Monday, 30 September 2019

The train now arriving is the 13.20 from 1979

I am well aware it isn’t the most original of titles but it pretty much sums up where we are.

At the back of the 1970s I bought a new camera and later added a dark room.

The pictures were all a bit hit and miss because I was a tad lazy with timings for both the developing and printing.

So while some might stand against anyone’s, others are hazy, lack definition and can either be too light or too dark.

That said they are a record of just what things were like as the 1970s pulled to a close.

And so here I am on Piccadilly Railway Station watching a rain arrive.

I have no idea what type of locomotive it is or even where the train had come from.

During the early part of the decade I had regularly travelled south with British Rail but by 1979 this was less frequent.

More recently I was back on the station and was transfixed by the smooth looking locos of today, so in celebration of what we had and what we've got now, here is one I took recently.

Same station, possibly same platform just separated by thirty-four years.

Location; Piccadilly Railway Station

Pictures; Piccadilly Railway Station, 1979, 2013, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Posters from the Past ........... no 11 ........ coming home

Now the project is simple, take a modern 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.*

Although in this case it is the ferry, which for many of us will always be special.

As kids it was the start of the adventure that took you across the river to that “other place” and for countless grownups the way you got to work.

The last time I used it was  when we were heading back north from Deal and having lost the M25 I managed to navigate a route that took us in to Eltham past our old house at Well Hall, and always one to seize an opportunity I suggested we make the river crossing at Woolwich.

And that pretty much restored my creditability.  Tina who is Italian just loved the experience.

And yes I know we had had to queue and the journey takes just a few minutes but she found it magic as did I.

All of which just leaves me to adapt that Samuel Johnson comment about London, “the best prospect any of us can see is the ferry crossing at Woolwich that takes us home.”*

Location: on the Thames at Woolwich

Painting; Coming home to Woolwich, © 2017 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,  from a photograph by Andrew Simpson, 2012


*Posters from the Past,

**“The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!”
Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

In St Peter's Square on an August Sunday in 1937, reflecting on what was and what was to come

We are in St Peter’s Square on a Sunday.  

Now I can be certain of that because the picture is dated August 8th 1937 which was a Sunday.

And like many of the pictures in the collection there is much that you can peel back from what on the surface is just a photograph of a tram.

So starting with the obvious this is car 575 on its way to Burton Road and in the absence of a crew and passengers appears parked up.

Behind it is one of those buildings which were everywhere in the city centre, a mix of offices and shops, fronted in stone which had over half a century become grey and grimy, but with some nice arched windows on the upper storeys.

It was a solid sound building, most of which is out of view or hidden by the trams. But we can just glimpse the premises of Isaac’s Wallpapers who were at number 8.

They were an enterprising business and were quick to take advantage of the the coronation of King George V1 which had taken place in the May of that year, and so just four months after the event they were advertising as a “Coronation Offer Pure Oil Paint at 1/11d.”

David Isaacs had been trading from the shop since 1911 and I rather think there is a story here, as there will be in following up the entry from the directories for the Association Football Players Union which was at number 14 and whose secretary was Alfred S Owen.

The building has gone now, although I do remember standing on the steps of Central Ref gazing over at it on Saturday mornings as I took a break from some dusty article on the Anti Corn Law League.

By then it was a drab tired looking sort of place ready for its end waiting only to be replaced by something new and exciting.

This was to be Elisabeth House all glass and concrete walls which seem to have had few friends.  A building so misunderstood and disliked that no one can quite agree on when it went up.

Various sources suggest a date in the 1960s which does not quite fit with my memories of gazing across at it in 1970.

But recollections of events, places and buildings can so easily be wrong and I was prepared to accept that this was just one of those times when I was mistaken.

But not so. According to A Manchester View run by David Boardman,* Elisabeth House was built in 1971, which I am pleased to say means that my long term memory is fine, even if I can forget to put the wash on, turn off the lights.

I do have to say I am becoming a fan of his site offering as it does some interesting walks around buildings that have now vanished, and he has done an excellent job on chronicling the rise and demise of Elisabeth House which it is true had by the turn of this century become as tired looking as its predecessor and  it has to be said in perhaps half the time.

Now I do not have the same hard opinion of Elisabeth House as some but I will let you decide, for here is a 1924 picture of the old building taken from the Midland.

By the end it had become a sad sight, abandoned by both the Pancake and Italian restaurants and by the camera shop I occasionally visited.

