Friday, 31 March 2017

Going to the “flicks" on Longford Road in Chorlton in 1913

Now as a story it is less a detailed and comprehensive piece of history and more just another tantalising clue to how we enjoyed ourselves in 1913.

The Skating Rink and Pucturedrome, 1946 from 1906
Back then the cinema was still in its infancy but that said already from Didsbury down to Withington and across to Whalley Range there were picture houses.

Some like the one on Elm Grove in Didsbury were pretty small fry.

It was called the Bijou Electric Theatre and could accommodate 350 but still bigger than the Manley Park Palace on Clarendon Road which could seat just 200 customers.

Advert, 1914
For those wanting a bigger cinema locally there was only the Chorlton Pavilion on Wilbraham Road which could hold an audience of 800.  It had been operating as a Variety Hall from the early 20th century and was the best you could get in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in 1913.

Or so I thought, because just a few minute’s walk away was the Longford Picturedrome, on the corner of Longford and Oswald Road.

It was a place that has slowly crept into my knowledge.

It  first came to my attention when I came across a painting by J Montgomery who painted the place in 1946 from a photograph dated 1906

He referred to it as “Chorlton Skating Rink (later the Picturedrome”.

There is a reference to as the Chorlton Skating Rink when it was wound up as a company in 1916, but I have always been fascinated by the Montgomery’s use of Picturedrome.

And now I am a little closer to adding a bit more to the story.

In 1914 it is listed as the Longford Picturedrome seating 600 and its proprietor was a James Morland.

Sadly that is all we have and the listing did manage to substitute Street for road in the address.

There was a Mr Moreland living in Old Trafford just a few years earlier but that is it.

As to why it closed I have yet to find out.

It may be the competition with its close rival proved too much, or the Great War finished it off.

That said I am confident that we will find the answer in time.

Location Chorlton

Picture; “Chorlton Skating Rink (later the Picturedrome” J Montgomery, 1946 m80132, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and advert from The Kinematograph Year Book, 1914 page 43

*The Kinematograph Year Book Program Diary and Directory 1914

Images of our industrial past ...... nu 2 working the metal 80 years ago

I am back with two more “lost images” from the family collection.

I have no idea who this man was and can only guess that it was either my grandfather of one of his work mates.

Moreover I cannot date the pictures or offer up a location, other than that they will be over 80 years old.
If it is my grandfather then it will be Derby and a rare moment when he was in full time work.

According to my mother like many men during the period he faced long bouts of unemployment which only really came to an end with the outbreak of the Second World War.

Sadly there is no one left I can ask who could tell me about the pictures, and I of course never bothered to ask what he did during the interwar years.

So we are left with just one man at work, sometime in the 1930s in all probability somewhere in Derby.

But that said I am drawn to them, not least because both carry fingerprints which were left on these two negatives.

Not that I will ever be able to discover who they belonged or why the prints have long since vanished but the these negatives survived.

But then that is often the case.

The prints get handed around or put into a book while the negatives are stored away just in case they are needed.

Of course that is seldom the case, but that simple decision means they will survive long after the cherished print has gone.
Pictures, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

A film, a song and a clash of cultures, Italy in the '50s

Rome, an alley off  the Trevi Fountain, 2011
Black and white movies, Italy in the 50s, and a Neapolitan song 

Yesterday evening we sat and watched an old black and white Italian movie from the 1950s.

Perhaps it has a lot to do with getting old.

When I was young I avoided films that were in black and white. They were drab and boring and came from a time when technology had not mastered the art of colour. They were simply, the films of my parents and grandparents.

With age comes an appreciation of the subtle way the film maker can play with light and shadow.

When you first come across Harry Lime in The Third Man it is half way through the film and we catch just a glimpse of him, half hidden in the shadows.

A man who is not what he seems to be, and who evokes different responses from different people. Friend, lover, and criminal suspect, Harry Lime plays all these parts, with a playful smile and cavalier manner but also deals in deceit and poisoned medicine. It is a dark film and the shots of post war Vienna are best seen in black and white. Here is a grim city where people are on the margin making do in rubble strewn streets.

But there is another reason why I am drawn more and more to black and white films, and it is because many were made during the years I was growing up and take me back to my childhood. Those I remember best were often the B movies like the one shot near Tower Bridge looking out on a busy River Thames which is the drab workaday river I remember full of cranes, barges and tramp steamers

Naples, 1961
And that I think was the attraction of the Italian movie. It was set in the same post war world that I grew up in. Here were funny old cars, big odd looking radios and shops which were not giant supermarkets.

The film like so many of our own also had a charming innocence. The plot was implausible, a lot of the acting slightly dodgy, and there was a happy ending. Even so here was a vivid slice of a way of life as dead as Dixon of Dock Green or the trolley bus.

I watch fascinated as the storyline unfolds against a backdrop of Rome in the 1950s. I excitedly point to the floating bar and dance floor moored on the Tiber, and wonder if this is the same floating dance floor where Gregory Peck kissed Audrey Hepburn.

 For a while I forget the silly story line involving two best friends competing for the beautiful girl who in the end dumped them both for someone else, and try matching this Rome of fifty years ago with the one I know and love. It becomes part geography lesson and part history lesson and like Roman Holiday I lose myself in memories of Roman streets I have walked down and bars which bear have an uncanny resemblance to the ones we have been in.

Films of this period also bring alive that tension between the old and new Italy as well as the growing influence of the U.S. Smart little Italian cars and vespers compete for road space with horse and carts, and for every young man in his stylish suit there is a little old lady dressed in black. Our two young heroes dance with girls in bikinis and the music on the floating bar is a mix of traditional Neapolitan love songs and American swing.

Rome, 2011
And by one of those coincidences, Simone had been playing the classic 50s Tu vuò fà l'americano in the car as we headed back from Tuscany. It is a song written in Neapolitan, and translated runs so you want to be American. It pokes gentle fun at those Italians who act like Yankees by drinking whisky and soda, dancing to Rock ‘n Roll and smoking Camel cigarettes. But the sting is that the pretend Yankee depends on his Italian parents to give him the money, and with much fun Tina and Simone almost shout the lines

You want to dance rock and roll;
you play baseball
but the money for the camels,
who give it to you??
Mamma’s handbag!

And behind the fun is that very simple truth that someone else’s culture can be the ruin of your own for

How can those who love you understand you,
If you speak half in American?
When one talks of love under the moon,
how can you say "I love you"?

Pictures;  from the collection of Andrew Simpson

War Baby ......... stories by Eddy Newport no 31 ........... my first girlfriend,

Another in the series by Eddy Newport taken from his book, History of a War Baby.

Well Hall Odeon
Steve Searl and I would go to the Lido in Charlton Park on hot sunny weekends, sunning ourselves and chatting up girls.

One weekend a lady I knew who worked at Olive Pell’s (I can’t remember her first name she was Mrs Taylor) came to the lido for a swim and she had her daughter with her. Her name was Gillian. A very pretty girl and I took a fancy to her.

So I plucked up courage and asked her for a date to go to the pictures and with the approval of her mother she agreed to go. I met Gillian at the Odeon cinema in Well Hall that night.

She was waiting outside for me. We went in, saw the film, and I came out with my first girlfriend.

I took her home and arranged to see her again. I was in love for the very first time. Gillian and I started to see a lot of each other. Her mother encouraged me to visit her and stay for dinners on a Sunday and to my delight, her cooking was far superior to my mother's cooking I just loved her Sunday roasts.

Gillian liked music and during the week, we went to a pub in Mottingham known as The Dutch House where they had a jazz band playing. This band was lead by Owen Brice trumpeter and played a relaxed style of Traditional jazz that became known as Mainstream jazz. Gillian and I would go there and listen to the band and make a few drinks last the whole evening.

Later on, prior to going home we would go for a walk and have a little kissing and cuddling session, all this was very romantic. I never wanted this relationship to end.

Gillian’s elder sister Susan, was married to a drummer. His name was Ron Hawes and he worked in a butcher’s shop in Plumstead, they lived in the basement flat of the house where Gill lived with her mother and father in Herbert Rd Plumstead.

The Montague Arms
Ron was playing with a rock band in a pub in New Cross called The Montague Arms. Gillian and I went over by bus to New Cross the hear the band play.

They called themselves The Vampires. This band had a lead guitar John Gillard, bass player Dick Thomas tenor sax player Alan Holmes and a guy called Tony (Unc) who sang and played the piano. The music they played was current pop and performed Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis hits.

I was very impressed with the band and loved their music. I became a dedicated fan of Ron and his drums and in retrospect, this man made the biggest influence on me in my life as far as becoming a drummer was concerned. Ron regarded himself to be “Cool”.

He adapted a much laid back attitude to life and the only important thing was his music. He was into modern jazz and liked to listen to Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Mills Davis, Charlie Parker, and big bands like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. He had fixed up a primitive form of quadraphonic sound by wiring four speakers to a record player and mounting them one in each corner of the room. A visit to Ron’s would involve in drinking beer and enjoying some jazz music. I was by this time rehearsing with the skiffle group and

I was still pretending my banjo was a drum. Ron had bought himself a new snare drum and asks me if I wanted to buy his old one and a cymbal. I jumped at the chance and took it on the next rehearsal.

My relationship with Gillian was coming to an end and I blamed my dad for it. I thought I was in love with Gillian and eventually took her home to meet my family. Dad looked at Gillian as his future daughter in law and the poor girl, only just sixteen put off any future relationship with me. So I got the big elbow.

At the time, I was devastated and very depressed. Not only had I lost my girlfriend but I thought I was going to lose my friendship with Ron and his musical mates. Ron said I could still go and see the rock band if I wanted to. I became an unofficial roadie for the band and followed them around on their gigs.

Location Eltham

© Eddy Newport 2017

Painting; The Well Odeon 2014 and The Montague Arms, © 2011 Peter Topping


Pictures;  courtesy of  Eddy Newport

Reflecting on anniversaries

I began writing the book back in 2013.

I say writing it but that is the year I was commissioned by the History Press but it would be more than a year later before I began seriously to consider the project.

Part of the reason was knowing where to look for original source material which was free of copyright restrictions.

But more than that it was about seeking material which had never be seen before and which would bring  out of the shadows some of those who had lived through the conflict and by extension share their lives with people today.

And the story of how I met David Harrop and came to use his collection is on record, so instead I want to reflect on another aspect of writing the book which was and is the anniversaries which roll through each chapter.

It was never designed as a chronological story of Manchester and the war but was grouped into themes from Manchester before the war to the way the city greeted and organised for the conflict in the first few months and then by degree how our citizens adapted to changes brought about by the four years of struggle.

But I was never far away from anniversaries, whether it was the “first Christmas” the Gallopli campaign and later Jutland and the Somme.

And as we progress through 2017 there will be many more which will sit with the personal ones, like the anniversary of the book’s publication, along with the its launch in Central Ref and first time I met those people who contributed family items.

All of which just leaves me to reflect that it is now two months and 29 days since its publication.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; from the launch of Manchester Remembering 1914-18 by ALTOSOUNDS

Thursday, 30 March 2017

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 82 ......... Whispering Dave and the gas inspector

The continuing story of the house Joe and Mary Ann Scott lived in for over 50 years and the families that have lived here since.*

A boy, a horse and a delivery van, circa 1900
Now I have been thinking about just how many people might wander through a house in its life time.

It may seem a rather silly thing to spend time on but those visitors will all have stories to tell and many will tell us as much about our collective past as they do about the house.

So over the years in this house there will have been a whole host of causal callers from the milk man to the gas inspector along with the dustman and the errand boy.

"Deliveries daily," 1928
And each of those four reflects the wide changes that the country has gone through in a century.

Few people today still rely on a daily milk delivery and yet until a short time ago the familiar clink of bottles on the door step acted as a second alarm call of the morning.

In the same way the practice of putting all your rubbish into one metal dustbin which was then manually lifted into a dust cart is now as distant as the telegram.

But some of those old services have returned albeit in a slightly different guise.

The arrival of the errand boy on his bike with the groceries vanished in the 1960s but has returned with a man or woman in a van and now ordered up online rather than the old fashioned way of sending a hand written note to the shop keeper.

And only last week we were told to prepare for the installation of  “smart” gas and electricity meters which means I will no longer have to send the readings to our energy provider, who incidentally is no longer the Gas Board with office in the Town Hall but a huge multinational company with headquarters somewhere else in the world.

Salford women gas inspectors, 1917 
The quarterly knock on the door from the meter man highlights also that period during the Great War when many local authorities employed women to carry out the readings.

It was a short lived practice lasting only as long as the war persisted and was stopped pretty much as the guns fell silent.

Nor had the practice been universally accepted with women facing opposition from work colleagues and those in charge.

In 1918 Mr Frederick A Price the superintendant of the Manchester Gas Department reporting to the Gas Committee of Manchester Corporation on the work of the 31 women clerks and 85 women meter inspectors concluded that while they were “good and careful workers” and were “industrious and painstaking, they lacked initiative, were not capable of discharging the higher administrative duties [and lacked] the necessary imagination and concentration with the power of organisation” added to which they “liked to indulge in a little gossip.” **

I will never know just who and how many casual callers Joe and Mary Ann let across the door step or for that matter who their friends were.

French friends, 1975
I do now that occasionally they entertained the odd tenant who lived in one of their houses and called with a problem.

The Scott’s occupied the house for over fifty years but by 1976 we were here and something of the comings and goings I can recall.

We had family up as you would expect along with close friends and then for the short period that Mike John and Lois shared the house there were plenty of people dropping in.

These included the French friends who stayed for short periods, and work mates like Whispering Dave who worked at North Manchester High School.

Building the boat, 1975
I never quite knew why he acquired the nickname, possibly because he looked a little like a popular DJ or it might have been his low voice.

He seemed to arrive around tea time and stayed for a while after he had eaten helping John build the boat which grew in the back garden from a skeleton of wooden beams to a fully equipped ocean going sailing craft.

Less welcome on reflection were some who washed up on the door step, were taken in and later abused the hospitality but in the long forty-one years we have been here they were few.

