Sunday, 31 March 2019

Eltham and Woolwich ………… 70 years ago

Eltham High Street
The quality of the images is a bit iffy, but that has more to do with me than the originals.  

As our scanner has taken a holiday, I was forced back on taking a picture from a picture, using a camera.

Still they capture scenes which have almost passed out of living memory, because while neither Woolwich or Eltham changed that much during the 1950 and 60s, these three images date from the very early 1950s if not back into the decade before.

And that makes them quite special, but for me there is another reason and that is they come from a book I thought lost.

Hare Street
It is the Official Guide to the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich, and while there is no date, judging from the images I guess it was produced soon after the last world war.

It is a fascinating book which is now a piece of history.  Along with detailed descriptions of Woolwich, Eltham and Plumstead, there is a wealth of information on the services the borough operated, and a shedload of adverts for firms many of which will have ceased trading ages ago.

These include the Pioneer Bookshop at 3 Woolwich New Road, Court Studio in the Arcade in Eltham, and J.A. Proctor Ltd Builders and Contractors of Plumstead.

Thomas Street
So over the next few weeks I shall be returning to the Official Guide.

Leaving me just to observe that the presence of tram tracks and overhead cables might fix the time to some time before that last tram ran. 

Although both rails and cables didn't vanish straight away.

Location; the Borough of Woolwich

Pictures, Eltham High Street, Hare Street and Thomas Street, circa 1950, from the Official Guide to the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich, Wells of Woolwich

The bread man

Here is another one of those occasional posts looking at how horses pulled the way across the township.

Now I don’t have a date or an exact location but reckon it could be sometime around the end of 1909 and perhaps in new Chorlton.

In that year the firm of George Ernest Tinker was still based on Bradshaw Street in Hulme which was between Chester Road and City Road, but by 1911 had moved.

So if this is about 1909 then I think the delivery boy in the picture will be Harold Tinker who was 15 and employed by his father as a “Delivering Bread by Van.”

By contrast George described himself and his eldest son as master bakers in the 1911 census and the family were living in a 7 roomed house called Burnham on Burnage Lane.

Now I can’t find a business address for them in that year but they were clearly still trading.

Harold would not have been alone on our roads back then, look at any picture of the period and there will be a delivery cart somewhere.

Not only would there have been the specialist tradesmen coming in from outside the township but there would have been local shopkeepers, the coal vans and the itinerant traders.

Picture; from the collection of Tony Walker

Pictures with a story …………. Labour gains Manchester Withington, June 11, 1987

Now, I thought I had lost this photograph which was taken on the night Keith Bradley won Manchester Withington for the Labour Party.

And even given the passage of 32 years, I can name all but two of the people in the picture.

The election in Withington was a contest between, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Greens.

Labour polled 21, 650, the Conservatives 18,259, the Liberals 9,978 and the Greens 524, giving Mr. Bradley a majority of 3,391.

The election returned the first Labour MP to the constituency and was notable for a campaign video which featured Keith and a selection of supporters.

Location; Manchester

Picture Keith Bradley and some of the election team. June, 1987, from the Manchester Evening News.

When a cook book becomes a bit of our collective past

Ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar and candied peel  with a lattice of pastry, 2010
I won’t be alone in having several bookshelves filled with cook books.

Most remain unopened from one year to the next and only come down to be looked at for the pictures and the carefully written stories.

Not that there is anything wrong in that but that doesn’t make them cook books.

To qualify for that status the book has to be much thumbed, with more than a few cooking stains and fall open at old favourite dishes many of which you know off by heart anyway.

And these books will all come with a history.

That history might be the book given as a wedding present or as a going away manual for the son or daughter about to set up their own home and they also will be full of recipes that reflect the eating habits of the past.

A finished Meta display, 1947
We still have mum’s two volumes of Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking first published in the USA in 1947.

In its time it was as essential as Mrs Beaton’s guide to household management and followed a tradition which can be traced back to the monthly periodicals issued during the 19th century and the stylish recipe books of the century before.

I think the two volumes were given to mother soon after she settled down with my father and they have been part of my life since.

Not that she used them over much.  They have American measures and many of the foods listed would not have been available in those post war years when there was still rationing.

Here are appetisers like Apple Tempters and Shrimp Cocktail, traditional main courses of liver and onions, broiled, fried or roast chicken and a host of puddings.

Some do tempt me but others like Italian Style Liver Marconi and Tomatoes followed by Baked Pears with Marshmallows I am happy to leave alone.

Met's take in stuffed peppers, 1947
But they reflect that immediate post war period when the growing prosperity of the USA set it apart from Britain.

That said we did have Coronation Chicken that 1953 dish first served at the Queen’s Coronation meal which was a mixture of cold chicken with mayonnaise and curry.  It sounds quite tame today but against the backdrop of years of rationing I reckon it would have been pretty exotic.

I have dipped into Meta Given but it is a world away from what I am comfortable with eating.

So my manual of choice is the Silver Spoon which first appeared in Italy in 1950 and like Meta was meant as the ultimate guide to food, cooking and all you wanted to know about both.

I came across it  a decade ago and saw in it an opportunity to reproduce the meals which Rosa cooks when we go home to Italy.

Now family dishes are not learnt from cook books but handed down and in the case of Rosa’s cooking reflect her upbringing in Naples in the 1940s and early ‘50s when food was in short supply. So most of what we eat is weighted to the food of southern Italy with just the odd nod to the heavier dishes of the north, which means plenty of vegetables, fruit and fish and only small amounts of meat.

Rosa's fish stew, 2010
Of course the Silver Spoon includes the lot but I have to say I slide towards the south and fall back on Rosa’s favourites many of which come with a family story.

Like the one about the about making passata which began with the raw tomatoes and ended with the bottling of the finished stuff which was stored away in the garage and pretty much kept them going all winter.

It was a collective affair with uncles and aunts joining the kids, Simone and Rosa and lasted the day and was as much about getting together and retelling old tales as it was about making food.

Sadly the Silver Spoon leaves out the stories which are a shame and set me off thinking that perhaps it’s time to produce that family cook book which will offer both the workaday meals we remember with a bit of the family history.

We shall see.

Picture's Rosa's Easter tarts and fish stew 2010 and dishes from Meta Givern, 1948 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Passing the time ............... dinner time in St Ann's Square

An occasional series of pictures of people and places.

Location; St Ann's Square, Manchester

Pictures; People & Places Manchester, 2014, from the collection of Andrew Simspson

Changing the landscape for ever

I like these two pictures by Andy Robertson, which in their different ways record the progress of those giant towers.

The first captures the sheer scale of them, while in the second there is a brooding sense about the towers, taken as the light was fading.

Location; Manchester

Pictures. the tower developments, Manchester, 2019, from the collection of Andy Robertson 

Saturday, 30 March 2019

On being a dinosaur and remembering the horse drawn wagon

I am fast becoming a living dinosaur, and I suppose I have to ask how could it be any different?

I was after all born in the first half of the last century, reached the age of four before the  last vestiges of wartime rationing came to an end, and grew up with the wireless as the only source of home entertainment.

Along the way I remember the street grinder, who went from house to house sharpening the family knives, the regular call of the rag and bone man and of course the horse drawn milk float.

By the 1950s these milk carts had rubber tyres but were still a link with that time when almost all carts, wagons and public as well as private transport was pulled by a horse.

We tend to forget just how much was shifted by horse and cart.

In Manchester as in every town and city each railway company had their own stables and in all there were 157 carriers listed in the 1911 street directory and all used horses, as did the local trades people and the bus companies.

Look at any old picture of Chorlton from before the last world war and there are bound to be some horse drawn vehicles.

And so it is time for another of those occasional series which will potter on through the summer looking at how horses pulled the way.

This one  according to the caption was the, “Prince of Wales Horse bus at the green, probably about 1898 before the Corporation took over the Carriage and Tramway Company, but may be slightly later.  Photograph origin unknown.”

