Saturday, 30 September 2017

Friday, 29 September 2017

Celebrating the history of a park in film ..... with Fred and Ana Lucia

Last night I was in Central Ref watching the new short film on the history of Alexandra Park.

The steps at the entrance to the Alexandra Park, 1907
It is the work of film makers Fred Coker and Ana Lucía Cuevas.

I first met Fred and Ana Lucía about a year ago when they were already engaged in producing the film which focuses on both the early history of the park and its story during and after the last world war.

The project was part of a wider initiative to celebrate both its past and the exciting make over which has returned Alexandra Park to place at the heart of the community.

That initiative took the form of three parts and along with the film there is a book written by the Heritage Group and a set of story boards which are on permanent display in Chorlton Lodge.

Looking in through the trees, 2013
The evening was organised by the Friends of the Park and of course there were a few speeches, some excellent sparkling wine and a “full house.”

Like all good evenings the speeches were short, but instructive and there was a presentation to Angela Downing who headed up the Heritage Group's contribution.

Now Angela as ever was modest about her role but everyone was aware of just what she had done behind the scenes, both in pulling the project together and especially in the production of the book which is on sale for £6.

But last night was about the film and it fulfilled my expectations.

It told the story with pace and depth, supported with a soundtrack that carried the film forward and above all offered up some stunning modern images of the park with plenty from the past which I had never seen before.

Anna Lucia and Fred on the night
And for a historian those older images were fascinating and I know took a long time to research.

So there it is, not much more to say, other than I will be looking to see the film again and recommend a trip to the park to catch the story boards and of course to obtain the book.

Location; Central Ref and Alexandra Park

Pictures; entrance to Alexandra Park, circa 1907 courtesy of Ann Love, Alexandra Park, 2013 and last night in the Ref with Fred and Ana Lucía, 2017, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Fred Coker / Ana Lucía Cuevas,
Armadillo Productions

Discovering more of that building on Cambridge Street

Now the Hotspur Press building has attracted more than its fair share of photographs.

I noticed that some sell for over £100 a copy which I suppose reflects its history, which started a cotton mill, became a print shop run by the Percy Brothers and closed in 2011.

Andy Robertson took a trip round the building and discovered some of its more interesting past, like the Medlock which flows past this old mill.

Today it is surrounded by flat conversions which were home to factories and warehouses and which stand beside tall 21st century developments.

There will be someone who has an up to the minute take on the future of his old building, and I should have gone looking at the planning portal for the city but instead I will leave that to someone else.

And who knows we might get a score of stories of those who worked there or just remember tales from its long history.

I hope so.

Either way, Andy's short series of the place is a welcome addition to the collection on the building and of course his own portfolio of images of our industrial past.

Location; Chorltonon Medlock

Picture; from the Hotspur Press series, 2017 from the collection of Andy Robertson

You have to laugh ....... comedy from the Great War No.3 missing the post

A short series show casing comic picture postcards from the Great War.

Picture; from the collection of David Harrop

Thursday, 28 September 2017

That building on Cambridge Street

Now the Hotspur Press building has attracted more than its fair share of photographs.

I noticed that some sell for over £100 a copy which I suppose reflects its history, which started as a cotton mill, became a print shop, run by the Percy Brothers and closed in 2011.

I could say more but instead will turn Andy Robertson’s pictures into a short new series.

And despite my entreaties to do so Andy has yet to put a price on his work.

I think he should.

Location; Chorlton0n Medlock

Picture; from the Hotspur Press series, 2017 from the collection of Andy Robertson

You have to laugh ....... comedy from the Great War No.2 the First Post

A short series show casing comic picture postcards from the Great War.

Picture; from the collection of David Harrop

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

You have to laugh ....... comedy from the Great War No.1 the Drunk

A short series show casing comic picture postcards from the Great War.

Picture; from the collection of David Harrop

The Zero Hour Contract ........... something that sounds familiar

I am old enough to remember being told about the scandal of casual dock labour.It was a system whereby men working in the docks had to turn up everyday and present themselves on the off chance that a ship had arrived, which needed unloading and which the dock employers needed labour to shift the load.

Unloading after casualization had been ended
In 1946 the Labour MP Stan Awberry wrote that dockworkers  “are taken on for short periods varying from a few hours to several days, and paid when the job was completed.......they  are engaged day by day, either for a part of the day, a full day or for the full operation of loading or discharging a ship. 

There is no continuity, and there is always the element of chance about what will be forthcoming on the morrow."

And that sounds very similar to one definition of the Zero Hour Contract I read “where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, while the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered.”

Much is made by some of the advantages of flexibility it gives both employees and employer.  In the case of the worker they are freed up so the mantra goes to do all the other things which they may want to do, while for the employer it makes economic sense to be able offer paid employment only when there is a need to do so.

In that respect many employers are only echoing those in the docks in the 19th and early 20th centuries who argued that the “uncontrollable forces in the shipping industry, such as tides, wind and weather, which affect the regularity of the arrival of cargoes by ship and barge, [and] the seasonal trades in tea, timber, cotton, bananas, wool” made casual labour the only realistic way to operate.

All of which seems fine and dandy but doesn’t help the employee budget for a week’s food, rent, and

Nor does it offer any security.

So in the case of one of our lads who turned up for work as asked at 7 am only to  discover that the situation had changed and he was not required till 11 that morning, leaving him to hang around, unpaid for the four hours.

All of which points to that simple observation that the relationship between employer and employee is not equal and in the absence of trade union representation the worker is pretty much isolated.

And at a time when Zero Hour contracts are becoming the norm in many areas of work it is no more realistic for the employee to go elsewhere than it was for those engaged as dock workers to entertain an alternative career as a brain surgeon.

Picture; unloading on the Thames, 1978, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*The Labour Problem S.S Awberry M.P, The Spectator December 1946,

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A lost bridge across the Brook

Now I think it is time for a walk across the meadows in search of Mosley Bridge.

It was a small bridge over the Brook put up by Charles Walker and later washed away.  Charles Walker was the son of Thomas Walker, the radical, and lived at Longford Hall and the bridge connected his land on either side of the brook.

In the 1830s it was destroyed by a flood, and a new one was built where the brook joins the Mersey which makes it easy to find.  It’s there on the old tithe map of 1845 and looks to be roughly where the bridge is today.

But I am not sure that this is our bridge.  Over the last fifty years the banks and the land on either side of where the brook runs into the Mersey have been raised a number of times but from memory the masonry looks old.  And a bridge does show up on the right spot not only the tithe map of 1845 but on the earlier OS for 1841 and the later OS of 1888-93.

So far I have not come across any old photographs of the bridge but there is a painting made by J Montgomery in 1963 looking east along the line of the Brook.  Stand on that exact spot today and to the south there is a dense collection of bushes and small trees which were entirely missing when Montgomery recorded the scene.

But neither his or the modern view are how it was.  Back in the 1840s, to the south of the Brook on what was Charles Walker’s land were water meadows, while away to our left just beyond the field was Walker’s orchard.

Now before I take a walk down to the spot I should really ask my old botanist pal David Bishop whose knowledge of the place goes back to the 1970s and whose blog at is a wonderful collection of information about the land and the plant life along this stretch of the Mersey on the edge of our township.

Picture; Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, Junction of Gore Brook [Chorlton Brook] and the River Mersey, J Montgomery 1963, m80140

"The ghost sign with a story ..... “Hello, good evening and welcome.”*

“Not Chorlton or even Manchester but when I saw this ghost sign, Frost I immediately looked closer thinking of Frosts in Chorlton and then saw the plaque next to it.” Suzanne

We have Suzanne to thank for this one, which comes from Halesworth, which is in Suffolk.
Halesworth is according to one source a small market town with a of 4,726, located 15 miles south west of Lowestoft, and stands on a small tributary of the River Blyth, 9 miles .**

The Romans were here, and it has a medieval church which the Victorians added to, and amongst its other bits of history it got its own railway station in 1854 and had one of the only moveable station platforms in the country.

It was also home to Mr William Frost who had an ironmonger’s shop in the town and who was the grandfather of Sir David Frost.