One of its last episodes was to be used by a television crime series, and I rather envied the cast their view across the square to the Town Hall Extension.

All of which was a long way into the future on that August day in 1937.

But had I been there in the Square I would have felt at home on the steps of the Ref which was opened in 1934 and no doubt would have admired the Town Hall Extension which was almost finished and would be ready for its municipal staff and the public the following year.

Now us historians are always looking for continuity in the events of the past and so it is nice to reflect that just over forty years after the old majestic trams of Manchester Corporation vanished from our streets, they are back.

And that large white insurance building has also vanished although it survived until quite recently.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; St Peter’s Square in 1937 from the collection of Alan Brown, Elisabeth House, 1988,m04395,the premises of David Isaacs from the Midland Hotel, July 1924, City Engineers Department m04465 and the Town Hall Extension February 1937, m74925, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Sunday, 29 September 2019

When Stretford removed Chorlton’s tram track ...... municipal manoeuvrings and other tales

Now it seems bizarre that one local authority in dispute with another should take the drastic step of digging up a line of newly laid tram track, but it happened.  

Upper Chorlton Road, 1907, before the extension and the Stretford quarrel
In the winter of 1909 Manchester was in the process of extending a tramway from Brooks Bar to West Point along Upper Chorlton Road, part of which went through Stretford.

This stretch ran for just ten yards but because the Stretford Council had not been asked first, it fired off a flurry of blustering letters threatening to remove the track if Manchester continued.

And when the City laid the offending ten yards of rail, Stretford retaliated, informing Manchester “that a physical disconnection has been made” adding that, “the removed rails were placed behind the seat on the footpath leading to Chorlton-cum-Hardy beyond the [Stretford] district, convenient for reinstatement”.

The underlying reason had more to do with Stretford attempting to get a better deal for electricity it supplied to Manchester to on match days after United had relocated to Old Trafford.

The Bridge at Manchester Road, 1907
Nor was this the only obstacle the city encountered in extending Corporation trams to Chorlton.

Work on the line at Manchester Road was halted after the railway company objected  that the bridge over the railway line was too weak for tramway traffic.

The dispute was finally settled with Manchester paying nine-tenths of the cost of strengthening the bridge.

Such were the problems faced by the Corporation honouring its promise to the rate payers of Chorlton who voted in 1904 to join the city and thought they were getting a tram service.

These are those tiny little stories which don’t count for much in the great sweep of history, but are fascinating none the less.

Car 901 at the tram terminus, date unknown
As is the little known fact that from 1923 until the outbreak of the Second World War there was a facility for late night posting of letters on 14 Manchester and 7 Salford tram routes.

According to A.H. Kirby,  “A posting box was carried on the rear platform of trams timed to reach the City at about 9.30; from mid December 1923, these cars were indicated by POST CAR in place of the route number. 

The Chorlton services selected were on route 13, departing from Chorlton due at Albert Square at 9.29 and on route 22 departing Chorlton and arriving Piccadilly at 9.30”, with more being added over the years.*

Car 277 on Barlow Moor Road with the cinema behind, date unknown
Now I thought I knew my Chorlton tram history but Mr Kirby has offered me a fascinating and detailed glimpse into how the trams came to Chorlton and their impact over the 39 years they rattled their way in and out of the township.

And I am indebted to Trevor James who having acquired the two editions of Tramway Review with Mr Kirby’s articles, and thinking of me, scanned and sent them down from Scotland.

I also have to thank Stenlake Publishing who bought The Oakwood Press which published The Tramways of Chorlton-cum-Hardy and gave me permission to reproduce four of the images from the publication.

Location; Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Pictures; trams of Chorlton from The Tramways of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, courtesy of Stenlake Publishing

*The Tramways of Chorlton-cum-Hardy – 2, A.H. Kirby, Tramway Review, Vol 18, Autumn 1989, No. 139, The Oakwood Press. Page 80

** Stenlake Publishing,

A little bit of the Woolwich I remember

Now I am back with another of those excellent photographs of Woolwich from the collection of Stephen Bardrick.

I don’t have a date but it can be no earlier than 1935 when the Woolwich opened its grand new headquarters just here.

The cars will be the clue to fixing the time the picture was taken and for me it is far more familiar a scene than the present one.

But that I suppose is the fate of the ex pat.  You leave somewhere you grew up thinking that the buildings and even the street patterns are parked and will just be where you left them and then you come back and it is all different.

For me it started with the entrance old railway station which looks nothing like the wooden building I remember moves on to the row of shops on either side and ends opposite with that open space in front of the 1935 building.

At which point I am in danger of sounding like one of those grumpy old uncles who comes for Sunday tea and can’t quite come to terms with seeded granary sandwiches, the absence of carnation milk to pour on the equally absent bowl of tinned fruit and yearns for fish paste  and sliced ham.

Still I bet he would have been able to date the picture and may just have been old enough to remember when the Woolwich had its headquarters at 113 Powis Street and may like many of us disapproved when it ceased being an organization owned by its members and became a bank in 1997.

I can’t remember what I did with my account but liked the old TV ad “I’m with the Woolwich” and was pleased that for almost a decade they sponsored Charlton but less pleased that they were bought up Barclay’s ending what had been a proud independent history which stretched back to 1847.

Picture; Woolwich Equitable Building Society Offices, date unknown, courtesy of Steve Bardrick

Remembering Sparks the garage on Chorlton Green

Now here is one of those lessons in how history can pretty much fall off the edge of the counter without any one much noticing.

We are on Chorlton green sometime in the 1970s looking across at Sparks the garage.  Like most people I just took it for granted and was not even aware that once this had been one of our farm houses.

And somehow despite passing through the green all the time I failed to clock that Sparks had shut up shop, and what had once been the garage offices had been returned to residential use or that where once mechanics had toiled over leaky engines, broken exhausts and crunched side panels there were now flats and houses.

So for anyone who never knew or worse still had forgotten here is a picture of the garage.

Location; Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester

Picture; Chorlton Green circa 1975 from the collection of Tony Walker

Posters from the Past ........... no 14 ......... This Year Cruise the Twin Cities

Now the project is simple, take a modern 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.*

In this case  it is a cruise and a stretch of historic water.

We have Andy Robertson to thank for the original photograph and the rest as they say is pure magic.

Location; on the water

Painting; MANCHESTER & SALFORD...This Year Cruise the Twin Cities, © 2018 Peter Topping,  Paintings from Pictures, from a photograph by Andy Robertson, 2018


*Posters from the Past,

A little bit of Australia in the 1930s

I am in Australia gazing across at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or at least a bit of it.

The year is 1930 and the bridge has been under construction since 1923.

Now I am indebted to my friend for both the pictures and the story.  June and I first got together when we discovered a common interest in Alexander Somerville the radical journalist who came here in 1847.*

For me he was a fascinating link into the politics of the 19th century and for June a direct descendant, and so we began writing to each other and discovered our joint passion for all things historical.

June has be kind enough to contribute to the blog over the last few months and I am pleased that she done so again with the story of that iconic bridge which along with Opera House features in so many photographs of Sydney.

“The first proposal for a bridge across the Harbour was made in 1815 by the NSW government architect, Francis Greenaway, an ex convict. 

Other crossings were suggested, including a number for a tunnel. A regular ferry service began in 1842 from Dawes Point to Blues Point. 

(There is now a tunnel as well). Work commenced on July 28 1923 and the bridge was formally opened on Mar 19. 1932 by NSW Premier J T Lang, although the ceremony was disrupted by Francis Edward de Groot, a member of the New Guard, who dashed in and cut the ribbon before the Premier could do so!

The steel arch span is not the world's longest, but it was the world's most massive arch. The main span is 503 m long. The top of the arch is 134 m above sea level. In July 1959, two extra road lanes were opened after two tram tracks on the eastern side of the deck were removed. 

Train lines also run over the bridge. We have visited the pylons at the city end of the bridge and these days, for people who don't mind heights, there is a walk up the span to a magnificent view over the Harbour. I hope this information is useful.”

But equally fascinating is the picture of her father’s car.

“This photo was taken by my father in 1930 when he and my mother first visited Sydney in his first car, a Chevrolet tourer, I think it was called. 

It was when the Great Depression first hit Australia and an acquaintance of Dad's had just bought himself a new car and found himself in financial trouble. 

So Dad, a working class man, helped him out by purchasing his car.

It was Dad's pride and joy until 1938 and his children have fond memories of holidays with the car although Dad's justification for buying himself a car was the difficulty of carrying the tools of his trade, brushes, paint and ladders with a motorbike and sidecar.”

So there you have it a glimpse in to the history of a Australia, as ever the blog has got the lot.

Pictures; from the collection of June Pound

*Alexander Somrerville,

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Bell Water Gate, 1977 a little bit of that lost Woolwich

Bell Water Gate, 1977
Its official I have joined that legion of grumpy old people who lament the passing of the places I knew as a youngster.

Now I could blame my friend Jean who has dug out and sent me a shed load of photographs of Eltham, Woolwich Blackheath and Shooters Hill from the 1970s.

But that would be unfair as she did what I asked.

The fault lies not with Jean but with me and that lingering sense of nostalgia that hangs about me from time to time.

Some of the pictures reveal changes that can only be for the best but others; well I am not so sure.

Take for Instance Bell Water Gate in Woolwich beside the Leisure Centre.

It sweeps off towards the car park and is neat and clean and allows a panoramic view across the river.

But I rather like it as it was, a little shabby and run down and a reminder of an older Woolwich.

That said I know Jean will smile indulgently and point out that I don’t have to live there, and I have to admit that we used to enjoy going to the Leisure Centre when my lads were younger and then gazing across the Thames.

So perhaps it’s best that I just accept my elevation to that grey, crinkly band of old fogies and reflect that all things change.

Picture; Bell Water Gate, 1977, Jean Gammons

"I had been bull ward in the bull ring, and once kept one of the gamest bulls in the country,” bull baiting on Chorlton Green

Now every so often you come across accounts of the bull baiting that went on in the township.  

The Bowling Green late 19th century
The stories usually appear on a slow week in one of the local newspapers and are nothing more than a reworking of one of the articles by the historian Thomas Ellwood.

Mr Ellwood wrote twenty-six articles during 1885 and 1886 and these were printed in the South Manchester Gazette.

Part of the value of them is that they drew on the memories of people who had grown up at the beginning of the 19th century and who could recall conversations from the generations before who had lived here during the late 18th century.

So building on Mr Ellwood and avoiding the easy route of plagiarism I dug deep into newspaper reports, census returns and the directories which provided confirmation of what went on in the township on the green over 200 years ago.

"Bull baiting was where bull was pitted against dog in a ring hemmed in by spectators. Our bull ring was situated in the centre of the village green.   The bull was fastened to a chain, about twenty yards long, which allowed him enough space to fight.

The dog’s tactic was to try and seize the bull by its nose but if the bull was well practised at the business, he would endeavour to get the dog on his horns, throw him high into the air and the fall would break his neck or back, but to avoid this, the dogs friends were ready to catch him, so as to break the force of his fall.  Eye witnesses often recalled seeing dead dogs which had been killed during the contest left in the ditches and hedge-rows.

The Horse & Jockey early 20th century
If the bull was slow or just not that good, the dog would not only seize him by the nose, but would hold on till the bull stood still, which was termed “Pinning the Bull”. I suppose to give the bull a chance only one dog was allowed in the ring at a time.

Contests were usually staged during the village wakes, and also at Easter and Whit Week.  Naturally the main sponsors for such events were the landlords of the Bowling Green and Horse and Jockey who had the most to gain from a gang of excited spectators outside their pubs.  

Not that they were alone in profiteering from the event.  The owner of the dog which successfully “Pinned the Bull” was awarded a prize and no doubt some went away the richer having bet on the winner.

There were those in the 1840s who could still remember the notable contests and spoke of the victorious bulls like “Young Fury”, son of “Old Fury” who was regularly brought and baited and the “bull men” like Edward Simmer, commonly known as “Ned” who afterwards was converted to a religious life, and finally became a Methodist local preacher.  

The Bowling Green late 19th century
Or John Cookson who at the inquest of Francis Deakin in 1847 had boasted that he “had been bull ward in the bull ring, and once kept one of the gamest bulls in the country.”  

But its popularity was on the wane and for some years it had all but died out before being revived by a butcher called James Moores, from Deansgate in Manchester.  Not that its revival was greeted by everyone.

There were those who had good reason to regret the appearance of James Moores and his bulls because as he travelled south from the city he brought hundreds “of men of the very lowest character to witness the proceedings.  

The sport, if that is what we can call it suffered another blow when Samuel Wilton enclosed the green in 1818 turning it into his garden."*


Pictures; The Bowling Green seen from the east from the collection of Tony Walker and the southern side of the Hotel from Alan Brown's collection, both from the late 19th century and the Horse & Jockey from the Lloyd collection early 20th century

The bridges of Salford and Manchester .......... nu 18 just three years ago.

John Casey often supplies me with fine pictures he took in the 1980s, but this one comes from three years ago.

Location Manchester & Salford

Picture; the river and bridge, 2014 from the collection of John Casey

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 10 The London and Brighton

Now the project is simple, take a modern 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.*

This was the London and Brighton Hotel and just possibly someone at the brewery might have beaten a slick New Yorker to the idea of a name so good it was used twice.

The pub, according to one source opened in 1867 at the same time as the Queens Road Railway Station which serviced what had been the London and Brighton Railway.**

And yes we cheated the London & Brighton Railway disappeared in a series of mergers and the original photograph was taken long after this style of poster was popular.

So not historically accurate ..... just a bit of fun.

Location; Queens Road, London

Painting; The London and Brighton Railway Hotel, © 2017 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures 

*Posters from the Past, 

**London Pubology,

Friday, 27 September 2019

Uncovering the story of Manchester’s destitute children

Now in the story of child care in the later 19th century the term “street arab” or “gutter children” are very emotive.

Boys admitted to the Refuge, date unknown
And perhaps, even more so for those of us who can trace a descendant back to one of the destitute and abandoned children who roamed the streets of all our big cities.

Children like William who was admitted to the Refuge in Manchester on January 1 1870.

He was fifteen years old, both his parents were dead and he had “been living in the streets and sleeping in boiler houses.”* 

Nor of course was he alone, for there was cases of children much younger sleeping under railway arches on beneath the stairs of tenement blocks.

That this should happen in one of the prime cities of the Empire where wealth was made in the huge Exchanges, and the myriad of factories, iron works and textile mills is and was appalling as of course were those two descriptions.

The terms refer to “children who are wanderers from place to place without any fixed dwelling or guardianship; who grow up in ignorance on the streets, and who manage to exist each day without any visible means of support.”**

This was a description much bandied about by the press but one which was rejected by some of those directly involved in helping young people and mainly because it was inaccurate.

True there were those like William, and three others admitted to the Refuge in 1870 who lived on the streets and the Chief Constable’s reports for the years 1870, ’71, and ‘72 pointed out that on “average 1,063 boys between the ages of 10-16 years of age were apprehended on the streets of Manchester.”

To which Mr Gilbert speaking to the Manchester Statistical Society in 1888 added that “I cannot estimate them at less than 700, .......... Of these probably 600 will be over ten years of age, and 100 will be under ten years of age; 500 will be boys and 200 girls.”***

Emma, 1913 at admission
But the evidence from Manchester suggests that most that were encountered on the streets, had homes, went to school and had parents.

“Only a minority, are actually homeless, and very few are orphans; a considerable number are the off spring of vice, and illegitimate – ‘not wanted,’ and, therefore, uncared for, at any rate until they are of some commercial value, and bringing in a ‘trifle;’ and their homes, in many cases are little more than places in which to creep for shelter, like a dog kennel- a considerable portion not even getting meals in them.”

At which point it is important to stress that whether they were destitute or had a sort of home, the experiences of these children was awful.

But the evidence from Mr Gilbert is damming.  The Refuge had tracked 50 children “from their streets to  their homes, 33 were over, 5 and under 10, and 17 over ten and under 13, 34 had both parents living and the remaining 16 had one parent, and out of this total of 50 only 9 could in any degree, be said to be so poor as to need the slight addition to weekly income afforded by street hawking.

The survey had been conducted almost a decade earlier by the Refuge and published in their pamphlet Street Arabism Its Cause and Cure by the secretary Mr Shaw.

He too, rejected the term “street arab” and went on to argue for a series of measures to combat child street hawking.

The alternative was for many a slide in to criminality and in the case of girls, “”early and utter degradation.”****

Emma after admission
So the work with these “street hawkers” was important and the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuge played an important part, both as an organization which took parents to court on the behalf of neglected, and abused children but also in arguing for measures to combat the worst excesses of child exploitation for commercial gain through new legislation and a more an extension of the powers of the School Board and Industrial Schools.

And it was in part a success.

So that Mr Gilbert could report in 1888 that “one day last week a party of workers systematically searched the streets at 7.45 p.m., with the following result.  

In the whole of the city ...... there were under 60 children’apparently under the age of 14, out for the purpose of gain.  

Previous to the passing  of the Corporation Act of 1882 we counted five times that number an hour or two later.”*****

Location; Manchester

Pictures. courtesy of the Together Trust,

Next; the Corporation Act of 1882 and the work dome to challenge street hawking.

*Admission records for the Manchester & Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges, 1870

** Street Arabism Its Cause and Cure, L.K. Shaw, 1880, Manchester, page 6

***Facts and Figures Relating to Street Children, Mr Gilbert and R Kirlew, Manchester Statistical Society, Session 188-89, page 44

**** ibid Mr Gilbert, page 44

***** ibid Mr Gilbert, page 46

In a very different Berseford Square

I have to thank Steve Bardrick for the collection of pictures of Woolwich he kindly agreed to share with me.

Part of the pleasure of looking at them is that they remind me of the Woolwich I remember which has now pretty much vanished but also because each of them has set me off on a detective trail.

So here I am in Beresford Square flanked by the Ordinance Arms on one side with Draper’s the butchers directly ahead.

I can’t be sure of the date but I am guessing we must be in the late 1940s into 1950s judging by the clothes, and the presence of the tram lines.

Now the last tram clanked into the history books in 1952 and while the tram lines took a bit of time to vanish they will not have lasted the decade.

So the key will be that butcher’s shop and a trawl of the directories will give us a beginning and end date for the business which might not offer up an exact moment but will be close enough.

That said I don’t have access to the directories for that period but they are located in the Greenwich Heritage Centre and my olf friend Tricia might come up with something when she next visits.

The Draper Brothers have long gone, the Ordinace Arms trades under a new name and the square has lost much of the hurly burly activity all of which Brings me back to Steve's picture.

Like some of his other images it captures a busy day.

And just perhaps there will be people who remember Draper's or sat in the Ordinance Arms watching the trams rattle past.

We shall see.

Picture; Beresford Square, date unknown courtesy of Steve Bardrick

A story of that iconic bit of Chorlton from 1993

It is just twenty six years since our lychgate was last restored and I missed the anniversary back in April so here courtesy of Andrew Robertson and his collection of newspaper clippings is the story.

It always surprises people that the gate only dates back to the old Queen’s Jubilee but that said it has acted as a local land marks since 1887, and according to popular memory contained a bell which was rung to mark the end of the old year and the coming of the new.

That said you can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.  The parish church closed in 1940 due to frost damage not 1930 and was demolished in 1949, while the gate was erected in 1887 not ten years later.

Still it is a nice piece of history and underlines the need to carefully collect those old newspaper accounts.

And in the next few weeks I shall be returning to this iconic image of Chorlton with some more stories, a new painting and tales of parish jealousies and disputes.

Picture; courtesy of Andrew Robertson, South Manchester Reporter, April 1993

Summer in the city ..... July 2018 no. 3 ..... waiting to go

Location; Manchester

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

In St Ann’s Square with the Rotary Photo Company …… sometime in the early 20th century

Now if you wanted proof that St Ann’s Square has always been a busy and fussy place, the evidence is here in this picture postcard.

I don’t have a date, but I am guessing we are sometime in the early 20th century, and a bit of detective work using the names of the shops and street directories will get close to when the picture was taken.

Everyone will pick up on some different bit of the picture, from the line of taxis and the cabby’s hut, to the throng of people parading through the square and that female cyclist.

And then there is another story around the company who published the picture postcard.

I had causally thought that Rotary Photo, EC were a Manchester firm, but not so.

According to that excellent site, Graces Guide to British Industrial History, they were a London business with offices at 23 Moorfields London, with works at West Drayton.

They were established in 1901, as The Rotary Photographic Co and “was a huge publisher of real photo postcards. 

One of their unique novelty postcards was a 1¾ inch x 5½ inch (4.4cm x 13.9cm) photo series of bookmark cards. Most seem to have been posted in the 1903-04 period".

Later in the century they amalgamated with other photographic companies and were still in business in 1947.

Location; St Ann’s Square

Picture; St Ann’s Square, date unknown, courtesy of Steve

*Graces Guide to British Industrial History,

When History met Art and became a book …………….. tonight ..... in Chorlton Library

We all have an idea about how a book is written but today Andrew and Peter will explore how they do it, with that usual mix of style, good taste and more than a bit of irreverence.

They have been collaborating for over a decade, and have produced everything from street installations, to exhibitions and of course their books which are a unique mix of Peter’s paintings with period photographs and maps, and Andrew’s stories of the past.

