Sunday, 31 May 2015

Rediscovering our rural past, Thomas Ellwood and Mrs W C Williamson

We owe a great debt to the historians of the late 19th century who captured the memories of the people who lived in south Manchester when most of it was still countryside.

Thomas Ellwood and Mrs Williamson were working at a time when the rural communities of Chorlton, Burnage, Fallowfield and Rusholme were on the cusp of disappearing.

Within a generation they had all but gone and with it was went a rich storehouse of stories and popular culture.

Today what was left is fast fading from living memory, so with in another decade I doubt that there will be any left who remember the blacksmith on Beech Road or being sent to one of the local farms to collect fresh milk and butter.

This makes it exciting when there comes along an opportunity to give a wider audience the chance to read about that rural past.

Thomas Ellwood lived here in Chorlton and during the winter of 1885 into the spring of ’86 he collected and wrote accounts of Chorlton dating back into the 17th century.

These were published in the South Manchester Gazette and are available in Central Library, but they are on microfilm which makes them a tad more difficult to read.  Some of the articles reappeared in various church magazines but I have yet to find a complete set outside the Gazette.

In the case of Mrs Williamson her work appeared in a slender edition in 1888 and I have only been able to put my hands on one copy again from Central Library.

However Bruce Anderson whose local history site I have mentioned from time to time has digitized his own copy along with a number of other histories of Burnage, Fallowfield and Rusholme and they appear on Rusholme and Victoria Park Archive at

Sketches of Fallowfield and the surrounding Manors, Past & Present’ By Mrs Williamson, “gives a very interesting account of how Fallowfield developed from fields between Rusholme & Withington in the 14th century, gradually becoming a desirable neighbourhood with church, chapel & schools in the third quarter of the 19th century. 

There are three maps, 1818, 1843 and 1885 that illustrate the changes during these years.”

She lived in Fallowfield with her husband, Professor William Crawford Williamson FRS. He was an eminent Victorian scientist who was appointed as the first Professor of Natural History (Geology, Zoology and Botany) at Manchester in 1851. 

Williamson was one of the great Victorian naturalists who knew and actively corresponded with Charles Darwin, Louis Agassiz, T.H. Huxley and other great scientists of the day. 

He also knew John Dalton and famously tended the great man during his final days, feeding him broth and other liquid sustenance. Williamson trained as a doctor and practised as an eye surgeon as well as pursuing his studies in the natural sciences.”

It is a wonderful book because it draws on the memories of those who experienced that rural life, and was a great help to me when writing my own account of Chorlton in the first half of the 19th century.*

And so for anyone wanting a vivid firsthand account of the handloom weavers of Burnage or the rush cart ceremony of Rusholme, Mrs Williamson and Bruce’s site have got to be worth a visit.


Pictures; Chorlton from the collection of Tony Walker, cover of Mrs Williamson's book from the collection of Bruce Anderson

From the other side ............ messages to Berlin from the Western Front 1916

There is something compelling about this picture postcard.

On the simplest of levels it is that here we have a group of German soldiers staring back at us and that of course makes it different from the usual collection of photographs and picture postcards from the Great War.

And the more I look at them the more I am drawn to those unfamiliar uniforms which look so different from the standard British ones that I know so well.

I have no idea where they are or where they were from and only know that the card was sent in May 1916 to an address in Berlin.

In time I might be able to make something of the message, but I am operating with both hands tied behind my back for not only is it in German but the handwriting  is difficult to decipher, all of which just leaves me with the name Herman Waller.

But despite these problems the card fascinates me not least because some of my great uncles would have fought in those uniforms.

And that makes that conflict a civil war for our family.

Alongside my German relatives we can count six who fought in the armies of the King ranging from two uncles, two great uncles, to my grandfather and great grandfather.

Sadly little of their records, possessions or even their memories have survived the last century and at present there is even less from Germany.

In fact all we have is a sturdy metal note pad case with a name engraved on the back and a raised black iron crossed on the front.

All of which takes me back to the photograph and that less than original observation that once you ignore those uniforms the faces that stare back  could quite easily have been the faces of men from Manchester, London, Rome or Vienna.

Their expressions are a mix of smiles and studied seriousness and just like their opposite numbers they pose with cigarettes in their hands.

And no doubt think of the next meal, the time till their next leave and those back at home.

Picture; unknown group of German soldiers, circa 1916 from the collection of David Harrop

Saturday Morning Pictures at Well Hall Odeon in 1965

You never quite forget that mix of noise and anticipation which was Saturday Morning Pictures.

It started when the manager asked if everyone was happy, continued into the competitions and lasted through most of the morning.

It is easy to over romanticise what was just another way the cinema chain could create more revenue while introducing a young audience to the magic of the big screen.

And once you were hooked you were hooked for life.  The cycle might begin with Saturday Morning Pictures but quickly moved on to the “date” on the back row and in the fullness of time to visits with your children to Disney and of course to Saturday mornings all over again this time dropping off and collectiing a new generation of Saturday children.

But you can also be over cynical even given that what you saw was pretty dire.

I can’t say I ever enjoyed those stories of daring do by young children or the equally improbable tales of faithful dogs and intelligent dolphins saving the day.

I do remember a series which mixed the theme of Ancient Rome, alien invaders and a particularly nasty dictator.

On reflection it was probably shot on a back lot using B actors and involved lots of oddly dressed men riding on horseback across dusty plains.

You knew it was cheap because the plot didn’t follow a logical path and events often passed from bright daylight to late afternoon and back again in the course of one horse race.

All that said they were fun.  There were the cartoons and films, along with live events ranging from talent competitions and fancy dress to the appearance of a well known celebrity and it was always someone’s birthday which was met with a loud shout.

I am not sure whether it would still work today but from the 1940s into the 60s they were a way of life for many children with that added advantage that it freed up time for the adults. In the 1950’s the average weekly attendance at  children’s cinema matinees was over 1,016,000 with 1735 cinemas holding cinema matinees for children.*

The ABC chain began a special club in the 1940s for their ABC Minors complete with badge and song and birthday cards.  It cost just 6d.

I can’t now remember which cinema I went to, but I still have vivid memories of collecting my sisters from the Well Hall Odeon and getting there a little early just to catch the last ten minutes of whatever was going off.

They were never ABC Minors, after all when you lived just minutes away from the Odeon there was no point tramping all the way up to the High Street to the ABC on the corner of Plassey Place.

So that was my Saturday mornings in Eltham till mum judged that Stella and Elizabeth were old enough to take my two younger sisters without me.

I don’t suppose my mornings at the flicks had lasted that long and nor did theirs. They were probably one of the last generations to enjoy that mix of noise and anticipation in the dark accompanied by that warm smell of cinema disinfectant, and popcorn.

There may still be Saturday Morning Pictures but it costs a lot more than 6d and I can't think they will be the same, but then perhaps I am just old and biased.

* Wheare Committee

Pictures, Well Hall Odeon, courtesy of Eltham, and  ABC Minors Badge, ABC Minors children’s cinema postcard Happy Birthday, 1948, BD084660
University of Essex,

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Uncovering the story of Joseph Thomas of Chorlton born 1894, died 1917 on the Western Front

Joseph Thomas and men of the 2nd City Battalion 1914-1915
It began with this postcard and as so often happens it set me off on a journey which led from a small house in Chorlton to the grand offices of an accountancy firm opposite the Town Hall and ended on the Western Front.

The postcard comes from the collection of David Harrop and was one of a number I have been looking at.*

What caught my attention was that it was sent to Henry Thomas who lived at number 6 Fairhaven Avenue and was sent in the March of 1916.

Cooper Street, circa 1900
Now Mr Thomas was a chimney sweep and had grown up around the corner in Brownhills Buildings on Sandy lane.

These pre date 1832 and were once the property of Mr Brownhill who had been the wheelwright for the township.

That in itself was a fascinating link with our past but the postcard and its message drew me even deeper into the history of Chorlton.

It was from Joseph Thomas who was Henry's brother thanking him for the letter and Postal Order which “I was glad to receive [as] I was getting rather hard up” and announced that he was coming “home as usual on Saturday 2.15 at Victoria,” adding “send a pc if you are meeting me.”

17th Platoon, E Company 2nd City Battalion, 17th Manchester's 1914-16
Joseph had been born in 1894 and in 1914 was working for Richard Haworth & Co Ltd who had offices at 19 Cooper Street.

The building has long gone but it faced the Town Hall close to where the Cenotaph now stands.

Sadly his army records no longer exist but I know he enlisted in the 17th Manchester’s at the outbreak of the war and was stationed at Heaton Park before leaving for France in the November of 1915.

In time I will track his movements and the battles he fought in.

And we as these things go only hours after posting the story Stephen O'Neill replied identifying Joseph as the young man on "the top row far left" which is a powerful note to close on.

Sadly Joseph was killed on August 1 1917.

Picture, postcard dated, March 22 1916, and E Company 17th Service Battalion, the 2nd City Battalion, Manchester Regiment, from Manchester City Battalions Book of Honour,  from the collection of David Harrop, detail of 19 Cooper Street, 1900 from Goads Insurance Map, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

*David Harrop,

1934 and inside the Independent College in Whalley Range

We are in the grounds of the Independent College in Whalley Range and the year is 1934.

Our picture is a postcard which “R” says “is a new view of the college which I thought you might like to see.  

It gives rather a good view of the grounds I think.”

He was writing to Mr and Mrs Nelson of Garston Old Road in Liverpool and he went on to say that he had “managed a good spot of work,” and was looking forward to “seeing something of a friend of mine who is preaching at Ormskirk on Sunday.”

There is nothing more to help us with the identity of “R” but given that the college had been built “educate young men of decided piety and competent talents for the Christian ministry,”* I think we can be fairly confident he was destined for a religious career.

By the time “R” was doing his spot of work the college had been open for 92 years and had continued “the preparation of young men for the ministry of the Independent church”** carrying on the work of the  Blackburn Independent Academy which had opened in 1816.

Such independent establishments had been necessary by the ban on dissenters from attending universities.  So here along with the study of theology students “will have the opportunity of gaining philosophical and scientific knowledge, in addition to the classics and mathematics.”

There were to be two resident professors and about fifty-two students the cost was to be met by public subscription and the hope was that this would in time be met by endowments.

The original design was for a gothic style building with a tall tower and a principal front 261 feet in length including two professors’ houses at either end with cloisters in between serving as an arcade in which the students can take exercise in wet weather.  There were to be three stories surmounted by battlements about 40 feet high.

“The arrangements in the interior of the College, forming a communication with different suites of rooms, are well designed and exceedingly simple consisting of corridors running the extreme length of the front and of either wing. The lower story of the building which is sufficiently high above the ground to ensure dryness is intended entirely for servants, and the corridor which connects the different offices runs along the main building.

Entering the College by the broad flight of steps in the basement of the tower we come to the entrance hall on the second or main floor which is a lofty room about 36 feet by 32 and open to the roof.”***

And I suppose this description would have been recognised by “R” as well as the countless other students who continued to study there until its closure in 1980.

Later; more stories and pictures of the college.

Pictures; of the college in 1934 from the Lloyd Collection The Assembly Hall and grounds from The Lancashire Independent College, 1843-93

* resolution of the committee held in the vestry of the Mosley Street Chapel, Manchester February 1816, and quoted by Thompson, Joseph,  in The Lancashire Independent College, 1843-93, Manchester 1893 Memorial Volume, p18
** The Manchester Guardian 1842
*** The Manchester Guardian 1842

Never turn down the chance to walk the past ......... trips we did and ones we have yet to do

There is something pretty magical about walking the history of a place.

Outside Hough End Hall, built in 1596, on a May day in 2015
And it works on a number of different levels.

First there are the stories of the people and the places which are all the more vivid because you are there where they were and with just a little imagination it’s possible to touch their past.

All the better when what you can see is still almost exactly what was there a century and a half ago.

Added to all this is the opportunity to ask questions and in the process go down avenues of discovery which might not be available from a book or those increasingly popular virtual trips.

And above all you get to meet people.

At Brookfield House an elegant 18th residence, 2015
So last Sunday over 50 of us set off from Hough End Hall to walk through the Chorlton of the 1840s finishing at the Lloyds which was hosting an exhibition on the house Sir Nicholas Mosley built in 1596 and which in its 400 years has been a status symbol, a farm house and latterly a restaurant and even a set of offices.

During the two hours that we strolled across the old township we talked about the Mosley fish pond the much believed set of tunnels leading away from the hall and just who in 1847 you would have to be polite too.

Amongst those on the first of the two Hough End Hall walks was Steve Roman who leads groups around the  Manchester Peace and Social Justice.

Steve has kindly offered to lead a walk as a fund-raiser for the Friends of Hough End Hall which in his own words

“I helped put together and I now lead groups around the Trail on a bespoke basis, including for the Manchester Histories Festival, for Chester Civic Trust, for post-grad students and international visitors to the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute and for the annual Peace History Conference and other conferences. I also lead the walk as a fund-raiser for voluntary groups, most recently for War on Want, Manchester Community Choir and the Ancoats Dispensary Trust.

The Peace Statue, 1986
The tour usually lasts 2 ½ hours but is flexible to suit your group’s requirements, and can cover sites connected with the growth of Manchester as the world’s first industrial city and its importance as a centre for radical political activity, including
• Peterloo and the popular reform movement
• The Free Trade Hall, suffragettes to the Sex Pistols
• Abraham Lincoln, Manchester Cathedral and the campaign against slavery
• The Hidden Gem and religious tolerance
• Migration and the movement of peoples
• Alan Turing and gay rights
• Historic libraries and public art”

And for those who want to sample a walk   before booking with Steve there are two up coming ones which are open to all, both starting  at Victoria Station under the tiled map and finish at Piccadilly Gardens .

Sunday 31 May, 1.30 – 4.30: Cost £5 (£3 concessions). All proceeds go to Manchester Friends of the Earth.

Pay on the day or email if you would like to book, or to find out more.

Sunday 7 June, 1.00 – 4.00: Tickets are priced at £7 (£5 concessions). All proceeds will go to Amnesty International.

The walk will end at Gullivers in the Northern Quarter, where people can enjoy a cup of tea, sign some appeal cards, and find out more about the Stop Torture campaign,

Steve Roman
0161 434 2908

Pictures;On the Hough End Hall walk, Sunday May 24, 2015 from the collection of Peter Topping, and Peace Statue, in the former Peace Garden, 1986, m58455, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

Friday, 29 May 2015

So who remembers that church and the Davenport Mores Hall on the corner of Albany and Brantingham?

Now here is one of those mysterious which started out as something else.

Andy Robertson sent me this picture of the building at the bottom of Albany Road in response to a story on Enoch Royle the coal merchant whose father had his coal yard next door.

As you do it took me off on a series of thoughts about that house the yard and our reliance on the coal man.

And make no mistake well into the 20th century coal was the preferred way of heating our homes and for some the fuel that heated the open range used for cooking.

Along Albany Road down from the station there were a collection of coal merchants whose offices sat beside the railway line.

In 1911 there were Clifton & Kersley, Coal Co Ltd colliery proprietors, William Mylett coal merchant and Andrew Knowles and Sons Limited and well into the 1950s coal was unloaded bagged and sent out to homes across Chorlton.

And there will be plenty who remember being sent as a child to pay the coal bill at the offices of one of the merchants.

All of which seemed to make a nice story, mixing Enoch Royle’s coal yard where the garage now operates from, a bit on the house next door and reflections on how we heated our homes.

Until that is I turned up a reference to the St Andrew’s Protestant Episcopal Evangelical Church and the Davenport Mores Hall on the corner of Albany and Brantingham.

It was run by the Rev William R. Graham D.D. and it was built sometime between 1907 and 1909, and two years later had become St Luke’s Protestant Episcopal Evangelical Church.

By then in 1911 the hall was unlisted but beside it on Albany Road sandwiched between the church and the home of Mrs Annie Kennedy was Metcalf & Higginbotham Ltd, paper merchants.

Now I am intrigued by that church and the paper merchants which have far outstripped my interest in the house in Andy’s picture which I remember as a retail unit well into this century before it was returned to residential use.

So it is off to the archives and a search for St Andrew’s and St Luke's, the Rev Graham and Davenport Mores Hall.

They appear still to have been there in 1934 which means it is just possible they will be remembered by someone.
And remembered they have been is a sort of way, because Tony Goulding went digging and came up with this, "I have only known of the existence of this church for a couple of weeks when I found its location whilst consulting one of my old maps of Chorlton about another query,Intrigued I did a little of my own investigating----the only extra details I unearthed were from the 1911 SLATERS directory which gave the opening date as November 26 1905.

It accommodated 450 seats and there was a Sunday school with 300 places attached."

So there you are.

Pictures; Albany Road in September 20102 , with Flynn's Electricals, courtesy of Andy Robertson and sometime in the 1930s with Enoch Royle and father from the Lloyd Collection

*Waiting for the coalman

A little bit of religious dissent in Whalley Range .... The Independent Lancashire College

I like this picture of the Independent Lancashire College in Whalley Range.

It had been here since 1843 and even before it was finished it was causing a stir amongst “the Public and more especially by strangers, respecting this beautiful specimen of gothic architecture which is seen to great advantage from the roads leading westward out of Manchester.”

It origins lay in the fact that Dissenters along with the Catholics were still barred from entering the Universities, and lay professions.  They could not marry in their own places of worship and had to rely on Anglican Churches for registering births and deaths.

This had led to the establishment of an independent academy in Blackburn was opened in 1816 to “educate young men of decided piety and competent talents for the Christian ministry.”**

By 1838 the academy was no longer adequate for this purpose and a new “collegiate building affording more extensive domiciliary accommodation,”” was agreed upon which would be sited in Manchester.

A public subscription was launched to meet the cost of what was estimated would be £10,000.  It says much for the strength of dissent in the North West that within two years the sum of £14, 736 was raised which eventually exceeded £25, 000.

And with all such subscriptions the contributions ranged from the modest to the very substantial, so while Mr Joseph Taylor of Ashton handed over £2, George Hadfield from Manchester gave £2,100, Samuel Fletcher £1,300 and our own Samuel Brooks of Whalley House £1, 550.

Brooks however also benefited from selling the seven acre site for its construction for £3,650.

The foundation stone was laid In September 1840 and the college opened in 1843.

Pictures; of the college circa 1910 from the Lloyd Collection and the Blackburn Independent Academy from The Lancashire Independent College, 1843-93

Tomorrow; the building, the teaching and stories from those who were there

*Manchester Guardian 1842
** resolution of the committee held in the vestry of the Mosley Street Chapel, Manchester February 1816, and quoted by Thompson, Joseph,  in The Lancashire Independent College, 1843-93, Manchester 1893 Memorial Volume, p18

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Woolwich on a Sunday in September

I am always fascinated by photographs which capture reflections of buildings.

Part of the appeal is the way the reflected building is distorted but also it is the multiple layering of images.

And so here we are with the Woolwich Centre on Wellington Street with the Town Hall captutred in the glass.

Picture; from the collection of Colin Fitzpatrick

On Range Road in Whalley Range with the Manchester Carriage and Tramway Company depot

Now as far as a story goes that I think will have to wait but I couldn’t resist using Andy’s picture of this bit of Grange Road taken last month.

Range Road, once a tram depot later a laundry and homes, 2014
The jury maybe out on whether using the facade of an old building and constructing something entirely new behind it constitutes good design but I rather like the idea.

If you can’t use the original for what it was intended for this at least allows a little of its history to be preserved and in the process gives a context to this bit of Range Road.

It also prompted me to try and understand what this building was and more importantly how it fits with the rest of the structure on the corner of Range and Withington Roads.

The bits of the deport that are left, 2014
Today the bits of what was once one building look odd and pretty much defy any attempt to make sense of what is a brick block with a canopy on one side of it.

If I think hard enough I can just remember it as a garage and that is about it.

You would see it as you passed on the bus and it never really intruded very deeply.  It was just a jumble of ugly bits of building made worse by someone’s attempt to paint some of the brick work.

That canopy, 2014
But once it belonged to the Manchester Carriage and Tramway Company and extended along Withington Road and round on to Range Road.

The company had been formed from a merger of two transport business's in 1880 and for over 20 years operated horse drawn tram services throughout Manchester and Salford.

At its greatest extent in 1900 it ran services over 140 route miles, using 515 trams and 5,244 horses housed in 19 depots.*

And our building was one of those depots with another close by on Chorlton Road.

Badly painted walls, 2014
But by the early 20th century local authorities were showing an interest in operating their own Corporation transport services and the Manchester Carriage and Tramway Company ceased trading in 1903.

So while in 1894 our building was one of their deports by 1911 it had moved with the times and was home to the Provincial Motor Cab Company Ltd.

But this “new century” enterprise had no use for all of the original building and so the stretch on Range Road was used by Mrs Emma Thompson as a laundry.

And that pretty much is where we started the story with that picture of Andy’s which was once part of a horse drawn tram empire became a laundry and now fronts private residences.

Not that I have finished because just as I couldn’t resist starting with Andy’s picture I shall close with this one of part of the building in 1962, when it was the Range Garage.

Range Garage in 1962
Something of the grandeur of the place when it was owned by the Carriage Company can be seen from the picture by A H Landers.

And there is that canopy to the left of the great entrance, complete with petrol pumps.

But this original was too big even for a garage which boasted it was open Day & Night so the section to the right housed the Metalic Construction Company (Manchester) Ltd.

All now gone save that odd bit of brick and canopy and of course the facade on Range Road without which Andy wouldn’t have had a picture or me a story.

Pictures; Range Road and the surviving bits of the deport from the collection of Andy Robertson, and the Range Garage, 1962, A H Landers m41068, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

* Gray, Edward (1977), The Manchester Carriage and Tramways Company, Manchester Transport Museum Society

Unlocking a little of the history of Nu 50 Newton Street

Now this is one of those buildings I never tire looking at.

Number 50 Newton Street, 2015
It is number 50 Newton Street which according to that excellent book on Manchester “was built for a hat manufacturer by C Clegg & Son in 1907.  

Baroque, strikingly designed to maximise light with giant-three-story glazed arcades on the three exposed sides.” *

All of which I suspect must have made Mr Wood and his four sons  very proud of their new building which replaced an earlier warehouse from where they had traded from at least 1895.

In that year they rented a substantial building from Mr Abraham Howarth with a rateable value of £417 which dwarfed the neighbouring properties which included more warehouses and photographers which was to become the Kensington Inn.

Number 50 Newton Street in 1895
And there I think the mystery begins because by 1909 the Wood’s are no longer in residence in this fine baroque building and instead the property is occupied by 18 different businesses which two years later has risen to 29 which I suspect will be the pattern for the rest of that century.

So the search is on for the Woods and by extension some of the other businesses which operated from number 50.

Number 50 Newton Street in 1909
The first port of call will be the directories for 1907 and 08 followed up by any references to their business in company records.

Sadly at present the Manchester Rate Books stop at 1900 which closes down that avenue of research.

But I do know a Joseph Wood married an Esther Bibby in 1814 and a James Bibby Wood was living in Withington in 1891.

So I rather think we shall be returning to number 50 which Peter painted recently.

I am hoping there are more to come because this part of the city is changing very quickly and some at least of the buildings in the Northern Quarter which I have taken for granted are undergoing renovation and change of use while some may disappear forever.

And part of that change has exposed the side of number 50 showing that it was built with an inner courtyard which until recently was hidden from view.

In time I hope more of its secrets will come to light.

Well we shall see.

Painting; No 50 Newton Street, © 2015 Peter Topping
Facebook: Paintings from Pictures

Pictures; from the Slater’s Manchester, Salford, & Suburban Directory, 1895 &1909 

**Manchester, Clare Hartwell, 2008 page 221

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Lost Red Cross Hospitals of Whalley Range

Patients and Red Cross VADs in a hospital in France
There were at least five of them ranging from private homes given over to the needs of war to theological colleges with room to spare.

Some across the border in Chorlton and Didsbury have been documented, but in the case of Whalley Range there is just a list in a Red Cross file and the occasional newspaper report.*

The Lancashire Independent College along with the Hartley Primitive Methodist College on Alexandra Road offered their dormitories as hospital wards.

But then there were the private homes which have been less easy to locate and a military HQ.

Burford Road in 1894
Of these there was Sunnyside on Range Road, numbers 1 & 3 Burford Road and Lancaster House.

Sunnyside still exits and is a tall semi detached house on the north side of Range Road.

In 1911 its occupant a Mr Henry Cartledge described it as having nine rooms with a longish garden which backed on to the properties fronting Yardburgh Street.

And that pretty much is all there is.  A newspaper report referred to it as the Britannia Hospital but places it on Withington Road which joins Range Road.

It was a small hospital accommodating just thirty-three beds and in 1917 the Red Cross decided to close it and transfer its patients to the Wesleyan College in Didsbury site which was to increase its capacity to 250 beds.

The houses on Burford Road are equally still shrouded in mystery.  In 1911 number three was home to Mr and Mrs Gamble and their three daughters and a servant.

It too had nine rooms and was one of two semi detached properties on the corner of Burford and Withington Road. Two years earlier, number one known as Burford House was the residence of Edward R Buck, manufacturer and number three, the Falklands   was occupied by A Mrs Hester.

Lancaster House, Whalley Road, 1961
But 1911 number one was vacant and in the way of these things perhaps number three was also empty by the outbreak of the war.

Already the Corporation had had plans to buy the 14 roomed properties known as the Alders just a little further along Burford Road and is it as preparatory school for Whalley Range High School for Girls.

Lancaster House on Whalley Road was already a military establishment being the HQ of C Squadron of the Imperial Yeomanry, continuing to serve the army well into the mid 20th century.

Now the existence of all these Red Cross Voluntary Hospitals across south Manchester has pretty much been forgotten which is a shame really, given the good they did and the work on the people of Whalley range, Chorlton, and Didsbury who staffed them  and raised money for them.

*The McLaren Memorial Baptist Church Edge Lane, Chorlton, The Wesleyan Church, Manchester Road, Chorlton, , The Wesleyan College, Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Woodlawn, Mersey Road, Didsbury.

Pictures; Patients & Red Cross VADs in a hospital at Gournay, France, 1916, courtesy of the Red Cross, detail from the OS map of South Lancashire, courtesy of Digital Archives, Association, and Lancaster House, Whalley Road, 1961, by A.E.Brown, m40912, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Somewhere, sometime before the Great War, pictures with secrets

Sometimes a picture stubbornly refuses to give up its secrets.  

And yes I know it is daft to liken a photograph to a person but this is how I feel every time I try give it location or a date.

We are sometime in the first decade or so of the last century.  Yet until someone can up with more I am stumped.

But that doesn’t stop the picture providing us with a wonderful amount of detail.

Judging by the number of people without coats we must be on a warm summer’s day and yet there is still a formality about the dress of everyone in the scene.

The women wear hats the boys have those classic Edwardian suits with the large white collars and the little girl has that familiar smock and bonnet.

And as if to remind us of how far we are from today there is not a motor car in sight.  Waiting by the level crossing is a horse and cart, while away by the station and lined up to collect passengers from the train are a variety of traps and carriages.

Where ever we are it is in part a working area.  Beyond the railway line and partly hidden by the station box is a factory.

But of all the detail it is the pram and the children that draw you in.

I doubt today whether any of us would be comfortable at leaving a baby and the young girl in the charge of two lads not yet more than ten and leaving them so close to the railway and factory.

Of course their parents may be just out of the shot and like the dog on the other side of the road about to make an appearance.

Sadly I will never know.

Picture; from the collection of Alan Brown.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Laying the tramtrack along Barlow Moor Road in the summer of 1911

Now I can never get enough of those old Manchester Corporation trams which served the city for almost half a century.

They are a topic I keep returning to whether it is the story of catching one up by Southern Cemetery in 1915 or the much awaited extension in to Chorlton from Whalley Range*.

And here is another from my friend Sally who came across this picture of men laying tram track in 1911 along Barlow Moor Road.

I can’t be exactly sure where we are.
The caption just says “Manchester City tramways are being extended along Barlow Moor Road to the Southern Cemetery” which could be pretty much anywhere from the Brook up to the cemetery.

But if the house to the left of the road is Brookfield House we will be somewhere just beyond Cundiff Road.

Brookfield House is still there in Chorlton Park although only a little of it is still in residential use.

If that is so then the buildings in the far distance will be Chorlton.

Of course it might be wrong, Brookfield seems closer in this picture but then before Chorlton Park was laid out in the 1920s this was just open land and the distance may be deceptive.

I shall await the debate.

In the meantime I am fascinated by the construction methods, which will not have changed that much from when the navvies laid the first railway track or the earlier gangs dug out the canals.

It was still a a process of hard manual labour using physical strength, with shovels pick axes and hand carts.

But as the picture shows the track edged ever closer to the cemetery and within in two years the line had reached Didsbury offering people of the twin townships a circular route into and out of town.

Picture; TRAMWAY EXTENSION AT CHORLTON, 1911, Manchester Courier, courtesy of Sally Dervan

*Waiting for the tram at Southern Cemetery in the summer of 1915,
A new tram service for Chorlton, ........... at the railway station in the summer of 1913, from the series Chorlton Trams,

The Lancashire Independent College in Whalley Range and a search for J Porter

I have fond memories of the old Lancashire Independent College in Whalley Range. 

The place has had a long history, first as a college for Dissenters, then as the GMB* National College and now as the British Muslim Heritage Centre.

The postcard image dates from the early 20th century and was sent to Miss K Phillips of Devon with the message that the new principal was “going to preach at Chorlton Road next Sunday.”

The photographer was a J.Porter, who seems to have specialized in pictures linked to religious buildings and occasions and may well have worked for M. Carr & Co who published a series of cards entitled the Moss Side Series.**

Now I suspect this is one of those tantalizing leads that will take me off in all directions.

But that is for another time.

*General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union.

** A number of his images appear in a collection of 58 photographs held by the Greater Manchester County Record Office, covering the period 1907-1918 which are listed by the National Archives,

Picture; from the Lloyd collection

Monday, 25 May 2015

Stories of the Library Theatre, its new home and the Public Hall in Chorlton

I went looking for pictures of the Library Theatre but so far have come up with just two.

Home, May 2015
Now given that the company performed in the basement of Central Ref from 1952 I would have thought I would have found more.

It was a theatre I enjoyed going to.

Unlike the Royal Exchange which was stunning and the Opera House where you could suffer from vertigo if you went cheap, the Library Theatre was small and intimate and quite special.

So while it was a traditional theatre you were never far from the actors and the action and that counted for a lot.

During the 40 years I went there you never quite forgot that this was a municipal enterprise.

It was built in 1934 as a lecture theatre and became the home of the Library Theatre which was run by the Libraries Committee from 1952.

The Lecture Theatre, 1934
I have a vague memory that during the interval in the early 70s they played a light show on to the safety curtain using what I think was a variation of a larva lamp.

Now I might be wrong on that but the place was distinctively different from your run of the mill commercial theatres.

It started with its location in the Ref which meant that your first introduction to the theatre was entering the library past those impressive columns and moving through the Shakespeare Hall and down that sweep of stairs.

And on a slow night in the large Social Sciences Room when the studying was not going well we sometimes drifted down to see if there were seats available.

First Street, May 2015
Usually we were successful and would sit in the cafe area as the last of the students departed to be replaced by the theatre set.

And now it has gone but having said that has not travelled far for in conjunction with the Corner House it will reopen at Home on First Street.

This looks an exciting new place and all credit to the City Council for helping push the project through with the same vision that saw them build Central Ref eighty one years ago and create the Library Theatre in 1952.

The Conservative Club and Public Hall, 1908
And that in turn made me thing of the Public Hall here in Chorlton in what was the Conservative Club on Wilbraham Road.

This too was a bold stroke and offered a venue for everything from amateur dramatics to political speakers and campaigns which in some cases ran contrary to the political views of the Con Club. Victor Grayson Socialist MP for Colne Valley spoke in the hall in 1908 and was heckled by members of the public, some I suspect who had made their way up from the Club below.

A number of drama groups also performed here along with a young John Thaw.*

The architects were Darbyshire and Smith, who very well known especially for building theatres including the Palace in Manchester) and pubs like the Marble Arch on Rochdale Road.   The front entrance went into the Conservative Club and a side entrance on Manchester Road went upstairs to the Public Hall which had a stage." 

Pictures; The Home May 2015 from the collection of Mike Lever, the lecture Theatre, Central Ref, 1934, Kemsley Studios, m81032, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, and the Conservative Club and Public Hall, Chorlton 1908 from the Lloyd Collection

* John Thaw, 1942 –2002) was an English actor, who appeared in a range of television, stage and cinema roles, his most popular being television series such as Redcap, The Sweeney, Home to Roost, Inspector Morse and Kavanagh QC.

** from Lawrence Beedle,

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Today at Hough End Hall .......... the walk covering all you wanted to know about the Hall and Chorlton in 1849 ...... now that's a zippy title

Hough End Hall. 1849
Now here is an opportunity to step back just under 170 years and test your skills of observation.

Here is Hough End Hall as it appeared in 1849 and all you have to do is turn up today at the Hall on Nell Lane at 1 pm and compare this fine engraving with what you can see.

And when you have ticked off all the differences you can listen to the talk on the Hall’s 400 years of history and then walk to the Lloyds on a trip back in time.

This is the second of the talks and walks during Chorlton Arts Festival focusing on Hough End Hall and its place in the local community.

Walking down the Row to the Horse & Jockey, 1845
Once Hough End’s past has been done we will set off west across Chorlton to recreate the township as it might have been in 1849, a mix of what you could have seen and more importantly who you would have to be polite to.

And given that we were a small rural community made up of agricultural labourers, some farmers and a few tradesmen some of us at least would have been doffing our hats to Mr Cunliffe Brooks wealthy resident of Barlow Hall and generous benefactor, along with Mr Holt of Beech House, and of course the local clergy.

Sutton's Cottage, 1892
Now I have never had any illusions of my place in the pecking order of 1849 and considering I come from a long line of agricultural labourers I reckon I would have been nodding to them and to the local farmers who held the prospect of regular employment.

Once that was done I rather think I might have sat outside my wattle and daub cottage just like Mrs Sutton’s which stood on the corner of Beech and Wilton Road from the late 18th century till 1894.

But I get ahead of myself.  The walk will pass her house, take in much more and finish at the Lloyds with the exhibition showing off the story of the Hall.

So this Sunday, at 1 pm outside Hough End Hall you can have your free trip back into the past and of course buy a copy of the book Hough End Hall The Story with all profits going to the campaign to buy the hall and turn it into a community asset.*

And you can download the walk guide at

Pictures;  Hough End Hall in 1849, from The Family Memoirs, Sir Oswald Mosley, 1849, the map of the township in 1845 from the OS of Lancashire 1845, courtesy of Digital Archives Association, and Mrs Sutton’s cottage, circa 1892 reproduced from a photograph by Barri Sparshot 2011

*Hough End Hall The Story

The Real Lives of Roman Britain ............. one to read

I have never lost my fascination for Roman history, and so I am looking forward to reading The Real Lives of Roman Britain by Guy De La Bedoyere.*

According to the publishers Mr De la Bédoyère “introduces Fortunata the slave girl, Emeritus the frustrated centurion, the grieving father Quintus Corellius Fortis, and the brilliant metal worker Boduogenus, among numerous others. 

Through a wide array of records and artifacts, the author introduces the colourful cast of immigrants who arrived during the Roman era while offering an unusual glimpse of indigenous Britons, until now nearly invisible in histories of Roman Britain.”

Anyone who watched Time Team will be familiar with Mr De la Bédoyère who was a regular contributor as well appearing in other programmes and writing a series of books.

And this is my sort of history.

Added to which I ordered it up from Chorlton Book Shop which can be guaranteed to   get it for you the following day.

Now I could have course slipped back and used Amazon but unless you shop locally you lose the shop so I reckon this way we all win.

Picture; cover from The Real Lives of Roman Britain

* The Real Lives of Roman Britain,  Guy De La Bedoyere, Yale University, £20

** Chorlton Book Shop,