Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Stories from Naples, Cambridge and Varese ......

Now there is something exciting when a close member of the family decides she is going to write about her life.

Naples, 2017
And all the more so when she was born in 1940 in Naples, arrived in Britain as an economic migrant twenty years later, and then returned to Italy, bringing up a family of five in the northern city of Varese.

Rosa grew up during the tough years of the last world war and the immediate post war period when Naples was still a city where “poverty busied itself”.

Like many Italians she migrated to where the work was, but while for most that meant the great industrial cities of the north, like Milan and Turin, she travelled to Britain and worked in a series of jobs.

And she left Italy just days after she had got married, only to be reunited with her new husband later in the year when he too arrived in Britain.

I am particularly interested in how two young Italians took to Britain and to the city of Cambridge just as the “swinging “60s” burst forth, and their experiences as economic migrants, when the country was perhaps more tolerant of those who came to work here.

Varese, 2016
They stayed for nearly a decade, worked hard, bought a house, paid their taxes and got involved in the community.

But that episode was a short one, and I want to know also, about the years in the north after they returned, when Italy continued to build its “economic miracle”, and delve deeper into her life in Naples.

Both Rosa and Simone came from families who had lived in the city for generations so along the way there will be much to learn about the place.

Rosa's Easter pies, 2014
I have no experience of trawling Italian documents but I am up for it which will be a fascinating learning curve for me and I hope help Rosa.

So that is it for now.

Tina has bought Rosa one of those big diaries from a shop in Le Corti in the centre of Varese, and in time I might be able to put the story on the blog.

Leaving me with just that obvious observation, that everyone has a story to tell.

Location Italy & Britain

Pictures; Naples in 2017 from the collection of Saul Simpson and Emilka Cholewicka and Varese, 2014-16 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

A gun, a gear, and an advert .......... the silly story

Now if you are a certain age and  watched 1950s television, the chances are you will remember the American TV series “Have Gun Will Travel”.

It was according to one source, the adventures of a man called Paladin"  who was named after one of the warriors in Charlemagne's court.

“Paladin is a gentleman gunfighter who travels around the Old West working as a mercenary gunfighter for people who hire him to solve their problems for them. Although Paladin will charge steep fees to clients who can afford to hire him, typically US$1000 per job, he will provide his services for free to poor people who need his help. Like many westerns, the television show was set during a nebulous period after the Civil War.”*

It aired in the United States in 1957 and ran until 1963, and at some point in the early ‘60s it was shown on British TV.

I can’t now remember any of the episodes but the title has stuck with me, partly because for a long time it was a catch phrase.

And as such was adapted for the advert ....... “Have Gear Can Travel” which appeared in the Eagle comic in the August of 1962.

This I know because my friend Tricia found the comic on eBay, bought it, and sent it up from London.

It will have been a copy I will have read and that makes it a bit special.

But over and above that, it will also have been a product which was familiar to Ken Foster’s dad who opened his cycle shop in Chorlton in the mid 1950s.

Ken still runs the business from Barlow Moor Road and I rather hope he likes the advert.

I know I love the name of the firm who made it the “The mighty atom-a gearbox in a hub”.  They were Sturmey Archer who were established in 1902 by Henry Sturmey and James Archer.  The firm last through the last century until in 2000 the assets and trade mark were sold Sun Race of Taiwan.

So, yes a silly story, but one that allowed me to remember a favourite TV western, and to mention my friends Tricia and Ken.

So that is it.

Location; 1962

Pictures; advert from The Eagle,  Vol 13 no.32 August 11 1962

*“Have Gun Will Travel” Wikipedia, 

"When history met art and became a book"

Now "When history met art and became a book" pretty much sums up the collaboration between me and Manchester artist Peter Topping.

Good Neighbours, 2018
It started as a request to use one of his paintings on a blog of mine, and quickly morphed into a series of projects, where I wrote the stories and Peter painted the pictures, culminating in the 80 meter installation along Albany and Brantingham Roads, which told the history of Chorlton from the 16th century to the present day.

It started with the story of Chorlton Green and by degree made its way across Chorlton to the site of the old Cosgrove Hall studio, and was designed as a walk, starting in 1512 and finishing in 2013, and quickly became known as the History Wall.

