Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Looking for Corporal Fletcher and his sister in the spring of 1916 ................. stories behind the book nu 3

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War.*

Altrincham Street and arch leading to Britain Street, 1960
Now you won’t find Britain Street any more although there are clues to its previous existence.

It once ran from Granby Row to Brierly Street crossing Altrincham Street close to London Road and was swept away the during the extension of the UMIST campus.**

But it is still possible to follow its line of route and the keen street detective just needs to turn off London Road on to Altrincham Street and there to the right is the railway arch and the remnants of one side of Britain Street while directly opposite and running into the university buildings is the continuation of the street.

Letter to Miss Fletcher, 1921
And that feint echo of what once was there is pretty much replicated in the story of Corporal R Fletcher of the Manchester’s who died on April 12 1916 and is buried at the Amara War Cemetery in Iraq.

His story began with the discovery of a letter to his sister which accompanied his war medals “which would have been conferred upon [him] had he lived.”

I would like to know more but the historical records have as yet offered little more.  I know his sister was living at nu 32 Britain Street in 1921 but a search for her or for anything more on Corporal Fletcher has drawn a blank.

Envelope addressed to 32 Britain Street, 1921
There isn’t even a picture of the house on Britain Street which judging from the maps and the remaining evidence was a narrow street of industrial units and residential properties overlooked by the railway line and flanked by the very busy London Road.

Nor do its residents get a listing in the street directories which is odd because by the beginning of the 20th century most people would be recorded from even the most humble of dwellings.

And the houses were occupied.  In 1898 nu 32 was home to W H Worall who along with his nine neighbours paid a weekly rent of five shillings and six pence to Buckley Shaw their landlords and for this they got a six roomed house which by then may well have been over sixty years old.

Britain Street, 1893
All of which means that there is lots more work to do on the Fletcher’s.

Sadly his military records appear to have been destroyed and his sister stubbornly sits in the shadows.

But I am confident I will find them and they will make their way into the book.

Well, we shall see.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Altrincham Street, W H Beaumont, 1960,  courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, letter and envelope addressed to Miss M E Fletcher, 1921 from the collection of David Harrop, and Britain Street, 1893  from the OS Lancashire, 1888-1893 courtesy of Digital Archives,

*Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, due out at the end of 2016,

**University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology

***Manchester Rate Books, 1898

The history of Eltham in just 20 objects ........Nu 1 the Tram sheds

The challenge is to write a history of Eltham in just 20 objects which are in no particular order, and have been selected purely at random.

Anyone who wants to nominate their own is free to do so, just add a description in no more than 200 words and send it to me.

Today I have chosen those three buildings on Well Hall Road beside the parish church.  For over a century they consisted of a waiting room flanked by public lavatories.  They were originally built to serve tram passengers when the service began in 1910 and carried on in to the age of the motor bus.  In the 1970s the planners wondered if they should be demolished for a public place.  In their way they are a little bit of our history.

Picture; courtesy of Jean Gammons

Chorlton’s own brick works Part Two ......... a lost road and several tragedies

The development of a brick works in Chorlton by The Chorlton Land and Building Company is an interesting insight in to the way the township developed.

 It made sense to develop the clay pits for the growing building boom in the area and I guess many of the internal walls of our houses are made from their brick. The Egerton and Lloyd estates who owned most of the land in Chorlton were keen to prevent industrial development. Chorlton was too valuable as a residential area to be having the smoke stacks of factories dominate the landscape.

The brick works had a short life but there is still some evidence of its presence. I am told that it is still possible to dig up the odd brick on the site and the tall chimney of the works was still standing in 1959.

On a more tragic note, throughout the 1920s and 30’s newspapers reported the deaths of young children who had fallen into to the water filled pits and drowned.

The works attracted labour from outside the township. Ernest Stubbs was born in 1879 in Kendal. Sometime around 1901 aged just 22 he had made his way here to Chorlton and was living with the Hartington family. They too were newcomers. Joseph Hartley had been born in Wakefield across the Pennines in 1844 and his wife in Rochdale.

Ernest later moved in to a tiny row of terraced houses off Longford Road in Cardiff Road. In 1909 there were eleven houses on the road and four of the householders were connected with bricks. Two were brick makers and two brick layers. Cardiff Road had a short life. It was built sometime after 1903 and may have been demolished by the 1940s. There is however a tantalising clue to its exact location. At the top of Longford Road there is the entrance to St John’s playing fields. The slight curve of the road matches that from the OS Map of 1907. More research will need to be done to date the demolition of Cardiff Road and there may still be people who either remember it or may even have lived there.

Location; Chorlton, London

Map; Longford Road, the brickworks, and the lost Cardiff Road, from the 1907 OS map of Chorlton

Passing the time ............... just being silly

An occasional series of pictures of people and places.

Location, at the fair, 2009, Varese, Italy

Pictures; People & Places, the Arndale Centre, Manchester, 2015, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Down on Didsbury Road on Heaton Mersey

Now here is one of those pictures which will fascinate loads of people and may start off umpteen conversations in the bars and newsagents of Heaton Mersey.

This is Didsbury Road.  I can’t be sure when but judging by the car and the clothes we will be in the 1920s into the 30s and we are on that stretch of the road with Greenbank Avenue to our left and some at least will ask the obvious question why take a picture of this bit of Heaton Mersey?

To which the answer is simply “where ever I rest my camera tripod that’s my picture.”

Commercial photographers were forever on the look out for a scene which would convert into cash, and so having taken the standard half dozen images of the area, sold them onto a postcard company there was also the option of offering them up to the residents along the road.

Of course I have no idea who might have bought this one but often you come across a postcard with an X above a house with the message on the back that “this is where we live.”

And so back to Heaton Mersey and anyone familiar with this bit of the road will instantly recognise the house on the corner of Greenbank and the outline of the shops beyond what is now a medical practice, but may well ponder on when the shop and row of terraced houses on the opposite side were demolished.

I am fully confident someone will know and in the fullness of time will tell me.

For now I will just reflect as many others will do on the lack of cars and the horse drawn cart on that sunny day almost ninety years ago.

It comes from the collection of David Harrop and was one of the images that he passed over to me when I first started researching the new book on Manchester and the Great War.*

I think it had slipped into the pack by accident but it was one I knew I would want to use.

So here it is, with a special thank you to David.

Location; Heaton Mersey, Greater Manchester

Picture; Didsbury Road, Heaton Mersey, circa 1920s-30s, from the collection of David Harrop

* Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, due out at the end of 2016,

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A lost sweet shop from Beech Road revisiting a popular story

I won’t be the only one who has memories of buying sweets at the shop which was on  the corner of Beech Road and Claude Road, and there may be others like me who bought things when it sold a mix of almost antique stuff back in the late 1980s.

Not that it was always a shop; back in 1911 soon after it had been built it was the home of Robert and Janet Connell.  They were from Scotland, had been married for 38 years and had two children one of whom was still registered as living at home despite being a ships steward.

It was then an impressive seven roomed house.  If I wanted I could no doubt discover when the property was converted into a shop.  It was certainly selling sweets in the November of 1958 when R.E. Stanley photographed it.

Nor had it changed much when Tom McGrath took his picture almost thirty years later.  And I think the old bill boards were still there in the 1980s advertising the current films showing at the cinema around the corner.

Today it has reverted to a home as have other commercial conversions along Beech Road.

Pictures; Number 1 Beech Road by R.E. Stanley, November 1958, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, m17659, and from the collection of Tom McGrath

William Phillips of Fallowfield and the Canadian Expeditionary Force .............. stories behind the book nu 2

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War.*

William Phillips, second from left, circa 1916-1919
Just over a week ago I made an appeal across Canada for anyone who might have had a relative born here in Manchester who served in the Great War in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Plenty of young men will have crossed the Atlantic in search of a new life and then volunteered when war broke out.

One of these was William Phillips who like my own great uncle had been migrated by a children’s charity.

Some had spent their early years in care while others came from abusive or neglected backgrounds and a few were given up by their parents who because of ill health, or poverty were desperate for their children to have a better life.

From the 1870s onwards some of these young people were migrated by charities and the Poor Law Unions to start a new life in Canada, Australia and other bits of the old British Empire.

Today they are known as British Home Children and their history and the history of the policy of migration is being rediscovered.

Detail from his Attestation Paers, 1916
I am not sure what happened to William Phillips, according to his relative he was “a native of Manchester, who was emigrated to Canada as a Barnardo Home Child.

He settled in Manvers Township, Province of Ontario.   At this point I do not know the family circumstances that sent him to Canada.

I knew William Phillips and his wife Violet as they were my Aunt's in-laws.

A wonderful couple to know both William and Violet Phillips came to Canada under the BHC Immigration scheme.

William and Violet, date unknown
They lived out their lives in the Village of Bethany, Manvers Township and are buried at St. Mary`s Anglican Church Cemetery, Lifford, Manvers Township.

What would be interesting is if we could connect with the family of William`s sister Alice who may still live in the area of Fallowfield, High Town, Manchester."**

William had been born in 1898 in Fallowfield and that is pretty much all there is.

His father worked in a warehouse and was widowed and this may be the clue to what happened to William who was the youngest of three children.

It was not uncommon for a single parent to seek support from one of the charities and agree to the migration of the children and so it may well be that this is what happened to William.

Detail from Attestation Papers, 1916
We do know his elder sister either stayed in Britain or if she was migrated returned because in 1915 she was living in St James Road in Hightown off Cheetham Hill Road.

Now I think there is a story here but one which will be a bit difficult to unpick.

Getting to see the records of the charity will be all but impossible for a non relative while many of the relevant records will not be accessible given the hundred year rule.

William Phillips, cirv 1916-1918
That said his Canadian military records can be seen and it may be that there are still living relatives here in Manchester.

All of which means this search has just begun and in the fullness of time we may discover that Mr Phillips returned to Manchester during or after the Great War.

Location; Manchester, & Ontario

Picture; William Phillips in military uniform, second from left, circa 1915-18,  with Violet, date unknown and his Attestation Papers, 1915, courtesy of Patricia Bronson

*Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, due out at the end of 2016,

**Patricia Bronson