Thursday, 28 February 2019

Summer in the city ..... July 2018 no. 6 .... which tram?

Location; Manchester

Picture; St Peter's Square, 2018, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Walking in the north of the township in to Martledge in the summer of 1847, part one

Barlow Moor Lane, north to Martledge, a journey which will take in some great houses, a shop, farms and a pub as well as cottages of wattle and daub and brick

Barlow Moor Lane is a long road.

Standing at the point where the Row joins Barlow Moor Lane we have a choice, turn north and journey on to Martledge and then out of the township by various routes to Hulme and
Manchester, or south to Hardy Lane and on to the Mersey, Withington and Didsbury.

Martledge is much overlooked in most histories of the township so north it is.

And we will start with the Holt estate again.  Leaving the Row and heading north up Barlow Moor Lane we follow the east wall of the Holts, all the way to Lane End.  Everything on this side of the road dates from after 1908 when the last of the Chorlton Holts died and the estate sold off.

It finished at Lane End.  Directly opposite where today Sandy Lane begins was the grocer’s shop of Jeremiah  Brundrett.  It was a large house at one time known as Lilly Cottage.

The Brundrett’s were there long enough for the spot to become known as Brundrett’s corner  Facing the shop roughly on the site of the church was the home of Caleb and Ann Jordril.   Here was one of the last wattle and daub cottages.

Continuing north along the lane our journey would pass open fields until we reached the edge of Martledge.

Here to our left was Clough Farm and on our right Oak Bank House.

The farm stood roughly between Groby Road and Silverwood Avenue.   In that summer of 1847 it was occupied by Margaret Taylor and it would have been her farm land we would have seen as we walked up Barlow Moor Lane towards her home.

Today all of the land from Silverwood Avenue back towards High Lane and right back to Lane End was rented by her from the Egerton Estate.  There were 10 acres in all and it was a mix of arable, meadow and clover and included part of Scotch Hill.

Margaret was forty-seven.   Hers was no easy life.  To make 10 acres of land work and bring in a living required hard work.

Over and above the big points in the agricultural year of sowing, planting and reaping, there were the constant demands of weeding, chasing off pests and the journeys to the markets in Manchester.

These were tasks usually carried out by the whole family, but during the 1840s, she lost both her parents and two sisters which left her with just her 11 year old nephew.   Now Margaret was not alone in facing such loss, or in bringing up the child of her a relative.

Easing the chronic overcrowding meant that at least one child might be farmed out to relatives and Edward her nephew had been at Clough Farm since he was five and would still be there when he was 15 by which time she had married John Stretch.

From their fields they would have been able to gaze across at Oak Bank, one time home of William Morton and later the Cope family.  Oak Bank was a substantial building standing in its own grounds close to the modern junction of Barlow Moor and Wilbraham Roads.

Nothing now exists of the house but the path leading to it is now Needham Avenue. The house was situated in a garden which covered the area running on either side of Needham Avenue as far as Barlow More Lane in one direction and Corkland Road in the other.

The estate also included a large meadow field and small wood stretching back from Needham along Barlow Moor Lane to Lane End.

It had belonged to William Morton who had been there since 1821, but on death his will stipulated that the house and land had to be sold within five years.  

When this happened is not known but in 1845 a Miss Crofton was there paying rent to the Executors of Mr Morton.  

By 1847 the house and land were in the possession of Frederick Cope who rented both to John.  This was a short term arrangement and by 1850 the Cope family were living at Oak Bank.

William Morton had described himself as a member of the gentry.   Frederick Cope was a wine merchant who ten years earlier had been living with his wife and children on Oxford Street, close to where the University now stands.  Elizabeth had died by 1851.


Pictures; map of Barlow Moor Lane, courtesy of Digital Archives,  picture of Jeremiah  Brundrett, Wesleyan Handbook, 1908, courtesy of Philip Lloyd, and gravestone of the Morton family in the parish churchyard, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Posters from the Past ........... no 4 a book opens the world

Now the series Posters from the Past has arrived in Eltham, and where better to settle than outside our Library.

It was built in 1906 and many of us will have fond memories of the place.

Our Stella worked there in the 1970s and ‘80s, and a decade earlier I sat in its Reference Library and was also a regular visitor to its music section while Jean regularly reminisces about her time there.

All of which means the Library is a perfect candidate for the new series which takes iconic buildings we know and love and offers them up again in the style of a poster from the mid 20th century.

I would like to think that Woolwich Borough Council commissioned one of their team to produce a poster sometime in the 1930s or 40s, but in the absence of one, here is Peter’s painting and my caption, with our version.

Poster; Eltham Library, © 2017 Peter Topping


*Posters from the Past,

When the tide turns......... politics in Chorlton in the 20th century

The Conservative Club circa 1910
I wonder just what an ardent Conservative or Liberal voter born in the late 19th century in Chorlton would make of the local political scene today.

Their first port of call might be those large political and social clubs which were established within a few years of each other on the edge of New Chorlton.

Both were set up by subscription and those who subscribed were drawn from a wide section of the community.

The Conservative Club opened in 1892 and with its public hall and impressive clock tower seemed to mark the Tories out as a force to contend with which seemed borne out by the fact that during a large part of the 20th century Chorlton returned Tory MPs and councillors. From 1918 to ‘23 and again from 1931 to ‘87 we had a Tory MP.

But the Liberals may well have taken heart that political fortunes can fall as well as rise and so their decision to convert Laurston House into a permanent home for the Liberal Association was a sound one.

It opened in 1897 admidst a fanfare of optimism.  But nationally the years around the opening of the club were not good for the Liberals.  They lost both the 1895 and 1900 general elections and would not be returned to office till 1906.

The ups and downs of Liberal fortunes in the 1920s and 30s
Locally they fared better both on the old Withington District Council and after our incorporation into the city on the Manchester City Council and by the 1920s were so evenly balanced with the Conservatives that the Manchester Guardian reported in 1928 that

“there are few wards in which Conservative and Liberal opinion is so nicely balanced.  

Of the eight elections that have been fought in Chorlton since 1920 four have been won by the Conservatives and four by the Liberals.”*

But by the early 1930s the Liberals were on the defensive increasingly being challenged by the Labour Party.

They won their last seat in 1932, saw their sitting councillor Lady Sheena Simon loose to the Conservatives the following year and after 1935 did not  contest another election until after the war by which time Labour were asserting themselves as the real alternative.

That said it would not be until 1986 that Labour won its first council seat defeating the Conservative candidate by a significant margin. And while they failed to win the following year from 1988 they consolidated their position winning all three seats.

Not that they had it all their own way, for there was a challenge from the Liberal Democrats who at one point won two of the Chorlton seats.

The last decade
But in the last few years the Lib Dem share of the vote has been falling against that of Labour.

It is a reversal of political fortunes matched across south Manchester leaving a political landscape that our two visitors from the past would not recognise.

The Liberal Club quietly passed away and the building became the Laurston Club.

The Conservative Association lingered on but finally called it a day and their grand building with its Public Hall was sold to a developer.

By then its political fortunes had all but vanished. The last Conservative MP failed to be re-elected in  1987 and in the years since 2006 they have never achieved more than 7% of the total vote.

All of which would seem a grim scenario for both our Conservative and Liberal time traveller.

Pictures; from the Lloyd collection and election data from the Manchester Guardian and Manchester City Council.

*The Chorlton By-Election, Manchester Guardian December 18, 1928

Chorlton Precinct …….. spot the difference

Now I remember those competitions in newspapers where you were invited to spot the difference in two seemingly identical pictures.

So here are two of Chorlton precinct separated by nearly 40 years.

The first was taken by me around 1979 and the second by Andy Robertson just yesterday.

The keen “spot the difference” competitor will immediately shout that they are not taken from the same spot, but where would the fun be in that?

So, for the those who remember the Precinct in 1979, the challenge is to talk about some of the shops back then without mentioning Safeway.

While all of you who were born in the following decade the task will be to name a favorite shop and why.

The Precinct does not always get a good press, but I have always liked it and still enjoys a stroll through.

If pushed I must admit that the fruit and veg shop of Tony Adams is my favourite, not least because he has been providing us with Christmas trees since 1984, and I long ago trusted him to select them and bring us two fine ones at a very decent price.

Leaving me just to say, get in quick as there are those with grand plans for a new version.

Location; Chorlton

Pictures; the Precinct in 1979/80 from the collection of Andrew Simpson and in 2019, courtesy of Andy Robertson

Down at Parrs Wood, deciding on a film, a meal or a game of bowling just a tad different from a half century before

The Parrs Wood entertainment complex slipped in while I wasn’t looking.

The Parrs Wood complex, 2014
Now given its size and the fact that it has been there since 2001 that I agree is pretty staggering.

But in my defence I didn’t often travel down to east Didsbury or if I did it tended to be only as far as the old college opposite the two pubs.

So the first time I saw the huge complex was around 2004 on one of those buses taking the scenic route from Chorlton to Stockport.

Not that I am sniffy about the place, we use it a lot given that it is just down the road and offers free parking.

