Saturday, 13 May 2017

Working the fields of Chorlton

We have very few working pictures of when we were still a rural community.

 And so it is always exciting when one turns up and I get permission to write about it.

This one is in the collection of Carolyn Willitts who has kindly allowed me to use it.

There is no date but looking at the clothes of the chap on the left it might date from the early years of the last century. Now I am researching the machinery in the picture and this might fix the date. We shall see.

One of the men is a relative of Carolyn’s and he worked on Red Gate Farm which was close to the site of the library. There had been a farm here from the 1780s* and I guess much earlier.

By the 1840s the tenant farmer was William Whitelegg who farmed 68 acres of land which stretched out on either side of Manchester Road.

 It was mix of meadow, arable and pasture with an orchard.

He grew wheat and oats, along with potatoes, swedes, turnips, and mangle wurzuls, and raspberries and currants.**

But back to the picture. It is almost impossible to locate but it is just possible that it was between Ryebank Road and Longford Brook. Maps from the 1840s show a line of trees stretching out from Edge Lane.

 By the early years of the 20th century some of these beyond Ryebank Road were still standing and even today there are a few left roughly in the same place. So these may be the line which appear the photograph.

For me it is the detail that is fascinating. The man to the left holds one of those ceramic jars which might have been full of anything from water to beer and even cider. 

And there is no reason to suppose it wasn’t cider. Chorlton had plenty of orchards and there is anecdotal evidence of old cider presses turning up in the township. Most of the apples would have destined for the markets of Manchester but some at least would have been retained for home use.

It is one of only five pictures I have come across of men working the fields here in Chorlton and takes us back to a time now almost out of living memory. And it is all the more remarkable because we know one of the people in the picture.

Picture; working the land, date unknown from the collection of Carolyn Willitts

*Yates map of 1786 shows the farm

** From an advert for the sale of the farm contents of Red Gate Farm, Manchester Examiner & Times, November 3rd 1855, Issue 711, British Library of newspapers

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