Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Moravian Settlement.

If you live in Manchester, and especially on the east side of the city sooner or later you come across the Moravian Settlement.

I suppose in my case it must have been around 1972 or ’73 when we were living off Grey Mare Lane. 

Sundays in the summer were often spent wandering up the Old Road in a brave but fruitless attempt to walk to the hills above Ashton under Lyne.  I say fruitless because it is a long way.

But on one of those trips having taken a diversion along Fairfield Street we came across the Moravian Settlement.

Now there has been a lot written about the place but I want to focus on an article written by Alice McIlwrick in the summer of 1931*

"A Visit to the Moravian Settlement

Openshaw, Audenshaw, Droylsden-and Fairfield.  Knowing the district one could not help but wonder how the name Fairfield came to be there.  So it was very interesting and illuminating to discover that it was the name given by the Moravians over 150 years ago to their Settlement.  They meant to make the place a fair field amidst the rather drab surroundings of the fringe of the Pennines.

A visitor to the Settlement today at once feels it to be a place set apart.  It has the quietness and serenity, but also not the opulence of a Cathedral close.   

There is an absence of impressive brass knockers on the doors of this Close, but as one stands with the main buildings on one hand and the Cemetery on the other, one realizes more and more as the moments pass, that the Settlement was given the right name.  It is indeed a “Fairfield” and a place of romance in the industrial region aroun.

The origin and achievements of the Moravian movement made a thrilling tale as told by the minister at Fairfield, the Rev. E.W. Porter.  It began as a revolt from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th Century and flourished in Moravia and Bohemia for 100 years.  

This success was wiped out during the Thirty Years War and the survivors fled into Germany.  There they found a safe harbourage in the little village of Herrnhut and a generous patron in its Count.  He, it was who encouraged them with leadership and financial help. 

Under him the movement grew and spread into America and England. But more than this the Moravians were the first to send missionaries to Africa, to the Red Indians and to the Eskimos. 

This part of their work was always considered to be the most important and was pursued with vigour, enthusiasm and great success. 

However, it was the history of the Fairfield Settlement which was of particular interest to the visitor.  

The Moravian Brethren after an unsatisfactory attempt at Duckinfield bought land known as Fairfield and began to build a settlement there in 1783.  It was planned and built by its people.  

Food was grown on its own farms.  It was self contained and self governing.  The life of the village centred round the Church, and the vigour of that life was indicated by the ownership of a fire engine, a night watchman, an inspector of weights and measures, an overseer of roads and lastly of a physician.

A unique feature of the village was the existence of a Single Sister’s house and a Single Brother’s House.  The Single Sisters ran one of the two farms and a laundry.  

As might be expected, they did beautiful needlework.  Some of it was sent to Queen Adelaide and one can imagine their joy and pride when the Queen ordered more.

The Single Brothers had a bakery and the bread made there they distributed every day on horseback, so probably they covered a fair distance.  It was the Single Brothers who dug the well and so supplied the village with water, and it must have been they who, in 1786, helped to lay water pipes and construct the sidewalks.

One likes to think of these two houses in the village and imagine the lively life in each.  Here, evidently, the youth of the community was gathered together and given work to do.  There must have been a healthy rivalry between them, occasionally punctuated by the intrusion of Cupid, with the inevitable result of a marriage and a new family.

There was a boarding school for boys and one for girls for the Moravians early realized the importance of education of the young.  Today the boys’ school has become the Municipal Secondary School.

The whole Settlement was in those early days and for many, many years alive with the activities of every kind but the religious benefits of the group were the guiding spirit of everything.  It is a lasting tribute to the strength of this spirit that on entering the village streets one feels at once a calmness and serenity in contrast to the materialistic unrest of the city beyond.

Today the Settlement has lost much of its land and its activities are reduced, but its glowing religious beliefs still make this Settlement a “Fairfield” among the turbulent life around.

One does in that village glimpse “The Peace that passeth understanding.” A.M.

*The article appeared in The Droylsden & District Advertiser which published and printed by her husband who started his own printing business in 1926 in the Falcon Mill off Poland Street by Oldham Road.  

F. A. McIlwrick & Co. Ltd. stayed there until the premises were destroyed by an arsonist in the spring of 1974 when the business, relocated to Cambridge Street.

Now there is no date on the paper clipping but given the start up date of the newspaper in 1926 and its closure in the war there are only two possible dates.  

These are 1931 and 1942 and are based on an advert for the Greenside Horticultural Show which was held on the Saturday and Sunday of August 29th and 30th and yes you have guessed it these two only fell in 1931 and ’42.  Now at present I don’t have a date for its closure but I guess it might have closed by 1942 leaving us with 1931.

Pictures; courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, the Settlement in 1794, m80233, in 1825 by Harwood, J And Watkins, m71622, & in 1900, m71634, and detail from the Droylsden & District Advertiser, courtesy of T McIlwrick who also supplied the press clipping.