Tuesday, 21 April 2015

On coming across a Roman ruin

We came across the Largo di Torre Argentina by accident on the way to the Colosseum. 

The weather had been hot all week and so we had set out early to catch the cooler air, and as we came across the square I took some photographs and we moved on.

Only later when I did the research did I discover that here were four Republican temples and a bit of the theatre of Pompey which was also where Julius Caesar had been assassinated. Not bad going for our first morning in Rome.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

78 Manchester Road, and story ......... the Wood family

It is an ordinary looking house and past its best, sandwiched between the petrol station and supermarket on one side and a restaurant on the other, but 78 Manchester Road has caught my imagination.

I must have passed it lots of times and not even given it much of a thought. I remember one of the houses in the row was a photographer’s shop and for years there was a faded picture of a baby in the window.

But it holds a story. And it is one of those stories that has come together in bits and in its way says a lot about how we were, what Chorlton has become and offers that sense of continuity that comes from families staying in the same place for generations.

In 1911 number 78 was home to the Wood family but this was only fairly recent.

For a large part of his life James Wood had lived at Red Gates Farm which stood on the site of the present library. It had been there from at least the 18th century and I have followed its history through the first half of the 19th century when the tenants were the Whitelegg family.

Now I have to be honest and admit I wasn’t very interested in it after William Whitelegg ceased being the tenant in 1855. But like many of our farms it was still being worked into the 20th century. By then it was the home of Thomas and Mary Wood.

And like all of these things as soon as you delve into their lives so a whole new part of our farming past emerges. In 1881 Thomas described himself as “assistant farmer” living at Red Gates Farm, but if I have understood this correctly he was working for Elizabeth Kenyon who was a market gardener and at lived at Marsleach House which was demolished sometime in the 1890s or during the first decade of the following century and was on a large plot of land bordered by Selbourne, Manchester and Keppel Roads and so was almost directly opposite Red Gates. The Kenyon’s were an old Chorlton farming family and can be traced back to the early 19th century.

Red Gates had grown in size from 46 acres in 1841 to 62 by 1871 but in all probability was smaller by the turn of the 20th century. And I guess James had foreseen that the land was not his future and instead had become a clerk.

He had married Florence Cooke in 1905 and I guess this was when they moved to number 78. The farm was to disappear by 1914 and sometime between 1911 and 1921 the family moved to Romily and in the way of things that houses has also survived.

But what ties the family to Chorlton are a series of postcards they exchanged between 1904 and 1938. They are of the mundane and ordinary things of life which make them so valuable. Here are updates on family visits and of their health with Fred “being a prisoner with his face” which has “made him look quite pale,” along with descriptions of holiday weather and birthday greetings. And above all there are the references to farming, with John reporting that the farm was in the middle of harvesting and an acknowledgement of help at the forthcoming harvest festival in the old church.
There is something quite complete in these two messages which echo that way of life that had gone on for centuries in the township. First the frenetic activity of getting the crops in followed by the celebration that it had been achieved.

It is easy today with food available from around the world in the local supermarket to forget that on the success of the harvest hung not only the prosperity of the community but in a very real sense whether they ate well or not which is perhaps a fitting way to end the story of a family which had lived in Chorlton for half a century, and leaves me just to thank Carolyn Willits who has shared her family postcards with me and reflect that she also lives here in Chorlton.

Pictures; from the collection of Carolyn Willits

Snaps of Stockport no 7 out on the streets

This is another of those wonderful snaps of Stockport taken sometime in the 1950s by William Ernest Edmondson whose son has kindly given me permission to publish them*and it will be the last for a while.

It is one my favourites from the collection because it perfectly captures a busy day in the town over sixty years ago and reminds me of the value of the “snap.”

Most were taken in an instant and record everyday life.

Few I suspect were ever destined to be be seen by a wide audience and yet like this one they deserve to be.

This is how we went about our business in the early 1950s, with men in old fashioned rain coats, creaky prams and women in head scarves.

It is a priceless image of a moment in time.

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

*Stockport in the 1950s, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Stockport%20in%20the%201950s

In the parish graveyard at Eltham

Eltham Church from the north, 1870
I can’t remember the last time I wandered through the parish churchyard but given that I left for Manchester in 1969 it will have been a long time.

Had I done so in 1851 there would have been plenty of gravestones to read many of which dated back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Not that I intend to record them here.  Instead I want just to reflect on how the church would have appeared from the northern part of the graveyard.

And I have to agree with Sir Stephen Glynne who in 1830 wrote that it was of “a mean fabric, much patched and modernised; with scarce a trace of anything like good work, and from repeated alterations, the plan has become irregular.”*

But no less a place deep in the affections of many local people.

*Sir Stephen Glynne 1830, Churches of Kent

Picture; from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, http://www.gregory.elthamhistory.org.uk/bookpages/i001.htm

The full beauty of the Town Hall revealed

Now for pretty much a full century this view of the Town Hall had been obscured by buildings and even with the installation of the Peace Gardens in 1985 it rarely got the same attention as the Albert Square side.

And yet it does have a presence which today has been heighted by the relocation of the Cenotaph to a position just in front of the entrance.

And that I think is all I want to say except that Peter’s painting does the building proud.

Painting; New Cenotaph location and west entrance of Town Hall from a photograph by Andrew Simpson. Painting © 2015 Peter Topping, 
Web: www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk
Facebook: Paintings from Pictures https://www.facebook.com/paintingsfrompictures

Monday, 20 April 2015

On rediscovering that the Postal Order still exists and pondering on the telegram, the trunk call and the big red telephone box

Three in a row, 2012, Knaresborough
I am always fascinated at the little bits of my past which have long since vanished.

And yesterday I was reminded of a shedful that have gone out with the tide.

It began with a phone call from our Joshua asking about Postal Orders.

Now I had to confess that I thought that they had long since ceased to exist.

In an age of PayPal, and card transactions with the persistent rumours that the cheque will soon go I just expected that the Postal Order had had its day.

When I was growing up and fewer people had bank accounts it was the most effective way of buying things through the post.

Postal Order, 1939
You bought it over the counter for the amount you needed, sent it by through the  mail and it was cashed at another post office.

And according to the Post Office it remains a simple way to send money, which can be used wherever you are to pay bills, and shop by mail order and offers peace of mind because there is no personal data required.*

What’s more it costs as little as 50p.

Not so the telegram which was a way of sending and receiving messages relatively cheaply and quickly but which died in stages after 139 years.

In the 1930s the Post Office was delivering on average 65 million telegrams per year.  But by the 1960s this had fallen to 10 million and by 1976 to just 844.*

Telegram, 1914
The decision to abolish the service was taken in 1977 and although the service lingered for a bit longer it was stopped in 1982.

That said I do not ever remember receiving one but then we had a telephone quite early in my childhood and that I suspect replaced the need for people to send us telegrams, although thinking about it I doubt that anything much exciting ever necessitated us getting one.

Not for that matter can I remember the telephone ever being used that much.  It was one of those solid black Bakelite affairs with a little tray which pulled out to reveal a space for telephone numbers.

And while I cannot remember our Co-op divi number or pretty much any subsequent telephone numbers, NEW 6251 leaps out of my memory.

Postal Dinky toys, pre 1939
But it is a measure of how far we have travelled with technology that back in the 1950s we had to share the line with another customer, and if on the rare occasion they were using the party line you could if you so chose listen into the conversation.

That simple incontinence became of course a superb device on the part of film makers and authors to advance a plot be it a sinister overheard threat or in the case of Doris Day and Rock Hudson an invitation to a sting of absurd story lines.***

Of course the party line is for most of us as remote as the delightful “trunk call” which resurfaced today in a blog by my friend Lois. ****

Toy postal Van, 1914
In those early years of telephones the only way a customer could call someone listed on another exchange was by asking the operator to connect them and this was a “truck call.”

In its way it was as much a special event as making the “long distance call” and today both sound old fashioned a tad quaint.

Much as I suspect is the red telephone box  which while it does still exist is now fast disappearing.

They first appeared in 1920 mushroomed in the telephone war of the 1980s and are now fading like snow in the winter sun.

But they are for another time.

Pictures; three red telephone boxes, 2012, Knaresborough from the collection of Andrew Simpson, telegram, 1914, Postal Order, 1939 and pre war Dinky Toys and mail van, circa 1914 courtesy of David Harrop

*Postal Order, the Post Office, http://www.postoffice.co.uk/postal-orders

**Telegram messenger, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telegram_messenger,

***Pillow Talk, 1959

****Trunk Call, http://loiselden.com/2015/04/19/trunk-call/

Travelling in Greece in the summer of 1981 without a mobile, or a credit card

Travelling in Cephalonia
Now I never did Greece in the 70s.

That was when many of my friends travelled the islands.

Back then it was all pretty much an adventure, starting with the night flight to Athens and then in the early morning the taxi to the Piraeus followed by the ferry and a series of island hopping journeys.

But even in the 1980s when I first began going there was still an element of hit and miss.

The roads and the rail network were yet to benefit from EU money and of course many of the places we washed up in were remote and still fairly basic.

Added to this there was our own lack of knowledge and fore thought like the year we booked two islands on either side of the mainland, opted to do our own transfers and discovered both the delights and the nightmare of a ferry from one island to one Greek port followed by a taxi drive across Greece to another port, another ferry and the second island.

In the meantime we lost our companions who had all the paperwork for our new accommodation and managed to arrive ahead of them at the island with only a vague idea of where the resort was.

Today our friends would be a mobile call away but 25 years ago that little communication revolution had yet to arrive.

And so once again I am reflecting on the extent to which things have changed.  In Asos on Cephalonia there are two telephone kiosks for those who do not want to use a mobile.

They take telephone cards and are quick and efficient, although I have to say at present the one in the village square is broken.

Back in the 1980s everything was different for once you had found the kiosk you might have to wait in line joining a handful of other tourists and locals wanting to phone off the island.

Nor was this restricted to Greece.  Later in the 1990s in Spain you still had to book an international call, wait to be called by the official, and watch as the minutes shot by and hoping that for some vague and unspecified reason the line would not go dead in mid sentence.

The telephone card
And phones are not the only mark of how things have changed.

Back in Asos there is no bank, post office or cash dispenser, but little over 20 minutes away in the port of Fiscardo I counted several holes in the wall and of course in the capital there are plenty.

All of which means the days of travellers cheques are for all but the cautious traveller a thing of the past.

But how different back in the 1970s when an acquaintance  who had been back packing across Crete one summer ran out of money and opted for the simple expedient of staying over on the island and working on a local farm till the following year.

The farmer’s family treated him very much as their own, and thirty years later they still had his photograph on the kitchen wall.  It was faded and he looked a lot younger but it was him framed by an olive tree and a vine.

There is of course a danger at this point of sliding into romantic tosh.  As a parent with children who did their “travelling year” I would have been mortified at such a turn of events.  But then that is what adventures are about and such concerns have to be put into perspective.

The phone in Asos which didn't work
My own uncle was just 19 when he embarked on a journey which took him by wartime convoy from Liverpool to South Africa and through the Suez Canal to the Fall of Greece in 1940 and back via Egypt to Basra and eventually to the Far East.

And in a little less dramatic way when it was my turn to leave home to pursue a degree course in Manchester in the September of 1969, I left London with just a small suitcase travelling alone and arriving at Piccadilly with only a vague idea of where I was going to stay and how to get to the college the following day.

But enough of such hard worn stories, things move on and usually for the better.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson