Saturday, 1 November 2014

That Blockbuster's shop on Barlow Moor Road

I am pleased that local artist Peter Topping has painted the old Blockbuster shop on Barlow Moor Road, because its days are numbered.

It is a building I have written about already and long after it has gone I daresay there will be more stories.*

And I know why.

Blockbusters will be a fond memory for many people as the place the family weekend began, starting with those early evening Friday visits.

And while one of us went off to get the takeaway the other chose the movie, did the deal on the kid’s films and came away with a mountain of popcorn, sweets and soft drinks.

But the building is often also confused with the cinema which was next door which opened in the 1930s.

Our building was once a “public market place” which closed sometime before 1939 and then reopened as "E.Boydell and Co. Ltd, painting and finishing department, agricultural machinery.”

And now its days are numbered because planning permission has been granted for the
“erection of three-storey mixed use building comprising 3no. retail units of (Class A1) retail space (762 square metres total) at ground floor with 12no. two bed apartments on above two floors following demolition of existing retail store”**

So that just leaves you to read the other stories on Chorlton Blockbusters, admire Mr Topping’s painting and perhaps wander down to view this little bit of our history before it goes.

Painting; Blockbusters, © 2014 Peter Topping,

Facebook; Paintings from Pictures,, Web:

Picture; my Blockbuster card, circa 2010, from the collection of Andrew Simpson


**Manchester City Council Planning Applications, 105734/FO/2014/S1

Of past glories ....... the bowling green in Alex Park, then and now

Now, don’t you just love it when a story and picture comes back with a new one from Andy Robertson?

Having obtained a wonderful set of photographs of Alexandra Park in 1906 from my friend Ann Love I began posting them.

And straight away back came the memories.

Mark commented on the Clock Tower and Andy offered up his picture of “Alex Park Bowling Green 108 years later.”

I have yet to find out if the Corporation plan to restore the Bowling Green, after all it is still played  all over the place.

Alan who lives up the road and plays for The Bowling Green is for ever off an tournaments during the summer.

So I hope it will be returned to its grand former glory.

Pictures; Alexandra Park in 1906 and in 2014

Down a narrow alley to Mortgramit Square in Woolwich in 1908

Down an alley from Woolwich High Street, 2013
Sometimes Woolwich can still send you back into that past of narrow gas lit alleys, dark corners and unsafe places.

So with a little bit of imagination as dusk draws in it is just possible to sense something of what it might have been like to wander the area at the very beginning of the last century.

We are standing at the start of the alley that runs from Woolwich High Street alongside the Plaisted Wine Bar and in the distance is the green tiled wall of the Roses which fronts Hare Street.

Back in 1908 what is now Plaisted’s was the Cooper’s Arms while away down that alley The Roses was called the Prince Albert and both were owned by E.J. Rose and Co.

The Prince Albert began as a beer shop in 1840 next door to the brewery and was bought by E.J. Rose and Co who rebuilt it in 1928.*

The square in 1908
And if that was not enough atmosphere had we walked down that alley in 1908 then as now we would have come out onto Mortgramit Square which I have to say has little to offer and I suspect even less a century ago when it was home to George Plume, cartage contractors, and Carter Patterson & Co carriers.

Now I have to confess I had never ventured down the alley and did not know of the existence of Mortgramit Square.

The square in 1872
In the 1870s the narrow street from Hare Street beside the Roses into the square was known as Dog Yard.

It ran west and then took a right angle to turn south before heading off west again down an even narrower alley into the square.

Back then this southern route was flanked on both sides by buildings as was the square.

These look to be on up one down dwelling houses, and in the fullness of time I shall crawl over the census records to find out who was there .

Like so many other towns and cities here were those courts only accessible through alleys where sunlight and fresh air struggled to make an appearance.  To live or work here was to be cut off and to occupy an almost private world.

Walk down from Hare Street today and it is possible to detect the old footprint of the buildings.

All of which I suppose pushes our imaginary trip back another 30 years, and makes me think here was a place mother would have warned me not to go.

Picture; from the collection of Colin Fitzpatrick, extract from the Post Office London County Suburbs Directory, 1908 Part 1, Street Commercial & Trade Directories and detail of  Mortgramit Square and Hare Street from the OS amp of London, 1862-72, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

*Draft Chapter Four Woolwich, Enhlish Heritage, 2012

Gazing into shop windows

It is pretty much one of those things that advertising and all the posters, TV commercials and catch phrases that go with a successful campaign can both date and also illuminate a period.

I still have fond memories of the little robots who thought making mashed potato using the raw ingredients was plain daft and old fashioned when a packet of powder could deliver the business.

Or that stylish and award winning commercial which featured a man under a street light at night holding a cigarette with the caption “You are never alone with a Strand.”

Awards it might have won but many associated the cigarette with being alone and sales did not match its style.

All of which is merely to state the obvious that any advert is of its time and reflects what think, value and even what makes us laugh.

Who now could make an advert using a certain primate dressed in human clothes and performing as we do?

All of which made me reflect on these two posters in two empty shops in Huddersfield recently.

Thinking back there were more than two empty retail units and the posters were doing the bit of keeping the place looking busy.

And I have to say I liked them.  Big bold and in your face.

I shall go back sometime soon and see if they are still there.

Pictures; Huddersfield posters, 2014, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Friday, 31 October 2014

Saving the copper ........ a 5/- bag from sometime in the 1940s

Saving the copper, date unknown
Now there will be those who mutter this is not really much to do with history.

But there I would disagree, because it is one of those small everyday objects which are so part of our lives that we give them no significance.

I came across this one in a collection of material from my dad.

It is a paper money bag for the National Provincial Bank and would have been used to bag pennies, halfpenny and farthings.

Now I don’t have a date but it will be before 1971 when we went decimal and adopted a new set of coins junking the old pounds shillings and pence.

Before 1971 the pound was made up of 240 pennies with 12 pennies making a shilling and 20 shillings making a pound.

All very bewildering for any one born after 1971 but pretty clear to me and those who can also remember Five Boys chocolate bars,  drinking Kia-Ora orange at the pictures, and Rin Tin Tin.

The National Provincial Bank had a long history starting up in 1833 before becoming the National Westminster Bank in 1970.

All of which gives little clue to a date for the bag except for the request “IN VIEW OF THE APPEALS MADE FOR THE ECONOMY OF PAPER WILL CUSTOMERS KINDLY RETURN ALL THESE BAGS TO THE BANK FOR RE-USE.”

Hotel Regina, Venice, circa 1950s
Of course such appeals I guess have come at regular intervals but I suspect this may date the bag to the Second World War or the years directly afterwards.

Now given the sort of chap my dad was it would not surprise me that this money bag had been sitting amongst his stuff from that time, before coming north to us.

It had been used to hold a series of hotel suitcase labels from the 1950s and these too in the fullness of time will come out to feature as stories for the blog.

In the meantime my 70 year old money bag will return to its place of safe storage, and I shall go rummaging for some pennies, and haipeni’s and may even turn up the odd three penny bit and sixpence.

And who knows may well come across more stories of the trivial kind.

Pictures; money bag, date unknown and hotel suitcase label, circa 1950s,  from the collection of Andrew Simpson

The mystery of what the Manchester man who lived in Stockport was doing in Burnley

George, Nellie & Duncan, circa 1915
I am no nearer knowing the mystery of what George Davison was doing in Burnley and I think I am going to need some help.

He was born and grew up in Manchester, began his married life in Hulme and then settled in Stockport where the family pretty much lived for the rest of the 20th century.

And when George was sent to Woolwich and later Ireland during the Great War his wife Nellie and son followed him for short periods.

But the family home was from 1911 in Stockport which makes their time in Burnley in 1914 a bit of a mystery.

Now I know he was there because during the winter of 1914 he was in the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps and we have one letter addressed to number 4 Fairholme Road, Townley, Burnley.

The letter to Mrs Davison in Burnely
Sometime during the end of 1914 he had enlisted and by January he was in Woolwich.

Nellie appears to have moved back to Hulme for short periods but always retained the home in Stockport although at times she sub let it.

The obvious conclusion is that he was working in Burnley and given the later practice of sub letting the Stockport cottage that would seem reasonable.

But to be sure it will be a matter of checking out the electoral registers and rate records for Burnley and here it would be useful to have someone on the ground to do the research.

Of course there will be those who mutter that it is all very small beer but I think it is important because we do have a large amount of material much of it written by George to Nellie during the war along with some courting letters, school reports and official documents which follow him from his entry into school to his death on the Western Front in 1918 and continue into the middle 1950s.

St John's
There is also the chance that it will shed some more light on the Burnley Volunteer Training Corps which was the Home Guard of the First World War.

So far I have come across little about the organization other than newspaper reports, an enamelled badge and two pictures of the men on parade.

When one of these pictures was posted the church behind the men was identified as St John the Evangelist in Worsthorne which is just outside Burnley.

There are references to the Corps parading there and so it was nice to have a location for the picture.

And that is the value of local knowledge.

So I hope someone out there will help with finding out more about George and Nellie’s stay in Burnley

Picture; of the Davison family circa 1915 & St John the Evangelist date unknown from the collection of David Harrop

The day I lost a Chorlton Chartist

Well to be more accurate, it was more the day I invented one who never was. 

It all looked so good.  In the June of 1847 Alexander Somerville had walked the lanes of Chorlton looking for evidence of potato blight and discovered a potato called the “radical.” His autobiography recalled how he had been flogged while in the army for distributing letters arguing that the military should not be used against those groups campaigning for the Reform Bill and there he was being quoted by Engels in The Conditions of the English Working Class.  So as you do I made an assumption and I was wrong.

He did “earnestly desire to see the enfranchisement of the working people” but disagreed with those Chartists who “think they can effect that great consummation by fighting for it.”* “In the first place, there is yet not a national desire for that enfranchisement; there is on the contrary, a general aversion to it among all persons of property.”  This led him in turn to attack the Chartist leaders because “their practice has been to excite hatred between classes [and] until there is an alliance between classes there cannot be in Britain an act of universal enfranchisement.”

This correctly harps back to the convergence of interests between the reforming elements in the middle and working classes during the campaign for the reform bill in the 1830s but misses the point that by the late 1830s that shared interest did not exist anymore.  The middles class had the vote and could see no reason to share it.

So given the worsening economic situation, and the rejection of the first Charter it is easy to see how some Chartists might be drawn to physical force.

Now despite never being a pacifist Somerville was equally unhappy about the use of violence.  He had after all been flogged for trying to stop force being used against the supporters of reform in Birmingham in 1832, and maintained that the Chartists “avowed belief that they can do physical battle with a few wretched pikes, against the regularly armed military forces, are not likely to obtain sympathy of the people, interested in the preservation of property.”

It was this same opposition to civil insurrection which had led him in 1834 to inform on a plan for to assassinate members of the Cabinet and the Royal family and seize control of Parliament and the Bank of England.  In is autobiography Somerville justifies his actions on the grounds of the strife, loss of life and damage to property which would have ensued had the plot gone ahead.

But there is that other giveaway clue in his comments on the preservation of property, which mark him out as marching on a different path. He was convinced that those Chartists who were hostile “ to the existence of private capital , moneyed or landed” were wrong.  It was this that led him to oppose the Chartist Land Plan as unfeasible.

Equally he could see that “the capitalist, merchants, master manufacturers, and master shopkeepers” by continuing to block reform would not be able to escape the consequences of heightened class conflict.

So if the opposition to widening the franchise was because they believed “the mass of the people to be dangerously ignorant .... I would say educate liberally and universally. There is no middle course; either give schools and votes, or barrack yards and bullets.  I am for schools and votes.”

Now I may be airing a prejudice when I think that class interests might have been the hidden factor in the opposition to extending the vote, but as a principle I am right behind Alexander.

So not perhaps a Chartist who passed through Chorlton but a radical none the less.

*Somerville, Alexander, The Autobiography of a Working Man, 1848, page 509 Google edition page 521

Picture; The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, April 10 1848, by William Kilburn