Monday, 31 March 2014

Stories and pictures from Central Ref part 1

Back in 1938
Now here is the first of those Central Ref images I promised, one a month until July which was the month it opened back in 1934.

I have started with one of my favourites.

It is of the Social Sciences Room or Great Hall and was taken by Kurt Hübschmann in 1938.

Now I am a keen admirer of Mr Hübschmann’s work much of which featured in Picture Post.

He left Germany in 1934 and was one of founders of the magazine which started up in 1938 and ran to 1957.

So I am not surprised that Mr Hübschmann should have been on hand to snap the Central Ref in the October of 1938 just four years after it had been opened.

In the same place 76 years later
And as you do I decided to take a similar picture almost from the same spot featuring the same table 76 years later.

Now it was not where I used to sit.  I preferred the inner set of tables, closer to the admin hub which also gave a commanding view of what was going on.

But during the next few weeks I guess it will fill up, after all it remains a stunning place to study.

I however with be in the ground floor with the archives and local studies which has lots more to offer than the old library which will be for another story next month.

Down with the Archives and local history
That said I couldn't resist including just two images of the place on the first Saturday after it had opened.

There were still lots of people who had come to see how it has all changed, but mixed in with them were those engaged in serious study pouring over the archives and the local history material.

Now these are you are hardened veterans, who know their census return from their street directories, will spend hours matching parish records with snippets from old newspapers and can rattle off the difference between Greenwood's map and the OS for 1849.

Finding out what is on offer
But archives and local studies are also drawing in those who are just starting and for many of them the interactive touch screens are a brilliant introduction to all that is on offer.

So a new chapter in the Ref as begun and I reckon it is just what we all wanted.

Pictures; the Social Sciences Library, in 1934, Kurt Hübschmann, m51687, , courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and the same in 2014, with a scene from the new Archives area from the collection of Andrew

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The old gas works site at Albion Street

At the junction of City Road East and Albion Street,  2014
I like this picture.

We are at the junction of City Road East and Albion Street and it captures perfectly  one of those moments of change.

The building site was once the Gaythorn Gas Works and has for a while been an open area of land awaiting redevelopment.

And judging by Andy Robertson’s picture the development has arrived.

It was taken on March 14th and pretty soon that landscape with its mix of buildings, will be obscured.

In the meantime it is one to treasure.

Picture; from the collection of Andy Robertson

Saturday, 29 March 2014

A picture a month celebrating 80 years of Central Ref

Now Central Ref was opened in July 1934 and to mark that event as well as its reopening I want to post a picture of the Library each month from now till the summer.

Along the way there will be some interesting stories a shed full of facts and perhaps the odd memory.

And to start the series here is the painting by Peter Topping.

The Ref was one of those wonderful places where as a student I could spend a Saturday in the warm chilling out with friends and in theory doing some work.

Although from memory there seemed to be more time spent in the basement cafe than in the main reading room.

And then depending on our mood we might be lucky and pick up a couple of tickets for the Library Theatre.

It didn’t really matter what was on as long as it finished at a decent time to get to the pub.

After I started work I went less often and it became a place I took friends and family to as part of the “see the tourist spots of Manchester” trail.

The walk up the stairs past Shakespeare always impressed them but nothing quite prepared them for the Social Sciences Library with its ranks of tables radiating out from the central hub, that wonderful dome and of course the echo.

And when I began using the place again to research the history of Chorlton I still got that same buzz on entering the building.

So with all that in mind, I look forward to any stories, any pictures any memories that people care to offer up in celebration of 80 years of the Central Reference Library.

Painting; Central Ref © 2013 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,
Facebook:  Paintings from Pictures

Another down at the Tudor Barn

I have decided to feature a series of pictures of Well Hall.

They were all taken by Chrissie Rose during March.

Picture; © Chrissie Rose

Friday, 28 March 2014

Back in Central Ref four years after it closed

The Social Sciences Library, 2014
Now amongst all the new and exciting additions in the newly reopened Central Ref it is still nice to come across some familiar scenes.

This is where I spent most Saturday mornings from September 1969 till June ’72 and it remained a place of serious study for the next forty years.

I always got there early no matter where the Friday night had taken me and always chose to sit on one of those tables close to the central admin hub.

And over the years the spot rather became a special one from where I could gaze upward at the dome and out across the vast room.

I have to confess I did do a lot of staring out both from underneath and over the top of the reading lights over the years.

This was partly because of the tedium of some of what I had to read and also just because there was so much to distract me.

It would start with that sudden bang as a book was dropped on a table and carried on as you picked up  whispered conversations somewhere around the hall and continued as long as there were people walking past.

The same place, 1938
Looking at Neil Simpson’s picture of the renovated Social Sciences Library is to be taken back a full four decades and it compares well with Kurt Hübschmann’s 1938 photograph of the same spot.

Now I am a keen admirer of Mr Hübschmann’s work much of which featured in Picture Post. He left Germany in 1934 and was one of founders of the magazine which started up in 1938 and ran to 1957.

I grew up with Picture Post which regularly came through our letter box but it was also available to flip through at the doctor’s and some even made their way into our school.

So I am not surprised that Mr Hübschmann should have been on hand to snap the Central Ref in the October of 1938 just four years after it had been opened.

Nor was he alone in wanting to capture something of the Ref.  The first exhibition staged in the Library was photographed by Stewart Bale Ltd who perfectly recorded the simple beauty of the building’s design.

The Exhibition of Library Treasures, 1934
I think we are in the area which became Archives and Local History and as much as the area was a second home to me over the last decade I have to say this picture showing the “Opening Exhibition of Library Treasures” makes me wish I had known it like this.

And that neatly brings me to the appeal for memories of the Ref as it was.

There will still be people who will have visited the library as students and those who accompanied their parents to Christmas shows in the basement theatre which opened its curtains in 1952 and perhaps like me also remember the light displays which played over the safety curtains in the interval.

Now the basement is home to Archives and Local History and so is one of those new developments which sit alongside the original design, and if I am right has freed up the space on the first floor to once again become an exhibition area.

And in doing so has taken us back to what the architect Vincent Harris had planned.

Pictures; the Social Sciences Library, 2014 from the collection of Neil Simpson, the same in 1934, Kurt Hübschmann, m51687, & Opening Exhibition of Library Treasures” Stewart Bale Ltd, m81672, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

At the Tudor Barn

I have decided to feature a series of pictures of Well Hall.

They were all taken by Chrissie Rose during March.

Picture; © Chrissie Rose

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Names, names, names

Another in the series contributed to the blog by novelist Lois Elsden

Lois circa 1873, aged 20
I suppose it is with having an unusual name myself that I have always been interested in names. Certainly having an unusual surname has been an asset in searching for my family tree.

I recently fictionalised a search for family history in my genealogical mystery, my novel, ‘Radwinter.’

Thomas Radwinter is in search of his ancestry and has little difficulty at first because there was only one person in the earliest records he could find, the 1841 census, with his surname.

These days it is so much easier to undertake genealogical research because of the internet sites available, some of which are free, and also the on-line community who are so willing to help and support research, and share their own results.

I have had great help from others researching the same surnames as I have been looking for, and I have even found a distant cousin who now lives in the USA.

Even if your surname is not that unusual, as Thomas Radwinter’s was, there are many ways to trace your ancestors, if you have a date of birth, if you have a place of birth, or if you have an ancestor with an unusual first name.

It is sometimes helpful to remember that people in the past were not always as literate as they are now, and names might be spelled in a variety of ways; my own great-grandmother was Lois, Lowis, Lowes, and Loise on different documents.

Some census enumerators found regional accents challenging, and if the person they were recording did not know how to spell their own name, then you might find a name can be written in different ways; I found Susannah spelt Susanner, Sousan, Sussanna in a series of census returns!

Thomas Radwinter discovered that his own ancestor had been Taras Radwinski when he arrived in England in the 1830’s and anglicised it to Thomas Radwinter… My character Thomas was delighted to find out that his distant ancestor had the same name as himself.

Name changes can happen for more reasons than the one Thomas discovered, and not only as a woman marrying might take her husband’s name.

Sometimes a child would take a step-father’s name, sometimes a family for some unknown reason will change its name, or sometimes there is a very good reason for a name-change.

My family were Jewish and in the 1840’s they changed their name from Moses to Walford, much more English, and maybe, in those days, more acceptable.

Lois, 1969 aged 18
When tracing ancestors, the same first name can crop up again and again, and that can help pin down an elusive family member.

I was stumped in searching for a someone called John… However, I knew he had an aunt and a grandmother named Drusilla, so when I found a man named John with the right surname for my ancestor, and he had a daughter called Drusilla, it seemed to fit.

I did further research and was able to confirm that I had the right John!

One of the delights of genealogical research is the unusual names you come across, and the waves of name change are fascinating.

Names I think of as very old-fashioned, and associated with elderly relatives of my grandparents generation, are now fashionable again, Ethel, Maud, Sidney, Wilfred… you will find children with these names in many nursery-schools!

Names that Thomas Radwinter comes across in his researches include Wulfwin, Guthroth and Frodo!

I’m sure not many people have hobbits in their family, but paying attention to names can help solve many genealogical puzzles!

© Lois Elsden

Pictures, from the collection of Lois Elsden

* Lois,

"If you are interested in reading my story of Thomas Radwinter's search for his family and want to unravel the mystery of where his ancestors came from, you can find 'Radwinter' by Lois Elsden on Amazon, "

Monday, 24 March 2014

Mrs Gaskell's Baths, under the Imperial Buildings on Oxford Road

Here courtesy of Sally Dervan is an intriguing story. 

No visit to the theatre is complete without buying a programme.

Manchester theatregoers in the 1930s, 40s and 50s would settle into their seats and flick through their programmes before the performance began.

Maybe an advert in the programme would direct them to their next source of entertainment and fun?

The Gaskell family were hoping that would be the case.

Nestled between adverts for Affleck and Browns, Rolls Restaurant and Clifton’s Chocolates there was a regular advert for “Gaskells Baths”

Gaskells were offering swimming and diving lessons and Turkish and medical baths, all under the supervision of Peggy Gaskell.

The watery delights were offered “ under “ something else as well , because Gaskells Baths, including a heated pool , were actually under the Imperial Buildings , just on the other side of the railway bridge from the Refuge Buildings on Oxford Road.

A reporter from The Guardian Newspaper in 1959 experienced a sauna at Gaskells. He spent seven minutes in the sauna and commented that “it sweeps the filth of Manchester out of one’s pores“He also reported that Peggy Gaskell told him that Gaskells was, at that time, the only sauna in the country outside London.

As well as swimming and saunas, Gaskell’s offered treatments for obesity, rheumatism and sciatica

By the 1950s the adverts for Gaskells included a hairdresser on site. Presumably the lethal combination of swimming and steam left the ladies in need of a little help before they stepped back out into the hustle and bustle of Oxford Road.

In  the mid 1960s the adverts for Gaskells on Oxford Road seem to have disappeared.

A newspaper article from the MEN in 2005 might hold the clue to the other venture that may have been keeping Peggy Gaskell busy.

The report marks the death of “Manchester’s First Lady of Business” It told the story of Peggy Gaskell who opened Manchester’s first outdoor swimming pool, The Galleon at Didsbury, in 1936.

The report says that Peggy was running the Galleon until she was well into her 70s and she stayed a picture of health until her death, aged 93.

What are the chances of two people with the same name, both being involved in opening swimming facilities that were remarkably pioneering and ahead of their time?

I can’t find anything to confirm for sure that the two Peggy Gaskells are one and the same- but if they are not, I will eat my swimming hat....!

© Sally Dervan, March 2014

Pictures; from the collection of Sally Dervan

South Drive in 1913 and another of those postcards from Tuck & Sons

Now South Drive was still very new when Tuck and Sons featured it as one of their six postcards of Chorlton in the summer of 1913.

And like all six in the series it will be familiar to most of us, so instead I want to explore the reverse and in particular the reference to R. SOWERBUTTS, NEWSAGENTS STATIONARY & CIRCULATING LIBRARY CHORLTON-CUM-HARDY.

Robert Sowerbutts ran his business from 105 Manchester Road which is that parade of shops running back from Kensington Road to Ransfield Road.

The shop is there still there but will have gone through many hands and changes of business use.

But I am intrigued by Mr Sowerbutts, and I rather think he must have been an enterprising chap, given that as well as acting as a distributor for Tuck and Sons and running his newsagents and stationary business he had also advertised that he had a Telephone Call Office.

Nor was this all because like other newsagents and stationers he offered a private library, which of course has featured in the blog. **

There were plenty of them in the township from Mr Lloyd’s on Upper Chorlton Road, across to Manchester Road, Barlow Moor Road and Sandy lane and Beech Road.

And some of these also sold postcards for both the big companies or like Burt’s on Wilbraham Road marketed their own.

Pictures; South Drive, from the series Chorlton-cum-Hardy, issued by Tuck & Sons, November 1913 courtesy of TuckDB


**Chorlton’s private lending libraries,

Looking out on Exchange Square, on a March day in 2014

Now I bet most of us at sometime have taken a picture through a big glass window.

It was what you do when pretty much all the interesting subjects have walked away or been exhausted.

So here is Exchange Square on a Saturday morning in early March looking out from the Arndale.

In my defence it does capture a moment of change down in the square.

The big wheel has been banished to Piccadilly Gardens and work is underway for the new metro stop which will be part of the Second City Crossing taking trams from St Peter’s Square, down Princess Street and Cross Street and on past the Exchange Square and the Triangle to Victoria Station.

And of course Exchange Square is itself a relatively new place but in turn contains two old pubs and a shopping centre which was once an Exchange.

So there you are, a little bit of Manchester magic along with a photograph.

Picture; looking out at Exchange Square, March 2014 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The grand reopening of Central Ref today

It has been a long time coming but today Central Ref will reopen.*

Now for some of us who spent hours in the Archives and Local History libraries its closure left a gaping hole.

The temporary libraries on Deansgate and down on Marshall Street continued to provide an excellent service but much of the archives were locked away in the salt mines.

But with the reopening comes a new state of the art centre in the basement.

“Archives+ aims to create an archive centre of excellence in the heart of Manchester. 

It will be a one-stop resource centre providing a regional, national and international focus for community activities and learning from archive, library and other sources. 

The project brings together statutory, university and voluntary organisations to provide a holistic range of archive and heritage services from one location. 

Archives+ will raise awareness of and provide easy access to our histories for the broadest possible audiences, including existing and new ones.”

So there it is, an exciting new place to dig deep into our past.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Central Ref Reborn,,28RVR,45WAQ3,84IU8,1

Friday, 21 March 2014

Down in Central Ref just a day before the reopening

Now I can’t be exactly sure but I think we are in that bit of the Ref which was once Local History.

Back then this bit was full of tables, computers and of course book shelves.

Both Archives and Local History will have moved to the basement and so I am intrigued at what the long curving corridor will be used for.

I did read that the plan had been to return the area to an open space designed for exhibitions.

We shall see.

In the meantime I have to say I do like the restored meeting room with its fine wooden paneling, polished floor and those very impressive light fittings.

I would very much like to sit in there and given that meetings can be tedious I rather think the surrounds would well make up for any boredome brought on by the third set of minutes.

Pictures; courtesy of the Press Office of Manchester Town Hall,  MWP PR 100314 IB 1397 and MWP PR 100314 IB 1423

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

“It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”

The blog has been going since November 24th of 2011 and in that time lots of people have kindly donated pictures of Chorlton for me to post with a story.

Now I was thinking of the opening lines of Tale of Two Cities after coming across this picture taken by my old friend Lawrence Beedle as this historic house was being demolished.

It had stood on Chorlton Row long before the road was renamed Beech Road and dates from at least the early 19th century. It was at this time the home of the Blomely family who baptized their children in the parish church and owned the pond which stretched from Acres Road up to Chequers.

Now for those who gained from its destruction I guess it was a good day but for those of us, who liked it, knew that it was old; its destruction was a very sad event. More so because now that it has gone there are only two houses dating from this period left in the old township.

So here is the challenge. Who has pictures, documents or even stories that they would like to pass onto me so that I can share them with the many who read this blog on every continent of the world and in many countries in each of those continents? As you know I always acknowledge the contribution. Just add a comment at the end of the blog and we can make contact.

Picture; from the collection of Lawrence Beedle

Something new, another picture celebrating the reopening of the Ref on March 22

This is the second of the pictures celebrating the reopening of Central Ref.

Yesterday I previewed the entrance hall and the impressive stained glass windows which are pretty much as I remember them.

And today something very different and new.

So with this in mind and with the help of the Press Office in the Town Hall I am going to post a series of pictures on the inside of the Ref between now and its reopening.

The first takes in that wonderful set of stained glass at the front and is pretty much how I remembered it.

Picture; something new, courtesy of the Press Office of Manchester Town Hall, MWP PR 100314 IB 1410

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Talking with the descendant of a British Home Child

The application form by Mr Griffiths to employ my great uncle
I do not think it is pompous or unrealistic to say that all of us who are related to a British Home Child should seek to publicise what happened to them and strive to record their stories as well as the bigger picture.

Now for a British audience and I suspect for some Canadian and Australian readers the term British Home Child may still be unfamiliar.

These were the children and young people sent from Britain and resettled in parts of the Empire from 1870 until relatively recently.

Many were from orphanages, some even from the streets and a few from broken homes.  They were taken by charities and found work and homes in Canada and Australia as well as other bits of our overseas empire.

The motives for the resettlement were mixed, ranging from a genuine belief that this would be a clean start to darker calculations on the comparative cost of maintaining the children in care in Britain or sending them off to the farms of Canada, the sheep ranches of Australia or into service.

And for some pondering on that ever present sense of social upheaval, sending the very poor and destitute far away transferred the problem somewhere else.

Those who were sent were not always the “social problem” the charities worked to save, and the lives the youngsters lived out were less of a promised new start and more a time to endure.

Extract from  the report on my great uncle's time on a farm
Often  theirs was a harsh, dangerous and unpleasant existence.

Some were exploited others abused and many also suffered from the loss of family, family history and an identity.

Naturally they did not talk of what they had gone through nor was it possible for many of them to find out the truth of their backgrounds.

Likewise for many of their children the discovery of what happened to them has been a searing revelation of the extent of the suffering and the degree to which the charities and government agencies have drawn a thick carpet of fudge over what happened.

But during the last few decades the story has come out into the daylight and there are a growing number of organisations aimed at researching and publicising what happened

One of the most effective of these groups is British Home Children, started by Lori Oschefski**

It is an organisation I have referred to before but today instead I want to highlight the work of Perry Snow who I first came across about two years ago when I discovered my connection to one of 118,000 young people who crossed over to Canada.

We corresponded and as things go I moved off to other projects, but I never forgot the help he gave me.

All of which is a lead into the first of a series articles by Sean Arthur Joyce. on his blog.

Now I am never one to rehash badly what someone else has done so well so I shall just direct you to that blog and those interviews.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson 

* British Home Children,

** The Home Child Interviews, Part One: Perry Snow: INTRODUCTION

What we have lost

Beech Road, from the corner of Wilton down towards Chequers Road in 1958.

It is hard today to remember that there was a time, still well with in living memory when shopping even for televisions was a local experience.
R.E. Stanley took a series of photographs in the November of 1958 perfectly capturing a world that that has long gone.

 Any one walking down Beech Road today from Wilton Road will encounter first the Laundrette, a ceramic shop specialising in hand painted pots and plates, a boutique and two galleries. 

And the road now boasts wine bars restaurants, and takeaways along with more clothes shops and gift shops.

True there is still the pet shop, a newsagent and the fish and chip shop, but the butchers and green grocers have long gone. A development which prompted a friend to mutter that the “place was fine for buying antique Victorian silk but don’t bother if you want a bag of potatoes”.

Picture; 32-38 Beech Road by R E Stanley, 1958 m 17654 Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council.

Pretty much as I left it ...... inside Central Ref five days before the grand opening

Pretty much as I left it
It has been a long time since I have been in Central Ref, and like a lot of people I am looking forward to its reopening on March 22nd.

I spent many years there in the Social Sciences Library in the early 1970s and again more recently in  Archives and Local History.

It is a grand place and I never tired of that strange way on an early evening you could pick out conversations on the other side of the dome and the way a book dropped on a table rows away landed with a heavy thump.

So with this in mind and with the help of the Press Office in the Town Hall I am going to post a series of pictures on the inside of the Ref between now and its reopening.

The first takes in that wonderful set of stained glass at the front and is pretty much how I remembered it.

And the rest are a bit of a sneak preview of things to come.

Picture; almost as I left the Ref, courtesy of the Press Office Manchester Town Hall, MWP PR100314 IB 1391

Monday, 17 March 2014

Looking for Lily Maxwell, who voted in a municipal election in 1867

Now I blame Graham, who posted this picture of Lily Maxwell and the accompanying notes

“First woman to record a vote in a municipal election, November 1867

Lily Maxwell was the first woman to vote in Britain in 1867 after the Great Reform Act of 1832. 

The act had explicitly excluded all women from the voting in national elections by using the term ‘male’ rather than ‘person’ in its wording. 

Maxwell, a shop owner, met the property qualifications that otherwise would have made her eligible to vote had she been male. Her name had been added to the election register and on that basis she succeeded in voting (escorted by Lydia Becker) in a by-election – her vote however was later declared illegal.”

And followed it up with an extract from the Daily News dated November 28 1867 which reported on the "record and acceptance of a vote by a lady, at the Chorlton Town Hall [continuing] it appears that, when a name is on the register, the presiding officer has no alternative but to receive the vote of the person who bears the name when it is tendered...........the name ‘Lily Maxwell is registered (No. 12,326) as that of a person entitled to vote for the Parliamentary borough of Manchester.  Possibly the registrar may have supposed it to be a  masculine name.”

And so I was drawn in.

This may have been a mistake but those early campaigners for widening the franchise were quick to seize the opportunity and Lily Maxwell was accompanied by “Miss Becker, the secretary of the Women’s Suffrage Society of Manchester [and Miss Maxwell] voted for Jacob Bright."

Likewise the establishment moved equally quickly and her vote was later declared illegal by the Court of Common Pleas.

All of which made me want to explore the history of Women’s Suffrage Society of Manchester and also to find out more about Miss Maxwell.

Now there is only one Lily Maxwell listed in the official records for Manchester during the period.

She was born in Scotland in 1801 appears on the 1861 and ’71 census and died in the last quarter of 1876.

And that  is almost it.

We can track her to Ardwick in 1861 when she described herself as House Keeper.

Four years later she had moved to 25 Ludlow Street in Chorlton on Medlock and in 1867 was at  71 Cowcill Street.

And it was while she was occupying this property that she was included on the electoral register.

Here she stayed till her death nine years later.

Of her earlier years before 1861 I can as yet find nothing but I travel in hope.

So she remains an intriguing figure not only for what she did but for who she might have been.

Picture; Lily Maxwell, date unknown but possibly 1867, m08249, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

The way things go ...... looking for that last plot of land in Chorlton

Andy Robertson sent me these pictures of a lock up workshop on Longford Road with the comment “a bit boring, I know.”

Now he is a welcome contributor to the blog and his pictures are never boring catching as they do those moments when the place is about to change.

In the last few months he has been there with his camera just as work recommenced on the old Masonic Hall on Edge Lane, revealed for most of us the extent of the new build to Oswald Road School and recorded the demolition of New Broadcasting House, the remnant of a Salford textile mill and the iconic Raby Street alms houses.

So I was not surprised that he clocked the old workshop on Longford Road and the sign announcing “FOR SALE” Building plot with full planning permission for two three bedroom semi-detached properties.”

Most of us will be able to identify that odd bit of land that somehow never got a house during the building room of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some remained just plots of land, while others became workshops, garages and lock ups.

Well into the 1980s the strip of land beside the brook behind Belwood Road lay empty as did a smaller plot at the southern end of Claude Road.

My old friend Jack who had a lived good chunk of his adult life here he claimed the land by the brook and been a timber yard or nail factory, but there is no evidence for either.

That said the plot at the end of Claude Road which now Rainbow Crescent did have buildings on it as late as the 1940s and well with the living memory of many of us there was a disused petrol pump at the corner.

In the same way before the Finney Drive was built in the mid 1960s there had been a a set of workshops in the old farmyard.

And that bit of land on Longford Road had belonged to the brick company at the beginning the last century.

But the onward march of property development in Chorlton will mean that fairly soon it will become the “two three bedroom semi-detached properties” of the sign above the workshop.

All of which fits with the history of the township since Egerton and Lloyd began selling off their farmland in small chunks to speculative builders.

Pictures; courtesy of Andy Robertson

Vanishing Act ....... searching shipping lists and manifestos, and records of passengers travelling from British ports

Another in the series where novelist Lois Elsden reflects on using history to write a novel about the past.*

It’s happened to me, and I guess it happens to most people who are looking into their family history, that the ancestor they are seeking seems to vanish.

I was following my family, census by census until suddenly in 1871, there they weren’t… I checked death records, I tried spelling their names in alternative ways, I tried ignoring the father and looking for the mother and then the children. None of them appear in the 1871 census. What a mystery… but there they were, back again in 1881.

There may be reasons why people are not on the census; maybe they were travelling, maybe some of the records are not complete for some reason.

I haven’t yet found where my family went, but in my novel about a family in search of their roots, ‘Radwinter’, they do find an answer to the mystery.

My fictional character Thomas Radwinter is searching for a relative who had been living in the seaport of Portsmouth in the 1840’s and then disappears. It occurs to Thomas that maybe his ancestor boarded a ship and went somewhere, and an obvious destination at that time was half-way round the world to Australia.

Most people know that thousands and thousands of people, men women and children were transported to Australia as convicts.

The prisons had become full and containment of criminals was becoming a major problem in eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain.

Running out of space for all those sentenced to imprisonment, many were housed in chains, in hulks, old rotting ships moored along the banks of the Thames.

Previously, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries North America received those transported from the British Isles, sent to work on the plantations. The American War of Independence, 1775-1782, put a stop to that.

At the same time, Australia and the antipodes offered vast, seemingly limitless opportunities for farming, forestry, whaling and mining, and sending ne’er do wells far away not only got rid of them, but also ensured there was a labour force which needed minimal if any payment. It was a primitive and brutal life for all concerned. More than 165,000 convicts were transported to Australia

However, not all the travellers to these far off lands went because they were forced to; my family went to Tasmania in 1839 as merchants and traders, importing fine wines from Europe, porcelain and silk from China, and tea from India to their warehouses in Hobart.

They exported wool, whale products, timber and minerals in their ship, the Lady Denison, until it sunk… or maybe the convicts on board overwhelmed the captain and crew, threw them overboard and sailed for San Francisco!

My character Thomas discovers that his family also went on the long voyage, round the Cape of Good Hope across the Southern Ocean to a new life.

Thomas investigated his history as I did. He, and I, had a successful outcome to our research, thanks to the internet! The many very good genealogical web-sites make it possible to do in-depth research from home!

So, if your family seems to have disappeared, try looking up shipping lists and manifestos, and records of passengers travelling from British ports… There are a lot of lists with a lot of ports, a lot of ships and lots of passengers – in fact in 1852 alone nearly half a million people emigrated to Australia!

However, playing the genealogical detective and with a little determination you might very well find your missing ancestor!

© Lois Elsden

Pictures, from the collection of Lois Elsden


"If you are interested in reading my story of Thomas Radwinter's search for his family and want to unravel the mystery of where his ancestors came from, you can find 'Radwinter' by Lois Elsden on Amazon, "

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Reflecting on the lives of those who lived through the Great War

George Bradford Simpson circa 1918
This is my uncle George in the last years of the Great War.

Now I suspect it cannot be before 1917 given that he was born in 1899.

And it is an image that will be familiar to us all. 

Similar pictures appear all the time in books and programmes about the First World War and most families will have one photograph of a young man ready to leave for the Front or at home on leave.

These young men stare back at us in their ill fitting uniforms in individual poses or with friends and family and along with those images of the battlefields they pretty much shape our idea of that war.

More recently we have come to see that generation as frail men and women with faltering voices and walking sticks who were venerated as the last of their generation.

We forget the majority of them lived full productive lives, contributed to their community getting on with the daily demands of work family and holidays.

ThomasAlan Simpson, 1963
This I know because I grew up with them, and when I was growing up they were still just in their 50s and early 60s, and were no older than I am now, still vital, still working and many as yet still waiting to be grandparents.

Not that I thought much of any of that until a few days ago when I watched a series of interviews made in 1963 and 64 for the BBC series The Great War.*

None of these interviews made it into the final programmes but watching the men and women talk about the war in strong commanding voices was like listening to my father, my uncles and grandfather.

Dad was just a little too young for that war but two of his brothers one of who was my Uncle George served in France and participated in crossing the Rhine and occupying Germany in the month after the war ended.

And my maternal grandfather courted and married my German grandmother while serving in the same occupying forces in Cologne.

Unknown friend of my uncle, circa 1918
So those young men in their ill fitting uniforms along with the frail men and women with faltering voices are not the only way to remember that generation.

This of course is no original observation but I suspect is one that will get a little overlooked in the coming months as historians and television producers plunder and pour over the archives of the Great War presenting us with what we already know.

It is all too easy to walk away with the neat, easy to understand presentations which confirm our assumption that they were the lost and betrayed young generation who grew old without also thinking of them as people who had a whole life ahead of them.

This in no way underestimates what many of whom went through and the painful loss of friends and relatives.

 None of my family spoke of the war and I never asked them.

Father, and Uncles Fergus, Charles and aunt Lilla, 1973
I guess it was that simple combination of personal preferences.  

For them it was something they had done, remembered with a mix of emotions but sat along side getting married, having children and a succession of jobs, holidays and much else.

For me aged just fourteen when the BBC documentary was made the Great War was that one before the last conflict.  

I was born just four years after the end of the Second World War, when the bomb sites were places I played on and the stirring films of the Battle of Britain, the Dam Busters and the Eighth Army filled the cinemas.

Unknown friend of my uncle, circa 1918
People still referred to that war while the earlier one was less well mentioned and I suppose it wasn't till the publication of the book The Donkeys by Alan Clark in 1961 and the staging of the musical Oh What a Lovely War two years later that it became a reality to me.

And by the time I got round to seeing a production of Oh What a Lovely War in 1967 I had absorbed the conventional interpretation of the conflict.

Now I have followed the recent debates on the causes of the war, the revaluation of its cost in lives and treasure and will fall like most people on the centenary events but I will now give more thought to those young men and women who got on with their lives and were still just a tad past middle age in 1964.

*The Great War, commissioned in August 1963 and shown from May to November 1964 in 26 episodes each lasting 40 minutes.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Back on Angel Street that place of "common lodging houses and unfilled dreams"

Angel Street, March 2014
This will be the last story on Angel Street for a while.

Today it is a pretty nondescript place of empty spaces waiting development, new residential build and a pub.

It runs from Rochdale Road down to Style Street and St Michael’s Fields more popularly known as Angel Meadow.

