Saturday, 17 March 2018

Of Naples in 1961 and Little Italy in Ancoats in 1901

Rosa in Naples 1961
This is one of my favourite pictures of Rosa.

It was taken in Naples when she was just 21 during the summer of 1961 just after she had collected her passport.

Later that year she left Italy with Simone her husband and moved to Cambridge.*

They were two of those economic migrants much derided by some who sought a new life in a new country.

In the same way and just sixty years earlier my father’s parents crossed the border from Scotland and settled in Gateshead while just a little later my maternal grandfather  came home to Derby with his German war bride.

And it carried on.  Dad and mum finally made their way to London where I was born and over the course of twenty years moved around south east London, and just under a decade later I left for Manchester.

All of which reinforces that simple idea that people move around, make new homes in new places and along the way add to the communities they have joined.

Nor is it all one way.  My great uncle left for Canada in 1914 followed by his sister eleven years later. One of my uncles carved out a career in India and east Africa before settling down in South Africa and to close the Italian connection Rosa and Simone finally left Cambridge for Italy returning not to Naples but Varese in the north.  Only for one of their daughters to return to Cambridge, relocate to Manchester and in the fullness of time to set up home with me.

13-15 Blossom Street, 1903
All of which is an introduction to the many who found a home here in Manchester in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ours was the shock city of the Industrial Revolution and the mills, engineering plants, chemical works and collieries drew in the rural poor from the surrounding countryside, which were added to by those fleeing the famine in Ireland and later still those escaping the persecution in eastern Europe and the grinding poverty of southern Europe.

For some this was the eventual destination while for others it was the half way stage before crossing the Atlantic.

And their presence can still be found in the synagogues and Torah School of the Jewish community of Strangeways and Redbank and in names like Little Ireland and Little Italy.

Most have had their historians who have recorded their presence, ** which is all to the good because these communities have by and large vanished.  Little Ireland which had become one of our worst slums fell victim not to the sweep of town planners but to the railway, which cut through the area.

Not for the first time did a  railway company act as a means for slum clearance.  Much the same happened to sections of Angel Meadow in the north of the city and to parts of London’s slums.

In the case of the Jewish communities of Strangways and Redbank it was that other familiar social development which saw the better off moving out along Cheetham Hill Road to leafy more pleasant places.

Jersey Street, 2011
And so finally to Little Italy in Ancoats which became home to those from Italy who were seeking a better life.

They came from the great cities of the north like Milan, Turin and Genoa from the rural hinterland as well Naples, Sorrento, and Palermo.

It was a small close knit community inhabiting the area behind Great Ancoats Street and primarily located around Jersey Street, Blossom Street, and Henry Street.

Jersey Street, 1908, with No 2 Jackson Court to the left
Now as I often maintain if someone has done the research I have no intention of stealing their thunder, so for those who want to know more about Little Italy there is not only Anthony Rea’s book Little Italy, which was first published in 1988 but his equally fine site where you can find a wealth of information, stories and pictures.***

Added to this there are links to a whole range of other sites which give a comprehensive picture of he life they left and the contribution they made to their adopted city.

Pictures; Rosa in Naples, 1961 from the collection of the Balzano family, 13-15 Blossom Street,  A, Bradburn, 1903, m11033, and Jersey Street, 1908 m10153, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and Blossom Street from Great Ancoats Street with Gun Street and Henry Street beyond, 2010 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Messy history .......... Part One Migration,

** Bill Williams, The Making of Manchester Jewry, Manchester University Press 1976, Jewish Manchester: An Illustrated History, DB Publishing, 2008, and a new book on Manchester’s Pre Black History 1750-1926, Anthony Rea, Little Italy, Neil Richardson, 1988, and of course Little Ireland in Conditions of the Working Classes in England , Friedrich Engels, 1844

***Manchester's Ancoats, Little Italy,

A little of what we have lost, Wilbraham Road in 1955

Sometimes I think it is the more recent photographs of Chorlton which are the more fascinating, and in their way the more revealing of how we lived.

And so I am drawn to this one of Wilbraham Road looking north towards the railway station.

Now I don’t have an exact date but I think it must have been taken in the 1950s which of course is a hostage to fortune, and I await the first expert on cars of the period or public transport to give me a definitive date based on the make of car or the type of bus.

Some of the other more basic clues like the registration plates and advertising hoardings don’t yield anything, so it will be a matter of visiting Central Library and slowly going through the directories to match the names on the shop fronts with a year.

But the tram lines appear to be missing which would suggest a date after the last trams had run their last journeys and the tracks had been taken up which would take us into the 50s.

What strikes you is still how old fashioned the shop fronts appear with many of them still retaining their old signage and shop fronts.

And then there is what they sold, ranging from paint to shoes, mystery coach excursions to lace doilies.

Now I accept that we still had a DIY store in the precinct into the 1980s and the last shoe shop only closed a few years ago followed by Burt’s, the gentleman’s outfitters in 2011.

But back in 1955 it was the sheer number of these shops.  There were lots of clothes shops and shoe shops, as well as countless grocers, green grocers, and butchers which for good measure were by and large all independent traders.

And some will mutter there were also two wool shops, private lending libraries and of course plenty of old fashioned, smelly, sell everything hardware stores.

Quantity did not always equate with either quality or choice.  In our grocers shop there was white cheese and there was red cheese along with lots of tinned things.

Which given the period may be a little unfair and opens me up to people feeling a little miffed that their bit of nostalgia has just taken a kicking not to mention those who ran good quality shops here in Chorlton, so back to the picture.

Looking at it again you get to see just how the shops in the distance were really just later  add ones to what had been traditional houses.

And then jutting out from the end of that first parade of shops is a cast iron veranda while the absence of traffic allows you to see how the road rises as it goes over the bridge.

And we still had a railway station with trains that took you into the city in under ten minutes.

So there you have it a little of what we were like, not that long ago.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

1978 and the car park was full ..... Central Railway Station

Now it must have been a busy day when Andy Robertson parked up at the old Central Railway Station.

I don’t suppose he can remember what day it was or why he was in town but that is his Blue Morris van parked on the forecourt, surrounded by heaps of other commercial and private vehicles.

Look closely and you can make out the coach hard up against the wall.

The station is not at its best, and had the plans to turn it into a conference venue not materialized, I guess it would have been a slow lingering decline until the building became too dangerous for cars or people.

Happily that didn’t happen and so while you will never now be able to catch the 4.10 slow train to Chorlton and on to Didsbury you can at least admire the restored frontage and maybe even look inside for the price of an admission ticket to an event of your choice.

Location; Manchester

Picture; Central Railway Station, 1978, from the collection of Andy Robertson

Lost and forgotten streets of Salford ........... nu 23 Chapel Street at the Old Ship

Now I can’t yet be sure of the date but I do know exactly where we are on Chapel Street and the clue is the Old Ship Inn at number 17 Chapel Street.

And that places us on the stretch of road running up to Victoria Bridge.

The Old Ship is there by 1849 and was still there in 1911 and with a bit of digging I should be able to discover when it was swept away.

For those unfamiliar with the new Salford, the pub stands roughly on the site of the Premier Inn and what is now the entrance to the car park will have once been Hatton’s Court a long thin alley which led down to a tannery past a row of houses some of which were back to backs.

I am hoping that there will be people who remember the Old Ship or have access to books which offer up something of its history.

In the mean time there is that name James to the right of the pub, and armed with that it should be possible to trawl the directories and locate the business and find a date.

There maybe even be a clue in those newspapers.

And as ever my friend Alan came up with the following, the picture dates from 1870, and "the Old Ship was the tall building in the first picture and licensees can be traced back to the 1760's. 

The Hatton family kept the ship for about 30 years from 1807 and they gave their name to the court at the side of the pub.  

It was rebuilt in 1900, destroyed during the Christmas Blitz of 1940 and a new pub was built on the site in the mid 1950'at the end of 1999 it was demolished. 

In the book Salford Pubs, there is this : "Across Hattons court from the Old Ship, there was a very old, timber framed building with lath and plaster walls, it was divided into five shops and these had a variety of tenants during the 19th century, in the 1840's the shop next to Hattons Court was occupied by a butcher and by 1850 it was a beerhouse called the Fishermens Hut. 

The first recorded licensees were Mary and then Elizabeth Copley, who was there until about 1863. A horse dealer called Thomas Wood took over a few years later and he was still there in the 1880's. 

The last licensee was Thomas Baxter and the Fishermens Hut along with the adjoining shops was pulled down in 1894...'"

Which pretty much nails the story! .

 Location; Salford

Additional research; Alan Jennings

Picture; Chapel Street, date unknown, A Brother, M77249, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

Stories of Woolwich and the River Thames ........... you never quite knew about

Now I have just gone off and ordered the book, Ferries of the Lower Thames by Joan Tucker on the recommendations of my old friend Tricia.

In fourteen chapters it covers the story of our river from Staines down to Yanlet Creek.

Now Staines I knew but Yanlet Creek I had to look up and discovered it is 54 km as the crow flies from London Bridge and was the formal limit of the jurisdiction of the City of London, and yes Staines marks the other boundary.

So that explains the fourteen chapters of which for many of us it will be the two covering the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich and Woolwich which will of real interest.

And Tricia picked out a fascinating description of the ferries and Tommy Tucker who was a captain on one of the ferries.

He will always be linked to the writer Edith Nesbit who lived at Well Hall.  It is a story I have written about in the past and will go back to.

Suffice to say at the time and even now the relationship was the subject of some poor comments on the part of people who misunderstood the couple and their politics.

Both were in the Woolwich Labour Party which over half a century later I joined aged 16 in 1966 and for the details having read the blog stories I suggest you go to Tricia's choice of a good read for January.

Picture; cover of Ferries of the Lower Thames by Joan Tucker, 2013 Amberley Publishing

Location; London

*Ferries of the Lower Thames, by Joan Tucker, 2013 Amberley Publishing,

**Edith Nesbit

Mr Bishop and his sons do ghost signs

I have to say it has been a while since I did a ghost sign and so was very pleased when Brian sent this one over.

It was taken not far from Victoria Railway Station in London.

I don’t suppose I will ever find out much about the firm, but someone might, so for now I shall just thank Brian and see if anyone comes up with a story.


Picture; ghost sign, London, 2018 from the collection of Brian Robertson

Of a cattle market iron foundry and dye works ..... Derby in the 1950s

I never thought it was odd that just a short walk from Hope Street there was a cattle market despite it being so close to iron foundries, dye works, and timber yards while to the east and north of us had been the print works, a silk mill and the railway.

Today the idea that you could have had an agricultural market surrounded by heavy industry doesn’t quite fit.

All that farming stuff belongs in quaint market towns, which go quiet once the farmers and their animals have moved off.

But back in the 1950s it was one of those regular places my grandparents took me to on market days.  I still have vivid memories of the noise, the smell and the excitement of seeing the livestock.

And it got me thinking that this was not such an odd thing.  It made perfect sense to site the industry of the late 18th and 19th century in places that already served the surrounding countryside.  Here after all would be an existing population with good transport.

The River Derwent was made navigable in the early 18th century and Derby had its own canal by the 1790s, and a railway under fifty years later.  And the river also provided power for cotton mills.  From Matlock  all the way to Derby was a stretch of industrial development.

So the mix of agricultural and industrial is not so odd.  My family worked in the mills and on the railway and before that some were framework knitters and before that had farmed the land..  Others served the wealthy as servants built the grand shops and houses of Derby and later some earned a living at Rolls Royce.

But it was  the cattle market that  won out.  Long after the mills and foundries have closed and the canal built over, the market is still there.

Now they say you should never revisit the places of your past and there is something in that.  12 Hope Street is a car park, and the home my grandparent’s moved to in Chellaston was demolished and is now an anonymous sprawling estate on Derby Road.

We went back a few years ago and caught the place just before it vanished and as you do tried to find the trolley bus terminus at Shelton Lock.  Back in the 1950s the canal was an over grown weed infested place.  It has gone as have the trolley buses, but the terminus is still there and the pylon beside it.

But that is about it.

I hesitated to visit the cattle market.  Although the prospect of seeing the model of the calf I sat on back in May 1954 is an intriguing one but like the canal and the trolley bus will have long since vanished.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson and a detail from the OS map of Derbyshire, 1896-1900, courtsey of Digital Archives Association,