Monday, 31 October 2016

A day out in Deansgate ......... nu 1 stepping out of the railway station

Now I am always pleased when Andy Robertson goes out on an adventure.

And this is the start of a new series which looks at how bits at the bottom of Deansgate are fast changing.

I have to say that this one was still in Andy’s camera an hour ago as he travelled home, sadly not on the tram but on the bus, there having been problems at Trafford Bar.

Location; Deansgate

Picture; Knott Mill Station from the collection of Andy Robertson

"Affectionately yours" .............. messages from the Western Front January 1916

Now I wonder if either of these two men is "Botty."

In January 1916 he sent the picture postcard back to Dibdale Road in Dudley with the message, “Hello Mabs Laugh and the world laughs with you Snore! And you sleep alone.  Love to all at home.”

I went looking for the house but Dibdale Road is a long one and even though I know that the house was Dibdale Villas I doubt that I will find it.

But I might strike lucky by using the street directories and the census returns but even then there is no guarantee that either of the two men is “Botty."

So for now it is that ambulance and the casual smiles of the two soldiers which drew me in.

There will be those who can tell me much more about the type of ambulance, when it came into service and its general specifications.

For now I note that it could hold eight patients along with the driver and one attendant.

We will probably never know much more and as such it is just one of those many pictures from the Great War with images of young men who are now lost in time.

But it does allow me to mention David Harrop who lent me the picture postcard and may well be exhibiting it in his collection of memorabilia which tells the story of the Great War and are on permanent display in the Remembrance
Lodge at Southern Cemetery.

Location; the Western Front circa 1916

Picture; ambulance and two soldiers, circa 1916 courtesy of David Harrop

Looking at Eltham in 1930 with the drawings of Llwyd Roberts

Way to the Palace
Today I received a wonderful collection of drawings from my friend Margaret whose husband like me grew up in Eltham.

There are 27 of them in all and they were drawn by Mr Llwyd Roberts and published in the Kentish Times in 1930 and then republished in a slim book in 1966.

And as you do I went looking for copyright permission but given that the Kentish Times has now ceased to publish and the pictures are over 85 years old I think I should be OK.

Mr Roberts was born in Borth in Cardiganshire in 1875 and was articled to a Derby architect later spending  seven years as a draughtsman in Burton Upon Trent before working for a series of Welsh newspapers.

After war service and a period in the British army of occupation he settled in Eltham at Bloxham-gardens working as a topographical artist and concentrating on drawings of the ancient buildings of Kent.

And it will be during this time that he produced the drawings in the book.

Now I have to say that they fascinate me.  Some are quite clearly drawn from his direct observation of the buildings while others may be from earlier pictures and a few are a careful attempt to reconstruct a scene from an earlier period.

All of which may mean that some at least may not be an entirely accurate depiction of the past, but that said I suspect they are as close as we going to get.

And they can be judged against surviving photographs as well as maps and other documents.

At the crossroads, as it might have looked in 1870
So I am for once not going to get too hung up about historical accuracy, after all Mr Roberts was a professional draughtsman engaged in serious representation of  buildings and I doubt that he would have invented much more than the figures who inhabit the pictures.

Added to which there is that simple observation that he was there in Eltham in 1929 and 1930 when the pictures were made and would have known the buildings well.

That should be it but history is an odd and messy subject and does throw up all sorts of coincidences.
So many of us will have stood exactly where he stood and indeed I bet some of his drawings will have graced the walls of our homes.

And it doesn’t end there, Margaret’s husband and I both grew up in Eltham. Margaret was born in Ashton-Under-Lyne where I began my married life, and they were married in the Methodist Church in Waterloo in Ashton having met in Borth while studying.

Added to which when Mr Roberts began his career in Derby my great grandparents were also living in the town.

But that I think is the point to stop and instead promise more of his work over the next few days with a bit more explanation of each drawing.


Locarion; Eltham, London

Picture; the old bridge over the moat of Eltham Palace, and At the crossroads, Llwyd Roberts, circa 1929-30, from Old Eltham, 1966, courtesy of Margaret Copeland Gain

The Rochdale Canal 1974


I have always been drawn to canals and also to railways, but canals have that added attraction of water which most of us fine compelling.

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But what really attracts me are not  the water way holidays with those old converted narrow boats or the modern zippy but ugly little cabin cruisers, it is the way a canal takes you right back to that working industrial Britain of the late 18th and 19th century Britain.

Back then they were not genteel extensions of the rolling countryside but busy places where hard people competed, working long hours in all sorts of weathers carrying everything from coal to fine bone china.

Now I not against the modern transformation of our waterways for without the holiday and pleasure cruises I doubt that the canals would still be with us.  All that hard work, dedication and financial sacrifice by the canal enthusiasts who dug out the mud, restored the lock gates and reopened these lost waterways is balanced now by the tourist and boat owner.

So I was so pleased to receive a set of photographs of the Rochdale Canal in 1974 from Eileen Blake. She used them for an A level course and they are the very stuff of what makes a canal fascinating to me.

They are of that section which connects the Duke’s Canal at Castlefield with the Dale Street Basin.

This was the Manchester terminus for the Rochdale and from there it is possible to head out east of the city on the Ashton Canal.

Here then are a selection of Eileen’s pictures with more to follow and later something of my stories of walking this part of the canal.

Pictures; from the collection of Eileen Blake ©

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Relics of a former glory ..............

There was very little left of the building when took this image back in 2014.

And I have a vague memory of someone telling even thishas gone.

Which will prompt me to go and look

Location; Salford





Picture; a Salford building 2014, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Passing the Peace Garden .............

The Peace Garden had a short life.

It was created in 1985 and closed just 28 years later.

I have to say it was somewhere I usually just passed through, but on a warm summer’s afternoon as the trees matured it was a pleasant place to sit and watch the city pass by.

Some will point to the noise from the traffic and the litter which was deposited  by passers by but it was just coming into its own as the plans were formulated to bring the Second City Crossing through the garden and re-site the Cenotaph in front of the Town Hall.

And now it has gone.


Location; Peace Garden, Mosley Street, Princess Street, Manchester

Picture; looking at the Peace Gardens from a passing bus, 2009, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Manchester of 1894


I have spent part of the afternoon looking through a wonderful collection of pictures of Manchester from the late 19th century.

They come from a three volume collection published in 1894 under the title Manchester Old and New.  It was written by William Arthur Shaw and the 300 illustrations ranging from small pictures set into the text to full page paintings were by Henry Tidmarsh.

These for me are the real attraction of the books.  True, some might be dismissed as chocolate box illustrations with a romantic hue, but many were of the less prestigious streets and highways while others like the Rochdale coke and gas works vividly bring to life an industrial scene long gone.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; from Manchester Old and New published in three volumes in 1894 by Cassell, text by William Arthur Shaw, illustrations by Henry Tidmarsh

78 Manchester Pubs to see Christmas in

It is day five of that outrageous bout of self promotion for Christmas and what better stocking filler than the book that tells the stories of our most iconic Manchester Pubs.

Less a guide and more a detailed set of tales featuring the people who lived, worked and drank in those 78 historic boozers from the Northern Quarter down to the Universities.

They are grouped together in easy to do walks and so along with those stories there are descriptions of the areas where the pubs are situated, allowing the causal tourist to put the pubs into a context and making it easier to understand why one was named after a potato and another was renamed.

Added to all this there are the paintings by Peter with each pub getting its own painting.

And so with a planned publication date of just before Christmas at least one present will have been sorted.

We are just waiting for the book to be delivered from the printers and are taking pre-orders now at www.pubbooks.co.uk 

Manchester Pubs The Stories behind the doors, Peter Topping and Andrew Simpson

Friday, 28 October 2016

Antonio Peduzzi making what we wanted at 33 Piccadilly in 1824


Antonio Peduzzi was from Lombardy and settled in Manchester around 1810, ran a series of successful businesses, was married twice and ended his days in the Chorlton Workhouse on Stretford New Road where he died in 1846.

It is not much of an obituary for a man who had the courage to leave his native Italy, settle here in Manchester mixing his skill as a craftsman with more than a bit of entrepreneurial verve, loved two women and died insane in the workhouse.

But it is the starting point for a fascinating story which was first revealed by Alex Roe who works in Milan, has a wonderful site offering up all sorts of news about Italy http://italychronicles.com/ and is related to Antonio Peduzzi.

I began thinking about the Italian contribution to the city a few days ago in the story Of Naples in 1961 and Little Italy in Ancoats in 1901 and as you do I was drawn in to the history of those Italians who came over at the beginning of the 19th century, which is the cue for Alex who wrote that

“my very distant relative Antonio Peduzzi died in 1846 after having been certified insane. Antonio’s madness may have been caused in part by the loss of both of his wives. He did not have any children either, poor man.

Prior to his insanity and death, Antonio Peduzzi ran what was by all accounts a successful business which framed and glazed needlework, drawings and pictures; re-gilded and silvered old frames and mirror plates; and made and repaired barometers, thermometers and hydrometers. He had premises in Oldham Street and in Deansgate in the early part of the 19th century.

Antonio Peduzzi’s brother, and my more direct ancestor, was called James. Not a very Italian name, I know. I don’t know whether it was his real name, or one he had chosen to make his life in England a little easier.
James Peduzzi married Elizabeth Ward. The couple had three children, one of whom was Francis who would have been my great, great, great, great, great grandfather. I may have got the number of ‘greats’ wrong! Sorry, but it’s greatly confusing.

James Peduzzi set up in business as a picture frame maker in Spear Street in Manchester and later expanded into the making of thermometers and barometers. After applying for British citizenship, James was able to buy property, which he duly did.

In 1848, James bought a workshop and engine in Foundry Street, off Oldham Road. The property included other small workshops, houses and some shops. James’ business, it seems, flourished which fits in with the family rumour that the Peduzzi’s were quite well-off.

One of James’ sons, born in 1815 was Francis, who along with his younger brother – another James, joined his father in the Foundry Street premises.

Francis left this world in 1866 and his wife took over the business, but, and for reasons unknown, the Peduzzi business ceased trading after Elizabeth’s death in 1870."

33 Piccadilly marked in yellow in 1842
So with Alex’s permission and the help of the Museum of Science & Industry whose collection includes a barometer made by the Peduzzi company I plan to explore more of the life of Antonio and something of the Manchester he knew.

Location; Manchester












Pictures; the buildings opposite the infirmary including the premise of Peduzzi & Co, 1824, m5291, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass  33 Piccadilly and the Infirmary from the 1844 OS of Manchester & Salford, by permission of Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.co.uk/   and detail of Carvers, Gilders, &c. From Pigot & Dean’s New Directory of Manchester & Salford 1821-22

Four hundred years down at Hough End Hall .............the stories in the book for Christmas

It is day four of that outrageous bout of self promotion for Christmas and again it is time to include Peter Topping.

This time it is our joint venture to tell the story of Hough End Hall.

The book was produced to raise money and awareness for the campaign to save the hall which back in 2015 had an uncertain future.

In its time it had been the home of a wealthy Elizabethan family, was a farm house for 250 years and more recently was a restaurant.

And as a restaurant it will be remembered by a plenty of Chorlton and Withington residents who sat under its oak beams to celebrate birthdays, special events and even funerals.

But of course for many it will be the “works do” and particularly Christmas parties that the Hall did best.

Sadly those oak beams were false and the original were hidden behind a mix of wooden two by on and painted canvas.

That said there are plenty of real stories which roll through the book along with plenty of period photographs and original paintings by Peter.

The Story of Hough End Hall, 2015, Andrew Simpson, Peter Topping

Thursday, 27 October 2016

A garden in Martledge on an August day in 1882


It looks like a fairly ordinary Chorlton garden and if pushed you might suggest a location bordering the meadows which pretty much means Meadow Bank or Ivygreen Road.  

But the title is the giveaway for we are in the garden of Sedge Lynn* and the open land beyond is not the meadows.  We are facing Oswald Road, and the long roads of Newport, Nicholas and Longford and the year is 1882.

In fact to be exact it is August 11th 1882 which was a Tuesday and judging by the light sometime around midday, but I could be wrong about the time.

It is the third of my pictures by Aaron Booth of Martledge where he with his family lived during the last two decades of the 19th century.

I would like to think we are looking at a garden in transition and given that they may only have been in the house for a few months that seems plausible.  So here is a Victorian garden in the making with its Victorian wooden wheelbarrow, spade and packing case and perhaps at a moment when the labourers had gone off for lunch.  Of the three in the collection this casual and untidy scene for me is the most endearing and sets you down on an ordinary day when ordinary things are being done 130 years ago.

And then there is the view.  Back then it was open land popularly called the Isles because of the large number of ponds and small streams that crisscrossed the area.  The land here is clay and for centuries it had been dug up to make bricks or as marl to spread on the fields.  The pits then filled with water and gave the place its distinctive feature.  I counted 17 such ponds around Oswald Field in 1841, and they were a mix of the small and very large.

The Booth family would have had an interrupted view across the Isles towards Longford Hall only obscured by a row of trees.  It was a view which would have lasted into the late 1890s, but within another decade it would have been lost as the first rows of houses went up on the newly cut roads of Nicholas, Newport and Longford and behind them the sprawling brickworks.

All of which makes our picture a poignant image and one made a little more special because the photograph was donated to the collection by one of five daughters.

* Sedge Lynn stood on Manchester Road on the site of the old cinema which is now the Funeral Directors

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

In Firswood with the Cookson family at Firs Farm in the June of 1841

Firswood Metro stop, July 2013
Firswood metro stop is one of the new ones on the old railway line that ran out from Central Station south through Chorlton, Didsbury and on into Derbyshire.

And a little to the west of the stop was Firs Farm.

Now I can’t be exactly sure when the farm house was built but it was there by 1830 and four decades later John Cookson was farming 225 acres and employing 12 labourers.

This was something of a success story because ten years earlier his father had farmed just 137 acres earlier still had described himself as a potato dealer rather than a farmer, and from 1830-36  as a labourer*

By 1841 he was at Firs Farm so the transition from labourer to tenant farmer will have occurred sometime during the previous five years.

And pretty much straight away the family begin to grow the farm, so that during that June of 1841 they already had eight farm servants living with them ranging from the eldest at 20 down to George Baker aged just ten.

The practice of employing farm servants is an interesting one, and had benefits for both farmer and employee.  The contract was for a year, often made at a hiring fair and in return for a slightly reduced wage the farm servant lived in with the family or in accommodation nearby.

Firs Farm and east to West Point, 1893
This suited younger farm workers who had left home and offered a degree of job security.  In some cases the contract was struck between the farmer and the parents of the labourer.

Like so much of the area Firswood remained farm land until quite recently, so while to the east at West Point the first fine houses were being built in the 1860s the area around the Quadrant came much later with the social housing arriving only with the end of the farm in 1930.

Pictures; the Metro stop at Firswood from the collection of Andrew Simpson and detail of the area surrounding the farm east to West Point from the OS map of South Lancashire, 1888-93, courtesy of Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.co.uk/

*1841-71 census for Stretford and parish records of St Mathews Stretford 1834

Stories from behind Didsbury doors ...... this Christmas

It is day three of that outrageous bout of self promotion for Christmas and it is time to include Peter Topping.

Peter and I produced Didsbury Through Time two years ago and unlike other books of the same style we decided to concentrate on telling the stories of the people who lived behind the doors of the houses in Didsbury, added to which Peter painted many of the street scenes which made the book quite unique.

My favourite is the story of young Bertha Geary who in 1911 wrote to afriend that she "had heard the Flying Man" and if you want to know more you will have to buy the book.






Didsbury Through Time, 2014, Peter Topping and Andrew Simpson

“The Moat, Well Hall”.......... sometime around 1903

The caption just says the “The Moat, Well Hall” and I just love this picture.

It comes from Some Records of Eltham which was published in 1903 and written by Rev. Elphinstone Rivers who was vicar of the parish church from 1895.*

In time I will go digging for more on the author but at present I am marvelling in this old book which my sister Jill found.

The chapters cover the early history of Eltham, include a heap of old documents and some fine pictures which brings me back to this one of Well Hall.

I guess it will have been taken when Edith Nesbit was in the big house which fronted the main road.

This had been built in 1733 and survived until 1930.

I like what the Rev. Elphinstone Rivers wrote about the spot, "seen from the roadway, the present comparatively modern farm house does not strike the beholder as being of great interest.

The old fashioned cottages a little to the north are of a
much more picturesque character.

If one takes the trouble to enter the farmhouse-yard, however, and walk around the back of the stables, he will encounter a fragment of an antique moat and just beyond he will see a picturesque gable end and chimney stack of ancient brickwork which formed a portion of the venerable mansion of the Ropers.

The spot is beautifully quiet one, and should be visited if one wants to see it at its best, when the setting sun is dipping behind the western horizon lighting up the quant old brickwork with a ruddy glow and filling the glass panes with a golden blaze of brilliance.”

Now for that alone I am pretty pleased our Jill found the book, and I rather think there will be more from Rev. Elphinstone Rivers.

Alas the identity of the man sitting by the moat will I fear never be discovered, but then I haven't read through the book so we shall see.

Picture; of the Moat at Well circ 1903, from Some Records of Eltham


*Some Records of Eltham 1060-1903, Rev. Elphinstone Rivers, 1903


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Christmas in Chorlton in the 1850s ............ day two of that bout of self promotion

Now yesterday I kicked off with the first of a new series Andrew Simpson for Christmas 2016 promoting the book Manchester and the Great War due out in February of next year, and today it’s the first one I wrote.

This was The Story of Chorlton-cum-Hardy published in 2012

“Here for the first time is a detailed account of an agricultural community that was just 4 miles from Manchester. 

Much of the narrative is rooted in the people who lived here, using their words and records. 

It tells of daily lives, setting them in a national context, and balances the routine with the sensational - including murder, infanticide and a rebellion.

Partly a narrative of rural life, and a description of a community's relationship with a city, the book also includes guided walks around Chorlton to bring this history to life. A database of references and sources is also provided.

This is the story of a group of people that history has forgotten and scholarship has ignored.”

The Story of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, 2012, £18.99, available from Chorlton Book shop and from the History Press, http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/search-here/?s=Andrew+Simpson&p=1&ps=9

Life beyond the front door ........Hyde Street Hulme in 1913

It is not often you get to see into the home of someone from Hulme at the beginning of the 20th century.

And I rather doubt that in the normal course of things the people behind the door of this house on Hyde Street would have agreed to a picture being taken.

But then I bet they were not even aware it had been taken.  Looking through the collection there are no more interior photographs so I guess this was just one of those opportunistic moments when travelling photographer encounters an open door.

What I like is that it takes me back to my own grandparent’s two up two down in Hope Street and for that matter our own house in Lausanne Road.

The lower part of the wall is covered in that thick embossed paper painted brown and varnished, and above it a slightly lighter pattered design off set by pictures of long dead cherished relatives which stare out at you and almost seem to act as door guardians.

And if this were like Hope Street and Lausanne Road then there would be thick lino on the floor, which was cheap to buy, easy to wash and from memory pretty durable.

All of which just leaves the coal hole and the cellar which mark it out as superior to either Hope Street or my own first house in Ashton-Under-Lyne which had no cellars and in the case of my grandparents home lacked any foundations.

So if you lifted the stones in the kitchen there was just bare earth.

But Hyde Street was a cut above that, witnessed by its residents who could count a postman, a coal dealer, baker and undertaker amongst those who lived there.

And if there were some who might describe themselves as unskilled there were plenty of others who had a trade including a safe maker painter and a printer.

So in time I shall return to Hyde Street having done some research from the census returns.  In the meantime I shall thank Sally who showed me the picture in the course of her own family research.

Picture; Hyde Street,1913, m26173, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass






Just 38 years ago in the village churchyard


Our parish churchyard in the april of 1978
It is just 37 years since this picture of our old parish church yard was taken.

And yet it is so far from the knowledge or experience of many in Chorlton that it might as well have been taken in 1878 rather than 1978.

And it is one of those odd things that despite having frequently walked past the crowded jumble of grave stones I have no recollection of the place looking like this.

Nor of the attack on the gravestone of Police Constable Cock who was murdered on August 1st 1876.  According to the local newspaper* “ the small headstone on the already battered, iron-railed grave in the old St Clements’s churchyard near Chorlton village green has been torn from its retaining screws by vandals or thieves attracted by the historic tablet.”

P.C.Cock's headstone, Preston, 1980
The original six foot high headstone which included the old Lancashire Constabulary crest was moved to Preston in 1956.

Now the murder is fairly well known and still crops up from time to time in stories of Chorlton.

At the time the understandable wish to get a quick conviction led to the arrest of William Hebron who was found guilty in the December but the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Which was all to the good given that just over two years later Charles Pearce who had a history of petty theft confessed to the murder of the policeman.

Looking back at the picture I continue to be surprised at the state of the place.  Leaving aside the vandalised graves you have to admit that it’s more than a little neglected.

Some of the headstones have been lift to tilt and those on the ground are uneven.

This is all the more shocking when back in 1847 an official inspection reported that the church and the graveyard along with the headstones were well kept and the grass mown regularly.

But this had been when there was still a church here and when people made their way down from the north entrance to worship in a church which dated back 149 years.

It had been built in 1800 on the site of an earlier chapel, survived the opening of a rival church on the corner of St Clements and Edge Lane and only closed in 1941 when frost damage made it almost impossible to hold services there.

Overturned headstone, April 1978
After that it lasted just another eight years succumbing to persistent attacks by vandals and was eventually demolished.

Not long after our picture was taken Angus Bateman and a team of people undertook two archaeological digs of the site and a little later the area was landscaped.

Now I remain ambivalent about that.  Certainly something needed to be done, and it is now a nice place to sit, but many of the gravestones were taken away and lost and the few that remain were not all returned to their original resting place.

And so the memorial stone to P.C.Cock is now situated close to the lytch gate which is some distance from where he was buried.

Does it matter?  Well yes I think it does.  Not only are the surviving headstones in the wrong places but the actual records of so many of the people who were born worked and died in the township are lost forever.

Their names and the often poignant inscriptions are no longer there to read and so it is almost as if they never were.

Looking north in 1978
Now I am not religious but I do think such memorials are important.  As historian I know they are, as indeed they are for anyone who has links with Chorlton.

And to underline that thought recently I met a descendant of the Reverend Booth who presided over services in the parish church for thirty-three years.  She was thrilled that his headstone had survived and paid for its restoration.  To her it was a very tangible link to her past family.

Nor is that quite the end.  For the gentleman in the picture is Mr Fred Casson who was verger of the church from 1930 till it closed in 1941.

He knew the church when it was still a lively and important part of the community and reflected on the struggle to maintain graveyard.  “Manchester City Council now look after the graveyard. They do a lot of repair work but every time workmen finish one job vandals smash something else.  It’s a losing battle.”

Looking north in 2009
Today by and large the place is vandal free and it is pleasant place but I rather think I would like it as it was, even if it meant coming down and helping make good from time to time.

And there I shall leave it.

Picture; from The Journal Thursday April 13, 1978, the Loyd collection and the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Vandals wreck memorial to famous murder, The Journal Thursday April 13, 1978

Walking along Shooters Hill in the 1840s with the help of Darrell Spurgeon

Severndroog Castle, 1784
It’s another story from Shooters Hill.

Over the last few days I have been wandering over the tiny community that lived on this northern edge of Eltham.

And today it’s the landmarks courtesy of Darrell Spurgeon and his Discover Eltham which was published in 1992 and issued as a revised edition in 2000.

The walk along Shooters Hill contains much about the place including Christ Church, the Ypres milestone, the Memorial Hospital, and Castle House Lodge along with Eltham Common the various woods and Holbrook House.

And for those who want to drop down beyond the summit there is even more.

But today I rather fancy staying the land marks which would have been familiar to the people who lived here in the 1840s, and of these I have chosen Castle House Lodge, Severndroog Castle, Holbrook House, and the Bull Inn.

Castle House Lodge, 5. An early 19th century house, originally the lodge for Castle House (built 1823 demolished 1948) whose site is now in the grounds of the Memorial Hospital.



Severndroog Castle, 8.A tall triangular battlemented tower with hexagonal turrets, surrounded by trees in Castle Wood; and extraordinary Gothic folly, it was built to a design of Richard Jupp in 1784. 

The original main entrance is on the south-west face; the other original entrance doors are blocked, with only the fanlights remaining; the small doors under the turrets were added later.  The inscription on the stone plaque over the original main entrance on the south west face is inscribed on a tablet

'Severndroog Castle was built by the widow of Sir William James, a commander in the East India Company, to celebrate his naval exploits, in particular the capture in 1755 of the island fortress of Severndroog off the Malabar Coast of India.  At the time the castle was just north of the grounds of the James mansion of Park Farm Place, Eltham.'

Holbrook House, 162 Shooters Hill.  A stuccoed villa circa 1838, which may incorporate some late 18th century structure; the bay window was added in 1862, and extensions to the rear in the late 19th century.

The Bull, 19. A red brick pub of 1881, ....... the date stone (‘built 1749, rebuilt 1881’)is over the original corner entrance now bricked up.  About 65 metres to the east is a horse mounting block with three steps, dating back at least to 1750.  

It is in front of the site of the orginal pub called the Bull, which was a large and well known tavern, built circa 1749 9possibly much earlier) and demolished in 1881.  The block was re-erected here in 1929, but almost certainly the wrong way up.”

Like many I have fond memories of wandering the woods and especially of Severndroog Castle.

Now I am not given over to idle speculation especially of the historical kind but I do wonder whether the four children of George and Mary Field who ran the Bull in the June of 1841  wandered across the road an into Castle Wood to the folly.

It may be romantic tosh but it is a powerful link back to the community who lived on Shooters Hill a hundred and seventy years ago.


Pictures; Severndroog Castle and map from Discover Eltham

* Discover Eltham, Darrell Spurgeon, Greenwich Guide Books, 2000

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The book on Manchester and the Great War ......... an outrageous bout of self promotion

Now when you get to my age you don’t dawdle, instead you seize the time.

Young Clara
So with that in mind and having spent the last month stumbling over Christmas puddings, Christmas cards and Christmas hampers in our supermarket  I have no shame in parading a selection of history books  by me which will make wonderful presents.

