Street Life: Girl About town

Our own locality was generally the place we shopped, so a trip to ‘town’ was rather special. Some trolley buses still ran on the 88 route, and if I could persuade mum to go upstairs, it made the trip even better.

Although logic tells me it isn’t true, it was always a winter afternoon when we were in town.

03-02-1964_Highways_Market St-Mosley St-Piccadilly Junction_Pictures of Market St Junction/Traffic Island

The bomb site on one side of Piccadilly was a legacy of the Christmas blitz of 1941. However the gardens remained the town centre to us, and the illuminated signs on the opposite side kept our eyes averted from the devastation. Colourful neon lights exhorted us to ‘walk the Barratt way’, and a huge clock announced Guinness was good for us. In those pre-mobile phone days, many people used the flashing Mother’s Pride sign as a designated meeting point. And to keep you occupied while waiting, there was a newsfeed spooling across the building facades on a rolling display.There must have been traffic noise, but I remember the predominant sound as the Murmuration of thousands of starlings roosting on high window sills.

In those days, whatever the size, shops each had some USP (unique selling point) to tempt us inside. Whether you were looking for a kitten or an alto saxophone, Tib Street was the place to go. It was just one of the many narrow back streets teeming with shops supplying items not stocked by the larger stores.However the department stores’ magnificent window displays acted like a magnet. Once inside, the interiors were a symphony of polished wood, brass, and occasionally marble. Even the toilet facilities seemed opulent. With their own banks, cafes, and hairdressing salons, the stores were a sophisticated microcosm of the streets surrounding them.

I liked going into Henry’s because it had a moving staircase (escalator). It’s difficult to imagine, but travelling in a lift was then still something of a novelty. A uniformed man (often a disabled war veteran) operated the switches whilst calling out each floor’s merchandise.

In the fifties, to find a street market and an ancient black and white building standing alongside Georgian warehouses, or a modern office block, was not unusual. It was simply a glimpse into the different phases of Manchester’s commercial history.

If our elderly hens needed replacing, we headed for Shudehill market on Sunday morning. I recall sitting on the steps of an old building, once the Rovers Return Inn, while granddad checked out each bird. Finding a building of such antiquity in the middle of ‘town’ was what kick-started my interest in the past. Another historical landmark I liked was the statuary on one of the cotton offices. Two figures I called ‘the dirty ladies’ reclined across the top of an ornate portico. My name for them didn’t refer to their state of undress, but rather the blackening caused by the smoke from nearby mill chimneys.Henry’s was about as far down Market Street as we usually ventured. We had Woolworths, C&A, Affleck & Brown, M&S and Littlewoods, not to mention as many shoe shops as you could wish for, on Oldham Street and Piccadilly.

The other outer limit for shopping was New Cross, once part of the area known as Little Italy. Many Italian street musicians lived there in the 1800s, so it seems appropriate it was the place I last heard a barrel organ. Masons was one of the largest shops on the Oldham Road side of Victoria Square (aka the Dwellings).

While my parents were busy choosing oilcloth (linoleum), I was spellbound by the organ grinder doing his stuff at the Bengal Street entrance to ‘the Dwellings’. With no access to recorded music, little girls like my nana danced around barrel organs. I like to imagine the elderly flat dwellers sighing as they were transported back to childhood days.By the fifties, Manchester’s motto seemed to be ‘progress at any price’. That apparently meant the sacrifice of the Rovers Return Inn, and the multiplicity of small businesses trading out of buildings up to 200 years old, which effectively drained the life from the area now known as the Northern Quarter.

Bricks and mortar were not the only thing which disappeared when small businesses and workshops were demolished. We lost the irreplaceable skills of rag trade workers, manufacturing jewellers, tailors, picture framers and ticket writers. And suddenly there was nowhere to get shoe, umbrella, watch and electrical repairs done.

Today not even a ride on a trolley bus could get me excited about going to ‘town’.

 

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Tanning your hide…

Tanning is ancient. As long as mankind has processed animals for food, people have used other parts, notably hides, for clothing, saddles, quivers, bags and a whole range of other products. It was discovered long ago that raw hide could be made into more durable and hard-wearing leather by treatment with tannin, originally sourced from oak bark.

In Britain, since pre-Roman times, many villages would possess a tannery, usually located on the outskirts because of the odious smells that were often produced, and waste that was a lure to vermin. Failsworth tannery, close to the border with Newton, was probably founded in medieval times, but by the eighteenth century it was expanding.With the industrial revolution came a massive increase in demand for leather, not only for shoes and clothing for the growing population, but for the accoutrements of the steam age: belts to drive machinery, protective aprons, masks and gloves, piston glands and all manner of other bits and bobs. Thomas Kershaw was named as the tanner in Failsworth, when he married in October 1769, and took on an apprentice in 1771.

In 1821, the tannery was run by George Parkinson, who was then declared bankrupt, but it was soon acquired by Jonathan Mellor of Oldham, a tanner and dresser who also had a share in a cotton mill in Rochdale. His sons, Thomas and Edward, were also partners in the tannery. By 1844 they owned considerable land, between the Rochdale Canal and the Manchester Turnpike (now Oldham Road), on which the Marlborough Mills (and Mellor Street) were later built. In 1845, Thomas’s sister Mary married Edward Watkin, a staunch Anti-Corn Law Leaguer and later director of several railway companies, including the Great Central Railway.Jonathan retired in 1847, leaving the tannery in the capable hands of his sons; he died two years later and was buried at Oldham parish church, where he had held a pew since 1842. Edward decided to concentrate on the mill interests in Rochdale, leaving Thomas in sole charge of the tannery from 1854. Unlike his father, who had resided on King St, Oldham up to his death, Thomas moved to Failsworth, living at Rich Field House, Dob Lane, and later becoming a J.P. and Poor Law Guardian.

The tannery continued to thrive, with its main entrance on Poplar Street, but not without occasional setbacks. On 3 June 1858, thieves stole “40 foreign cow hides, worth £50” but were apprehended while trying to sell them through an agent in Manchester. On 29 September 1879, an inquest was held on the death of John Hughes, a plumber from Ancoats, who was repairing gas pipes at the tannery but fell into a pit containing a “hot chemical mixture”. He was terribly scalded and died a week later in the Infirmary, after admitting he had been “walking carelessly” beside one of the 400 pits and hadn’t realised the danger.Around 1880, Thomas moved to Firs Hall, Failsworth, where he died in 1889, aged 81. Sir Edward Watkin (knighted in 1868) attended his funeral at Failsworth cemetery. His son, Robert, who had been born in Failsworth around 1853, took charge of the tannery, which then became “Robert Mellor Ltd”. In 1890, Robert married Eliza Melland of Bowdon, Cheshire, and moved to Disley.

The tannery continued to appear in the newspapers from time to time, selling 80 iron plates and girders in 1899, a drowned man being found in the canal near the tannery in 1900 and, finally, in 1911 came the announcement of Robert’s death, aged 58, at Edgemoor, Buxton; his personal fortune was stated to be over £88,000.The firm continued as Robert Mellor Ltd after his death and was listed as ‘sole-leather tanners’ in international directories, evidence of export as well as home markets. Another misfortune befell the firm when a fire broke out in the early hours of Saturday, 4 July 1914. The exact cause was never established, but it was reported that fifty firemen attended the blaze, which nevertheless destroyed most of the warehouse and around £12,000 worth of finished leather. Bystanders also said a large number of rats were seen dashing out and jumping into the canal!The tannery continued to be listed in telephone books up to 1930, but appears to have closed by 1935. Nothing now remains: the Home Guard Club and wooden garages were built on the site in the 1960s, with bungalows and flats added later. The leather trade is still with us, of course, now utilising different, largely mechanised, processes, but there is still one traditional oak bark tannery at Colyton in Devon.

Further information on the tanning process and England’s last traditional tannery can be found here at:  J&FJ Baker & Co

From Heap to Heath

If you ask people to name a Newton Heath brew, they would probably say Wilson’s, but there was another, perhaps less well-known local brewery, close to the Failsworth boundary.William Thomas Rothwell was born at the curiously named Spout Bank in Heap, near Bury, in 1844, the son of farmer John and his wife Martha. It seems William did not wish to follow his father into farming, because by 1870 he is listed as secretary of the Bury Brewery Company, founded in 1861 on George Street. The 1871 Census gives his occupation as ‘innkeeper and brewer’ living at 96 Georgiana Street, round the corner from the brewery.

A couple of years later, he had moved to Heath House, 800 Oldham Road, Newton Heath, at the corner of Droylsden Road, and had opened the adjacent Heath Brewery, first listed in 1873. The access road into the yard was later named Rothwell Street, as the brewery expanded.William’s brother Frederick joined him in the business, living across the road on Dob Lane, Failsworth, but suffered a fatal accident on 10 July 1886, when a wort pan boiled over, badly scalding him from the neck down. He was taken to William’s house but despite being attended by doctors, died 3 days later; he was only 33.

William became a Conservative councillor and alderman for Newton Ward (even years after his death the brewery and its products were known by locals as Alderman Rothwell’s). He was on the committee of the ‘Bimetallic League’ and published a booklet on the subject in 1890. This was an organisation whose aim was to create a fixed international ratio between gold and silver for currency stability.

Long a campaigner for free education and trustee of the Mechanics’ Institute, in 1891 he attended the official opening of Newton Heath library next to the town hall on Oldham Road (roughly where the Gateway is now), having contributed to its creation.

He raised funds for a scholarship in Economics at the university, and to an archaeological dig (in 1907) in Reifi, where Sir William Flinders had excavated the tombs of two Egyptian brothers, dating from around 1900-1700 B.C. They were said to be the finest non-royal burials ever found in the area and the mummies were brought to Manchester Museum in 1908.

William died in Harrogate in 1921. The brewery continued under his son, Herbert, who in the 1890s and early 1900s had also been an amateur footballer. He played full-back for Newton Heath Athletic, was captain of the Glossop North End team and later played both for Lincoln and (after 1902), Manchester United. Herbert retired from the brewery in the 1930’s and died in 1955.Rival brewers Wilson’s had far more tied houses than Rothwells, who had only 40 or 50; mostly around Newton Heath and Failsworth with a handful in places such as Ashton, Oldham or Stalybridge. A few of these disappeared early in the 20th century, such as the Farmyard Tavern (which it was, literally) on Ten Acres Lane, which closed in 1917. However, quite a few former Rothwells pubs have survived, although you would be forgiven for not recognising them as such.

In 1961, the Heath Brewery was bought by Marston, Thompson and Evershed, who continued brewing Rothwell’s beers but began re-signing the pubs as Marston houses: this gave the Burton brewery its first ‘foot in the door’ in the Manchester area. Brewing ceased in 1968 and the main buildings were demolished soon afterwards, although part of the site was used as a depot for Marston’s, until the mid-1970s. Rothwell Street still exists, with a scrapyard (opened in the 1980s) now on the brewery site, but retaining a wall of one of the buildings.Despite the takeover, many of the pubs still sported Rothwell signage, in tilework, over doorways, or in etched glass windows, for many years. Although refurbishment has removed all traces of their previous ownership nowadays, surviving pubs include the New Crown (Newton Heath), Fox Inn (Stalybridge) and the Wheatsheaf, Pack Horse, Bay Horse, Mare & Foal, Cotton Tree and Dutch Birds (all in Failsworth).The Black Horse in 2009

Most of these are now Marston’s or free houses and most have been extended or rebuilt – etched glass windows have long gone, replaced by double glazing. The last pub to retain the Rothwell signage, as far as I can ascertain, was the Black Horse on Oldham Road, Failsworth, which sadly was demolished in 2009. Though painted over in black, the ‘Rothwell’s Ales & Stout’, in tiled relief above the windows, could just be made out.

Pint of the Alderman’s Ale, anyone?