The History Wall, 2012
And with the success of the “Wall” we have gone on to write five books, with another ready for publication later this year, hosted a series of history walks and participated in Chorlton's Big Green Festival, Chorlton Arts Festival and played a part in the campaign to save Hough End Hall for community use.

All of which means we will have lots to share with Chorlton Good Neighbours who have invited us to their February meeting, which will take place on Thursday February 1st at 1.30. in St Ninian’s Church, on Egerton Rd South, Chorlton, Manchester M21OXJ

There will be lots of stories about Chorlton, a good selection of Peter’s paintings, along with copies of all our books, ............ and a few surprises.

Location; Chorlton

Painting; Good Neighbours © 2018 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures.

*Chorlton Good Neighbours, 
Egerton Road South, Manchester Area, Manchester M21 0
Phone:0161 881 2925

It's those steam engines again

Now you pretty much know you are on to a winner with the “magic of steam power”.

And the pictures that have begun to flood in from people, sharing their steam powered vehicles, are testament to how many people share my fascination for all things steam.

I don’t pretend to be an expert and my knowledge extends just far enough to recognise the pall of smoke, and more importantly knowing when to get out of the way of these giants of locomotion.

So here are two from Roger and Paula.

The brightly coloured steam bus as photographed by Roger last year at the Busfest held in Whittlesey near Peterborough.

The other, from Paula was one of those chance moments caught when the steam engine passed her house a
few years ago.

Location, Peterborough and Well Hall

Pictures; steam bus, 2017, from the collection of Roger Callow and a stream machine 2015, courtesy of Paula Nottle.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Sunlight on Sharp Street ...... earlier in the week

It is of course stating the obvious to say that pretty much anywhere looks better in bright sunlight.

That said I can think of a few forlorn places behind gasworks and those old tanning works which would challenge the idea that a warm sunny dayncould transform a rubbish scene.

But Andy’s pictures of his adventure down by the old Ragged School near Angel Meadow prove that Sammy sunshine can lift a place.

Back in the 19th century and into the 20th the area was grim and even in the 1990s it wouldn’t qualify for a scenic award.

For while the crummy housing, and decaying factories and warehouses had gone it was still a dismal place not lifted by its history which was equally grim and depressing.

Now I could go on about the awful living conditions around Angel Meadow and its slide into an area of open spaces, car parks, and empty properties, all waiting for something to happen.

But I won’t, instead I will share more of Andy’s photographs which are chronicling the transformation of the area.

Some will mutter that the developments are bland, off the peg architecture and will be home to many who do not care about the history all around them.

 But that is to be unfair to the residents and to the developments, which have the merit of replacing those old windswept car parks which were empty by 6 pm with a bit of busy life again, albeit a less grim one.

Location; Sharp Street

Pictures; down by Sharp Street , 2018 from the collection of Andy Robertson

Those who went from Ancoats to serve in the Italian army in the Great War

Manchester Guardian, 1919
“Italians seem to be re-establishing themselves in Ancoats as fast as the military authorities will allow.”*

Now I have long been fascinated by Little Italy and the contribution made to the life of the city by the Italians who settled there in the late 19th century.**

And as you do just naively assumed that when the Great War broke out in 1914 some at least would enlist.

Now at present I have no way of knowing who and how many did but the real story comes in to its own eight months later when Italy joined the war on the side of the Allies.

Even then I just assumed they would join up locally, but being Italian nationals they chose to return to Italy.

To Our Italian Comrades, 1915-1918, Manchester, 2014
The Manchester Courier reported in August 1915 that 70 young men had already left and went on to reveal that many older men were also planning to leave.

As always behind such decisions are a wealth of stories like those men who made the long journey only to be found medically unfit.

Or the  “young Italian medical man resident in Manchester [who had] the misfortune to be born in Berlin was at the outbreak of the war placed in a concentration camp by the English authorities [and] while anxious to join his colours to fight the Germans had to fraternize with the enemy prisoners [until] he could return to Italy only to find his eyesight debarred his entering the army and so was on his way back to England.”***

And behind that decision to leave for home came the equally difficult choice of uprooting the whole family and taking them back as well. As the Manchester Guardian observed “many of the poorer men will be careful to take their families with them, so that the Italian Government my provide for their maintenance if the need should arrive.”****

But once the war was over “men have been coming back-in some cases whole families have come back-to Ancoats, mainly, it may be under the pressure of economic considerations, but not-without a certain pleasure  in the return.” 