So over the next few days I shall post stories about all my books at frequent intervals, followed by others that I like and finishing with some from my childhood and then just for good measure all over again those that I have published over the last four years.

And I am starting with Manchester Remembering 1914-18 which actually will come out on February 2 2017, which means you can pre-order following the link, offer up a cardboard cut out for Christmas Day with all the added anticipation for the New Year when all the other presents have been forgotten.

“The First World War claimed over 995,000 British lives, and its legacy continues to be remembered today. Great War Britain: Manchester offers an intimate portrayal of the city and its people living in the shadow of the Great War. 

A beautifully illustrated and highly accessible volume, it explores the city's regiments, the background and fate of the men on the frontline, the changing face of industry, the vital role of women, conscientious objectors, hospitals for the wounded and rehabilitation, peace celebrations, the fallen heroes and war memorials. 

The Great War story of Manchester is told through the voices of those who were there and is vividly illustrated with evocative images.”*

And that is it for day 1.

*Great War Britain Manchester, 2017 £12.99, http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/search-here/?s=Andrew+Simpson&p=1&ps=9

Of random thoughts and the stories they hold ............... another post on becoming my dad

Perhaps it is just a factor of age but I find myself in  those quiet moments drifting back over the acres of the past.

An unknown moment in time
It isn’t nostalgia, it is more a random series of thoughts encompassing events, accidents and faces all jumbled up in no logical pattern which tumble over themselves.

Now we will all have them but in the past they were either very purposeful or very fixed and lasted just a short time.

But all of that I suspect has a lot to do with busy lives where work, the kids and the supermarket all compete to push such rambling thoughts into the background.

Not so anymore and here I think Dad comes into play, because I noticed the same in him.

You would wander into the room and catch him staring into space lost in his own private world.

Of course he may just having been thinking about what to have for dinner or when to repaint the chipped and scratched kitchen door but I rather think there was more.

I never asked him which was less about not wanting to intrude and more about being too preoccupied with myself but then I doubt he would have said overmuch.

He was a quiet man who kept much to himself and like his brothers shrugged off questions about his past as pointless.

Sometime in the 1970s
All of them seemed far more interested in the present and so you would find that you got half an answer which was then closed down with a change of subject.

That said I never pursued some of the questions and as a result whole chunks of our family story have been lost.

And in turn that has meant that endless trek across the official documents from census returns to certificates of births, deaths and marriages.

All designed to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about dad.

I would like to say it is a generational thing but I find myself doing something similar although in my case it is simply finding the time to tell the story.

All of which leaves me wondering what Dad did think about which is all the more immediate as I trawl through more of his papers.

Here are pictures of friends who I will never know, a shed load of official documents including his passports stretching back to before the war and those personal bits and pieces like the testimonials and references from past employers.

At which point I have own up that this is nothing more than an idle set of thoughts loosely held together with the idea that we should all commit our stories to paper especially if like me those thoughts are becoming more frequent and more random.

Picture; dad and unknown friend, date unknown and in the 1970s

A name and a clue to a family from Little Italy in Ancoats in 1881


Your name is a very important part of your identity and for some people in some parts of the world it is an immediate clue to where the family originated from.

So in the case of our Italian family the name suggests two hot spots, one in the north of Italy and the other in the south around Naples.

And that is pretty much spot on, for while they and some of the extended family live outside Milan they come from Naples.

But what if the name is difficult to read as it so often is on old official documents?  Well in my case I have some experts on hand to help out, but sadly the jury is still out on the verdict and so I have to go with my guess.

The name is Fuski and they lived at 43 Gun Street in the heart of Little Italy* in the spring of 1881.  This much I know, and while I cannot be certain of the spelling, there is much I do know about them.

Joseph and his wife Carolina were from Naples and they arrived in Manchester sometime around 1877, with their two daughters.

Now I can be fairly sure about the date because their third child Mary was born in Manchester in 1877.

He was a musician and seems to have attracted other musicians to him.  This may have had a lot to do with the fact that he rented number 43 Gun Street, and as things go found room for three of his cousins in the family home.

But he also found space for another ten people of which six were also musicians, one who worked as a General Servant and two were children.

All but two of this additional large group were also from Naples and both of these like Mary Fuski were children.

It makes for one of those insights into how people settled in a new country.  Here and in three other houses on the street could be found all the Italians, mostly from either Naples or Genova, choosing  to live with people they knew and could rely on to help them out.