Location; Chorlton

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Stories from a demonstration ....... the waiting

Now, there is a lot of waiting about during a demonstration.

It’s the bit you usually forget, in favour of the noise, the good humour, the big crowds and that sense that you are doing something with a purpose.

And yes, even the most serious of demonstrations have their lighter moments.

Sometimes it will be a witty slogan shouted out by someone which is picked up and ripples back through the long line of protesters.

Or the loud chant which doesn’t get a response leaving everyone to burst out laughing.

Then there is the banter between paper sellers all trying to offload their group’s newspaper onto the crowd, but often ending up buying each other’s.

All of which long ago led to the theory that rather than increase their revenue, all the groups did was redistribute their wealth between them.

Of course some marches and demonstrations can be confrontational, and turn ugly and unpleasant, with a lot of nasty name calling, some arrests and people getting hurt.

But amongst all of that, there is that simple fact that you stand about a lot.

It can take ages for a march to set off and then there are the stops at road junctions which can seem to go on forever.

So here for all those who have suffered are two pictures of the waiting side of demos.  I can’t be sure when they were taken, but it will be between 1984 and about ’85.

We are in Manchester and the clue to the march is there in the last picture, where far away at the back of the line there is placard with the slogan "Victory to the Miners".

I have no memory of the march or from where we set off or our final destination.

But someone will, and I hope will add a comment or even share a picture.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; a demonstration, circa 1983-86, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Till & Kennedy's on Cavendish Street ........... or if you prefer Mr Righton's Drapery Emporium and the Student's Union

Now this is one or those buildings which will mean many things to many people.

Righton's Buildings in 2015
For some it will be the old show rooms and for me and some of my generation Manchester Polytechnic’s first proper Student Union.

Before then the three colleges pretty much did their own thing with their own bars.

The College of Commerce on Aytoun Street where I went was known for some pretty spectacular Saturday nights with big bands, the Art College may have done the same but I doubt that much happened down at John Dalton

Detail including Mr Righton's name, 2015
All of which is outrageously  biased but fits with someone who wasn’t even aware of the other two sites until sometime in late 1970 almost a year after I begun at the “college of knowledge.”

Nor can I be fully sure when the Till Kennedy Building opened for pints, bands and much more.

One source has it throwing back its doors in 1969, before which it had been Till & Kennedy’s the ironmongers.

Righton's in 1958
It was built in 1905 for William Righton whose name appears above the main entrance.

He was a draper and the building offers up plenty of clues to its origins as a drapers shop.

The spacious ground floor was perfect for accommodating a vast range of fabrics while the large windows allowed the maximum amount of daylight into the building, a feature complimented by the top-lit gallery with the cutaway floor providing extra light to penetrate down into the main shop.

Now this had always puzzled me as had the benching around the gallery and only now have I discovered that these benches were where “the cloth was measured.”*

Righton's in 2015
It had a short life as a student’s union and has been used by various faculties of the Poly and the MMU.

I remember visiting it to look at the collection of taped memories of life in Manchester in the first half of the last century but as much as I tried my mind wandered to disco nights and of a particularly magic evening with Osibisa.

Added to which there were those endless student general meetings where our own version of politics was played, all of which was I suspect a long way from Mr Righton’s bolt of blue cloth or Till and Kennedy’s taps and assorted iron ware.

Pictures; the Righton Building, 2015, from the collection of Andy Robertson and in 1958, H.W.Beaumont, m19060, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

*Manchester An architectural history, John K Parkinson-Bailey, 2000, Page 317

By the moat at Well Hall ............ one of two

There is something quite magical about the reflection of light on water especially as the light is failing.

And Chrissie has captured that magic in a series of pictures she took earlier in the month.

And that is all I want to say.

Picture; by the moat at Well Hall, 2015 © Chrissie Rose

History at the Monastery .....Gorton to do in June

Friday, 29 March 2019

Ours was a time still dominated by working animals

Ours was a time still dominated by working animals.

For centuries the main draught animal had been the oxen and in some parts of the country their use continued well on till the end of the 19th century and the start of the twentieth.

But by the 1840s the horse had taken over in most areas.

The horse was a familiar sight here in the township.  As well as working the fields, they would have pulled the carts and wagons of the farmers and carriers as well as the coaches of the well to do.

Horses provided work for the blacksmith, and the farrier and indirectly for the wheelwright.  Then there were the men who worked with the horses.  Of these the ploughman and the carter earned more than most other farm workers.  The carter after all was assured a regular wage because horses needed to be looked after all the year round, unlike the farm labourer who could expect seasonal periods of unemployment.

But most farm workers came into some contact with horses at some point and on the smaller farms and market gardens, the job of caring and working with horses fell to the farmer or his son.

The Bailey family on the Row who farmed seven acres had just one horse which would have doubled for both ploughing and pulling the spring cart.  

This would have been the pattern here with so many of our market gardens operating with less than 10 acres of land.

On our bigger farms there were men who were employed specifically to deal with the horses.  James Higginbotham, farmer on the green employed a carter and at Dog House Farm just outside the township eight of the men who lived on this 380 acre farm were carters.

Here horses were worked in pairs and there might be two or three teams each with a carter and mate.  The most intensive period for a working horse were sowing wheat, or turnips, carting mangels and harvest time.

Many carters formed close bonds with their horses, a bond which was deepened by the long hours they spent together.  

A carter might start as early as five in the morning as the horses were prepared for work and last after the day had finished in the fields.

The horses had to be cleaned of the thick mud they had picked up and then fed, watered and groomed.

For this a carter might be paid just over £1 a week, although James Higginbotham was less generous.  During the mid 1840s he was paying his carters between 4s 6d [22p] and 6s [30p] a week.  But these wages reflected the fact that the men lived in and so received their food and lodging as part of their wages.

This supplement could make a difference of between 5s [25p] and 7s [35p] a week.   Even given this their wages seem much lower.


Pictures; from the collections of Allan Brown, Carolyn Willitts  and the Lloyd collection

Walking down Passey Place in 1911 and asking for a pint at the Park Tavern

Now I have been a wee bit harsh about Passey Place in the past.

You turn off into it from the High Street and once you have passed the old post office you are flanked by drab modern buildings with the side of the Market Place to your right and that long block of shops and flats opposite.

But there are those two fine looking houses a little further along and then the Park Tavern which as Chrissy’s picture shows is being redecorated.

So with that as an incentive I thought I would revisit Passey Place but with the twist that we are back in the April of 1911 when it was called Park Place and it counted amongst its residents, a doctor, a retired Professor a rate collector, and an omnibus conductor.

And I shall be even more specific and point out that those two fine houses I admire were the homes of Mr Murphy the rate collector and Mr Hutchinson the omnibus conductor and by 1914 the first had become the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music and perhaps because of that the Hutchinson’s next door had moved out and a Mr Morris had moved in.*

But there was one constant and that was William Smith the publican of the Park Tavern who was pulling pints by 1911 and perhaps earlier.

He was 50 years old in the year we wandered down the road, had been born in Scotland and had married Mrs Smith in 1883.

And they shared the pub with young Beatrice Serres and Alfred Osborn.  Beatrice was just 19 came from Kent and was employed as a domestic servant and Alfred at 79 was still working as a carpenter.

On the opposite side of the road along with the Post Office and Methodist Chapel were a number of residents including Madame Cecilia Ronsard who described herself as a dressmaker.

So an interesting and mixed bag of people in what I suspect was a more gentle and interesting street.

Picture; the Park Tavern © Chrissy Rose, June 2015

*The Post Office London Directory, 1914 & the 1911 census return fo Park Tavern Enu 06 Eltham London

"my life will be spent in fighting the Christian fight against Militarism in England.”.........

One who opposed the Great War.

Mr Harold Wild
Harold Wild was a conscientious objector  who could have exempted himself on medical grounds because he was badly disabled and so would have been judged unfit for military service, but because he was a pacifist chose instead to refuse to fight.

He had been born in 1896, was a member of the Rusholme Wesleyan Methodist Church, and at one point, considered ordination to the ministry of the church. His response, when his call-up papers came, was to ignore them which led to his arrest and a series of tribunal appearances.

In 1974 in a letter written to his daughter he reflected that “looking back over the years, I do not feel that I could have taken any other stand than I did, involving one night in the Town Hall’s Police cells, a ride in the ‘Black Maria’ to Minshull Street Police Station & a night in the ‘Guard-room’ of Ashton Barracks, followed by an interview before the Officer in charge (without any clothing on me). 

He was probably of the opinion that if I had tamely submitted myself to a normal military exam. I would have been rejected & he wanted to know WHY I refused military service.” *

Throughout the period he kept a diary which explains the reasons behind his opposition to the war and is also a very detailed picture of the peace campaign locally.**

Writing in his diary on the evening of December 31 1915 he concluded that “my life perhaps will be spent in fighting the Christian fight against Militarism in England.”

And it was a fight spent at the sharp end of campaigning including street meetings, the distribution of leaflets as well as attending lectures and rallies some of which were attended by people like Philip Snowden and Bertrand Russell.

They could range from a gathering at the gates of Alexandra Park handing out leaflets to big set meetings in Milton Hall on Deansgate or the often rowdy events in Stevenson Square.

Chief amongst these were meetings of the No Conscription Fellowship*** of which he was an active member, meetings of the Independent Labour Party and British Socialist Party along with those of various Christian groups.

Meetings in 1916
Some days he packed two or three meetings in travelling across the city and into the neighbouring townships.

From the March of 1915 through to the November of 1918 he recorded a total of 147 meetings and lectures.

They rose from 21 in 1915 to 84 during 1916, falling down to 18 in 1917 and 24 the following year.

Some at least of these were attendant with danger from hostile crowds or police raids.

On more than one occasion he wrote that a police raid was followed by arrests and the confiscation of peace literature.

In the June of 1916 and again the following year he was “detained and searched” following a police raid and casually reported that on another occasion that  “on my way home I found a military raid in progress on the premises of Lyons Cafe, Market Street."

Picture; Mr Harold Wild courtesy of Mrs Dorothy Spence

* Letter from Harold Wild to Dorothy Spence, nee Wild November 17, 1974

** Wild, Harold, The Diary of a Conscientious Objector, 1915-1919, edited by Dorothy Spence, published online

***The No Conscription Fellowship was established in the early months of the war from men who were not prepared to fight. Its Statement of Faith adopted in 1915 recorded that it was an organisation of  "men likely to bear arms, who will refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms because they consider human life to be sacred.” 

On Lapwing Lane with a ghost bank

Now here is one of those buildings that I have never given much thought to.

It is the former bank on Lapwing Lane and I must have passed it countless times, and on occasion stared at it from the window of the restaurant opposite.

I did once try to take some pictures but the light was wrong and I gave up which is a shame because I might have been inspired to dig down in to the history of The Mercantile Bank of Lancashire.

Instead I have had to wait till Andy Robertson wandered past took these pictures and set me going.

As yet I haven’t found out much other than it merged with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank in 1904 which merged with the Bank of Liverpool and Martin in 1927 which subsequently changed its name to Martins and in turn merged with Barclays in 1969.

But there will be someone out there who knows all about the bank and in time will be in touch.

In the meantime I know that our building dates from 1903, which means it had a brief existence as the Mercantile Bank.

Such are the exciting times of the banking world.

And since I posted this Richard has dug deeper and discovered that the Mercantile Bank Of Lancashire Ltd was "founded in 1890 with a head office at temporary premises in Guardian Buildings, Cross Street, Manchester, with capital of £1m, its early growth reflected the continuing industrial prosperity of Manchester. 

The completion of the Manchester Ship Canal resulted in over 200 new accounts, and on 30 June 1891 the bank reported a net profit of £2,806. 

Several branches were opened in the Manchester area, as well as others across Cheshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. 

In 1900 branches were acquired on the Isle of Man by amalgamation with the Manx Bank. 

Soon after, however, the Mercantile Bank began to run into difficulty, partly due to the effect of the Boer War on investments. 

The board of directors saw that as a relatively small bank, they could only survive by further amalgamation. 

In the early part of 1904, several meetings were held with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, and on 1 July the business of the Mercantile Bank was transferred to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank."*

And in turn the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank merged with he Bank of Liverpool and Martin in 1927.

Pictures; former Mercantile Bank of Lancashire, 1903, courtesy of Andy Robertson, 2015

*Barclays Bank PLC,

The cranes of Manchester

Now, it has become a given, that a forest of cranes set against a city backdrop is an indicator that all is going well with the local economy.

Some might gibe that what is rising into the sky will not benefit many who are looking for affordable accommodation in the city and the new developments are a blot on the landscape.

And I have a lot of sympathy with those views, that said Andy Robertson’s picture records how Manchester is changing.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; the cranes of Manchester, 2019, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Danelaw ..... on the wireless ..... one to listen to

Now I have never been that keen on the Vikings, but this programme on Radio on 4 in the series In Our Time is well worth listening to.*

It starts with a Viking Raid, and ends with D.H. Lawrence, .......... now that has to be intrguing.

"Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the effective partition of England in the 880s after a century of Viking raids, invasions and settlements.

Alfred of Wessex, the surviving Anglo-Saxon king and Guthrum, a Danish ruler, had fought each other to a stalemate and came to terms, with Guthrum controlling the land to the east (once he had agreed to convert to Christianity).

The key strategic advantage the invaders had was the Viking ships which were far superior and enabled them to raid from the sea and up rivers very rapidly. Their Great Army had arrived in the 870s, conquering the kingdom of Northumbria and occupying York.

They defeated the king of Mercia and seized part of his land. They killed the Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia and gained control of his territory.

It was only when a smaller force failed to defeat Wessex that the Danelaw came into being, leaving a lasting impact on the people and customs of that area.

With; Judith Jesch, Professor of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham, John Hines, Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University, and, Jane Kershaw, ERC Principal Investigator in Archaeology at the University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson"

*The Dane Law,

And there is even a reading list.

Richard N. Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture in Northern England (Collins, 1980)

Jayne Carroll, Stephen Harrison and Gareth Williams, The Vikings in Britain and Ireland (British Museum Press, 2014)

James Graham-Campbell, Richard Hall, Judith Jesch and David N. Parsons (eds), Vikings and the Danelaw: Select Papers from the Proceedings of the Thirteenth Viking Congress (Oxbow Books, 2001)

D. M. Hadley, The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society and Culture (Manchester University Press, 2006)

Richard A. Hall et al., Aspects of Anglo-Scandinavian York (York Archaeological Trust, 2005)

Judith Jesch, The Viking Diaspora (Routledge, 2015)

Jane Kershaw, Viking Identities: Scandinavian Jewellery in England (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Julian D. Richards, Viking-Age England (The History Press, 2004)

Matthew Townend, Language and History in Viking Age England: Linguistic Relations Between Speakers of Old Norse and Old English (Brepols, 2005)

Matthew Townend, Viking Age Yorkshire (Blackthorn Press, 2014)

Thomas Williams, Viking Britain: A History (William Collins, 2017)

Next; The Irish Famine

Horses on Beech Road on a summers day sometime around 1900

It is a picture that regularly crops up in the collections and dates from around 1900.

Now this I know because the Travellers Rest on the left of the picture was still selling beer as it had been since the 1830s but its days were numbered and it would be gone by 1909.

We are on Beech Road and the man in the apron is Mr Neale the butcher, but the identity of the lad on the horse has been lost.

It would be fascinating to know who he was and what he was doing. I guess he might be the son of one of our farmers which is a good enough way to include the picture in the occasional series on the contribution of horses to the life of the township.

 There were still enough farms around the village to remind the casual visitor that were still a rural community, and as if he needed any further reminder, just a little further back up Beech Road he could have seen Mr Clarke the blacksmith going about his business of heating and hammering.

 Picture; from the collection of Tony Walker.

Lives revealed, commitments rediscovered

“they were robbed of their childhood and of the opportunity of a sound education .... the emigration of young children for working purposes savoured of a traffic in child labour carried on between agencies in this country and agencies in Canada and children would not be allowed to go from the care of the Guardians to anything like such conditions in this country.”

I have been thinking that William Edward Skivington deserves to be remembered. His was a short life spanning just 42 years from 1869 to 1911.

 There are no blue plaques to him in the city, nor to my knowledge has he been honoured in any way for his work on behalf of the unemployed and poor of Manchester.

 No photographs of him have survived and even the mean little streets in Hulme where he grew up and lived are long gone. But some of what he said and did and something of his political ideas do exist and from these I want to tell a little of his history.

 I first discovered him as one the three socialist Guardians on the board of the Chorlton Union which administered the Poor Law across south Manchester. Time and time again the three spoke out against the sending of young children from our workhouse to Canada to work on farms and as a domestic labour. They questioned the often petty but humiliating practices that existed, demanded better conditions and opposed any perceived cuts in the provision of relief to the inmates.

Now admission into the workhouse for working people was just an accident away, be it unemployment, ill heath, old age or just bad luck. And it was a scenario which William Skivington would have been all too close to himself.

His father was a bookbinder, his mother a bookfolder, and both he and his brother had worked as iron turners. He began his married life in a one up one down back to back in Hulme and his brother died at the early age of 17 from an industrial accident.

He was a member of the Socialist Democratic Federation which was formed in 1884 and was the first Marxist political group in Britain. The membership included trade unionists like Tom Mann, John Burns and Ben Tillet as well George Lansbury, William Morris and Eleanor Marx. During the mid 1880s against a backdrop of economic depression the SDF campaigned for “the Right to Work" and demanded the establishment of state directed co-operative colonies.

Now I don’t know when he joined but in 1896 he nominated an SDF candidate in the municipal elections and may have already been in the party when he unsuccessfully stood for election as a Poor Law Guardian two years earlier.

 The SDF experienced splits and defections along with short periods of greater political unity. In 1900 it had come together with the Independent Labour Party, the Fabian Society and some trade unions to form the Labour Representation Committee, but left just seven years later. William remained in the SDF speaking at its meetings and on occasion arguing against members of the Independent Labour Party within the unemployed movement.

And it was the unemployed movement which dominated much of his political life during the first decade of the 20th century. In the winter of 1904 in Manchester something like “7,000 heads of families were out of work, and that probably twenty-one thousand children were on the verge of starvation”* and William was at the centre of the campaign to publicize the situation and argue for change.

Over the next seven years he was on delegations which met the Prime Minister and leading Government Ministers, organised mass meetings, as well as marches and sat on the Distress Committee which had been set up by the Unemployment Act of 1905. He argued for improved rates of pay for the unemployed in the public works schemes, highlighted poor working conditions, constantly pushed for the adoption of new opportunities for the jobless and the rights of women workers.

Above all it was not just about the right to a job but about a person’s dignity. So when the Distress Committee found work for some men carrying sandwich boards at eighteen pence a day, “it was not right that human beings should be employed as perambulating hoardings.”**

Likewise “He was opposed to emigration as he thought its only use was to supply Canada with cheap labour so necessary to that country. He had received a letter from a friend out there, who said the prison in the town where he was was filled with boys from a well known charity organisation in the country and the asylum with young men who had been homesteading.”***

Which is pretty much where we came in.

I would like to end on a positive note but stories don’t always end such. Unemployment remained an issue and by 1910 -11 we were locked into a period of industrial unrest which highlighted the class fault lines.

