Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The stories behind the picture ................... Manchester in the 1870s

Now you know just by looking at the photograph that there is a story here.

And the more you look it is apparent that there will be as many stories as there are people staring back at us.

It starts with those young boys, all in uniform and many holding musical instruments and goes on to the adults.

Their tall hats and beards suggest a date sometime in the 1870s.

Of course we do have to be careful because often the appearance of a person, from their clothes to the style of their hair may reflect the fashions of an early age from which the individual has not moved on from.

Finally there is the banner which is difficult toread but there is enough to suggest a message carrying a high moral tone.

So it might be logical to suppose that this is the youth wing of a religious group and that might takes us to the Salvation Army or the Boys Brigade or any one of a number of others.

The Salvation Army is a candidate in that it was formed in 1865 and just possibly so is the Boy’s Brigade which was established in 1883.

But neither fit the picture.  In the case of the Boys Brigade while the organisation was formed in 1883 in Glasgow it would be a full decade before it took root across the country and I know this is not a group of  Salvation Army, because we are in the back yard of a building belonging to the Manchester & Salford Boys’ and Girl’s Refuges which was established in 1870.

Their original purpose was to rescue destitute children from the streets of Manchester and Salford but expanded into a much wider organisation which owned homes, undertook the vocational training of young people and campaigned for better working conditions for those children engaged in a range of exploited labour.

Alongside these activities the charity was also active in the prosecution of parents who were abusive or neglectful, and offered help to others who through bereavement, ill health or unemployment found it difficult to support their children.

Finally like many other children’s charities they migrated some of those in their care to Canada.

In the case of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges this part of their work lasted just 34 years from 1872 till 1914 in two short periods from 1872-75 and 1883-1914.

The organisation still exists although it is now the Together Trust,  and is based in Cheadle and it is still engaged in the primary role of helping young people.

For me as a historian leaving aside all their good work it is their archive that fascinates me, which includes the records of those who went through the charity including admission books, letters and profiles and photographs.

And as you would expect the archivist of the Trust is very careful about confidentiality and the rights of individuals to their anonymity even a century and bit on from when they were admitted.

That said she regularly features some of the material in the Trust’s blog.*

And that brings me back neatly to our picture which dates from the 1873 and was taken in the back yard of the charity’s building in Strangeways.
Now this I know because I asked the archivist who for good measure supplied the message on the banner which reads Boy's Refuges, Industrial Home, Francis Street, Strangeways.

The rest as they say is for another time.

Picture; resources at the Together Trust, courtesy of the Together Trust,

*Getting down and dusty, the Together Trust,

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