Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A little bit of our tiled past on Beech Road above the cocktails and pizzas

John Williams & Sons Ltd 2015
I can’t be exactly sure when this bit of tiled wall disappeared behind the false wall at number 32 Beech Road, but I am guessing it will have been sometime in the 1960s when the grocery shop which was John Williams and Sons became the Maypole Launderette and later still the Soap Opera.

And like many others who sat watching the washing going round and then waited for the clothes to dry in those huge tumble driers I was totally unaware that hidden from view high and close to the ceiling beside the window there was this sign.

The other surprise was that John Williams and Sons were not local traders but in fact owned a chain of grocer shops across the city and beyond which in 1931 accounted for 41 shops of which there were three in Chorlton**, six in Didsbury and another four in Rusholme.

John Williams & Sons, 1932
Back in 1895 they are listed  with five shops in Didsbury and Fallowfield which by 1911 had become 11 with John Williams described as managing director and the head office at 400 Dickinson Road.

Later still although I can’t date it is a wonderful advert for the company which advertises their ‘“Dainty, Delightful Delicious Tea, [from] John Williams & Sons limited, “The Suburban Grocers”, [at] 28 Victoria Street Manchester Stockport & Branches’.

And looking at the interior of one of their shops sometime in the early 20th century there is more than an element of “class” about the place.

So while the shelves groan with tinned produce and between the potted plants are the familiar posters advertising Californian Apricots at 6½d, and Coffee and other things, it is less cluttered, less in your face and far more discreet than some of the grocery chains of the period.

Taking in Beech Road in 1932
Of course we will never be quite sure whether our John William’s was typical of the chain but I rather think it will have been for then as now there was a corporate brand image to maintain.

Certainly the picture of the Beech Road shop in 1932 would suggest as much.

Which brings me back to the tiled bit of the wall.

Now given the way these things work I doubt that there will be many of these left, most will have been painted over covered in a thick skim of plaster or just knocked off the wall.

The closed Soap Opera, 2011
So all credit to the owners of the Launderette who have incorporated this little bit of the buildings past in the present decor.

They of course have also given a nod to the buildings previous use and now also to its time as a grocery store, all of which reminds me that the price of preserving the past is eternal vigilance which I am the first to admit is to misquote what the American Abolitionist and liberal activist Wendell Phillips said in 1852.**

Now that is almost where we came in because I only discovered that bit of tile after yesterdays story on Beech Road in 1932, which prompted Anne-Marie Goodfellow to point out that it had been preserved by the restaurant.

And in turn that led me back to two of Peter Topping’s painting from his series which set out to record how Chorlton was changing.

The Launderette 2014
Late in 2011 Peter had painted the Soap Opera after its last rinse and tumble dry had finished and went back just after the Launderette had opened its doors offering “cocktails and carbs” and much more.

Now I bet there will be plenty of people who also have pictures, memories and the odd bit of memorabilia from a lost Chorlton shop which we would all like to share.

And just after I had posted this story John commented that  "I used to deliver orders on a real order bike with a big cage on the front, from that very shop on Beech Road, 15/- bob a week, and tips. 1959/60."

Which is a nice way to conclude, given that we started with that tiled sign  for John Williams and Sons, purveyors of all things grocery and end with John the delivery boy.

Pictures; the tiled advert for John Williams and Sons, 2015 from  the collection of Andrew Simpson suggested by Anne-Marie Goodfellow and  Beech Road in 1932 from the Lloyd Collection

Paintings; the Soap Opera, © 2011 and the Launderette, © 2014, Peter Topping, 
Facebook; Paintings from Pictures, Web:

*32 Beech Road, Wilbraham Road, 211 Upper Chorlton Road.

**“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” Wendell Phillips on January 28, 1852, speaking to members of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.

Buying a book at Wilcox's on Well Hall Road and a thank you

Well Hall Odeon, circa 1960s
It is pretty much one of those things that when you live somewhere you take it for granted.

Growing up in Eltham in the 1960s I don’t think I ever took a photograph of the place and most of the changes that occurred just passed me by.

That said I am not sure that there were many dramatic developments to Eltham during that decade.

The cinemas were all still there when I left as was the old station, and the shops on Well Hall Road just down from the Odeon were the same when I returned in the early 70s.

They included the radio shop where mum bought our first stereogram, the barber's shop next to the cinema where you always came out with a short back and sides no matter what you had asked for and Wells the Chemist and the cafe.

Some places have faded from my memory and others while still vivid have challenged me to remember their name.

Wilcox, Well Hall Road circa 1960s
So here I am with that shop at the top of Well Hall Road hard by Burton’s.

It sold everything from papers and sweets to books and on a Saturday morning it was one of the first ports of call before heading up the High Street to meet friends, or visit the library.

And only yesterday our Saul started reading the copy of Canterbury Tales which I bought from Wilcox’s sometime in the summer of 1967.

The book is much battered and is in danger of falling apart but it is a nice reminder of the continuity which binds me to the place where I grew up and still feel a pull for.

So I was pleased that I have come across a fresh collection of photographs from the community website This is Eltham and particularly pleased that they have given me permission to raid the archive.*

Some are very much part of my childhood while others look back to an earlier period of Eltham’s history.

But it is the one of Wilcox’s that has triggered off a rich cascade of memories and underlines for me the power of an image to reawaken the past.

And as these things go just as I finished the story, Lesley of This is Eltham, told me that Wilcox's  
"was my father's shop Andrew,  he had 5 shops in Eltham, 32 High Street, and there's a photo of my mother in that shop in 1938/9, then a haberdashery's in Well Hall Parade opposite the Pleasaunce, one with a Post Office in Westhrone Avenue and and a tiny, tiny one at the High Street end of Archery Road but that was probably gone by the time you came to Eltham."

Now that I think is just a perfect ending.

Pictures; Well Hall Odeon and Wilcox’s circa 1960 courtesy of This is Eltham

*This is Eltham,

Thoughts of Christmas in Lausanne Road on a wet November day

It’s that time of year when thoughts of Christmas begin to take over.

And more than once I have caught myself muttering that each year the Christmas adverts on the telly along with advent calendars, baby Christmas puddings and the first Christmas trees make their appearance in our local supermarket just a little earlier than the year before.

But that is to look at the whole thing from a grownups perspective.

If I was still living in Lausanne Road in 1956 I know that Christmas would have already begun to sit on my shoulder.

Of course the commercial hype was less obvious, but shops would have been full already of Christmas stuff.

In an age when many of us still made our own Christmas cakes and puddings the local grocers would have had the signs up offering the festive fruits and perhaps even the accompanying reminder of stir up Sunday which is traditionally the last Sunday before advent.

Now this year the first Sunday of Advent falls on November 29 which means I have missed Stir up Sunday which was the time when everyone was supposed to gather in the kitchen to stir the pudding mix making a special wish at the same time.

I can’t be sure but 1956 may well have been the last time mother bothered with making our own cake and pudding and that will also be about the time that we switched to an artificial tree all of which are stories for December.

But even though the decorations along with the Christmas cards were still some way off there was no escaping the onset of Christmas.

It started in the playground with the endless discussions on which comic annual was the best, moved on to gazing into the local toy shop window and pretty much then became a countdown which of course began with the last day of school.

Now apart from the winter of 1962/3 I can’t remember a Christmas holiday with snow and while I could go looking for the records I’ll leave that to someone else to do instead plenty of other memories have bubbled to the surface, ranging from buying in the packets of do it yourself paper chains, to discovering the larder filling up with foods that we only got at Christmas, some of which were never eaten and ended up being thrown away in March.

And along with the start of the Christmas holiday for us in Lausanne Road it was the arrival of Uncle George which signalled the event was imminent.

He arrived a few days before, would take me up to see the Christmas lights on Oxford Street and would stay for the January sales.

And even before then dad would have been working away on the kitchen table through the long winter nights making a mix of home grown toys.

There was the year he made four identical baby cotes for my four sisters, all a different colour along with the castles he made for me with towers, battlements, drawbridge and portcullis.

Now that really was the slow slide towards Christmas.

Each evening each toy would have advanced a little further ready for the day and while I often saw them in construction Dad managed to have spirited away the finished thing ready to be a surprise.

That magic has never left me and while our own children are now all grown up I do have to confess a growing anticipation as November moves in to December.

Pictures; more recent Christmases, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

On Moss Lane West part 2 .............. Sunday November 22 2015

Sunday was a rare day in what had been a pretty awful week of driving rain, heavy winds and more rain with perhaps the only difference that sometimes the rain was heavy and at other times that fine drizzle which sinks deep into your clothes and makes you thoroughly miserable.

But Sunday was warmish with good light and that was enough to set Andy Robertson off to record the changes to one of his new projects chronicling how a little bit of Moss Lane West has disappeared.

This is the second of the series which I guess will go on till the new building is in place.

Pictures; Moss Lane West November 2015, courtesy of Andy Robertson

"the gates of hell" at Didsbury with more than one tall story

Now I like the story of the Devil’s Gate at Didsbury.

According to the local historian Fletcher Moss it referred to “the remnant of the village green in front of the inns where the cock fighting and bull baiting used to be.  In later days this space was clerically termed ‘the gates of hell’ and therefore to be shunned by the orthodox.”*

And it is easy to attribute the name to the gateway that leads into the Parsonage hard by the Didsbury Hotel to the left, and the Cock Inn to the right.

It would give just that tingle of apprehension to anyone wanting to cross into the gardens at night from the old village green having perhaps had too much in one of the two pubs.

But the gate is a relatively new addition to this bit of Didsbury having been brought here by Fletcher Moss himself.

Nor are the origins of that gate any more sensational for they come from the Spread Eagle Hotel on Corporation Street and were purchased for just £10 when the hotel was demolished in 1902.

Those still wanting a sinister turn to the tale might just ponder on the disappearance of a second eagle which stood in the gardens and vanished one night never to be seen again.

I was told and I have to admit it was late in the night after more than enough to drink in the Old Cock that there was a belief that this eagle had been spirited away as an act of revenge on the part of a long dead publican who roamed the village green and gardens in search of the clergy who had railed against the common pleasures of the people of Didsbury.

It is of course more likely that the lost eagle now adorns a garden somewhere in south Manchester its origin as part of a hotel and later a garden ornament long forgotten.

Still the gate remains a pretty impressive structure which Peter has captured in his painting.

Painting; Eagle Gate, © 2013 Peter Topping, 
Facebook; Paintings from Pictures,

*Fletcher Moss, Souvenir of the Coronation Festivities held at Didsbury June 22 1911

So were you in the Eltham Hill Gaumont on Sunday September 12 1965?

Now you pretty much know it’s time to get a life when you go looking for the date for a film listing for the Eltham Hill Gaumont.

Eltham Hill Gaumont, 1998
The listing was posted recently by Kath May and advertised the four films showing for the week beginning September 12.

For those with time on their hands on that Sunday the cinema was showing for just the one day The Unknown with Dean Jagger and Teenage Frankenstein with Whit Bissell, Phyllis Coates and Gary Conway.

With titles like that they were of course X rated under the old Board of Censorship classification and if there was anyone still unsure the listing carried the warning Adults only.

Now I have never really given it much thought but I suppose Sunday in the cinema in the 1950s and 60s would be a slow day.

The cinema , circa 1938
Most people would have gone on a Friday or Saturday night and the week would be given over to a more discerning audience, leaving Sunday for those just over 18 with money left in their pockets and with a taste for the macabre.

For the rest of the week starting on the Monday and running for a full six days there was Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn in Last Train from Gun Hill which was an A and Yul Brynner in Escape from Zahrain.

I went looking for the plots of the four films and wish I hadn’t bothered.  Suffice to say that today I doubt that even the most desperate of TV executives would look to showing them on even the graveyard slot.

So as a reward and in answer to Kath’s musings of when this week was I went off and roamed the records.  

Film poster, 1957
Now the films themselves were no clue.  The Unknown dated from 1956, Teenage Frankenstein from the following year and Last Train from 1959 which left Escape from Zahrain which was made in 1962.

But given that you can on the internet find a day if you have the month and the year with just a little bit of fiddling it was possible to place Sunday September 12 in 1965.

Which just leaves me to record that the Gaumont had opened on April 14 1938 showing Queen Victoria with Anna Neagle and closed on June 19 1967 with David Niven in Happy Go Lovely and Dana Andrews in Duel in the Jungle.*

It reopened as a Mecca Bingo Club and the rest as they say is a down to two fat ladies and a joyful shout of Bingo.

But I wouldn't have done the job properly if I didn't also try to date the second picture of the cinema.

It was showing Will Hay's film Oh Mr Porter which was released in 1937 and so I am guessing it will be the late 1930s.

And that's all I am going to say except to thank Kath for finding and posting the film listing leaving me to go off and watch the paint dry on the back door.

Picture; the old cinema November 1998 courtesy of David Simpson and sometime before 1952, cousinadnab taken from Gaumont Eltham Hill, Cinema Treasures, and film poster for Teenage Frankenstein, 1957 which is in the public domain

* Gaumont Eltham Hill, Cinema Treasures,

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Passing the parish church one Sunday in November and remembering Bradshaw's guide

Now I like Ryan’s picture of Eltham Church which got me thinking about how a modern guide book would describe it.

Back in 1861 Bradshaw’s Illustrated Handbook to London and its Environs reported that visitors should
“go and see Eltham Church; not that it is architecturally remarkable, but in the churchyard will be found a tomb to Doggett the comedian, who bequeathed the coat and badge still rowed for every 1st of August by the ‘jolly young watermen of the Thames.”*

Sadly for anyone using that edition and happening on the church a decade and a bit later they would have been disappointed because it no longer existed having been replaced by the one we know today.

Work on the present church began in 1871 and was finished eight years later  just  3 metres north of the old site and occupying a larger area.

At which point I do have to be careful because those with a much greater knowledge than I will point out that the unfinished building was consecrated in 1875.

The spire was added in 1879 when funds became available and s service of thanksgiving for the completion of the building was conducted by Rev. Walter J Sowerby on 24th June 1880 which is the  feast day of St John the Baptist.**

So there you have it ................ three possible dates for the historian with an eye for detail to go for.

In the meantime I will go looking for a later edition to Bradshaw’s guide book to see if they updated the entry and leave you with this earlier photograph of the parish church from the 1860s.

Back then the clock ticked the hours away and it is nice to know that after some time the clock in Ryan's photograph is again offering up the correct time.

Pictures;  Eltham Church, 2015 from the collection of Ryan Ginn and back in  1860,  from The story of Royal Eltham,  R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers,,

* Bradshaw’s Illustrated Handbook to London and its Environs, 1861, republished in 2012 by Conway

**Eltham Parish Church,