I’ve become slightly obsessed with Reddish Vale and the Tame Valley during lockdown. It’s a relatively wild strip of countryside, reaching to within a mile of Stockport town centre, and it’s looking glorious this spring, the woods carpeted with wild garlic and bluebells. There are also many clues to the local history of the area – mysterious cobbled roads, fragments of masonry and walls half hidden by undergrowth. So expect many more posts about the Vale!
On a walk last week on the Reddish side of the valley I spotted this sycamore tree. It’s an unusual shape with a number of tall straight shoots growing from the original trunk and is good example of a coppiced tree. Coppicing is a very ancient form of woodland management. Trees would be cut down to just above ground level, allowing straight shoots to grow from the sides of the trunk. These were usually harvested quite young, the poles being used for fencing, handles, posts, thatching spars and for many other purposes. They were also used for producing wood to be made into charcoal, needed for smelting iron. There would be a constant supply of new shoots growing each year, so it was a very effective use of the resource.
The coppiced sycamore tree at Reddish has been left to grow, presumably when the practice went out of use, so the straight shoots are now the size of small trees. It is on the site of Wood Hall and Wood Hall Farm, and is interesting evidence of land management on the estate. The first definite reference to Wood Hall (“Wode Hall”) is in 1501/02 and it is clearly marked on a map of 1818/19. During the Civil War, Wood Hall was owned by Henry Stanley, a supporter of Charles I – Stanley had to pay to get his property back after it was requisitioned by Parliament. His brother was a staunch supporter of Parliament and died from wounds he received at the siege of Manchester in 1642, showing how the war often split families.
By the 1890s Wood Hall Farm had been built next to the Hall, but sadly neither have survived – the Hall had been demolished by 1960 and the Farm by the mid 1970s. The pond shown on the map has survived and contains a number of Koi carp!
When I was walking nearby yesterday I had a chat with an 80 year old local resident who reminisced about stacking the sheaves of corn on one of the farm’s fields. The field is now covered in tree growth.
Greetings on a beautiful spring morning! As the local history group isn’t meeting I’ve decided to write a regular blog instead. One of very few advantages of the current situation is that people who can leave the house are walking far more and exploring their neighbourhoods. Looking at buildings and places in a slow and more considered way opens up all sorts of historical puzzles. I’ve been revisiting places I haven’t been to for a long while and discovering many new nooks and crannies of history. I’ll share these on the blog over the next few weeks. A lot of the things I’ve seen raise questions – so if anyone has any information about them please comment on the blog.
My first observation is a stone halfway up a building on Barlow Road in Levenshulme – located at the Cromwell Grove end of the road, opposite the old swimming pool, next to a row of shops and at the beginning of the cobbled entry. It looks like a foundation stone which has been relocated in Levenshulme on a more recent building, hence the different dates – 1904 relates to the date of the block of shops, 1845 is the date of the original location of the stone. Toni from the group found that Rev Richard Bassnett (1800-1865) was the rector of St James’ Church in Gorton from 1831. He also baptised a Richard Bassnett Preston in 1855, probably a relative through his mother’s family, who went on to become a church architect. Preston designed many local churches, including St Andrew’s Levenshulme and St Werbergh’s, Chorlton, and his designs were described as “impeccably correct in detail, built to last until the Day of Judgement, and very, very dull!” .
St James’ was originally a chapel which existed from at least 1562. Bassnett clearly organised its rebuilding, probably as Gorton grew during the industrial revolution – he presumably didn’t pay for it himself! The current church of St James was built in 1871, so it looks like Bassnett’s church didn’t last very long – I haven’t been able to find any prints or photos of it.
But there is a puzzle… Why did the stone end up in the wall of a block of shops in Levenshulme? There is a gap between the demolition of Bassnett’s church (probably about 1870) and the building where the stone is currently located (1904). Perhaps the stone was saved as an object of curiosity and randomly placed in its current place? Or perhaps there is another reason. In 1904 a certain O.H. had their initials carved into the stone. Who was O.H.? Any suggestions gratefully received…
In the light of Government guidelines and the nature of our group we have taken the decision not to meet for the foreseeable future. We wish all our members well and look forward to meeting again as soon as possible!
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.
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.