Parrs Wood Court, circa 1939
But it is big making me wonder what the people in the houses opposite think about the complex and the huge car park area directly in front of their homes.

And that got me reflecting on the reversals of entertainment history.

Originally the two Didsbury cinemas were in the centre of the village and off towards Burnage and both like so many other picture houses closed as fewer people wanted to sit in the dark with a shed load of strangers.

But the new cinema complexes offer more both in the variety of films they show and the degree of comfort.

That popular description of many old picture houses as flea pits was not so far off the mark.  Some of the very earliest might well have smelt of disinfectant and the one just behind Chorlton Road a little up from the old Imperial was indeed a home for fleas given that it was beside the old tramways horse stables.

All of which makes the modern cinemas a cut above their predecessors.

But I do miss the Odeon, the Regal and the Gaumont built in the 1930s and marking in their time a new era in cinema going.

Some like the one on Chester Road in Stretford was built with air conditioning and others could boast a bar and all were magical places with their lush carpet, grand hall ways and thick velvet curtains.

These were places a world away from the often cold and drab homes that many left to escape into a world of Busby Berkley, Fred Astaire and Gone with the Wind.

All of which I was reminded of when I was at the Plaza recently in Stockport.  This was the grand design of entertainment and maybe Peter will compliment his painting of Parrs Wood with one of the Plaza.

Painting; Parrs Wood Cinema complex, from the series East Didsbury, © 2014 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures


News of a Salford soldier from a German POW camp .............. May 1918

Albert Derry was 25 years old when he was captured during the last big German offensive on the Western Front in March 1918.

News from Germany, May 1918
It was the first day of that big attack and I can fully understand the anxiety his family must have gone through, knowing that his battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers were in the thick of the fighting.

And it would not be until May that they got confirmation that he was a Prisoner of War at Limburg an der Lahn.

The camp held 12,000 British soldiers who remained in captivity till the end of the war.

I wish I knew more.  In time I will look up the war diaries of the battalion which will give a detailed account of the fighting.

Church Street, 1911
For now I know that Private Derry had been born in 1893, that  his father was a shoe maker and he was one of eight children.

His father had married Frances in 1880 and along with the eight children there had been another three that had died.

In 1911 they were living at 155 Church Road in Pendleton and a decade earlier they had been on Pimlott Street which was close by.

With a bit more research it should be possible to discover a little more about Pimlott Street and make a comparison between the two houses.

But for now I will just reflect that in the May of 1918 Limburg an der Lahn must have seemed a long way from the butcher’s shop Albert had worked in before the war.  His army records were lost in the Blitz and while I know he was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal, what happened to him on his return has yet to be discovered.

There is an Albert Derry living in Salford who died in 1940 and that for the moment really is it.

Location, Salford and Germany

Pictures; POW card, May 1918, courtesy of David Harrop

*Anew book on Manchester and the Great War

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Summer in the city ..... July 2018 no. 5 .... Shapes

Now the S bend building remains a favourite of mine.

Purists will respond with its correct name, and point out the practical reasons for why it has the shape.

I just like it's bold no nonsense sweep, and think its a bit of fun

Location; Manchester

Picture; Outside Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station, 2018, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Looking out on one of our farms from our house on Beech Road

I have always been fascinated by the Bowling Green Farm which stood on what is now the junction of Beech Road and Beaumont Road.

The Bowling Green Farm, date unknown
Part of the reason is simply that we live opposite in the house Joe Scott built who was also responsible for demolishing the farm house sometime in the 1940s.

There is strong evidence that it was there by the 1750s and had a mixed existence.

In the 1840s it was the home of Samuel and Mary Gratrix, who were in their early 70s.  They employed a farm labourer who lived with them.

Mr Gratrix's home and land on the right of the map, 1844
Now that is a little surprising given that they only farmed an acre of land which was located to the south and east of the farm, and consisted of parts of five fields which were a mix of arable, pasture and part of an orchard.

By 1852 the farm had passed into the tenancy of Peter Langford, who a year before had farmed an acre of land by Oswald Field.  The family appear to prosper because just nine years later they have 16 acres and employed two labourers.

And the family remained on the farm until 1909.

With a bit more digging it should be possible to firm up the final date because just two years later the house was home the Mylett family and the connection with the land seems severed.  He was a coal merchant.

Chorlton Row, 1854
I know that Mr and Mrs Mylett had three young children and that their home had six rooms.

And it is that small detail about the house which as ever draws me into the property.