All of which makes it quite a find, so thank you Suzanne.

And not content with having that ghost sign and moveable railway station platform Suzanne added that “another bit of information is all the bollards along the village high street are hand painted by the residents. 

It caused problems initially with the local council and they were told to return them to the original plain black but they refused and the council gave way in the end. All individually decorated.”

Now that I bet David Frost would have turned into a sketch.

Sadly we will never know but here are two links for those who want to know more about the hand painted bollards

Location; Suffolk

Picture; ghost sign and green plaque, 2017 from the collection of Suzanne Moorehead

*Sir David Frost


Monday, 25 September 2017

“Clutter from Albion Street”

I think Andy’s comment on his picture pretty much says it all.

Location Albion Street, Manchester

Picture; Clutter from Albion Street, 2017 from the collection of Andy Robertson

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Scenes of Beech Road, ................. circa 1920

Now I often features pictures of my road, and to compliment the paintings by Peter Topping of Beech Road today I thought I would include a few from the inter war years.

Here is Beech Road from sometime in the early 1920s.

 All the buildings are there although the shops are selling different things and compared with the traffic today there is just the one horse drawn delivery van. 

Away in the distance is the terrace of houses built by Scott the builder including of course the one Joe and Mary Ann lived in.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

On being ten and the magic of that pond at Hough End Hall in the summer of 1953

Now if you were ten on a slow Sunday in August you might have been tempted by the pond at Hough End Hall.

There are some now in their sixties and older who will privately confess it was on their to do list along with a bit of scrumming and sneaking in without paying at the old Palais de Luxe cinema.

Nor were they along for a young Oliver Bailey whose parents were tenants of the Hall and later bought it  remembers that while the pond was not deep it was perfect for testing out the steam driven model boats he and his brother made.

All of which fits nicely with Peter’s painting which is one of a series based on original photographs of the hall in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

And just as I was finishing the story I had a conversation with my old friend Faith who also remembered the hall during the 1950s, and of equally adventurous days playing by the Bumps which was that stretch of land running east alongside the Brook behind the Hall.

Part of the adventure involved riding a bike along the bank and trying not to fall in.

In time perhaps Peter could paint that scene although Faith tells me that the area is now fenced off.

Well perhaps that is just the challenge Peter needs to recreate an adventure.

Painting; Hough End Hall circa 1953,  ©2014 Peter Topping Paintings from Pictures

Somewhere in Greece, sometime in the 1980s ............. a lesson in dating and describing holiday snaps

Now here is an objective lesson for all historians and anyone who wants to remember events people and places.

We are in Greece, sometime in the 1980s, but exactly where and when is now pretty much lost forever.

Like most people old summer holidays fade and merge into that mix of fond memories and the odd disaster.

Now for most of the time the unknown picture is just that not very important, but when it is a family member or a place with some personal significance, it does matter.

So there you have it, always write something on the back.

Picture; Greece in the 1980s, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Saturday, 23 September 2017

So no more will I travel to places faraway from a platform in Exchange Station

You will have to be of a certain age to remember taking the train from Exchange Railway Station, and soon even the memory of driving up that wide road to the temporary NCP car park will be a fading memory.

Of course for those who spend time in the shinny new glass building at the end of the old entrance, that walk will just be part of a working day.

Location; Manchester

Picture; remembering Exchange Railway Station, 2017, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Mrs Gaskell's Baths, under the Imperial Buildings on Oxford Road

Here courtesy of Sally Dervan is an intriguing story. 

No visit to the theatre is complete without buying a programme.

Manchester theatregoers in the 1930s, 40s and 50s would settle into their seats and flick through their programmes before the performance began.

Maybe an advert in the programme would direct them to their next source of entertainment and fun?

The Gaskell family were hoping that would be the case.

Nestled between adverts for Affleck and Browns, Rolls Restaurant and Clifton’s Chocolates there was a regular advert for “Gaskells Baths”

Gaskells were offering swimming and diving lessons and Turkish and medical baths, all under the supervision of Peggy Gaskell.

The watery delights were offered “ under “ something else as well , because Gaskells Baths, including a heated pool , were actually under the Imperial Buildings , just on the other side of the railway bridge from the Refuge Buildings on Oxford Road.

A reporter from The Guardian Newspaper in 1959 experienced a sauna at Gaskells. He spent seven minutes in the sauna and commented that “it sweeps the filth of Manchester out of one’s pores“He also reported that Peggy Gaskell told him that Gaskells was, at that time, the only sauna in the country outside London.

As well as swimming and saunas, Gaskell’s offered treatments for obesity, rheumatism and sciatica

By the 1950s the adverts for Gaskells included a hairdresser on site. Presumably the lethal combination of swimming and steam left the ladies in need of a little help before they stepped back out into the hustle and bustle of Oxford Road.

In  the mid 1960s the adverts for Gaskells on Oxford Road seem to have disappeared.

A newspaper article from the MEN in 2005 might hold the clue to the other venture that may have been keeping Peggy Gaskell busy.

The report marks the death of “Manchester’s First Lady of Business” It told the story of Peggy Gaskell who opened Manchester’s first outdoor swimming pool, The Galleon at Didsbury, in 1936.

The report says that Peggy was running the Galleon until she was well into her 70s and she stayed a picture of health until her death, aged 93.

What are the chances of two people with the same name, both being involved in opening swimming facilities that were remarkably pioneering and ahead of their time?

I can’t find anything to confirm for sure that the two Peggy Gaskells are one and the same- but if they are not, I will eat my swimming hat....!

© Sally Dervan, March 2014

Pictures; from the collection of Sally Dervan

Friday, 22 September 2017

When Miss Peroni came to town ..............

Now the end of that building which finishes at Albert Bridge has had more than a few ibig adverts over the years.

Some like the Morrisons ad in 2014 or the “Do Less Earn More” one from eight years earlier never caught my interest while others like that for I Pad in 2012 were at best ordinary.

But I did like the three camels from 2011 with its caption “Manchester to Dubai and beyond.” 

And more recently I was attracted to the Peroni one which in the June of this year brightened up my day.

Location; Manchester

Picture; Peroni ad, 2017, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Waiting for the ghost sign .........

Now on a bright sunny September day with all the promise of an autumnal adventure to come, I couldn’t resist featuring Ron’s picture.

He says with some truth “Not a ghost sign but the way pubs are closing down, who knows? 

Taken on the main street in Stourport-on-Severn. 

Nice to see that gable ends are still used for advertising.”

And I of course I have to agree with him.

That said I doubt the owners of the pub or the brewery are quite ready for it to be described as a ghost sign given that these are often all that is left of a business or product that has long ceased to exist.

Still I like it and as Ron says it’s good to see that the tradition of painting a sigh on a wall and advertising  is still with us.

And for those with an interest, according to WHAT?UB, it is a "Busy high street pub in the heart of the Georgian town of Stourport, and refurbished in 2017.

It has two rooms known as the Big Bar and the Little Bar. The Little Bar is used for serving Sunday dinners and pub meals during the day.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the Winter into Spring, Bank's bitter and mild are on offer at £1.99/pint. Three real ales from the Marson's list."

Location; Stourport-on-Severn

Picture; The Wheatsheaf, 38-39 High St, Stourport-on-Severn, 2017, from the collection of Ron Stubley


Thursday, 21 September 2017

It’s the little bits of Chorlton’s history that prove fascinating ...... upstairs in the grandest of our old cinemas.

Now I reckon most people know the story of the cinema on Manchester Road.  

It closed in 1962 as the Gaumont having offered feature films, news reels and Saturday Morning Pictures along with choc ices, Kia-Ora and of course the Bee Gees.

And in the 42 years that it entertained the people of Chorlton it changed its name from the Picture House, to the Savoy and finally ending up as the Gaumont and at one time nearly became The New Magestic Cinema.

But most people will only know it as the Coop Funeral Care and it’s from the staff of the business that I have to thank for this little bit of Chorlton’s history.

For in a conversation with them last night I learnt that for years the upstairs which once formed the circle of the picture house was where the coffins were made.

From that floor they were dispatched by shute to the ground floor.

In the great sweep of history I am the first to admit that this would not warrant even a footnote in most respectable history books but I like it especially as it points up to that simple observation that there is always something new to discover.

And that alone may qualify the Gaumont for an entry in the new book I am writing with Peter Topping which we have called the Quirks of Chorlton.

As the name implies it is a light hearted but a scholarly look at bits of Chorlton whose history may never get into the official accounts of the township.

So with that in mind there is a standing invitation to nominate a place or person to be considered for inclusion.

And if you have a picture all the better, although it does have to be your own and not lifted from elsewhere.
Leaving me just to confess that I am of that age to have referred to the cinema as the “flicks” but there are no prizes for knowing why.

Location; Chorlton

Pictures; Coop Funeral Care, 2014 from the collection of Andy Roberston, and the Picture House, circa 1920 from the Lloyd Collection

Recovering from wounds in a Red Cross Hospital during the Great War

Alexandra Park School Red Cross Hospital, date unknown
The story of the voluntary Red Cross Hospitals which were set up during the Great War was not one I knew much about.

Given the huge numbers of casualties I suppose I should have realised that there would be a huge demand for hospital beds to take those recovering from wounds and illnesses.

And even before the war had begun the Red Cross had planned for just such an eventuality.

McLaren Memorial Baptist Church, Edge Lane, circa 1920
What started me off was the discovery of one of these hospitals on Edge Lane in the Sunday School of the old Baptist Church.

Both buildings have long gone but the Sunday School of the Methodist Church on Manchester Road is still there and this was the second of the hospitals in Chorlton.

After that it was just a matter of research to track them down in Whalley Range, Didsbury, Flixton and pretty much everywhere.

Some were in large private homes or like those in Chorlton in public buildings volunteered for the duration of the war.

Alexandra Park School Red Cross Hospital, date unknown
They were quickly established, supported by the local community and with the end of the war closed almost as quickly.

Looking through the newspapers for 1918 and 1919 you can come across plenty of adverts for the sale of the fitments and fixtures, including beds, blankets buckets, typewriters in fact everything which allowed the hospital to function.

And with the sale of all these and the return of the buildings to other uses the presence of the hospitals quickly faded from memory.

Alexandra Park School Red Cross Hospital, date unknown
I suppose it was inevitable having performed their task they receded back from popular thought and within a few generations were pretty much forgotten.

Some of course continued as private hospitals and in time became part of the NHS but many more have been lost to history.

So with that in mind here are three photographs from the Red Cross Hospital at Alexandra Park School, Edgeley in Stockport.

The images pretty much speak for themselves but it is worth drawing attention to the hospital blues which were the uniform worn by men convalescing and the presence of the same wheel chair in all three.

The photographs come from the extensive collection of David Harrop who runs a permanent exhibition in the Remembrance Hall at Southern Cemetery.

Pictures; the Red Cross Hospital at Alexandra Park School, Edgeley in Stockport, date unknown courtesy of David Harrop and the McLaren Memorial Baptist Church, Edge Lane, from the Lloyd Collection,

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Who were these unknown men of the Great War?

This is another of those pictures whose story I doubt I will ever know.

It is from the collection of David Harrop, and is undated and comes with no clue as to where it was taken.

Now there will be somebody out there who can help.

The men are wearing spurs and bandoliers which suggest they were a cavalry unit or from the Royal Artillery.

There may also be something in the design of the train carriages which I think varied from railway company to railway company.

So find which company and we may be able to identify a location.

The original photograph was in a poor state but with the help of David’s friend Bernard we have a clearer image and so it would be nice to know more about these men and their eventual destination.

Picture; unknown unit of British soldiers, sometime during the Great War somewhere in Britain, courtesy of David Harrop

Home thoughts of Varese

Now I know you can buy LAVAZZA coffee pretty much anywhere here but when I see the original Italian packaging bought from an Esselunga store I think of Simone and Rosa in Varese.

Picture; LAVAZZA, 2017, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Looking out of Salford ....... the Middlewood Locks story

Now Andy’s picture of Hampson Street, taken from Oldfield Road in 2014 is as he says the “common thread” to his new collection.

