Friday, 21 October 2016

How we lived and what we did in 1938

I am back with that slim book which celebrated 100 years of civic achievement here in Manchester.

Your City, Manchester 1838-1938 was written by "the Manchester Municipal Officer’s Guild in co-operation with its Group for Research in Administration and Sociology in celebration of the Centenary of the City’s Charter of Incorporation, with special dedication to the Children of Manchester.” 

Of course when it was published it was the story of what the council had achieved in the century we had had locally elected government.

So there were chapters on the improvements in sanitation, public health, education and housing, as well as leisure, and culture, town planning and the government of the city.

And it looked forward to the future, with clean and cheap electricity and gas, heating and lighting the homes across the city as well as fuelling the domestic appliances for cooking and washing.

All of which makes it a remarkable document, because you can read it as people back then did, marvelling at what one hundred years of municipal endeavour had achieved or treat it as a  bit of a historical record.  After all 75 years have passed since its publication and some of what it describes are themselves distant memories.

The uniforms of the police and their role in traffic management have changed, as has the way our household refuse is collected.  You have to be well into the middle years of your life to remember a dust cart like this or that rubbish was deposited in metal dustbins.

My particular favourite is the Sludge Steamship Mancunium which took the treated sewage waste out to sea where it was “emptied into the ocean 22 miles beyond Liverpool or [that] portion broadcast,was broadcast on to the  land and ploughed in helping to make the land good for agricultural purposes.”

Not so different then from the practice of our own farmers who bought night soil from the privies of Manchester to spread across the township fields.

As for household rubbish the book makes much of the slogan on the side of dust carts of the period to “Burn your own rubbish.”

Now given the number of open fire this was a practical solution and by extension the Corporation did much the same in its destructors, which “are really big furnaces ..... where cart loads of rubbish are burned down to clinkers, the useful parts of the rubbish – old tins, bottles, etc- being saved and sold to firms who melt them down and use them for making new tins and new bottles.”

Less attractive today but at the time lauded as the new and scientific way was “'controlled tipping'.  Here the rubbish is dumped on low lying land and is spread carefully out and ‘sealed’ by covering with a thick layer of soil. 

Then another layer of waste in put on top, ‘sealed’ and so the land is built up into what becomes in a year or two solid land.  

Just as the clinker obtained from the incineration method is put to good use in road making, the controlled tipping method is usefully applied to filling up waste land, and as you will find on the Mersey Bank at Wythenshawe that a large area of waste land previously liable to floods has been built up by this method into high solid land, grass-grown and suitable for all sorts of purposes, such as playing fields and parks...”

And that I suppose is where I part company with the civic achievements because that neat new scientific solution ruined the meadows between our village and the Mersey.  What had been an area of carefully cultivated meadow land became a dumping ground which raised the level of the land and destroyed for ever a unique way of farming.

And before anyone claims that this has prevented flooding close to Chorlton I would just remind them that this was our flood plain which generations had quite happily accepted as the price paid for living close to the river.

But that is not quite the end.  That refuse deposited here 70 or so years ago is still there and may not have gone away.  Just a few years ago my old botanist friend came across a newspaper from 1938 in perfect condition out on the Stretford side of the river.  It appears to have been unearthed by people digging for old bottles or some other ancient treasure.

What was remarkable was that it was in perfect condition which begs the question of what else sits below the surface?  A question which the more sober, dispassionate and scientific readers will be able to answer.

Next; Clearing the slums, delivering clean water, and planning for the future.

Pictures; from Your City, Manchester 1838-1938, the Manchester Municipal Officer’s Guild, 1938

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