There will be lots more to finds out, but the romantic in me has wandered back into the 1840s, when the Gratrix family had clear views north across the fields to High Lane, south towards Chorlton Brook, and no doubt passed the time of day with whoever was walking down Chorlton Row from Barlow Moor Lane to the village green.

Plan of the farm house, circa 1930s
And there would have been plenty of them, from the itinerant traders in from Manchester with everything you might want, to those wanting to use the blacksmith down by the Wesleyan chapel and of course those wishing to call in at one of the beer shop and pubs.

Samuel Gratrix might well have supplied some of the food eaten by the Holt family who lived just east of his farm in the impressive Beech House which was set in a walled garden.

And I guess will have sold much of his crops at the Manchester markets.

All of which just leaves me to puzzle over the foot print of the house on the old maps which doesn't quite match the plan in the 1930s.

But that is for another time.

Location; Beech Road

Pictures; the Bowling Green Farm, date unknown from the collection of Tony Walker, the plan of the farm circa 1930 from the collection of Andrew Simpson and Mr Gratrix's fields, 1844, from the OS Lancashire, 1854, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

When you never quite lose that love of the River

Now I miss the river, which given that I never lived that far away from it is not surprising. 

In the park, 1907
Like many I saw its transformation from working waterway to a river bordered by new developments that seemed to reach to the sky.

I don’t have a rosy nostalgic view of the Thames.  For those who worked on and lived by it, the river was a hard and at times capricious companion.

But sitting on the concrete wall across the road from the Cutty Sark pub on a warm summer’s evening was magic.

As dusk turned to night the conversations around us were interrupted by the occasional banging together of the moored barges caught in the wake of a passing pleasure craft.

And over the water you could just catch the noise of a party going on with snatches of music which were lost as the vessel disappeared into the dark.

Looking out across the river, 1907
Even now that smell of ozone takes me right back to games on the beech outside the Tower of London in the shadow of Tower Bridge and that stretch of sand in front of the Naval College.

These combine with more grown up ones of sitting watching the traffic in the dinner hour during the time I worked for Glenvilles Food near the tunnel.

Leaving me only to remember the moment, me, Jimmy O’Donnell and John Cox sank in the oozy, oily Thames mud, just beyond the steps that led down from the foot tunnel at Greenwich.

It was sometime around 1959 and we had the long walk home and the thought of the difficult set of explanations needed to cover the ruined shoes and socks.  To my eternal shame I blamed the other two, something which got me off the hook but which the passage of time has never let me apologise for.

So that just leaves me to comment on the picture dated 1907.  We are in the gardens by the river on the noth side.

Location; the River Thames

Picture; the Embankment, North Woolwich Gardens, circa 1907 courtesy of Kritina Bedford from her book Woolwich Through Time, 2014

Didsbury College ............. eight months on and the strange tale of what was left

Revisiting an old story, four years old, ..... because I can.

I wonder if any of the staff and students have been back to Didsbury College since the move to Birley.

I was there in the summer at the farewell do on the lawn and wandered through the admin block, looked in at the old library and stood just inside the Assembly Hall where in 1972 I signed up to the NUT as I started a post grad course which set me off on a career in teaching which lasted 35 years.

So my memories of Didsbury College span a full 42 years and a bit and this week I was back again.

We were down visiting that archaeological dig in the car park and looked in at those now empty buildings.

I had expected to see nothing, but instead there was a whole range of abandoned stuff which no one had wanted or could see how it would fit in the new building down at Birley.

Amongst the discarded tables and chairs were piles of books and papers, the last big posters advertising the campus and a mix of smaller material from the campaign posters for student elections, to art work and what had once been a set of statues.

You had that over riding sense that the move had been interrupted and that the last of these things would be packed up moved out and found new homes in Hulme.

But I think not.  They will stay put slowly gathering dust and waiting to be shovelled off into skips and land fill.

Now I could of course slide into a flight of  historical fancy and bring forth images of Pompeii or the Mary Celeste but that would be to get silly, and yet I did feel that we were looking at a scene which remained unfinished.

And  one that seemed a tad sad, because these were the bits that no one wanted despite having once been cared for and each of which had a story to tell.

Like that piece of art work with its title "You can leave your hat on" or the piles of books and journals which once had so much significance to the teaching of students.

And finally that set of election posters seen through the window of the old library advertising the candidates in the elections for the Student Union.

I did wonder if I should go looking to see if Mr Palmer and Ms Adamson had been successful,  and briefly abandoned the idea as somehow spoiling what was a story of ghosts but in the end curiosity won out.

Mr Palrmer was elected as President with 62% of the total vote, and Jen Adamsom was reelected for a second term as VP-Education Officer.  "In total more than 4,200 students voted in the 2014 elections - a similar figure to 2013 but significantly higher than in previous years."

So a little of what we found down there goes on and makes me wonder if I should go looking for other bits of my academic career from the old Students Union in the Till Kennedy building to the Aytoun site which was the College of Commerce and where I spent three years in what was Manchester Polytechnic and is now the MMU, the very organisation which left Didsbury in the summer.  And sadly the Aytoun Building is now no more, and is in the process of being transformed into apartments.

But then perhaps some ghosts are best left alone.

Pictures; Didsbury College, 2015 eight months on, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Big turn out in student elections,Man Met Life,
This item has now been taken down but it was there once, and has gone like the forgotten bits left behind in the move.

The Second Peterloo .............. in New Cross on the evening of August 16 1819

The events on the evening of August 16 at New Cross doesn’t even merit a footnote in books on Peterloo.

A comment on the events of Peterloo, 1819
Of course compared with what happened earlier in the day at St Peter’s Field, the deaths of William Bradshaw and Joshua Whitworth who were shot by the military at New Cross are small beer.

The big picture which became known as Peterloo was an awful event.

It had all begun on an August day in 1819 when anything between 50,000 and 80,000 men, women and children had assembled in St Peter’s Field to listen to the case for reforming the representation of Parliament.

Just before 2 in the afternoon a unit of Cavalry charged into the crowd with their sabres.  The deaths resulting from that charge have never been exactly established but sources claimed between 11 and 15 people were killed and up to 700 injured.

Now New Cross is on the other side of town at the junction of Great Ancoats Street and Oldham Street which seems an odd spot for the incident.

But not so. To the east and south of New Cross there was a densely packed warren of small streets which were home to textile workers and those on the margins of subsistence.

The spot was known for food riots like the one that broke out in April 1812 in Oldham Road, when a food cart carrying food for sale at the markets in Shudehill was stopped and its load carried off.  Nearby shops were also attacked and looted.  The mob was eventually dispersed by soldiers but only as far as Middleton.

New Cross, 1794
There they met with an assembly of handloom weavers, miners and out of work factory operatives gathered to protest against the introduction of power loom machinery at Barton and Sons weaving mill.

The mob which had grown to 2000, was dispersed by “ a party of soldiers , horse and foot, from Manchester arriving, pursued those misguided people, some of whom made a feeble stand; but here again death was the consequence, five of them being shot and many severely wounded.”  

Revolution it was thought was in the air, and the Government responded with the Gag Acts, the suspension of Habeas Corpus   and the rounding up and imprisonment of political suspects.  Here in Manchester radicals were arrested and some like John Night were thrown into the New Bailey prison before being sent on to London, others like William Ogden were just “roughed up”.

And in the run up to Peterloo and in the days afterwards the area was seething with opposition to the authorities all of which are well documented in The Casualties of Peterloo which offers up some fascinating leads into the story of the area.*

In time I am minded to follow up those leads and delve deeper into the area which was the home of my old friend Richard Buxton** and accounted for 80 casualties from Peterloo.  It may even be possible to uncover something of the story of William Bradshaw and Joshua Whitworth.

Pictures; Peterloo, 1819, m77801,courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and New Cross 1794 from Green’s map of Manchester, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

*Bush, Michael, The Casualties of Peterloo, 2005

**Richard Buxton,

All glass and surprises ....... back at the Quays

Now the thing about Salford Quays is that it is all glass and surprises.

All glass .............. 2017
Which means, that pretty much every time I wander down there a new glass and steel building has gone up or about to with even more to come.

The place seems full of  of cranes and half finished developments which come in lots of different shapes and sizes.

And this Friday I added another to the list of ones that weren’t there last time I was at Media City.

It’s called the Alchemist and is indeed all glass and steel topped with a  golden roof.

The space between the Lowry and Media City, 2014
It stands on that stretch of land which runs back from the Quays to the water and has the Lowry to one side and Media City on the other.

I remember the plot as an empty expanse which for a while was home to a temporary showroom and then reverted to nothing until blue wooden walls went up with signs announcing “Media City UK”Where brilliance happens.”

The few who sat waiting for a bus under the shelter by those blue walls may have pondered on what was going on behind them but I never did.

The Alchemist, 2017
I showed no interest  and certainly didn’t think it warranted a picture, but now I wish I had snapped away, if only to mark the change from open space to an interesting building which mixes shapes, and glass with that striking gold roof.

When passed there were people inside and it looked  open for business serving up cocktails. and food.

