Friday, 12 May 2017

From green fields to gas works, the Reverend William Birley’s change of parish in 1859

In 1859 the Reverend William Birley had left Chorlton where he had been for seventeen years exchanging the small rural living for one in the  in the heart of Salford.  

This was St Stephens* and it was surrounded by rows of terraced housing which hid smaller houses and dark courts as well as the gas works, timber yards, iron works and cotton factories .

To the west and north the area was cut off by the river and to the east by the railway.

The contrast between the two places could hardly be starker.  During the day there was the noise from the countless factories, mills and foundries, while at night the clunk of shunting railway wagons and the whistle of steam locomotives carried over the roof tops.  Added to this was the all pervading smell from the gas works and the ever present pall of smoke from countless domestic fires and factory chimneys. **

But this was just the outward appearances of a hard and grim parish.  In the area bordering the church most were engaged in manual occupations.    Many of these were best described as pauper trades,

“for the wages can never enable a man to rear a family in independence.  Street sweepers, night soil men and policemen, handloom weavers and cotton dyers, hawkers, strikers in foundries, minders of planning and drilling machines, railway porters and the whole range of labourers, ....their wages varying from 12 to 18s [60p-80p] per week.  Deduct from this highest sum of 2s 6d for rent and how can a man keep and clothe himself, wife and four or five children on the remainder?”***      

These were also physically demanding jobs which could be dangerous.

Nothing perhaps prepared the casual visitor to the scene in the gas works as the men cleared the coke from the ovens and transported the red hot material on hand waggons, or the noise, dust and repetitive labour of the spinning room of a mill.
Perhaps it was the wish to bring a message of religious hope to such a place which motivated William Birley.

After all the income at St Stephens’s was £145 a year which was just £42 more than he had received in income from St Clements’ in the township.****    His sense of duty had also led him to sit as a Poor Law Guardian while still living in the township and later became an Inspector of schools for the county.*****

He was comfortably well off having described himself as of independent means at the 1841 census, held shares in a number of railway companies and was a director of at least two companies.  

He chose to live some distance from his parishioners in Leaf Square.  This was a pleasant and elegant spot separated from Greengate and St Stephen’s by a double loop of the river, and further isolated by the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal, and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.

Looking out from his windows he had an uninterrupted view of the delightfully laid out square, and across open land to the river and Peel Park beyond.  Only the railway and canal could be said to act as mild blots on what was otherwise a fine vista.

Moreover his neighbours were drawn from the same genteel class.  They included a property owner, retired solicitor, fellow cleric, an iron merchant and those on independent means.      As would be expected all had a variety of servants, housekeepers, cooks and governess’s to ease their comfortable lives.

True there were nearby examples of industry in the form of cotton and flax mills, a dye works and brewery but these were surrounded by open land and houses with large gardens.   Even the rope walks which were some distance away between the square and the railway could not have been said to distract from what was a pleasant place.

St Stephen’s, it has to be said was more impressive than our own church in the township.  It was made of plain brick, dated from 1794 and was reckoned by contemporary observers to be comfortably fitted, containing three galleries and an organ.   All of which made it bigger than ours and with its tall classical tower and two floors it stood out from the village church William had previously preached in.***

But then it was set in the middle of Salford, with a timber yard running alongside the graveyard and a  foundry at the back of the church.   Just across the road towered the gasworks and a little further away was the rope works.

There is more on William Birley, the book. The Story of Chorlton-cum-Hardy,

Pictures; St Clements Chorlton-cum-Hardy, from the OS map of Lancashire, 1841-53, and St Stephens in Salford & Leaf Square, from the OS map of Manchester & Salford, 1844-49, courtesy of Digital Archives,

*Duffield, H. G., The Strangers Guide to Manchester 1850, 29, , The church was demolished in 1962 and the site is now a small park between Trinity Way and St Stephens Street.

**In the 1861 census these comprised the enumeration districts of numbers 7, 8, 9 , and 10, where the occupations included labourers, warehouseman, textile workers, foundry workers, laundresses, and porters

*** Watts, John, The Facts of the Cotton Famine, Simpkin, Marshall & Co, Manchester 1866, page 99, Google edition page 120

****Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of England, S Lewis & Co Vol 1& 3 1840

*****He held shares in the Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Junction Railway and the Fleetwood, Preston and West Riding Junction Railway [Preston Guardian December 24 1846], and  was a director of the Socttish Amicable Life Assurance Society [Manchester Times Saturday February 17 149], and the Manchester and London Life Assurance and Loan Association [Manchester Times Saturday March 12 1853],

No comments:

Post a Comment