Saturday, 15 October 2016

A story of a night of bombing, and of the casualties and the loss of our post office

On the night of December 24th and into the early morning of December 25th 1940 thirty people died in Chorlton.

They were all victims of the second night of the Manchester Blitz in which an estimated 644 people were killed and another 2,000 injured.

Of the 30 who died here many came from just two roads while the rest were spread out across the township.  Most of the bodies were taken to Withington Hospital, a few to Embden Street mortuary and a few to the Cavendish Road [now Corkland Road] mortuary.

And I suppose it was the fact that the mortuary on Cavendish Road was just round the corner explains why Mr and Mrs Carr were taken there.

They lived at 549a Wilbraham Road* which took a direct hit from a high explosive bomb.  Their home and two others which stood on the site of the modern post office were destroyed.

I would like to write more of Ernest and Gene Carr but so far I have only been able to turn up his death certificate which recorded his death on that December night and that he was just 44 years old.  It isn’t much but it is a start.

So in the meantime I shall concentrate on their home and what happened on the site before and after that night.

Earlier in the century 549a had been one  of three houses which were originally numbered, 3, 5 & 7 Wilbraham Road.

Yesterday I began the story of the three houses which stood on the site. Numbers, 3, 5 and 7 had been built sometime after 1885 and were typical of the new sort of properties that were being built to meet the influx of people to Chorlton.

Many of these were professionals; a few owned their own businesses and a lot more worked in the offices and big shops of Manchester.  They were attracted here by a train service which could whisk them into the heart of the city in under 15 minutes and the fields, farms and open country which for many was even closer.

So along with a surgeon and his family at number 1 the remaining three were the home at various times to a retired cotton merchant, a widow “living on her own means”, Edward Ireland who had  a number of photographic studios in Manchester, and a doctor, dentist and a oil trader.

And the size of the houses reflected the inhabitants.  Number 1 had twelve rooms, 3 and 5 eight rooms and number 7 9 rooms.

Each had cellars, a decent front garden and a longer one at the back stretching down across what is now the sorting office and yard.

But like other stretches of property in this new part of Chorlton they were soon developed with the addition of shop fronts and perhaps with an eye to even greater profits the owners sub divided the shops.

 In 1911 at number 3a there was Harvey Goodwin, confectioner, at number 3 Mrs Ethel May, cycle dealer, while at 5a Stuart Gray ran a tobacconist and in number 5 C. &W. Copping advertised themselves as china merchants.

The last of our three had become the post office in 1901 and remained so until the night of December 24th.

The Chorlton bomb maps show the impact of the high explosive bomb on the three properties and photographs from the late 1950s show the remnant which was the bit that jutted out still in use.

In 1959 it was being used as the Conservative Party Committee rooms.

But the keen eyed will spot that the building which would have been there is missing and eventually even this little left over bit of the old post office was demolished and the site became the forecourt for what has variously been Lipton’s and Ethel Austin.

Now those of you keen on a bit of modern archaeology will be able to see the clue to what had been number 7 and it is the cemented up side of what is now the gable end of the phone shop. Back in the 1950s this was Brighter Homes, the paint and wall paper shop.

Any one growing up in those post war years will remember the gaps in houses and the same raw cement walls where part of the terrace had been demolished.

And looking at the 1959 picture it is just possible to see the space where numbers 3 and 5 had been which in 1961 became our new post office.

It was an obvious place to build it close to the old one and utilising a bombsite.

I did wonder whether there might have been a plaque to record the event of that nights bombing, but then even here in Chorlton there would have been plenty of candidates for such a memorial.

And at the time there would have been plenty who remembered the event and maybe even knew Ernest and Gene Carr.

But what was once a common experience is fast passing out of living memory and soon I doubt that any one will even pass a thought to the odd space that runs from the Gable Nook Nursery to the row of shops by the bus stop.

Pictures; Numbers 1-7 Wilbrahan Road, circa 1891 from the Lloyd Collection, The old Post Office with its front extension circa 1910 from the collection of Philip Lloyd, the remnant of that same post office in 1959, A.E. Landers, m18242, and the modern Post Office and the old, A.E. Landers, 1961, m18511, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

*493a has been number 5 Wilbraham Road in the early early of the last century

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