Over the last few years Andy has been wandering down there and photographing the Middlewood Locks and with that unerring eye to spot future change he marked down the area as one of special interest.

And yesterday he was back and in the space of three years much has begun to change.  The open expanse of land with its mix of wild undergrowth and stunning views across open water has been transformed.

It is of course a development that will be familiar to anyone who has walked around the bits of Salford and Manchester which were once home to bustling industry and the modest homes of those who lived in the inner city.

Over the years Andy has not only chronicled those changes but has taken some mean pictures at the same time.

So with that said, here is one of my favourites of his from that 2014 photo shot.

If like me you have a corny sense for captions, the one that springs to my mind is "the long and winding road," not that  Hampson Street is in anyway winding and if it leads anywhere its towards the Beetham Tower.

But the dramatic image of tall blocks rising in Andy's second picture must bring forth some comments.

Enough said.

Location; Middlewood Locks, 2014

Pictures; Middlewood Locks, 2014, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Monday, 18 September 2017

Blighty ............. a unique record from the Great War part 5 the mystery nurse

A Red Cross nurse, circa 1916-1919
I doubt I will ever find out the identity of this Red Cross Nurse.

She was drawn by a patient recovering in the St John’s Hospital in Cheltenham and the picture will date from 1916 through to 1919.

I can’t be exactly sure of the date, the artist or of course the nurse, but it remains a powerful link to the past.

It’s one of 29 pictures, poems and comments left in the autograph book which had been started by Ms Rachel Wattis in the August of 1916.

So this could be her or perhaps Miss Margaret Adelaide Brown who is also mentioned in one of the comments.

But beyond that I am stumped.  Neither woman has as yet shown up in the historical records.

Some of the collection on display at the Remembrance Lodge
There is one reference to Miss Brown in the Red Cross data base from which I know she was engaged on November 1 1916 and that is it.

Not much to go on and the chances are our young woman is neither of these.

But this will not be the end of the search.

I know that the Red Cross produced a report on St John’s which lists some of the personnel, and there may be something more in the archive at the Cheltenham Local & Family History Library* who have already been most helpful.

Of course it is easy to become discouraged but I think it is well worth the effort to keep looking, if only to give a greater context to the 29 men and two nurses who appear in that autograph book.

Now there must have been hundreds of these books but as far as I know there are few now available to look at.

This one comes from the collection of David Harrop and may well form part of his forthcoming exhibition at the Remembrance Lodge in Southern Cemetery which holds a fascinating array of memorabilia from both world wars.

Much of the material is the everyday stuff we pick up, keep for a while and then discard, like the porcelain souvenir tanks which will have graced a sideboard, the comic picture postcards sent from the Front or the more sombre official communications from the War Ministry.

Ms Rachel Wattis
Many allow you to track an individual through the Great War, and others like the autograph book offer tantalizing glimpses of the men and women as yet only half seen.

Still I have high hopes that some of the men in that Red Cross book will come out of the shadows and perhaps even my nurse.

We shall see.

Picture; unknown nurse from Blighty, the autograph book of St John’s Red Cross Hospital, Cheltenham, courtesy of David Harrop

Entry from Blighty, © David Harrop

* Cheltenham Local & Family History Library,

On discovering that bakery on the Via Pietro Giannone

Now it is one of the upsides of visiting somewhere new that you discover plenty of places you didn’t know exist.

And so it was when Rosa sent us off to buy some bread from the bakery at the top of her road which is La Cucina di Altamura.*

Here were a fine selection of pastries as well as bread and like all good food shops the produce was not just cooked on site but there are big windows on the main road which allow you to see it all being made.

More  than that there is an a restaurant which was full with a mix of people from the young couple who were very much in love and lingering over the their coffee, while at the next table was a mother and child and rubbing shoulders with a group of immaculately dressed 40s somethings, were a group of workmen.

Of course I am well aware that few who read this will ever be on the Via Pietro Giannone and be able to sample the selection of bread and fine cakes, all of which may leave some to mutter “what a pretentious piece.”

But not so, if the blog is anything it is about the history and stories of places everywhere.

So that is that.

