Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Lunch time on the green by the lych gate in 1910

We are sometime in the summer of 1910 and judging by the collection of young people I think it must be dinner time.

A few are young enough to be at school but four at least of the central group will have been working.

And I think they will have been on their lunch break from the laundry.  This was the Pasley later renamed the Queen and Pasley on Crescent Road.*

It opened in 1893, and at one point employed 50 staff. It was along with the brick works the closest we came to being industrial.

Inside the place which survived into the 1980s, all the washing machines were belt driven by a huge steam engine and the laundry was the first to install the “float-iron system” which consisted of the multiple roller pressing machines. This was 15 feet wide and 15 feet long and “was a mass production ironing machine, with delicately poised rollers. You could put a shirt with pearl buttons on it and it wouldn’t leave a mark.”**

So with the noise, steam, and general hubbub I guess posing for the camera outside the lych gate was a welcome diversion.

Now it is impossible to know who any of them were, but I rather think the young man standing with his arms folded might just be Arthur Higginbotham who would have been 15 and was the son of one of our local farmers.

The Higginbotham’s had been here since the 1840s and lived in the farmhouse almost opposite the church yard.

Someone very similar crops up in other pictures from the time riding a horse and while it is speculation it makes sense that this was Arthur rather than another employee of the Queen and Pasley, for I doubt they would have had a lad with a horse or likewise allowed their own horse to be ridden without a saddle through the village.

So on that hot summer’s day Arthur may have taken time out from the farm and strolled across to join the crowd.   I rather expect he knew all of the others there and like them enjoyed the novelty of having a photograph taken. Just how much of a novelty can be gauged in the mix of poses.

There at the centre are the confident ones staring back at the camera with arms folded and hands on hips.

And then there are those who peer back a little unsure of the pose to strike.  The boy with his hands in his pockets the girls with the basket one of whom is craning her neck to see what is going on.

But for me it is the two on the extreme left. One looks directly into the camera, but the other seems more interested in the work of the men down by the gates to the Bowling Green Hotel.

None of the workman gives the photographer any house room.  Whatever they are doing it is far more absorbing than the effort of posing for the camera.

And I suppose that is the point.  I said having your picture taken was still a novelty but that is a little inaccurate, because there would by 1910 have been regular commercial photographers wandering the township.

In some cases they specialized in taking pictures of the new rows of houses which were going up across Chorlton and would make a living from offering the images to the local householders who more often than not bought the card to send to friends and family.  You come across these with a cross drawn above a house or a comment on the back telling the reader, “This is our house.”

Other commercial photographers were more interested in the iconic scenes like the Horse and Jockey, country lanes or the Lych Gate.

And I suppose this is how our picture came together. On that hot summers day with some good light to play with the photographer had set up on the green, and as happens in minutes he has drawn a crowd. I say he because I am fairly confident that this was still a time when most travelling photographers were men.

And given that it was midday most of his audience were children or young people on their lunch break.

You can get some sense of just how impromptu the whole thing is from what looks like a cricket bat on the ground beside Arthur.

I guess the two boys were in the middle of a game, while the two young girls caught with their basket were either on an errand or carrying their lunch.

It is a wonderful picture and one that is worth far more study.  There are the buildings of the old Bowling Green and the barn of the farm to the left of the church and just poking up over the wall of the graveyard the monument with its apparently broken pillar.  All of which is for another time.

*renamed Crossland Road
**memories from the owner of the laundry March 1985

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

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