Lockdown Diary 19: Way markers and Coaching Inns – An A6 Story Part II

Sitting in plain view, but easy to miss, in front of a row of terraced houses on the A6 near the junction with Cringle Road is a weathered milestone.  I have passed by many times over the years without noticing it, still less thinking about its story and the hidden history of the road.  This post looks at the stretch of the A6 between this way marker and another in Longsight, and considers the evidence of what was once one of the most important long distance roads in England.

Why was the A6 an important road?

A clue to road’s importance can be seen in Stockport where an early twentieth century signpost shows that London is 182 ½ miles in one direction, while Carlisle is 118 ½ miles to the north.   The A6 was for centuries one of the key routes linking London to the north of the country.  The road, and others leading to the capital, grew in importance during the later 1600s.  By 1700 London had a population of about half a million and, as it grew, was becoming increasingly dependent on supplies from the provinces, the north included. 

The Stockport Signpost – junction of Wellington Road South and Edward Street

What does the Levenshulme milestone tell us?

Although the milestone in Levenshulme is weathered and damaged by pollution it is still possible to make out some of the lettering on its two sides.   On the side facing Stockport, for travellers heading towards Manchester, the words “Miles” and “Manchester” can just be deciphered.  The other side, for travellers heading south, is too badly eroded to make any sense of the letters, but it would have once shown the distance to Stockport.

Levenshulme Milestone – near the junction of Cringle Road
Detail of the milestone

The way marker comes from a time when travel was very different from now and when the landscape of the area was unrecognisable.  The ordnance survey map from 1845 reveals a stretch of countryside with few familiar landmarks.   This part of the A6, then called the Manchester and Stockport Road was obviously there, as was Broom Lane, forking off to the right as you travelled to Manchester.  The railway linking Manchester to Crewe was being opened in stages from 1840, representing the future of travel, and Black Brook is still visible south of McDonald’s and KFC.  But all around were fields, cottages and farms, so the milestone would have stood out to those travelling in stagecoaches or on horseback. 

Ordnance Survey map (1845) – copyright HMSO

The map marks the milestone (MS), showing its importance and telling us that it was 4 miles to Manchester and 2 miles to Stockport.  Way markers served a crucial function for travellers.  For long journeys by coach or horse the milestones told travellers of the next town where they could rest, get food and drink, and a change their horses for the next stage of their journey.

What is the story of The Packhorse pub?

The Packhorse – 1959

A mile to the north The Packhorse pub, now Jandol Restaurant, was for hundreds of years an important coaching inn.  The current impressive building was constructed in 1907, but it was first licensed in 1587, when Levenshulme was little more than a collection of cottages, so it wasn’t built just for the locals.  We can’t be sure what the original pub would have looked like, but a photo from about 1890 shows The Packhorse as it would have appeared from probably the early 1800s –a large coaching inn, for both long distance and more local travellers.  At the front was the mounting block, a set of stone steps to help riders get on their horses and the gates at the side, kept in the 1907 rebuilding, led to the stables.  Apparently the mounting block survived until very recently.   The other clue is, of course, its name – the Packhorse.  Packhorses were the simplest and cheapest way to move goods at a time when roads were notoriously potholed and difficult for travel.  So, no doubt, the stables would have seen a mix of packhorses and stagecoaches during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Packhorse – detail of façade
The Packhorse c.1890 – the mounting block is between the barrels at the front

How did the Midway pub get its name?

The Midway – early C20 (image courtesy of Manchester Libraries)

At the other end of Levenshulme stood another grand Edwardian pub, The Midway.   The Midway was also licensed early, in 1604, and this coupled with its size and location might indicate another coaching inn.  In fact, a photo of the Midway House, as it was then known, in the late nineteenth century, shows a very modest hostelry – more of a country pub than the grand Packhorse.   The Midway was also rebuilt in 1907, and is more of a reflection of the changes that were taking place in the area at the time, with a massive expansion of housing and industry.  The name comes from its location.  Looking at the OS map from 1845 it is very close to another milestone (now lost), showing that it stands at the midway point between Manchester and Stockport, three miles in each direction.

Although not a coaching inn, the Midway was a stopping point for the omnibus to Manchester.  A very evocative description of the inn, and the rural atmosphere of Levenshulme in the 1860s, can be found in the writings of the Rochdale poet Edwin Waugh. “I went up to Levenshulme, to spend the afternoon with an old friend of mine, a man of studious habits, living in a retired part of that green suburb…  After tea, he came with me across the fields to the “Midway Inn,” on Stockport Road, where the omnibuses call on their way to Manchester. It was a lovely evening, very clear and cool, and twilight was sinking upon the scene. Waiting for the next omnibus, we leaned against the long wooden watering-trough in front of the inn. The irregular old building looked picturesque in the soft light of declining day, and all around was so still that we could hear the voices of bowlers who were lingering upon the green, off at the north side of the house, and retired from the highway by an intervening garden.”  (from Home-life of the Lancashire Cotton Folk during the Cotton Famine, 1862 – reprinted from the Manchester Examiner and Times)

The Midway House – late C19 (image courtesy of Manchester Libraries)
Ordnance Survey map (1845) – copyright HMSO

The Waggon and Horses – another coaching inn?

A few miles further to the north, on a stretch of the A6 that in 1845 was called the London Road, stood a large pub called the Waggon and Horses until its demolition in the 1990s.  I used to drink there as a student in the early 1980s, and remember its mock Tudor exterior and a cavernous interior, by then rather sparsely populated with customers.   The black boarding on the outside and leaded windows were probably an Edwardian attempt to give the building an ancient patina, even though the pub dated back to 1690 anyway. Comparing the photos from the 1890s and 1970s, the original building appeared pretty much intact until it was demolished.

Waggon and Horses c.1970s – note the worn mounting block next to the Birch Lane sign

The Waggon and Horses shared many of the same features as the Packhorse, indicating that it too was a coaching inn.  A worn and well used mounting block stood at the front, visible on the photos and still there until the 1990s.   At the side on Birch Lane was a large gate leading to stables, its name made the link to transport and goods, while its location, on the main road from the North West to London, supports the idea of a staging post for travellers.

The Waggon and Horses late C19 – complete with a waggon and horses!

A final survival of the historic importance of the road is another stone way marker, very close to the site of the Waggon and Horses.   Like the Levenshulme milestone, this is also badly damaged, but it is possible to make out “The [Town]ship”– either referring to Manchester or Stockport.

Longsight milestone – in front of flats near the site of the Waggon and Horses
Detail of the milestone

Was the Levenshulme to Longsight section of the A6 a turnpike road?

As transport expanded during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the growth of London and industrialisation, the need to improve the roads also increased.  In theory the maintenance of roads had been the responsibility of the local parishes and communities, but in practice they had been neglected and some were virtually impassable.  Turnpike trusts, established by acts of Parliament, were set up to upgrade and repair sections of the roads, using tolls as a way of recompensing private investors.  This led to a speeding up of road transport – the journey from Manchester to London by road fell from 90 hours in 1700 to 24 hours in 1787.

It is unclear whether our section of the A6 was a turnpike.  Certainly many sections from Carlisle to London were, and the existence of coaching inns and milestones, suggests that this may have been the case.  Another compelling piece of evidence is a property boundary map that came with our house deeds in the post a few weeks ago, drawn up in 1893, that clearly marks the “Turnpike Road”.

Property map 1893 – the north boundary of Barn Meadow roughly follows the line of Cringle Road

Although only covering a short section of the road, careful observation and detective work has revealed a lot of hidden history.   The milestones and coaching inns show its importance, both before the industrial revolution and during its early years, while the siting of rail and road, side by side, illustrates the changing nature of transport during the C19, from the slow travel by horse and stagecoach along the “Turnpike Road” to the speed of the new steam trains.   It would not be long before industry and dense housing followed, changing Levenshulme from open countryside to what we know today.

With thanks to Jez Hall for alerting me to Edwin Waugh’s comments on the Midway.


Lockdown Diary 16 – A Christmas Story: The Cinderella Clubs

With Christmas fast approaching this is seasonal blog with a fairy tale theme, but like all good fairy tales it has a twist.  It started life at a meeting of the Local History Group in December 2019.  So apologies to anyone who was there for repeating myself – but I hope I have added more to the story about the Cinderella Clubs…

At the heart of our Christmas story is a journalist called Robert Blatchford.  Blatchford was born in 1851 in Maidstone, Kent, and like so many people at the time had a difficult childhood.  When he was two his father died, leaving his actress mother to bring him up alone and he was apprenticed as a brush maker at the age of 14.   Largely self educated, Blatchford became a very successful journalist and writer, founding the socialist Clarion newspaper in 1891 and publishing a best-selling book, “Merrie England” (1893), which sold over 2 million copies.   Blatchford also set up the Cinderella Clubs in 1889, with the aim of providing meals, entertainment and clean clothes for slum-dwelling children.

What is Blatchford’s connection to Manchester?  It was while working as a journalist for the Sunday Chronicle in Manchester in 1888 that Blatchford had a chance encounter that led him to set up the Cinderella Clubs the following year.    Here we will let Blatchford himself continue the story, as he describes the meeting in an article in the “Labour Prophet” (May, 1893).  The description of a Victorian Christmas is almost Dickensian, and gives a shocking picture of the extent and impact of poverty in Manchester at the time.

Well it was just before Christmas in 1888, and just outside the Exchange Station a little girl came and asked me to buy a box of matches. And I had bought two boxes of matches already, and you know, even a big boy with a lot of money, cannot buy matches from every child. There are so many poor children in the streets, you see. … I said, “No thank you” to the little match girl. But she would not go. She ran along-side of men and said something like this “0h sir, please, sir, buy a box, sir.  Only got three left, sir.  Just one, sir. ” I said, “No thank you, my dear. ” and walked on. And the little girl ran on beside me and kept talking. “I’m going to a party tonight, sir. You might buy a box, sir. ”  When she said that, I looked at her very carefully. She was about eight years old, had reddish hair and blue eyes, and was clean, but not very tidy. But she had such an honest little face, and she looked so glad and so good-humoured, that I stopped and asked here where she was going to the party. It was at a Catholic school. It was threepence to go in. She had got nearly “all” the money, and then she said “Please, sir, buy a box. I’ve never been to a party before. ”  I said, “Oh! ” and give her a shilling or a sixpence, I forget which, and she said, “0h thank you.” and ran away as hard as she could run. I hope she enjoyed her party. I never saw her again.

Victorian match seller

Although Blatchford was clearly shocked by meeting the little girl, he did not immediately set up the Cinderella Clubs, and it took another three prompts for him to take action to help the poor children of the city.   He takes up the story again with a brilliant evocation of the children playing in the streets of Hulme and Ancoats.  He also pointedly mentions the responsibility of those with wealth and power to build better housing.

It was months after that, in the spring, when I was going all through the poor streets of Manchester, so that I might write about them, and get the rich people to build the poor people good houses to live in that I began to notice the little children, in Hulme and in Ancoats, dancing round the piano organs, or playing in the gutters. And one day I saw a little baby girl nursing a doll. The little girl sat on a doorstep in a very narrow and very dirty street and her doll was made of a clothes-peg tied up in a duster. I am fond of children; and I have some children of my own. I knew how fond my little girl was of a doll. … I thought I should like to take a cart-load of dolls around Ancoats and give them to the little children of the poor. But – I still never thought of the Cinderella Clubs.

Children playing on the streets of Hulme, early 1900s

Eventually, in October 1889, after receiving letters from two members of the public, Blatchford founded the first of the Cinderella Clubs.   The second letter, from a woman in Liverpool, was the final prompt Blatchford needed – “You say it would be a good thing to have a child’s club, where children could dance and play and have dolls and fairy-tales; but why don’t you start one?”. 

Children attending a Cinderella Club meal in Manchester, early 1900s – note the girl at the front with the headscarf

The first Cinderella Club was an immediate success and soon clubs were set up in Hull, Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge, Salford and Birmingham.  One set up by the Salford and Manchester Labour Churches in 1892, served 3,164 meals during its first winter, and fed and clothed over 800 children from the impoverished Deansgate area of the city – it’s hard to believe now that the wealthy modern district renamed Spinningfields was a warren of narrow streets and courtyards 130 years ago!

Blatchford wrote that we started this club to amuse and please the children. We did not want to teach them anything; but we knew we could not amuse them whilst they were hungry, and so we made it a rule to feed them first and amuse them afterwards.  At Christmas special entertainment was provided.  The photo, from the Manchester archive, shows a Cinderella Club Christmas display in Manchester Town Hall in 1910, complete with Christmas tree, dolls house and toys. 

Cinderella Club event in the Great Hall at Manchester Town Hall, early 1900s

His description of such events reads at times almost like a fairy tale.  We had a Christmas tree, too, and dolls and toys and sweets, and oranges, and one day I thought we would give dolls and other things as prizes to the cleanest children; not to the best dressed but to the cleanest. Up to that time poor little Cinderella had not been very careful about being clean. But the week after the prizes were offered there was such a change that we almost believed there had been fairy godmothers about, with soap instead of pumpkins, and combs and towels instead of lizards and mice.

Over time the Cinderella Clubs gradually disappeared, although one has survived in Bradford.  Most were absorbed by the Socialist Sunday Schools, run by the Labour Churches, and the slow introduction of free school meals for the poor lessened the need for the clubs.  In 1904 Bradford became the first town to introduce free school meals, under the influence Councillor Fred Jowett, who was elected as a Labour MP for the city in 1906.  Many other cities followed suit, although it did not become a national policy until 1914.   

Blatchford himself was reluctant to take the credit for the Cinderella Clubs and in what should be the season of Christmas pantomimes we will leave him with the last words.

I should say that the Cinderella Clubs were started by — Who do you think? — By Cinderella! Yes, my dears, by Cinderella herself. Mind; I don’t mean the Cinderella of the story book, who got to be a princess because she had small feet. No I mean a real Cinderella, a Manchester Cinderella; a poor little girl, who had neither small feet, nor a fairy godmother, and so had to sell matches in the street. And the worst of it is I don’t know that little girl’s name.

A Manchester boy with presents from the Cinderella Club

Images courtesy of Manchester Libraries and TUC Library Collections

Lockdown Diary 10 – Dukinfield, Non-Conformism and Slavery

With this week’s blog and I’m cheating a bit as it starts with a trip I made with a friend during last year’s heritage open days in September, rather than during lockdown.  It looks at Dukinfield’s unique role in the history of English non-conformism, but it also takes us on a journey from Dukinfield to Jamaica, and shows some of the intersections of history.

Dukinfield Old Hall Chapel

Tucked away on an industrial estate in Dukinfield is a ruined chapel.  The 2* listed remains are in desperate need of repair, but they are also of great historical significance – they are all that is left of the first independent church in England.  The chapel was once part of Dukinfield Hall, and in the middle of the C17, the lord of the manor was Robert Dukinfield.  At the age of 24, Dukinfield (1619-1689) was a leading commander in Parliament’s forces against Charles I in the Civil War.  Before he reached 30, he had served as a colonel, as MP for Chester and as a member of the Council of State.  Robert was also a fervent non-conformist and patron to radical preachers.  George Fox, the founder of the Quakers preached his first sermon at Dukinfield, but it was particularly Samuel Eaton who was associated with the hall.