And that has to be more of an attraction than the windy space that was there before.

A balcony to view the surroundings, 2017
Critics might object that the free view across the water to the Imperial War Museum North  has been lost but I bet there is an equally interesting view from the platform that juts out into the basis with the added attraction of a glass of something.

And the rest I am told will be a painting by my old chum Peter Topping.

But no sooner had this story been posted and quick as a flash Antony added one of his pictures of the site under construction.

All blue walls, an empty site and a promise of things to come, 2016
It perfectly points up that simple observation that you should always carry a camera and always record what is going on around you.

After all without all those Victorian and Edwardian photographs there would be fewer opportunities for people to post old scenes of our towns and cities in a time before now.

And not to be outdone, just minutes later Paul contributed this fine pictures of the new bar which I like, adding, "the latest surprise I saw yesterday was the changed view across the water, now they've opened the Alchemist."

Across the water, 2017
It was taken yesterday when the sun was kinder than on the day I was there and in between those heavy rain showers.

And that really is it.

Location; Salford

Pictures; Salford Quays, 2017 and 2014 from the collection of Andrew Simpson and the construction of the new Alchemist, 2016 and remaining two, courtesy of Antony Mills and in 2017 from Paul Sherlock

Making stories out of our histories ……….

The last decade and bit have seen an explosion in the number of people engaged in researching family history, and for that we have the internet to thank.

The christening, Greenwich, 1981
When my sisters began digging into our family history in the 1970s, it involved long journeys from London to the east Highlands to trawl over dusty parish records, and stand in ancient graveyards recording names, and dates on memorial headstones.

It took weeks of preparation, endless letters and great chunks of time on trains, and buses, which today can be telescoped into a few hours wandering across the net interrogating a range of online records and genealogical platforms.

Once done, many are faced with that simple question of what to do next?

For some it is enough to have stripped back the centuries and made links with places and people long forgotten, but for others that is not enough and for them there is the desire to writ it down to share with family or just to see the process through from start to finish.

The conversation, Manchester, 2018
In my case, it was also to place our family in the context of where they lived, and when they lived, which in turn helped offer up an explanation of how they lived their lives. 

And in that I am always guided by something Ian McMillan, the Yorkshire poet, journalist, playwright, and broadcaster, said about his mum and dad, that they had, “lived out little their lives in a great century”.

But those little lives are the stuff of history, because while the “great events” shape and influence all our lives, we too bring something to the great events, whether it be as a mill worker toiling in a cotton factory in 19th century Lancashire, storming the Normandy beaches in 1944, or suffering the awful conditions on a slave plantation, cutting the sugar cane under a fierce unrelenting sun, and bullied by a brutal overseer.

At the market, Ashton-under-Lyne, 1979
The trick becomes how you tell that story, and for some that isn’t easy. 

They may lack confidence in their writing skills, particularly if their last attempt at formal writing was at school decades ago.

And there is that other challenge of how to process and organise the story, which for a few becomes even more challenging when instead of a factual piece they opt to create a fictional account, where the names have been changed but the substance stays the same.

Waiting for something to happen, Paris, 1980
All of which is a lead in to an interesting project by my friend Lois, who runs writing groups and is now engaged in assisting those who want to turn grandad’s war or aunty Mabel’s youthful experiences into a story.*

The group differ in what they want to say, and in both their writing skills and their confidence, but by sharing their research and pooling ideas of how to approach the tasks, each is learning.

And that for me is a brilliant start.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson, 1979-2018


Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Alan Johnson and the story of English education over the last 140 years ……. today and all this week on Radio 4

Now I belong to that generation that experienced the eleven plus, and didn’t come through with a place to a grammar school and a passport to the “glittering prizes”.

Manchester student, circa 1910
Instead for me and most of my friends, we left Edmund Waller Junior School in the summer of 1961, and met up again in the playground of Samuel Pepys Secondary Modern School a month and a bit later.

On the surface not much had changed, and while we now had a uniform and there were no girls, it was little different from what had gone before, save that now we were joined by 120 other “also runs”.

The experience of my parents was little different, and in the case of my mother, she attended the same elementary school as her father and grandmother on Traffic Street in Derby which went under the imaginative name of Traffic Street School.

Edmund Waller School, opened in 1887
Together that amounts to 94 years of State education over two centuries, and encompasses some pretty basic provision, mixed with some fine examples of good teaching set against  comparatively poor resources.

All of which is a lead in to an excellent new series on Radio 4, presented by “Alan Johnson, the former Education Secretary, who tells the story of English education over the last 140 years through the prism of one school - St Michael and All Angels in Camberwell.

Over the decades, the school has undergone many transformations, including names, in response to changes in policy, but its purpose has remained constant - to provide decent and free education to local children.

The story is told through original documents – from headmasters’ logs and inspection reports – and the testimony of the children and teachers who went there. It is as much a social history of inner-city life down the ages as it is a study of our attempts to educate the children of poor families”.*

The school opened in 1884, three years before Edmund Waller which was just down the road in Peckham, and post dated Traffic Street by twelve years.

Traffic Street School, 1872-1990
Episode one, opened with "the Headmasters log book entry November 17, 1884 which documented the opening of the school: 'J Alfred Thomas Cox opened the above school and took charge. 74 boys were admitted.' 

Founded as a church school, St Michael and All Angels is set up under auspices of the The National Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. The aim is clear: 'the proposed schools are for the poorest of the poor children, quite ragged and destitute. Many of whom are at present spending most of their time in the street.'"

Episode 2, began with a visit to “one of the few remaining hop gardens at the Museum of Kent Life to discover how, during September each year, generation after generation of St Michael and All Angels School pupils used to truant - or 'hop the wag' as they called it - to pick hops and earn money for their school uniform. 

Alan Johnson  talks to some of the last of those who went hop picking. He considers how, with changes in legislation and the end of child labour in mines and mills, schools became even more important – not just for education, but to meet society’s concerns about children 'running wild on the streets'.

The series goes on to look at the impact of The Great War, the awful poverty of the area, and moves into the 21st century.

Each episode lasts just 14 minutes, is repeated and is well worth a listen, as an informative and thoughtful look at our educational system before today.

Leaving me just to say that many of us "also runs" did achieve with the help of dedicated teachers who weren't prepared to allow the mark of the eleven plus to shunt us into a side street, bereft of what our grammar school contemporaries were privy to.

Pictures; one Manchester Child, happy child, m68208, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,
Edmund Waller School, Peckham, 2009, from the collection of Liz and Colin Fitzpatrick and Traffic School, Derby, 1990, courtesy of Cynthia Wigley

*The Secret History of a School, Presenter: Alan Johnson, Producer: Sara Parker, Executive Producer: Samir Shah, A Juniper Connect production for BBC Radio 4,

Off to the pub to vote in the Parliamentary election of 1844

“Voters in respect of property in the several townships or places of Chorlton-with-Hardy, Heaton Norris, Moss Side, Reddish, Withington, Urmston are to vote at Booth No 11, at the rooms adjoining the Bush Inn, in Deansgate, Manchester.”*

The Bush Inn, Deansgte
Well that pretty much would have added to the fun of voting in 1844.

Of course first you had to get into Manchester which was a 4 mile hike.

But these electors were men of property and if they didn’t own a coach or could share one then there were always the twice daily package boats from Stretford along the canal which transported passengers in comfort and speed.

A ticket for the front room cost 6d [2½p] and the back room 4d [1½p].

And once landed at Castlefield it was but a short walk up to number 106 Deansgate where the Bush Inn stood.

It’s gone now but it was on eastern side of Deansgate between Lower King Street and St Mary’s Street in the middle of a block of eight properties of which four were pubs.**

Now not everyone got to vote in a pub, but many did.  The unfortunate depending on your inclination might have gone to the Town Hall but plenty more voted in or next to a pub or hotel.

Elections were carnivals where treating electors was common, shady practices embraced and violence and alcohol went hand in hand and in 1835 Mr Pickwick became part of one.

It was late in the evening when he and his companions, dismounted from the roof of the Eatanswill coach.*** they had come to this small country town with the express purpose of observing a Parliamentary election and they were not disappointed.

The town was decked out with the colours of the opposing parties; a crowd was listening to an impassioned speech on behalf of one of the candidates, while the rival party had employed men with drums to drown out his speech.   Meanwhile a group of voters were locked up in the coach house of the White Hart and constantly plied with drink to ensure they remained drunk and unavailable to the opposing party’s agent.

Jeremiah Brundrit one of our 27 electors
Not that this agent was over concerned for as he confided to Mr Pickwick,

“We are pretty confident, though, we had a little tea-party here, last night -- five-and-forty women, my dear sir -- and gave every one of 'em a green parasol when she went away.' 
    'A parasol!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Fact, my dear Sir, fact. Five-and-forty green parasols, at seven and sixpence a-piece. All women like finery -- extraordinary the effect of those parasols. Secured all their husbands, and half their brothers -- beats stockings, and flannel, and all that sort of thing hollow. 

