Thursday, 31 March 2016

Goodbye to Daniel Sharpe’s house on Beech Road after a 183 years

Well after 183 years that sad looking house on Beech Road has gone.

Half gone, 2016
It was the home of Mr Daniel Sharpe who lived there from certainly 1841 and maybe earlier and now leaves only one example of the sort of house built for the people of plenty here in Chorlton in the early 19th century.*

We do have a few farmhouses which will be mid to late 18th century but that is it.

The very big houses one of which stood on the corner of Beech Road and the other between Barlow Moor Road and Corkland Road went at the beginning of the 20th century and that other fine middling property by Acres Road went one night a decade or so ago.

Still a home with historic promise, circa 1980
Of course Mr Sharpes‘s house had as one commentator put it become an eyesore, having suffered two fires and decades of neglect.

But it was once a fine house and deserved better.

I don’t know when Mr Sharpe moved in but it will have been around the time of his marriage in 1833.

He was a wine merchant and appears in the property on the 1841 census.

Sadly his wife died in 1846 leaving him a widow until his own death in 1861.

Although that is not the full picture because in 1852 he married his servant Ann Bailey who was much younger than him.

Not a lot left, 2016
The marriage seemed not to be successful for nine years later she is no longer with him and in his will made shortly before he died having left her nothing he adds a codicil and awards her a small sum of money.

It is a story I will return to.

The house has had a varied set of occupants since then, gaining the jutty out bit at the end of the 19th century and even featured in a television series.

There was one planning application in to convert it into a mix of residential and retail but nothing seems to have happened to the plan.

And now it has gone.  There will be those who shrug and say with some justification that the community showed no interest in its preservation and given its years of neglect demolition was the kindest solution.

But that ignores the fact that for years it was difficult to ascertain who owned it, and even given what might have been structural issues, some nearby properties have been renovated and so saved.

And that is all I am going to say.  I shall await the verdict of the people of Chorlton and just thank Alexx for being in the right place to record the demise of Mr Sharpe's fine country house on what was Chorlton Row.

Location, Beech Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Pictures; a demolition in progress, 2016, courtesy of Alexx O’Shea, in 1980 from the collection of Tony Walker

*Daniel Sharpe and 131 Beech Road,

One hundred years of one house in Well Hall part 10........... from bread and dripping to Museli

This is the continuing story  of one house in Well Hall Road and of the people who lived there including our family.*

Now I suspect pretty much every generation thinks that there’s was the one which has seen the most profound change and I am the first to accept that mine has no monopoly on the new inventions, mould breaking fashions and seminal music.

But there is no doubt that those of us born just after the last war, who started school in the early 1950s and are just beginning to enter retirement have experienced a bewildering revolution in what we eat and how we prepare that food.

I will have been four when rationing was finally abandoned, and in the succeeding decades came to take for granted a huge range of new foods sourced from all over the world and delivered within hours of being harvested.

And of course with all that came a deluge of specialist utensils, ever larger cookers and the microwave.

All of which makes me think back to our tiny kitchen at 294, which was just large enough to take an old battered Cannon gas cooker, and small fridge which nestled either side of the sink.

In their wisdom the architects had provided a largish store cupboard under the stairs and here went the bulk of our dried and tinned food.

And what couldn’t be found the cupboard or the fridge was still bought fresh and eaten on the same day.

But the fridge is the key to the change.

In the 1950s the growing reliance on frozen food would lift some of the drudgery out of preparing food.

Now I still like washing carrots, peeling potatoes and shelling peas but for sheer speed nothing beats opening the packet of frozen peas.

And sixty years ago the adverts for frozen foods focused on that simple message that they were quick to use and because of the way they had been frozen on the day they were harvested were bound to be fresher than the peas and carrots which had made their way from the field via the market to the small greengrocer, whose turn over dictated that the produce might sit for days before it was bought.

Of course few people in 1956 had a fridge let along a freezer which was why the bags of frozen vegetables came in small sizes which were bought and used on the same day.

And in much the same way out went the old fashioned breakfast of porridge, eggs, bacon and toast in favour of the breakfast cereal.

Now these had been around since the 1930s, and there are ads in the collection for Corn Flakes and Rice Crispies, but the 50s offered up a new and exciting range, often marketed with a toy or other novelty and clearly aimed at the young.

Mother was quick off the mark to try the "new TV dinners  for one" which came out in the late 50s but equally died a death in our house as too expensive and not that nice.

Instead we reverted to simpler home cooked food but there was no going back on the changes that had happened.

As each of us left to set up our own homes the variety and the quantity of what we bought and ate just kept on growing.

But Dad preferred his tins, and on one memorable evening after I had cooked a pasta dish he smiled and said quietly that "it was good but  didn't really like  food messed about."

Location;Well Hall, Eltham, London

Pictures;  adverts for Birds Eye Foods and Sugar Puffs, from Woman’s Own, January 12 1956

*One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road,

From Cape Town to Detroit the search for Sixto Diaz Rrodriguez.

.Searching for Sugarman was the DVD I had been meaning to watch for ages.

Our Joshua brought it home at Christmas from Leicester and it was a present from Polly’s mum.

And today with Saul back from Poland for the week it seemed a perfectly good moment to run the film.

It is about the search for Sixto Diaz Rodriguez an American singer and song writer who was born in Detroit in 1942.

Saul likes his music and given that during the week we had set aside a shedful of movies to watch together this one seemed a good one to start with.

I have to say I had never heard of him or his music but right away I was hooked on the songs.

During the early 70s Mr Rodriguez released three albums which while they did not sell well in the States were very popular in South Africa, and it was there that the film begins, charting the search for the musician who many believed was dead, and some thought had committed suicide.

Now there is no way I am going to reveal the plot, suffice to say it amounts to a very good detective story with a happy ending.

Much of his music was anti establishment and appealed to an audience of white South Africans opposed to apartheid and uncomfortable with the deeply conservative and authoritarian regime in South Africa.

And so there was something of a history story as well as detective tale, made all the better for sitting there with our Saul.

Location, South Africa, USA

Picture; Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, signing autographs, April 8 2007, Luke Winterton,  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

One hundred years of one house in Well Hall part 9........... bold new designs and a bit of Formica

This is the continuing story of one house in Well Hall Road and of the people who lived there including our family.*

I have yet to know who was living in our house in the 1950s, but I often wonder what they would have made of the new household designs which were featured in Woman’s Own for January 12 1956.

Of course they may never have taken the magazine but they would not have escaped the exciting new ideas for transforming their early 20th century house into one which fitted with the 1950s.

Looking at them today they seem quite ordinary and just a little old fashioned but back then they were at the cutting edge of all that was new and innovative.

The basic designs were all there two decades earlier but were way out of reach of most working people.

But by the mid 50s that was changing.

It was partly as a result of the growing prosperity, along with new mass produced materials like plastic and Formica and the ever present offer of hire purchase, which meant for a “few pounds down and the rest over easy instalments” bits of the new life could be pretty much within the reach of every one.

All of which marks the 1950s off as more of a mould breaker than perhaps “the swinging 60s.”

Here were bold new colours, exciting fabrics and designs which relegated the old heavy furniture many peoples’ dreams to a place in a museum along with the odd dinosaur and other ancient relics.

And along with all these were those sheets of hardboard, which were cheap and could be applied to everything from period doors to the space in front of ripped out fireplaces.

For a few bob you could obliterate the beautiful features around doors create flat level spaces and add wonders to the fitted kitchens.

In 294 the master bedroom had lost its fire place and in its place a gigantic headboard with drop down drawers and a reddish swirly affect which I thought was the pinnacle of modern design.

But then I was only 14.

Sadly the DIYers responsible had also managed to take out the other upstairs fire places leaving just one small fine cast iron one downstairs.

Now it is pointless to rail against this vandalism.

At the time it seemed new and different and after six years of a bitter and hard war along with the preceding period of grim austerity all this was what we deserved.

And I have to admit I mounted similar attacks in the 1970s on good taste pulling out old features which gave the house its authentic feel and covering the walls with wood chip.

All of which means that I would have been no better in 1956, but just maybe now I might have cherished what was already there and just added the odd new idea.

Location;Well Hall, Eltham, London

Pictures; from Woman's Own, January 12 1956

*One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road,

Hidden and forgotten .......... bits of our not so distant past ............. road signs I like nu 2

It is early days but after yesterday’s story on that road sign high up a neighbour’s wall I am pleased that other people have come up with their favourites.*

"See better days ......"
They are the old fashioned ones which Neil tells me “would have been sandcast in iron, with the sand moulds made from standard letter patterns.” 

Not only that but he came up with a link to just how they were made,** and offered up  his own picture which he spotted on the side of the control building of the Ship Canal Road Swing Bridge in Warrington.

Warrington, 2016
What I particularly like is that in its neglected state it gives an explanation to how they were made it’s just what my old Maths teacher used to say about “showing the working out” on the way to an answer.

Not that my working was ever that good because back then sums were a mystery and my working out was more guess work.

But no one wants to know about that so instead I shall reflect that these old signs are becoming attractive additions to the home, and if you can’t track down an original there are always replicas made in wood which will do the trick.

Bill Sumner saw these “wooden copies for sale at the Macclesfield Treacle Market.”

So there you have it, in the space of a day I have written about an old road sign in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, discovered how they were made, found another in Warrington along with some brand new ones in Macclesfield, not bad for the start of a series.

Macclesfield, 2016
Added to which John offered one up in Urmston which with his permission I which feature later.

Location, Warrington & Macclesfield,

Pictures, roads signs,, Warrington, 2016 courtesy of Neil Simpson and replicas from the collection of Bill Sumner, 2016, Macclesfield

*Road Signs,

**How Our Signs Are Made - The Traditional Casting Method, SIGN CAST,

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

One hundred years of one house in Well Hall part 8 ........... shared anniversaries

294 in 2014
This is the continuing story  of one house in Well Hall Road and of the people who lived there including our family.*

Now had we still lived at 294 I am sure we would have enjoyed  the centenary celebrations.