In the case of young Joseph Fuski aged just two who was born in Scotland it is a hint that his parents may either have settled first across the border or were performing there when the boy was born and then travelled south to live with their cousin.

Now the Fuski family lived on that stretch of Gun Street which runs from Blossom Street to George Leigh Street and in 1881 it consisted of 20 houses and 125 people.  Of these just over 32% were born in Italy with 43% from Manchester and the rest from Ireland, and other parts of Britain.

This was a young community where over 37% were under the age of 16 and just 5% over 55.

And the degree of its youthfulness is even more marked when you single out those from Italy.

 For here there was no one over the age of 46 and all but 9 were between 20 and 40 years of age.

I guess those in the know would point to this group being the most likely to seek a new life and new challenges in a new country.  Few were married and even fewer had children.

And it follows that most of these young Italians were destined to live as sub tenants in what looks to be very overcrowded conditions.  Of the four Italian households, the numbers recorded in each were 23, 16, 14 and 7, in properties which contained just four rooms.

Not that the level of overcrowding in some of the houses was much better, but that as they say is another story for another time.

As for the Fuski family they disappear from the records but that may at present just be because I have the name wrong, and so I eagerly await help which may allow their story to grow.

*Little Italy is the area behind Great Ancoats Street, and was defined by, Jersey Street, Blossom Street, Georhe Leigh Street, running north and Gun Street, Henry Street and Cotton Street which crossed them on an east west line.  Here from 1865 there was a growing vibrant Italian community.


Pictures; Gun Street by A Bradburn, 1904, m11342, surviving houses on Gun Street, 1962 by T Brooks, m11344, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Councildata taken from 1881 Census, Enu 4 Ancoats, Manchester, Lancashire


Be careful what you wish for, .... snow on the green circa 1979


Now I know the old saying, be careful what you wish for, but in this very mild October I couldn’t resist this picture of the green in the snow sometime at the end of the 1970s.
Picture; from the collection of Tony Walker

Monday, 24 October 2016

Discovering a lost soldier of the Great War .......... with a nod of thanks to facebook

Now it is easy to deride social networks and write them off as the preserve of the trivial and the vain but that is to ignore their potential for allowing people to showcase their talents in a whole range of artistic endeavours from photography to painting and much else.

Added to which there are a growing number of sites and individuals who share their research and are willing to offer advice, and encouragement to those writing about their family history as well as those wanting to tell the story of their community.

All of which is why my friend Tricia and I decided to make an appeal for help in finding out more about this young man who as far as she knew was an officer in the 16th Battalion of the Manchester’s and disappeared in July 1916.

There was a photograph, and a comment on the back and nothing else.

Given the date Tricia began with the Somme war memorials but drew a blank and so that was when we made the appeal through a blog story and posted across a selection of facebook sites.

And within a day Michael Gorman came back with a carefully researched set of comments and the suggestions that our young man might be George Hoarce Plested, who was a “Second Lieutenant Manchester Regiment 4th Bn. attd. 16th Bn” who died on July 30th 1916.  He was just 19 and came from Putney.

Now what marks Mr Gorman’s contribution off as special is that he didn’t claim the credit, quoted his source and carefully presented alternatives which I think makes my point about just how useful social media can be in advancing our general knowledge.

Tricia I know is pleased and has now got engaged in searching for our young man to put an identity and a story to the photograph.

Location; London & France

Picture; Unknown Soldier, date unknown, from the collection of Tricia Leslie, and cap badge of the Manchester Regiment courtesy of Paul Wright

It’s what you miss in the big picture ......... ghost signs and abandoned interiors

Now I always welcome a new selection of photographs from Andy Robertson.


Andy spends a lot of time recording the changing landscape in both the twin cities and beyond.

It will begin with an image of a derelict building or industrial site and will follow the development of the place from demolition to new properties.

Along the way he captures some fine scenes like this one with the City pub and the new build in the background.

But as ever his prime purpose is to chronicle those changes and in this case it is the building that ran along Whitworth Street West.

It has excited lots of interest over the years not least because of those designs in the windows.

And it is a building I looked at, briefly thought about and then moved on.

But Andy in his pursuit of recording the buildings demise caught some interesting detail of the interior, from the old fire place to the ghost sign above the door.

And that is history.

Sadly the sign it’s almost impossible to read and has now gone with the rest of the building, leaving just a hole in the ground for Derek the Developer and of course a whole new series of potential pictures for Andy to take.

And that as they say is coming soon.

Location; Manchester







Pictures; Whitworth Street West 2016 from the collection of Andy Robertson