Friday, 30 June 2017

A photograph, a lost stream and a bit of a detective story

It’s often the way it works.

You start off with a picture and in beginning to uncover its secrets discover a whole lot more.

So there I was with this 1950 photograph from the Lloyd collection.  The caption just said “The ‘Marsh Meadow’ [Marshe Brow] from the ‘The Tip’. 1950."

It is in itself a pretty historic picture marking as it does one of the last times this stretch of land will have been worked on a regular basis.  As such it will be part of a continuity that stretches way back into our rural the past.

So as you do I set out to locate the exact spot which was easy enough to do.  It is at the point on the modern meadows where Ivy Green Road suddenly twists north to join Cartwright Road and Hawthorn Lane.

Now I never quite understood the logic of this as the rest of Ivy Green carries on only to peter out as a dead end.  But look at the old Tithe map and the OS map and the original lane turns north and then east which today is Hawthorn Lane.

And our picture was taken I think just inside the entrance to the Meadows by the gate from Ivy Green.  This was Lloyd land and back in the 1840s was farmed by John Cookson of Dark Lane whose 59 acres were mostly on land along Buckingham Road where it joins Manchester Road.  It was a mix of mainly arable with some pasture and meadow land.  But like many of our farmers he also had land away from the farm on the meadows and this was Marsh Brow which was five acres of meadow.

But in trawling across the field names I also came across Row Leech and what I have looked at on all the maps but not seen.  For here is confirmation that the Rough Leech Gutter which ran from just north of Sandy Lane across the township and under Edge Lane by the parish church finished in a big pond on Turn Moss.

“Meadow land was not only a common enough feature here in the township but important to the way we farmed.    Meadowland is grassland that is kept damp by the use of ditches called carriers worked by sluice gates fed from the Mersey.

The skill is to keep the land fed with water up to an inch in depth through from October to January, for about fifteen to twenty days at a time before allowing the water to run off into the drainage ditches.  The land must then be left to dry out for 5-6 days so that the air can get to the grass.  The early watering took advantage of the autumnal floods which brought with them a mix of nutrients and silt which enriched the land.

All this requires constant vigilance and Higginbotham the farmer on the Green would expect to visit his fields once every three or four days to see that the water was evenly distributed, and that there was no accumulation of weeds. This was not a task that could be entrusted to an unskilled manager, as the weather and time of year dictated the level of water that needed to flow from the irrigation ditches.  And as the weather got colder it would be important to watch for a hard frost which if it were severe enough could turn the meadow into ‘one sheet of ice which will draw the grass into heaps which is very injurious to meadows.’

Not that this stopped Alfred Higginbotham annually flooding one of his fields in the early 20th century to provide a skating ring for the village.

The rewards for all this care and hard work were many.  During the winter the water protected the grass roots from frost allowing the grass to grow several weeks earlier while in hot summers it kept the grass lush and provided grazing for the cattle as well as hay.*

And just as I was finishing the story I came across an interesting post on Making a Meadow on Ivy Green from the site Friends of Chorlton Meadows,

Pictures; from the Lloyd collection and detail of Marsh Brow and Row Leech from the OS map of Lancashire 1841, courtsey of Digital Archives,

*The Story of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Andrew Simpson, 2012

Summer in the City

Now for no particular reason other than I took them and they are of Manchester, here is a short series celebrating places I like.

All have appeared before and some a long time ago.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; around Manchester 2002-2015

Just how do you mark the sacrifice of the Great War?

It is and was of course a question of great importance given the sacrifice in lives, the loss in treasure and the total disruption to millions of people.

The porcelain companies were quick to respond to what would clearly be a big market and began making small china memorials, each with a different badge or coat of arms for towns and cities across the UK.

It is a story I keep coming back to.*

It was only an extension of the items that they had been selling since the start of the war and replaced peace time models which had focused on thatched cottages, Blackpool Tower and countless other “souvenirs of a seaside holiday.”

The new range used tanks, ambulances and battleships and with the conclusion of the fighting they turned to memorials, like this one for Matlock Bath.

I am always surprised that after a century so many have survived.

They are after all made of china, which can be chipped or worst still dropped and smashed.

And after the war some will have been relegated to cupboards or the space under the stairs only to be thrown away with the onset of another world war or the death of the owner.

But there are still enough to give traders a lucrative business..

I had thought that this one might well have been just a standard piece made distinct by the addition of the Matlock transfer, but not so, it is based on the actual memorial in Matlock Bath at 44 N Parade, Matlock Bath, Matlock DE4 3NS, and records the 22 men from the Great War and the 10 from the Second World who died.

It was unveiled and dedicated on May 19 1921.

