Monday, 31 July 2017

So did you have a relative in the Red Cross during the Great War?

Well if you think you did then the Red Cross has just completed its task of putting all those who served on an online data base.*

Nurses at Willow Bank, Manchester, circa 1915
It includes the scans and transcriptions of over 236,000 paper index cards, each providing details of Voluntary Aid Detachment personnel, known as ‘VADs’, who signed up to help sick and injured servicemen.

The transcription is complete and the Red Cross is now in the process of uploading all the records.

So for anyone wanting to check out a relative the database will be invaluable.

But for those researching the history of a Red Cross hospital there is much here that will also be very useful.

Some of the staff lists of establishments have survived and here in the north west they include a book published by the Red Cross in 1916 and one in 1919.**

All of which means for the Red Cross Hospital in Chorlton-cum-Hardy situated in the Sunday school hall of the Baptist Church it has been possible to discover the lives of some who volunteered.

During that first year of the war 159 volunteers worked at the hospital all and but four came from the township.

Ann Higginbotham aged 22 was the daughter of Alfred and Emily whose family had farmed in Chorlton-cum-Hardy since the 1840’s.  Others like Harry Kemp were new comers.

He had opened two Chemist shops at the beginning of the 20th century and had been elected to the City Council in 1904.

Many of those who served were from the same family.  In some cases a husband and wife volunteered and in another it was a mother and her daughters who gave up time.

In the Kitchen at Heaton Mersey, circa 1914
There were also sisters and brothers acting in various capacities, with some family members helping in the kitchen and others as either nurses or orderlies.

In total there were eighteen families involved.

Some would also be touched by the tragedy of the war.  Thomas Ellwood, who wrote a history of the township and served on the committee, lost his son Thomas in February 1917.

As did Mrs Emma Worlidge who was on the hospital committee, and acted as the Housekeeper. Her son Oswald also died in the February of 1917.

They were a mixed bunch ranging from Mrs Fannie Jane Barlow a mother of two whose husband was an accountant, to Miss Bates whose father was a coal porter and worked in a laundry along with Sidney Bolt who was employed in his father’s shop and Miss Ethel Bedford who was a school teacher.

All were engaged in the November of 1914 when the hospital was opened.  Mrs Barlow who by then was 42 served as a nurse while Miss Bates and Bedford worked in the kitchen and Mr Bolt was an orderly.

It is easy to forget that much of the work done by people like Miss Bates and Mr Bolt were carried out after a day at work, a fact which was not missed by Miss Bowser in her book on the work of the Red Cross.

In one hospital  she visited just outside the city “the entire work was undertaken by mill girls.  

It was a small Hospital and the skilled nursing could be done by one trained Sister who was in charge.  

Under her she had a very large staff of girls and women who mostly had to earn their daily bread by working in factories from early morning until evening.

These women live hard lives, but they ungrudgingly give up hours from their nights in order to get up at five in the morning and go to the Hospital to scrub and to clean until they are due at the factory.  

Again at the other end of the day after they have done long hours at monotonous and often arduous work, they go into the Hospital on their way home and give another couple of hours to the serving of the evening meal, making the beds, and the general tidying up of the words.  
The work during the day is divided amongst the women who have homes and children to tend and can only spare an hour or two away from them.” 

So that database will I expect be trawled over by lots of people.

Pictures; Willow Bank Red Cross Hospital, circa 1914 courtesy of David Harrop, the kitchens, the Red Cross Hospital, Heaton Mersey circ 1914, T Everett-Innes, from the collection of David Harrop

* Red Cross First World War volunteers,

** Red Cross Hospital, An Illustrated Account of the Work of the Branch During the First Year of the War, East Lancashire Branch of the Red Cross Society, 1916 and 2nd Western General Hospital, Manchester 1919

***Bowser, Thekla, The Story of the British V.A.D Work in the Great War, 1917

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Pictures from an Eltham bus ........ nu 14 ....... Grove Market almost open for business

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

Grove Market, 2017
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.”*

Grove Market, 2013
And yesterday Larissa sent me this one with the comment, "This is the Grove Market development from Court Road, opposite the old Crown pub"

Now if like me you are longer in Eltham it’s good to get Larissa's updates.  I will always have a fond spot for the old Grove Market.

