Wednesday, 1 October 2014

British Home Children, an exhibition and the work of theTogether Trust

It has taken a long time but the story of British Home Children is taking one more step out of the shadows with an exciting new exhibition opening on October 17 in Liverpool.*

Emigration party outside Manchester Town Hall, 1897,
British Home Children were those who were migrated from Britain to Canada, Australia and other parts of the old empire from the 1870s onwards.

It is still a story which is not well known, especially in this country and for many of us who stumble across a relative who was sent it is a revelation often shrouded in mystery, and the search for their lives made more difficult by the absence of official documentation.

That said in Canada great strides have been made in researching both individuals and piecing together the story which should not surprise us given that over 100,000 children were sent across the Atlantic and some estimates suggest that up to 10% of Canadians are descended from a British Home Child.**

At which point I shall declare an interest as one of my great uncles was sent under the care of the Middlemore Trust by the Derby Workhouse in 1914.

Report on my great uncle, 1916
His was a story I knew nothing about and until I began some belated research on the family I did not even know of his existence which was compounded by the fact that neither mother nor my grandparents ever referred to him.

Since then some official documents have come to light but sadly they are fragmentary and the trail fades away sometime after 1925 in western Canada.

It is an experience shared by many who have relatives who were migrated, made more difficult because few of them shared their stories.

And so for that reason we know more about those young people sent to Australia some of whom were still being sent as late as the 1970s.

In some cases having been told their parents were dead and in almost all cases denied any real knowledge of who they had been or why they were sent.

It is a story which was exposed by Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker in the 1980s.

Her work in providing a history for all those Australians who grew up with no knowledge of a family in Britain or the circumstances which led to them being sent to Australia is documented in her book Empty Cradles which in turn became the film Oranges and Sunshine.***

Signing off document on my uncle, 1916
All of which takes me back to that exhibition which is a collaboration between the Australian National Maritime Museum and National Museums Liverpool.

And amongst the material is some from the Together Trust which was the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuge.

The Refuge migrated 2,129 children to Canada between 1870 and 1914 and within the archive there are details “providing family information, living conditions leading up to their admittance to the charity and personal letters written home.”****

Now this makes the Together Trust an important first stop for anyone who believes their relatives were migrated by the charity.

Letter describing life in Canada, 1888
As the archivist stresses in this week’s blog post, “the charity works to provide information to any individuals who believe their descendants may have been emigrated by us.”

All of which adds one more piece to the story of British Home Children and a powerful reason to both read the charities blog and get along to Liverpool.

Pictures; Emigration party outside Manchester Town Hall, 1897, Letter in 1888 describing life in Canada, courtesy of the Together Trust, report and signing off document on Roger James Hall from the collection of Andrew Simpson

* On their own: Britain's child migrants, 17 October 2014 to 4 October 2015, Merseyside Maritime Museum,

**British Home Children in Canada,

*** Growing up in Australia with no past, no family and just unanswered questions ..... Empty Cradles,

**** On their own: Britain's child migrants,

Chorlton’s Corner shops ................. number 12 back on Sandy Lane and a lament for vanished shops

We all remember those rows of little shops selling anything and everything you might want.

All of which was to the good when there were few supermarkets and few of us owned cars to get to do the big shop.

So with that in mind Andy Robertson was on  Sandy Lane with his camera and followed it up with a bit of research on what  you could have bought as you made your way down from Cleveleys corner.

Now that should start the memories going.

“Costcutter is the only shop now on that first block, but  in 1969 from Cleveleys corner there was at
54 a grocer
56 a turf accountant
58 a grocer
60/2 a butcher
66 agrocer
 (Whalley Avenue)
68 a plumbers
72 another plumber
74a  hardware dealer
76/78/80 private residences
82 tobacconist”

Research © Andy Robertson

Pictures;  Sandy Lane, September 2014, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Those who went from Ancoats to serve in the Italian army in the Great War

Manchester Guardian, 1919
“Italians seem to be re-establishing themselves in Ancoats as fast as the military authorities will allow.”*

Now I have long been fascinated by Little Italy and the contribution made to the life of the city by the Italians who settled there in the late 19th century.**

And as you do just naively assumed that when the Great War broke out in 1914 some at least would enlist.

Now at present I have no way of knowing who and how many did but the real story comes in to its own eight months later when Italy joined the war on the side of the Allies.

Even then I just assumed they would join up locally, but being Italian nationals they chose to return to Italy.

To Our Italian Comrades, 1915-1918, Manchester, 2014
The Manchester Courier reported in August 1915 that 70 young men had already left and went on to reveal that many older men were also planning to leave.

As always behind such decisions are a wealth of stories like those men who made the long journey only to be found medically unfit.

Or the  “young Italian medical man resident in Manchester [who had] the misfortune to be born in Berlin was at the outbreak of the war placed in a concentration camp by the English authorities [and] while anxious to join his colours to fight the Germans had to fraternize with the enemy prisoners [until] he could return to Italy only to find his eyesight debarred his entering the army and so was on his way back to England.”***

And behind that decision to leave for home came the equally difficult choice of uprooting the whole family and taking them back as well. As the Manchester Guardian observed “many of the poorer men will be careful to take their families with them, so that the Italian Government my provide for their maintenance if the need should arrive.”****

But once the war was over “men have been coming back-in some cases whole families have come back-to Ancoats, mainly, it may be under the pressure of economic considerations, but not-without a certain pleasure  in the return.” 

The reporter might have also added that for some at least the decision to serve in the Italian army had been at considerable economic sacrifice.

One such case highlighted by the Manchester Courier in 1915, involved a successful Italian ice cream vendor who sold his business and furniture leaving his wife to find work in a local firm to support their children.

Outside Nazaren Bela's Ice Cream shop, Jersey Street, 1922
Of course many of the stories that appeared in the papers during 1915 were in part designed to bolster the mood for war which had gone off the boil in the eight months since the start of the conflict.

And much had been made of the spontaneous demonstrations by “a considerable number of Italian subjects living in Manchester and Salford for the war” including a “procession through the main streets of the city to the Town Hall” just days after Italy joined the war.

It was estimated that 300 men might eventually leave for Italy and given that there were about 1000 Italians in the twin cities with upwards of 500 in Ancoats this was a major contribution to the war.

All of which puts into context that newspaper story of the return of so many to Ancoats.

Pictures; The Manchester Guardian, September 6 1919, Memorial “To our Italian comrades, from the collection of Sally Dervan, 2014, and outside Nazaren Bella’s Ice Cream Shop on Jersey Street, 1922, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

*Italy in Ancoats, the Colony coming back after the war, Manchester Guardian, September 6 1919

**Little Italy,

***Manchester Courier, August 1915

****The Italian Colony, Excitement in Ancoats, Manchester Guardian, May 26 1915

Looking at what we often miss, nu 1 ........... Sunlight House

Now I don’t often look up enough at the buildings I pass and so here are a few pictures of some of our more iconic and interesting buildings.

I don’t pretend that they are great photographs but just taken at an angle I usually ignore.

Picture; Sunlight House, September 2014

The not so different bits of where we live, part 1.............Blackheath Hill 1977

Now I am always intrigued at those more recent photographs of where we live.

So while pictures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are fascinating often everything is so different that it is almost looking at a different landscape.

But those from say the 1960s onwards are often almost the same but not quite, and with this in mind here over the next few days are some from the camera of Jean Gammons all taken in the late 1970s.

And that is all I shall say,

Picture; looking down Blackheath Hill, 1977 from the collection of Jean Gammons

Still to come; Eltham High Street, Shooters Hill, Woolwich, the river, and Blackheath

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Burrowing deep into the Great War ................the War Emergency Workers National Committee

Women munition workers Belsize works, Openshaw, 1918 
Yesterday I had one of those mornings which for me was pretty near perfect.

I was in the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in the Peoples’ History Museum looking at the work of the War Emergency Workers National Committee which was formed the day the Great War broke out “by the Labour Party, the Trades Union Congress, and the Co-operative movement, plus a number of other affiliated organisations such as the Fabian Society. 

Manchester Tramways Employees in uniform, 1915
The main concern of the WNC was to defend the interests of organised working people. 

The size of the collection goes some way toward showing the impact of the war on people’s lives. 

With over 20,000 pages of correspondence on all domestic matters relating to the war including: rents, food, employment, agriculture, pensions, railways, war babies, air raids and women’s war service etc. 
Bullet Factory, the Royal Arsenal Woolwich, 1918

It is a large collection of papers that relates very closely to the day to day domestic environment during the war. 

Importantly it depended on the actions of what used to be called the ‘rank and file’ of the labour/trade union movement for its running, it was far from a ‘top down’ committee.”*

Now there will be those that mutter I have wandered off into the academic stratosphere but not so.

During the war there were massive rises in food prices along with fuel and rents, a persistent concern about the adulteration of food and growing anger at pay levels and working conditions.

And all these issues were being grappled with by the National Committee.

There are correspondence about the separation allowances paid to the wives of men who had enlisted, reports of sweated labour and the exploitation of children and the availability of speakers on a range of issues from food prices to rent rises.

It is the stuff of everyday life made more vivid by the backdrop of the war.

In 1915 the Stockport Labour Party reported on the level of representation on pensions committees, and Mr J. Robinson of the Stockport Branch of the Tailor’s Society queried the rates for making Khaki tunics.

Later still in 1917 the National Committee was engaged in the registration of shops in Manchester and the rising price of coal.

What makes these documents fascinating is that not only do they cover the whole country but are powerful examples of ordinary people challenging wrong doing and seeking to improve conditions.

So I have no doubt that they will reveal much about life during the war

All of which just leaves me to reflect on what a pleasant place the archive centre is for burrowing deep into the past.  The staff were most helpful and friendly and there are grand views of the river.

Pictures; Women Munitions workers Belsize works, Openshaw, 1918 m08093, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, the Bullet Factory, Arsenal, Woolwich, 1918,  from the collection of Mark Flynn, and  Manchester Tramways Employees in uniform, 1915 Don’t You Wish you were boak in Bolton from the collection of David Harrop

* Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Information Guide No. 8, Peoples’ History Museum,

A lost Eltham Palace ........... nu 3 Eltham Palace from the north west

Now I have decided to run a few pictures of what Eltham Palace looked like in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It had long been abandoned as a home for royalty and its grand days were thing of the past.

The occasional tourist up from London called in along with an interested artist keen to capture its former splendour but that was about it.

All very different from now, and a prelude to more stories of the building and its history.*

But in the meantime here then over the next few days are the Palace as you might have seen it during the early 19th century, all taken from that wonderful book on the history of Eltham published in 1909.**

Picture; Eltham Palace from the north west from an old engraving, from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers,

*The Story of Eltham Palace,

** The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers,