On 12th November one of our group, Toni, gave a fascinating talk about the Ambulance Service in the region and the Red Cross Hospitals during the wars. Toni had delved through picture archives and had found a lot of very interesting information about the emergence of the Ambulance Service, from when it was run by the local police, to a system we are more familiar with. She then went on to tell us about the Red Cross hospitals, many of which were in large private houses or even schools. Alma Park, which had 1000 pupils in World War II, became a military hospital and the children had to go to Chapel Street, alternating their lessons with the existing pupils!
Our final trip of 2019 was to Clayton Hall, another remarkable survival from the later middle ages in what was, until recently, a heavily industrialised area. We were very lucky with the weather – cold and fresh, but dry – and had a great turn out from the group. Finding the hall proved a bit tricky. It’s well hidden from view by mature trees and to reach it we had to cross the empty moat by a narrow C17 stone bridge. Once across you feel like you have stepped back in time.
When we arrived we roamed freely around the house, with the volunteers answering any questions we had. The interior is a Victorian living history museum, and it was dressed for Christmas, making us all feel suitably festive. Much time was spent in the kitchen and dairy, with group members reminiscing about the kitchen equipment they remembered from their childhoods.
The actual date of the hall is uncertain, but there has been a building on the site since the C12 and the earliest part of the building, a timbered framed structure, probably dates from the 1400s. At one point it was lived in by Humphrey Chetham, the founder of Chetham’s School. At this point the building was much more extensive, with four wings and a courtyard in the centre. Only one of the wings still survives.
It is owned by the council, and until recently was lived in as a council house, but the management and fundraising is entirely in the hands of volunteers from the Friends and Trustees of Clayton Park. We were all very impressed by their energy, initiative and the welcome they gave us. At the end of our tour we were given an illustrated talk in the cafe. Inevitably, as with all old houses, access to the upper floor is less easy for people with limited mobility. But the volunteers were very good at helping some of the members of the group and everyone managed to look round the whole house. We would certainly recommend it as an excellent site to visit for anyone interested in the history of the area.
On the 26th of November we will be hosting a talk by Dr Katrina Navickas (Reader in History from the University of Hertfordshire) on The Most Radical Street in Manchester. Katrina specialises in the study of popular politics and protest in C19 Britain, and this is a fantastic opportunity to hear about her research on Manchester during the period.
We will be meeting as usual at 2.00 at Burnage Library – the meeting is free and open to all!
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.
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 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.