It wasn’t anything special, and pales into insignificance when set against modern shopping developments but for me back in the mid 1960s it stood for all that was modern, cool and stylish.

I opened my first bank account in the Midland Bank, ate burgers in the cafe round the corner, and later still picked up the odd pot of paint and roll of wall paper for Dad.

Court Road, circa 1900
So with that in mind I thought I would look back into the collection for earlier pictures of Grove Market.

Alas I don’t have any of it heyday and so have fallen back on one from Chrissie when the end had come and one from before there was even a market.

Location,  Eltham, London

Pictures;  The Grove Market Development,2017, from the collection of Larissa Hammen, Grove Market, December 5th, 2013 courtesy of Chrissie Rose and in the early 20th century from Eltham Through Time, courtesy of Kristina Bedford, 2013,

*Pictures from an Eltham bus,

William Bates soldier of the Great War ............. died on the Western Front aged 17

The popular image of the young men who lied about their age and went off to fight in the Great War is a powerful one, more so when they died before they reached the official age of enlistment.

Historians will tell you that the number was not that large but it happened and William Bates was one of them.

He was just 17 when he died on the Western Front in the August of 1916, and we have David Harrop and some of his friends to thank for bringing Mr Bates out of the shadows.

David recently bought one of the medals awarded to William Bates who served in the Manchester’s and lived on Great Egerton Street in Stockport.

And that began a search for the young man’s story which David and his friends have pieced together.

David then created a facebook page dedicated to the memory of this young soldier and over the course of the next few weeks with David’s help I will tell that story.

Location; Stockport, Manchester and the Western Front

Picture; medal of William Bates, courtesy of David Harrop

*The William BATES in Memorium PAGE compiled by David Harrop Oct 2016

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Thomas Williams of the Canadian Expeditionary Force ............. born in Ontario and buried in south Manchester

Now sometimes stories just have a habit of evolving and so it is with this one.

Over the space of the last few days I have been moving effortlessly from my great uncle Roger who was both a BHC and fought in the Great War to those members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who are buried in our local cemetery.

Like all stories its beginning was a promising one starting with an exhibition which opened on July 1last year  in the Remembrance Lodge of Southern Cemetery.

It had been organised by David Harrop who had drawn from his vast collection of memorabilia from two world wars and was special in that some at least of the exhibits were linked to men who are buried or commemorated in the cemetery.

And just yards away is the line of gravestones of the men of the CEF of which this one belongs to Thomas Williams of the 4th Canadian Mouthed Rifles...

When I  started the research  I only knew him as a name but a little research on the database of the Library and Archives of Canada showed him to have been born in August 1894 in Ontario.*

He was a butcher by trade, stood 5’ 6’’ tall with fair hair and a fair complexion and had blue eyes.

He enlisted in the August of 1915 just days before his 22nd birthday.

So far there is only his Attestation Papers to go on but it is a start and has begun to bring this young man out of the shadows.

He was buried on March 15 1917 and I assume died of his wounds.  It is more than likely that he had been cared for in the big military hospital nearby which before the war had been the hospital of the Withington Workhouse.

It was a hospital I knew well as two of our children were born there in the 1980s and its A&E department saw plenty of us as the lads progressed through a series of sporting injuries.

It closed years ago and has long since been demolished but like Southern Cemetery it is just a few minutes way from where we live.

So with that in mind I resolved that even if I didn’t find out anything more of Thomas Williams I would  be standing in front of his grave on July 1st, which I did.

Location; Southern Cemetery, Manchester

Pictures; the gravestone of Thomas Williams and a Canadian silk postcard from the collection of David Harrop

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Band of Kindness ........ another story of child care from the 19th century

Now I doubt that many will know of the Band of Kindness & Children’s Help Society which was established in 1882, reorganised in 1897 and went through a number of changes to its name which reflected the changes to the focus of its activities.

Band of Kindness, 1897
It is still active today under the title of Disabled Living with its headquarters in Greater Manchester.*

As such it perfectly reflects the way many children’s charities have changed, adapting to the changing needs of society.

I came across it in a box of archive material in Central Ref belonging to the Together Trust which is the subject of the new book.**

The book which I am writing with Liz Sykes who is the archivist of the Trust will describe the work of this children’s charity from 1870 to the present and aims to chronicle the way it has adapted to the changes and philosophy in child care over the last 150 years.

The presence of the Band of Kindness material in the archive owes much to the fact that one of its leading supporters and chairman was a Mr Gilbert R. Kirlew who was involved in the Together Trust and because the two charities worked together.

Letter from the Band of Kindness, 1897
What is interesting is the way that the Band of Kindness developed.

Back in 1897 it worked for “the happiness and blessing of those in our homes and of all we meet.  

The rescue and help of poor City Children and the savour of God’s little ones everywhere  [which] includes the support of destitute children in public and private homes, their emigration to the Colonies, or their temporary stay in the country or at the at the sea side.”

And “the promotion of kindness to dumb animals, as for instance, - our Annual Parade of Working 
Donkeys, when we off prizes for the animals best cared for.”***

By 1903 the Band of Kindness had become The Crippled Children’s Help Society distributing Christmas hampers to disabled children, and in the following year rented a property in Marple with seven rooms offering respite facilities.

Through the rest of the 20th century with minor name changes it continued working with disabled children and families.

Band of Kindness pledge, date unknown
And if like me you are of a certain age you will remember those saving boxes which were placed outside shops and had an almost life size figure of two disabled children holding the collecting box.

It also ran a hospital, a holiday home in north Wales, expanded its work to include adults and broadened its services to include training, occupational therapy and craft classes.

In 1985 it became the Disabled Living Services “as the previous name became offensive and was no longer politically correct”  and finally adopted the title Disabled Living because the “charity was being confused with health and social care services.“*****

Band of Kindness, 1897
Its present offices suffered a fire in 2009 and all its older archive material was lost.

Happily some of it has been retrieved after a chance find of a number of boxes photographs and memorabilia relating to Disabled Living which had been saved buy a former employer.

Which only leaves me to wonder if they know of the Trust’s box and of an interesting piece on Mr Gilbert Kirlew in Getting Down and Dusty which is the blog of the Together Trust.***

So what was lost is found and along the way yet another bit of the story of child care in the 19th and 20th centuries has been revealed.

Location; Manchester

Pictures;  The Band of Kindness & Children’s Help Society, courtesy of the Together Trust******

*Disabled Living,

**A new book on the Together Trust,

*** The Band of Kindness & Children’s Help Society, 1897, Together Trust Archive, M189/1/6/5

**** Disabled Living,

***** Photographs from Canada, 1894, Getting Down and Dusty,

******The Together Trust

Thursday, 27 July 2017

When even Batman and Superman proved no match for Demolition Man ...... the Odeon is officially now a pile of rubble

Well in all the great movies a super hero saves the day.  

He may ride a horse and go under the name of Tom Mix, or wear his underpants on top of his clothes and change in a telephone box but whether man or woman, alien or no, they would save the day.

The evil ones would be defeated, Little Tommy would sleep peacefully in his bed and the Odeon would still offer to entertain the cinema goer for a few brief hours on a wet Monday afternoon.

But as Andy's last picture testifies all the super heroes were off doing other things.

All that is now left is a pile of rubble, leaving Andy to return when bricks and twisted steel are taken away, the ground broken again and that new office development rises from the hole in the ground.

Location; Manchester

Picture; the Odeon, July 25, 2017 from the collection of Andy Robertson

When you are never far away from someone born in Eltham

Now I came across another bit of Eltham today here in Manchester.

To be more accurate it was Cheadle, not Manchester and the bit of Eltham was Ian, who like me left Eltham for the North and never went back.

But both of us still miss the place and we spent a very happy half an hour talking about everything from Well Hall, and the woods to Woolwich and our respective secondary schools.

He to Eltham Green and me to Crown Woods.

Ian stumbled across the blog and later made the connection between me and the new book on the charity.

And as I do I asked Ian if he would like to share his memories of Eltham with some articles for the blog.

Better still have has a shed load of old photographs of the place from the 1920s.

At which point I could mutter “its a small old world” but that would be just stating the obvious, instead I will just offer up the observation that Eltham has worked its magic on the two of us and almost leave it at that ...... but not quite, because just round the corner lives Ed who is from Bexleyheath and who hasn’t lost his south east London accent unlike me.

So watch this spot for a series of unseen Eltham pictures.

Location; Eltham

Pictures; Eltham High Street in 1977 courtesy of Jean Gammons and in  2017, from the collection of Larissa Hamment

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Manchester soldier outside Burrage Grove school in 1915

Outside Burrage Grove school in 1915
Now I rather think this photograph will set off a trail of comments.