After all it isn’t every year that you get to mark the anniversary of one of the most loved estates in Eltham.

But what makes it a tad more significant is that last year will also mark the centenary of the house I have lived in for 39 years.

It too was built in 1915 and was home to Joe and Mary Ann Scott who occupied it for over half a century.

The two properties could not be more different.

Joe and Mary Ann's home in 1975
Joe and Mary Ann’s house was a solid end terrace, fitted out with electricity and was one of a series of building projects which the family undertook from the opening decades of the 20th century well into the 1940s.

By contrast 294 Well Hall Road was a smaller more modest property which still retained some of the original fittings including the bracket for gas lights and a communal path in the back garden which linked all four houses.

Moreover 294 Well Hall was a part of grand plan by the Government to build in less than a year an estate for the families of men and women who were employed at Woolwich Arsenal that great factory for the manufacture of weapons and shells.

And of course it being 1915 the demand for more labour at the Arsenal was paramount.

Even so the creation of what is still regarded as a fine example of a garden suburb in less than a year was remarkable.

Well Hall Road, 1950
But despite the differences theses two houses have much in common.  Not only were they built during a period when were at war but they were both built at a time when the surrounding area was still pretty much open farmland.

From their back window Joe and Mary Ann had views across fields out past the Brook while on either side of the terrace there were farmhouses which dated back into the 18th century.

Likewise the first residents of 294 could look up at the woods on Shooters Hill and wander off towards the farm land which now makes up the Kdbrook estate.

All of which brings me back to that anniversary.

Now the preparations to mark the centenary of the Well Hall estate have been laid for a long time and there will be many different activities during the course of the year.

But I am not sure about Joe and Mary Ann’s house.  By all accounts they were a quiet couple liked by many who lived a modest life, and as they were here for nearly 60 years I rather think we will respect that fact and let the event pass with little fuss.

After all I have only clocked up 39 years here.

Location;Well Hall, Eltham, London

Picture;  294 Well Hall Road, 2014 courtesy of Chrissie Rose and Joe and Mary Ann’s house, 1975, from the collection of Lois Sparshot and Well Hall Road in 1950, from Well Hall Estate, Eltham:  An Example of Good Housing Built in 1915, S.L.G. Beaufoy** 

*One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road, 

**Well Hall Estate, Eltham:  An Example of Good Housing Built in 1915, S.L.G. Beaufoy, The Town Plan

Monday, 28 March 2016

One hundred years of one house in Well Hall part 7 ........... celebrating New Year

294 Well Hall Road, 2014
This is the continuing story  of one house in Well Hall Road and of the people who lived there including our family.*

Now I have to say that I didn’t celebrate that many New Years at 294.

The first would have been in 1964 and a decade later I had left for Manchester but dad and was there for thirty years.

For most of the 60s we saw it in with my uncle George although as all of us grew up the attractions of the various pubs in the High Street and parties took us away from home.

But you always knew that dad would be there with a mix of food a few drinks and memories of how it was done in the 1920s and 30s.

A Happy New Year, 1921
All of which made me wonder about some of the people who lived there before us and how they saw in the New Year.

The first of those residents was Basil Nunn who had moved in during the Great War and I guess New Years Eve would have been a quiet affair tinged with the hope that the war could not last much longer.

Much the same must have been the experience of those that were there in the Second World War which may have been even quieter given the shortages and the threat of air raids.

These may have lessened as the war drew to a close but never entirely went away.

Nor I suspect were the celebrations in the years directly following the end of the war any more elaborate.

Well Hall in 1950
There was still rationing which lingered on in to the 1950s compounded by fuel shortages and the scars left by the bombing.

So anything resembling the familiar events of today with a rich variety of food, drink and of course the  special television programmes would have to wait until the late 1950s, when the country began to enjoy that post war prosperity.

In our case it would begin with an early evening meal followed by the big family game of Monoply before the table was cleared away and we sat down to watch the telly.

I can’t say I remember with fondness either Andy Stewart or the White Heather Club which gently carried us towards midnight with a mix of Highland dancing, music and comedy.

But perhaps that is me, because a full half century later I am no less engrossed by Jooles Holland and the many ways his guests tell me about their future hopes for the year ahead.

Opposite our house, Well Hall Road, 1950
And I suppose that makes me reflect on whther you are a Christmas person or a New Year person.

I have always been a Christmas person.  I love the tree the cards, and all the build up, while New Year just leaves me cold.

In fact with the passing of the years I have become my father.  The food is there with the drink but as the children are all out celebrating I slide gently and with little effort towards bouts of sleep woken briefly by the sound of premature fireworks.

In time I will go looking for the other occupants of 294 and try and see if I can reconstruct how they celebrated the night.

Pictures; 294 Well Hall, 2014, from the collection of Chrissie Rose, A Happy New Yeat, 1921, Tuck & Sons, courtesy of Tuck DB Well Hall Road in 1950, from Well Hall Estate, Eltham:  An Example of Good Housing Built in 1915, S.L.G. Beaufoy** 

Location;Well Hall, Eltham, London

*One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road, 

**Well Hall Estate, Eltham:  An Example of Good Housing Built in 1915, S.L.G. Beaufoy, The Town Plan

The singer, some ballroom dancers and that song .......... Sunday afternoon Italian TV

Now I don't as a rule pass judgement on the telly in the country we are staying.

After all if you don't live there all the year around then there is a lot you miss and drawing conclusions on a few hours television is a bit unfair.

But on the other hand we spend a fair bit of time with the family in Italy and in turn watch a fair bit of the programmes and so feel at home to comment.

And of all that we watch it has to be the wall to wall variety shows you get on a Sunday which go on all day into the evenings often seem to share the same presenters.

And my favourite to date has to the one mixing amateur singers a bunch of ballroom dancers and a collection of old, contemporary and popular Italian singers.

The host also sings and is accompanied by a group of musicians and singers who could be her children.

So yesterday amongst the raw talent and host belted out one song about her husband who was no longer interested in her, and it made no matter if she walked naked into the room or offered up his favourite food he steadfastly no longer seemed to want to know her.

Meanwhile a group of dances glided across the floor.

All very Sunday in Italy.

Location; Varese, Italy

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson 2016

Sunday, 27 March 2016

One hundred years of one house in Well Hall part 6 ........... winter in 294

This is the continuing story  of one house in Well Hall Road and of the people who lived there including our family.*

Now I can’t remember which wintry scene this will have been but I am guessing it will be in the 1970s and because I don’t remember it being taken it might be after 1973.

I did  trawl through the “Monthly Weather Report of the Meteorological Office”** for evidence of snow in London which offered up the news that it had snowed on Christmas day 1970.

But there are a lot of years on either side of 1970 so I shall just leave it.

Instead the picture took me back to living in the house before dad put in central heating.

It was a cold house, that is to say while the gas fire in the back room and the oil stove in the front kept the downstairs warm there was no heating upstairs.

Not that I guess that was any different from many homes at the time and like countless generations before me, going to bed was a quick affair of stripping off and jumping under the covers followed by that frantic effort to heat the bed up by  thrashing around.

Now Dad did go round with hot water bottles but sometimes I missed out and was doomed to the fate of cold bedclothes.

And all the hot water bottles would not prevent the slow but inevitable spread of ice on the inside of the windows which in the really cold winters rarely seemed to budge during the day.

Of course back then that was what you came to expect and pretty much took it for granted.

A few decades earlier and the occupants of our house might just have lit coal fires in the upstairs rooms in the most severe of winters but by the time we moved in the hapless DIYers had taken them out or blocked them up a move which today seems the height of vandalism but back in the 1950s and 60s was the “cool thing” to do.

I doubt that dad would have had truck with the ideas that bedroom fires should only be lit when someone was ill, keeping warm was for him always very important.

So in the fullness of time we got central heating by which time I had gone, moving from one very cold student bed sit to another in the more shabby parts of Manchester where icy windows were but one of the problems.

Of course back then it was all an adventure and which pushed 294 well into the background and it has taken this picture to bring it all back.

It was taken from the small back bedroom which was where dad decided to locate the boiler and which gave a magnificent view of the woods.

But that is for another time.

Pictures; looking out to the woods, circa 1970, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Location;Well Hall, Eltham, London

*One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road,   

**“Monthly Weather Report of the Metrological Office”

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Working together to reveal the stories behind our British Home Children

I wonder what my great uncle Roger would make of the search to find him.

William Henry Hall, circa 1930, grandad
He was born in Birmingham in 1898 arrived in Canada as a British Home Child in 1914 and ran away to join the army a year later, and along the way changed his name, lied about his age and falsified his next of kin.

And not content with that when he was demobbed he seems to have vanished.

My cousins and I have had various attempts at finding him and every time we get a bit closer he always continues to be one jump ahead.

Now I know he was not deliberately avoiding his family but the lack of hard evidence and the multiple trails almost suggest he was playing with us.

The family stories have him going out west sometime after he left the army and there is a reference to him on a ranch in Alberta but there is also a tantalizing record of a man with his name crossing into the United States in 1922 and of another on an electoral roll thirteen years later in Silver Creek British Columbia.

The difficulty is that his assumed name was James Rogers which I always thought was just a simple process of rearranging part of his name, but it may be that he had already stumbled across the fact that there were a lot of Rogers in Canada and moreover plenty of them had James as a first name.

Laura Isadore Pember, nee Hall, 1968
All of which would make it very difficult for the Middlemore Homes to track their runway, and when he did write back to Fairview Station he was safely enlisted in the C.E.F and in Britain on route for the Western Front.

He was never one to accept authority and in 1913 aged 15 he had almost been sent to a Training Ship designed to “sort out” wayward lads.

It was where his younger brother who was my grandfather ended up, but for reasons we don’t know great uncle Roger was offered the alternative of migration to Canada.

All of which makes him a British Home Child and it was that discovery that led me to BHC sites and fellow family historians, some of whom are now my friends.

What we have in common is that search for information about our relative and a real desire to make sense of why children as young as four were migrated from Britain to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries.

Like all family historians there is a keen willingness to help each other out which is made all that more important because the stories behind many of those young people migrated across the Atlantic are very fragmentary.

And so in the last few days we have had magnificent help from Susan,Sher, Dona and Lori who have dug deep into the records on the Canadian side and sent me and my cousins Marisa and Chris off on new avenues of research.

John Nelson, Montague, Hall, date unknown
In the fullness of time I hope I can help those in Canada make their way round the British records, because although the online revolution has made it easier for all of us, there remain obstacles.

That said I remain excited that what began for most of us as a search for a missing or unknown relative has turned into a major area of study and one that has come of age.

The official apologies by the British and Australian Prime Ministers have set the bar, while the growing research into the policy of migration reveals a complicated and contradictory set of motives which fits with that simple idea that history is messy and doesn’t just offer up one neat interpretation.

All of which brings me back to great uncle Roger and the search I started with another of my cousins Jac almost a decade ago.

I have to say we are still no nearer finding out what finally happened to him, but along the way I have become fascinated by BHC studies, discovered more cousins I didn’t know I had and made lots of new friends.

Now that is pretty good, and leaves me to wonder if great uncle Roger looked like his siblings.

I don’t know yet but I am hoping one day I will, and that in turn makes me wonder what he would have made of that quest his descendants have been on.

Location; Canada

Pictures; William Henry Hall, born 1899,  Laura Isadora Pember nee Hall born 1902, and John Nelson, Montague Hall, born 1896,  from the Pember and Simpson collections.

One hundred years of one house in Well Hall part 5 living through the Great War

Our house in 2014
The centenary of the Progress Estate has passed.

Now we can lay claim to about thirty of those 100 years having moved in to 294 Well Hall Road in the middle of 1964 but I gave seldom thought to the history of the house or to the people who occupied it before us.

But now I am drawn to that past and have begun to explore something of what our home would have been like a century ago.*

And because I am deep into researching for a new book on the Great War the events of that year when the Arsenal workers and their families began new lives in Well Hall has special signifigance.

The popular story of how we coped during the four years tends to fasten on the participation of women on the shop floor and in the fields; the impact of Zeppelin raids and the blackout but all too often skips over the huge hike in the cost of living.

As Henry Hyndman the leading socialist pointed out “since the war had begun prices had gone up 22%, so that now the purchasing power of a sovereign was from 13s. 6d to 13s.9d.”**

And this was the context behind the industrial conflicts which rumbled on and which some at the time and since have sought to characterise as greedy workers exploiting a country at war.

The reality was very different as Sam Hague who spoke at a meeting in Manchester was quick to point out, “there never had been a time in the nation’s history when the working classes had so solidly backed the Government.”***

The aims of the committee, 1915
Working hours increased, and under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 and The Munitions War Act 1915 workers were being prosecuted for absenteeism and striking over wages and conditions.

In Manchester the first prosecutions under the Munitions War Act were held at the Town Hall on Friday July 30 when thirty-two men employed at Craven Bros Ltd Reddish were brought before the Recorder charged with going on strike over wages and working conditions without first submitting the matter to the Board of Trade.

And in response to the rising cost of living the Labour movement set up local emergency war committees and food vigilance committees, which reported to the War Emergency Workers National Committee in London which had come into being on the day war broke out.

The idea of a food vigilance committee seems oddly old fashioned but back in 1915 it was seen by many as an essential way of preventing the  growing practice of adulterating food and the rise in the cost of living.

The London Food Vigilance Committee was a joint body made of the London Joint Committee of Co-operative Societies, the London Trades Council and the London Labour Party.

And cooperating with the Royal Arsenal Co-op in our part of London was Councillor William Barefoot of the Woolwich Labour Party.

These committees set out clear policies on how to manage shortages by insisting that “the Government purchase all essential imported food stuffs, commandeer or control all home grown food products and make effective use of ships and the control of transport facilities” thereby securing both a fair share of what was available and at a controlled price.”****

And a key part of this would be local authorities who should be “power to deal with the distribution of food stuffs and coal, and to establish Municipal Kitchens.”

There will be some who see in this a creeping form of state control but the reality was that war time legislation had already given the authorities sweeping powers but there was a woeful lack of action over the rise in rents, coal and food prices and the lowering of the quality of what was on offer to eat.

The Committees were fully aware that at some point rationing would have to be introduced and it followed therefore that the Co-op and Labour movements should be represented on official committees given that they "had an understanding of the food requirements of the workers.”

All of which brings me back to the Arsenal workers who were beginning to take up residence in their new homes and some of whom will have been actively involved in that committee.

Pictures; our house on Well Hall Road, 2014, courtesy of Chrissie Rose, extracts from documents from The London Food Vigilance Committee, 1915, courtesy of the Labour History Archives & Study Centre,  at the People’s History Museum, Manchester,

*One hundred years of one house in Well Hall,   

**Manchester Guardian February 19 1915

*** Free Trade Hall, Manchester February 14, 1915

**** The London Food Vigilance Committee, 1915

When we had our aerodrome

There are always more stories to tell, and I think it’s time for one on our own aerodrome.