They focus on “the stories behind the doors”, and of people who history hasn’t just forgotten but never bothered to notice.

Often it starts with one of Peter’s paintings and the challenge for Andrew to “find the story”.  That challenge has now extended to seven published books, covering the history of Chorlton, Didsbury and city centre Manchester, with a foray into the fascinating story of an Elizabethan hall.

Now all this is a tad more remarkable given that both are dyslexic, and only wrote their first book together in 2013.

But Andrew had already published his first book the year before, and Peter had long been exhibiting his paintings.

So, given that they first met back in 1982, they decided it was time they got together, and combined their different skills which led to those seven books, and invitation from Chorlton Book Festival to talk about the partnership.*

Now there were alternative titles for tonight’s event, ranging from Travels with two dyslexics, A paintbrush, a faded letter and lot of books, and lastly, When the historian met the artist and it became a book ……………….. seven times.

In the end they went for the simpler, When History met Art and became a book, or how to create a book from the beginning to the end.

In the course of the evening Peter will explain the technical challenge of integrating his paintings, original images and contemporary pictures, with the stories, while Andrew will touch on how he went about the research, revealing some of the stories which never made the books.

And not wanting to short change anyone, they will be bringing along a full selection of the books, some fascinating pictures of Chorlton in the not so distant past and a few unseen photographs of the pair from when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, Wagon Wheels were still their original size, and Sunday television ended at 10.30 with that little white dot.

The event is free, starts at 7.30 in Chorlton Library and looks to be a night of informative fun with an opportunity to quiz the authors, on everything from why they self-publish their books, to Peter’s style of painting and Andrew’s inability to spell.

 When History met Art and became a book, is the talk by Andrew Simpson and Peter Topping, and is part of the Chorlton Book Festival.

Location; Chorlton Library, Manchester Road, Chorlton, M21 9PN

*Chorlton Book Festival September 20-28, 2019,

50 years of Brookburn Primary School ………………… what do you remember?

Now, whatever our own school days were like, the chances are we remember with fondness those of our kids.

In my case that was Brookburn School, where three of our four attended from the late 1980s through to the beginning of this century.

These were the years Mr. Clegg was head, and our family played their part on the governing body, helping at the school fair and at Saturday football, making the drinks and distributing the biscuits.

So, I was pleased to receive this poster, which I instantly decided, had to become a blog story, along with the trailer of the event in November.

And somewhere we may even have one last remnant of uniform, be it the red jumper, or the white polo shirt, along with the plastic reading bag and some reports.

These may or may not be of use, but I bet the memories of our Ben, Josh and Saul will be, as will be their friends and many others who passed through during that half century.

Posters from the Past ........... no 9 Catching the sun in Alba Adriatica

Now the project is simple, take a modern 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 if the original photograph was mine it just adds to the story.

The poster style dates from the 1930s through to the 50s but the building can only be about twenty years old.

But I don’t think that matters because with its clean lines and geometric shapes it could be much older.

We were in the hotel opposite which was built in the 1970s and despite a makeover still carried traces of that decade, including the small cubicle off the foyer, which while it had long ago lost its telephone and table, still retained a stylish 70s sign.

But most of the hotels like the one opposite are much newer and I wonder how they make themselves just that bit different to capture the holiday trade.

And for that matter how this bit of Alba Adriatica stands out from the rest, given that really all you just have is a long stretch of hotels, bars and restaurants which run parallel to the sea, and come to an end with another resort.

So perhaps the town council will take our poster and adopt it.

We shall see

Painting; the Hotel in Alba Adriatica, © 2017 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures from an original photograph by Andrew Simpson

*Posters from the Past,

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Standing in the road at Brook’s Bar …………. now that is a daft thing to do

Brooks Bar has long been a busy junction, but I am intrigued by the number of people who have stopped in the middle of the road to observe the photographer at work in this picture.

I can’t date it, but there may be a clue in the buildings stretching down Chorlton Road on the left-hand side.

On the corner there is that striking rounded building, which is still the today, and back then was the Post Office.

The name of the proprietor should offer up a time slot, and only requires me to go looking in the directories for the period.

Until then, I suspect it will be down to look very carefully at the other buildings and try and identify the presence of the Imperial Picture Theatre and Café which is now a timber warehouse.

The cinema opened in 1917, could seat 760 people and only closed in 1976.

By then the tall houses on the opposite side had been cleared away and trams no longer ran along Chorlton Road.

There will be someone who knows, leaving me just to ponder on whether this was a Sunday, given the lightness of the traffic and send you my history of the Imperial which has appeared on the blog before. *

And quick as a flash, John Anthony Hewitt, responded with the comment, "the number of full length skirts worn by the ladies, suggests pre-WW1 - post-war cost of materials had risen so much that ladies of the time switched to cheaper (shorter, less full) designs. 

The lady holding the umbrella is wearing a shorter skirt, whilst the boys are wearing knicker-bockers, which suggests Edwardian period. 

Three of the ladies in the road are holding a dog, a baby and long gloves. But, the mother with the pram was standing between the handles, and not behind the handle. 

Researching vintage photographs suggests that style of pram was late-Victorian to Edwardian, circa 1905. GMTS Website records electrification of the tramways as completed by 1903, but that Hulme to Chorlton-cum-Hardy was still served by horse buses in 1905. Princess Road tram depot opened in October 1909, but it is reasonable to assume that depot was built to relieve over-crowding at Hyde Road and Queens Road depots. Taken together, I would suggest a time-slot of between 1906 (earliest) and 1914 (latest)".

All of which just leave me to thank John Anthony.

Location; Brooks Bar

Picture; Books Bar, date unknown, courtesy of Steve.

*The Imperial Cinema,

Summer in the city ..... July 2018 no. 2 .... where to go?

Location; Manchester

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

Posters from the Past ........... no 8 eating fresh pasta in that fine building on Shudehill

Now the project is simple, take a modern 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 that has taken me back to no 77 Shudehill which is a building I have always liked.

I have passed it countless times over the years and never really looked into its past.

But all that changed last Sunday when Tina and I called in to The Pasta Factory which now occupies the ground floor.

The story of that visit and the excellent food we had has already appeared on the blog, so that only leave me to induct it into our Hall of Posters from the Past.**

You know the series ........ I nominate a modern building, Peter transforms it into an image which could have been used in a period poster and I write the story.

So here is The Pasta Factory at nu 77 Shudehill.***

The poster style dates from the 1930s through to the 50s when the site was a bank, but as ever we can be a little economical with the past.

Painting; The Pasta Factory, Painting © 2016 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures.

*Posters from the Past

**Sunday night on Shudehill in the company of some interesting history and some equally fine food at the 
Pasta Factory

***The Pasta Factory

Wishing you well ........... postcards from Woolwich, Greenwich and Eltham for the summer ..... nu 1 Barrack Field

A short series with few words looking at the postcards we sent from Woolwich, Greenwich and Eltham.

On April 10 1913 SN sent this postcard from North Woolwich to Miss Waller in Cambridgeshire with the message that “this is where the King reviewed the soldiers.”

Location; Woolwich

Picture; Barrack Field Woolwich Common, circa 1913, Tuck and Sons, courtesy of Tuck DB,

War Memories ............. at the Bowling Green ......... tonight

Now, War Memories at the Bowling Green tonight will be a powerful reminder of the events of the last world war, more so because they are the memories of those men and women who lived through those six years of war.

The event is part of WarGen, which is “creating a crowd-sourced online repository of oral-history from the people who lived through World War 2.

Roger Hall, 1920-1943
That amazing generation who lived and fought through the Second World War is slipping away, their numbers dwindling daily.  

All too soon, there will be none left at all and World War II, like those conflicts before it, will fall out of living memory.

It is of vital importance that we capture as many memories while we still have the chance.  

Once they have gone, they have gone.  Those men and women will not be able to speak to us from beyond the grave.  But while they are still living, they remain crucially important witnesses to the most cataclysmic war the world has ever known”. *

Tonight’s event will cover the “Outbreak of War; Call Up; Evacuation; Defence; Bombing; Rationing; Visitors; Theatres of War; Normandy; Far; East; Horrors of War; VE Day; Coming home; Experiences, Wisdom and Legacy”.

Derby Evening Telegraph, 1943
Added to which some of the interviewees may be coming along to share the evening.

So, tonight, at the Bowling Green Hotel 7pm for 7.30pm.  Free Entrance Collection for “Reach out to the Community".

Location; The Bowling Green, Chorlton

Pictures; poster, courtesy of WarGen, and Roger Hall, 1938, and newspaper clipping, 1943, from the Simpson family collection