Friday, 18 April 2014

The Palatine Picture House and Cafe

Now the Palatine Picture House was one of our local cinemas and I knew nothing about it.

It opened in 1920 and was near the bus terminus at West Didsbury  just before Palatine Road crosses Lapwing Lane.

It was not the most attractive building and had nothing of the charm or elegance of other cinemas which were built at the same time.

To be honest it was a brick slab adorned at either side by a stone faced entrance.

That said it could seat 1,034 people and had a cafe which was important enough to be included in the name of the cinema.

And apart from the Scala was all there was unless you headed into Chorlton or Didsbury.

Now I did struggle at first to locate it because there was no address on any of the pictures I came across, and even Derek Southall in his book on Manchester’s cinemas omitted to say exactly where it was on Palatine Road.*

But ever resourceful I came across a reference to it in a book on the Bee Gees who performed there before the film on Saturday matinees.**

Not only did I discover it was somewhere they played regularly but also that it was near the West Didsbury Bus terminus.

Of course it has long gone and the clue to its departure comes in the picture which is dated 1960 and has that sign announcing “CLOSED THIS CINEMA HAS BEEN SOLD.”

So I never knew the place, never bought a ticket to sit in the dark or munched my way through one of its sandwiches.

But I bet there will be someone who does.  And so in that time honoured catch phrase, “watch this spot.”

Picture; The Palatine Picture House and Cafe, 1960, J F Harris, mo9250, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

*The Golden Years of Manchester Picture Houses, Derek Southall,

**The Bee Gees, Tales of the Brothers Gibb, Melinda Bileyeu, Hector Cook & Andrew Mon Hughes, 2013

One hundred years of one house on Well Hall Road, part 2, looking for the first residents

Our house today
Next year will be the birthday of the house we lived in for thirty years.

We moved into 294 Well Hall Road in March 1964 and while us kids slowly moved out over the years it remained my dad’s home till 1994.

And so I have decided to explore its history.

I can’t say I have ever thought of the people who lived their lives in our house but now I think it is time to start.

After all we accounted for just under a third of its existence and so I have begun to look for the people who were there before us.

Now  most of the spade work is being done by my friend Jean who has already been down to the Heritage Centre at Greenwich and trawled the street directories from when the estate was built.

And Jean will be back there looking for connections between the first occupants and the personnel records of the Royal Arsenal during the Great War.

The first of those residents was Basil Nunn who lived in our house until 1919 and was followed by Alfred W Rendle who stayed there until 1928.

I have great hopes that much more will be revealed for of course once you have a name then lots follow.  I have already started looking at the electoral registers for the period, and in time there may be the odd newspaper story, baptismal and marriage record and perhaps even someone who remembers them.

Added to this I will be able to conjure up the family who occupied our house and give a different context to the rooms we took for granted including how those rooms looked originally and how they might have been used.

The Bullet Factory, the Arsenal, circa 1916
And not for the first time during the search I have lapsed into a bit of idle speculation, pondering on which part of the Royal Arsenal Mr Nunn and perhaps Mr Randel worked in and whether they took the tram or cycled to Woolwich.

In turn I have thought about what they did to the garden and whether Mrs Nunn or Mrs Randel complained about the steep staircase which runs up the centre of the house, and how many times in a day they had to use them.

But all of that is a flight of fancy and rather stops me from the serious business of finding out more about the house and the first families who lived there.

So while Jean beavers away I shall go digging for any evidence of what the house might have been like when brand new and Mr Nunn moved in.

Research by Jean Gammons

Pictures; 294 Well Hall Road in 2014 courtesy of Chrissie Rose and inside the Royal Arsenal from the collection of Mark Flynn, The Bullet Factory, W H Kingsway,

*One hundred years of one house in Well Hall,

Snaps of Stockport no 1 outside the Plaza

Now I always think the snap often outweighs the carefully prepared photograph.

Snaps have a freshness and directness that is often missing from  the ones taken by professional and commercial photographers.

These “superior” images may have a lot going for them but the snapper captures the moment.

Added to this we know that behind that snap is a picture which was special to the person who took it.

So here over the next few weeks are a series of snaps taken by William Ernest Edmondson who along with his wife worked in the Town Hall at Stockport.

They date from the 1950s and some reveal a Stockport that has all but been lost to living memory.
And that on its own makes them special.

They were first posted on facebook by his son Ian who has kindly granted me permission to republish them on the blog.

Pictures; of Stockport, from the collection of William Ernest Edmondson, courtesy of Ian Edmondson

Thursday, 17 April 2014

OK you can come in now....Chorlton gets its first proper municipal Library

Opening the library in 1914
I say first proper municipal library because we had had a few private ones and a temporary one but this building opened in November 1914 was a proper first.

It arrived after the promise made to the people of south Manchester that  in return for voting to join the city in 1904, the Corporation would provide purpose built libraries.*

But they were a little slow in coming.

The library in the 1920s
In the case of Chorlton the first library was opened in 1908 in a rented house on Oswald Road and it would be another six years before a purpose built library was opened on Manchester Road.

It was “furnished with a thousand carefully selected volumes for use in the library and home reading,.............. a good selection of magazines is placed in a separate reading room [and] a special feature of the new library is the provision of a room for meetings of Home Reading Union circles and similar organisations.”

The library in 2012
The Manchester Guardian reported “the style is Classical with Ionic columns in Portland stone and had 7,420 books, [which] if necessary can be increased to 10,500 volumes. There is a general reading room for adults and one for juveniles."

In an age which has seen libraries add computers to the resources available to the user it is perhaps surprising that the Lord Mayor in opening the library nearly 100 years ago.

Now as this is the centenary of the opening of our library you can bet there will be more stories.

Pictures; the opening from the Manchester Courier, November 5 1914, courtesy of Sally Dervan, the library in the 1920s from the Lloyd collection and the entrance today from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Chorlton's libraries,

Living that "low dishonest decade," an autobiography of London life in the 1930s

Cover of What Happened to Tom Mix? 1969
Now it is not often that you get to read an autobiography of someone you knew.

And when I say knew I mean just that.  Ted Willis was a writer and politician and for just over a year I went out with his daughter.

I was welcomed into the family and even went on holiday with them which was pretty much something given that it was a cruise around the Mediterranean
 on the Canberra.

It was around the time of that holiday that he told me about Tom Mix and his autobiography which I rather think he wrote during that cruise.

Whatever Happened to Tom Mix? covers the first thirty years of his life and is a vivid account of growing up in a poor part of London.

Here are the stories of children’s games including clay marbles, box carts and “knock down ginger” of cheap sweets which were still on offer when I was growing up and of harsh as well as inspiring teachers who offered an exciting window into another world.

It is of course a book of its time and just thirty years later while I was growing up in a similar part of London much had changed to make my childhood less of a struggle.

The post war years were dominated by the Welfare State, full employment and a growing level of prosperity.

That said I grew up with the stories of the Hunger Marches, the Means Test, and the long years of unemployment which dominated the decades between the end of the Great War and the start of that war against Hitler.

They were still bit deep into my mother’s mind, including being sacked at the end of her apprenticeship at the local silk factory along with all the others because to retain them on the pay roll would have been to pay them a full wage.

And also the accounts of my grandfather walking the five miles out of the town because he had heard that a local firm were taking on men only to find a hundred were already at the factory gates.

All of these were here in the autobiography and like my mother’s memories were overlaid with a clear political message of where the blame lay for the social injustice of the period.

Advance, 1938
Not that there is slogan sing it is just a clear well written account of one young man’s growing political activity ranging from his first years in the Labour League of Youth to confronting the Black Shirts and above all in organising food supplies for Republican Spain during the Civil War.

And it is this part of the book which fascinates me most for here is a vivid account of the political struggles and his own experiences of Spain which he visited three times during the war.

Even now I do have to sit back and reflect that the first time Ted made his way to Madrid by a long and torturous route he was just 19 the same age as I was when I came to Manchester, but while I had done a series of temporary jobs after school spoke a lot about the injustices of the world he had organised the massive job of coordinating food and medical supplies from a warehouse in London and visited Spain three times.

But he would have been the first to point out that everyone’s contribution is different and mine was to come later, although even now I cannot claim it ranks with his.

So the final words are his

“We did not accept the world as it was, and we put what strength we had to the task of changing it for the better.”

Now you can’t say more than that.  Along the way I was introduced to  London which was familiar but still different, of child hood games I also played and of a world alternating between great hardship and hope.

And as for Tom Mix, well you have to be of a certain generation to know of him.  In my case it was Ted who introduced me.

Picture; from the cover of Whatever Happened to Tom Mix? and Advance, paper of the Labour League of Youth edited by Ted Willis, 1938, courtesy of hayes peoples history,

“Many happy returns from William” dated 1915

Birthday cards are one of those things we take for granted and most do not survive the day they are received.

They are displayed in a prominent place and then carefully put away or end up as tomorrow’s rubbish.

All of which is a shame given the care, thought and feeling that often goes into selecting the card.

So with that in mind I am going to share some that have been given to me by Suzanne.

All date from the early decades of the last century and are a delightful comment on what people sent as birthday wishes just a little under a 100 years ago.

This one dates from 1915 and was sent by William.

I don’t have the name of the birthday person but in the same collection there cards to a Dorothy and also an Edith and with a bit of time and some detective work I might get closer to a name.

Picture; courtesy of Suzanne Moorehead

Cafe Nero

Now after sharing my life with an Italian for over ten years you would think I could pronounce Cafe Nero correctly, but I can’t.

I do try, and have been known to repeat an Italian phrase over and over again, only to return ten minutes later and make a hash of it.

On the other hand I am good at remembering the city and Chorlton before the cafe and bar society arrived.

Coffee was something that came either as a frothy explosion of milk with a hint of caffeine or a cup of tepid brown stuff.

Mind you back in London what went for coffee in our home was that mix of sugar, coffee essence water and chicory known as Camp Coffee.  I tried some the other day and decided that like sugar sandwiches it was something best left to childhood memories.

And in much the same way I cannot get over nostalgic about the Manchester of the late 60s.  Ordering a glass of wine on a hot afternoon in some of the pubs in the city marked you out as strange, while the idea of wanting to eat outside was something you only did with a mid day sandwich in Piccadilly Gardens.

We always felt very daring at the idea of drinking in the Milk Maid opposite the sunken gardens or visiting the Ceylon Tea Centre.

And now both the Milk Maid and the tea centre have gone, along with Piccadilly Gardens which is a shame.  

On the other hand on a bright sunny day I can sit and watch the people go by in Albert Square sipping a glass of wine with a fine view of the Town Hall.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson