We had a great turn out and a fantastic selection of baked savouries and cakes for our final session of the summer term. After a presentation about the transatlantic links between Manchester and the US (see next blog), we took our food outside to enjoy the sunny weather. We were eventually defeated by the heat and had to retreat into the library – hard to believe on a rainy July afternoon!
We had a great turnout out for our last trip of the term – 16 turned up for a full day’s visit to Quarry Bank Mill. For most of us it was our first visit since the revamp of the mill, and it was interesting to see the Greg’s house, a relatively modest building for a family of such wealth. The improved access to all floors of the mill via the new lift has made a big difference for older visitors.
Arriving at 11.00, we spent the morning going round the mill. As always, the demonstrators were excellent, providing detailed information about the machinery and conditions of work. After lunch we went to the apprentice house and learnt about the boys and girls who lived there. Although conditions were certainly better than in Manchester, they had to work very hard and had little time to enjoy their childhood.
One of the most interesting aspects of the mill is the role played by Hannah Greg. As Unitarians, Hannah and Samuel Greg were to an extent outsiders, excluded from the landed aristocracy. Hannah also put her stamp on the mill, insisting on (and funding) education for the apprentices and barring corporal punishment for the children. Despite her benevolence, and the involvement of some of her family in campaigning against the slave trade, Hannah and Samuel’s wealth partly came from slave labour.
Although the afternoon turned out showery, our spirits were not dampened and we managed to cover a lot of the site before heading back to Manchester at about 3.00.
Thanks to Dave McLoughlin for the blogpost
On the afternoon of June 18 we met at Burnage Library and made the short walk to St Nicholas church on Kingsway which is a grade 2* listed building, described by Sir Nicholas Pevsner as “ a milestone in the history of modern church architecture in England.”
St Nicholas was the first church designed by architect Nugent Cachemaille Day who was strongly influenced by the design of San Miniato in Florence.
At the church we were greeted by Bevan Taylor a life-long member who has written a history of the church. Bevan, a sprightly 93 year- old, gave an entertaining and informative talk.
The predecessor to St Nicholas was a corrugated iron building. Funding was obtained to build a more permanent replacement and the current church was completed in 1932. Originally, the Church of England allocated £60,000 for the building of four new churches in the diocese of Manchester but it was later agreed that a fifth church should be built and funding for St Nicholas was consequently reduced to £11,600.
The limited budget impacted on the design. This was addressed by simplicity of design, using natural lighting from the large west window and the use of plain brick and plaster for the interior. What little money there was for ornamentation was spent on the great wrought iron grille in front of the lady chapel.
A complete restoration of the church was carried out in 2002 under the guidance of architect Anthony Grimshaw. The interior of the church was redesigned with the rear of the church being converted into a hall for community use. The exterior remains the same as in 1932. The cost of the restoration was over £1,000,000 – a sobering reminder of the impact of inflation compared with the original cost of the building.
Bevan who conducted the talk, gave us an excellent history of the church as well as some personal memories having attended the church since it was first built. One poignant recollection was of an older friend from the scouts who had enlisted in the RAF at the start of the war and was reprimanded by the vicar after a church service by the vicar for his comic impression of Hitler (Private Pike from Dad’s Army springs to mind). He was later killed on active service.
Refreshments were served and a tour of the church completed our visit which we all felt was excellent. Thanks to one of our members, Sybil who organised the visit and was also christened in St Nicholas several years after it was built.
For this year’s community fun day at St Margaret’s Church, the local history group devised a new display, focusing on the way in which Burnage changed from being a rural village in the C19 to becoming a suburb of Manchester, with industry and mass housing. The group spent some weeks delving through the picture archive at the library, choosing what we thought were the most significant events during the past 200 years of Burnage’s history and selecting images to represent the evolving community.
One of the most remarkable things that emerged from our work was the how rapidly that change occurred. In the late C19 Burnage was still essentially a farming community, with cottages, farms and few large villas at the northern end of Burnage Lane, lived in by prosperous professionals. Within about 30 years, by the 1920s/30s it was transformed, with the Garden Village, corporation housing, factories and Kingsway, providing a transport route into the city.
Although fun day was very wet (!), three of the group (Sibyl, Ann and Dave) staffed the stall, spreading the word about our activities. We will hopefully gain a few new members from their hard work!
We had our first outreach session with 30 year 3 children from Green End School. This was a wonderful opportunity for the group of 8 year olds to ask our members about their experiences of growing up, playing and school life. We showed the children some toys from the past, including a beautiful domino set made from ebony and ivory brought by Sibyl. They were very well prepared and had lots of questions. The children seemed very surprised about some of the differences between their experiences of childhood and those of the local history group – particularly the absence of TV! But we also found similarities – most of the children still play in the park and have bikes. We are looking forward to our next visit from the school.
On 4th June we were very lucky to be given a talk by Dolores Long about Manchester and the Spanish Civil War. Dolores has a direct link to the war through both her parents. Her father, Sam Wild, was the commander of the British Battalion of the International Brigade from 1936-1938, and her mother, Bessie Berry, was involved in the Aid for Spain movement in Manchester, raising money for the Republican cause.
Dolores painted a vivid portrait of the struggles and hardship during the war in Spain, and the commitment of the volunteers, most of whom were working class and had never travelled abroad before. Most had only very basic military training and had to endure intense heat and appalling conditions, but they believed that the fight against the Nationalist rebel General Franco, and his supporters Hitler and Mussolini, was vital for the defeat of Fascism and Nazism in Europe. Sam travelled to Spain with his sister’s boyfriend, who was sadly killed during the war. He showed great leadership skills and was soon promoted to command the British Battalion of roughly 2,500 fighters. They were often involved in fierce fighting, particularly the Battle of the Ebro, and roughly 500 were killed. Of the 109 who left Manchester to fight in the war, 35 were killed, a shocking rate of attrition. Sam himself was wounded a number of times.
Eventually, in 1938, the Republican government decided that the International Brigade should leave Spain. When the British Battalion arrived at Victoria Station in London, they were greeted as heroes, and they marched straight to Downing Street to hightlight the plight of the democratic government of Spain. Sam continued to campaign for the Spanish Republicans, with all his speeches being carefully monitored by MI5! Unlike many of the veterans from Spain, Sam was not allowed to fight during World War II – it seems that the authorities didn’t trust his communist beliefs and organisational skills.
Dolores was named after Dolores Ibarruri, one of the great communist leaders on the Republican side. She mentioned that, when she was growing up post-war Longsight, she pretended that she was named after a famous film star rather than a revolutionary leader! Sam and Bessie’s council house, where Dolores also lived, was on Birch Hall Lane and has a blue plaque to commemorate its famous inhabitants.
Dolores Long will be visiting the Local History Group at the Library on Tuesday 4th of June to talk about the Spanish Civil War and Manchester. Dolores is the daughter of Sam Wild, the commander of the British Battalion of the International Brigade, and Bessie Berry, who was active in raising money for Spain during the war. This is a very exciting opportunity to learn about the very close links between the city and the devastating conflict in Spain between 1936-1939.
The meeting is free and open to anyone, so please come down and join us…