Friday, 5 May 2017

Looking for the lost ...... one street over time in Ancoats ..... no 5 “debris and desolation”

The story of one street in Ancoats, and the people who lived and worked there.*

Ancoats residents, 1920
Now I am a little closer to being able to date the end of Homer Street.

It went in the big slum clearance push in the 1930s when a large chunk of the area around St Andrew’s Church in Ancoats went in matter of a few years.

Homer Street dated from 1837 and so just missed its hundredth birthday

And while some may have mourned its passing I doubt that there were many.

According to the Corporation there were 1,045 properties in the area around St Andrew’s Church of which “990 were occupied dwellings and 47 business premises leaving eight properties either derelict or unoccupied.”**

They were in the words of the Manchester Medical Officer of Health both unfit and “dangerous or injurious to health [and in his opinion were] a clearance area.”

Homer Street, 1894
He added that “in general the dwelling houses were of a similar type throughout the area, all fronting directly on to the streets, which generally speaking were somewhat narrow.  

These were conditions one generally found in the area of this type of small houses; narrow passages and high back yard walls. 

Of the houses 872 fronted into streets 39 feet or less in width, 469 on to streets of 24 feet or less.  The yards in the majority of cases were small and the property in the majority of cases was old.

There were 154 houses over 100 years old, 109 over 90, and 723 over 60 years old.  The density was 79 houses to the acre on net area and 52 to the acre on the gross area.”

Now like many I lived in a small two up two down terraced house in the 1970s and such properties can still be found across the country are still doing the business of keeping people warm, and comfortable and will still have a long life ahead of them.

But these were built at the end of the 19th century and by and large had been well maintained.

Those like the one my grandparents occupied in Hope Street, dated back to the beginning of the 19th century and were past their sell by date by the 1930s, but lingered on into the 60s.

Not so Homer Street or it neighbours, Andrew’s Square, Gees Place, Dryden Street and Marsden Square, all of which had all gone by 1938. The Corporation judged that many were worth less than £50 and “719 in the area were verminous.”

Of course there were objections, ranging from the landlords of some of the properties to those who thought that the replacement homes in Smedley were not suitable, leading one witness to at the inquiry on the clearance plans to describe them as “barracks” adding it was not acceptable to “make the British workman, after he has done his work climb six flights of stairs.”

Back of the demolished school, 1966
Some also questioned the policy of not rebuilding new homes in the area, pointing out that for some the cost of travelling from the new estates in places like Wythenshawe was very expensive.

But the Corporation “had zoned the whole of the area for light industrial purposes” and this was pretty much how it turned out.

The old school on the corner of Homer Street which had been opened in 1836 went, and the site became a sheet metal works while the rest of Homer Street was left as open land finally becoming a bus depot in the 1960s.

That industrial development was slow to come and in the August of 1939 the Reverend A. R. Denn of St Andrew’s wrote to the Manchester Guardian that the cleared area as “a scene of debris and desolation” with “the remains of houses in various stages of demolition.  Some buildings remain standing with broken windows and derelict doors.  

All around one may see the foundations of houses and the remains of door steps and yards, brick bats and odd pieces of stone are strewn about on all sides, whist here and there nature tries to cover up this hideousness with weary looking grass.”***

Adding that it “reminds one of the pictures of Flanders during the last war, and resembles nothing so much as the after-effects of an air raid.”

And while his observations may well have been accurate and echoed many who felt “it was not a square deal for those who have to live and work amid it”, it is worth pausing to reflect on what the Corporation was trying to do.

According to Alderman Jackson that was nothing less than a programme “to tackle about 30,000 houses in Manchester” at a time when the City was still recovering in many ways from the Depression.

There is nothing now to see of Homer Street.

For a while the plan of the streets continues to appear on maps but by 1960 even these have gone.

But nature and commerce abhor a vacuum and the site had undergone new development with the empty and derelict bus depot replaced by a large modern food warehouse.

Location; Ancoats

Pictures; Mothers' Outing, St Andrew’s Church,1920,  m70137, and Sheffield Street back of St Andrew's Church,  Revill and Son Ltd, 1966 Brooks T, m12041 courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and Homer Street, 1894, from the OS South Lancashire, 1894, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

*Homer Street,

**Ancoats Clearance Order, Manchester Guardian, September 26, 1934

***Debris and Desolation, A.R. Denn, letter to the Manchester Guardian, August 4, 1939

****Amato Food Products,

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