And that seems a positive note to close on, adding only that like the Scott’s we gave shelter to a whole shed load of animals but unlike all the other families who lived here we were the only ones to have children in the house.

A first which was bettered by that simple fact that our Saul was born here in the house in the big bed in the big bedroom.

Location; Chorlton

Pictures;errand boy from the collection of Tony Walker, advert for T.C.Whitaker, 1928 St Clement's Bazaar Handbook,  Salford women gas inspectors, 1917, m08110,, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and the reaming images from the collections of Lois Elsden and Andrew Simpson

*The story of house,

** Women at Mens’ Work, Manchester Guardian, January 5, 1918, quoted from Manchester Remembering 1914-18, Andrew Simpson, 2017

An invitation to the church do and the story of Peter Wakeman

The invitation 
Until a few days ago I had no idea that Peter Wakenham ever existed, but he did and he has left an interesting paper trail for a man who described himself as a labourer.

We know where he lived in the middle decades of the 19th century, the names of his wife, two children and when he died.

To this we can also add his birth year and the fact that on September 5th 1833 he was invited to the slap up meal in honour of the Rev. J.K. Shaw Brooke who had completed fifty years as the vicar of Eltham

Now none of this is unusual but men like Peter have tended to be forgotten by history.  It is not that they have been written out but rather no one thought them significant enough to be written in.

Peter in Court Yard from the 1841 census 
All of which is a shame because Peter lived in Eltham for 74 years, worked the land as an agricultural labourer and unlike some of his contemporaries could write his own name.

Now this we know because at the wedding of his daughter in 1840 he signed his name as a witness while both his son in law and his father left their mark. 

His signature in 1840
Illiteracy was still a real problem and to get some idea of the number of people who couldn’t read and write in 1851 the authors of  the census on Education fell back on the simple test of how many were able to sign their marriage certificate as against those who put a cross or mark. 

The “test of marriage marks” was not in itself an over accurate form of assessment as the report pointed out “the art of writing is with great facility forgotten by the poor who find no application for it, while for various causes some who can write nevertheless decline to sign the register.”*

It did however show that the number of people signing with a mark had progressively been dropping from 1839. In that year it was 41.6%, in 1840, 42%, and down to 40.8% in 1841 and by 1851 was 38%.

Wedding record for Ann Wakeham in 1840
And while there was a 4% fall in the numbers of men and women who used their mark this hid a disparity between the sexes. Men using their mark dropped from 33.7% in 1839 to 30.8% in 1851 while in women it fell from 49.5% to 45.3%,

But both his children could write.  Ann signed her name at her wedding and his son was to rise to become a farm bailiff.

What is more remarkable is the way that Peter came to my attention.  There were plenty of agricultural labourers in Eltham all of whom have been remembered in some official records but by sheer chance Peter’s invitation to the Jubilee dinner for Shaw Brooke survived and was recorded by the historian R.R.C. Gregory.

The invitation
One side was printed “1833. Eltham Jubilee, in commemoration of the 50th year the Rev. J.K. Shaw Brooke has resided within the parish as Vicar, universally beloved and respected” and invited “Peter Wakemean ... to partake on Thursday , the 5th day of September, of a dinner provided by public subscription in token of the respect and regard entertained the Vicar of the Parish Of Eltham, 1833

N.B. You are quested to wear this card with the other side in front, in a conspicuous manner, to attend on the day in the Court Yard and to bring with you a knife and fork.”

And that was what Peter Wakeman did for according to Mr Gregory “around the card are the needle marks to shew that it had been carefully sewn upon some conspicuous part of his attire.”**

The day went well and the invitation card was kept, eventually being attached to the back of an engraving of the vicar where it stayed for nearly 75 years.

Court Yard in 1844
Peter died in 1852 and for part of his later years he had lived with his son and family.  Before that we have him on Court Yard which was a densely packed row of 17 houses on the east side and another smaller group facing them.

I can’t place him exactly along the row but this was where he was in 1833 and where he was still living eight years later.

But there is still more to do.  Sadly the parish records are incomplete for the period that his children would have been baptised, but the entry for 1815 gives us the name of his daughter Ann and his wife Sarah. 

Now the hunt is on for both Ann and Sarah.  At present I know Sarah married in Woolwich in 1840 and that Sarah had died before the June of 1841, but there will be more.

It is all just a matter of patient research and perhaps another lucky break like the invitation card, which is how I like my history, a bit messy and always full of surprises.

Next; A walk down Court Yard in the June of 1841

Baptismal record of Ann Wakeman 1815
Pictures; of Peter’s invitation card from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on 
The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, detail of Eltham High Street, 1843 from the Tithe map for Eltham courtesy of Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone,

*1851 Census of Great Britain on Education

**The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909

Baptismal records and census extracts from courtesy of The National Archives

Italy 2016

We were out exploring and came across the castle, high on a hill.

