Thursday, 29 September 2016

Down on Kidbrook Lane in the April of 1871 ............ a story of dark deeds

Now here is a story that passed me by. 

It’s a story of a police investigation into the brutal murder of a young woman in 1871 in Kidbrook Lane and by degree takes you through the twists and turns of the Victorian legal system and offers up an alternative view of the working conditions of domestic servants in the 19th century.

The young woman was Jane Maria Coulson who worked in the home of the Pook family of Greenwich.

She was just sixteen and pregnant.  Her alleged killer was Edmund Pook the son of the family and the rest as they say is one to read.

But without spoiling it I will reveal that the crime is still unsolved and that the author has gone over the evidence with fresh eyes and draws a conclusion.

Location; London

Picture; cover from the book

*Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrook Lane, Paul Thomas Murphy, 2016 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Lost and forgotten streets of Manchester ............. nu 52 underneath the Arndale

For anyone born after 1970 streets like Blue Boar Court, Bulls Head Yard, Watling Street and Spring Alley will be as remote as any of those little alleys that led away from the Coliseum in the Rome of the Emperors.

Watling Street from Shudehill, 1971
Of course there will be plenty who do remember Bulls Head Yard and in particular Watling Street which was once home to the old Hen and Poultry Market where the birds were displayed in cages and until recently the Mosley Arms which was serving pints by the middle of the 19th century.

Along with Watling Street, Spring Alley, Friday Street and Peel Street it vanished with the building of the Arndale.

But for the curious with a bit of imagination and an old map it is possible to recreate something of that warren of streets.

Watling Street ran off Shudehill almost opposite Thornely Brow and is today under the tall and twisty exit from the multi storey car park, which for even the most vivid of imaginations is a bit of a challenge.

So because Watling Street joined Friday Street which in turn joined High Street we will do the journey in reverse and begin with that entrance into the Arndale from High Street.

The Hen and Poultry Market, 1889
And by taking the main walk way east towards Exchange Court we will be walking roughly parallel with Friday Street which joined Watling Street passing a series of small entries including the one that gave access to Spring Alley.

All of which I suspect is very confusing so having included one picture of Watling Street from 1971 I will finish with an earlier one of the Hen and Poultry Market in 1889.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Watling Street from Shudehill, 1971, A P Morris, m05604 and the Hen and Poultry Market, 1889, S L Coulthurst, m80957, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

Crossing the river at Woolwich

We were on our way back north from a holiday in Kent and missed the M25.

Now I could have owned up straight away and blamed my map reading but instead as you do I turned it into an adventure.

Our new route I discovered would take us past the old family house in Eltham and always one to seize an opportunity suggested to Tina that we make the river crossing at Woolwich on the ferry.

So we took the scenic route stopping in the High Street for some pasties and a look at the parish church, which in turn allowed me to talk about Saturday nights in the dance hall above Burtons, and on to Well Hall.

I rather fancied another stop at the Pleasaunce  to show off the Tudor Barn but could see consumer resistance setting in, it was after all a long drive to Manchester and I was in the passenger seat, so we just slowed down on Well Hall Road as we went past 294 and then up to Shooters Hill and the drop back down in to Woolwich. All of which impressed Tina as did the ferry.

Now those of us who have used it all our lives can be a tad dismissive of the journey.

You often have to wait a long time to get on, the trip across is short and often accompanied by gust of cold river wind, but it can still be pretty good.

Add to that a hot sunny day and we were set up for the long drive north.

And I had forgotten just how much the Thames still means to me.

Even now I only really feel at home as the train from Charing Cross passed over the river and we arrive at Waterloo which I grant you may sound so much romantic and nostalgic tosh but there you are that is how it is.

I suppose it’s partly because we never lived that far away from it and so for me it marks many of my childhood memories.  Like the time Jimmy O’Donnell, John Cox and I went exploring along the beach below Greenwich Pier.

We could have chosen the stretch in front of the Naval College which was clean and from memory even had a little sand.

Instead we took the steps down to the river beside the brick dome which contains the stairs to the start of the foot tunnel and turned upriver and past a couple of beached Thames barges and promptly sank in the oily mud up to our ankles and had to be rescued by a bargee.

Now I suppose we should have been thankful, but we still had to face a two mile walk back to New Cross and the inevitable inquest into how shoes and socks were covered in Thames mud.

To this day I have to admit that under the stern questioning of my mother and to my continued shame I blamed the other two for my misfortune.

Then of course it was still a working river all noise, dirt, powerful smells and full of cranes, barges and ships.

All of which was difficult for Tina to take in.  I told her about the old power station, the food factory I worked at and summers evening on the water front at the Cutty Sark pub listening the dull bang of the barges knocked together by the swell from a passing boat, none which quite fitted with the empty expanse looking east and west.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

British Home Children ............... the continuing story

Imagine being 7 again, and imagine that grownups have decided that your future lies on the other side of the world far from Ancoats, Greengate or Woolwich.

You may or not being going with your siblings but you will certainly be leaving your parents to start a new life in a farming community or in the home of some well off couple.

And that in a nut shell is the story of British Home Children, migrated in their thousands from 1870 to Canada, Australia and other bits of the old Empire.

It is still a story which for many is an unknown piece of history and so anything that brings it out of the shadows is to be welcomed.

I first came across British Home Children a decade ago when in the course of some family research I found our own who left Britain in 1914 for Canada.

He was my great uncle and he had been in care along with his brothers and sister for most of his young life.

That was a revelation more so because none of us knew anything about him but during the last ten years I discovered more and in the process met other people who were set on the same path of discovery as me.

Many of us subscribe to BHC sites dedicated to helping others find out more and in this age of social networking there are a shedload of facebook groups and pages.

And that brings me to  the newsletters and in particular this one.

It isn’t the only one and I shall be featuring others during the month, but the October edition of British Home Children is out today.*

And yes I write for it but given that the other newsletters and groups will feature later I have no problem in featuring this one.

BHC is a subject very close to our family, which links us back to Derby where great grandmother came from,crosses  the Atlantic to where great uncle Roger was settled and more of our family.

But it also brings me back to where I grew up in London and to Manchester where the Manchester & Salford Boys' and Girls' Refuges migrated young people from the twin cities to Canada between 1870 and 1914.

Pretty much got the lot then.

Location; Britain and Canada

Picture; cover of British Home Children October 2016

* British Home Children October 2016,

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A map, dance lessons in the Con Club and a mystery

Now here is one of those fascinating little bits of history which like so many is the result of nothing more dramatic than turning out a cupboard drawer.

It is a map of Chorlton drawn on linen and takes us back to dance lessons in the late 50s and a friendship.

And because my friend Ann found the map I will let her tell the story

“I was putting something away in a drawer, and came across this map.

When I was 13, I used to go for dance lessons at 'Rogers and Lamont', who used to be in the room above the Conservative Club, on Wilbraham Road. 

I met a boy there, who used to walk me home. He was 16, and worked at a printers in Manchester, and to show me where he worked, he drew me this map on linen.

That was 60 years ago. I wonder if he is still alive?  I'd love to be able to tell him I've still got his map.”

I hope he is too and during the evening I shall go looking for him.

It may lead nowhere but I will enjoy the search.

And of course for anyone with a keen interest in the bus routes of 1956 David was helpful enough to add these to the map.

The 94 and 82 were still running when I washed up here in 1976 and I often took the 82 in the 80s all the way up to Oldham to visit my friend Lois, while the 94 whisked you down Manchester Road along Seymour Grove and off into town via I think Deansgate.

I do have a 1961 bus timetable and map so I shall go and look at that, but I am pretty sure that before the night draws in someone will have been in touch with the routes and times.

And I rather hope this will stir the post and we get some memories of Rogers and Lamont, dance lessons and maybe even David.

Location; Chorlton

Picture; hand drawn map of Chorlton, circa 1956 by David Jones from the collection of Ann Love

Summer in the City

Now for no particular reason other than I took them and they are of Manchester, here is a short series celebrating places I like.

All have appeared before and some a long time ago.

Pictures; around Manchester 2002-2015

Lost and forgotten streets of Manchester ....... nu 51 Lizard Street the one they won’t let you down

Now most of us won’t even give Lizard Street a second glance and more so because Gary the Guardian has the keys and regularly locks the gate.

And that leads me to Antony’s picture which he sent over yesterday accompanied by the comment

“Has this city-centre street featured in your blogs?

You can work out most street name origins with a bit of educated guesswork but why would you name a street after a lizard?”

So I shall go and look at my book that offers up explanations for our street names but in the meantime I bet some will know.

Location; Manchester

Picture; Lizard Street, 2016 from the collection of Antony Mills

Passing the time ............... the end of the adventure

An occasional series of pictures of people and places.

Location; People and Places, 2014 Varese, Ital

Pictures; People & Places, Varese, Italy, 2014, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

Maps pictures drawings .....all you ever wanted to see

Now here is a new way of learning about our past which is free and offers up thousands of historic images of London.*

The resource has just been launched online and has a wealth of photographs, prints, drawings and posters from London's past.

Each image is available to view via an interactive map showing their locations.

This new exciting project has been created by London Metropolitan Archives in partnership with the Guildhall Art Library and contains 250,000 images.

So if you subscribe to Samuel Johnson’s famous observation that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford" I am guessing there will be much here to fascinate you and of course it is free.

Pretty much seems a good deal to me.

Picture; Billingsgate Fish Market, 1927, courtesy of MARK FLYNN POSTCARDS,

*Collage The London Picture Archive,

Monday, 26 September 2016

Lost and forgotten streets of Manchester ......... nu 50 on Wood Street looking for the Pack Horse Yard

Now I like the way that alleys, streets and even entries are preserved while all around them major redevelopments tear down old buildings and replace them with new.

And the covered entry that leads from Wood Street to the yard of the Pack Horse pub is just such an example.

Now if you go looking for the entry the chances are that you will miss it because for certain parts of the day and night the entry is closed off by a door which you might just assume is one of the doors that leads into the Wood Street Mission.

And if you went looking for the Pack House Yard you won’t find that either.

The Pack Horse or the Free Mason’s Tavern as it was sometimes called was on Bridge Street.

The building is still there but now goes under the name of the Bridge which given its location on Bridge Street makes perfect sense.

It’s a long thin place and at the back there is a door into the yard, go through the yard and you will enter a tiled passage way which leads out onto Wood Street.

And there you have it, retrace your steps and you walk into the yard of the old Pack Horse and by degree into the pub and out on to Bridge Street.

For those who like just a bit of atmosphere the yard also has an old fashioned lamps post.

All of that said I know the passageway is not a street but if you collect the slightly unusual this one is it.

The passageway was there in the 1790s and it seems that successive building development included it in the layout of new properties, and the Wood Street Mission which still occupies the site was no different.

And that as they say is that.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; the passageway 2016 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

When a smelly sewer was just one too many

Now I am pretty much sure I am going to be corrected today or at the very least attract someone who knows more about 19th century sewer ventilation pipes than I do.

But I grew up with one at the top of our road in south east London. It is still there today as is the one my brother in law took a picture of in Plumstead. Of course when you are growing up you take bits of street furniture for granted. Well I did anyway.

Ours was tall made out of iron and was always painted a pale green although the one in Plumstead is more a pale blue. But I digress.

They were for venting the sewers of the more obnoxious and even dangerous gasses which could accumulate down below. I suppose they are still necessary today.

Our Colin reckoned he heard running water when he took one picture of the base.

Now I have not come across one in Manchester but I bet there will be someone who has, and posts the fact with perhaps a picture.

I expect they help date the area.  One source I read suggested that they were erected in the years after the Great London Stink in 1858 and this would fit roughly with when my bit of Peckham was being laid out. They were particularly necessary in hilly areas where gas could get trapped in pockets, and both my bit of Peckham and Colin’s Plumstead are built on hills.

And at least one chap got in on the act and in 1895.  Joseph Edmund Webb, of Birmingham, patented the “Webb’s Patent Sewer Gas Destructor" in  March 1895. At its top, behind a glass, burned a small flame from the town’s gas supply. This acted as a chimney, drawing the sewer gas up to the flame, where it was ignited, thus illuminating the street. The cleverness of Mr Webb’s patent was the way it regulated the supply of sewer gas.

North Tyneside council has restored ten in Whitley Bay and Monkseaton. Blyth council has restored five. Sheffield, though, is the capital of the destructor.

It was built on seven hills, so there were lots of folds and u-bends in its sewer system in which to trap gas.

From 1914 to 1935, it installed 84 destructors, of which 22 remain with three still at work, casting an orange glow on the Sheffield streets.*

And much to my surprise there is even a facebook page.

Which I think might indeed be a fitting point to close on although I have yet to find  Henry Eddie & Co Ltd or the Bow Foundry.

Pictures; from the collection of Colin Fitzpatrick   

*The Northern Echo July 2008

“Having a nice time, sea rough”.............. picture postcards from the 1930

“Having a nice time, sea rough seen some people I know” and with that Betty plunged into a description of the places she had seen and some of the things she had done.

I wonder what Ethel and Bert thought of the card or for that matter the others which they received over the years.

They lived on Church Lane in Harpurhey and the house is still there and although I doubt that they or any of the family are still in the area.

This card along with a large batch of others had been thrown away and were found by someone who passed them on to Ron who in turn has lent them to me.

They are a rich collection spanning the early decades of the 20th century and include family snaps, posed studio portraits and lots of seaside cards.

Ron hoped that we might be able reveal something of the family and also a bit about Betty, which I hope we will.

Which just leaves me to reflect on the gentle humour of the card.

Location; on holiday

Picture; picture postcard circa 1930s from the collection of Ron Stubley

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Lost and forgotten streets of Manchester ....... nu 49 Mayfield Cottages moved so Mr Topping could catch a train

You won’t find Mayfield Cottages, they were swept away in 1910 when Mayfield Railway Station was opened so Mr Topping could catch a train.
The Star & Garter, 2015

But then you won’t be able to catch a train from Mayfield Railway Station.

It closed to passenger traffic just 50 years after it was opened and the last trains left in 1986.

It had acted as a relief for London Road Railway Station, having five platforms and recently it was proposed to reinstate it to help ease the congestion of traffic at Piccadilly.

But the latest plans which are part of the bold and innovative Northern Hub would see it demolished and an extension to Piccadilly with two new platforms running over Fairfield Street.

The Star & Garter, 1849, on Boardman Street
And that brings me to the Star and Garter which if it is doesn’t vanish under the new scheme will be so close that with a bit of ingenuity the publican could pass pints up to railway passengers.

The Star and Garter is a magic place, part old fashioned pub but also a venue for live music and a place which many people will remember with affection.

It has stood on the corner of Travis and Fairfield Street since at least 1879 and moved from its previous site between 1876 and ’79.

That previous site was on Boardman Street which is now Baring Street and where the pub once stood is at present just a bit of open land on the corner of Fairfield Street.

Now depending on which source you read the original Star and Garter opened in 1801 or 1803 when an enterprising individual saw the potential in an area which was fast being developed with residential, industrial and commercial properties.

The Star & Garter and Mayfield Railway Station, 2014
That said the name of the pub doesn’t appear in any of the early street directories although it is clearly labelled on both the 1849 OS map and that of Adshead’s map of 1851.

Of course its absence from the street directories proves nothing given that Boardman Street doesn’t appear in any listings.

And so what is needed is a trawl of the rate books and licensing records which should offer up the answer.

Mayfield Cottages in 1849
In the meantime I shall just ponder on the name of Mayfield which is currently associated with the disused railway station and was once the site of two schools and nine properties of which five were back to back.

And go back into the 18th century and the area is shown as Mayfield.

All of which leaves me to ponder on how the name will survive into the future.

Location; Manchester

Painting; Paintings from Painting; The Star & Garter Manchester. Painting © 2015 Peter Topping, Pictures

Pictures; of the Star and Garter, 2014 from the collection of Andy Robertson and maps of the area from the 1842-44 OS for Manchester & Salford, courtesy of Digital Archives Association,

The Eltham we have lost, part 2........ The old lane by the National Schools, 1908

Another of those pictures of Eltham’s past which need no comment

This is the old lane by the National Schools as it was in 1908.  The lane is now Archery Road and 'One acre Allotments' was on the right.

Picture; the old lane,  from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers,

Who remembers N & J Walley, Provisions and Tobacco, 358 Barlow Moor Road?

One of the nice things about the blog is the way that people kindly share their photographs.

This is one that Linda sent me.  It is one of the shops on Barlow Moor Road facing the bus station.

In the last few years these two parades of shops running from St Ann’s Road up towards Sandy Lane have undergone that sort of change which reflects what has happened to Chorlton.

They were built sometime after 1911 and were the traditional type of shops you can find anywhere.  Well into the 1990s there was a bakery, newsagents, the launderette, and Kingspot known affectionately as “Kingy” where you could get everything from a washing line, a variety of plastic toys to that picture of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset.

And despite the renovation of the cast iron veranda there was a tiredness about the place which was not helped as more and more of them became vacant.

Now of course the transformation is almost complete and stretching across the two blocks are smart new bars and eating places.  Each time I go past I make a mental note of the ratio between those offering food and drink and the rest.

So to Linda’s picture.  The renovation was finished and this bit of history has been lost again. So  here out in the light for the first time in decades is the old sign for N & J Walley who ran a “Provisions” and “Tobacco” shop on the site.

I don’t remember them but I know there will be someone who does and who may have bought their butter, tea and biscuits from them.  By the early 70s they may have gone, because Linda thinks “it was the Spar shop when I first came to Chorlton 41 years ago.  I remember Seals the green grocers, Doyle's the key cutters, a chemist, a TV rental shop, the bakers the newsagents, and my children's favourite - King spot, as well as my favourite Smiths bread shop and there was also just one Chinese chip shop, and the launderette.”

Now that is pretty much as I remember it too and in the way of things I also used most of those shops from time to time.  But in the space of the time between Linda taking the picture and sending it, “they have covered up a section of the old sign and put decking down” which means that there will be an almost complete strip of bars restaurants and takeaway outlets.  So I shall close with these pictures from 1958 of the same spot.

And no sooner has this been posted than Ann wrote to me that "in the fifties, the shop at the side of the alley was a sweet shop, and as sweets had just come off rationing, was a shop I frequently visited. I remember my first Bounty Bar, which was my favourite for years.

On the other side of the alley, in the 70's was the Mandarin Chinese Take away, run by Lily and her family. At the time Howard was going to a class in Mandarin, and Lily used to give him chinese newspapers.

There was also a shoe repairers at the beginning of the arcade, run by two brothers. I think that was the second shop. The first was I think a grocers.."

And by  now the sign for N & J Walley has vanished again.
Pictures; from the collection of Linda Rigby, and numbers 360-350 Barlow Moor Road, m17609, and 366-360, m 17607, taken by A H Downs in May 1958, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Lost and forgotten streets of Manchester nu 48 ........... Byrom Street just half a century ago

It is easy to over romanticise life in the narrow streets of places like Castlefield, Hulme and Ancoats in the middle decades of the last century.

Byrom Street, 1944
There was certainly a sense of community and a willingness to stand by each other, but that can’t really compensate for homes which long ago had passed the test of decent places to live, areas dominated by noisy factories and the smell of all sorts of industrial workshops and where there was very little in the way of open spaces, grass and flowers.

Many of us are aware of the awful conditions of parts of Manchester in the 19th century but pass over those middle decades of the following century.

Byrom Street, 1965
Not only were many of the worst properties still standing but the war had put on hold the slum clearance plans as well as actually creating a housing shortage.

So today I want to concentrate on the memories of Lisa’s mum who was born in 1946 and grew up in Byrom Street just behind Deansgate.

Today it is a mix of new inner city living, and swish office blocks.

Some of the first new residential properties were built at the southern end of Byrom Street in the 1970s soon after the courts and alleys filled with houses from the late 18th and early 19th centuries had been cleared away.

The more elegant town houses of John Street and part of Byrom Street have now all become offices and exist beside new commercial properties which have gone up at the beginning of this century.

But back in the 1940s and into the 60s this was still a residential area and even after the families moved out little really changed till the developments of a decade ago.

Location; Manchester

Byrom Street, 1944

Pictures; Byrom Street in 1944, City Engineers Department, m78877, Byrom Street, left hand side, 1965 J Ryder, m00691, and Byrom Street, early Victorian shops, 1947 T Baddeley, m00659, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, 

The doctor’s bill and the story of a family in Fallowfield in 1867

Now I am always fascinated by how a chance discovery leads to a story.

This is the envelope sent to Mr Matthew Dean in 1867.
Contained inside is a doctor’s bill for the sum of £6 10 shillings and falling back on that old chestnut, I can’t read the doctors handwriting.

But I am sure Ron who lent me the bill can put me straight on what the charge was for.

That said I may well just stay with the envelope, after all even given that almost a century and half separate me from Mr Dean I rather think he is due his privacy.

And that of course raises that big question of just how much should you reveal about a long dead person’s life, and at what point a bit of legitimate research becomes voyeurism?

This I know from my own family history when one Saturday morning a death certificate I had ordered up for one of the brother of my great grandmother fell through the letter box revealing a very dark secret which stopped me in my tracks.

Now happily I don’t think there is such a tragedy here, but £6 10 shillings does seem a lot of money, particularly for Mr Dean who variously described himself as a warehouse manager, and cotton salesman.  But given the bill was for 'professional services' we may be dealing with more than one visit.

He lived on Wilmlsow Road, was married to Julia and they had seven children all who were born In Fallowfield.

I can’t find a date for their marriage but their eldest was born in 1853 and so I am guessing it will be sometime around that date.

Of course the term manager is a loose one and Mr Dean may well have been at the top end of that occupation.  Certainly by 1881 the family were well enough off to have added a cook as well as a housemaid to their staff.

I may even be lucky and find their home which in 1881 was listed as Portland Villas somewhere along Wilmslow Road which may help determine their wealth.

Sadly it is more likely that it has gone which at present leaves us with just this envelope and bill and the odd fact that on different census returns he is listed with different birth years.

Not unusual I know but a fact.

Location Fallowfield

Picture; envelope, 1867 from the collection of Ron Stubley

Of coffee, reputations and the joy of espresso

Now if you grew up in the 1950s coffee was still something that “other people” drank and when it was served usually came as a light brown milky substance which was as weak as it was insipid.

Espreeso at the station
Of course there was Camp coffee which was a totally different experience but did nothing for an appreciation of the real thing.

And nor did  those coffee bars of the 1960s with their cups of the frothy stuff or the profusion of instant and powered brands.

All of which I suspect feeds that prejudice amongst many North Americans that coffee is best drunk west of the  New England and Newfoundland coasts.

But all things change.  The revolution in what we eat and drank in Britain which began with the end of post war rationing, growing prosperity and the influence of people like Elizabeth David have transformed the scene.

For me the first hint of that magic came with the Polish couple who lived in our house in 1956 and ground their own coffee which they often served with those dark chocolate covered cinnamon biscuits

That said it would be decades before I really came to understand that love affair of the coffee bean and it came when I first began regularly visiting Italy and experienced the joy of standing in a bar taking a small cup of espresso.

For our Italian family it doesn’t come simpler and better than that.

Sometimes they will have a large milky version but it will only be drunk for breakfast and never again for the rest of the day.

And I now begin the day with an espresso, without milk or sugar, the perfect start to the day followed by another half an hour later and then no more.

Coffee, for me is best drunk first thing in the morning, in small shots and because I am now very picky I don’t often bother with coffee shops during the day.

But there are some fine ones, many of which are independents with a love of offering up some fantastic coffee.

And the point of the story?  

Well apart from the sheer joy of the stuff it is I suppose that historical journey we have undertaken from a post war Britain where food was nutritious but boring and still limited to what we have today but which sits against food banks, the worry about the amount of sugar in our diet and the quality of food produced by factory methods.

Which in turn I suppose can be contrasted with the wholesale adulteration of many foodstuffs in the Victorian period.

Nuff said

Location; our kitchen

Pictures; the bar on Viareggio, 2010 and the most regular Italian brands to cross the front door.

“Dear Eddie & Bert do you know the Clough?” ............ picture postcards from the 1930s

Now as we move effortlessly towards October the season of sending holiday postcards will slowly come to an end.

So with that in mind here is number two of a short series which will come to an end when either I run out of them or we get the first snow of winter.

The humour was sometimes gentle occasionally risqué and at times very funny and very rude.

I suspect Eddie and Bert were of the gentle kind.

Location; on holiday

Picture; comic card, circa 1930s from the collection of Ron Stubley

Friday, 23 September 2016

“Having a good time, travelled 140 miles today” .......... on holiday in the August of 1931

Now as we move effortlessly towards October the season of sending holiday postcards will slowly come to an end.

Not of course that we send as many as we did at the beginning of the last century.

Back then with frequent collections and deliveries, sending a message by picture postcards was as common as texting today.

So with that in mind here is the first of a short series of comic cards.

This one was sent in the August of 1931 from Colwyn Bay to Harpurhey.

Bertha was on a motoring holiday which will in itself make the holiday as something new.

She told Edna and Bert that she had travelled 140 miles that day, seen some “lovely sights” and had been charged “one shilling” to sit in Lloyd George’s chair.”

And for anyone with an interest in the picture, here is one of those hardware shops familiar to anyone born before 1970.

They were an Aladdin’s Cave of hardware opportunities offering everything from paraffin, to waxed string, an assortment of different sized screws, pots pans and paint.

Location; Wales

Picture; comic card, circa 1931 from the collection of Ron Stubley

Lost and forgotten streets of Manchester ........... nu 47 Spam Court, one narrow street and the posh one

I have been drawn back to Spam Court. 

Spam Court, 1965
It was a collection of six back to back houses in a partially enclosed court off Artillery Street which runs from Byrom Street to Longworth Street behind Deansgate.

They were one up one down with a cellar and did not rate an entry in the street directories which is not unsurprising given that those who lived here were on very modest means and some on the very margins of poverty.

In 1851 in those six houses lived a total of thirty-three people who made their living from the bottom end of the economic pile including six power loom weavers, a cooper, dress maker as well as an errand boy, a hawker and a pauper.

It is very easy to become blasé at the conditions in Spam Court, after all historical empathy only goes so far, but this was living at the precarious end.

I rather think that Ann Cass aged 73 who described herself as a pauper had never had an easy life, and now she and her two daughters in their 30s were reliant on their combined wages as power loom weavers and what they got from Annie Harrison, their 38 year old lodger who was a band box maker.

Artillery Street and Spam Court, 1849
Nor were they alone in taking in lodgers other families in the court were also doing the same and in most cases having to find space in what was at best two rooms and may even have been less, because the majority of  our houses were sublet.

Of the six, five had two families living in them as clearly defined and separate households.  Now these properties did have cellars and there were plenty of people living in the cellars of houses across the city according to the 1851 census.

But usually the enumerator recorded those who lived in the cellars.   But in this case no such records were made, which rather suggests that families and their lodgers were living in just one of the two rooms in each of the houses.

And in the case of John and Catherine Pussy it meant finding space for their five children ranging in ages from 20 down to three as well as their 19 year old lodger in what I guess was one room given that the house was shared with another family of four.

Spam Court has gone but Artillery Street is still there and you have to walk it to get some idea of how narrow the street was and then try to picture the 83 people who lived mainly in the three courts off it or the 96 who lived on Longworth Street which ran from Artillery Street to St John Street.

Artillery Street, 2012
The whole census patch amounts to ten streets and their small courts, most not much wider than Artillery Street and bounded by Deansgate and Byrom Street in which crowded a total of 497 people.

But it would be wrong to run away with the idea that this was just a collection of humble streets housing the least well off.

True, the majority as the graph below shows  made their living from unskilled or factory work but there were also artisans, shop keepers small businessmen.

And almost acting as an island of wealth was St John Street, then as now a place of fine late 18th and early 19th century houses whose residents included accountants, a silk manufacturer and a retired calico engraver and printer.

And it is this last “calico engraver” who I want to finish with as a contrast to Spam Court.

James Holt had set up the family business sometime at the beginning of the 19th century had bought and maybe built his double fronted property on St John Street and in the fullness of time retired to Chorlton, leaving his son to run the business and retain in the family home in the heart of Manchester off Deansgate.

This was John Holt who would later in the 1850s move himself to our township.

But the family never gave up their interest in the area surrounding their town home and so by 1912 they owned seven of the fine houses on St John Street as well as shops cottages and a beer shop on the surrounding streets as well as land and the fine estate of Beech House in Chorlton.

St John's Street, 2012
We have rather come to be conditioned by the rich living in gated communities set apart from the less well off and our wealthy families were no different.

Samuel Brooks had established his own estate which would be developed for the well off on the edge of Chorlton, and in the late 1830s Victoria Park Company was set up to “erect a number of dwelling houses of respectable appearance and condition, with gardens and pleasure grounds attached, with proper rules and regulations against damage an nuisances.”*

But the residents of the houses on the north side of St John’s Street backed on to Spam Court while the Holt’s own fine house was not only beside a timber yard but its rear windows overlooked a coal yard and the densely packed court of Holt’s Place which consisted of ten small back to back properties.

So Spam Court and the poor were never that far from the rich of St John’s Street which I suppose is an interesting take on that much quoted phrase, “the poor are always with us.”

Pictures;Spam Court, J.Ryder, 1965, m00212, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, detail from 1842-49 OS map of Manchester & Salford, Digital Archives,, other pictures from the collection of Andrew Simpson, 2012

* A Short Account of the Victoria Park Manchester, Manchester Corporation, 1937

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Calling on the past with a package of Manchester stories

I was wearing my light weight raincoat..... I was neat, clean, had my note pad and  two pens and I looked the part.  I was what I should be a dedicated researcher and proud of it.  I was calling on Ron in Central Ref with the promise of some priceless history.

Well as an introduction to a story I think Raymond Chandler did it better in 1939, but then I wasn’t about to unravel some rather unpleasant crimes and equally unsavoury characters.*

Instead I was on a mission to collect some picture postcards from Ron who wanted them to go to a new home.

Now in Raymond Chandler’s novel the prize was four million dollars but I rather think Ron’s picture postcards will do for me.

They are after all a double prize for any historian, offering a picture of a place at some moment in time long before now, and because more often than not there is a fascinating message on the back they offer up names, addresses and events.

All of which can be followed up.

So on an unremarkable postcard of Wilmslow Road, young Bertha Geary had written to her friend “we heard the flying man,” who turned out to be a French pilot taking part in the 1911 Daily Mail All Round Britain Air Race” and because she included her own address I found her.

She had been living on School Lane, was just 13 and that day had set off with her parents for a walk.

But for most of us it will be the picture on the front and for me it doesn’t have to be an image from a century ago.

This one of Piccadilly Gardens from 1970 is as intriguing as any from the more distant past and reminds me of that other much favoured quote “the past is a foreign country they do things differently there.”**

And for many this will be a scene which is so unfamiliar as to be a foreign place, and yet the photograph was taken in 1970 and the gardens only got their makeover very recently.

It is a treasure of an image and makes me wonder what Ron has for me.

Location, Manchester

Picture; Piccadilly circa 1970 from the collection of Sally Dervan

*”I was wearing my powder-blue suit... I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”  The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler, 1939

**“The past is a foreign country they do things differently there."  The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley, 1953

Lost and forgotten streets of Manchester nu 46 ...... the one with the canal

I am on Camp Street just off Deansgate

Camps Street, 1938
And if I wanted to be more accurate we are standing in the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal Tunnel in 1938.

It is one of series of pictures which were taken by the City Engineers just under a hundred years after the canal opened to traffic in the October of 1839.

Forty years earlier the first proposals for a canal link from the river Irwell to the Rochdale Canal were floated in an effort to overcome the difficulties of off loading goods at the river and transporting them along the congested city streets.

The route of the canal across the city involved constructing a tunnel from Charles Street to Watson Street from which the waterway then ran in the open east as far as Lower Mosley Street before twisting south and running parallel with Chepstow Street before joining the Rochdale Canal just beyond Great Bridgewater Street.

Camp Street, 1947 showing what might be a shaft down to the canal
Much of the street pattern and many of the industrial buildings from that period have long since gone and I guess most people are not even aware that there was this cross city canal.

I first came across it when researching Camp Street a few years back and then discovered more of its story in Underground Manchester.*

This is a fascinating book and feeds that interest many of us have in mysterious and long forgotten tunnels.  Manchester has plenty of them and the book allows you to explore them through a collection of photographs, memories and documents.

It is a book I have long pondered on buying, but which in the end was passed onto me by David who often contributes to the blog.  He was born here in Chorlton and has vivid memories of the place in the 1950s and 60s.

Now this fascination with our lost tunnels is an interesting one and stems I suppose from a mix of genuine historical curiosity and that preoccupation with the slightly mysterious.

After all most of them were built so long ago that in some cases there are no official plans of where they are and certainly no real idea of their original purpose.

Added to this they pop up as tantalizing half clues which might be a bricked up entrance in a city cellar, or a faded newspaper clipping of a chance discovery by workman at the beginning of the last century.

Camps Street 2012
In the case of our waterway it was a letter in the Manchester City News of 1882 which described seeing both the “the canal tunnel with a towing path [which] came out near the Black Horse Hotel, Alport, where now stands Central Station.”**

Now sometimes they border on the conspiratorial and many of us will be have been told the story from the friend of a friend who came across an underground communication centre built in the 1950s during the Cold War.

Most of which make perfect sense given the heightened conflict of the period.

But sometimes I have to say they just feed the imagination like the myth that a passageway runs under the green from the old parish church to the Horse & Jockey.

It is one of those fanciful ideas born of half remembered school history involving religious persecution, priest holes and a walloping big dose of wishful thinking.

We certainly did have our own martyr to the old religion but I doubt that the Barlow family would have constructed a tunnel across the green.  And even had they done so I rather think it would have come to light during the last 400 years, either from one of the frequent burials that took place in the graveyard or the archaeological dig of the late 1970s and early 80s.

Camps Street, 1849 and the route of the canal in 1849
That said there is no doubt that many things lurk below our city streets which takes me back to Mr Warrender’s book and more particularly the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal Tunnel.

It was probably built as a cutting and then roofed over.  Just at the entrance to the tunnel hard by Charles Street was a gasometer which supplied “power of the lamps every thirty yards.”

Charles Street disappeared as the Liverpool Road warehouse complex expanded, along with Ashton Street, New Street and Dumbar Street and Garden Court.

But Camp Street is still there although the houses in this 1944 picture have long gone.

They were there during the construction of the canal which must have been irksome to the residents.

Not that I suspect either the owners of the land, or the houses or even the canal company were over bothered for the wishes of the occupants of the houses facing the work.

Camps Street, 1944
These were mostly families who earned a living from the work of skilled craftsmen, labourers and those engaged in work in the cotton mills.

Not I suspect that these people gave much thought to the men who were labouring in the tunnel just a few feet from their front doors which brings me back to that picture of the underground canal in 1938.

I have to say that there is something a little uncomfortable at about the picture which I suppose stems from my own dislike of enclosed places which are both dark and full of water.

But then by the time this picture was taken the canal had been closed to commercial traffic for two years and was on the way to becoming a forgotten place.  Already the section from Watson Street to the Rochdale Canal had been closed for sixty three years and been backfilled in preparation for the construction of Central Station.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Camp Street canal, City Engineers, 1938, m77571, Camp Street, T. Braddeley, m00701, Camp Street, City Engineers, 1944, m78767, Camp Street, C.Holt, 1938, m00700, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, map of Camp Street showing underground route of the canal from the Manchester and Salford OS 1842-49, courtesy of Digital Archives, and Camp Street, 2012 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Underground Manchester, Keith Warrender, Willow Press 2007, and also Below Manchester by the same author and publisher.

**ibid, Underground Manchester, page 23