Friday, 4 March 2016

Barlow Moor Road, Mrs Helen Burt and the postcard makers of Chorlton


It all began with this picture postcard and ended with a chance discovery.

The picture is remarkable enough but not an uncommon one of Barlow Moor Road some time in the first years of the 20th century or maybe even earlier.

To our right is the church and on the left what were still private residences.

The appearance of a photographer is still a bit of novelty judging by the way the three workmen are staring back at him.

Two have paused from pulling the hand cart while the third stands behind his ladders. In the distance is a policeman and even further away a tradesman’s cart.

Like many of these early pictures it has been taken on a summer’s morning when the light was good and there were fewer people about.

All of which makes it a magic moment captured when Barlow Moor Road was still a quiet and elegant place to live.

And that really might have been all there was to say.

A photograph which captures one of those moments taking us back to 1904 when the card was sent or perhaps even earlier.

But of course that isn’t all there is.  On the reverse is an enigmatic message which leaves the romantic and the detective in me wandering down countless avenues of speculation.  Chris had “arrived here safely.  Mr and Mrs W [were] here [she] was having a good time and Joe was married on Fri to Mrs P.  Don’t say anything.”

Now how could you not ponder on that, and in the fullness of time weave all sorts of stories?  But the historian in me stops short of such unhistorical thinking after all as Mr Gradgrind of Hard Times reflecting on teaching children reminds me “Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service ...... This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children.”

And yes there is one fact and it is that the card was published or perhaps taken by H Burt of Chorlton.  I checked the directories for a photographer by the name of Burt and even pondered on whether he might have been a newsagent or stationer.  After all the Lloyd family who ran the post office on Upper Chorlton Road sold their own postcards. But it led nowhere.

The only Burt was Harry Trevethhan Burt who opened his family business in Chorlton in 1895 and traded from the shop on Wilbraham Road until 2011.  His is fascinating story not least because he was a farmer’s son from Sussex who’s farther farmed 130 acres of land.  Harry trained at Kendal and Milne’s in Manchester before opening his own shop here in Chorlton.  There will be many who have fond memories of that shop.

But it is the fact that the Burt name appears on the postcard which interests me and looking through the collection I discovered a number which variously had “Published by Mrs H. Burt, Chorlton-cum-Hardy” or “H Burt Stationers.”

Helen Burt was the wife of Harry and described herself as a “Stationers shopkeeper” on the 1901 census.

So while Harry was building a family business which would last a century Helen was marketing postcards from just across the road from 1903 and most likely 1901.

All of which makes perfect sense but was something I had never clocked and in turn led me to look more closely at the small print on the back of the cards.

And here alongside the big companies were other names like the Lloyd family and Baylis, photographers of 49 Wilbraham Road and 26 Edge Lane as well as  W. A. Cooper of Chorlton-cum-Hardy and Harold Clarke of 83 Clarence Road.

Now a part from Harold Clarke who was working in the 1920s and 30s all the others come from that early pioneering period of photography. And there is really something exciting in discovering just how many people were engaged capturing the images and selling them on.

All of which leads me to conclude that a whole new avenue of research has opened up all thanks to Helen Burt and her postcard of Barlow Moor Road.  And that is not all because Helen I now discover was another of those traders who offered a private lending library and that opens up even more Chorlton history.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection and St Clements Bazaar Handbook for 1928




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