And William was dead at 42. His obituary notes that “as his home was in the working class district of Hulme he was constrained by his interests in the improvement of the conditions of living there to bring forward many propositions for an active policy in the provision of work by the municipality” **** 

Which is a fine if brief record of a man’s commitment.

But nor is this quite the end. William it seems died of neglect, at the hands of the Royal Infirmary after he had attended feeling ill. It could almost have been one of his own campaigns to highlight the disparity between different health services. But that is another story for another day.

 *J B Hitchen speaking at a mass rally in Stevenson Square quoted from the Manchester Guardian November 17th 1904. **Manchester Guardian March 21st 1906 *** Manchester Guardian June 26th 1905 **** Manchester Guardian November 17th 1910

Stories of our industrial past .......... when Andy and Cathy returned to Hulme Hall Road

This is a story which goes back four years, and involves a warehouse, a fire and a new development.*

It began when Andy Robertson spotted a news item about a fire in a building in Hulme Hall Road, hard by the Duke’s Canal in the summer of 2015.

And quick as a flash, he was down there with his camera, and so began another of those remarkable projects where Andy s regularly revisited the site, recording the changes, which began with the demolition of the old building, the moment when the construction gang broke ground, and has continued ever since.

And now, his daughter Cathy has joined in, taking these pictures from Andy’s car earlier this week.

Together the catalogue of images is a fascinating insight into a tiny part of our history, and as ever I am in awe of both Andy and Cathy who turn out in all weathers to make the passing of little bits of our heritage, and the shiny new things that take their place.

And in the process, I must thank all those who over the years have added their recollections of the building, and I have every confidence that this will continue and in time there will be many more from those who inhabit the new apartments.

Location; Hulme Hall Road

Pictures; Hulme Hall Road, 2019 from the collection of Cathy Robertson

*Hulme Hall Road,

Wandering down Court Yard letting the magic wash over you

When I was growing up the area around the Palace was a pretty magical place.*

Of course the old hall was only open at certain times but that just meant you were forced back to wander down Court Yard and King John’s Walk which let your imagination soar in all sorts of directions.

Back then the history of the half timbered buildings were unknown to me but you could tell that they belonged to a time when the Palace was an important part of any Kings travels around London and beyond.

So with just a bit of historical license it was easy to people them with the great and the good along with the not so good and a whole raft of servants who worked long hours for little reward and have passed out of history.

Now they and the gates into the Palace along with Court Yard and St John’s Walk are regularly photographed and Chrissy and Jean have taken some fine ones over the years which they have been kind enough to allow me to use.

But working on the basis that you can never have enough pictures of Eltham here are two taken by our Elizabeth and Colin one Sunday at the end of October.

And what I like about them is that each offers just a glimpse of this old part of where we live allowing my imagination full reign to conjure up stories of who lived and worked there and just what they said to each other as they watched the sunlight play on the water.

Pictures; around Eltham Palace, October 2015, from the collection of Elizabeth and Colin Fitzpatrick

*Eltham Palace,

SYLVIA and SILVIO – A meeting of minds


A talk in English about Sylvia Pankhurst and Silvio Corio

by Alfio Bernabei – curator of the exhibition ‘Sylvia and Silvio’ opening at the end of March at the Working Class Movement Library, Salford

 Saturday 6 April 2019 – 5.45pm

 Venue: Cross Street Chapel, Cross Street, Manchester M2 1NL

Free admission – The evening will conclude with a glass of Italian wine and nibbles.

To organise the refreshments it would be helpful if you could book in advance at


Il mondo in italiano – Promoting Italian Culture in the world since 1889

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Thanks to Elena Palladino, our Executive Committee member, for helping Alfio Bernabei in organising the exhibition and this talk. GRAZIE ELENA!

Exhibition 'Sylvia and Silvio'

Event location: Working Class Movement Library

Runs: From 29th Mar 2019 to 23rd May 2019

Event time: 13:00 to 17:00