Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Remembering the meadows in the 1940s ..... the power of oral testimony

The Meadows as they were
“I was interested to hear what you said about the way the Corporation tipped rubbish on the meadows.  

You see I was at school in the 1940s and we did our cross country runs from the Mersey at Jackson’s Boat to Hardy Farm.

It was before they began putting rubbish on the meadows, and I remember the grass as brilliant green and very lush.  What’s more the level of the land was much lower than now.  And then they began putting all sorts including bits of brick where once we ran.”

Such is the power of oral testimony, because in just a few minutes I was taken back to a time when the meadows were truly meadows and farmed as such.

I had been talking about the policy of the City Council to tip on the flood plain.  It was a practice well under way by the late 1930s and extravagant claims were made that this was new and proven to be the best method of refuse disposal which had the added advantage of building up the land to act as a defence against flooding from the Mersey.

Now the programme in the late 30s’ had been on the land further east and I was fairly sure that our bit of Chorlton did not get its infill till much later.

The meadows circa 1900
And here was the evidence, in a chance conversation at the end of an afternoon.

It was the sort of information the historian likes, for here was someone who had lived it and whose memory of events could be set against the paper trails and official records.

It also sat with the pictorial evidence which showed the meadows as an area of grassland and irrigation ditches which allowed water to be placed on the land for a set period of time to assist the growth of new grass.

Boat meadow a bridge across a ditch circa 1900
The main ditches were deep enough to warrant a plank or even a small bridge to be placed across and this is exactly what we have in our picture.

I doubt we will ever know who any of the people are and for once what has caught my attention is not the collection of Sunday trippers, but the land itself which is perfectly flat and just right for meadow farming.

Land suitable for meadowland, circa 1900
We are in Boat Meadow and the path in the distance would tale you towards Hardy Farm.  It is possibly some time at the beginning of the last century, just forty or so years before my school boy ran his run.

What is all the more remarkable is that some stretches of the meadows survived well into the 1960s and a decade before were still being farmed.

This is the Old Road, Hawthorn Lane as it heads out across Turn Moss and I guess it looks pretty much as it had done for over a century and more.

The Old Road and meadow land circa 1950
It has all gone now.  After the tipping came the years of neglect followed by the deliberate policy to plant trees and bushes on stretches of it or turn it over to football pitches.

Now I am not arguing for a return to what was that I fully accept has gone, but listening to my friend I can at least have some idea of what once was.

Location; Chorlton-cum-Hardy Manchester

Pictures; from the Lloyd Collection


  1. Many of the wild plants in the Mersey Valley are species which are characteristic of the type of grassland which would once have been common in the area. I once gave a talk on what I have been able to discover about these meadows and how they would have been managed. As you point out, Andrew, they would once have been deliberately flooded in the winter in order to deposit silt which encouraged the grass to grow. I remarked that there were ancestral memories in Chorlton of ice-skating on the frozen meadows. A Stretford lady in the audience - who is now in her 90s - told me that she remembered skating on the meadows. She said that the farmer had a little booth and you had to pay him a penny to skate on his meadow.

  2. The bridge in the pictures was across a ditch when entering the meadows from Brookburn Road. As you proceeded into the meadows towards Jackson Boat on the right hand side of the path the land was used for motor bike polo. I remember the toll on the bridge as we used to go from our home on Holland Road(Zetland Road) to Sale Park most Sundays. At the end of Hardy Lane before dropping down into the meadows passing the Farm on the right hand side was a field of rhubarb and on the left hand side was the apple orchard.