I have passed it countless times and not given it much of a second look which is a shame because back in the late 19th century it had become almost entirely a street full of common lodging houses.*

For most people interested in the history of the area I doubt that it features prominently.  After all by Style Street is Angel Meadow a notorious burial ground packed in its time with the dead of the surrounding streets many of whom were buried unnamed and unrecorded in common graves marked only by a small cross.

Angel Street, May 1897
Close by is the Ragged School which in turn gets a fair number of visitors but Angel Street is just an alternative route from Cheetham Hill across to Oldham Road and Great Ancoats Street.

Those that drive along it may just clock the new and very impressive Co-op building at the corner with Style Street but will probably be unaware of the archaeological dig two years ago which revealed the lives of the people who lived in the mean houses and grim cellar dwellings on the present site.**

Now I am deep into the research of Angel Street trying to tease out the lives of those that lived in the common lodging houses but it is a slow job made difficult because the people who washed up here were already at the bottom of the pile and history has been unkind to them.

Angel Street March 2014
Still something of their lives is beginning to emerge.

And in the meantime Angel Street and the surrounding area is set to change.

Already much of the land has been cleared of the last of its industrial buildings and like so much of the city is fast becoming residential again.

All of which means that these pictures of Angel Street will soon be as much a piece of history as that in Samuel Coulthurst’s photograph of 1900.

Pictures; Angel Street Today from the collection of Andrew Simpson, and in 1897 by Samuel Coulthurst, m85543, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

*Angel Street,

**A planned archaeological dig in Hulme and two retired teachers,

Goodbye to that College in Didsbury ............ part four a link with Chorlton.

For nearly 70 years the college at Didsbury has been turning out students.

I should know I was one of the class of ’72, newly graduated from Manchester Polytechnic and ready for a year’s teacher training.

The chapel in 1908
Now what I didn’t know at the time was that for a century before it had been a theological college, bought by the Methodists and only vacated by them in 1942.

Nor until recently did I make the connection with Chorlton, which is all the more surprising because there has been a Methodist presence here for a long time.

So the popular story goes Methodism came to Chorlton in 1770 when a soldier and a few companions arrived in the township and began preaching.  The message took hold and by 1800 a Methodist Society had been formed and Wesleyan ministers were visiting each Sunday.

At first they had worshipped on the green and in barns, and then in their chapel on what is now Beech Road.

This was rebuilt in 1826 and later still a new church built on Manchester Road which relegated the old chapel to occasional use.

Rev. James Butterworth
 “Then in 1918 a young student from Didsbury Ministerial Training College, just out of the army, happened to be cycling through Chorlton when he saw this dark and closed building next to a brightly lit and lively public house and thought to himself ‘this is wrong’, he saw in his mind’s eye, the Chapel as warm and inviting as the pub. 

So he went to his tutors and asked permission to start a boys club there, and he and some other students canvassed the roads in the immediate area and had a very good response.

Since then preaching re-commenced in 1921 and the boys’ and girls’ club provided a youthful choir. Fellowship classes were started, the women’s meeting had a membership of 50-60 and there were concerts every Saturday night.

The name of the young trainee minister was Rev. James Butterworth, and having cut his teeth here in Chorlton went on to found ‘Clubland’ in the East End of London, which did mighty work among the poor and dispossessed of that area.”*

Philip first told me the story a few years back and since then has kindly provided me with an extract from an article he wrote on the chapel on Beech Road.

*Philip E. Lloyd, January 2008

Pictures; Wesleyan Bazaar Souvenir Hand book, 1908, and Rev. James Butterworth, Walworth Methodist Church

See also James Butterwoth, Christian youth work work and Clubland,

Finding the history of the Post Office on Facebook and an exhibition at Southern Cemetery

It is a constant pleasure to come across new web sites increase my knowledge of our past.

And by sheer chance I happened on this one on Manchester’s postal history.

Manchester Postal Museum Postal Memorabilia Displays is a facebook site and has a fascinating collection of material ranging from picture postcards from the Great War, to smutty seaside ones and a delightful Italian Christmas card.

David tells me that he has “probably the largest private collection of postal memorabilia/history around! I am setting up my permanent display at the moment in Stockport.”

 In the meantime he already has a display in Southern Cemetery which I am minded to visit.

But for now I will leave you with two of the postcards from the many on the site.  It was a hard choice, but in the end I decided to go with one from the Great War,dated 1915 and sent to Private Joseph Platt from his wife in Oldham and that all too necessary seaside card which evey collection should contain.

We have all sent them, and looking back into the history of the naughty post card it is remarkable how far back they go.

Pictures; from the collection of David Harrop

*Manchester Postal Museum Postal Memorabilia Displays