We are on Burrage Grove sometime around 1915 and the picture comes from the George Davison collection.

George Davison was born in Manchester, enlisted in the Royal Artillery and for part of 1915 and again 1918 was stationed in Woolwich.

I can’t be sure but I don't think this is Mr Davison.

What fascinates me is the way the picture draws together a number of different stories, not least the fact that

I grew up not far from Burrage Grove and will have friends who may attended the school.

And here is one of those first lessons in dealing with photographs from the past.

Knowing that George was from Manchester I misread the name above the gate and went off on a fruitless search for Burnage Grove School.

When this drew a blank I looked again at the picture and found the name of a the photographer who had premises at 40 Plumstead Road, Woolwich and with that came Burrage Grove School built by the London School Board sometime after 1872.

Now this I know because the London School Board was established in 1870 and the OS map of 1872 does not yet show the school, that said it will have been built sometime during the next two decades, and I have every confidence someone will come up with a date.

All of which just leaves our soldier mounted on his horse outside the building.

Burrage Grove, 1872
Looking at the photograph and the map of 1872 Burrage Grove has changed dramatically although the pub on the corner is still there.

So it begs the question of why focus on this obscure picture of a place long gone?

Well I think because like all lost images this one deserves to come out of the shadows.

In time I will find out more about the school along with the circumstances behind this particular picture and perhaps even who he was.

I know that George Davison spent some time in Woolwich in 1915 and returned briefly on his way to France.  It was on this second period in London that he hastily produced a will which was witnessed by two of his colleagues.

It may also be that he spent another spell here in 1917.  There are no letters to his wife for this year and we know that she spent time in London living near him.

But that is to stray into speculation so that just use leaves us with this picture of a soldier from Manchester in Plumstead sometime during the Great War.

And just after the story was posted Phil contacted me with this, "I've had a search through the British Libraries online local newspaper archives about the school for you. 

The earliest reference that I could find is from the 12/09/1878 with references the 'Burrage Grove Board School' in Plumstead donating £2 10s to the relief fund for the families of the deceased of the liner Princess Alice which was lost in the Thames with the loss of 600 lives following a collision. 

That hopefully helps narrow down an opening date."

And so it does, thank you Phil.  All I need now is some one who who knows who the chap on the horse was.

Picture; from the collection of George Davison, courtesy of David Harrop and Burrage Grove from the OS map of London 1862-72, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

Elizabeth Gaskell ......... gone and never said goodbye to me

Now there will be those who say most unkindly that when it comes to buildings and Andy Robertson’s  photographs there should be a government health warning pinned somewhere to the property.

I say this with great fondness and heaps of respect for Andy’s work but it seems to be a fact that soon after he has made a building the subject of a new series it vanishes.

Of course that is not strictly fair because part of Andy’s work is to record the end of buildings whether they be gentile old houses that have reached the end or warehouses long abandoned and most recently the Odeon.

So here are a few from his latest series.  What was Elizabeth Gaskell College and is no more which I suspect will bring a few nostalgic comments from past students and sadly a simple observation that I missed its passing.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Elizabeth Gaskell now and then from the collection of Andy Robertson

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A chance discovery, finding a family and the magazine Canada 150

Now there is always a big element of chance in history and if I hadn’t discovered that one of my great uncles had been shipped off to Canada as a British Home Child I doubt I would ever have developed an interest in the subject or have been reunited with the Canadian side of my family.

But there you are I did make that chance discovery and as a by product we are now linked up to more cousins that I could ever have imagined.

The process of discovery is little different to most who find out that one of “theirs” for any one of a variety of reasons crossed the Atlantic in the care of children’s charity.

And in the decade since I uncovered the story of our great uncle Roger I have seen BHC become an area of historical study which is mature enough to support differing interpretations and a developing body of information backed up by books, societies and interest groups.

Along the way I have done some talks, written regularly about it on the blog and have contributed to the newsletter produced by Lori Oschefski for British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association.*

All of which is a roundabout way of saying the special Canada 150 magazine arrived from Canada today containing a mix of articles on 150 years of Canadian history and the story of British Home Children.

My one contribution focuses on what might have been one of our first families to leave for the New World.  Strictly speaking we are not directly related but my great aunt who followed Roger over in 1925 married a descendant of that family who incidentliy left from Salfrod just a few miles away from where we live today.

It all get complicated as family history does so I shall just recommend the magazine which is available from the BHC site.*

Leaving me just to add that I have also met lots of new Canadian friends along with Patricia from Sheffield.

Picture; cover of Canada 150

*British Home Children in Canada
**British Home Children in Canada

Manchester Remembering 1914-18 ........ six months on

It is pretty much a given that part of the history business is about anniversaries, whether it is a battle, the birth of someone or the invention of something that didn’t quite change the world.

The book, 2017
Now I am not being sniffy at this, I have over the years trawled the events of the past to write a blog story, responded to others who have a special moment in time and of course produced a book on the start and end of the Great War which included lots of the bits in between.*

And now that book has qualified for a sort of anniversary.

It is just over six months since it was published, and six months and seven days since the first book launch at Central Ref.

Unknown British soldier, circa 1918
Since then there have been more book signings, and the promise of another in the autumn.

But enough of this vain and naked self promotion and instead on to considering what that book meant to me.

On the simplest of levels I got to learn a lot about Manchester during the Great War, and encountered the stories of many, many people who each in their different way contributed to the successful prosecution of that war.

I also lots of people who over the course of the last few years have become good friends.

Unknown British soldier, circa 1918
And what has struck me more than anything is the way the book has taken me off in all sorts of directions making links with places from my own life and has connections with other books I have written and am in the process of writing.

So one family from Manchester who featured in the book spent time in 1915 and 1918 just a few doors from where I grew up in London, and another two could trace their ancestors back to the Chorlton of the first half of the 19th century which I also wrote about it.

And finally a few of the men who went off to fight and had grown up in the care of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges will feature in the new book.**

It all makes for some fascinating links and no doubt others will appear in time, meanwhile new projects like the new book have taken over.

Clara, date unknown
But you don’t spend a couple of years of your life on writing about a subject without a lot of it sitting on your shoulder.

So when I walk down a Manchester street I can catch myself looking for a building or a house linked to someone from the book on the war, and have even found myself coming across a document or pictures which I think would have gone well in the book.

But that is the nature of writing and just leaves me to return to the theme of anniversaries.

Later this month, one hundred years ago was the start of the battle of Passchendaele, and next year will see the anniversary of the end of the Great War, which will be marked by a special event organised by my old friend David Harrop, of which more closer to the time.

For now I shall close with a second personal admission about the book which is that the last but one photograph is of my uncle George, who never served in a Manchester regiment was not from the city and as far as I know never visited it but he served in the Great War.

George Bradford Simpson, circa 1918
He never talked about it and I never asked, which was a shame, so by writing about the conflict and its impact on the men, women and children who lived through it I was drawn closer to both him and the other six members of my immediate family who went through that war.

And that I think is what history is about.

Location; Manchester during the Great War

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Manchester Remembering 1914-18, Andrew Simpson, 2017, the History Press,

**A new book on the Together Trust,

Monday, 24 July 2017

A shopping list, a coal receipt and a little bit of how we lived in the winter of 1963

Now in an age of online shopping I still like the idea of making a list and going down to the shops but I have grown lazy and have reverted to that simple practice of the man with the van.

And today that was what arrived at 6.30 this morning courtesy of the latest supermarket to get into the business of delivering our groceries.

I resisted for a long time arguing the joy of getting out and meeting people and choosing for myself was a paramount adding that it was just another example of that creeping invasion of the internet into my life.

But historically of course the idea of the man with a van is not new, and if I had been from a certain class I might well have expected pretty much all of my food to have arrived at the door courtesy of the “boy and the cart” from the local tradesmen.

The only difference I suppose is that instead of sending the servant with the list or making a phone call today the order is placed by computer and of course the man in the van is equally likely to be a woman.

And as I stare at the itemised receipt I am reminded what a wonderful little bit of history this list is containing as it does not only a record of what we consume but the cost of everything from two bottles of Gavi, three of Pinot Grigio and assorted household products.

All of which neatly leads me to the shopping list made out by my old friend Marjorie Holmes in the winter of 1963 along with a receipt for two bags of coal delivered to the house by H.Hawkard, “Coal & Coke Merchant, Station Approach, Chorlton-cum-Hardy.”

Now such lists and receipts are the stuff of everyday life and most will be discarded pretty much straight away.

My father being a more canny person did tend to keep these records if only to make it easier to shop next time, which I guess is not unlike that tab on the online site which directs you to your favourites.

In the case of Marjorie few of her shopping lists have survived so I can’t say how typical this one was but it gives an idea of the cost of living back in 1963.

Moreover it indicates she was both a regular customer of the Co-op as the divi number at the top of the page testifies and that the order was delivered.

Back in 1963 we still had a Co-op on Beech Road and the coal merchants continued to operate from the Station approach after passenger trains ceased to rum from Chorlton into Central.

Of course there will be those who mutter this is small history, compared to the bigger picture which saw the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before, the assassination of President Kennedy in the November of 1963 and the slow decline in the popularity of the Conservative Government but this is my sort of history.

Pictures; shopping list circa November 1963 and coal receipt, November 1963, courtesy of Marjorie Holmes from the collection of Andrew Simpson

It’s been a long, long journey ......... the last bit of the George Davison story. .... 1886-1918

Now for a year and a bit I pretty much lived with George Davison and his family.

The memorial at Pozieres, 2017
He was born in Harpurhey in 1886 served with the Royal Artillery during the Great War and died in June 1918 on the Western Front.

Much of his life is recorded in what I now call the George Davison Collection which contains documents from his early life, the letters in wrote to his future wife and above all the letters and postcards he sent home while serving in the army.*

It is a remarkable collection and for me has a personal connection because for parts of the war he was stationed in Woolwich and may well have been billeted just a few doors away from where I grew up in Eltham in south east London.

George's letter of June 15 1918
And during the course of writing Manchester Remembering 1914-18 I drew on that collection including one of his last letters dated in the June of 1918 where he described his dug out “You would be surprised to see some of our living places – at present we have an excellent dug out about 20 feet below the surface. 

It has however two drawbacks – poor ventilation and only artificial (candle) light.
Compared to some it is a Palace.”**

And this was where he died on June 17 when the dugout received a direct.  All three men in the dug out were “killed instantly” and according to the Royal Engineers who inspected the position “it was not considered safe to recover the bodies.

The dug out was then filled in and is marked as the resting place of your brother in law and his comrade. ”***

Now I have read and reread those last few letters and they still have the power to move me.

I was prepared for the fact that he was killed but you can never quite shake off either the manner of the death or that the description in the letter of July 6.

The stone inscription, 2017
And today courtesy of Philippe Clerbout we have a picture of the memorial stone at the Pozieres Memorial where Mr Davison is recorded.

It was sent over to David Harrop who now owns the collection and closes the circle on Mr Davison and his family.

"Pozieres is a village 6 kilometres north-east of the town of Albert. The Memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery which is a little south-west of the village on the north side of the main road, D929, from Albert to Pozieres.

On the road frontage is an open arcade terminated by small buildings and broken in the middle by the entrance and gates. Along the sides and the back, stone tablets are fixed in the stone rubble walls bearing the names of the dead grouped under their Regiments.

It should be added that, although the memorial stands in a cemetery of largely Australian graves, it does not bear any Australian names. The Australian soldiers who fell in France and whose graves are not known are commemorated on the National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux."****

Picture; war memorial recording George Davison, courtesy of Philippe Clerbout and letter dated June 15 from the collection of David Harrop

*George Davison,

**Manchester Remembering 1914-18, Andrew Simpson, 2017, the History Press,

***extract of the letter sent to Bdn W.F.Evans, R.A.F, July 6 1918

Sunday, 23 July 2017

With Fond Greetings ......... From a Munitions Worker ........ Helping to “Carry On”

Now I assuming that Elsie who sent this postcard in the December of 1917 was a munitions worker and in time I may be able to locate which factory she worked at.

I know she lived in Haversham which is close to Milton Keynes so the search is on.

In the meantime there is a lesson here, because while I was writing the book I became interested in the insignia women workers wore on their overalls.

Most of the ones I found were not very clear and a hunt on the net turned up some but as ever they were not mine and I was loathe to use them without permission.

And then while looking through the collection of postcards for something else I turned up Elsie’s card to Mrs A Mayhew of Cricklewood.

Along with the badge it gives us a nice bit of war time propaganda and that is about all I am going to say.