Location; the Great War

Picture; crested china war memorial, from the collection of David Harrop

*Crested China;

Stories from the family locker, part 1 George Gill’s discharge papers, 1917

I am as guilty as the next person for discarding letters, official documents and even old family pictures which all help tell the story of my family and their place in the history of the last couple of centuries.

Not that I do that now.  Every scrap of paper, note, receipt and picture is carefully scrutinised and evaluated for its value and because you never know what will be important I pretty much keep the lot.

As I see it our history is just as important as that of a duke, politician or general and deserves to be remembered.

But I also know that much has been lost and what we have stretching back into the early 19th century is a fragment of what once there was.

Most of it has come down to us more by accident than design which makes it all the more important that we all share what we have.

So I was pleased when Graham posted this discharge paper of his grandfather’s on facebook.  It is dated 1917 and is the first I have seen of a soldier who was discharged before the end of that war.

Five of my close family served in the Great War and only one of their discharge certificates has survived, and this was dated 1922, long after the conflict was over.
Graham’s grandfather had enlisted just two months after the outbreak of the war and so was one of those thousands of young men who volunteered to serve their country at the very beginning.

Like all military documents it is full of detail, ranging from his age, height and distinguishing features, to the duration of his military service and the cause of his discharge.

And amongst the details there are reference s to his regiment, place of enlistment and discharge.

Few I suspect have survived and of those that have most will be in museums or are in private collections and are rarely seen today.

So with that in mind I have decided to begin a new series on the treasured family objects which tell a story and invite people to share their own.

It can be a picture, an official document a memory or even a bill.  It doesn’t matter as long it helps shed light on your family history or the bigger story.

And I would like to thank Graham who often supplies me with documents from his family history and is the first to respond to my request for materials relating to the Great War for a new book.

Picture; courtesy of Graham Gill

On being ten with a hayloft as a playground

When you are ten, away from your friends and spending the long summer holiday with your grandparent’s time can hang heavy, especially as they had yet to own a TV.

I remember endless hours spent playing beside the ornamental ponds imagining them to be a series of secret lakes which hid mysterious monsters. Or looking down into the apparently bottomless well in the greenhouse with the pungent odour of growing tomatoes and wondering who would rescue me if I fell in.

But these were as nothing compared to what greeted me in the hay loft above the barn at the bottom of the garden. There was still a powerful lingering smell of hay which combined with the heat from the slates and the fustiness of the crumbling mortar made this a place with a difference. If I was particularly daring I would open the loft hatch allowing fresh grass scented air to invade the room and look out across the fields. This was daring given the drop to the lane below seemed enormous.

On other days I just walked the country lanes, empty of everything but the occasional bird. There can be no greater sense of freedom than to be alone with just the hum from the telegraph wires and the blistering heat.

I don’t ever remember getting lost, but then I don’t suppose I ever went too far and never underestimate the homing powers of a ten year old who had not eaten since breakfast. Not that I remember many of the meals.

Our bread was baked at home on a huge black range. It was strong brown bread which granddad buttered before he cut a slice. The vegetables were also home grown and more than anything I remember her peas which Nana cooked using cloves which was fine until you ate one by mistake.

They had bought 170 and turned into bedsits with their living accommodation at the back of the house. I however got to stay in the front room and can still remember what seemed the long and scary walk from their kitchen. The candle I took with me cast small pools of dim light and I was never quite sure what lurked in the corners of the passageway. True there was some safety when I got to the light switch by the front room but then there was still a night of darkness to endure punctuated only by the headlamps of passing cars.

Despite my night time fears this was a good place to grow up, and a world away from how my grandparents had lived close to the centre of Derby. In their two up two down terraced house in Hope Street people lived on top of each other, knew each other’s secrets and were even aware when they visited the outside lavatories in the back yard.

Chellaston and in particular 170 Derby Road were different. Our neighbour kept pigs at the bottom of his garden, there were fields behind us, and everywhere there was grass, trees and open land. But I suppose these very things that had brought my grandparents to the village also brought others. They were in fact partly responsible having sold two of the three fields behind the house to a local builder who quickly filled them with houses.

The summer of 1961 was my last holiday there. I have to say the intervening years have wiped my childhood memories. The trolley bus terminus at Shelton Lock is fenced off and the disused weed infested canal has gone and 170 Derby Road is no more.

We were lucky to visit just before it was demolished. In its empty, abandoned and neglected state it seemed much smaller than I remembered. Nor did the garden seem to stretch forever while the stables had shrunk.
But I guess that is why we treasure those long ago memories belonging as they do to a time when the sun always shone, our grandparents were always cheerful and the worst that could befall a ten year old was a Sunday when it rained.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Pictures from an Eltham bus ........ nu 13 ....... "quick snap of the Grove Market development..."

The top deck of a London bus has to be a pretty neat way of seeing the world below.

And when it is the same bus at about the same time every day then you have got yourself a project.

All you need is a camera and the patience each week to record the same spot.

It helps if there is a major new development underway like the one in the High Street and the rest as they say is Larissa Hamment’s Pictures from an Eltham bus.”*

And today Larissa sent me this one with the comment, "Quick snap of the Grove Market development...."

Now if like me you are longer in Eltham its good to get Larissa's updates.

I have to say I am not over keen on the new development which seems to dominate the area.
But then I guess there will be those who were unhappy when the old houses came down to make way for the shopping centre.

And it is one of those things that I just don't remember those houses, although we were in Well Hall just before the market was built.

All of which just leaves me to say I do like the half timbered property even though it probably not much older than me.

Location, Eltham High Street, Eltham, London

Pictures;  2017, from the collection of Larissa Hammen

*Pictures from an Eltham bus,

A souvenir of Eltham ................ and a bit of a story

Now like lots of people I collect stuff, but unlike most I prefer to keep the collections digital.

That way there is no need to dust, no danger that you will damage the precious object and no chance that one day Aunt Ethel’s present will end up in the bin or sold on eBay.

It also means that you can collect other people’s favourite items and so share their pleasure.

All of which brings me to crested china which is the a general name for those porcelain “things” bought on holiday as a souvenir and carrying the name, badge or coat of arms of a town, city or seaside resort.

I can’t say I ever bothered with them until I came across a selection made during the Great War ranging from tanks, to battleships ambulance, and war memorials and the result was a series of stories.*

They were turned out in their thousands and each carried a different coat of arms.

It made perfect sense when the majority of people could no longer go on holiday as travel became restricted and ever more expensive.

This way the porcelain companies stayed in business, people still had jobs and the war effort and moral were boosted.

That said these three of Eltham from Mark Johnson have as far as I know nothing to do with the Great War, but they are Eltham where I grew up and that is good enough for me.

Although it would be nice to come across one of the Royal Arsenal.

Location’ Eltham

Pictures; crested China from the collection of Mark Johnson, date unknown

*Crested China,

Another excellent blog on BHC from the Together Trust

History is as I always say messy and I am never surprised when one piece of research leads to another.

So back many years ago when I first started on the journey of discovery about my own British Home Child I came across the Together Trust.

It was one of those random shots in the dark.  My great uncle was migrated by Middlemore on behalf of the Derby Union which is nowhere near Manchester which was the original home for the Together Trust.

But I now live in Manchester and curious to know how other cities dealt with child care  I came across the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges which began in 1870 and is now the Together Trust.

The rest as they say is a shed load of blog stories about the Trust and a new book on the story of this children’s charity by me and their archivist Liz Sykes which will be published to commemorate their 150th anniversary in 2020.*

And in the course of the research for the book I have learnt lots more about the state of child care, and the migration of young people in the late 19th century.

Liz publishes a regular blog which is always informative, fascinating and sends me off in all sorts of enquiries.**

The latest is on Marchmont, and the records of the visits made on behalf of the charity to youngsters placed in the surrounding area.***

“The charity retains books on all of the young people who were emigrated across to Canada and provides a service to close relatives, who want to discover more about their ancestor. Interested individuals can find out more by contacting the Together Trust.”***

Now given that some people have had some difficulties in tracking relatives via other agencies I am always impressed by the efforts made by Liz to help descendants of children migrated by the Trust, and there are those who have told me hoe helpful she has been.

So that just leaves me to look over the blog story again and suggest you do too.

Pictures; courtesy of the Together Trust; 

*A new book on the Together Trust 

**Getting Down and Dusty

***Records at Marchmont

****Contacting the Trust 

One family’s war......... stories behind the book nu 20

Now neither my parents or grandparent talked about either of the two world wars they lived through.

From Uncle Fergus 1918
Not that there is anything strange in that.

They went and fought or made the best of staying at home and like many they coped with the loss of a loved one.

But we were lucky, of the eight who served in those two world wars we lost just the one.  He was my uncle Roger who died far away in Thailand in a prisoner of war camp.

The rest which consisted of my great grandfather, my grandfather, two great uncles and two uncles,  as well as my mother all came safely home. But of my cousins in Germany fighting on the other side, I have yet to discover their fates.

Uncle George, 1918
But because those wars were never spoken of much that they experienced is lost to me.

And so like others you try to piece together the stories from the handful of pictures, the small collection of official documents and their letters home.

We have only one full set of military records for one of the six who served during the Great War and that was because he had enlisted in Canada.

The remaining five are fragmentary or were lost when the records office was destroyed during the Blitz.

So I know so little.  But then almost out of the blue you make a discovery which was there all the time I just hadn’t made the connection.

I knew my grandfather was in Cologne in 1920 because it was there that he met and married my grandmother who was German.

And given that the Allies had moved into Germany at the end of the war I rather think he will have been there from 1918 which was just when my uncle serving with a Highland Regiment also arrived.

Great grandfather, Montague Hall, 1916
This I know because along with a Christmas card he sent my father in the December of that year he also wrote a long letter.

It was dated December 12th 1918. The Great War had ended just a month before and uncle Fergus and his battalion of the Black Watch were in Cologne, relieved no doubt that the fighting was over.

On that Thursday in December he wrote that “Cologne was a lovely city with some fine cinemas” but they were prohibited from fraternizing with the civilians which for a young man of just 21 was a bit of a bore given the attractive young women he came across.

But duty was never far away and preparations were a foot because “we are crossing the Rhine tomorrow” and there was a determination “to show the rest of the division the way as we proved to be the finest marchers during the trek to Germany.”

Extract from grandfather's discharge papers, 1922
At the time they never knew each other and would not even be aware of each other till my father met my mother sometime in the late 1940s.

Of course they may have missed each other entirely and the historian in me demands a degree of objectivity but ever the romantic it would be fun to think that they inhabited the same German city at the same time.

Location Cologne

Picture; With Best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year, December 1918, Uncle George, 1918, Montague Hall our great grand father, 1916, discharge papers for William Henry Hall, our grandfather, 1922, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

A family mystery from the Great War

Now this metal notebook holder has been in the family for as long as I can remember.

It is small but quite heavy and  I am ashamed to say has suffered from being in the cellar.

Its metal exterior has been attacked by rust and I am looking at how best to restore it.

It carries the German Imperial Cross with the letter W and the date 1914, and given that my grandmother was German I assumed it belonged to one of her family.

But now I am not so sure.
The name inscribed on the front is not one I recognise.

Of course that doesn’t prove it is not one of our family but allows for some doubt.

Alternatively it could have been picked up on the Western Front by either my grandfather or great uncle Jack.

Both served in the British Army and both were in France.

Whatever its origins I do know that it passed to my uncle who served in the RAF and whose name, serial number and the words RAF were inscribed inside.

Uncle Roger enlisted in 1938 aged 16 and saw action in Greece, and Iraq before being captured by the Japanese in 1942 and died in a prisoner of war camp the following year aged just 21.

And that offers up a second mystery because it remained in our possession.  I very much doubt that had it headed out to the Far East with him it would have returned.

I am of course totally prepared to accept the commonsense explanation that he just left it behind for anyone of a number of reasons.

The German side of our family is the one that we have not explored and when we do we might find the answer to its original owner.

Sadly there is no one left to ask and had we not decided to clear out the middle cellar I suspect it would have been many more years before I came across it.

All of which is a lesson in how to look after family objects.  All too often because we have grown up with them we take the item for granted, and that can lead to neglect and eventually to the loss of the object.

So that is it.  The search has begun.  Leaving me only to reflect on the irony of the fact that it passed to my uncle who was in the RAF but like my mother had been born in Cologne.

Picture; metal notebook holder, circa 1914, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Following the Gore Brook south from Gorton towards Chorlton

I am looking at some splendid pictures of the Gore Brook which were taken by JBS and posted on the facebook site MANCHESTER A PICTORIAL AND FILM HISTORY.

Now I know some people still deride social networking sites like facebook but they are a wonderful way of communicating with people across the planet and have that other benefit that they are almost instant.

What I also like about them is the opportunity that provide for people to post historical pictures which might not otherwise be seen by more than a handful of people.

The MANCHESTER A PICTORIAL AND FILM HISTORY site is particularly good because it also attracts those who want to share their own images.

And so to those of the Gore Brook by JBS, posted recently.

The Gore Brook is I think the longest of our small rivers staring at Gorton Reservoir and making its way south and west till it eventually joins our own Chorlton Brook but these are fed by smaller streams which rune in from Ashton, Denton and Droylsden*

All of which is less about showing off my knowledge of our water courses or for that matter representing the research of others and more about emphasising the large number of streams brooks and natural gutters which crisscrossed south and east Manchester.

These of course were vital when the area was still open fields and provided water and a natural set of boundaries.

Most are now buried deep underground and come up in short stretches.  Our own Chorlton Brook flows in the open from Hough End to the Mersey.  The Gore Brook or Platt Brook is also open for some of its length.

But all of them are lost for some of their journey, and a few are so completely lost that they have been forgotten about entirely.  The Rough Leech Gutter which meanders from Sandy Lane across Chorlton and out to Turn Moss is just one such water courses, others like those that flow across what is now Chorlton Park have vanished.  They may have dried up or bubbly away in some old brick culvert.

And some have yet to pass out of living memory.  The local historian Philip Lloyd remembered, that in the 1940s the Longford Brook flowed above ground by the Swimming Baths on Manchester Road, and again across part of Longford Park. And his mother told him that on quiet Sundays at the start of the twentieth century the enclosed Brook could be heard as it flowed under the road by Egerton Road North.

Pictures; between Old Hall Lane and Brighton Grove via St James Church Rusholme in Birch Park and the entrance to Birch Park ,Brighton Grove, courtesy of JBS, May 2013

*Dick Lane Brook from Aston, the Moss Brook from Droylsden and an unnamed one from Denton, Ashworth, Geoffrey, The Lost Rivers of Manchester, Willow Publishing, 1987.

Did you have someone at the Royal Arsenal? .............. a fascinating online history of a munitions factory

Now I like the way that the internet has made it possible for historians to both share their research and dig deep into the archives. 

Years ago I accessed all the early reports from the Poor Law Commissioners’ from 1838 through to 1854 which were invaluable for getting an understanding of both the Poor Law and life in our rural communities.

Ordinarily these would have been difficult to access and in fact my copies were originally on a dusty shelf in a university in the mid west of the USA, but through Google books they were available in an instant.

All of which is a lead in to a wonderful new site I came across yesterday on the story of the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.*

It is run by Steve Peterson who is keen to receive contributions from anyone who had a link with the munitions factories.

And that for now is that.  I am hoping that Steve will add a story about his site for the blog in the future.

In the meantime I fully recommend a visit.*

and leave you with Steven explaining why he set up the site.

"Growing up as a Thamesmead kid I used to explore the East Arsenal in the late 1980’s early 90’s and also used to participate in a scheme run by the metropolitan Police called Thamesmead Adventure in the Royal Arsenal danger area and firing range/proof butt waste land.

I was always fascinated by the Arsenals ruins.  

I used to dig up live bullets, empty shells, grenade shrapnel and cannon balls.  I wanted to know the in's and out's of the Arsenal, exploring in the summer school holidays and after school mapping it out in my head from bomb shelters to railway tracks to the odd shaped blast mounds of the Danger buildings.  

It was the ultimate adventure, exploration and excavation growing up looking for the next unusual find with no answer to what it once was buried in half a century's worth of nature overgrowth.

 Later to be confirmed 'what once was' the largest most dangerous secret factory in Europe.

I attended the Woolwich walk in 1995 when the Royal Arsenal was open to the public for the first time ever for one day on the Western side.Location, Woolwich"

Picture; courtesy of David Harrop and Steve Peterson

*Royal Arsenal History,

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Letters home from a war

Roger Hall
My uncle Roger joined the RAF straight after leaving school aged sixteen.

 By the time he was nineteen he had seen the blitz on Manchester, dodged German submarines in a convoy to South Africa and been bombed by the Luftwaffe in Greece.

All the more surprising given that he had been born in Germany and his mother was German. But the war played some odd tricks on people.

 Mother had also been born in Germany and she to joined the RAF only to be stationed in Lincolnshire on one of the airbases that staged nightly attacks on Cologne which was the city of her birth.

I have often wondered whether in the course of their active service either of them might have had to confront their cousins who were called up to the German armed forces.

84 Squadron Iraq
Bothe regularly wrote home.

The longest of the letters my uncle wrote ran to 22 pages.

 It was written in pencil and covered the period from Christmas 1940 to his arrival in Iraq. It is a powerful evocation of one young man’s war and all the more so because I never knew him.

 Later in the war he was shipped out to the Far East, captured by the Japanese and died of dysentery in a POW camp in Thailand. He was just 21.

I am sure my grandmother took some comfort from the letter; its rhythms follow his speech patterns and are peppered with youthful enthusiasm and contemporary slang.
“....... we were going to Manchester for a last fling, but, as it turned out, Manchester had it’s own private blitz that night –and boy – was it a beauty? We stayed at Wilmslow till Jan. 4th. This implies that I spent Xmas and New Year in Camp. Oh No!!”

And there were the photographs, small black and white snaps of the places he went.

One shows the Greek airfield shortly after it had been bombed, another of him working in a dust blown camp outside Basra, and then there is my favourite, Durban Town Hall.

It so perfectly matches the letter and I suppose was a moment when free from the dangers of war he could relax.

“I went ashore, walked around a bit, took a couple or so photographs and had a good meal.  

I had exhausted a good deal of my 10 shillings when I was picked up. 

Just you listen. I was standing on the corner of some main thoroughfare and a Buick limousine slide up, and the occupant, - one of the most charming girls I’v ever seen asked me “Would you feel insulted if I asked you to dinner?” 

Mother, she could have insulted me anyway she liked. 

 Anyway I remarked I should be delighted to be insulted, I climbed in, away we went, right out to the outskirts of the city, incidentally picking up two friends of mine on the way, Dinner!! 

Mother, that meal after 5 weeks on the boat was ambrosia  Just think, this girl, her sister, her father and mother, - all these in evening gowns and a dress-suit for the father, sitting down with us in Khaki shirt and shorts, stockings and sandals – it must have been a sight!”

And one I would love to have shared.

Pictures; Roger Hall, 84 Squadron, Greek HQ after raiders had passed over, 1941,and Town Hall Durban, 1941  from the collection of Andrew Simpson

When no trains ran from Chorlton railway station

Now I featured the story before of when flooding stopped the trains at Chorlton Railway Station.

But Andy Robertson just passed over this picture from his collection in 1954 and so here is a little of that story with this picture.

After “a day of heavy rains in the North West, the red (flooding imminent) signal was given” in the early hours of January 21st 1954* from Salford along to Didsbury “the river was rolling into the densely populated area of Meadow Road” in Salford and shortly after 2 a.m. the Mersey was said to be pouring over its banks into large parts of the Didsbury and Northenden areas.”

And here we had “one of the most serious cases of flooding in the Manchester area,” as "Chorlton Brook overflowed in the late afternoon over the railway lines.  

The flood waters were thirty inches deep below the platforms and made the station impassable ....... an official at the station said  late last night that the water had started to rise shortly after the rush hour, until it became so deep that there was a danger of it reaching the fire boxes on the trains.”

So there you have, not I suspect the last flood story but enough for now.

*When flooding stopped the trains,

**Manchester Guardian January 21st 1954

Picture; Chorlton Railways Station 1954 from the collection of Andy Robertson

Reflecting on nine years of being a descendant of a British Home Child

It is odd what you come across in the deep recesses of the hard drive.

Back in 2012 I spent a few months giving talks on British Home Children fired by the discovery of my own BHC four years earlier.

Looking again at the Powerpoint it suffers from my lack of detailed knowledge and is less balanced in its interpretation of the causes of migration and its impact on those sent to Canada.

But it was a genuine and honest attempt to bring the story to a British audience, who at best knew a little about the young people migrated to Australia but next to nothing about those who crossed the Atlantic.

Today I would do it a little differently, not that I would change my opinion that the policy was wrong but offer a more balanced approach, which in part is the result of nine years of research digging deep into the records of the Chorlton Union and the work of the Manchester and Salford Boy’s and Girls’ Refuge.*

In the process you come to live with those who made the decisions and broadly supported the policy along with those at the time who opposed it and above all you walk with the parents and young people who were at the heart of BHC.

Through the case studies, the charity’s reports and a shed load of statistics, pamphlets and newspaper articles the context becomes clearer.

Now for those who have been beavering away in Canada none of this will be new or a surprise, but it amounts to a growing revelation for me and continues to alter my understanding of the policy.

But what I would retain from that old powerpoint is the opening which describes the levels of child poverty and neglect in Britain today and explores how we would approach the problem.

At the time it was a useful way of introducing the topic to an audience who knew little about the subject and had only a vague knowledge of life in the late 19th century.

What was also a great help then and remains so are the various BHC help sites which offer a mix of news, advice and above all a realization that our story is broadly that of many others, and the frustrations of missing archives are shared with lots of people.

The sites have grown as has the awareness of BHC and I couldn’t continue without a refenece to Perry Snow who has a long track record in researching and bringing out of the shadows the story of Home Children.

He was one of the first people to offer advice soon after I started the research.

And along with the sites there are the friends I have made and the colleagues I have worked with.  Some like Lori go back a long time to the very beginning of my discovery of our BHC, others like Sandra, Karen and Marion came later.  

Along the way I have had the opportunity to read the books some of them have written on the subject, and in the case of Susan spent two very pleasant days showing her the sights of the twin cities.

From Norma I got the story of her two relatives who like my great uncle were migrated by Middlemore and have been introduced to the writing of Art Joyce.

So as they say it has all been a win and nine years on there are still discoveries to be made about the subject and my own great uncle Roger.

And long may it all continue.

Pictures; from the powerpoint British Home Children – A Story Only Partly Told, 2012

*A new book on the Together Trust,

Monday, 26 June 2017

In search of the Black Brook as it flows through Chorlton

It exists that much I know, because it is there in contemporary accounts from the 19th century and even showed up in a joint local authority report on “strategic flood risk assessment.*

It seems to have run along what is Upper Chorlton Road, crossing north of the Library and then out to Longford Hall feeding a largish pond not far from where Longford Road joins Ryebank Road.