It dated back to to the 16th century.

Location; Italy

Pictures; Adriatica, 2016 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

War Baby ......... stories by Eddy Newport no 30 .............. Muffin the Mule, Oxleas Woods and a model sailing boat

Another in the series by Eddy Newport taken from his book, History of a War Baby.

The Woods, 1976
I had many fights with my brother Dave.

I would tease him until he lost his temper and chase me round the bungalow with a stick trying to hit me with it.

I defended myself with a dustbin lid. Soon my jealousy was to hold no bounds. David’s friend Olive (our neighbour) parents bought a brand new television set and David was invited in to see it.

A television circa 1950s
TV had just started to become popular. That expense was far too much for our family. I did get in once or twice to see it, but not as regular as David. He watched the children’s hour with Muffin the Mule, Hank the cowboy and other visual delights on children’s hour, all this was excluded from me.

The feeling of the unjustness of it all on a 12-year-old, was too much, and I would tease and fight with David even more. As I was bigger I always got the better of the hassles. My mum said to me “One day David will beat you and then you will be sorry” how true that statement was to be. I guess I got what I deserve. We are very close now.

At the bottom of our  garden was a large fence, the other side of it was a Government Training Centre. An establishment set up by the government to help men after the war to get some qualifications to acquire skilled jobs like plumbing carpenters, electricians, gas fitters and hairdressing.

The later being the most popular with the local establishment. Volunteers were asked to be victims to the trainees for practicing their hair cutting skills. On Saturdays, the children were allowed in to have their haircuts. We would queue up at the gate and then taken through to the large room with all the prospective barbers would be waiting. Depending on who you got, and how much experience he had, you either had a good or bad hair cut. All this was for free so our parents did not worry, too much, as to how their kids looked like when they came home.

Blackheath looking out towards the Common 1976
I remember one Christmas when I was given a model sailing yacht as a present which I was very keen to try out. The nearest pond was the Prince of Wales Pond in Blackheath near the pub of the same name. This pond was very popular with small boating enthusiasts who would bring all types to sail.

Model tug boats, jet propelled boats, all sorts The jets were very exciting to watch as these were set up tethered up to a post set in the middle of the pond, the boat would be set off under a jet propelled engine and go round and round at incredible speed until it stopped, crashed or in some cases flew off its cable and ended up going over the grass beside the pond.

Sometimes a sailing boat would get in its way with the end resulting in damaged boats and a few cross words. I would not let dad rest until he took me to the pond to sail my new boat. She looked magnificent when the wind filled her sails and she took off over the pond. I was very proud of that boat.

Our social life was taken up with visits to Kennington to visit Nanny Hicks or Dulwich to visit our Nan and Granddad Newport. Other occasions were spent in visiting aunts, uncles and cousins.Special times were had when cousins Brian, Freddie and Doreen came to visit us. They lost their dad to illness (Uncle Fred) and came down with Aunt Jennie. They loved visiting us what was to them “the country” There were several wooded areas around and we would go off and explore them. I was to tag along with the two boys and I loved it. Close by in Birdbrook Road lived uncle’s Fred’s brother and his two children Vera and Alan and so they had to pop in to see them whilst they were visiting us. A case of two relations visited, for the price of one journey.

Those Woods again
On hot days we would go up Board Walk, which was about two miles long, to visit Oxleas, Jack and Castle Woods at Shooters Hill.

We would pack a picnic and off we go. These woods is an ancient forest and were famous for the hiding place of the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin, who robbed coaches going up the hill as they slowed down.

Shooter Hill was part of the Roman road Watling Street and the main road to Canterbury and Dover. In the middle of Castle woods was an old folly that looked like a castle tower.

The top of the tower could be seen poking out above the canopy of the woods. This had been converted into a café and for a few pence, one could go up the tower and see the view of London and Kent from its top. This was the climax of our day out.The long walk home back along Broad Walk was an effort and when we got home we were ready for our beds exhausted but happy

Dad about this time enrolled me in the Cub Scouts. The scout hall was adjacent to the church of St James’s in Kidbrooke Park Road. St James’s church had a very tall spire but was bombed during the war and was just a shell of a building.

Next door was a prefabricated building which was used for the services.

Mum had Geoffrey christened there and once we reached a suitable age David and I were sent off to the Sunday school.

What I remember of my time in the cubs was good. I enjoyed the games and I was taught a lot of necessary things to get a badge to sew onto my green jerseys.

I managed to become a sixer which meant I had two silver stars on my cap. I felt confident and important and good about myself.

That was until I went up into the scouts proper and I could not handle the bullying and complexity of what I had to learn there so I left and that was the end of my scouting days.

Soon I was to gain my real freedom, dad got me a bike. Unfortunately, it was a smaller one than my friends had, and a little bit disappointed that it was a ladies bike without a crossbar.

It did, however, give me the freedom to roam wherever I wanted to go. Now I could explore my local area and I was off.

My friends and I went all over the area. All about us was trees to climb, fields to play in and streams to build dams in. A wonderful life at that time, not a care or a worry in the world just a boy having fun.

© Eddy Newport 2017

Pictures;the Woods, the 1950s television and Blackheath from the collection of Andrew Simpson and remaining pictures courtesy of  Eddy Newport

On having not one but three other families .........

My great aunt and the Pember family in Canada, 1947
“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”*

And anyone who has spent any time researching their family history can testify to that.

The surprises, along with the challenges to what you have been told can be challenging but also rewarding.

Now I am realistic enough to know that there was never a Princess, Duke or famous scientist in our family so no chance of being disappointed at the family story being shown to be fiction.

We were agricultural workers from the Highlands and the Midlands with an equal number of peasants from the lands around Cologne.

That said there is still an unexplored link with the sub Continent but even there we seem to  be dealing with seaman and stewards who worked the liners and tramp steamers that connected the great Empires of Europe with their far flung colonies and not  the dazzling family of an Indian ancestral dynasty.

Not that this is another of those ten point accounts of one person’s family history.

Instead it is a more general reflection on how family history can confront you with a mix of intellectual demands, some pretty harrowing stories and lots of the unexpected.

For me digging deep into the family past is about matching their lives with the bigger picture, otherwise how can you make sense of their experiences, their triumphs and disasters?

So to learn that one of the family was the first to get a University degree, when just four generations before most were illiterate and put a mark against official documents  is to see the transition in a family’s fortunes in a new light.

But it can also be a challenge and bring you up short to discover a close relative committed suicide or spent time in the Workhouse.

Nora Hall and children, that other family circa 1915
These are the sorts of revelations which do make you ponder on whether what you are doing is in some way a tad voyeuristic.

But then that bigger picture enables you to see that the Workhouse was a reality for many in the 19th century and that it walked beside a lot of working class families as a place not just of last resort but also a place to be used as an expedient when times were temporarily difficult.

And yet as grim as some discoveries can be there is the upside, when you come across new members of your family with their own histories to add to your own.

So just over four years ago I came across a second family.  They were the children of my great grandfather who having separated from my great grandmother, went off and married Nora, in Gravesend and in the fullness of time had another five children to add to the surviving four from his relationship with my great grandmother, Eliza.

And only this week a cousin in Canada who I had never spoken to made contact and the process of sharing and discovery began all over again.

Two nephews of my grandmother circa 1938
In the process all of us have learnt more not only about our immediate ancestors but a lot about the places and times that shaped their lives and by extension ours.

Nor is that quite it, because for many of us what starts as a vague wish to know more about great aunt Dolly becomes something much more.

It starts with talking a whole raft of new disciplines from research and writing up the stories, to getging involved in teaching the very skills which just a few months before you were mastering for the first time.

Not bad for a subscription to Ancestry and a trawl of old family documents.

Pictures; from the Pember family, Nita Luce and the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Monty Python

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A view from the balcony .... Italy 2016

Not all sea views are so enchanting.

Location; Italy

Pictures; Adriatica, 2016 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Searching for our great uncle Roger ................ and a thank you to a heap of people

Now I am fully aware that one person’s family history is another’s long yawn, so this is less about our great uncle Roger and more about the international co-operation that has taken his story just a little further forward.

Places he knew ...... St John River, 2008 NB
He was migrated to Canada in 1914 by the Middlemore organization on behalf of the Derby Union of Guardians and later persuaded his sister to follow him across in 1925, leaving my grandfather and great uncle Jack here in Britain.

He ran away from his last placement in NS and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force changing his name and lying about his age.

He survived the Great War and returned to Canada in 1919 giving his forwarding address as the B & B Department, Canadian Pacific Railway, Revelstoke, British Columbia.

.............. the Patteson Farm 2008  NB
And that is where we lose him.

The family history was that he had settled in British Columbia but it is a big place and the leads just went cold.

But it was our Marisa who uncovered the Revelstoke address and the search resumed.

The Wikipedia entry for Revelstoke threw up the  Museum and Archives*

And given that he worked for the Canadian Pacific I asked for their help along with Exporail, The Canadian Railway Museum.

Both were very helpful sand in the case of Ms English, the Curator of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives did a search of  “our tax records, municipal phone books and other records without success” and suggested some links.

.............. Revelstoke railway station, 1915 BC
Nor was that all, because she also provided the answer to my confusion with the B & B Department which “stood for Bridge and Building department, and they were responsible for general construction and maintenance of snowsheds, buildings and bridges.”

And by one of those nice twists Marlene from Melbourne in Australia offered up the same information on the B & B Department which is a powerful confirmation of the value of social media.

I had first got to know Marlene over some stories I had written on a 16th century Elizabethan Hall just round the corner from us and which featured a 1915 wedding photograph  taken of Marlene’s grandmother who had been born in the Hall and went on to live in Canada.**

......... Revelstoke, 2003, BC
Now that is how I like my history and it just got better when Barb Torres from one the British Home Child sites sent me some more links.

All of which brings me back to our own family and the bits of the story which are parked away in the collective history.

Marisa had spotted that address in Revelstoke and Heather remembered her grandmother talking about great uncle Roger.

It is all a bit like looking through a dirty window .............. you can see some of the detail but much is just a blur.

That said we are getting there so it really is hands across the oceans.

Location; pretty much all over Canada

Pictures; St John River, NB, from the collection of Tammy Wood, and Railway station in Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada - 1915 from  Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Milton McFarland in the Public Domain and MacKenzie Avenue, Revelstoke,2003, Author waferboard, this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

*Revelstoke Museum & Archives,

**The Lomax Family of Hough End Hall,

War Baby ......... stories by Eddy Newport no 29 .........

Another in the series by Eddy Newport taken from his book, History of a War Baby.

My favourite trips out were to the East Street market with Mum and Nan to do the shopping.

As a special treat, there were market stalls selling hot chestnuts and hot black current juice and the delight of sipping this delicious concoction to me was pure heaven. That was something to look forward to.

Nan visited the market often and was known by a lot of people so she was always stopping to chat with somebody.

There was a time when I got lost. I was a child who had an independent spirit and hated holding on to hands. So it was no surprise that I became detached from the family group.

I must have been about four years old. I guess I knew I was lost because I went up to a policeman and told him so. I was asked if I knew where I lived I did but could not relate the actual address so I told the policeman I could take him to it.

He persuaded a market trader to give me a present of some cigarette cards. We took off in the homeward direction. Once out of the market area we came across Mum and Nan looking for me. So all was well, but I was chastised for getting lost.

My brother David was now a permanent feature in my life. For four years I had the fullest of attention from my mother and grandmother and now I had some competition. I hate to say this, but I resented my brother whose attention he was taking from mum and nanny was less that what I was getting.

So a feeling of resentment took me over and I would not involve myself with him.

Today as I look back I feel bad that I should have felt like that but it is the truth. As he got older I would torment and tease David until he lost his temper until he got into trouble, but more likely I got into trouble for upsetting the baby.

David was just too far away from me in age to be a pal and our growing up was not a shared experience. Now, years later I love my brother and regret the time missed when we could have been closer. I was always doing my own thing and David his.

A magic moment was when “Jack’s”, a local ice cream man, would come by selling cornets and wafers. It was kept in large tubs with a big brass handles. The taste of his ice cream is a treasured memory. He had a highly decorated push cart with tubs kept cold with dry ice they looked as they were smoking.

He also sold toffee apples. I remember I got a head slapping from uncle Jim when he was taking me somewhere and I spotted Jack’s cart in the distance and shouted out I wanted an ice cream. Uncle was not having any of that and ignored my request to which I shouted louder only to get a thick ear for my trouble. I think he did not like me as I guess I was a spoilt child. I did not tell my mum about this. After that, I held a certain respect for Uncle Jim.

So now our family was four or five if we included Nan.

Nan’s son James (Uncle Jim) Hicks did not join the army. He spent the war as a civilian working in a factory making parts for the war effort. He had been courting a local girl who was drafted into the land army her name was Barbara.

She was a big girl with ginger hair and a quick wit and a fantastic sense of humour. They got married about the time Mum was expecting David and soon after announced that Aunt Barbara was expecting a baby.

They had a boy and named him Barry. He became a play pal for David and they grew up best of friends
A social gathering was often spent at Nanny and Granddad Newport’s home in Oakhurst Grove in East Dulwich. As the Newport’s clan were gaining maturity the boys were getting married and joining the army.

Uncle David (dad’s elder brother) was doing war work in a factory by this time he had married Aunt Rose (King). George married Ellen Nolan Aunt Nell. He joined up and went to war in Africa.

Arthur also joined the army and became a dog handler. Freddy stayed at home and was not able to join up as he was declared unfit for service. Aunt Ginny had married Fredrick Raeburn. Aunt Rose had married Walter Hobbs. The unmarried girls Ivy and Doris later joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps WRAC’s.

Oakhurst Grove was a big terraced house which was divided up into three flats the ground floor housing Aunt Ginny and her husband Fred and their three children Doreen,

Brian and Freddie. Freddie was about my age and I looked forward to seeing him, as he was always up to something exciting and was fun to be with. The first floor lived Nan, Granddad and Uncle Fred and the top floor lived Aunt Rose with her husband Wally.

They had a boy called Bruce. Later on, they had a girl Jennifer. Other social occasions were spent at Nanny Hicks flat with Uncle Jim and Auntie Barbara. Not as interesting as going to Oakhurst Grove. Christmas time was something special. All the family just had to be there even my other Nanny Hicks.

Nanny and Granddad Newport were there to watch over the evening. Us kids would be playing hide and seek down in granddad’s cellar and garden shed. The older generations would do their party pieces to entertain everybody else. My dad was playing the piano. The two-star performers were Uncle Arthur and Uncle George. They would dress up as vicars and do a hilarious comedy routine that had everyone in fits of laughter.

To me, the main event was when we all had to be on our best behaviour when Father Christmas came to visit us and distribute the presents. We all had to keep very quiet and wait for the knock on the door. Soon a loud knock could be heard and in came Father Christmas with a big sack over his shoulder bursting with presents. This was the real thing to a six-year-old.

We all got our presents and after FC had a mince pie and a glass of something he went out the door on his way. These were wonderful memories of a Christmas gone by. It got blown away the following year when FC came in only, this time, he had over his shoulder a pillow and not a proper sack and a beard that looked like cotton wool. Something fishy was going on here, I thought, and I soon realised Farther Christmas was one of my uncles, dressed up.

To me, the Christmas bubble had been burst never to be the same again. Some time later I found out that the original FC was Granddad Newport he was the best FC of all.

This photo was taken in 1945 minus the men still serving overseas. Left to right:-

Uncle David, Aunt Doris holding Cousin Pat, at the back Aunt Nell married to Uncle George (not in photo), and Cousin Doreen with hair bow, behind her is Aunt Rose with Edie (Mother) holding brother David, at the back uncle Fred standing next to Granddad David Newport, at the back standing is Uncle Fred Reaburn married to Aunt Ginny standing on his left. Centre is Nanny Jane Newport holding Cousin Bruce son of Rose and Wally Hobbs (not in photo). Centre right is Aunt Rose married to Uncle David holding cousin Brian, Aunt Ivy is standing with back to the piano. Two boys sitting in front are left, Cousin Freddie and I am next to him. Note photo on the piano is my dad Ted. (Not in photo)
Quite a bit to sort out.

© Eddy Newport 2017

Pictures; from the collection of Eddy Newport

Pictures from an Eltham bus ........ nu 10....... a bit of progress

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.*

There will be many who remember the RACS building in the High Street, which is now just a hole in the ground. Larissa was passing today and took these images commenting "this is the old coop building which will be a cinema....and Greggs."

Location, Eltham High Street, Eltham, London

Picture; March 2017 the old Co-op/Pound Shop site, from the collection of Larissa Hamment

*Pictures from an Eltham bus,

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Of floods and weirs and peaceful places, on the edge of Turn Moss

The weir in 1915
I really don’t do enough pictures on the blog and rarely do those then and now sort of stories.  So here with the help of Nigel Anderson and Michael J Thompson of Hardy Productions UK* are some shots of the weir on the edge of Turn Moss just where the river takes one of its dramatic twists.

Now the Mersey is prone to flooding and after a particularly bad flood in 1799 the weir was built to channel storm water across the plain and into the Kickety Brook and so lessening the danger to the aqueduct which carried the Duke’s Canal.

And floods and the story of floods regularly pop up on the blog including the tale of the weir and Kickety Brook,.

Almost the same spot today © Nigel Anderson
So when Michael told me that he and Nigel had been down at the weir I just had to ask permission to use their photographs, along with two from 1915 which was the last time it served the purpose it was built for.

Their pictures show a benign spot, but it was not always so.

The river could flood with little warning and on one occasion a farmer just had time to release his horses from the cart as the water swept across the open land.

The weir from the flood plain, 1915
Another time in the July of 1828 flood water transported hay ricks from the farm behind Barlow Hall down to Stretford only later to take them back, while later floods proved to be even more destructive with one destroying the bridge across Chorlton Brook.

It was, wrote Thomas Ellwood the local historian
“no uncommon thing to see the great level of green fields completely covered with water presenting the appearance of a large lake , several miles in circuit,” and he recorded six major floods between  December 1880 and October  1881.

Looking towards Kickety Brook from the weir © Michael J Thompson

Not that it always worked.  Soon after it had been built flood water swept it away and during the nineteenth century neither the weir nor the river banks prevented the Mersey bursting out across the plain.

This happened in 1840 and in the following year it was rebuilt by the engineer William Cubitt.

After litigation the cost of repair was borne by the Bridgewater Trust who paid out £1,500, the Turnpike Commissioners £500, Thomas de Trafford £1,000 and Wilbraham Egerton £1,000.

*Hardy Productions UK

Pictures; of the weir in 1915 from the Lloyd collection and the weir today courtesy of Nigel Anderson and Michael J Thompson