Location; Varese

Pictures; La Cucina Di Altamura, 2017 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

* La Cucina di Altamura,  Via Pietro Giannone, 2, 21100 Varese VA, Italy

Missing Carol Arden "Stylist to the Stars" on Oxford Road

It is easy how you can let events pass you by and I have no idea when most of these buildings got their new brick facades but I guess it will have been around 2003

This was when on the Eight Day moved back into their new building on the corner of Sidney Street.

By then the Post Office had vacated their premises and Johnny Road House had shrunk to one shop and the strip had pretty much just become a set of food outlets.

Back in the 1970s along with a very different Eight Day I remember Carol Ardern “Stylist to the Stars” and newsagents and perhaps even greengrocers, all of which brings me back to that simple observation that you should never take a place for granted.

Picture; Oxford Road, 2015, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Blighty ............. a unique record from the Great War part 6 of doctors and nurses and airman

Some of the doctors and nurses at St John's circa 1917
Now sometime in 1917 one of the patients of the St John’s Hospital in Cheltenham put together an imaginary “meeting” of some of the doctors and nurses.

It was a bit of fun but it has handed us a clue to a few of the Red Cross staff who tended to the wounded and it reminded me of that simple lesson that you should always do your research thoroughly for had I done so I would not have made that most basic of mistakes and written something about the hospital which was wrong.

F Wilson, 10th Argyle and Sutherlands
I had assumed that we knew only two of the nurses and they have proved elusive to track down but not so for here now are the names of sixteen doctors and nurses who in the fullness of time will offer up something of their lives.

And that will put into context the book which includes their names and those of some of the men who stayed at St John’s.

It was an autograph book started by Miss Rachel Wattis who hoped that it would be a permanent reminder of the men who passed through the hospital and would still be seen

“When the leaves of this Book are yellow with age,
And the fingers are still that have wrote on this page,”

And just under a century later I am privileged to be able to turn those pages and read the poems and inscriptions along with some fine drawings and water colours.

Sgt J H DeGraves, 1917
Here is a tiny but moving piece of history recording the thoughts of men from every part of Britain and from further away for one of the entries is from a young soldier of the “47 Canadian Infantry Wounded Vimy Ridge January 1 1917.”

And he turned out to be the first whose story came to light after the article was posted on a Canadian site dedicated to British Home Children.

Having read the account of his stay in Cheltenham Susan Brazeau in Alberta went looking for his service records and we now know he enlisted in Vancouver in the July of 1915, and was 31 when he was wounded.

I have every confidence more of the lives of those named in the book will come forward.

Already with the help of one of the archivists at Cheltenham Local & Family History Library it has been possible track Miss Rachel Wattis by following the name of her brother whose name appears below her inscription.

 “The inscription at the bottom of the image says “1st (A?) Wattis , Late 15th Squadron, RFC”…

Rachael Wattis and Harry Wattis, 1916
I’ve looked him up and he was H Wattis 2nd class (or possibly 1st class) Air Mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps, number 3264. 

He saw action in France and was mobilised around 20/12/2015 earning the 15 Star but no later medals. I would assume he may have been injured early in the war as a lot of 15 Squadron were injured flying reconnaissance missions. 

Having looked on the Imperial War Museum site ‘lives of the first world war’ I note there is a Harry Hampton Wattis with the same regimental number who was in the RFC (he’s actually on there twice, also shown as H Wattis). 

The full inscription of Ms R Wattis, 1916
Having looked on the 1911 census I have found him living at 57 Fulham Road Sparkhill B'ham with his mother and sister (both called Rachel) so I think this is likely to be the family in question. 

Worth  a bit more delving maybe…”**

Now that just makes the history jump off the page and of course points to the importance of sharing and working together.

So with that said and a bit more of the lives of the some of St John’s Hospital revealed I will go off and ponder what next.

Pictures; entries from Blighty, the autograph book of St John’s Red Cross Hospital, Cheltenham, courtesy of David Harrop 

Entry from Blighty, © David Harrop

* Cheltenham Local & Family History Library

** Rebecca Sillence, Library Customer Assistant, Cheltenham Local & Family History Library