I first came across Hough End Aerodrome while reading articles by Nora Templar* who lived at Dog House Farm for 47 years.

She remembered “the landing of the first small aeroplane in the fields, the forerunner of many between 1916 and 1918. Manchester’s first aerodrome was built by the Government at Hough End.  

The first planes were delivered by train.  Pilots came in low over the Dog House chimneys and waved from their Avro’s and Handley Pages.” **

It may well be that the plane that took our first picture of the aerodrome had already flown over Nora's home.  It is a wonderful picture showing not only the hangers and admin buildings but a military aircraft on the ground.

The aerodrome was on what is now Hough End Playing Fields and was opened in May 1918 by the War Department for the assembly and delivery of aircraft to the RAF.

The planes were built by A.V. Roe & Company at Newton Heath and the National Aircraft Factory No 2 at Heaton Chapel and were brought in sections by railway to the Alexander Park station which was just 300 yards away.

After the war it became a civilian airfield and from 1922 flew a service down to Croydon Airport near London, and as Nora remembered was used by aircraft competing in the King's Cup Race air races in 1922 and 1923. “There were also a number of flying displays at the aerodrome and the Lancashire Aero Club, the oldest flying club in Britain, was formed at and operated from Alexandra Park until 1924, when it moved to Woodford Aerodrome.”***

But the aerodrome closed in 1924.  Like our brick works it had been given a set life by the Egerton estate who leased the land on condition that it ceased being used five years after the end of the war. So on August 24th 1924 the place closed and the hangers and workshops were demolished.

Today nothing remains save two plaques recording the presence of the aerodrome.  One in the sports pavilion at Hough End Playing Fields and the other in the grounds of No. 184 (South Manchester) Squadron, Air Cadets in Hough End Crescent.

There are of course a few photographs and there is also one special picture.  It is a pencil sketch of the aerodrome as it was being demolished and what makes it special and I think unique is that it was drawn by Nora Templar’s father which I suppose takes us full circle.

Pictures; courtesy of Nora Templar and now in the Lloyd collection

**Chorlton Journal 1977

Friday, 25 March 2016

On almost discovering another chapter in the story of a British Home Children .........

I had forgotten the frustrations that come with searching for a relative, especially when that relative was in Canada and quite clearly did not want to be found.

Places I know he was ......... Nova Scotia
It has been a long time since I went looking for my great uncle who was migrated in the care of Middlemore acting for the Derby Poor Law Guardians in 1914.

His like many was not a happy first year in Canada.  The reports coming back from the farms he went to describe a troubled young man who was lazy but “was even tempered, good with the children, kind to the animals, - a great reader, does not run around and is quiet.”*

All of which I suspect is consistent with a lad who had been in institutions since he was four and was running pretty wild when he was taken back into care at the age of 15.

The search for him in Canada has had its ups and downs and after a great start the trail went cold.  I have his army records, a few scraps from Middlemore and the memories of his sister who also went to Canada.

It is a pattern of research which will be all too familiar to any family historian and especially to those of us looking for a British Home Child.

The army records are complete and ironically are the only such records for any of the rest of my family who served in the Great War.

Places I know he was ......... New Brunswick 
Their papers were lost when over 60% of the service records of British soldiers were lost in the Blitz.

Great uncle Roger’s service records show that he continued to resent authority and got himself into some quite serious scraps.

But with his demobilzation in 1918 I lose him.

There are a few vague references of what happened to him from his sister who went out to Canada on an assisted scheme in 1925.

Chief of these is that he went west and that is it.

But today I started again fully aware that he will now be dead and that the trail will always be made more difficult by his apparent unwillingness to be found.

Back in 1915 when he ran away from his last placement and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he changed his name, lied about his age and falsified his next of kin back in England.

And that rather suggests that he might well have been prepared to create fresh identities.

After all this was the pre-digital age when a name and date of birth delivered with a “clear voice and a straight eye” would pretty much be believed.

Places I know he was ......... New Brunswick
That said I found a James Rogers on the 1921 census in District 27, Vanocouver, BC.

The age is about right, the place of birth while vague is also correct and it is the best of a list of James Roger’s.

But it’s not him or at least I don’t think so.  The census return shows that he was married with three children living with his 18 year old sister in law who was clearly not my great aunt, added to which he had arrived in Canada in 1905.

So the search goes on but it has revealed how different the Canadian census return was to the ones I am familiar with.

It maybe that I become more familiar with the census record, although I suspect the search will continue to be side tracked by great uncle Roger’s wish to fall through the cracks.

We shall see.

Location; Canada

Pictures; places I know my great uncle lived in NB & NS,  from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Mrs Lottie Moffatt, June, 1915, North Sydney, Cape Breton, NS, report of the Fairview Station, Middlemore Homes

One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road, part 4, a bit of idle speculation on what might have been

Gas fitting 1911
This is the continuing story of one house in Well Hall Road and of the people who lived there including our family.*

Last year was the birthday of the house which we lived in for thirty years.

We moved into 294 Well Hall Road in March 1964 and while us kids slowly moved out over the years it remained my dad’s home till 1994.

