“North Manc”

Walking along Chain Bar, Moston, just before 8:50am on Monday, 10 September 1962, was a bit scary. Having passed the dreaded 11-plus exam and selected a school (by opting for the same as most of my mates!), I was now arriving at my choice: North Manchester Grammar School for Boys, as it was then known.The front of the original buildings in October 1995, from the footpath (still there) that leads off Chain Bar, opposite Leyburn Road. The dining hall can just be seen behind the trees on the left.

For the last six years I had enjoyed the company of more or less the same classmates. Now I was entering the unknown, among mostly unfamiliar faces: all male, all dressed the same, and subjected to a much stricter regime. I did gradually learn to find my way around and get used to the school’s severely enforced rules. However, this isn’t really the place to recount the terrors and triumphs of seven years of senior school life, so I’ll just give a little background detail.

The school began as North Manchester Municipal High School for Boys in 1926, using the former Harpurhey Girls’ School on Beech Mount, Rochdale Road, as temporary lodgings until the new school on Chain Bar was completed. This was officially opened on Friday, 19 June 1931, by the Home Secretary, John Robert Clynes.

The buildings were of a modular design (also used at Burnage) and consisted of rooms surrounding a central grassed quadrangle, divided by the assembly hall. A playground on the western side, a large sports field at the rear and bicycle sheds on the east side, next to the footpath opposite Leyburn Road, completed the picture.Plan of the buildings as they were between 1961 and 1997.

A new library, converted from two classrooms, was opened in 1955, with further classrooms and laboratories added in 1957, inside one half of the ‘quad’. A separate dining-hall was also provided, originally accessed by a covered walkway across the playground.

The year before my arrival, a two-storey extension, known as the White (or New) Block was built above the playground, with ground-floor gymnasium, changing rooms and a metalwork room on the other side. For a time, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was also a sixth-form recreation room.West side in March 1997, showing the White Block over the playground, with metalwork room on left and changing rooms beyond. Bottom: school photo from March 1965; there were 777 pupils and 53 staff at this time.

The first headmaster was James Crawford Burnett, succeeded in 1948 by Richard Martyn Sibson, a strict disciplinarian who ‘reigned’ until 1965 and taught Greek, Latin and Divinity. He was a controversial figure, with a system of rewards (6d or 3d, old money, which he called ‘medals’ or ‘half-medals’) and punishments that included confinement in a large cupboard for hours, or strokes across the thighs with ‘Black Bess’, a thick leather strap. Most of the teachers were rather more benign, happily. During this time, the school was labelled as a Grammar School, with the motto ‘In veritate fortis’ (strong in the truth).Interior views: Corridor near Room 25 (with lower corridor on left), Room 30 (typical classroom), Room 16 (Physics lab) and Hall, on Reunion night. Many of the 1930s fixtures and fittings were still in use right up to closure.

In April 1965, Mr. Sibson retired (not entirely by choice, it was rumoured) and Ernest Robinson (former deputy) became acting head. Then in 1967 the school merged with the adjacent 1955-built Moss House, off Charlestown Road, and became ‘High School’ again, under the comprehensive scheme. Philip Slater became head of the combined school, the Chain Bar and Moss House sites now being referred to as the Upper and Lower schools. The latter had been co-educational, but the girls were gradually moved into the Girls’ High School on Brookside Road. During 1967-68, the Upper School lads were strictly forbidden from ‘fraternising’ with the lasses!

I left school in 1969 and, besides a brief visit in 1971, did not enter again until the school’s only Reunion, held on 1 December 1995 to mark the imminent closure of the Upper School, which gave way to a newly refurbished and extended Lower School.

The Chain Bar buildings, old and new, were demolished in April-June 1997 and the land left to settle until 2004, when houses and flats were constructed over it.The buildings during demolition on 9 May 1997. The tangled remains of the Biology lab, Room 8, are on the right and, in the centre, the floor of the greenhouse, Room 10.

In August 2009, boys at the erstwhile Lower School moved again, to the Co-op Academy off Victoria Avenue East, followed in 2012 by the girls from Brookside Road: both these sites have now also been cleared, and the name ‘North Manchester High’ has disappeared, except from the memories of those who once attended.The school in happier times, from the corner of Charlestown Road, hidden by cherry trees in full blossom in 1995. Inset: a similar view now. [Both photos by Steve Wilson].

Newton Heath Shed

If you took a bus or train to Newton Heath in the 1960s, your approaching stop would be signalled by a familiar landmark, visible from a good mile away: the huge concrete coaling tower at the railway sheds. Opened in 1876, this was by far the largest depot on the old Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, stretching between Thorp Road and Dean Lane and lying between the lines to Rochdale and Oldham.Newton Heath locomotive depot in 1967, from the Thorp Road end, with the coal tower dominating the scene. St.Mary’s Road school can just be seen in the right background

The carriage works on North Road had opened the previous year, and in the 1890s extensive carriage sheds and sidings were added on the opposite side of the Rochdale line, completing a huge complex. Many of the houses off Lightbowne Road were built originally for railway workers.

The shed had 24 lines (‘roads’) inside, four of which formed a repair shop, nicknamed ‘the parlour’ by shed staff. At its peak, it accommodated over 200 engines. The coaling tower was added by the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1935, the shed roof also being replaced. The north end of the yard was extended across Dean Lane, which originally ran beside the Railway Hotel and beneath Newton Heath station, and a new, larger, turntable added.The south-facing end of the buildings in July 1966; the half-width steam shed (left), with the diesel shed and refurbished repair shop on the right. The south-end turntable is in the foreground

Entrance to the station was diverted via paths running from St.Mary’s Road near the ‘hooped’ bridge and, to preserve the right of way towards Kenyon Lane, access was granted along the platform, over the footbridge and down steps near the signal-box, on to the continuation of Dean Lane (since filled in).A view towards Manchester from the footbridge at the original (1853) Newton Heath station on 30 March 1967. The steam shed is on the left, with the coaling tower in the distance, the carriage works beyond and the sidings to the right of the signal box. Today, only the tracks in the foreground remain – all else has gone. [Photo: S.P.Wilson]

By 1961, half the shed had been rebuilt to accommodate diesel units and the ‘parlour’ re-tracked, but there were still 140 steam and diesel locos based here for the many services, principally to the north, west and east of the country, as well as local trips. Besides the ‘home’ fleet, many engines from other areas often called in for servicing.

Like many others, I was a frequent visitor in the shed’s latter years, and it became a place to meet friends and observe the constant movement of locomotives in and around the yards, and trains passing on the adjacent lines. Even on winter nights, coal braziers, lit to keep the water columns from freezing, provided welcome warmth for huddled ‘spotters’ comparing notes.

The railway staff were generally very friendly and, if you showed a genuine interest, were only too happy to explain the workings of the equipment and engines (and, with luck, might let you drive one up to the turntable!). Close to the north-end turntable was another landmark: St.Mary’s Road School. Opened in 1869 as Newton Heath Wesleyan School, it became a Board school in 1903 and closed in 1968.A ‘Black 5’ loco backs off the north-end turntable in August 1967, with the school on the far side of St.Mary’s Road. How many lessons were disregarded, through gazing out of the windows? [Photo: S.P.Wilson]

The station was closed in December 1966 but not demolished until March 1968; the shed closed to steam on 30 June 1968, regular steam working in Britain ceasing altogether in August. For a while, a handful of withdrawn steamers languished, their fires dropped forever, awaiting a tow to a scrapyard: the last four went in October. However, on 8 September, the old shed dispatched one last steam visitor: no.73050 from Patricroft, which had been bought for £3,000 for preservation, and had come to Newton Heath for a final ‘fettling’ before making its way to the Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough. It is still running.8 September 1968 and the shed hosts its last steam visitor, hissing at the diesels lurking within

The steam buildings were demolished in March-April 1969 and the coaling tower in July; having defiantly withstood an attempt with gelignite, it leaned at a crazy angle for several weeks before finally succumbing. In 1971 the diesel shed was extended and a washing facility erected on the coal tower site, leaving the refurbished ‘parlour’ as the only part surviving from steam days.

Today the depot still services diesel units (rather fewer since Metrolink took over some local services), but is much reduced from its former busy, if sooty, glory.

Who put the ‘New’ in New Moston?

In two words: Elijah Dixon.

The Manchester Bridgewater Freehold Land Society was formed in 1850 by Elijah and his colleagues, with the aim of allowing ordinary workers a chance to acquire land, for housing or allotments, away from the smoke and pollution of overcrowded industrial Manchester.

Despite the parliamentary Reform Act of 1832, most ordinary workers (and all women) were denied the vote unless they owned land, so having your name on one of the society’s plots also gave you this right.

In March 1851, six holdings covering 57 acres at the “top end of Moston”, farmed by tenants of the Hilton family, of the medieval Great Nuthurst Hall, were purchased for £2,900 by the society, the aim being to divide the land into 230 plots. A plot could be bought through a loan, paid off by a subscription of a few pence or shillings a week. Land schemes such as this were early versions of what became building societies.The top end of Moston in 1848, showing the original area purchased by the Society shaded pink. Moston Brook is highlighted in green.

A further £5,000 was invested by the society in laying out new streets to serve the plots. An access road was formed from Hale Lane in Failsworth to replace a footpath, known as Morris Lane, across the Moston Brook, which formed the boundary (and still does). Morris Lane ran into Moston Lane (now ‘East’). The new road, connecting with Oldham Road, gave an easier route to Manchester, Oldham or beyond.

The brook was culverted and the hollow filled in to permit a road wide, level and firm enough to take carts and carriages into the estate at ‘New Moston’. The name chosen reflected Robert Owen’s model housing schemes such as New Lanark and New Harmony.

The access road was opened in 1853 and was soon followed by the laying-out of five streets: Dixon, Ricketts, Potts, Jones and Frost Streets. These were later renamed Belgrave, Parkfield, Northfield, Eastwood and – combined with the existing Scholes Lane, past Pitt’s Farm – Hawthorn Roads respectively.

By 1854, houses had begun to be built, some of the earliest surviving ones being Rose and Moss Cottages, Ivy Cottage and by 1863, a pair of cottages on Dixon Street, one of which was used as a beerhouse. By 1871 this was already named the New Moston Inn; in the twentieth century the two cottages were rebuilt and merged together as one.The New Moston Inn, originally two cottages dating from 1863 or earlier, seen here in 1905.

Around 1870, Elijah Dixon himself moved to a house on Ricketts St (Vine House) from Newton Heath, where he had lived for many years, next to his match works and timber yard. He died at Vine House in 1876, but his daughter and grand-daughter continued the line right up to 1940.

There was little change after Elijah’s death, until Moston and New Moston became part of Manchester in 1890. Many little-used plots began to be sold to developers, and the next twenty years or so saw a massive expansion of housing, both within the original area, with the addition of side-streets and avenues, and beyond, as neighbouring farms were gradually sold off.

Schools were built on what had been Brown’s Farm, Slater Fold Farm gave way to Nuthurst Road, the park and the avenues around Hazeldene Road, and Crimbles Farm, the last to go, enabled further expansion along Moston Lane, extending right up to the Chadderton boundary.

From the 1920s onwards, the building of Broadway spurred further expansion, such as the estates around West Avenue and Chatwood Road: New Moston is now much bigger than the original “top end of Moston”.

Elijah Dixon’s story, of lifelong social justice campaigning and his parallel industrial success, has just been published by Pen and Sword Books of Barnsley (details on the link below):-


The authors will be giving a talk to the Newton Heath History Society on Tuesday, 24 July 2018 at 1:30pm, at the Heathfield Resource Centre, off Mitchell St, Newton Heath.