course not everyone will subscribe to Ancestry but the  Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre is just a short trip away on Townley Road, Bexleyheath.*

And like all good studiy centres there is a huge collection of things to look at ranging from Electoral registers and poll books which start in 1833 to Kent local directories, rate books, Ordnance Survey maps from the 1860s and  school records, including admission registers.

And if you want more there are local newspapers dating from 1874, local council plans and photographic collections.

But if like me you live along way north of Watford Gap it will have to be Ancestry which offers up a route to Bexley’s past.

Sadly even here I will not be able to discover any more about Alice and as yet the person she sent the card to in Hereford is equally unwilling to come out of the shadows.

So I shall have to content myself with that card which I have written about in the past and which gives us a nice insight into how commercial picture postcards worked.

It is a pretty scene taken in high summer and was originally released in 1905 but with that eye to a profit the postcard company re released it in the December of 1915 with the addition of a Christmas message printed across the front.

Picture; Sidcup Road, 1915 from the series Chislehurst, marketed by Tuck and Sons, courtesy of Tuck DB, https://tuckdb.org/

* Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre, Central Library, Townley Road, Bexleyheath, DA6 7HJ

**Ancestry,

*** Centuries of Bexley parish records added to Ancestry, jonbauckham, 26 March 2015, Who Do You Think You Are?

**** That mysterious cottage in Chislehurst






Down in Heaton Mersey with that lost bleach works

The Bleach Works, date unknown
Now the thing about industrial archaeology is that it can turn up in the most unexpected places and be a surprise to many who have lived nearby for ages.

Sites which once hummed with purpose, employing hundreds of people with a history stretching back centuries can vanish leaving almost nothing while relatively new ventures also disappear and are lost forever.

The site in 2015
What they all have in common is that once gone pretty soon they are forgotten and their rediscovery can be a revelation.

What helps is to have someone in the know.

David Harrop is one of those people.  On a recent expedition around Heaton Mersey he came across that mystery bell which may have belonged to the bleach works.*

And here I show my ignorance for I never knew that there were bleach works in Heaton Mersey.

An invoice rom the bleach works, circa 1890s
That said unless you knew of the existence of the Upper Bleach Works it is hard to picture what must have been a noisy and perhaps smelly industrial enterprise.

Today standing beside the cottages of Park Row and Park View it is hard to think that here was a little bit of the industrial revolution.

The bleach works were doing their bit by 1844 and I have no doubt that with a bit of research it should be possible to push this date back.

But the buildings and reservoir are gone and the site has grown back with a mix of bushes and trees.
Dig a little and I bet things will turn up.

The site today
In the meantime I was fascinated by this invoice from the Upper Bleach Works which along with David’s picture postcard from offers up a bit of its history.

Now there will be plenty who remember it as a going concern and some who may even have memories of working there and with luck they will come forward to tell a story.

All of which matters especially given the onward creep of new development which in time will cover the site with new buildings, but also because the stories of those who worked there and carried out a process which can be traced back to at least the start of the 19th deserve to be retained.

Of course some of those accounts may already exist safely and so my first port of call will be Stockport Heritage Centre.**

Pictures; postcard of the Bleach Works, date unknown, invoice from Upper Bleach works and the site today from the collection of David Harrop

*A little mystery down in Heaton Mersey, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/a-little-mystery-down-in-heaton-mersey.html 

**Stockport Heritage Centre, stockportheritage@gmail.com

Standing on Talbot Road watching the progress

Now never say that the blog is just about the past.

Here is 39 Talbot Road as it was in September of last year and yesterday as recorded by Andy Robertson who commented that the pictures “shows the area has been cleared, at least of vegetation, presumably for some imminent redevelopment.”

And I can report that according to Trafford Council’s Planning on line site, the cleared land will become "a car park for a temporary period of two years including erection of timber gates as a site entrance.”*

Which followed on from a previous
application for "the  demolition of existing building and erection of part five/part six storey block of offices. 


Provision of 90 parking spaces with access from Talbot Road." Which was approved in 2003.

So as they say watch this space and in the fullness of time I reckon there will a few more pictures from Andy, all of which will add to the growing portfolio of images of how where we live continues to change.

And that is important because we so seldom bother to clock the changes.

Pictures; 39 Talbot Road, 2014-15 courtesy of Andy Robertson

*39 Talbot Road Stretford, Ref. No: 83473/FULL/2014, http://publicaccess.trafford.gov.uk/online-applications/simpleSearchResults.do?action=firstPage

Revealing more of the work of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls‘ Refuge.

Parent Indenture, 1903
Now I always look forward to a new post from the archivist of the Together Trust which hold the records of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls‘ Refuge.

From 1870 this charity extended its work from providing a bed and a meal for destitute children from the twin cities to an organisation which campaigned for the rights of children, offered training to enable young people to rise from poverty and settled some on farms and homes across Canada.

What I particularly like is the insight into the work of the charity and today’s post focuses on the agreement undertaken by the charity, the children and their parents.

There maybe those who criticise the language of the indentures as a tad patronising and question also the degree to which a parent was expected to surrender authority over their child in favour of the charity and I have to say they sit uncomfortably with me.

But that merely goes to highlight the degree to which poverty and the lack of real State intervention made the work of such charities necessary.

As the secretary of the Manchester & Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges reflected the charity had “during its forty-six years helped 10,831 children, and “besides these thousands of temporary cases have been helped [along with] poor delicate children sent to the seaside home, ........ poor boys sent to summer camps for a week’s holiday which have numbered no fewer than 55,891.” *

This was a record set against the desperate degree of poverty and hardship experienced by our homeless children back in the 1870s who were “getting their living by begging, selling papers and matches, or by blacking boots in the streets, and when they could not raise 3d. for a night in a common lodging house slept out.

They were to be found lying under stalls in Shudehill Market, in the various alleys under the railway arches, and among bales of cotton in railway yards.”

Forty-six years on the secretary commented “I could have taken you to half a dozen places where you would have found young lads sleeping out; today I do not know of one.  Indeed I do not think boys and girls are to be found sleeping out, .... thanks to the work of our own agencies and of others in Manchester and Salford.”

At which point I will stop and direct you to that post which contains some interesting documents with its observations on the work of the charity and offers no better start fo anyone wanting to research the issues of child poverty and destitution..**

Pictures; courtesy of the Together Trust

*The Passing of the City Arab Manchester Guardian January 3rd 1916

**Getting down and dusty, http://togethertrustarchive.blogspot.co.uk/


Friday, 27 March 2015

On discovering the service records of a British Home Child

Attestation Papers, James Rogers, James Roger Hall, August 1915
I have no pictures of my great uncle who went over to Canada in 1914 with the Middlemore charity.

Nor has he left much else in the way of personal material and even the official records stretch to just a few census returns, the register of his birth and fragmentary documents from the social services, Middlemore and the Derby Poor Law Guardians.

My great aunt left a few memories of the man and I have two letters and that is about it.

I know he had an unhappy time, was placed on three farms between May 1914 and August 1915 before he ran away from his last placement, changed his name, lied about his age and enlisted in the Canadian Army.

Attestation Papers, August 1915
But that decision has at least offered up a wealth of information and has gone some way to bring him out of the shadows.

I know what he looked like, the colour of his eyes, his hair and his weight and general health and I can follow his experiences from his enlistment through to his basic training, embarkation for Britain and onward journey to the Western Front.

Moreover knowing who he served with it is possible to read the war diaries of his unit and get an understanding of what he went through in France from the daily tedium of training and fatigues to the brutal realities of serving on the front line.

And along with his medical records are a list of his misdemeanours which suggest that the troubled adolescent in Derby who could not settle on farms in NB and NS found the discipline of army life no easier.

Between 1916 and 1918 he faced four military courts from refusing to obey an order to absent without leave while on active service.

George Bradford Simpson, circa 1918
But of all the military documents it is perhaps his Attestation Papers which are the most revealing for this is the moment when he sets his face against everything in his life so far.

It starts with that name change and the falsification of his age and goes on to deny the very existence of his mother, preferring instead to offer his aunt as his next of kin.

Now this is not the place to explore why that might have been and while I can vouchsafe some reasons they will always be speculation.
Suffice to say that his mother who was my great grandmother may have been a difficult woman who in her way was no less troubled than her son.

After his demob he all but vanishes from the record.  I know he was instrumental in helping his sister cross to Canada in 1925 and there is a suggestion from her that he had gone west but there the trail ends.

So those army records offer up a brief glimpse of my great uncle and are all the more important given that we have none of the military records for the others in the family who fought in the Great War.

In all six of my immediate family joined the Colours, and they include my great grandfather, my grandfather, two of his brothers and two of my uncles..

C Company, First City Battalion, 16th Manchester's September 1914
But ironically it is the one family member who left for far away Canada whose military career is intact.

Sadly the records of the other five are part of the 60% of service records which were destroyed in the Blitz.

So today I have one letter from an uncle dated December 1918 as his unit prepared to cross the Rhine into Germany, a few photographs, the demobilisation papers of my grandfather and a few bits from my great grandfather who served in the armies of the old Queen between 1888 and 1892 and briefly served again during the Great War.

Not that this will surprise anyone who has gone looking for their family history but there is perhaps a slight irony in that the man who was sent from these shores, and whose later life would end in a mystery should for a brief few years provided the most detailed records of any of his family.

Pictures;, Attestation Papers of James Rogers [Roger James Hall] August 1915, George Bradford Simpson circa 1918, from the collection of Andrew Simpson and C Company of the First City Battalion of the 16th Manchester’s 1914 courtesy of Bob Potts.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A quiet day along the Rochdale Canal

I first stumbled across that stretch of the Rochdale Canal which runs from the Dale Street Basin to Castlefield through the heart of the city.

It was sometime in the mid 1970s and still find it a fascinating place.

So here over the next few days are some images taken by Andy Robertson on a sunny March day.





Picture; the Rochdale Canal March 2015, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Hough End Hall ............. a time before now courtesy of Julian Beech

I have often wondered just what Hough End Hall would have been like before those tall office blocks were built which now loom large over this 400 year old building.

Of course to remember a time when you could have had an uninterrupted view across open land in all directions from the hall broken only by trees and the odd farm building would be to step back almost a century.

The office blocks may only date from the 1960s and 70s but the houses to the north and south of the hall were pretty much all in place by the late 1930s and the park had been laid almost a decade earlier.

All of which makes this photograph by Julian Beech so interesting.  Having taken the picture he set about with Photoshop to mute the surrounding buildings.

Now there are plenty of images of the hall dating back into the middle of the 19th century but what I like about Julian’s is that instant connection with what is now and what was once.

Picture Hough End Hall, March 2015, courtesy of Julian Beech

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Another view of the Ashton Canal

An occasional series which aims to contrasts some of the oldest bits of the city with the newest.

Here we are out by the Aston Canal with one of the lock gate houses with some of its old contemporary buildings and few which point to the future.

Picture; the Aston Canal, 2015, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Hough End Hall ………….. have your say Saturday March 28 at Chorlton Library


A little mystery down in Heaton Mersey

The Wardle bell, 2015
Now here in lies a mystery.

The bell in the picture was discovered by David Harrop on one of his recent walks exploring the industrial archaeology of Heaton Mersey.

The trip took him  from Didsbury Road down the side of the Crown Hotel along Vale Close to the cottages of Park Row and Park View.

It is a picturesque spot which belies its past, for here just to the north of those cottages was the Upper Bleach Works.

The works were in full swing by 1844 and I guess with a bit of digging I should be able to discover when they were opened and when they finally closed.


Park Row, the Bleach Works in Heaton Mersey, 1844
But for the meantime it’s that bell which according to David sits on its own along the footpath with no explanation for why it is there.

David assumes it may have come from the Bleach Works.

The name on bell is “Wardle Manchester” which is not much to go on but in 1911 there was an “Ernest Wardle & Co, Iron and Church Roof builders" who operated from the Derby Street Works in Cheetham.

It doesn’t appear to be a big concern and of course the date may all be wrong added to which it may have no
Park Row and Park Place, 2015
connection with the bleach works and instead just be one of those random objects that turns up for no apparent reason other than sheer chance.

That said the hunt for the bell led me to a wonderful site on “Walking from Stockport to Sale” along with more of David’s pictures.

And it follows on that trip taken by Andy Robertson** earlier in the month which rather highlights how little I knew about Heaton Moor and how much more there to discover.


Looking across to the site of the Bleach Works, 2015










Pictures; Wardle’s Bell & Park Row, 2015 courtesy of David Harrop, and detail of Heaton Mersey from the OS for Lancashire, 1844, courtesy of Digital Archives Associationhttp://www.digitalarchives.co.uk/

* Walking the Mersey: from Stockport to Sale, August 15, 2012, https://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/walking-the-mersey-from-stockport-to-sale/

** On Didsbury Road .......... walking through Heaton Mersey, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/on-didsbury-road-walking-therough.html

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Eltham Palace ......... the latest book ..... reviewed by Sue Hurley*

Now I like it when people write for the blog and so here is a review of the latest book on Eltham Palace by Sue Hurley

I lived all my young life in Eltham, and had the honour of having a view from my bedroom window of a part of a royal Palace, which I knew very little about.

I found out a bit about the lovely building as I grew up and admired it every day as I walked up King John’s Walk and along Court Road to catch the bus to school.

The stunning Eltham Palace captured my heart and I have always felt a closeness and warmth towards the place and a need to know more.

One of the books I have stumbled across is just simply called ‘Eltham Palace’ by John Priestley.* The author has been fascinated by Eltham Palace and it’s history since he was stationed there while serving in the army nearly 60 years ago.

This comes across in the way the book is laid out and written with a warm affection.

It covers the history of the Palace over three and a half centuries, between the reigns of Edward 1 and James 1.

It is richly illustrated and follows important moments in the building’s history, tracing the Palace from it’s medieval and Tudor beginnings, through the tournaments and festivities, the links with Henry V111 and Wolsey (very prominent of the moment with Wolf Hall just aired on tv) the decline of the Palace and the Civil War and the very sad destruction in the 17th Century.

The Palace was rescued from demolition in 1828, although in a state of much needed repair, as it was damaged even more by the gale of 1827, but major repairs were started by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

More major repairs took place in 1912-1914 and the book takes you through not only all necessary work, but all the costs and some amazing photographs.

When the Courtaulds paid for more restorations in 1935, they employed top craftsmen and after three centuries of decay brought Eltham Palace back to it’s full glory.

The book is a mine of information and you can get lost in the history of the Palace. It can whisk you back to early Lancastrian times where Henry 1V spent ten of his 13 Christmases, Tudor times and a time when Queen Anne Boleyn and Princess Mary quarrelled there, a visit from Mary 1 in 1556 when she stayed there for a month much due to its recent repairs and good condition and the meetings of the Tudor privy council where the topics of France and Spain were discussed.

The book is a vivid and in-depth work of interest to locals and historians, full of Eltham Palace’s rich royal heritage and architectural history.

© Sue Hurley 2015

*Eltham Palace, John Priestley 2008, the History Press

A bit of the past ....... a hunt for some hidden eggs ....... it can only be the History walk and talk on Easter Sunday

Now I make no apologies about mentioning Easter, and an Easter egg hunt in March given that the hunt is linked to those ever popular history walks.

And so returning by popular demand this Easter Sunday I will offering up a bit more of the history of Chorton, with that added attraction that along the way there will be opportunities to take part in the hunt for Easter eggs.

So starting starting at 3 on Easter Sunday from the Post Box Cafe we will be setting off to explore the history of Martledge in the late 19th century.*

Martledge was the area roughly from the Four Banks down to the Library and was so transformed from the 1880s that even its name was forgotten and locals referred to it as “New Chorlton” or the “new village.”

The walk will take us past some farms, the old Royal Oak pub, a very interesting block of houses dating from 1832 and by degree out across the Isles to gaze at the sight of the old Chorlton Ice Rink and finish off with the story of the Great Burial Scandal and the almost forgotten stories of Chorlton and the Blitz.

Along the way there will be tales of dark deeds, quite a bit about the people we might have encountered and more than one silly story.

Like the day the lady from Beech Road lost her skates while visiting our skating ring on Oswald Road and went on to make a fascinating discovery.

The event is being staged by the Post Box Cafe and for the price of £8 for adults, and £5 for children you get all the history you might want and more plus hot drink for the walk and then soup or cake on return for grownups and  juice and an Easter egg for the children.

And if you want more information follow the link.*

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/family-history-walk-with-childrens-easter-egg-hunt-with-chorlton-historian-andrew-simpson-tickets-15965229431

On the Ashton Canal

An occasional series which aims to contrasts some of the oldest bits of the city with the newest.

Here we are out by the Aston Canal with one of the lock gate houses dwarfed by one of its modern neighbours.

Picture; the Aston Canal, 2015, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Monday, 23 March 2015

St Mary's in Hulme

Now I know St Mary’s in Hulme, not that I ever went inside, but passed it countless times on the bus.

That said here is a view of the church I am less familiar with and one that I rather like.
Andy tells me it was taken just before a trip to the local supermarket.

It was opened in 1858 and closed in 1981 and has the tallest spire in Manchester.

Picture; St Mary’s Hulme, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Celebrating our Municipal Town Halls part 6 .......... Stretford Town Hall

Another in the short series celebrating our Municipal Town Halls which focus not only on the grand buildings but also the achievements of local government.

Stretford Town Hall is is that grand building on Chester Road which has for over a century served as a Public Hall, Municipal Library, Civic Theatre and council offices.

It also had a set of swimming baths at the rear all of which made it a focal point for those who lived in the area.

It was built in 1878 by John Rylands who lived just up the road in Longford Hall and on his death his wife gave the building to the local authority for a small annual rent.

On her death the council bought the property.

Over the last century and a bit the place has changed as new civic buildings were built.

So the library moved out when the new one was opened in 1940 and after a period as Stretford Civic Theatre it became council offices reverting to a Public Hall in 1997 while the swimming baths closed when the new Leisure Centre opened.

Painting;  Stretford Public Hall © 2013 Peter Topping
Web: www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk
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Sunday, 22 March 2015

Blancmange ........ with a bit of nostalgia and a history lesson in fast food from the 19th century

I grew up with Blancmange and it is one of those puddings that mark me out as a child of the 1950s.

Historically it goes back to the Middle Ages when it was made with chicken, milk, rice and sugar, and variations can be found across Europe as far as down to Turkey.

But in our house and I guess in most homes it came in sachets and consisted of flavoured cornflour to which you added some sugar and a pint of milk and  given that it was that simple it was something mother trusted me to make for my sisters.

And this week after something like half a century I am about to make it again.

Now I can’t quite make up my mind up as to whether this is just pure nostalgia or something more.

After all there are plenty of retrospective TV programmes featuring the food we ate and the scary thing is that those featuring the 1950s so powerfully take me back that time of dripping, sugar sandwiches, and over cooked cabbage that I spend days afterwards boring the family with the stories of what we ate.

Of course it is remarkable how our eating habits changed dramatically from the end of rationing in 1954 with a whole range of new and convenience foods which were on offer within five years.

All of which takes me back to blancmange which was a product of an earlier revolution in quick and cheap foods which surfaced in the middle of the 19th century and included Mr Bird’s custard powder.

Despite those who can be sniffy about custard powder and I have been one of them in my time it must have offered up a boon to those running a home at a time when there were few labour saving devices.

It avoided the need to buy eggs and just required that pint of milk a bit of heat and some stirring.

And apparently lots of people also reach for a packet of the stuf for according to the Independent,  Pearce Duff which are the only company still making blancmange, sell 700,000 units a year and sales were up by 7%*

So I shall give my blancmange a go later today.

*Old food brands that refuse to die out, The Independent, March 14 2006, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/old-food-brands-that-refuse-to-die-out-469869.html



On Stretford Station with a bit of our railway past

It will soon be nearly a quarter of a century since the last train ran from Stretford station which means that memories of a time before the tram will be fading

Stretford Station, April 1961
I briefly used the station back in the 1970s and had no idea of its history or the railway line.

It had been opened in 1849 by the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway and was in part designed to transport food grown in Altrincham and Stretford into the heart of Manchester and in time would challenge the Duke's Canal as the main means of carrying heavy goods in to Manchester.

I have no doubt it would have created quite a stir.

The men who built the line were viewed at best with suspicion and at worst with fear.  They had a well deserved reputation for hard drinking and rough behaviour which is no surprise given the dangers of the work they undertook.

Central Station, April 1961
And there may well have been a few of  our farm a labourers who were taken on to do some of the least skilled work while some of our farmers and market gardeners would have taken advantage of the line to move their crops to the Manchester markets.

But its impact was also to start a wave of house building along Edge Lane.

The train offered the quickest way into town and allowed those who earned a living in the city to escape to what was still the countryside.

Of course by the time I used the train Edge Lane and the surrounding area had long lost any semblance of countryside, but the station still looked like an old fashioned railway, which is where my fiend Ann comes into the story.

She “found these the other day, tucked away. Stretford station in 1961, and Manchester Central, probably a similar date. I used to travel from Stretford to Oxford Road Station, spending my time on the journey drawing the other passengers.”

And so after fifty-four years a little bit of what an old railway station looked like is here to see again.
Now that is not so daft given that Stretford has become a Metro Stop with shiny yellow trams and Central having long lost its trains is now an Exhibition Centre.

Pictures; Stretford and Central Stations, April 1961 courtesy of Ann Love

Celebrating our Municipal Town Halls part 5 .......... WithingtonTown Hall

Another in the short series celebrating our Municipal Town Halls which focus not only on the grand buildings but also the achievements of local government.

It’s not every day that you get the chance to decide on becoming part of a city.

But that was exactly what happened in the January of 1904, when the ratepayers of Chorlton along with those of Burnage, Didsbury, and Withington were asked to take a leap and join the big city neighbour.

We had been part of the Withington Urban District Council since it was set up in 1876 and bits of its legacy are sill knocking around if you know where to look.

Some of the streets grids still bear the name Withington UDC and out by the meadows are the remains of the sewage works, although I have to confess my favourite bit of this long vanished little local authority is Withington Town Hall.

It was built in 1881 for the Withington Local Board of Heath which in 1894 became Withington Urban District Council.

After our vote for incorporation into the City the building remained in public use and I can remember many evenings spent in the great hall, although the details of why I was there have faded.

I wish back then I knew of its proud history and of the discussions which went on over issues like the sewage works down by the Mersey, the provision of new schools across the district and the attractions of Manchester Corporation all of which I have written about.*

Painting; Withington Town Hall, © 2015 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,
Web: www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk
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* Here’s an offer you can’t refuse, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/heres-offer-you-cant-refuse.html

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Celebrating our Municipal Town Halls part 4 .......... Burnley Town Hall

Another in the short series celebrating our Municipal Town Halls which focus not only on the grand buildings but also the achievements of local government.

It was opened in 1888 a full 27 years after Burnely was granted borough status, and during that period the Council met in various buildings including the fire station on Manchester Road.*





Painting; Burnley Town Hall, © 2014 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,
Web: www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk
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The proud history of Burnley Town Hall, http://www.pendletoday.co.uk/news/columnists/the-proud-history-of-burnley-town-hall-1-6654506 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Down on Hilton Street on the corner of Port Street

This is another one of those magnificent buildings which can still be found across the city.

This is on the corner of Port Street and Hilton Street and is a good reminder that you should always have your camera with you.

Places in the city centre change with a rapidity that can leave you wondering what the building was like the last time you passed.

So in the space of a few months from June of last year to when Andy took this picture last month a new bar has opened in the corner section.

That said the rest of the building has changed little and is all the more impressive for that.

Picture; Hilton Street, 2015, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Tatton Hall and the staircase from Chorlton

Now Tatton Hall is an impressive pile by any estate agents sales pitch.

It was begun in the 1770s was steadily added to by members of the Egerton family, boasts a large Corinthian portico, monolithic columns of varying classical designs and is big.

But I have reservations.

Part of that comes from that prejudice I have carried with me since childhood about big posh places funded by exploiting the labours of those who were doomed never to get closer than the estate gates and maintained by an army of servants and labourers whose contributions to the great house went largely unrecorded.

Added to which it has something of ours.

Tucked away in the great house is that fine staircase from Hough End Hall which the Egertons decided should grace their home in Cheshire.

Of course given the slow decline of Hough End Hall during the middle of the last century followed by the wholesale destruction of almost all the interior during various renovation projects it may have found a safer and better home.

Like many I have at times muttered that “we wos robbed” and that is the prevailing view of many I talk to but I wonder what its fate would have been if left in Chorlton.

One visitor to Hough End Hall in 1862 reported that the “widely and interesting staircase .... [with] boldly carved oaken balustrade, was [now] white as purity itself from a recent infliction of whitewash.”*

I doubt that it would have survived long in the last century a victim of either the random visits of young children who saw the hall as a secret playground or the more sinister opportunist thief out to offer it to the highest bidder.

Instead along with “some of the choicest wainscoting [which was also] removed to adorn a Cheshire house belonging to the Egertons”* it can still be seen and admired.

And that brings me to Peter’s painting of the Hall which he painted recently after a visit to find and record that staircase.

I can report he found the staircase and I am hoping he will offer up a painting as it looks today which in turn may well make its way into our book on Hough End Hall which will soon be out on the book shelves.

Today Tatton Hall is no longer the home of the privileged.

It is part museum, part theme park all set in stunning landscape and is enjoyed by visitors who could never have hoped even to have walked through the lodge gates a century ago.

Painting; Tatton Hall, © 2015 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,
Web: www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk
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*A Visit to Hough End Hall in Withington, Ashton Reporter, December 6 1862, quoted by Cliff Renshaw in Hough End Hall, 400 Years of History, 2001

**Hough End Hall .......... the book.......... coming soon
 http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/hough-end-hall-book-coming-soon.html