The reporter might have also added that for some at least the decision to serve in the Italian army had been at considerable economic sacrifice.

One such case highlighted by the Manchester Courier in 1915, involved a successful Italian ice cream vendor who sold his business and furniture leaving his wife to find work in a local firm to support their children.

Outside Nazaren Bela's Ice Cream shop, Jersey Street, 1922
Of course many of the stories that appeared in the papers during 1915 were in part designed to bolster the mood for war which had gone off the boil in the eight months since the start of the conflict.

And much had been made of the spontaneous demonstrations by “a considerable number of Italian subjects living in Manchester and Salford for the war” including a “procession through the main streets of the city to the Town Hall” just days after Italy joined the war.

It was estimated that 300 men might eventually leave for Italy and given that there were about 1000 Italians in the twin cities with upwards of 500 in Ancoats this was a major contribution to the war.

All of which puts into context that newspaper story of the return of so many to Ancoats.

Pictures; The Manchester Guardian, September 6 1919, Memorial “To our Italian comrades, from the collection of Sally Dervan, 2014, and outside Nazaren Bella’s Ice Cream Shop on Jersey Street, 1922, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

*Italy in Ancoats, the Colony coming back after the war, Manchester Guardian, September 6 1919

**Little Italy,

***Manchester Courier, August 1915

****The Italian Colony, Excitement in Ancoats, Manchester Guardian, May 26 1915

The story of Urmston, Flixton and Davyhulme ....... coming soon

Now I am very pleased that my old friend Michael Billington’s book will soon be published.

It is the Story of Urmston, Flixton and Davyhulme and having had a preview of the draft manuscript I am looking forward to the finished book.*

Michael’s book draws on his own extensive knowledge of the area where he grew up, is supported by meticulous research and is full of fascinating photographs.

I sneaked a preview of the cover which he tells me, “the photos were carefully chosen. 
As Flixton was the main township until the 1870s I have given the Flixton church prominence. 
St Clement's in Urmston is the small photo on the right as the vicar and churchwarden have been incredibly helpful and supportive. 

The house on the left is Link House which became Simpson's Ready foods (Willy Simpson plays in a band with me) and the middle one is the opening of Davyhulme Circle with Ernest Leeming behind the little girl presenting the flowers. The lady in the white dress at the foot of the cenotaph is my maternal; grandmother”.

And the rest as they say will be revealed when the book hits the book shops later in the year.

* The story of Urmston, Flixton and Davyhulme, Michael Billington, 2018, the History Press

Monday, 29 January 2018

Walking out in Shudehill ........

Now the area around the bottom of Rochdale Road has undergone many changes over the last two and bit centuries.

And, after a pretty quiet time there is plenty going on again, which range from new residential projects to the return of some much loved pubs, albeit with new names.

So with this in mind, Andy Robertson took himself down to Rochdale Road and wandered across from Wellington Road and Gould Street down to Angel Street towards Angel Meadows and took a series of fascinating pictures recording the old and new buildings all of which will feature over the next few weeks

But I am starting with my favourite, for which there is no need for further explanation.

Location; Shudehill

Picture; shop front, Shudehill, 2018, from the collection of Andy Robertson

The new Manchester ........ Owen Street ....scenes from a development no.6

Now it used to be said that the Beetham Tower could be seen from almost anywhere in Greater Manchester, and I rather think the same will be said of the towers down at Owen Street.

Andy Robertson has been recording their story from the very beginning, and at first I didn’t appreciate just how high they were going to be.

So I am very pleased that Andy did and has been building up a unique record of one city centre development.

This one taken on Chester Road, yesterday afternoon is one I particularly like.

And that is all I am going to say.