Now I pretty much took the place for granted and only recently began to wonder on what t would have been like when it was brand new back in 1915.

Sadly none of the original features had survived by the time we arrived in the house most of the records of the Estate were destroyed in the last war.

All of which led me recently to ponder on what might have been and also to make an appeal for anyone who could supply me with pictures of fireplaces, light fittings and anything else that might still be in their house on the Estate.

And Chrissie has been the first to come forward with a picture of a fireplace similar to one she remembered in her house.

It is not unlike the bedroom fireplaces in our house which date to just five years after the Progress was built and I guess were pretty standard.

According to one history “all the timber and supplied Baths, fireplaces and many other fittings were kept in a large store on the site.”**

Bedroom fireplace, 1915
And this would have included the light fittings which I thought may have been gas.

Ours had long ago disappeared but upstairs there were still the circular wooden blocks in one of the bedroom.

I suspect they were not unlike the one above which was fitted in a house built just four years before 294.

That said I know already I will have fallen into a trap and featured a type of gas fitting which was not used in the south east.  It will be one of those errors that someone will pick up on and quote the exact specification and date.

To which all I can do is invite both the correction and ask for a picture.

But they did have gas lighting which has been confirmed by Chrissie who told me, “we even still have the old gas light pipe up stairs in the bedrooms, where it had been cut off which made a good hook.”

Now in the great sweep of history this is very small beer, but it helps recreate something of that lost house and takes me closer to what it would have been like when the key was handed over to its first resident, just 49 years before we crossed the doorstep.

Picture; of the gas fitting courtesy of Lawrence Beedle and the fire place from Chrissie Rose

*One 100 years of one house in Well Hall,

** Well Hall Estate, Eltham, S.L.G. Beaufoy, The Town Planning Review Vol. 23, No , July 1952, Liverpool University Press

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Wilbraham Road just 27 years ago

Now just occasionally I like to revisit an old photograph I have used before.

This one comes courtesy of Tom McGrath and is from a series he took in the mid 1980s.

27 years later he went back and repeated the shot.

Location; Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Pictures; by kind permission of Tom McGrath

One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road, part 3, going back to 1915

Opposite our house on Well Hall Road, 1950
Last year was the birthday of the house we lived in for thirty years.

We moved into 294 Well Hall Road in March 1964 and while us kids slowly moved out over the years it remained my dad’s home till 1994.

And so I have decided to explore its history.

Now I have to admit I never gave much thought to what the house would have been like back in 1915.

As you entered the front door the central staircase was directly in front of you with the two living rooms off to the right and left.

A plan of a Parlour house similar to ours
Of these the left room extended the length of the ground floor and gave access to the kitchen while to the right was a smaller room which backed on to the kitchen.

So essentially the ground floor consisted of three rooms with that central staircase.

Upstairs and the model merely replicated itself with three bedrooms and a bathroom.

The plan opposite is very similar to ours but the layout at 294 Well Hall was reversed and access to the smaller front room was at the front with no passage along the side of the stairs.

And I am also a tad puzzled about the bathroom.

One resident I spoke to recently maintained that bathrooms were offered as an addition later by the Progress Estate.

Tenants had the option of having a down stairs extension or converting one of the three bedrooms for a slight increase in rent which was all too much for one old chap who choose to have neither and retained  his tin bath.

That said the original plans** would suggest that bathrooms and inside lavatories were fitted at the time of construction and there is a reference to The Office of Works odering “all the timber and supplied Baths, fireplaces and many other fittings which were kept in a large store on the site.”***

Sadly the majority of the records dealing the Estate were destroyed during the last war and with the passage of time much else about the early decades its history will also have been lost.

So I have no way of knowing whether the original properties had a kitchen range, the extent to which  gas was used instead of electricty for lighting or just how domestic water was heated up.

All no doubt will be revealed.

Nor can I remember the fire places.  Most had been taken out and the spaces bordered up before we arrived.  If anyone still has theirs I would like to see them.

Only the main one was still there and this we took out for a mock Tudor surround and gas fire around 1965.

This I suspect was only partly to do with taste and more to do with the simple fact that “this house is likely to be included in a Smokless Zone under the Clean Air Act of 1956 and approved fireplaces must be fitted in to the open fireplaces in the lower rooms by October next.”****

Looking back there is little that I can remember dated before the 1960s.  The previous occupants may or may not have done much to the place but I suspect not.

Just up from our house in 1950
That same surveyor’s report commented that “the house is not in good decorative order and that the whole of the inside will require immediate decoration.”

That said the large master bedroom had been modified with the addition of a gigantic head board which I now realise had been constructed in front of what would have been the fireplace.

Such are the awful acts of the amateur DIY enthusiast and I wonder to this day what awful secrets or more likely what hidden treasures lay behind the laminated mix of timber and hardboard.

Alas I will never know, like so much of that house in Well Hall Road its history has still to be revealed.

Location; Well Hall, Eltham, London

Pictures; from Well Hall Estate, Eltham:  An Example of Good Housing Built in 1915, S.L.G. Beaufoy

*One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road,

**Well Hall Estate, Eltham:  An Example of Good Housing Built in 1915, S.L.G. Beaufoy, The Town Planning Review Vol. 21, No 3, October 1950, Liverpool University Press

*** Well Hall Estate, Eltham, S.L.G. Beaufoy, The Town Planning Review Vol. 23, No , July 1952, Liverpool University Press

****Surveyors Report, February 1964.

Discovering a little of our common past from the 1950s

Now there are plenty of ways of exploring the history of the 1950s and I do spend a fair amount of time looking back at that decade.

After all I was coming up to my tenth birthday as the decade closed.

All of which makes me one of those “baby boomers” who in the words of Polly Toynbee are a “favoured generation.”

We grew up in a period of mounting prosperity, confident that we would be looked after from “cradle to grave” and were free from the world wars and economic depression which had been the experience of our parents and grandparents who in turn were determined to make our lives safer than theirs had been.

And so years of that decade was on balance an optimistic time laying down much of the consumerism, and cultural excitement we attribute to the “swinging 60s.”

Of course as a child much of that passed me by but I had the Eagle Comic which its companions, Girl, Swift and Robin offered up both entertainment and a lot of information from cut out drawings of steam locomotives and aeroplanes to careers with the Coal Board and Covent Garden.

All of which leaves me nicely to Eagle Times which is a celebration of that comic and of the 1950s.*

It is a journal I keep coming back to because it contains articles pictures and references about what we kids read, did and bought and for that it’s a pretty neat bit of history.

The latest edition is out now and as they say is packed full of stuff and reminds me that

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!”**

Of course the downside is that I creak a lot and there are fewer years ahead than behind but like that optimistic decade I shall look forward and wait for the summer edition.***

Location; the 1950s

Pictures; cover of Eagle Times, Vol 29 nu 1, Spring 2016

*Eagle Times,

**French Revolution As it Appeared to Enthusiast at its Commencement, William Wordsworth, composed 1805, published 1809

***Eagle Times

A busy Saturday on Market Street

It was sometime in 2014 and as ever I was waiting while the family explored one more shoe shop on Market Street.

Location; Manchester

Picture; Market Street, 2014, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Watching people watching trams, on a Saturday in October

It was one of those less than promising days in town when the sun managed to come out for a few hours but you were never quite sure how long the rain would stay off or when the clouds would put a grey blanket across the sky.

Still Manchester was buzzing with the usual Saturday crowds added to by the visitors passing through to Old Trafford for the rugby.

And as you do I had ended up in St Peter’s Square with the intention of recording the traffic at the metro stop and with almost all the work having been completed on the area in front of the Ref there was plenty to see.

Now it won’t be that long before the metro stop is moved and enlarged so with that in mind I decided to record the scene.

I don’t pretend they are great pictures but are part of a bigger project to record the changes to the square from the moment the Ref closed till all the construction is finished

Location; Manchester.

Pictures; St Peter’s Square, October 2014

One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road, part 2, looking for the first residents

Our house today
Last year was the birthday of the house we lived in for thirty years.

We moved into 294 Well Hall Road in March 1964 and while us kids slowly moved out over the years it remained my dad’s home till 1994.

And so I have decided to explore its history.

I can’t say I have ever thought of the people who lived their lives in our house but now I think it is time to start.

After all we accounted for just under a third of its existence and so I have begun to look for the people who were there before us.

Now  most of the spade work is being done by my friend Jean who has already been down to the Heritage Centre at Greenwich and trawled the street directories from when the estate was built.

And Jean will be back there looking for connections between the first occupants and the personnel records of the Royal Arsenal during the Great War.

The first of those residents was Basil Nunn who lived in our house until 1919 and was followed by Alfred W Rendle who stayed there until 1928.

I have great hopes that much more will be revealed for of course once you have a name then lots follow.  I have already started looking at the electoral registers for the period, and in time there may be the odd newspaper story, baptismal and marriage record and perhaps even someone who remembers them.

Added to this I will be able to conjure up the family who occupied our house and give a different context to the rooms we took for granted including how those rooms looked originally and how they might have been used.

The Bullet Factory, the Arsenal, circa 1916
And not for the first time during the search I have lapsed into a bit of idle speculation, pondering on which part of the Royal Arsenal Mr Nunn and perhaps Mr Randel worked in and whether they took the tram or cycled to Woolwich.

In turn I have thought about what they did to the garden and whether Mrs Nunn or Mrs Randel complained about the steep staircase which runs up the centre of the house, and how many times in a day they had to use them.

But all of that is a flight of fancy and rather stops me from the serious business of finding out more about the house and the first families who lived there.

So while Jean beavers away I shall go digging for any evidence of what the house might have been like when brand new and Mr Nunn moved in.

Research by Jean Gammons

Location; Well Hall, Eltham, London

Pictures; 294 Well Hall Road in 2014 courtesy of Chrissie Rose and inside the Royal Arsenal from the collection of Mark Flynn, The Bullet Factory, W H Kingsway,

*One hundred years of one house in Well Hall,

Summer in Varese

Location Varese, Italy

Picture; Il Broletto from the collection of Andrew Simpson