Although lockdown has eased since I last blogged, I’ve decided to keep the name of these posts the same for a while. They’re still mostly based on walks and cycle rides I took during the strictest period of the lockdown, so the name still seems appropriate. This post is based on some very early observations I made during the spring – and many thanks to Toni Hunter for her help with the research.
The starting point is a cluster of old houses at the junction of Nelstrop Road North and Marbury Road on the Levenshulme/Reddish border. When I moved across Levenshulme last August I was surprised to find what appeared to be cottages and farm houses in an area of much more recent housing. Two are white painted and slate roofed, with substantial gardens, the third is a pair of low adjoining cottages, while the fourth, at the bottom of Nelstrop Lane, is a brick built house dating from about the mid C19. With a little research (thanks Toni!) I was able to piece together aspects of their stories, while some of the other observations I made add more.
The various Ordnance Survey maps from the mid nineteenth century clearly mark the houses. The 1848 map shows an area of farmland with field boundaries, trees and ponds, surrounding what is in effect a small hamlet, Shore’s Fold. To the east of Shore’s Fold, Houldsworth Mill would not be built for another 17 years, although the canal had been dug 50 or so years earlier in the 1790s to connect the industrial centres of Stockport, Ashton and Manchester. The map also names the houses – Shore’s Fold, Cherry Cottage, Yew Tree Cottage and Pink Bank (cottage or farm).
The names are linked to ownership or are descriptive. The most substantial house is Shore’s Fold Farm which was probably named after an owner of the farm – a “fold” is a fenced off area of pasture. The cottages take their name from their most distinctive features or locations – cherry trees are obviously dramatic when in blossom, and yew trees are very long lived and rich in folklore and legend. To my mind, most evocative of all are Pink Bank Cottage and Farm, located on what was then Pink Bank Lane (Nelstrop Road North). Even now, with the Rosebay willowherb in July bloom, the banks of the lane are pink – 150 years ago, before intensive farming, there would have been campion, cranesbill, mallow to add to the colour. With the exception of Yew Tree Cottage, which had disappeared by 1894, the houses and their names have survived to the present day.
Shore’s Fold Farm is a grade 2 listed building and Historic England provides more information about its date and significance. I had assumed it was eighteenth century at the earliest, but in fact it probably dates from about 1670. It is an unusual example of a small house with a rectangular, almost double-depth, plan and is linked with the smaller Shore’s Fold Cottage, probably of a similar date and likely to have been built for farm labourers.
The 1881 census tells us a little about the people living on the farm. The head of the household was the 55 year old Samuel Smith, who was originally from Wirksworth in Derbyshire. Samuel farmed 50 acres, probably a mix of arable and pasture land, and employed two labourers. He lived at the farm with his wife, Mary, and his two unmarried daughters and son, who would have also helped on the farm.
The census also lists the splendidly named Joseph and Fanny Claret and their one year old daughter, Martha, living at Shore’s Fold Farm – they were almost certainly living at the adjacent cottage. The young couple reveal how the area was becoming increasingly industrialised at the time, shifting from simply farming – Joseph worked as a manufacturing chemists’ labourer, and Fanny was an unemployed cotton jack tenter. The job of a tenter was to stretch dyed or bleached cloth on wooden frames so that it didn’t shrink, using tenterhooks to attach them – hence the phrase “on tenterhooks”. Fanny may have once worked at Houldsworth Mill, a short walk across the fields.
Moving north from Shore’s Fold along the old Pink Bank Lane (Nelstrop Road), you soon arrive at an imposing pair of stone gate posts on the left, more clues about the area’s rural past. These once led to two substantial houses, Highfield House and Highfield Farm, both still standing in the 1970s and 1980s. The lane from the gates to site of the houses is lined with mature chestnut, beech and sycamore trees, dating from time of the houses, and an ornate iron gate still marks the entrance to the farm. Another connection to the farm is the pets’ graveyard concealed in woodland not far from the site of the farmhouse. The earliest is dedicated to Jim (“1st” was probably added later), who lived from 1925-1936 – presumably a dog. A later grave is for Jimmie, Farm Dog, born April 4 ’42. A very recent arrangement of stones and flowers suggests the tradition has continued.
In a sense the change in Highfield is the reverse of what we might expect. The 1911 Ordnance Survey map shows the Levenshulme Bleach and Dye Works right behind the farm, so it would hardly have been an idyllic rural spot at the time. But while Shore’s Fold has moved from rural to urban, Highfield has reverted back to nature over the past few decades.
One final discovery in the undergrowth was a well preserved and strangely shaped inscribed brick. This is a firebrick, manufactured by Poultons of Reading, and would originally have been installed in an industrial kiln, probably for making pottery. Poultons closed in 1908, so this is well over a century old. The firebricks are relatively uncommon – one was recently uncovered while building Crossrail, the first to be found in London. Our firebrick presumably ended up at Highfield when it was the local dump, and connects with Manchester’s industrial past.
Cities, towns, villages, and even the rural landscape go through a constant process of change. This is particularly true of a city like Manchester – no sooner do we get used to the layout and buildings of the city than the demolition ball flattens them and the skyline is filled by forests of cranes, building taller and taller towers.
But the past resonates in the present with echoes of how life used to be. These echoes from the past remind us how, although nothing is permanent, the present intersects with the past and much of what we see (and often take for granted) is a physical dialogue between different times.