Our local historian Thomas Ellwood mentions it in one of his articles in 1885 linking it to a “footpath from West Point to Brooks’s Bar as a means of communication between Hulme and the village, along which a brook ran, afterwards arched over and utilised by Mr. Brooks as a main sewer for his property, which he drained into the watercourse called Black Brook. The brook frequently flooded the footpath during heavy rain, and old William Hesketh, who lived at the Pop Cottage, was often awakened at night by the cries of travellers for help and guidance through the water.”**

And just a year later turns up in a letter to the Manchester Guardian from a T. Clarke of Athelstone House, High Lane, who drew a connection between the watercourse and “fevers of a malignant character.” “If you take the Manchester Road, in the Black Brook, immediately by the ‘Oswald’ you will have a place of danger and offence.  I believe the ‘The Oswald’ has several times been visited by fevers of a malignant character”***

‘The Oswald’ or Oswald Field was roughly a little north of the library and extending to Oswald Road. From the early 19th century there was a row of cottages here and by the 1880s Oswald Lane ran from Manchester Road up to Oswald Road.

Today only the little stretch of that original Oswald Lane from Manchester Road survives having been re cut in the 1980s, but its old route is preserved in the footpath which continues on to join Oswald Road.

Looking at the 1841 OS it is possible to see the course of the Black Brook, hugging the edge of Oswald Field before running into the biggish pond and onto Longford Park.

By then it was fully culverted. Tracking it back further east is difficult.  It flowed for a while along what id Manchester Road and must have headed north to towards Upper Chorlton Road, but this would take it directly across the path of Longford Brook.

And that is the problem.  That wonderful book The Lost Rivers of Manchester by Geoffrey Ashworth mentions a Black Brook but that is much further east and any way becomes Cringle Brook out by Burnage which leads me to another communication with the Environmental Agency and a closer scrutiny of the SFRA document.

Meanwhile someone will write in to tell me the exact course and the mystery will be solved.

Picture; Oswald Fields, from the OS map of Lancashire, courtesy of Digital Archives,

*Manchester City, Salford City and Trafford Councils Level 2 Hybrid SFRA, Maps Index, Final March 2011
**Thomas Elwood, History of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Chapter 6, Roads, December 12th 1885
***The Sanitary Condition of Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, Manchester Guardian May 19th, 1886.

Catching the train from Manchester in the March of 1917

This is a railway timetable I am looking forward to seeing it.

It is Bradshaw’s Manchester ABC Railway Guide for March 1917.

Now apart from the obvious nerdy desire to look up the times of trains from Chorlton-cum-Hardy into Central Station.

It is the clue to what was happening to our railways during the Great War.

The ever growing demands by the military and the munitions industry for rolling stock to transport men and weaponry had led to a decrease in passenger trains, a rise in the price of railway tickets and a dramatic fall in the number of services.

The companies increasingly made it clear to the public that the railway network was less a means to travel
around the country and more just for essential journeys.

It should be interesting to compare the 1917 guide with those Bradshaw issued before the war began.

So it will be less a guide to getting around Manchester in the March of 1917 and more another insight into the impact of the First World War.

As such it will be another of those little bits of information which will feed into my new book on Manchester and the Great War.

And no doubt it will find its way in to David Harrop’s exhibition of all things to do with the Great War in the Remembrance Lodge at Southern Cemetery.

David purchased the guide yesterday so it should be back in Manchester where it started out just under a century ago.

Now that I like.

Picture; Bradshaw’s Manchester ABC Railway Guide for March 1917, courtesy of David Harrop

*A new book on Manchester and the Great War,

Sunday, 25 June 2017

A Tale of Two Countries ...... by Norma Davis Cook ... .... part four

Bert and Ted remained close to each other the rest of their lives.  Like most twins, they took great delight in tricking people (such as unsuspecting grandchildren) by switching identities and pretending to be each other.  

Bert and Mary Davis

The twins both enjoyed fishing at the “salmon pool” in the Saint John River above Hartland.  It was a sad day for Bert when Ted passed away in 1985, followed soon after by Ted’s wife, Dorothy.

I remember my grandfather as someone with a great sense of humor, in spite of suffering from asthma and arthritis.  In his eighties, he had to get both hips replaced.

He loved to tell about the time he met a huge black bear out in the garden while still getting around with two canes after his surgery.  Bert made his way back to the house as fast as he could—“just a’canin’er”—in his words.

It was touching to see how Bert took care of his wife, Mary, whose vision had deteriorated to the point of blindness in later years.  He took on household chores that most men wouldn’t have done and spoke with obvious pride about his homemade bread.

The passing of Bert and Mary’s only daughter, Jennie Elizabeth Kimball in 1990, was a hard blow, which probably hastened Mary’s own death three years later, on August 5, 1993.  With the love and support of his family, Bert went on to live several more years, until his death on January 20, 2002 at his home in Waterville, NB.  He was nearly 101.

The original intent of sending British children to other countries was to give them a chance at a better life than was possible in their present circumstances.

Bert and Mary took on that challenge and built a life that was shared together for nearly 68 years.  Their legacy of hard work and determination lives on today in those who knew and loved them.

In spite of all the hardships and heartaches experienced by so many British Home Children, including my grandparents, I believe our family’s story is just one example of how God can take the tangled threads of our lives and weave them into a beautiful tapestry.

Ted and Bert
© Norma Davis Cook, 2017

Location; Canada

Pictures; from the collection of Norma Davis Cook

I would just like to thank Norma for sharing these stories.

Revisiting the Great War nu 3 .........relying on charity ....... the National Relief Fund

A fund raising card for the National Fund, 1916
I do have to say it seems odd that when the country embarked on a full scale continental war much of the hardship that followed was met by charities.

Of course given the lack of state intervention in social problems through the previous century I shouldn’t be surprised but never the less it is amazing that the wives of servicemen and those laid off because of the collapse in trade ended up  asking for help from funds raised by donations and subscriptions.

As early as August 6th just two days after the British declaration of war Mr Will Crooks, the Labour MP for Woolwich asked the Prime Minister “what provision is being made for the Reserve men's wives and children, both Navy and Army?”*

And here in Manchester the Manchester Guardian reported that
“Applications for relief from the National Fund are growing rapidly in Manchester........... Up to Saturday 600 applications had been received by the 

Queueing for potatoes, Manchester, 1914
Unemployment Relief Sub Committee.  

On Monday there were 900 more and yesterday brought still another thousand. 

Altogether, therefore, about 2,500 applications had been registered up to last night.  
There are single men and women among them, of course, but in the general run the applicant stands for a family, and 8,000 is probably a low estimate of the number of men, women, and children represented.

Everything points at present to a still more rapid increase in the next few weeks, and with the same state of things general throughout the country the slender resources of the National Fund may soon be exhausted by the absence of other provision.”*

Manchester Guardian, September 15, 1914
The National Fund had been established to assist where reservists had been called up and families had lost their main wage earner.

Some firms in the heady weeks after the war began agreed to meet some or all of the wages of men who had volunteered, but this was not universal.

Added to which the downturn in trade had led to the introduction of short time by some employers and a steady rise in unemployment.

Manchester 1914
As early as August 14th the Manchester Guardian reported that  “at the docks where there has been a fair amount of employment since the outbreak of the war, the position was markedly worse yesterday.  

Many dockers were unable to get work and it is feared that the number of unemployed will increase daily.”  

This was mirrored in the city  where “work is rapidly lessening [and] some warehouses are closing at unusually early hours.  Employers are inclined to adopt the system of short time, with the object of equalising as far as possible the hardships which the workers must suffer.”**

And the plight of the textile towns around Manchester was even worse.

Daily Mail, June 7 1916
All of which meant that the National Relief Fund was a life line to many.

It was administered locally and here in Manchester there were two sub committees, one dealing with the dependants of servicemen and the other with those made unemployed.

The relief was paid in the form of vouchers which were accepted by trades people.

The dire predictions that the fund would be exhausted proved not to be the case as trade began to pick up and by December applications were down compared to October.

As ever it was the low paid workers, such "as carters, charwomen and out porters” who were the worst hit.****

These amounted to 2000 out of 5,400 cases between August and October 24, and were closely followed by those in the tailoring trade and those making a living from taking in lodgers.

The newspapers kept a regular tally of both the amount subscribed locally and the names of those who made a contribution.

These ranged from £100 given to the Manchester branch of the National Fund in September by McKean’s Patent Size Company to £32 from the Macfadyn Memorial Congregational Church down to £10 from the employees of Fred Smith and Co.

Along with such contributions there were fund raising flags that could be bought on street corners, and a huge number of picture postcards specially marketed to raise money.

Defenders of the Empire, 1916
Of these my favourites are those produced by Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd who not wanting to miss an opportunity included in the their dedication that they were the Kings Publishers

And there were plenty of charities to give to.

During the war 18,000 were established providing everything from “comforts” for the troops to clothes for children and help to refugees.

They would raise a staggering amount of money and distribute vast amounts of aid.

And in turn so was the extent to which the public volunteered for everything from running the charities, offering up their homes to refugees and servicemen recovering from wounds along with staffing and funding the Red Cross Hospitals.

That said I still remain a little bemused at a war effort which relied so heavily on voluntary contributions and while that is not a particularly historical observation it is still a personal one.

Pictures;Dedicated to the Army and the Navy By the Kings Publishers, Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd from the series Defenders of the Empire, 1914-1916, courtesy of Tub db, Queue for Potatoes, 1914, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,, and advert from Daily Mail from the collection of David Harrop

With additional research from the Archives & Study Centre,  at the People’s History Museum,

* RESERVE MEN (WIVES AND CHILDREN). HC Deb August 6 1914 vol 65 cc2062-3,


***Work Rapidly Lessening, Manchester Guardian, August 14, 1914

****Unemployment, since the war began and now, Manchester Guardian December 12 1914.