My idea, my dear Sir, entirely. Hail, rain, or sunshine, you can't walk half a dozen yards up the street, without encountering half a dozen green parasols.'

Moreover they had already secured all the public houses leaving their opponents nothing but the beer shops.
All of which chimes in with press reports of the 1844 by election which was a contest between the Liberal William Brown and the Tory William Entwhistle.

“Several of the election booths were much crowded; and there was considerable bustle and animation in the various districts from the coaches and cabs driving about, .....The vehicles hired by Mr Entwhistle’s friends were distinguished by small blue banners and by large blue placards, containing exaggerated statements."

Not that the Tories were any better.  In the Ashton district of the constituency they spread the story that the leading free trader Richard Cobden was not endorsing the Liberal candidate which forced Cobden to publically declare that “Mr Entwhisle’s friends have put forth a placard at Ashton-Under-Lyne that I have deserted the cause of our excellent candidate Mr Brown.  It is false.”

So nothing new there then.  And equally both election teams were adept at talking up their side and issuing regular updates on how each candidate was favouring.

All of which was possible as elections were still held in the open in full view of all who wanted to record who a voter supported.

And in an effort to reduce the Liberal lead the Tories, brought “up large bodies farming tenantry polling in this district, and they managed to reduce it to 35; but were never able to turn the scale or even bring it lower.”

But this was Manchester where Liberal support might be reckoned to be strongest, across the large South Lancashire constituency the Tories held on to the seat with a majority of 598.

As for Jerremiah Brundrit I rather think he may have given the drink a miss.

Tomorrow; more about our electors, including who they were and how they voted.

Pictures; detail of Deansgate from the OS map of Manchester, 1842-44, courtesy of Digital Archives and Jeremiah Brundrit

* Manchester Guardian, May 29 1844
** These were from Lower King Street The Star Hotel, followed by the Bush Inn and the Golden Lion and lastly by St Mary's Street, the Three Arrows
*** Dickens, Charles Pickwick Papers Chapter 12 1836-37

Summer in the city ..... July 2018 no. 4 .... railway traffic

Location; Manchester

Picture; Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station, 2018, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Posters from the Past ........... no 16 ......... Eltham At Its Best

Now the project is simple, take an image of a building we all love and turn it into the style of poster which was popular in the middle decades of the last century.*

And today we are back in Well Hall with the Tudor Barn and the Pleasaunce, thinking about how the Woolwich Borough Council might have advertised the delights of the building and the gardens

Location;Well Hall

Painting; The Tudor Barn, © 2018 Peter Topping,  Paintings from Pictures, from a photograph by Chrissy Rose, 2014


*Posters from the Past,

Denbigh Villas ...... saving that historic building

Now it is one of those sad observations, that we do not really care that much about buildings with a past, which have fallen on hard times.

The back of Denbigh Villas
So, while it is true there are charities, government agencies, and individuals committed to saving everything from a crofter’s hut, to castles, stately homes, and the odd shippon, there will never be enough money or groups to save everything.

All of which means that many places despite being unique and full of history will be bulldozed away and replaced by an unremarkable block of flats.

But during the last three decades there has been a move to retain buildings and convert them in to modern residential properties.

Not all these warehouse conversions or transformed old homes have been done well, but when they are, they achieve something special, providing homes, while at the same time saving a piece of our history.

And so, it is with the two on the corner of High Lane and Stockton Road which were built in 1877 and were called Denbigh Villas, and pretty much reflect the story of where we live.

They were once grand homes for the comfortably well off, one of whom wrote a fascinating account of Manchester in the 1830s.*

The communal garden under construction
Later the two properties became a school for the children of the “middling people”, who worked in the professions or owned businesses, and could afford to pay for their children to attend private schools.

By the mid-20th century they had been turned in to a series of flats, which were not particularly well designed, and by the end of that century the two properties were tired and in need of much tender care and attention.

They could so easily have been demolished, but instead have been brought back, by Armistead Properties, who have spent the last year gutting the two buildings, and making them structurally safe before starting work on creating twelve, two bedroomed apartments.**

Looking across Chorlton
And because of their history I have not only become attached to Denbigh Villas, but regularly visit them, to record the progress and written about them on the blog.***

Yesterday was one of those visits, and I spent an hour and half wandering through the two buildings, and the highlight was roof garden which will be a communal area for all the residents offering superb views across Chorlton.

Location; Chorlton

Looking towards the city
Pictures; inside Denbigh Villas ...... a work in progress, 2019, from the collection of Peter Topping

* Reminiscences of Manchester, J T Slugg, 1881

**Armistead Properties,

***Denbigh Villas,