Other than Elsie invited Mrs A  “down for Christmas” but hadn’t heard from her despite sending a letter.

Of course I doubt we will ever know if she did.

Location; The Great War

Picture; postcard, circa 1917 from the collection of David Harrop

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Well why should you look up? ................. the Odeon offers up another memory

Now I won’t be alone in not recognising the powder blue ceiling which Andy Robertson captured in his latest set of pictures of the Odeon as Dennis the demolisher continues his work for Derek the developer.

I admire Andy’s tenacity and his determination to record almost on a daily basis the end of the Odeon.

After all this palace of dreams  will be special to many.

And this I know because people tell me that they remember taking their first “important” date there, and later going back with the children and the grandchildren.

And before television it was where you got your news along with all those impossible ‘B’ movies, made on the cheap, derided at the time and now regarded as “classics”.

None of which helps with the ceiling.

I don’t remember it but I bet someone does.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; the Odeon, 2017 from the collection of Andy Robertson

“The Canadians are holding their own” .......... and nor were they alone .......making a bob from the troops in the Great War

Now if you were far from home sending a regular picture post card was away of keeping in touch with the family.

Add caption
And over the four years of the Great War millions of cards must have been sent from army camps ships of the line and from all the battle fronts.

All of which will have been good news for the commercial postcard companies whose commercial considerations meant that when they had a good picture it would be daft not to use it over and over again.

Before the war this meant using the same comic image and altering the name of the seaside resort or in the case of Tuck and Son marketing the same Edwardian “belles” on a series of postcards changing only the city they were from and altering the rhyme extolling their beauty and charms.

So had you been in the south west you could have read “Of all the girls’ it’s nice to meet Torquay girls are hard to beat”, which had become “The prettiest girls it is well known Are mostly found in London Town” and had variations for pretty much everywhere else.

So when the Great War broke out what better than market a winning image with a different regiment.

All of which meant that the romantic card, “The Canadians are coming,” with its picture of a nurse in the arms of a soldier had with a stroke of a pen become “The Manchesters are ‘holding their own’ at Hayward’s Heath.”

Both cards were made by the same company and sold in the same area.

Our Canadian one was posted on September 12 1915 at to a young woman who lived at Norbury Park Farm in Surrey at 9.15.

The farm is still there and with a bit of detective work we may be able to uncover more about the young woman who received the card and along the way whether the Canadians were in the area the postcard was sent from.

We shall see.

Pictures; from the collection of Davis Harrop

*More of "Our Belles" from Tuck & Sons in 1908 and a bit of commercial sharp practice,

The Eagle Society ................ a big bit of the 1950s and yours for a modest subscription

Now if you were born sometime between the middle of the 1940s into the late ‘50s there is every chance that you will have read the Eagle or its companion comics, Girl, Swift and Robin.

In many households the four were interchangeable.  I read the Eagle each week, looked at the Swift and Robin and shared the Girl with Jill who was older than me and not my sister but we have always thought of each other as brother and sister.

All four comics were the best of the best, and having got rid of mine as you do, I spent the late ‘80’s and early 90’s setting about starting the collection all over again.*

And along the way I discovered the Eagle Society.  I can’t remember exactly when I joined and have had short spells when I was not a member but for most of the last three decades I have paid my sub and received each quarter the Eagle Times.**

Every so often the magazine and the four comics have found their way on to the blog.

Some of those stories have explored that wonderful optimistic period that was the 1950s and others just celebrated the “four.”

And now the Eagle Society has reached its 30th birthday.

So if you are my generation then I can think of no better way to remember your youth than by joining the Eagle Society. The annual subscription, UK £27, overseas £38, and as a start you can visit the site at 

Picture; cover of Eagle Times, Summer 2017

*Comics of the 1950s,

**The Eagle Society,

Friday, 21 July 2017

Wandering down Kennedy Street with Andy Robertson

Now Kennedy Street is a place I often write about, partly because two of my favourite pubs are there and also because it has a shed load of history.

And that history once also included the Bella Napoli but that is a story for another time.

For now it is this narrow little street that I am back with and all prompted by three of Andy Robertson’s pictures.

He took them yesterday.

Like me, Andy  found “Kennedy Street so narrow that  it is hard to take in all the buildings. 

I like the one with a facade not pretending to be a facade.”

Back in the 1850s this was the site of a a couple of properties which were in all probability were very similar in design to the City Arms and the Vine.

We know who lived in them where they came from and what they did for a living.

I think Andy has caught the magic of Kennedy Street and that simple observation that so much of our city renews itself as regular intervals always leaving a little of the past to sit with the present.

And for good measure he also included the doorway on Back George Street, corner of Princess Street” which you know must have some fascinating stories lurking behind it.

The stories on the Vine and the City Arms are there on the blog under Manchester pubs and include my own favourite the man who sold leaches.

But he too is for another time although he does appear in those pub stories.

And that is it.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Kennedy Street, July 2017 from the collection of Andy Robertson

Reflecting on the contribution of Sant’ Angello

Sant’ Angello is just outside Sorrento and like everywhere has its own war memorial.

It stands in front of the Municipal Building in a small open space filled with flowers and sits perfectly at the heart of the town.

To one side are some street benches, and on the other a series of cafes from which you can stare back at the statue and the names inscribed on the four faces of the memorial.

It is easy to forget that Italy stood with the allies in the Great War and while the Fascists took the country into the war on the side of Nazi Germany there were many who opposed that alliance with Hitler.

And there were many who not only opposed Fascism and the Fascist adventures in Africa, and then from 1940 in Greece and elsewhere, but also were killed by the regime and later by the German army for that opposition.

All of which makes those tired jokes about Italian bravery both bad taste and inaccurate.

From the socialist deputies murdered when Mussolini took power to the partisans who fought both his government and the Germans that opposition was fierce and determined.

All of which were in my thoughts as I sat in the sun yesterday beside the war memorial of Sant’ Agnello.

The life of the town moves past it and I doubt that many give it much of a glance, but then that I suspect is how most memorials are regarded.

They are a memorial to those who died and are venerated as such but remain just a part of the towns existence.

And that is how it should be.Location; Sant’Agnello

Picture; the war memorial, Sant’ Agnello, 2017, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Thursday, 20 July 2017

On losing your past ............ chasing the records

Now I have lost a little bit of my past.

I say me but that is not strictly true and the past in question may not be particularly significant.

But it is my past, and it has been lost and I doubt it will ever be recovered.

It all started three years ago when it occurred to me that my medical records might shed light on my early life.

Not that I was interested in what I had contracted as a child or the care I received, it was more basic and centred on just what the records might tell me about where we lived.

I knew from my identity card that we lived on Peckham Hill Street, and later Kender Street before moving to Lausanne Road, and that in the first few years we had spent time in Derby with my grandparents.

All of which is a closed book, and like most people I can only begin to put things together sometime after my fifth birthday and even then the memories are vague, fragmentary and pretty much open to question.

That said I have been surprised that some of those memories along with family stories I had assumed I had imagined have pretty much been confirmed.

So it seemed an interesting line of inquiry, although for a long time I thought it too trivial to bother the doctor’s surgery, but when I finally did it appeared that there was nothing before 1992, despite the fact that

I had been registered with the original practice from the early late 1970s.

Eventually two records from the early 1950s surfaced.  A search by the NHS turned up nothing although the chap on the phone did point out that lost was wrong and mislaid was nearer the mark.

And mislaid they still appear to be.

There will be some, who say this is not a big deal, and in the great sweep of things it isn’t, but anyone who has tried tracking the history of a family member will know all records are important and there remain many which are not accessible or have been lost.

Nor is this just a problem that increases with time.  The recent past can be even more of a closed book.

There are no census records available after 1911, the 1939 register has gaps due to confidentiality and a large number of military records from the Great War were destroyed in the Second World War.

Added to which those same considerations of confidentiality rule out a whole swathe of personal information, compounded by that simple fact that much was just thrown away.

Before the 20th century there can be a cornucopia of information which these days is fast  becoming digitilized making it easier to discover the lives of long dead relatives..

But it was still possible to fall out of the records.  My great grandfather never married my great grandmother and despite having four children together when the relationship ended he appears never to have made contact with any of his children and was confident that he had fallen through the cracks that married and raised a second family.

Likewise my great uncle who had been migrated as a British Home Child to Canada, ran away from his last placement, joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915, changed his name and lied about his age.

But despite these limitations I know more about the early years of my grandfather and his siblings than I do my own.

So perhaps the medical records might have helped.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson