On a sunny afternoon in October we braved the complicated one way system of Ashton under Lyne to visit Portland Basin Museum. Once we’d all successfully arrived, some of the group taking a little longer than others (!), we spent a fascinating afternoon browsing the exhibits and galleries. The museum is very well laid out, with a reconstructed early twentieth century street, a gallery covering the wide sweep of Ashton’s history, and sections on the industrial past of the area. In addition the canal basin is a beautifully constructed example of Victorian engineering and there are a number of wooden barges moored in the wharfs, giving some sense of what it must have been like a century ago.
The 1920s street was particularly popular, with many members of the group sharing memories of their childhoods in post-war Manchester. In the industrial gallery the donkey stone mill also generated a lot of interest – the group remembered the rag and bone man handing out donkey stones, but no-one knew how they were made or the link to Belle Vue.
Few of the group had visited before, and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon. There was plenty of room to park, the galleries were all fully accessible and although the cafe was closed, the staff very thoughtfully provided tea and biscuits.
The group will be visiting Portland Basin Museum on 15th October, so there will be no meeting held at Burnage Library that day. If anyone is interested in coming please contact us through the blog or at the library and we will try to arrange transport.
On 24th September we were very fortunate to welcome Dr Shirin Hirsch from MMU and the People’s History Museum to our group meeting. Shirin gave a fascinating talk, linking Peterloo to questions of race and empire. At the time, the treatment of the large Irish immigrant population was shocking, and many Irish people, including Mary Fildes, the president of the Manchester Female Reform Society, were active in campaigning for political reform.
A less well known part of the story is the role played by black radicals in political reform, and the connection between the reform movement and campaigns against the slave trade. Shirin in particular highlighted the importance of Robert Wedderburn, a man of dual heritage from Jamaica, who was a prominent figure in radical circles in London, fighting both against slavery and for democracy. For the cotton industry of Manchester there was a fundamental contradiction – the industrial wealth of the city and employment of thousands of cotton spinners were dependent on slavery. As the saying went at the time “behind Manchester stands Mississippi”. But this didn’t prevent socially and politically conscious working class people in the north from campaigning against slavery, as shown on the Skelmanthorpe banner from West Yorkshire.
The talk was very well received and generated much discussion and debate amongst members of the group.
For our first group outing of the autumn term thirteen of us visited Ordsall Hall, one of the oldest buildings in Greater Manchester. Dating from the 1350s, and nestled amongst modern housing developments and business parks, Ordsall is a remarkable survival of medieval domestic architecture. It owes its survival partly because it was the main residence of the wealthy Radclyffe family for over 300 years and partly thanks to its reuse under the ownership of the Egertons of Tatton as a working men’s club, soup kitchen and then a training college for Anglican priests.
We were blessed with glorious weather (in scarce supply this autumn!).
Thanks to Bob McDermott for adding the following to the blogpost:
Ordsall Hall is one place that has to be seen to believe how beautiful it is. The Hall itself is not that big but has so much charm and warmth it almost puts its old arms around you and takes you back through time to the period.
The many times I have passed by the Hall are too numerous to count over the years and the building from the front never inspired me to check it out which I am informed was altered in the 19th century. The real beauty is the back with the original timber frames and brickwork.
Looking for a day out? Then it’s not that far to go to Salford.
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.
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.