Location; looking into the city

Picture; the Owen Street development, 2018 from the collection of Andy Robertson

Sunday, 28 January 2018

A market, a bottle of gin and of course a story ..... Chorlton last week

Now to miss quote Samuel Johnson, when you are tired of the markets, you are tired of life, for there is at a market all that life can afford.*

Ashton Under Lyne, 1979
It’s a bit contrived, but the alternative was from Mr Wordsworth, originally written in 1802, “Dull would they be of soul who could pass by”** a Manchester market and not marvel at the full majesty of all the stuff.

Those of us who grew up or lived beside an open air market will remember with fondness, the fun, bustle and the variety of offers.

In my case it was Woolwich and later still Grey Mare Lane and Ashton markets.

Down at Beresford Square in Woolwich the buses gingerly manoeuvred a path through the stalls and you were always in awe of the skill of the London Transport drivers.

But enough of such nostalgic tosh, and instead here is a tale of Chorlton and our own market.

Selling Hunters Gin, Chorlton, 2018
Just a week or so ago Peter was out and about sampling the produce on the stall outside the library when he came across Hunter’s Gin, was offered a small glass, took the pictures and challenged me to come up with a story with a bit of history.

As far as I know we never had a market but the idea of selling gin from a small family concern is as old as they go.

So much so that it became a national scandal leading to drunkenness, terrible abuse and at least one riot in London, where of course they always do things to extremes.

The Gin, 2018
To combat such excesses, the Government passed the Beer Act in 1830 which allowed anyone who could afford price of the two guinea license to brew and sell beer from their own homes.

The result was an explosion of beer houses across the city which was replicated here in Chorlton.

Most had a short life, and were really just a means to get over a temporary bout of unemployment or other financial hiccup.

Most vanished as quickly as they were established and were soon forgotten, like the one run on Chorlton Green, while others became notorious, like that of Mrs Leach’s superior beer house where Francis Deakin was murdered, and a few like the Travellers Rest, and the Trevor transformed themselves in to pubs.

The Traveller’s Rest on Beech Road was up and running by the 1830s and only closed in the early 20th century, while the Trevor had opened on its present site as an unmanned beer shop in the 1870s.

Selling spirits required a separate license, and many pubs including some of ours found it hard to get permission, which nicely brings me back to Hunter’s Gin.***

They have a website, with a blog and this intriguing description from one of their labels, “Hunter’s Cheshire 
Gin is a high quality, export strength London Dry Gin full of character with its heart in Cheshire.  Subtle citrus overtones with a spicy fruit edge – using Cheshire apples from historic Norton Priory garden’s orchard, a single batch distillation from a 300 year old recipe, including Balkan juniper berries and coriander lemon and sweet orange peel, Florentine orris root, French angelica and Madagascon cinnamon bark, a unique and sublime fusion of the highest quality botanicals and alcohol. .....”***

Washing the prawns in Woolwich, 1979
And that is it.

Except to ponder on whether Peter came across a similar scene to this one from Woolwich market which I took back in 1979.

Location; Chorlton & Cheshire

Pictures; at the Chorlton Markets from the collection of Peter Topping and Ashton and Woolwich markets from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Samuel Johnson in conversation, 1770, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford"

** William Wordsworth Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
***Hunters Gin,

The day they left a steam roller outside our house

Now it is not every day that someone parks up a steam roller outside you house and leaves it there for a weekend.

A bit of me wondered if an official from the Council might come and give it a ticket for being an industrial
vehicle outside a residential property.

I suspect clamping it might have posed a problem.

Of course it was part of the road works which took place all last week and have caused so much chatter on certain social media platforms.

I have been less bothered about the parked machine, reasoning at least it has taken up a space which would otherwise be filled by a visitor, the like of which regularly turn up at weekends and park up outside the house reducing the available places for those who live along the road.

At which point someone will pass a caustic comment about the Friends of Beech Road being less than friendly to out of town drivers.

So instead I will ponder on the words steam roller, which I grew up with and still use to describe those big heavy machines which flatten and finish a newly covered road.

I know why they are called steam rollers but am wondering if that is still the official term for them, and if not what is the correct way to address such a machine.

All of which will no no doubt provoke further sneering comments about what a waste of a story this one is.

Perhaps, but at least it gives me the opportunity to show off the one parked up and the grand real steam engine which in 1980 was part of the Steam Exposition in Manchester.

At which point someone, possibly the sneering contributor will point that the dates on the old steam roller and the credits don't tally.

And they would be correct.

But I wonder if they have come up with the new name, which apparently is "road roller" which makes perfect sense, but somehow lacks the romance of  "steam roller" and that just offers up one last steam vehicle which will feature  in its full glory tomorrow along with a few more steam powered treasures.

Location; Chorlton and Manchester

Pictures; steam rollers, 2018 and 1980

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Another adventure peeling back the past on Baptist Street

Now I know I must get out more, because if I did I wouldn’t have missed the Baptist Street Dig.

The dig
Andy Robertson was down there yesterday and sent over some fine pictures of what is being uncovered.

The area is bounded by Baptist Street Rochdale Road, Sharp Street and Ludgate Hill.

The streets were laid out by the early 1790s but building was restricted to chapel, all of which began to change during the early 19th century and by 1849 there were fourteen houses on the site some of which were back to back properties and one closed court called Dakin’s Court.

So I think the buildings in Andy’s pictures will be those houses.

And tomorrow I will go looking for the census returns to see who lived there.

Location; Baptist Street

Pictures; the Baptist Street Dig, 2018, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Today at 2 pm .......Five go quirky in Chorlton ........ history, art and a few bikes

What goes around comes around, and so I am pleased to announce that the partnership between one historian, three local artists and Ken Foster is back for its second year.

The theme for the 2018 exhibition is the Quirks of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, which of course builds on the highly successful book which was published at the end of last year.

Inspired by the idea of the odd, the interesting and the daft, Susan Parry, Stephen Raw, Andrew Simpson and Peter Topping have taken up the invitation from Ken Foster to display an exhibition of their work in his cycle shop on Barlow Moor Road, from Friday January 26th through to Sunday January 28.*

There will be a chance to meet the artists, share your Chorlton story with me, listen to Susan play the guitar,
 and get advice from Ken in the art of how to maintain your bike.

Now that has to be a winning combination.

And so in preparation for today me, Peter, and Linda Topping were at Ken's shop yesterday afternoon putting the final touches to the exhibition.

I say me, but all I did was hold the bluetack which as everyone knows is an important part of the preparations.

And after that was done we took a few pictures.

Location Ken Foster Cycles, 374-376 Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, M21 8AZ

*Ken Foster’s Cycles,
374-376 Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 8AZ 0161 881 7160

Friday, 26 January 2018

A little bit of our collective past ........ art and the 1970s

Now I know it’s not rocket science to say that the art you see on advertising posters, books and packaging reflects the styles of the period.

My favourites are the images that were popular in the 1950s and 60s, which had a bold and attractive appearance and were used to sell everything from fish paste, railway tickets to newspapers and clothes.

This one dates from 1971 and was the front cover for the Belmont Garden Fete in Cheadle which was the annual event staged to raise money and make people aware of the work of the Manchester and Salford children’s charity which is now the Together Trust.

As part of the research into the history of the charity for the book commemorating their upcoming 150th anniversary, the archivist of the Trust shared this with me.

And I like it, not least because it remains a very familiar style.

Location; Cheadle

Picture; the programme of the Belmont Garden Fete, 1971, courtesy of the Together Trust

*A new book on the Together Trust,

Going, going and soon to be gone ......... bits of Salford ..... lost or soon to be from the camera of Andy Robertson

Now for anyone who still lives in Salford or regularly passes the landmarks of their youth there is that depressing feel that all is vanishing at a pace.

Of course many of the buildings are well passed their sell by date and some were pretty awful places to live or work in when they first went up a century and a bit ago.

But others, either through the cold climate of economic change, or neglect are empty and waiting for something to happen.

This as we all know may involve a developer in an office miles away, speculating on the gain to be made from  a demolition job and the substitution of another tall block of flats/offices or shopping experience.

This is not to vilify developers, some of their projects do lift a run down area, and in the process provide jobs and make the place a little nicer.

Added to which there is that simple observation that the Victorian and Edwardian developers were equally ruthless when it came to new building projects which destroyed Tudor and Georgian properties.

So with all that in mind, and for those that don’t get back regularly here are three old favourites, from the camera of Andy Robertson.

He accompanied the pictures with the simple comment, “1 gone in 2016 Ye Old Nelson, 2 gone in 2017 Black Horse, 3 going in 2018? The Crescent”.

That said Pter tells me that the Black Horse will be back.
I do hope so.

Location Salford

Pictures; from the collection of Andy Robertson, 2016-2018

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The one that didn’t quite work .......

I thought I was being very clever and could catch the reflection on the glass roof of the information sign at the metro stop.

And yesterday on a very grey day with the threat of rain it looked as if it could work, but it only sort of did.

So perhaps the image and the story should be parked in the series on Street furniture, and not “Four clever photographs from Andrew in St Peter’s Square”.

And if I am lucky there will be more than a few better pictures posted to accompany the story.

We shall see.

But in my defence against those who mutter what’s this to do with history?

The answer is that it wasn’t that long ago when we only had two metro platforms which were situated elsewhere in the square, and there will be many of us who remember a very different place.

Location; Manchester

Picture; at the metro stop, 2018 and almost the same spot, 1981, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

“Have now been a soldier for a week ... I do hope the war will be over before you can enlist” .....

The message on the postcard is simple enough but is still a powerful reminder of the fears and anxieties of those of those caught up in the Great War.

The full message runs, “Dear Leonard, Have now been a soldier for a week, and sincerely hope, for several reasons that the war will be over before you can enlist.  

Best wishes , 

Youe affectionate cousin Herbert”

It was sent to an address on Ayres Road in Old Trafford, and in the fullness of time I will go looking for the person who the card was addressed to and that might in turn lead me to Herbert.

For now I am left with the image on the front which is of the River Ouse at York and wonder why Herbert chose that picture postcard from the rack on the counter at the YMCA in York where he wrote the message.

It may simply have caught his fancy or perhaps it reminded him of a more happy time.

And that just leaves me to reflect on the very many other personal items contained in the book Manchester Remembering 1914-18 which was published last year.*

It tells the story of those who lived through the Great War and much of the material was supplied by David Harrop who shared this card with me.

Location; York

Picture; On the Ouse at York circa 1914-1916 from the collection of David Harrop

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

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The Queen & Pasley

Sometimes it is amazing how quickly our recent past can vanish.

The Pasley Laundry was opened in 1893 on what is now Crossland Road and did not reach its 100th birthday.

Laundries are a measure not only of the size of a community but of their prosperity.

 Given the arduous nature of wash day it is not surprising that those who could afford to pay for the weekly washing to be cleaned did so. The population had doubled in the ten years before 1901 and the next decade saw an equal increase. The occupations of the residents of new Chorlton ranged from manufacturers, bank managers and solicitors to clerical and skilled workers.

The very mix which is reflected in the large detached and semi detached houses stretching along Edge Lane and High Lane and the tall terraced properties radiating out from the station.

Here were the customers of our five laundries which in themselves were a mix. Yapp’s Laundry was big enough to have branches on Ashton Old Road, Chorlton on Medlock and in Whitefield and Stretford. 

Others like Wing Sam operated from one shop while Martha Keal’s premises on Beech Road was also the home of a her builder husband John. The biggest was the Pasley, later renamed the Queen and Pasley on Crescent Road. It opened in 1893, and at one point employed 50 staff.

All the washing machines were belt driven by a huge steam engine and were the first to install the “float-iron system” which consisted of the multiple roller pressing machines. This was 15 feet wide and 15 feet long and
“was a mass production ironing machine, with delicately poised rollers. You could put a shirt with pearl buttons on it and it wouldn’t leave a mark.”

Vans from the laundry would collect the washing and deliver it to the sorting office where each item would be marked, and classified into bins, before the loads were emptied into the ten washing machines. After being washed the clothes went through stages of being dried before being set out still slightly damp for the ironing and pressing and finally being re-sorted in the packing room and returned in the vans to the customers.

But the Queen & Pasley like all the rest were slowly being squeezed as the growing prosperity of the 1950’s led to people buying their own washing machines and by the self service launderette which are themselves now in decline.

And just after this was posted, Bob and Jean commented that "both my Gran and Granddad worked there in 1911 he was a van driver and I used to pass it a lot as a kid," and  "my mum worked their in about 1946 and then moved to the Grange .I used to go in the summer holidays with other children and one of the staff would take us to the park and look after us."

Location; Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Picture; the inside of the Queen & Pasley circa 1960 from the collection of Tony Walker

What was and what is .......from Peckham to Eltham and on to Manchester

Now when you have more than passed the half way mark between being 60 and 70 you are allowed the occasional self indulgent story.

After all with fewer years ahead than behind I do find myself checking off life’s achievements.

I still can’t make a bed to pass muster, and increasingly I am learning a whole new range of dishes from each of my sons while on a good day I think I am just a bit smarter than my smart phone.

Setting these milestones of experience to one side it is right that every so often you review what you have done.

In my case this was prompted by the decision to reaffirm that the latest book should carry both my name and that of the archivist who has helped with the research.

Originally this had been the plan but somewhere along the path the publishers or the organization had forgotten, but not me and I think that is partly because I have always made sure that others get due credit and also because I have nothing left to prove.

In the last six years I have carved out a new career, writing seven books, five of which have been part of a very successful collaboration with the Manchester artist Peter Topping, and watched as the blog I started in November 2011, clocked over three and half million readers.

Added to which, all our four sons are launched on their careers and are happy, and that counts for a lot.
But reflecting for a moment on those books, I wonder what the ten year old me would have thought.

My early school years were characterized by lack lustre progress where much of the work was baffling and challenging and crowned by the comment of my last Junior school teacher that I “was not academically minded”.

It was a judgement that incensed my mother and burned deep, but which I shrugged off as just how I was.

Years later as two of my sons were found to have dyslexia and received excellent support I wonder about me.

Not that this is one of those sob stories but more a reflection of what all of us can do which may come late in life but arrives.

In the last decade I have come across some amazing artists, photographers and writers, who only got started after the children had grown up or had retired.  The interest and the skill were always there but the daily grind of earning a living, looking after the kids along with all the “other stuff” got in the way.

For many of them, that much derided social media has offered a platform for their work, which publishers seldom touch and galleries have no time for.

Thinking back to my years at Edmund Waller and Samuel Pepys I know that there were many who will have flowered, and equally during the three years at Crown Woods in Eltham I saw that latent talent emerge.

But for me and I suspect others it was a long time coming.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

To tarmac or not ......... that is the question in Chorlton this evening

Now there has been a flurry of comments across the social media platforms about the resurfacing work that is going on a pace across Chorlton.

And as ever to adapt President Abraham Lincoln, you can please all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time but you cannot please all the people all the time.

So in the space of a few days we had those pinning for the lost of the stone setts and calling for the council to “leave our streets alone” to those who couldn’t abide the prospect of riding a bike or driving their car over the wibbly wobbly surface.

Added to which some people called them cobbles which they are not and no one picked up on the debate in the 19th century as to whether stone of wooden blocks would be better.

I do remember Dad coming home with wheelbarrows of the wooden variety lifted from the street round the corner and using them as fuel for our kitchen stove.

And this just left Andy Robertson to go out and photograph Oswald Road yesterday, and then remembering that there is a picture of Longford Road from the Lloyd Collection which regularly appears on the blog dating back to the early 20th century.

Enough said.  Compare and contrast, answers on an old fashioned postcard, please.

And to start you off ...... anyone spot the litter?

Location; Chorlton

Pictures; Oswald Road, 2018, from the collection of Andy Robertson and Longford Road circa 1900 from the Lloyd Collection 

Monday, 22 January 2018

More surprises in the Northern Quarter .......

If you go down to the Northern Quarter be ready for a few surprises.

Of all the places in the city it is one of those which seem to change with the weather.

Now that is not surprising when you think of the large number of very old buildings, more than a few of which are tired and some that are “past their sell by date”.

Add to this the large number of small businesses which open, serve a need and close as fashion and the rents change.

Many of us will remember when this area was not the Northern Quarter and was the hub of the wholesale food trade and later still when it fell on hard times with the closure of the markets and a period when it was waiting for something to happen.

