Lockdown Diary 17 – Joseph Chessborough Dyer: A Connecticut Reformer in Burnage

During one of the brief respites from full lockdown, I accompanied five of the local history group on a history walk around Heaton Moor golf course and the outside of Mauldeth Hall.  Thanks to Toni’s historical detective work this opened up the story of Joseph Chessborough Dyer, the builder of Mauldeth Hall and a fascinating historical figure, whose activities and breadth of interests reveal much about C19 Manchester.

Members of Burnage Local History Group outside Mauldeth Hall

On a fresh and sunny December morning, along with five members of Burnage Local History Group, I found myself standing in the wooded grounds of Mauldeth Hall.  Many people will remember it as the Hospital for the Incurables, a role it played until 1990, or they know it as the current residence of the Chinese Consul, or perhaps as the official residence of the Bishop of Manchester in the 1850s and 60s.  Less well known, but of greater interest, is the life of the man who built the hall, Joseph Chessborough Dyer (1780-1871), and his contribution to so many aspects of life in Manchester and beyond. 

Mauldeth Hall

In a life that spanned nearly a century, Dyer was a truly modern man by the standards of the time, promoting technological change, a free press, and political, economic and social reform.   In an engraving from about the 1830s, a middle-aged Dyer gazes confidently at the viewer with pen in hand, looking the epitome of a learned Victorian gentleman.  But Dyer’s journey to Mauldeth Hall and then to a number of other substantial houses in Burnage was highly unusual and reveals a restless man with very wide interests.

Joseph Chessborough Dyer – c. 1830

Dyer was in fact originally an American citizen, born in Stonington Connecticut on 15 November 1780 in the heat of the American Revolution.  Five years earlier the colonies had rebelled against British rule over what they saw as unfair taxation, and war between the colonies and the British continued until 1783.  Dyer’s father, Nathaniel, was a captain in the Rhode Island Navy, in reality a small flotilla of ships, but nevertheless historically important as the first independent navy in North America.  He would have seen active service in the struggle against the British. 

Dyer’s mother was also deeply affected by the revolution.  Less than a year after Joseph’s birth, as his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) recounts, she died as a result of the storming and burning of New London in September 1781.   In what was the last British victory against the colonies, Benedict Arnold, originally a revolutionary commander led the British troops that burnt the town and slaughtered many colonists.

So how did an American citizen, born during the revolution, end his life as a British gentleman in the north west of England? The answer lies in the transformation taking place during the Industrial Revolution and the opportunities it gave to a young man like Dyer, who was ambitious, inventive and good at seizing opportunities. His particular skill was in engineering.  According to the DNB “he had a turn for mechanics and when quite a lad constructed an unsinkable lifeboat, in which he and his father took excursions along the coast”.  From 1802 Dyer was regularly making business trips to England, settling permanently in 1811, initially in Camden Town, and then from 1816 in Manchester, where he became a very wealthy man.

Despite the tensions between the newly independent United States and its former overlord, British industrialists were keen to get their hands on American technology.  Dyer was an important cog in this relationship, introducing machinery and techniques into the heart of the Industrial Revolution.  These included a steel engraving process (1809), machines for fur sheering and nail making (1810), an improved carding engine (1811), and plans for a steamboat (1811).   Although not their inventor, Dyer often made changes to these inventions and was awarded their patents (the carding engine was the first to be patented in this country), showing a wide interest in technological change.  This was a time of dizzying innovation, and many of these machines were met with opposition from the skilled workers.  They believed, probably rightly, that at best their wages would be forced down and at worst they would lose their jobs as a result of the changes.

In 1825 Dyer was awarded a patent for a roving frame used in cotton spinning.  Again Dyer was not the inventor but he simplified and improved the frame, making spinning far more efficient, and it was probably a significant turning point in his career.  Since Manchester was at the centre of the cotton spinning industry he was well placed to make money from the patent.  He was listed as owning a works at 17 Dale St in the same year, and he acquired a seven-storey mill on the south side of Store Street for manufacturing machinery at around the same time.   By 1825 Dyer had built Cringle Lodge, one of a group of substantial properties at the top of Burnage Lane.

Mauldeth Hall in the mid-Nineteenth Century

Business was going well for Dyer and in 1832 he extended his manufacturing interests to France, opening a machine making works in Gamaches (Somme).  At about the same time he began building his new home, Mauldeth Hall, an impressive neo-classical mansion with attractive landscaped grounds.  The Hall is noted for its innovative fireproofing built into the design.   Dyer probably moved into the hall with his family soon afterwards, where he would have enjoyed the life of a country gentleman.   In 1838 he added to his fortune by selling the “extensive machine works at Manchester” to Parr, Curtis and Madeley.  The sale of his mills was certainly well timed as all the machines in the mill were destroyed in a huge fire in 1842.  In May 1840, Dyer was admitted into the Institution of Civil Engineers, the supreme professional body for engineers in Britain, in recognition of his expertise and importance.   His admission documents have survived and note his reason for joining as “his great practical knowledge as a Mechanician”.

Dyer’s admission document for the Institution of Civil Engineers (1840)

During the late 1820s Dyer also became involved with one of the most famous engineering projects of the time – the Manchester to Liverpool railway, the first passenger route in the world.   His suggestion of using double headed rails and wooden sleepers was outvoted in favour of lighter rails and stone sleepers.  These had to be soon replaced.  Dyer again showed himself to be a more skilled and forward thinking engineer than many of his contemporaries.

Dyer only lived at Mauldeth Hall for a short while.   By the 1841 census he is listed as living at Burnage Lodge, and the 1840s saw a dip in his fortunes.  He had been an early shareholder and director of the Bank of Manchester, set up in 1829, and an expression of the city’s confidence at the time.  But the bank was defrauded by its manager, a Mr Burdekin, and crashed in 1842, losing Dyer £98,000, the equivalent of about £10 million in current money.  Dyer also had to give up his factory in France, due to mismanagement and probably partly as a consequence of the 1848 revolution, leading to the loss of a further £120,000. 

Brook House, Burnage Lane – image courtesy of Manchester Libraries

Despite these huge losses Dyer was still a wealthy man, owning extensive lands in Burnage.   By the 1851 census he had retired and in 1861 he was living at Brook House, another large property which he probably built, with his son and three servants.    Later he built The Acacias, which became the original building used by Acacias School.   Although less grand than Mauldeth Hall, both houses show that Dyer remained part of Manchester’s elite.

The Acacias (later Acacias School) – it is not known if Dyer ever lived in the house

At some point in the early 1840s Dyer built a tower in n the grounds of Brook House, next to what appears to be an ornamental lake surrounded by trees.   This was intended to be his mausoleum and must have been a significant structure, as it is shown on the OS map of 1848, marked as “Dyer’s Tower”.   Clearly Dyer wanted to be remembered, but this was not to be, and the tower was demolished – unfortunately no pictures survive. 

OS map of 1848 (surveyed 1845) – it appears to have been mapped before the building of Brook House, which stood in the blank space taken up by Burnage Lodge (courtesy of HMSO)

Dyer’s story so far probably differs little from many other Manchester industrialists, apart from his American origins and the breadth of his business concerns.  However he was also active in the world of political and social reform.  The DNB notes that when he retired he occupied himself “with science, literature and politics”, but in truth he had always held these interests.  Being brought up at the time of the American Revolution may have inspired his political interests, and arriving in Manchester in 1816 he was entering a city and a country in political turmoil.

Black and white chalk drawing of Dyer (1831) – William Brockedon (National Portrait Gallery)

A  majority of the population were unrepresented in Parliament, Manchester had no MP despite its size and three years after Dyer settled in the city the Peterloo Massacre saw the slaughter of protesters  at the reform meeting in St Peter’s Fields.  Even if he didn’t attend, Dyer would have been acutely aware of the meeting and the bloodshed that occurred.  We know from the DNB that “he engaged in the struggle for parliamentary reform” perhaps even before Peterloo, and “in later years was closely associated with the Anti-Cornlaw [sic]League, both in its formation and operations”.  As the Anti Corn Law League, led by John Bright and the Stockport MP Richard Cobden, became a national organisation in 1838, he must have been active at the height of his business success, while he was building and living in Mauldeth Hall.   Cobden refers to him as “old Dyer” in a letter of 1840, which also shows his opposition to Cobden’s ally Milner Gibson, who was standing to be a Manchester MP.   Cobden recounts that at a meeting of the “Corn law assoc.”   there was “a great blow up” between a former mayor of Manchester and Dyer, who stated that “as he [Gibson] had never addressed the public he [Dyer] could not view him as a candidate to represent Man”.   Dyer certainly held very strong political principles and believed that elected politicians needed to engage with their voters.

Meeting of the Anti Corn Law League, Newall’s Buildings, Manchester, c. 1838 – Dyer is probably one of the men present

As a leading figure in the Anti Corn Law League, Dyer was also an advocate of free trade.  We know that he was one of the vice-presidents presiding over a free trade banquet on 3rd November 1852 at the Free Trade Hall (an earlier hall on the site of the current building) – the menu included 4000 pies, 4800 meat sandwiches, and 2000 raspberry and strawberry tarts!  When he was in his 70s he was the chair of the Reform League, which campaigned for votes for all working men. 

Dyer’s political activities also took him abroad to France.  In 1830 he was a key member of a delegation to Paris, in the aftermath of the revolution that overthrew Charles X and placed Louis-Philippe, the “Citizen King”, on the throne.  According to contemporary accounts, the delegation was “received with great distinction by the French government”.  Dyer brought with him contributions from the people of Manchester for the wounded of Paris, and the visit was important for the swift recognition of the new monarchy by the British government.  His comments at the time add to our picture of his reformist political views – “Mr J.C. Dyer said that it had been shown what might be the result when rich and poor formed one common union, in one common effort, for the overthrow of tyranny and the establishment of liberty”.  Dyer also seems to have taken the opportunity to extend his business interests, and two years later he opened his ill-fated engineering works in northern France.

Revolution of 1830, Departure of King Louis-Philippe for the Paris Town Hall – Horace Vernet

Newspapers were a crucial part of the changes that helped modernise nineteenth-century Britain and spread new ideas, so it’s unsurprising that Dyer was involved in their foundation.  In 1815 he helped set up the “North American Review”, a literary journal based in the US, and “he was also concerned in the foundation of the Manchester Guardian in 1821” (DNB).  It’s not clear exactly what his role was, as he wasn’t a member of the “Little Circle” of businessmen who were the driving force behind the new reforming paper.  But it shows that he was mixing in reformist circles at an early date and that he must have known John Edward Taylor, the industrialist who was so horrified by the bloodshed at Peterloo that he set up the paper.   Three years later in 1824 Dyer was also involved in the establishment of the Mechanics Institute, set up to provide evening classes for artisans and other young workers.

First edition of The Manchester Guardian – May 5, 1821

Like many of Manchester’s business elite, Dyer was one of 178 members of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, where he would have known leading figures in the city.   Here he spoke on a variety of topics including physics, politics and his various inventions.  He also published a number of pamphlets, showing him to be sympathetic to the abolitionist cause –  “Notes on the legalised reclamation of fugitive slaves from the free states of America”  (1857) and “Notes on the slave holders’ mission to England” (1860) seem to have been highly critical of the enslavement of African people.  He also published political pamphlets – “Democracy” (1859) and “Notes on Political Mistakes” (1860).

Dyer had travelled far from his Connecticut roots and early invention of the unsinkable lifeboat in the late 1700s, becoming a British citizen and making Manchester and, in particular Burnage and Heaton Moor, his home.  The cotton industry, railways, political reform, free trade, newspapers, education, abolitionism – Dyer engaged with so many of the issues and developments of the time.  In May 1871, at the age of 90, he died at Henbury near Macclesfield, but not before he had written a final pamphlet – “Longevity, by a Nonagenarian”.  Sadly the pamphlet is now lost, so we will never know the secrets of his advice, but I would expect that living a full and active life was part of it! 

Lockdown Diary 15: The 1911 School Strike – “Youthful rebels” invade Reddish

This month’s blog is based on a meeting of Burnage Local History Group held in 2019.  It uses as its starting point a postcard in an exhibition at the People’s History Museum on The Most Radical Street in Manchester, curated by Dr Katrina Navickas.  But it was also inspired by the school climate strikes, begun by Greta Thunberg, which spread to Manchester and other British cities in the summer of 2019.  I was fascinated to find out that these were not the first school strikes to have occurred.

The postcard, dated to the early C20, shows a crowd of about 100 people and records a unique and enigmatic event in our local history.  In the foreground a group of boys and girls, dressed in their Sunday best, pose for the camera.  Behind them, a larger crowd have their backs to the photographer and focus their attention on a speakers’ platform.   A handwritten caption tells us that the gathering is at All Saints, Weaste (in Salford), and that the photograph shows the choir strike protest meeting.   It has not been possible to find anything more about the choir strike, although judging by the photo it must have generated a lot of local interest and support at the time.  But it is likely to have been linked to the school strikes that took place in various parts of the country in 1911.

Thanks to Katrina Navickas for permission to use the image – taken from the exhibition “The Most Radical Street in Manchester”

The previous two years had seen the Chancellor Lloyd George’s attempts to introduce a national insurance scheme for funding pensions temporarily blocked by the House of Lords, and wage cuts coupled with high living costs were creating devastating social problems.  The general feeling amongst the poorer citizens of the country was that those with landed wealth had little sympathy for their concerns.  The scene was set for widespread unrest throughout the country.  Beginning with a dockers’ walkout in Southampton, railway workers, warehousemen, colliers and many others joined them on strike during the summer of 1911.  On August 13th two protesters were shot dead after a rally of over 100,000 brought Liverpool to a standstill, while Salford was described as being under virtual military occupation at the time.   The atmosphere was very unsettled and, with revolutionary activity occurring in other parts of Europe in the early C20, there was fear of revolution in Britain.  

Cavalry congregate at the J. Hulse works, Ordsall, 1911
Cavalry armed with lances and rifles on the streets of Salford, 1911

By September 1911 strikes were breaking out in schools, and given Manchester’s radical heritage it is hardly surprising that the city and surrounding towns were centres of pupil unrest. In Miles Platting boys labelled their school caps with “picket” and marched to the Municipal school on Holland Street “the object being to induce the scholars there to declare a sympathetic strike.  These endeavours, however, were futile, and the presence of the teachers at the gates prevented the pickets from entering the school grounds to carry out their programme of ‘peaceful’ persuasion.”    By the time the strikers had reached Corpus Christi school, on Varley Street, they had apparently “assumed quite a militant attitude” and were armed with sticks, and “an even more terrifying display was made by others who were the possessors of toy pistols”. (Northern Daily Telegraph, 9th September)

On the 11th, “the strike was brought to the doors of Ashton… two or three hundred lads ‘came out’, most of the elementary schools in the borough being affected”.  There was considerable concern in the town and “so serious did the situation become that policemen were stationed in the vicinity of some of the schools, and officers in plain clothes were on special duty”.  (The Evening Reporter, 13th September)  The Ashton boys clearly knew how to organise strikes, probably from observing the adults, and some “had pinned to their coats pieces of cardboard on which the word ‘Picket’ was written”, and they “went to various schools and induced the lads to come out”. (Birmingham Daily Mail, 13th September)

The strike came closer to home as “a contingent of youthful rebels from Ancoats and other parts of Manchester invaded Reddish”, approaching the area via Gorton.   These may have been the same boys who “congregated in the vicinity of Oldham Road railway station, where a lively tattoo was kept up on the hoardings and the tin advertisement plates”.   When they got to Reddish they visited all the schools.  “Though failing in their object at the North Reddish Council School, they were successful at the Houldsworth School and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic School, where most of the boys accepted the invitation and left the playground.” (Northern Daily Telegraph, 13th September)

Houldsworth School, designed by Alfred Waterhouse

In total there were school strikes in 62 towns in Britain.   The Birmingham Daily Mail of 14th September blamed the trouble makers of the “Truant Class” for the strikes, but it is clear that the young strikers were well organised with committees, banners, marches and meetings.  It is also possible that the “Truant Class” contained the schools’ rebels – they may have been labelled as delinquents, but they were also perhaps more keenly aware of the injustices and were more likely to make a stand against them.

What are we to make of this wave of student unrest?  While in other parts of the country striking pupils called for longer holidays, shorter school hours, free stationery, and an end to the strap, in Manchester, Ashton and Stockport their demands are not stated, but they must have had similar aims.  They were also probably inspired by their striking parents, and the presence of the army on the streets appears not to have deterred them – in fact it may have made them more defiant. 

The reports in the papers probably exaggerated the menace of the school strikers for dramatic effect – describing their “menacing display”, “terrifying attitude”, the “toy pistols” and how they “invaded Reddish”.  At the same time they also trivialised the pupils – the “lively tattoo” at Oldham Road railway station sounds more like a carnival than a threatening protest.   Looking at reports of other protests at the time this seems to have been a common way of undermining activism.

The aftermath of the school strikes was brutal.  The children inevitably returned to the classrooms, and ringleaders were punished.  Some were beaten in front of the rest of the school while others were sent to the workhouse, and it is not known whether they achieved any of their aims.   

An earlier school strike in London – 1889

As to the Weaste choir strike, we can only speculate about their demands, but the choirboys were probably demanding payment for their singing.    The Church of England was, and indeed still is, a very wealthy institution, and during this period there was strong resistance to the payment of tithes (essentially a tax) to the Church.  It might have seemed unjust to the choir that they were not being paid for their labour.  Like the school strikers, the Weaste choir show young people taking an active role in asserting their rights, inspired by the actions of the adults.

Lockdown Diary 14 – Shadow Walls

Thanks once again to Toni Hunter for additional research on the Gytes of Byrom House.

For the last 6,000 years or so, give or take a few hundred, people in Britain have been enclosing space and buildings with walls and fences, using whatever material was locally abundant.  Before that, although they might have recognised the idea of a territory, our ancestors were basically nomadic, and had no need to divide space.  They lived in temporary camps and shelters before moving on to the next hunting ground – this was from about 700,000 BCE, so for most of human existence.  Around 4,000 BCE people began to settle down to farm the land and domesticate animals and at the same time they built divisions – field boundaries, walls around their settlements to keep out wild animals and intruders.

For some time I have been interested in why we build walls, why we feel the need to mark out space and to keep things and people in or out.  Walls send out signals – perhaps as a warning not to enter private space, or announcing that you are entering a place with a particular function. During lockdown I became interested in walls that no longer enclose anything, where the building or space they once surrounded has disappeared, walls that have lost their purpose – what I call shadow walls.  I mentioned one them in an earlier blog – the circular wall outlining the demolished Christ Church Chapel in Ancoats – and this blog is about another three, in Levenshulme, Portwood in Stockport, and Gorton.   

Looking across Barlow Road from St Mark’s Church in Levenshulme is a stretch of pale sandstone wall.  The wall is solidly built and quite unlike anything nearby.  It surrounds the garden of house built in the 1950s or 60s, but the wall is clearly older.  The clue to its origins is found in the nearby Byrom Parade – the wall is all that remains of Byrom House and its land, a substantial property that from the 1830s to the early C20 covered Byrom Avenue, Field Bank Grove and Bourneville Grove and stretched between Green Bank Park and Mount Road, then called Back Lane.  

Byrom House Wall – junction of Barlow Road and Byrom Avenue
OS map from 1894 showing location of Byrom House
Byrom House Wall

Photographs from the late C19 show a house with prosperous owners.  The tea party in particular shows a snapshot of the class differences at the time, with two expensively dressed women taking tea, served by a uniformed maid, while a younger woman fixes her stare on the camera.  The gardens are extensive and well maintained and the house itself is covered with climbing plants.  Another picture of the garden shows rustic pathways with branches bent to form arches. 

Tea party at Byrom House c. 1900
A rustic path in the garden at Byrom House c. 1890

It is possible to piece together some of the story of the house from a variety of other sources.  It may have been built as early as 1838 by a Mr Gyte and remained in the Gyte family until at least 1906 – some of the women in the tea party photo are from the Gyte family.   By 1911 the house was occupied by a builder called Thomas Mattinson, who was almost certainly responsible for the construction of the terraced housing on his land and he presumably eventually demolished Byrom House.  By then Levenshulme was sharing in the changing from a semi-rural village to a suburb of Manchester with a number of factories and mills.  Families like the Gytes would no longer have been living in the area. 

Byrom House c. 1890

The Gytes made their money as corn merchants in partnership with Thomas Lomas of Alderley Edge.  Lomas and Gyte were based at 102-104 Oxford St in Manchester, and although George Gyte left the partnership in November 1883, George was presumably wealthy enough to retire or perhaps move on to other business ventures.  In the photo from 1890 George is the elderly man (in fact only in his early 60s at the time) sitting outside Byrom House with a long white beard, so perhaps retirement was more likely.  George died aged 78 on 17th March 1906, leaving the considerable sum of £2,950 3s 11d in his will (approximately £360,000 in current value).  An account of his funeral, which was unusually held in both St Andrew’s Church (probably St Peter and St Andrews) in Levenshulme and Fairfield near Buxton (where he was buried), provides a more colourful picture of his character and life.  “Mr Gyte was for a period of about sixteen years a member of the old Levenshulme Local Board, and was its chairman for three years.  He fulfilled almost every lay appointment in the church and schools, having been churchwarden, school manager, treasurer of the day and Sunday schools, and trustee of the patronage of the church.  He was also president of the local Sick Nursing Association.”  George’s connection to the church would explain why there is a memorial window to the Gytes in St Peter and St Andrew’s.  We also learn about George’s political affiliations.   “He was an ardent Conservative, proud of the fact that he possessed a copy of the first issue of the ‘Manchester Courier’, and had never failed to obtain a copy of the paper, weekly and daily, since.”  George was clearly man of some local standing and shows the middle class sense of duty to the community, and the paper notes the “crowded congregation at the service”, with members of the local District Council in attendance.

Byrom House c. 1890 – George Gyte is on the left

The second shadow wall is marooned in the middle of the Portwood roundabout.  The building that once stood in the middle square enclosure must have been substantial, but now nothing is left apart from the low, well-made, stone walls – the empty space inside is filled with scrub and weeds.   The walls can be reached through the underpass, and although neglected there are display boards that provide some of the story of the site.

Brunswick Chapel Walls – Portwood
Brunswick Chapel Walls – Portwood

Between 1848 and 1955 the Brunswick Wesleyan Methodist Chapel stood inside the walls.  When the chapel was built the area was densely populated with rows of terraced housing, and mills crowded the banks of the nearby rivers Tame and Goyt, providing ample employment.  As the  aerial photograph shows, the area was decimated by later developments – most of the housing is long gone and both Brunswick chapel, plus its adjacent school, and  St Paul’s Church (shown in the aerial photo) were demolished.  The walls of St Paul’s are also still visible, and what remains of the its churchyard is relatively well maintained.  Sadly the  graveyard at the chapel has been neglected, despite attempts to raise money for its restoration.  

Brunswick Chapel from the air – the dotted line shows the location of the roundabout (early C20)

A postcard from the late C19, complete with the local people posing for the camera leaning nonchalantly against the wall, shows us the original appearance of the chapel.  The chapel was built in the Victorian Gothic style and was described in the 1870s as being “an ornament to the locality”.  The walls are topped with iron railings which were presumably melted down, perhaps during World War II, when it was common to use railings to make munitions.  In the graveyard many monuments are visible.  The site is home to about 2,600 burials, but the monuments went with the chapel in 1955, probably broken up and turned into hardcore for building. 

The chapel was built at a cost of £2,530 in 1848 and opened for worship in March 1849 with seating for 770 – the chapel was certainly serving a local need.  A detailed account of the background to the building of the chapel and its opening, was written by Rev H. Jutsum in 1876 to celebrate the jubilee of the nearby Tiviot Methodist chapel (Jubilee memorial being the historical sketch read by the Rev. H. Jutsum at the celebration of the jubilee of Tiviot Dale Wesleyan Chapel, and including a brief history of Methodism in Stockport – 1876).  Tiviot Dale Chapel served a wealthy Methodist congregation who felt that “in order to provide for the children of all the schools being taken to public worship in some chapel every Sunday, as well as to supply the spiritual necessities of the inhabitants of these localities in general, it was proposed to build a good chapel in Portwood”. The aim was to raise £6,000 for three chapels in Stockport, but “the first in importance was Portwood, which, with the contiguous district of Newbridge Lane, included a population of upwards of five thousand souls; but which, except a small chapel built by the New Connexion [a Methodist splinter group], was then destitute of a regular place for public worship”.

The laying of the foundation stone on 8th May 1848 was marked with great ceremony, the 1876 account again giving a detailed list of those processing to the site.  “It was arranged that those friends who felt desirous of being present should meet at Tiviot Dale School, where a procession was formed which moved to the ground in Portwood, in the following order: – Manorial Beadle, Borough Police Constables, Manorial Constables, Superintendent of Police, the Mayor and Magistrates, the Circuit Stewards, Ministers and Stewards, Trustees of the Chapel, Church Extension Committee, local Preachers and Leaders, members and friends of the Society, three abreast, officers, teachers, and scholars of Tiviot Dale School, officers, teachers, and scholars of Newbridge Lane School…”  The sense of precedence, class and power give the impression of an almost feudal retinue leading its way to the chapel site!

The foundation stone was laid by one of the Aldermen, James Marshall of Brinnington Mount who received “a splendid silver trowel in the name of the Trustees” as a souvenir.  Hymns were sung and the meeting was addressed by the local MP James Heald and the mayor.  Finally “a tea meeting was afterwards held in the Portwood Wesleyan School room, at which five hundred persons were present.”  

Visiting the site now it’s hard to picture what it was once like.  Little of the original housing has survived and Portwood is now dominated by a retail park and cut through by the M60.  But 170 years ago it was thriving community, and the opening of the new chapel must have been an event of great importance to the local people.

Brunswick Chapel graveyard – St Paul’s Church in the background

Finally, a wall in Gorton.  A few months ago we hosted some visiting speakers from the Manchester and Stockport Canal Society.  They gave an interesting talk about a now lost waterway that connected the Ashton Canal to Stockport.  Built in the 1790s, the canal passed Houldsworth and Broadstone mills, ending up near   Nelstrop’s Albion mill at the top of Lancashire Hill.  When it was built none of these mills had opened, so there was an element of speculation behind the project, but in time it must have become a valuable asset to the local entrepreneurs.  Generally the canal would have been used for ferrying goods to and from the mills, but it was also used for more unconventional purposes.  William Houldsworth, during the building of St Elisabeth’s Church in Reddish, transported the marble columns by canal – for the last part of their journey, from the canal to the church, they were carried on wagons pulled by elephants from Belle Vue zoo!  It was also possible to take a passenger boat down the canal from Stockport to Manchester, but as the journey took two hours it seems unlikely to have been particularly popular.  By the 1960s the canal, like so many others, was in a state of disrepair, and it was since completely filled in.

Stockport Canal Wall – Gorton
Footpath in Gorton showing the line of the Stockport Canal

One of my trips of local exploration during lockdown was to find remnants of the canal.  A few weeks ago I mentioned Broadstone Bridge, built in the early C20 over the canal.  And in Gorton, near the cemetery and parallel to the top of Gorton Road, is a stretch of the old stone wall that separated the canal from nearby housing.   Within the wall the line of the old canal is clearly visible and is now a footpath.  Like the other walls described, there are few clues to its original purpose, but all were markers of space, visibly displaying what were once important divisions.  All three now seem almost out of place, but although they are not of wide historical importance they tell stories,  adding to our patchwork understanding of the community in which we live and illuminating the changes it has gone through during the last century and a half.

Lockdown Diary 12 – George and William Nelstrop : Flour and Plug Riots

Once again, thanks to Toni for additional research for this blogpost.

In the last blog I wrote about Shore’s Fold hamlet at the junction of Nelstrop Road North and Marbury Road.  A hundred years ago most people would have known the name Nelstrop – but, like many road names, Nelstrop probably means little to those living nearby.  For this blog I’ve been looking at the stories behind the name, starting with George Nelstrop and then rewinding in time to his father William (1801-1877).

One of the first places I saw George Nelstrop’s name was on a pair of handsome polished granite plaques on either side of Broadstone Bridge in Reddish – I’m always impressed by the Victorians’ and Edwardians’ attention to decoration and detail in their public works.   The plaques commemorate a new bridge over the Stockport branch of the Ashton Canal which “was declared open to public traffic on the 16th day of July 1910”, and replaced an earlier bridge built in 1793.  The canal was filled in during the 1960s but the line of the waterway is still clearly visible.  George was certainly a well established local figure.  He had been the Conservative mayor of Stockport from 1905-1906, he was a JP and remained an alderman of the borough in 1910 – as Chairman of the borough extension committee he seems to have been instrumental in the bridge’s construction and, along with the other grandees, was keen to have his contribution permanently remembered in stone.   George even managed to appear above the mayor in the list, making him appear even more important!

Plaque on Broadstone Bridge, Reddish
Plaque on Broadstone Bridge, Reddish

So who were the Nelstrops and how had they managed to become such an important local family?  The story begins nearly a century earlier with George’s father, William Nelstrop, who comes across as a more complex and interesting figure than his son.   While George was born into a wealthy manufacturing family, William appears to have been the driving force behind making their wealth.  The source of their prosperity was the Albion flour mill at the top of Lancashire Hill – the mill is still owned by the Nelstrop family, now in its sixth generation.  It was originally founded by William in 1820 when he was only 19 years old, an ambitious thing to do at such a young age, and showing immense self-confidence.  Brought up on a Yorkshire farm, William may have chosen the site because of its earlier links with milling flour – recent work unearthed a millstone, suggesting that Albion Mill was built on the site of windmill.  It certainly would have been a good spot for a windmill – its exposed and elevated position would have caught the wind from all sides.

Nelstrop’s Mill

Like other successful manufacturers, William entered local politics and was elected mayor of Stockport for 1842 – and it was then that his story took an unexpected turn.  The 1840s was a troubled time in the region and indeed throughout the country.  Chartists were gathering regularly in Manchester and locally in their Bamber’s Brow meeting room in Stockport, demanding radical political change (votes for all men, annual parliaments, no property qualifications for MPs, amongst other things), while most of the manufacturers were supporters and members of the Anti-Corn Law League. 

The Anti-Corn Law League had been set up to campaign against the laws which kept corn prices at an artificially inflated level , and while these regulations most affected the poor,  mill owners also had a variety of reasons for opposing them.   The Corn Laws favoured the traditional landowning class, who tended to look down on manufacturers as parvenus, and the laws threatened the stability of the industrial areas – hungry mill workers were clearly less reliable, and high corn and bread prices could make them demand higher wages.  The religious views of the manufacturing class probably also had an impact on their stance.  Many were non-conformists (the Nelstrops were Wesleyan), and they may have also seen the laws as unfair to the poor – as we will see there is some evidence that William had sympathies with the poor of the borough.  The Anti-Corn Law League was very strong in the town, and in 1841 both the borough’s elected MPs were members, including the founder of the League, Richard Cobden.

Richard Cobden’s statue, St Petersgate, Stockport

William’s biggest challenge as mayor came in August 1842, during what became known as the “Plug” riots – so called because the protestors removed the plugs from the mill boilers to close down manufacturing.  The 1830s and early 40s was a period of immense hardship.  Wages had fallen by about 12% in less than a decade, cost of basic foods had risen and there was a growth in unemployment.  Given that people’s living and working conditions were already difficul, these must have been bitter blows.  Then in February 1842 the manufacturers of Stockport announced a wage cut of between 10% and 20% – the result was widespread and understandable unrest.  Joseph Harrison, a local radical preacher and Chartist, highlighted their problems at a meeting in Stockport on August 20th.  “The first cause of this discontent and disorder is to be found in the wretchedness and misery of the manufacturing population, whose wages are not sufficient to supply their families with the common necessaries of life, and whose social condition has become so unbearable that many, very many, have been known to lift up their hands to the Most High, and beg that He would release them from their awful sufferings by calling them out of existence.”  As a Chartist, Harrison didn’t believe there could be a resolution to the crisis “until the labouring classes be fully and fairly represented in the House of Commons”.

Workers rapidly organised themselves and attempted to unite against the changes – a newspaper at the time noted that “if they were divided they would be like a rope of sand”.    But the aims of the protesters seem to have been mixed – some would certainly have been Chartist members with radical Chartist demands, but most were simply campaigning for the restoration of their January 1840 wages. 

As early as July, William had announced that “he would not be responsible for the peace of that borough”, indicating a reluctance to intervene and his role in the unrest was ambiguous.  But seeing unrest breaking out in nearby Ashton, Hyde and Stalybridge, three troops of the Cheshire Yeomanry marched into Stockport, a detachment of the 72nd Highlanders was barracked in the town, and 2000 special constables were sworn in – these preparations must have brought back unpleasant memories of Peterloo, 23 years earlier. 

Unrest broke out in Stockport on 11th August, as between 10,000 and 20,000 protestors entered the town and went from factory to factory to bring the workers out on strike.  An account from the Quarterly Review (1842/1843) tells us that “they paraded the market place in procession under the eyes of the magistrates, and proceeded from thence to turn out the mills and to stop labour of all kinds in the town”.  The smoke stopped rising from the mill chimneys.

Storming of the Stockport “Bastille” – Union Workhouse, Shaw Heath

The best known episode during the rioting was the assault on the Union Workhouse at Shaw Heath, sometimes referred to as Stockport’s “storming of the Bastille”.   Workhouses were much feared by the poor, and since the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834), many people were forced into hard labour in prison-like conditions.  Although defended by cavalry, infantry and special constables, wielding cutlasses, the protesters broke into the workhouse and took £7 in cash and 700 loaves of bread.  40 people were arrested and a rescue party was organised, armed with sticks and pistols.  Perhaps not surprisingly when confronted by cavalry with swords drawn ready to charge, plus infantry and special constables in the workhouse yard, they retreated.    Some of the older protesters had probably been at Peterloo in 1819 and would have remembered the violence that day.

Union Workhouse, Shaw Heath

The account from 1842/43 quotes one of the ring leaders, Booth, providing another interesting insight into William Nelstrop.  Booth addressed the crowd at the workhouse and told them “that they might, if they choose, do as the Mayor of Stockport said ‘Go to the stores and help themselves’… I don’t advise so, but when a great man like the Mayor of Stockport advises so, I think all would be right.”  For William to have said this would have been an extraordinary and genuinely radical act – but even if it was just a rumour, people considered it possible, perhaps showing his concern for the poor.  The Quarterly Review reinforces the point by noting that “Booth is one of those with whom the Mayor fraternized when he presided over the meeting in February, in which the [Anti-Corn Law] League adopted the Chartist resolutions”.

The Quarterly Review also insinuates that the manufacturers and local authorities (including William) colluded with the protestors up to the attack on the workhouse.  It notes that “the mayor, and nearly all the magistrates thus assembled, were members of the League”, and that in July Stockport’s MP and founder of the League Richard Cobden had said in Parliament that “the people would be JUSTIFIED [sic] in taking food for themselves and their families” in the event of unrest.   However, historians now think it unlikely that the protestors were manipulated by the League – it would certainly have been a risky strategy which could have ended very badly for the employers. 

By August 19th William’s sympathies with the protestors seem to have waned.  As mayor he publicly announced that  “the magistrates of the borough of Stockport having observed with regret that the people assembled this morning on Waterloo-ground, and proceeded from the meeting in a riotous and tumultuous manner to turn out the hatters employed in Messrs. Christy’s works, do hereby give public notice, that all future assemblages of the people in or near to the borough of Stockport during the present disturbed state of this district are illegal; and that the magistrates are determined to suppress and put down the same, hereby cautioning all parties at their peril from attending any such meetings”.

Although there were some attempts at negotiation and compromise, the plug riots achieved very little.  The workers were all back in the mills by the end of September, and their demand for a return to 1840 wages was not met.   Ultimately they probably were a “a rope of sand”, with the division between the Chartists and those who simply wanted fair wages splitting their cause.  After weeks without pay, many would have had little choice but to return to work.  Some of those arrested at the workhouse were sentenced to either hard labour or transportation to Australia for life.   What was in effect a victory for the manufacturers is vividly reflected in the Manchester Times and Gazette on 24th September.  “Those seditious demagogues who are continually poisoning the ears of the better disposed must be weeded out; that pestilential lazar house in Bamber’s Brow [the Chartist meeting room] must be vigorously cleansed, and the working classes protected from such fatal infections. How can we expect a resumption of labour while those idlers – the refuse of socialism, Chartism, and anti-corn-lawism – are allowed hourly to hold their infernal orgies, and with impunity to preach the deadliest and most dangerous treason?”

And what of William?  He continued to serve as Mayor until the end of his year of office and was offered a knighthood for his relatively peaceful resolution to the rioting.  William turned the knighthood down, a very unusual move at the time.  Does this perhaps show his sympathies lay with the rioters?  Or did he refuse in order to keep the peace with the workers in the town?  Whatever his motives he continued to build up his business, dying a wealthy man in 1877.

William Nelstrop

Lockdown Diary 11 – Echoes of Country Life

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.

Shore’s Fold – Cherry Tree Cottage on the right, Shore’s Fold Cottage on the left, Shore’s Fold Farm concealed by the trees on the left

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). 

Shore’s Fold in 1848

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.

Nelstrop Lane North

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.

Shore’s Fold Farm c. 1670

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.

Shore’s Fold Cottage in the early 1970s
Lane leading to Highfield Farm and House – the houses were located on the right
Highfield Farm – c. 1900

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.

The entrance to Highfield Farm
Jim 1st 1925-1936
Jimmie farm dog born Apr 4 ’42
A more recent pet burial?
Ordnance Survey map 1911 – showing Highfield Farm and the Levenshulme Bleach and Dye Works

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. 

Poultons Kiln Brick – Highfield

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.

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 7 – Medieval Heaton Moor: Moats and Field Systems

Back to a more obviously historical theme this week.   When the lockdown relaxed I went for a socially distanced evening walk with Dave from the history group around Heaton Moor golf club.  I already knew about the site of Peel Moat, which Dave was planning to show me – but what we also saw was a much more extensive medieval site, as far as I know not recorded elsewhere…

Peel Moat itself is the site of a moated medieval hall, built at some point between about 1250 and 1450.   Described as a “pleasant and breezy spot” by the members the Cheshire and Lancashire Antiquarian Society who visited in 1885 (see online – Proceedings of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarians Society, May 17th 1899), it is now at the beginning of the 15th hole!

Peel Moat – looking across the moat from the north east corner to the platform in the middle

The hall would have stood on the raised, roughly square, platform of land, 24 by 26 metres.   This platform is surrounded by a sizeable moat, which varies in width from 6 metres to a considerable 18 metres on the east side.  It’s hard to make all this out from the photos, but the first one is taken from the north east corner looking over to the central area where the hall was built – you can see a wide area of lilies and waterlogged land in the dip of the moat.  The platform of land in the middle is the teeing off point for women players and they have to clear the moat and not hit the trees to get to the hole.   Historic England mentions that the waterlogged land is full of interesting organic remains – Dave noted that it is also full of golf balls!  If we’d had more time he was keen to root around in the lilies to retrieve them…

Peel Moat – looking across the moat from the central “island” platform

The interpretation of the site is a little confusing.  Historic England describes it as a moated site, which are quite widespread (there are about 6,000 in England), and are found particularly in the central and eastern parts of the country.  They tended to be symbols of power rather than serving a defensive purpose. 

But taking the name as a clue, it was perhaps more likely to have been a peel tower, square sided stone towers found from Cheshire to the Scottish borders, in increasing numbers the further north you travel.  These were generally built from the 1400s onward.  There is a good example in Fenney Bentley in Derbyshire (Fenney Bentley Old Hall) which has been incorporated into a farm house.  The fact that so many were built along the Scottish border suggests that they also had a defensive purpose – in addition many of those further north look like small castles.  However we interpret Peel Moat, it would have been the home of someone of considerable social importance in the area.

Fenney Bentley Old Hall, showing the peel tower at the front

There is some evidence of a building in the middle and foundations were still visible in the nineteenth century, but the fate of the tower is uncertain.  The antiquarian visitors in the 1880s and 1890s noted an entry in the Didsbury parish registers for May 4th 1748 – “buried John Hulme of Didsbury from ye Peel”, suggesting that the site was still inhabited at this point.  An old man in the 1890s stated that “Owd Oliver” [Cromwell] had destroyed the tower during the English Civil War, while an old woman said that “the place was let in by a storm… or by an earthquake”.  But the most likely thing is that the building was simply abandoned and gradually fell into disrepair.  If it was built of stone the stone blocks would probably have been removed for other building work. 

The account in the 1890s of mentions a similar moated site in Rusholme “in the margin of the Rush Brook”, in a place called Castle Hill, which was probably on Moss Lane East.  The level of housing development during the nineteenth century would probably have destroyed any evidence of the site.

Ridge and Furrow field system – near the 15th hole

Walking away from the moat, the most noticeable thing in the low evening sunshine was the shadows cast across the golf course.  These revealed that, far from being flat as I would expect, much of the golf course is patterned with low parallel ridges, not unlike the texture of corrugated iron sheeting.  These are evidence of ancient farming methods and are known as ridge and furrow – they are also evidence of the open field system which existed before the enclosures of the late eighteenth century.  They were formed by continuous horse drawn ploughing along the same lines, with the earth from the plough creating the ridge and the plough itself the furrow.   There would also have been ploughing along the ridge, but the main build-up of soil along the ridge was not affected by this.  The diagram explains it a little better!  The shape of the ridges provided good drainage for the crops, with the water running off into the furrows.

Ridge and Furrow formation

We can’t be sure of the dates of the fields.  The earliest ridge and furrow survives from about 800, and it was still being used in places as late as early nineteenth century, but it is most likely to date from the Middle Ages or, perhaps, the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. 

The survival of the field system, and that of Peel Moat, is probably mainly thanks to its location in the grounds of Mauldeth Hall and the golf course itself, which would have protected the area from development for housing and industry.  Even in the countryside most of ridge and furrow has been destroyed by modern farming techniques. The golf course is accessible to the public, with footpaths passing next to Peel Moat and across the ridge and furrow – I would recommend an evening walk to catch the lengthening shadows across the ridge and furrow.  I’m not aware of any reference to this field system, so if anyone has any information please send a message. Finally, thanks to Dave for showing me around.

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:

FOR GOD AND THE PEOPLE

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.

Lockdown Blog 2 – Coppicing and Wood Hall, Reddish

Coppiced Sycamore Tree, Reddish

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.

Johnson’s Map – 1818/19 (published 1820)

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!

Wood Hall Farm

Postscript

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.

Stook - Wikipedia