Samuel Eaton, the son of the vicar of Great Budworth in Cheshire, followed his father into the Church of England.  However, both Samuel and his father were dissenters.  Samuel was suspended as rector of West Kirby in 1631 and imprisoned for his beliefs in before fleeing to Holland on his release.  In 1637, along with most of his family, Eaton left for Massachusetts and established the settlement of New Haven (Connecticut) after “buying” the land from the local Quinnipiack Nation with 13 English coats.  Samuel’s brother, Nathaniel, served as the first teacher and built the original school in Cambridge, Massachusetts – later to become Harvard University.

Samuel returned to England in 1640, and came to the attention of Robert Dukinfield because of his charismatic preaching at the siege of Chester.  He then became priest in residence at Dukinfield Hall, where he served for several years.  Eventually he seems to have been replaced by some other “gifted brethren” and withdrew to Stockport.  After the restoration of Charles II, Samuel was imprisoned on a number of occasions and excommunicated.  When he died in 1665 he was buried in Denton Chapel.

St Lawrence’s Church, Denton – formerly Denton Chapel

The journey from Dukinfield to Dukinfield Hall in Jamaica is a complicated one, but worth following, as it shows just how closely the history of the slave trade and English history are connected.  Robert’s son (also Robert – 1642-1729) prospered after the monarchy’s restoration, despite his father’s active involvement in the war that led to Charles I’s execution – he was appointed High Sheriff of Cheshire and was awarded with a baronetcy.  Robert junior’s son, John (1677-1741), moved to Bristol and became a prominent member of the Society of Merchant Venturers, and an active slave trader.  Organising about 23 voyages, he transported roughly 6,448 slaves to the Caribbean – horrifically nearly 1,300 died on the journey.  An older and more established member of the Society was a certain Edward Colston, who has featured in the news recently…  

John Dukinfield established a slave plantation growing sugar in Jamaica, and his son, Robert (the great grandson of Colonel Robert Dukinfield) settled in the colony at Dukinfield Hall.  Robert was a member of the Jamaican Assembly and had a relationship with Jane Engusson, described in the parish records from Kingston, as “a free Negro woman”.  Robert and Jane had three children together – two sons, William and Escourt, and one daughter, Elizabeth, all described in the baptismal register as “mulattos”.   In 1747 a private act, brought by Robert, was passed by the Assembly, granting them the same rights and privileges as children born to white parents.  This eventually passed into law after a lengthy legal process by the Lords Commissioners of the Board of Trade and Plantations in London in November 1752.  Jane and all three children were then baptised – this presumably was symbolic sign of their acceptance into free society.  

Baptismal Register, Kingston Parish Church, Jamaica

When Robert died in 1755 he left Jane and their three children with considerable property.  Jane was left £300 for a house and a chaise, 101 acres of land and 14 slaves.  William and Escourt both received £500, 400 acres and 4 slaves.  Elizabeth was left 417 acres, 7 slaves and a dowry of £1000 – but she would only receive her dowry if she married a white man.   Translating the legacies into modern money, Jane received about £54,000, her two sons £90,000 each and Elizabeth’s dowry would be worth about £180,000 – all four were left relatively well to do. 

Robert’s actions show the very strange contradictions of the time.  Robert’s father John was a ruthless slave trader, and Robert was a plantation and slave owner, but he didn’t see it as contradictory to grant Jane and their children ownership of slaves. In fact it was common custom at the time to reward the “mistresses” of white plantation owners by granting them slaves.   The passing of the act in the Assembly is, however, a much more unusual move.  His family with Jane was clearly very important to him and he appears to have taken active steps to have them accepted into Jamaican colonial society. 

There some further twists to this story.  William, the slave owning son of a plantation owner and an ex-slave, was part of the migration of white planters to Virginia a few years later.  But, ironically, the son of an English gentleman and an ex-slave was himself enslaved in Virginia.  In 2019, William’s direct descendant (and a direct descendant of Colonel Robert Dukinfield), Thomas Duckenfield, a successful US attorney, paid a visit to his ancestral home in Dukinfield, pledging to help with the restoration of the chapel.

Dukinfield Old Hall Chapel
Thomas Duckenfield with the statue of his ancestor Colonel Robert Dukinfield outside the town hall in Dukinfield

So, although the slave trade and the slave plantations may seem distant from England, in Jamaica and Virginia for example, they are a crucial part of English history. The colonies were under English rule, English merchants provided and financed the ships, established and managed the plantations, and reaped the financial rewards.  Colonel Robert Dukinfield was not involved himself but his grandson was very active.  In a final irony, George Fox, who preached at Dukinfield Hall in the 1640s and was actively promoted by Robert Dukinfield, established the Quaker religious movement which by the 1750s was one of the first groups to criticise and campaign against slavery in the colonies.

Lockdown Diary 9 – The Lost Racecourses of Salford: Exploring Broughton

Continuing last week’s sporting theme, this blog is about the lost racecourses of Salford, with a few digressions along the way.  Before the weather broke, I went on a very hot cycle ride to a part of Greater Manchester I’d never visited before – Broughton and Kersal. 

The flatness of much of Manchester lends itself well to horseracing, and the earliest races took place on moors.  Racing may have taken place on Barlow Moor as early as 1647, a racecourse that was certainly in use from 1697 to 1701.   The aim of my trip was to reach Kersal Moor, a disused racecourse in Higher Broughton that I’d long heard about.  But I didn’t know about the Manchester racecourse, situated in a loop of the river Irwell – in fact, initially I thought I’d already arrived at Kersal Moor.  As the photo shows, the racecourse is now little more than a vast expanse of flat grass – but if you look carefully it is possible to see the sloping banks all around the racecourse where the seating and stands would have once been located.

Site of the Manchester Racecourse – looking towards the towers at the end of Deansgate

The Manchester racecourse was established in 1847 in an area known as Castle Irwell, named after the crenellated house of John Fitzgerald, the owner of Pendleton colliery.  The racecourse soon became one of the most important in the country, hosting races such as the St Leger Stakes, the Manchester November Handicap (now raced at Doncaster as the November Handicap) and the Lancashire Oaks (now raced at Haydock Park).  In 1888, the winner of the Lancashire Chase was awarded £10,000, at the time the highest prize money in the country, reflecting the confidence of the regions’ wealthy industrialists.  A new stand was built in 1961, but by this stage it was already facing financial difficulties and in 1963 the racecourse closed, with Lester Piggott riding in one of the last races.

Crowds at the Manchester Races in the early 1900s – a pickpocket’s paradise!

Leaving the Manchester racecourse behind, I rode up towards a church that I could see at the top of a steep hill.  After wandering around St Paul’s graveyard for a while I finally found Kersal Moor next to the church.  The Moor is a very atmospheric place to visit, but it is hard to conjure images of its former life as a racecourse.  The land is very rough, sandy, and covered in gorse, and it is pitted with hollows.  Although it certainly doesn’t have the pristine flatness of Castle Irwell, this was the site of Greater Manchester’s main racecourse from 1681 to 1847.  In 1745 the racecourse was closed for a few years because of church disapproval – probably because of the gambling – but support from the local gentry meant it was reopened in 1760.   I discovered a second sporting link on a plaque – in 1818 the Old Manchester Golf Club, England’s second oldest, played its first game on Kersal Moor.

Kersal Moor – St Paul’s Church in the background

As well as the horse racing, a variety of sideshows added to the festive atmosphere on the Moor.   Cock fighting would take place before the racing and visitors could buy “obscene prints” or gamble with dice.  On occasions there were also nude male running races, based on the ancient Greek practice.  Although it may sound strange now, apparently the practice was not uncommon and was also found in other parts of the country.  Between 1777 and 1811 there were 35 documented nude races at Kersal, and, according to the Lancashire novelist Walter Greenwood, they took place “so the lasses can weigh up form”

Plan of Kersal Moor Racecourse – early 1800s (note the Turf Tavern)

In 1780 Elizabeth Raffald, the author of The Experienced English Housekeeper, posted an advert announcing “The ladies’ stand on Kersal Moor will be opened on Wednesday next for the accommodation of ladies and gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood of Manchester, where coffee, tea, chocolate, strawberries, cream etc, will be provided every Wednesday and Friday during the strawberry season”.   This provides a rather more genteel image of a day at the races in Georgian Kersal, although perhaps this was where the ladies would watch the nude races…   I like the reference to a “strawberry season” – we are so used now to buying strawberries at any time of year. 

Racing at Kersal in 1830 – the grandstand on the right of the print is on the left side of the plan

But my main reason for wanting to visit the Moor was because of its links to Manchester’s radical history.  Because of its size and openness, it became an important meeting place for large gatherings.  In June 1812 30,000 troops camped on the Moor ready to crush Luddites, groups of hand loom weavers who were smashing the power looms to try and protect their livelihoods.   In 1818 striking miners met on the Moor to call for better conditions.  The most famous meeting at Kersal was a mass gathering of Chartists on 24th September 1838, campaigning for political reform.   The precise numbers of people attending are difficult to gauge – the Manchester Guardian said 30,000, while the Morning Advertiser spoke of 300,000, a sizeable margin of error!  But there were certainly tens of thousands gathered on the Moor to hear the great leaders of the Chartists, Feargus O’Connor and Joseph Rayner Stephens, call for votes for all working men and a fairer political system.  William Henry Chadwick, the “Old Chartist “ I blogged about a few weeks ago (Lockdown Diary 4) was only an 11 year old boy in 1838, still living in Compstall, but when he joined the Chartist cause in the 1840s I’m sure he would have heard the more experienced activists reminiscing about this great meeting.

Leaving Kersal Moor on the way down Bury New Road I stopped briefly at what appeared to be a magnificent Greek or Roman temple, complete with Corinthian columns.  Appropriately, the Church of the Annunciation is a Greek Orthodox Church, built in 1860-61 by the growing Greek and Cypriot community, and was the first purpose built orthodox church in the country.  The church is still in use, and Higher Broughton is a fascinating place to visit, with its large orthodox Jewish population.  Cycling down a side street of small terraced houses, all seemed to be lived in by Jewish families, with washing hanging from the railings and small children, the boys with ringlets in their hair and yarmulkes on their heads, playing on the pavement, I felt transported back to Victorian Manchester.

Church of the Annunciation – Higher Broughton
Church of the Annunciation – Higher Broughton

Lockdown Diary 8 – Skiing for Refugees in Reddish Vale

As the sun beats down on a glorious June morning I’ve chosen to write about something very unseasonal – skiing in Reddish!  At first it seems an unlikely story.  But looking at the incline of the slopes along the Tame valley you can see why two Norwegian students at Manchester University were inspired to stage one of Greater Manchester’s more unusual sporting events over two days in early March 1960.

1960 was World Refugee Year, and Lars Eie and Erik Hoff, members of the Manchester University Skiing Club, came up with a novel idea to raise money for the cause.  With the help of the Students Union, they combined their desire to help refugees and their love of skiing by organising an international ski jumping competition.   

The obstacles to their plans were considerable.  Firstly they had to find a suitable site with large slopes – Reddish Vale was chosen because of the steep sides to the valley, on the Denton side of the river.  They also needed to extend the height of the jump an extra 40 feet – this was done by constructing a scaffolding platform.   In a nice touch, Stones the scaffolders proudly put an advertising hoarding at the top of the run.  The final slope measured over 100 feet, allowing for a maximum jump of 130 feet. 

Finally, the biggest problem – they needed to find the snow.   It was very unlikely to be snowing in Reddish in March, so 10 tons were dug from Devil’s Elbow in the Scottish Cairngorms and immediately transported to Reddish in sealed lorries.  The snow had been treated with ammonium chloride to stop it melting and extra artificial snow was brought from Chester.   The Saturday was a very sunny day, and an army of volunteers spent two hours laboriously spreading the snow on the run.  This provided a thin and rather narrow covering for the ski slope, enough for the competitors but not for the bottom of the jump, which had to be covered with cut grass for a soft landing!  It looks like vegetation was also put at the side of the ramp in case the jumpers skied off target.

The event attracted huge crowds over the weekend of the 5th and 6th March.  15,000 people crowded into the Vale, each paying 2/6  to watch skiers from Norway and Britain compete on what was at the time the largest artificial ski slope built in Britain.   In addition to the main competition the crowds were entertained with “acrobatics and fancy jumping”.  What the “fancy jumping” involved isn’t clear, but the whole event must have been a completely new and exotic experience for the spectators, very few of whom had probably ever been skiing or even been abroad. 

According to local news reports “none of the British skiers did outstandingly, but at least one of them earned commendations from the Norwegians when they learned how little practice they had had” – memories of Eddie the Eagle come to mind!The winner, in the second round, was the Norwegian Arve Johnsen, who “swept forward and into the air with arms spread like wings, and came down with perfect balance knee deep in the grass at the bottom.  He had jumped 106 feet.

Overall the weekend of skiing was a great success.   Despite the weather being sunny, and the fears of the people attending, the snow didn’t melt.  Money was raised for World Refugee Year and the competition even made the national newspapers, with an article and photo in The Times.  The event was never repeated, but the possibility of further skiing in Reddish Vale re-emerged in the 1990s, with plans for a snow dome being discussed.   By then the area had become a very well used country park and there were widespread objections, so the plans were shelved.

The local press account from the time shows how doubters were challenged by the enthusiasm of the two students. “Not a few local cynics scoffed at first when the scaffolding was going up and the snow had not yet arrived.  But by the time the jumpers began to take off, the two young Norwegian students had shown that bad weather – or rather the wrong sort of weather for a skier – need not stop anybody… This example would leave British Industrial cities with no excuse for much of their dullness.”

Lockdown Diary 5 – The Aviator: An A6 Story

For a while I’ve known about the links between aviation history and the Burnage/Levenshulme borders.  Louis Paulhan, the first pilot to fly from London to Manchester, landed in a field in Burnage, and Fairey’s Aviation on Crossley Road produced bombers and fighter planes during World War II.  But a chance comment from a friend alerted me to another connection with one of the great pioneer aviators.  He had been cycling down the A6 and spotted a plaque on St Thomas’ school, Heaton Chapel, saying that the school was attended by Sir John Alcock in 1899 – the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic.

With the help of Toni from the group I’ve pieced together the story of an immensely confident, brilliant and driven young Manchester man, from a very humble background, who seems to have thrived on danger.

Sir John William Alcock – Ambrose McEvoy (1919)

John Alcock was born in 1892 at the lodge or cottage of Basford House on Seymour Grove in Old Trafford.  His father worked as the coachmen at the house and later as a horse dealer.  The family seems to have been quite peripatetic.  For a while they lived in a small terraced house on Firswood Road in Fallowfield, perhaps when John attended school in Heaton Chapel.  Between 1900 and 1905 the family lived in St Anne’s, but by 1909 they were back in Manchester again, John working as an apprentice mechanic at the Empress Motor Car and Aviation Company, at 180 Stockport Road on the Longsight/Ardwick border, another A6 link.

In 1910 John watched the arrival of Louis Paulhan in Burnage.  He went with his father and thousands of others to witness the early morning landing of French winner [of the London to Manchester race] Louis Paulhan. As the crowd raced across the grass to greet the Paulhan, Alcock marvelled that the French man`s Farman [plane] was just like the one he had been working on. He informed his father “one day I am going to fly”.  That single-minded determination characterised his short life…   

While working at the Empress Motor Car and Aviation co, John helped make an engine for the pilot Maurice Duqroq, and when he delivered the engine to Brooklands in Surrey he persuaded Duqroq to take him on as his engineer.  By 1912 he had qualified as a pilot and when World War I broke out he enlisted as a pilot.  In September 1917 John was shot down over the sea near Turkey and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.  He recounted his experience of being shot down in a letter to his uncle:  I had the rottenest luck in the world, my propeller and reduction gear burst about 1 ½ hours after I started on a raid, I tried to get home but unable to, I landed safely in the sea, with some effort, sat on the machine for over two hours making signals why I wasn’t picked up is a mystery to me.  At last I had to leave the bus [i.e. plane] which was sinking to get ashore was in the water for well over an hour.  After all this I spent the night on the rocks shivering, and was made prisoner 10 o’clock the next day.

Ditching his plane in the sea clearly didn’t deter him from adventure, and even while a prisoner John wrote that I shall be ready for any big stunt after the war.  That “stunt” was to be the first Atlantic crossing, a challenge set by the Daily Mail in 1913, with a £10,000 prize and three other competing teams.  John’s partner on the flight was another Manchester man, Arthur Brown, whose well-to-do American parents had moved from Glasgow to Oswald Road in Chorlton when he was a child.  Arthur was a much quieter man than John, and a brilliant navigator, capable of complex calculations under pressure.   Although both lived in South Manchester, the two men had only met a few weeks before the flight, but their personalities seemed to complement each other very well.

Arthur Brown and John Alcock

John and Arthur set off on their night flight on 14th June 1919 at 16.10 GMT, carrying their lucky mascots.  Their plane, a Vickers Vimy, was a large aircraft carrying 865 gallons of fuel.   From a modern point of view it’s hard to fully grasp the risks involved.  This was still the very early days of aviation technology – Paulhan’s flight from London to Manchester in 1910 had taken 12 hours, and it was only 15 years since the Wright brothers’ first ever powered flight.  In addition Arthur’s navigation was partly dependent on clear skies.

John’s mascot – “Lucky Jim”

During the flight John and Arthur encountered many problems.  The wireless transmitter broke and part of the exhaust fell off, and what was supposed to be a clear night ended up being cloudy for some sections of the flight.  The most dangerous time was when the engines stalled in thick cloud in the early morning of the 15th June.   The plane nosedived and spiralled towards the sea – when they emerged from the clouds they were 100 feet above the water and John only managed to restart the engines about 50 feet from the waves.

Eventually, after 1,890 miles and around 16 hours of flying (the accounts give different lengths of time), land was spotted and a flat area in County Galway was identified for a smooth landing.  Unfortunately it ended in a bog, with the plane’s nose down in the peat!    Interestingly, the two men suffered from the first cases of jet lag.

John and Arthur had won the prize and they were welcomed by huge crowds wherever they went.   Both men were knighted a few days later at Windsor.  

Unfortunately John was to live for only a few more months.  At the age of 27 he crashed in bad weather on the way to the Paris air show and was buried in Southern Cemetery.  Arthur never flew again. 

John Alcock greets well wishers

Lockdown Diary 4 – Christchurch Chapel and William Henry Chadwick, “The Old Chartist”

This week’s diary takes us to a ruined chapel in Ancoats and a cemetery in Reddish and casts light on the radical history of Manchester and some of the unusual individuals involved… 

A few weeks ago, in what seems like a different time and place, Katrina Navickas visited the local history group and gave a fascinating talk about Manchester’s most radical street (which turned out to be Cropper Street in Collyhurst!).  One of the places Katrina also mentioned was Christ Church Chapel on Every Street in Ancoats – the chapel was at the heart of activism in Manchester in the mid nineteenth century.

Earlier this week I cycled into town to take a look at the remains of the chapel, now nothing more than a low circular wall, marking the shape of the building, enclosing a stand of silver birch trees.  Surrounding the wall a few gravestones lie on the ground. 

Circular wall showing the footprint of Christ Church Chapel

Christ Church Chapel, also known as the Roundhouse, was built in 1824 by “Dr” James Scholefield, a charismatic and eccentric preacher with the Bible Christian Movement, a non-conformist sect established in Salford.   Scholefield ministered to the working class community living in the neighbourhood, most of whom would have been working in the enormous nearby mills, such as Murray’s Mill which was built in 1797 and is still standing.   The founding of the chapel was commented on in a newspaper in far-away Ohio – “a new society of Christians has been formed at Manchester, England, who profess as one of their leading tenets to wear sky-blue stockings and orange coloured shoes”!

Scholefield was a non-conformist in many ways.  Like many contemporary preachers he was teetotal, probably after seeing the effects of alcohol on the poor, but he was also vegetarian and in 1851 published a pamphlet celebrating the virtues of vegetarianism.  Although lacking formal qualifications, Scholefield worked as a doctor with the poor, and patented the popular “Scholefield’s Cholera Mixture”.  Cholera was much feared at the time and in 1831/32 nearly 700 people in Manchester had died from the disease. Scholefield received no income for his ministry, but made money as an undertaker – there was a large graveyard at the chapel and he invented a safety tomb, which protected the burials from grave robbers!

Scholefield’s political radicalism saw Christ Church Chapel host the 1842 Chartist conference.  The Chartists were the largest national movement calling for democratic reforms at the time, inspired by the protesters at Peterloo in 1819 and disappointed by the very limited Great Reform Act of 1832.  Their main demands were votes for all men at 21, annual elections, a secret ballot, payment for MPs, no property qualification for MPs and equal sized constituencies. 

Henry Hunt’s monument – Christ Church Chapel in the background on the right

Scholefield was also involved in building a monument outside Christ Church Chapel to Henry Hunt, the main speaker at Peterloo and one of the most famous radical campaigners in early C19 England.   The monument was 30 feet high and was demolished in 1888.

Scholefield died in 1855, and it is unlikely that the chapel continued in religious use after his death.  Ever the eccentric, before he died he allegedly told his daughters “make what use you can of the chapel, girls.  Use it for a circus if you can – after all it’s round.  It has served its turn as a chapel.”  The chapel was used by University Settlement for many years and was demolished in 1986.

William Henry Chadwick – Willow Grove Cemetery, Reddish

Earlier in lockdown I was walking through the historic Willow Grove cemetery in Reddish, another local discovery for me.  One of the graves is a monument to William Henry Chadwick, “The Old Chartist”.   His epitaph is very inspiring and worth transcribing in full:


In 1848, at the early age of 19, he was

imprisoned for sedition and conspiracy

as a leader of the Chartist movement.

His whole life after was spent in

striving to extend the liberties of the

people and to promote temperance

justice and righteousness.

“I have fought at good fight, I have finished my

course, I have kept the faith.”  II Timothy, IV, 7

This stone was erected to his memory by

some of those who shared in his labours

rejoiced in his triumphs

and loved him for himself

Chadwick’s story, like Scholefield’s, is an interesting one, with many twists and turns.  Born in Compstall in 1829 to working class parents, William and his family had moved to Manchester by 1842.  At the age of 14 he was already a Wesleyan preacher and by his late teens he was immersed in the radical politics of the time.  In 1848 William was arrested at a lathe shop in Fairfield Street where he was working as a mechanic, with the manuscript of a poem he had written in his pocket.  The poem presumably had a radical message, and he was tried in Liverpool and sentenced to 6 months in prison for sedition and conspiracy as a Chartist leader.

On his release William became a lecturer in science and developed an interest in magnetism and hypnotism.   He was linked to one of the great hypnotists of Victorian England, Annie de Montford, who performed as a mesmerist throughout the country.

Later in life he returned to his radical political roots, and in the 1890s he was involved in the campaign to get public access to Kinder Scout, stating that he was prepared to trespass and go to prison if necessary.   William also helped to found the agricultural workers’ union and in 1891 became a van lecturer for the National Liberal Federation.

Although we can’t be sure, it’s very likely that William would have known Scholefield.  He lived and worked relatively near to the Christ Church Chapel, and their shared politics would almost certainly have brought them together on many occasions.   One can even imagine William admiring the monument to Henry Hunt.

As we leave our Manchester Chartists, we’ll end with a description of William’s funeral in 1908 from the Stockport Advertiser:

After a strenuous life in which the old Chartist had taken part in many political battles, it was a singular coincidence that his remains should have been laid to rest in a severe thunderstorm. But so it was; rain fell in torrents accompanied by vivid flashes of lightning and loud peals of thunder as the mourners stood around the grave.

The Home Front and Evacuation – visiting speaker (Peter Heaton) Tuesday 10th March

On Tuesday 10th of March we have a visiting speaker to the group. Peter Heaton will be sharing his memories as an evacuee during World War II and also talking about the home front.

If you would like to attend, meetings are free and are held between 2.00 and 4.00 pm at Burnage Library. Please feel free to bring any memorabilia from the war to show to the group.

Image result for evacuation ww2

Memories of Delivering Milk in the 1940s Burnage

One of the members of our group, Ann, recently brought a milk bottle to a meeting that was dug up in her garden. The bottle dates from around the mid-C20 and has the name of the dairy embossed on the glass – Norris & Sons, Dahlia Farm, Burnage. Here are Ann’s memories of Mr Norris…

Henry Norris , son of J. Norris and Sons

I was born in 1941 at 9, Enfield Avenue, Eastern Circle, Burnage. Mr Norris live in Rose Cottage, Burnage Lane in front the Paragon Laundry, later Smart’s.

He had a lovely brown horse and a well painted cart in cream with brown writing with I think his name. Mr Norris was a lovely man, tubby build, very rosy cheeks and a gravely voice. He wore a brown old trilby hat and brown corduroy trousers.

Each Saturday morning with my friend Rose Slack who lived next door, we would wait for Mr Norris and help deliver the milk in the Circle. Of course, we had a motive! It was so we could have ride on the cart. We loved it.

In “Carry on Burnage” by Dennis Lloyd Nadin, a Peter Lakin recalls his father worked as a milkman for Norris Dairy on Burnage Lane.

Wonderful memories

Dahlia Farm milk bottle