All of which is now in the past and as Andy discovered last week bits of Thomas Street are being “done to”, just what that means is unclear but it looks like it is going to happen to what was , 46 and 48 Thomas Street.

There was also a rumour on social media that someone had plans for Al-Faisal at number 58, which has been serving up wonderful food since 1992.

I went on to the planning portal to check but was relieved to find no application for alternative use, which means I think it is time to celebrate the restaurant with reminder of Peter Topping’s painting he did in 2014.*

Location; Thomas Street

Pictures; The Northern Quarter, 2018 from the collection of Andy Robertson

* Eating out in the Northern Quarter, now and 100 years ago,

Sunday, 21 January 2018

A BHC story ............ after migration stopped ...... part two .... finding the stories

Now quite understandably the study of British Home Children takes a different path after the migration of young people to Canada stopped in the 1930s and many of those engaged in researching the subject will pass over the time after young people crossed the Atlantic.

In the Meadows at Cheadle, 1921
And until recently I would have been one of them, continuing to search the records for my great uncle along with peeling back the history of the whole “child migration scheme”.

But because I am now engaged in writing a book on the history of one of the children’s charities I have become interested in what happened after migration stopped.*

In the case of the Manchester and Salford Boys ‘and Girls’ Refuges and Shelters that stopped earlier than most, added to which for each young person sent to Canada, many more were cared for here in Britain.

In the grounds, 1921
As many will now know from my blog, the charity had been sent up in 1870 to rescue just a handful of destitute boys from the streets of the “Twin Cities” and then after breakfast turn them back onto the streets.

Within a decade they had expanded their activities to include girls, established permanent homes, provided vocational training and intervened in the courts to protect children from abusive and neglectful parents as well as campaigning for action to protect young people hawking goods on the streets.

And then at the end of the Great War they took a momentous decision to move out of the inner city to a rural location and establish a “children’s village”.

The rescue work, along with the homes for the sick and disabled continued as did the summer holidays organised by the charity, but the reality was that it was no longer the case that there were large numbers of destitute children.

And in the course of the 20th century, the State began to intervene in a more positive way, culminating with the Welfare State which at both local and central government level was fulfilling the role once done by the charity leaving the charity to now work in collaboration with local authorities which provided funding for their work.

Two of the homes for boys, Crossley,&  Gaddum Homes, 1922
The rest of the last century into the new has seen the charity continue to change as it reflects the changes in provision for those children who are in need of help and because it is a charity it can switch direction to respond a new set of problems.

In 1920, the establishment of that Children’s Village was one of those changes of direction, founded on the idea that young people would live as a community in a number of Homes, surrounded by countryside.

As the annual report for 1921 observed,
“Here amid ideal surroundings forty six girls lived during the year.  Some doubt was experienced at the outset; was it wise to let these children have the freedom among so beautiful a collection of trees and flowers and shrubs?  The activities of the Society are based upon a strong belief that, given a chance and placed in similar environment, the slum child would make as good men and women as those born in happier circumstance.”**

And during the rest of the decade the reports continue to highlight the successes of the village, which is confirmed by a set of oral testimonies carried out over the last decade and cover the period from the mid 1930s through to the ends of the ‘50s.

The Day Room, 1921
They are a fascinating collection of “warts and all” and the charity has not sought to “air brush out” some of the questionable practices at the homes, like the treatment of children who wet the beds, or some of the petty behaviour by members of staff.

And that actually adds to the overall picture which suggests that those interviewed at best tolerated their stay and at best enjoyed it and felt it set them on the right path for the future.

So far I have read only a dozen but they seem representative and do have a uniformity of outlook.

The methodology involves grouping comments under general headings and then sorting them which produces a range of personal observations on the given theme.

Dinner, 1921
By and large there is a uniformity of experiences, some of which are very factual and others which offer up a powerful insight to the feelings of these young people.

So, while it is miles away from BHC it is an interesting contribution to how some children in the care of one children’s charity in Manchester experienced life away from the family.

Next; part 3 reflecting on life in the Children’s Village.

Location; Cheadle

Pictures, from the annual reports of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges, 192-1939, courtesy of the Together Trust

*A new book on the Together Trust,

**52nd Annual Report, 1921