Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Of bombs, and lost houses and the coming of a new post office

“Tonight I will go to sleep knowing that everyone I love will be safe.”

Even now that one line entry in a diary has a profound effect on me.  It was written in the late evening of May 8th 1945, at the end of the first day of peace in Europe.*

For some it had been a riotous night of fun, dancing and abandonment, for others a time of quiet reflection on the cost of six years of a hard war.

I don’t know what my parents and grandparents did on that night.  Nana I expect spent some of it thinking of her son who was buried in a cemetery in Thailand and must also have wondered what her native Germany would be like.  She had been born in Cologne a city which like so many was now a desert of rubble, wrecked streets and shattered lives.

Granddad no doubt was in a pub while mum and dad would have been celebrating in their different ways.

All of course very different from the winter of 1940 when with the defeat at Dunkirk, and the still real threat of invasion my family went about their lives making do with growing the tightness of rationing and the almost nightly bombing raids.

In Manchester the attacks began in June building up to the horrendous two nights of bombing just before Christmas when late on December the 22nd through to the 23rd and again the following night the raids killed an estimated 644 people and injured over 2,000.

Here in Chorlton 30 people died in the second night of bombing, with 53% of the casualties concentrated on just two roads.

Mrs Reilly living on Oswald Road remembers that
“All the windows at the front of the house were broken and the front door blown open by the blast from a land mine that landed on the allotments at the top of Scott Avenue.  Father reckoned they were aiming for the huge water pipe that crossed Manchester Road.

Houses came down at the top of Scott Avenue and Cheltenham Road, two people were killed and a girl I knew had her face badly scarred by shrapnel as she was standing outside the air raid shelter in her back garden.”

And Geoff Williams recently revisited the spot of St Werburghs where the night before a bomb destroyed three houses and killed an air raid warden.

Now I had not been prepared for the extent of the bombing here in Chorlton, but the bomb maps which were compiled by the Corporation showing the extent of the fires started by incendiary devices and properties destroyed by high explosive bombs.

Today if you look carefully you can match that bomb damage across Chorlton.  In some streets the natural line of late Victorian and Edwardian houses is broken by newer properties some of which only went up in the 1960s.

In other cases they were never replaced.

So it was with numbers 3, 5 and 7 Wilbraham Road.  You won’t find them today.

They went on the night and early morning of December 24th and 25th and in the process eliminated our post office.

It was a direct hit from a high explosive bomb, and the site was left empty till the present post office was opened on the site in 1961.

They look to have been fine houses set back from the road with long gardens stretching down over what is now the sorting office.  Numbers 3 and 5 had eight room and number 7 nine, which made them  attractive family homes.

But sometime not so long after they had been built they were redesigned to include shop fronts leaving only number 1 on the corner of Cavendish Road [now Corkland] as a family home.  

But even here the business potential was not lost on Mr Alfred Mumford M.D., M.R.C.S.A., L.S.A, Surgeon, who in time turned part of his 12 roomed property of Gablenook  in to  a doctor’s surgery.  After all the house which was known as Gable nook, commanded a prominent position on the corner of what was a busy road, facing as did the railway station.

These were developments mirrored opposite where an equally fine row of late Victorian houses running from Albany down to Keppel Road lost their elegant front gardens and became shops. 

And round about the time that Mr Mumford was converting Gable nook into a surgery, Dovedale or number 5 had become a hosiery shop and number 7 the post office, leaving only number 3 with its equally fine name of Mayfield as a private residence.  But not even Mayfield could buck the trend, and a year later two shops had been added to its front which in turn was replicated at number 5.

All of which was fine until the night of December 24th 1940, but that along with a bit of a detective story is for tomorrow.

*Of course it would be another four months before Japan surrendered and the fighting was truly over.

Pictures; Victory street party, Halstead Avenue, courtesy of Tom Turner from the Lloyd collection, Blitz bomb damage, 1941,  courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, m8608,8609, extract from the 1911 directory for numbers 1-5 Wilbraham Road, corner of Cavendish and Wilbraham Roads circa 1890 from the Lloyd collection

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