Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Another story from Tony Goulding ............the Irish of Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Growing up in Chorlton-cum-Hardy as the "austere" 1950's metamorphosed into the "swinging" 1960's and attending as I did both the school and church of St. John's Roman Catholic parish I could not but be aware of the large number of people with an Irish background who were by then resident in the area. 

The Irish Centre
Further more objective evidence for this observation is provided by the opening of the “Irish (Association Social) Club “on High Lane in 1956.

My recent forays into the field of local history have aroused in me a curiousness concerning the origins and development of this community

Like any enquiry of this kind the initial research is in the 19th century census returns. These reveal that there were very few Irish-born residents of Chorlton-cum-Hardy until after the 1861 census which recorded just 5 individuals, in 1851 the number was 9 whilst in 1841 there were only 4.

The Irish Club
Of the 4 included in the 1841 returns one was the township's first permanently stationed policeman William Gilpin who had recently arrived from Armagh, accompanied by his wife, Jane.   A third was a linen traveller who was visiting the Gilpin’s.

P.C. Gilpin did not remain long in the area as by the time of the following census in 1851 he was stationed in Ongar working for the Essex Constabulary, in which he would later rise to the rank of inspector, at Romford.

Nevertheless, it is perhaps the birth of this couple's first child, Sarah Anne early in 1842 that provides an appropriate starting point for this story.

The first parish church on High Lane
The following two decades witnessed a slow but steady increase in the numbers, by 1871 the Irish born population had grown to 38 and by 1881 it had reached 67. This increase came about due to two factors...

An acute shortage in the agricultural workforce, as the native-born English drifted from the land to take up better paid employment in the mills and factories of the rapidly expanding industries of the neighbouring areas necessitated the recruitment of farm workers in Ireland. (1)

Allied to this the increasing amount of upper middle homes with their concomitant higher demand for low paid domestic servants led to the arrival in Chorlton of a few Irish girls to fill some of these positions.

As the 19th century drew to its close the number of Irish in Chorlton continued to grow both in terms of those recorded as being born in Ireland but more especially of the children having at least one Irish-born parent.

It was common for the single immigrant men and women to marry in England, often to locally born spouses. (2)  In this period to the nature of the Irish population of the area was changing. Some of the newer arrivals were professional men and merchants which allied to the increase in "Irish" families led to the emergence of a settled stable community replacing that of a more transient nature based on casual agricultural labour

The 1927 church
Physical evidence of this change can be seen in the provision a Catholic church and school the congregation and pupils of which would have been predominantly though not exclusively of an Irish heritage.

The initial Roman Catholic presence in the area was at a house on Needham Avenue which, from 1890, served as St. Peter's Priory mission church. The clergy was a group of Benedictines led by Fr.Jerome the brother of Herbert Vaughan the Bishop of Salford and founder of St.Bedes College who was soon to become the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

Before the advent of the new century premises had been acquired on High Lane to be used as a church and presbytery with a school being built adjacent in Church (now Chequers) Road, the foundation stone being laid on 11th June 1898 by Bishop Vaughan's successor the Right Rev. John Bilsborrow

Throughout the first half of the 20th century the Catholic, still largely Irish (3), community continued to grow and to a degree prosper. A fine new church with the priest’s house incorporated was consecrated by Bishop Thomas Henshaw in June 1927.

Parish centres with the alcoves said to have been the confessional boxes of original church
The old parish buildings being utilised as  an expanded primary school until the present purpose built school was opened on Chepstow Road off Longford Road  in 1968 , they are now used as a parish centre and a Boxing Club. For a time in the 1960's overcrowding had necessitated the use of the recently vacated hall of the High Lane , Primitive Methodist Church (now a Buddhist meditation centre ) as an annex to the main school buildings.

To complete the picture mention should be made of the convent on High Lane .This building between Acres Road and Stockton Road and now an Islamic girl’s school functioned as a Convent school for girls started by

The Sisters of the Christian Retreat from before 1911 until it closed on 9th August 1991

© Tony Goulding, 2015

Pictures; from the collection of Tony Goulding

1) Included in this group were the Habron brothers of the P.C, Cock case.
2) An early recorded example of this in Chorlton-cum-Hardy was James Gresty's marriage to Isabella Davison at St.Mary's , Hulme on 12th June g, 1864.
3) The size of the congregation at "St. John's" was also swelled  by a number of conversions from other denominations and by the arrival  of Italians, Poles, and other nationalities as a consequence of the various conflicts in Europe throughout the 20th century.

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