Friday, 23 June 2017

Recreating the lost Well Hall House with Edith Nesbit

Well Hall House from Well Hall Road, 1909
Well Hall House has passed out of living memory.

It was built in 1733, was home to some Eltham notables and was demolished in 1930.

It stood between Well Hall Road and the moat and replaced the Tudor manor house which Sir Gregory Page knocked down to build his fine 18th century house.

But a building which dominated Well Hall, and was known by many seems to have left little trace.  There are a few photographs a handful of maps and the land records of the tithe schedule.

Wll Hall, 1874
Together these show a tall building which ran to three floors, had a wing on each side and was set in an estate of about 33 acres including a front garden, a walled garden to the south, the moat , three ponds, a stream and much meadow and pasture land along with the farm buildings which included the present Tudor Barn.

A little to the north were Well Hall Cottages which in the 1840s had been a complex of six properties but by 1911 seem to have become a farm house and one cottage.

But Well Hall house was sufficiently enclosed that I doubt the cottages proved much of an intrusion, and so within its grounds the occupants of the big house got on with their favoured lives wandering the fourteen rooms and looking out east across the fields and west across their gardens.

Judging by the photographs I am not sure it was a place that would have caught my fancy.  It was tall and the design fitted that classical style of balance so that what you saw on one side was replicated on the other.

All of which is not much for a house which stood for just under two hundred years, but as these things work there is one other source of information, and that comes from Edith Nesbit, the novelist who lived in the house from the late 19th century into the twentieth.

Contained in some of her books are references to Eltham, Well Hall and the house itself.  And of these it is The Red House written in 1902 which provides some wonderful insights into the place.

The back of Well Hall House from the Paddock and moat, 1909
The book itself is a light account of the lives of a newly married couple who inherit the Red House and choose to live there.

In the course of the year that follows Ms Nesbit describes in some detail the house, its gardens, the nearby cottages with references to the village the parish church and offers up walk on parts for both Woolwich and Blackheath.

But it is the house which draws you in, with its panelled rooms, great hall, vaulted cellars and kitchen still with the equipment which would have been in use through the 18th and 19th centuries.

Added to this there are observations about the rooms which had been much messed about by changing fashion.

The front of Well Hall House, date unknown
Now like all such descriptions I suspect there will be points when the Red House departs from the actuality of the original, but I am confident that there is more that will have been the same than less.

This in turn stretched to her descriptions of the gardens, including the walled one, the presence of the railway with its station and embankment and the parish church.

Edith and her husband Hubert had taken on the house and 7 acres of the land.

Of course there may be more sources of information sitting in the Greenwich Heritage Centre and in the letters of the people who visited Edith and her husband at Well Hall which included the Webb’s, H.G.Wells and Bernard Shaw but in the meantime the Red House seems to have done the old place proud.

Location; Well Hall, London


Pictures; Well Hall House circa 1909,  from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Rob Ayers, http://gregory.elthamhistory.org.uk/bookpages/i001.htm and Well Hall House, from The Edith Nesbit Society, http://www.edithnesbit.co.uk/ map of Well Hall from the OS Map of Kent 1858-74

A Chorlton bank and a pub ......... “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition”


It remains one of my favourite Monty Python throw away comments and it struck a chord as I came across these pictures taken by my old friend Tony Walker.

They are familiar enough places but both look very dated and are as remote from today as any one of those early 20th century postcards I often post.
But back in the the 70's I just took them for granted and then they had changed.

I used the bank from time to time and in the same way  fell across the doors of the Lloyds when we were eating at the little Italian restaurant on Wilbraham Road or for a thank you drink on election night.

Now my branch of the Midland was in town so I only used it only occasionally and of course in those days before internet banking your branch of a bank was still an important place.  The staff knew you and the bank manager was privy to your innermost financial secrets.

In the same way my local had been the Trevor where we were known, served a little quicker and on occasion when Stan felt like it allowed to stay just a tad longer after closing time.

All of which meant that the Lloyds was another place which was a different experience.  It still had the small rooms off the main staircase and a bar which from memory was quite small.

And in the way of things I didn’t expect either to change.  They were what they had always been since I arrived here in the winter of 1976.

Looking at the two pictures and comparing them with what they had looked like just sixty years earlier it is clear that they had been done no favours by the respective design teams and builders.

In 1975 the bank was just an anonymous slab from which to display its name, and the Lloyds despite the summer sun looks tired and ugly.  As Kemp's the Chemist the building on the corner of Barlow Moor and Wilbraham Roads had something while the Lloyds back in 1900 looked impressive.

Still both pictures are now history and just perhaps in another fifty years there will be those who see something about the two.  We shall have to see.

Pictures; from the collection of Tony Walker

A Tale of Two Countries ...... by Norma Davis Cook ..... part two a ship journey and a new life

On board the ship, the children were confronted with sights and sounds and smells that they had never experienced before.  Seasickness was common for the first few days, but most of the travelers recovered quickly.  The chaperones assigned older children to help look after the younger ones.  Entertainment was provided by the crew members and some of the other passengers. 

SS Carthaginian, date unknown
Nearing the shores of Canada, fog set in, causing a delay in their arrival.  On June 8, 1912, the Carthaginian docked in the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia.   An official from Middlemore, Mr. George Jackson, and his wife, accompanied the children destined for New Brunswick.  Others in the group were distributed throughout Nova Scotia.

Traveling by train to Carleton County, Albert and Edward were met at the station by the couples who had applied to take them into their homes.  Mr. Jackson’s instructions had been to place these boys near each other because they were twin brothers.  Albert (Bert) went to Howard Brook with the Clendennings; Edward (Ted) was placed in the neighboring community of Carlisle with the Sharpes.  The two families were related, so it was assumed that the boys would be allowed to maintain contact with each other.

The port of Halifax, date unknown
Unfortunately, there were many long, lonely days before they ever saw one another.
Soon after his arrival in Howard Brook, Bert was taken to the little country school and dropped off for the day. Nervously opening the door, he was met by the curious stares of ten little girls, the only other students in the class.   It had been some time since the lad had even seen a girl; at the Middlemore Home back in Birmingham, the boys and girls were kept in separate wings.  Bert immediately turned around, slammed the schoolroom door and ran all the way back to the Clendennings.  Of course, they insisted on taking him to school once again and making him stay there all day.

Ted, the elder of the twins, had been born with a weaker constitution than Bert, so he was not suited for the intense physical labor of farming.  By the time he was fifteen, Ted was eager to be done with farm life.  He had run away a few times, but was always found and forced to return.
In the summer of 1916, both boys were visited by their mother’s sister, Edith, with her husband, Stephen Long.  The twins were surprised to learn that their aunt and uncle had been living in Saint John, NB but were moving back to England with their three little boys.  Edith told her nephews that, if she had only known what was happening, she would have taken them into her own home.  How different their lives might have been!

CPR station, Woodstock, NB
When Edith arrived back in England, Jane was able to receive a first-hand account of the boys’ welfare, which prompted several letters to Middlemore, pleading for the twins to be returned to their family.  Jane had gotten married to William Ayres, the butler who worked at the estate where she was a cook and they were both eager to reunite the family.  Her request was denied, due to the fact that the boys still had a few years remaining to finish their contract with the Canadian farmers.

The sending agencies for British Child Migrants generally investigated each applicant who wished to receive a child.  Inspections of the placements were scheduled every year, usually in the summer, but the child was often not available to be questioned.

Because of Jane’s anxious pleas, the inspector made sure to speak directly with Ted on his next round of visits.  It was obvious to him that the young man would be better off somewhere else, so approval was given for a transfer.

After the harvest was finished that season, Ted went to stay with Robert and Georgia Clendenning—more relatives of the couple for whom Bert worked.  It wasn’t long before the inspector received a telegram from Ted with the encouraging message that his new placement was a great improvement.  His clothes had been mended, he had new gum rubbers for his feet, and it felt like home.

One of the unexpected results of being transferred to the Clendenning home was that Ted got acquainted with their granddaughter, Dorothy, who would eventually become his wife.
Over the next few years, Ted moved from one job to another, spending some time in the United States, as well as in Montreal, Quebec, where he trained to be a mechanic.

Ted and Dorothy were married on August 11, 1928.  They lived in Connecticut during the early part of their marriage, and then returned to New Brunswick to raise a family of ten children.

© Norma Davis Cook, 2017

Location; Canada

Pictures; courtesy of Norma Davis Cook



Searching for a bit of history up beside the Cat and Fiddle

Now I have to say Andy got a better day when he was up by the Cat and Fiddle than we did.

In our case we were passing through obeying the instructions of the sat nav which not for the first time took us on a long and roundabout route home.

Added to which what had been a hot sunny day turned into a grey dismal one with the clouds looking heavy and threatening.

No sooner had we left the area and the sun came out again, the temperature climbed and all was well.

What I didn’t know was that we had been on the boundary between Cheshire and Derbyshire and that close by was not only a picturesque old bridge with a coaching history but evidence of an industrial past.

Andy told me that “on Monday we had ‘half a day-out’. 


Went to Cat & Fiddle on A537 Macclesfield to Buxton Road for a cuppa and the facilities but it was closed. 

Looking for a place to eat our emergency sarnies we turned down this track less than a mile away and it led to Derbyshire Bridge which was (still is?) boundary between Cheshire and Derbyshire. 

There was also a decent toilet there and a free, deserted car park.


Turns out this track was the original Macclesfield to Buxton coach road (2nd image from bottom). 

The bridge looks quite interesting. 
Coal was mined not many yards from here. An innocent day out and you still accidentally stumble upon history!”

That said it appears that the Cat and Fiddle no longer sells beer.

It had opened in 1813 and closed in 2015, and there appear to be no plans to reopen it.

So it was perhaps fortuitous that I decided not to suggest we call in , after all it had been my choice to use the stat nav.

But given Andy’s pictures of the bridge and the surrounding countryside I think we should go back, receded perhaps by some solid research into the story of coal mining in the area and of course something of the coaching past.

We shall see.

Location on the original Buxton to Macclesfield road

Pictures; on the original Buxton to Macclesfield road, 2017 from the collection of Andy Simpson

Walkng the streets of Manchester in 1830 in the company of J. T. Slugg and in search of Antonio Preduzzi.


St Ann's Church, 1793
I am on the streets of Manchester in the early 1830s in the company of J T Slugg* and in search of Antonio Preduzzi.

Over the last few days I have been exploring that Italian connection with the city and it has led back from Little Italy in Ancoats at the end of the 19th century  to the Preduzzi brothers who came from Lombardy and settled here in 1810 starting up a series of successful businesses.

They were living in what at the time was reckoned to be one of the most exciting places in Britain and which was talked about  as a model of the new age.

Here could be seem the raw enterprise and keen innovation of the new capitalism reflected in the ever increasing number of cotton mills, dye works and the acres of poorly constructed homes for a workforce which was increasing every day.

And because these men of industry wanted a quicker and cheaper way of transporting their products to and from Liverpool they built a railway which was not just a railway but the first passenger railway using technology which would define how locomotives were built and pretty much set the seal on how a railway would be run.

Of course we all know that behind those smoking power houses of cotton manufacture and great show warehouses there were the mean and narrow streets leading to even meaner and darker courts where little light or fresh air penetrated but which were home to all those who toiled for long hours and little remuneration.

This is that other side of the new way of doing things and was much commentated on by Dr Kay, Dr Gaultier, Frederic Engels and a possession of curious visitors.

And as revealing as these accounts are of the horrors of Manchester they are often paraded at the expense of the more benign descriptions of the city in the 1830s and 40s and for this I have turned to J.T. Slugg who arrived fresh faced and not long out of his teens from Bacup in the March of 1829.

The Infirmary, 1824
Fifty years later he set down his memories of the place which began with a walk up Market Street to Piccadilly and the Infirmary.

Less than a decade before he had arrived in the city this main thoroughfare had still been a narrow way flanked on either side by buildings which dated back a century or more.

These were home to taverns, sweet and bookshops the odd warehouse and a number of coaching offices. And in an age soon to be dominated by the railway it is a fitting reminder that for long distance travel the stage coach was still supreme.

And this was still at a time when “there was a very heavy duty on all kinds of glass, and as a consequence not a single shop-window contained any plate glass, but were composed of small squares of ordinary glass.”**

These would have been the sort of shop fronts that would have been familiar to Antonio and his brother.

He had opened a shop as a picture dealer in Spear Street around 1810, and later moved to Tib Street before settling at 31 Oldham Street. By this time, he was trading as a carver and gilder, and maker of looking glasses and picture frames. Oldham Street in the 1820s was a wide street containing ‘some very elegant shops and houses’.  Antonio's shop was above a confectioner's on the right-hand side from Swan Street.

The Infirmary, 1793
Here he framed and glazed needlework, drawings and pictures; re-gilded and silvered old frames and mirror plates; and made and repaired barometers, thermometers and hydrometers.

He also had premises at 44 Deansgate in the early 1820s and in 1831, to larger premises at 33 Piccadilly, opposite the Infirmary.

Like his previous shop, this one was on the first floor with a flight of steps leading up to it. The shop extended quite a long way back and had two long counters and a little sitting room beyond. There were also workshops on the premises.“***

This placed him in a prime position  which he shared with a few other shops, some rather fine houses and the offices of the Manchester and Salford Waterworks Company which supplied the town with its drinking water.

33 Picadilly, the shop of Preduzzi & Co
Directly opposite was the Infirmary which “was a plain brick building  [and also] included the lunatic asylum.  Infrontwas the sheet of water known as the Infirmary Pond, separated from the footpath by palisading.  

At the Infirmary gates stood the public baths, the income arising from them being appropriated to the support of the Infirmary.  

The charge for the cold bath to non subscribers was 1s.; to subscribers of half-a-guinea, 10d.; and to those of a guinea, 9d.  

The price of a vapour bath was 5s; of a vapour and hot bath when used together, 6s.; and of the shampooing bath, 7s.”****


And while we are familiar with the huge show warehouses like S & J Watts on Portland Street which were built expressly to showcase the products of our textile mills, there was not a “single warehouse in either of these streets, Mosley Street, Portland Street, Peter Street, Oxford Road or Dickenson Street” but soon enough they would make their appearance at the cost of hundred of buildings in the neighbourhood which would be destroyed.

I don’t know what Antonio made of these changes which were transforming his adopted city.  When he had arrived in 1810 it was still possible to walk in to open fields just a short way along Oldham Road while to the south all of Hulme, Moss Side and Chorlton on Medlock were pleasant open space.

And yet by his death in the Chorlton Workhouse in 1846 great swathes of these spaces were the preserve of terraced houses, cotton mills and dye works.

Pictures;St Anne's Church and Manchester Infirmary from the Laurent map 1793, 33 Piccadilly and the Infirmary from the 1844 OS of Manchester & Salford, by permission of Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.co.uk/ the buildings opposite the infirmary including the premise of Peduzzi & Co, 1824, m5291, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council  

*J.T. Slugg, Reminiscenes of Manchester, 1881
** Slugg, chapter 1
*** Collections Department, Museum of Science & Industry
**** Slugg, chapter 1

A little souvenir of the Great War

Now somewhere there will be the definitive book on the production of crested china during the Great War.

And before any one says anything I am well aware that in most books on the conflict crested china will not rate much more than a foot note.

But that is to ignore their importance for both morale and jobs during the period 1914-18.

Before the war the porcelain companies had turned out a host of different china figures many of which were linked to the seaside resorts and carried the coats of arms and names of the holiday towns.

And with the outbreak of war it just made economic sense to focus on war themes.

So there were tanks, ambulances, battleships and even a bull dog and recently I came across porcelain Red Cross Nurse.

Over the years I have written several stories showing off the variety that were on offer.*

When I first came across them I was intrigued that in the depths of a long grim war people should want to keep a reminder of the fighting.

But then if you had a son, husband, or sweet heart in the navy or on the Western Front driving a tank, the porcelain model of a battleship might be comforting.

And at a time when travel restrictions meant holidays were a thing of the past a souvenir porcelain ambulance at least kept someone in a job.

The surprise is just how many have survived the century.

Location; the Great War

Picture; from the collection of David Harrop

*Dusting down that china souvenir of the Great War.............. stories behind the book nu 4, https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/dusting-down-that-china-souvenir-of.html

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Manchester's first railway station ........... no.1 waiting for something to happen

Now when Ron shared four pictures of the old railway station and warehouse on Liverpool Road, I was transported back nearly four decades.

The station and carriage hsed
I visited it just after it had finally closed and British Rail had sold it to the museum.

It was hard at the time to see just how significant were these old run down buildings.

But these were the first passenger railway station and warehouse, having opened in 1830 when a group of Manchester businesses wanted a quick and cheaper way to get their manufactured goods to Liverpool.
Added to which they quickly saw the commercial advantage of using their railway trains to carry paying passengers.

So here in the pictures is the passenger buildings, beyond which is the carriage shed erected the following year.

And as with so much of the 19th century there was a strict division between those of property and wealth who travelled first class and the rest as seen in the provision of a first and second class booking hall and waiting room.

the 1830 warehouse, railway side
And it is worth remembering just how much the new railway company was at the cutting edge of technological change.  Their steam locomotives may have been the future but tickets were still handwritten and first class carriages were essentially stage coaches placed on a set of railway chassis.

In that respect they were looking back as well as forward.  And that was reflected in their choice of warehouse design, which was direct coy of the existing canal warehouses, complete with arches which allowed waggons to be taken into the building.

Inside the 1830 warehouse
But unlike canal boats which can turn effortless, the railway waggons had to be uncoupled placed on a turntable and then turned 90 degrees before being pushed into the warehouse.

Originally these turn tables were all over the site but the last which was beside the Byrom Warehouse was taken away some time in the 1990's.

And tomorrow there will be more on those early warehouses, of which there were three.

The first built in 1830 opposite the railway station and the second two built the following year which stood at right angles.

These were destroyed in a devastating fire.

The surviving buildings have done well to be still with us, although they were pretty much knocked about.

But have now become part  of the museum complex.

Location; Liverpool Road

Pictures; the railway station and first warehouse, built in 1830-31 as they were in the early 1980s from the collection of Ron Stubley