Street Life: The Lane – Part 2 (1890 to 1959)

In the 30 years after Moston’s incorporation into Manchester, education and culture gradually became more accessible to ordinary people, a new transit system was introduced, and a global pandemic arrived.

Named for William Simpson, a silk manufacturer, the Simpson Memorial was a truly local affair. The building was designed by architect Joseph Gibbons Sankey, son of the match manufacturer (of The Lane – Part 1). Opened in 1888, ‘the Simpson’ was initially staffed by volunteers, only becoming part of Manchester’s library service ten years later.

Access to the grounds and library was free to Moston residents, but non-residents had to pay 1 shilling (5p) per year. As well as university extension lectures, there were classes in subjects as diverse as Art and Pitman’s Shorthand. Amateur operatic, drama and horticultural societies were based there, as were camera, bowling and tennis clubs.

In 1899, the foundation stone of Moston Lane School was laid. It was to be the 32nd Manchester Board school, and had places for 1,230 pupils.

On weekdays, the hall of St. George’s Presbyterian Church, Moston Lane, accommodated pupils from a private school. Despite its small size, the standard of education at the grandly named Belmont High school, enabled some girls to win scholarships for Harpurhey High School.

Land to build the Queen’s Park Tram Depot was purchased in 1900. By June 1901, the electric trams were in service. In 1915, trams became the most used form of city transit, and women were taken on to replace the men away fighting at the front

During the post war pandemic, James Niven, Medical Officer of Health, suspended tram services to help prevent the spread of the deadly Spanish Flu.

Strictly speaking, the MIP (or MIPP) was on Hartley Street, a few steps off the Lane. The 925 seat cinema opened its doors in 1920. 19 years later, just a few months before the outbreak of WW2, the Fourways became the Lane’s second cinema.

AVRO and Ferranti’ works were potential targets for the Luftwaffe. To protect their essential war production, four anti-aircraft guns were situated on Broadhurst playing fields.

Many of Moston’s houses lacked gardens, so the Lane’s air raid shelters were generally the indoor Morrison type, or back yard brick and reinforced concrete structures.

Post war

In school holidays, with no park nearby, a trip to the Lane was the best I could hope for. Our circuit started at Simpson Memorial, and while I dashed in to make a speedy library book exchange, Mum waited outside with my sister’s pram,

Fifties austerity must have left six-year-olds with simple expectations, because I recall being impressed by a shop window containing a currant cake, apparently baked in a fancy jelly mould.

And I enjoyed watching the endlessly revolving model of a foot and calf wearing a sheer nylon stocking, in the haberdasher’s window.

There was an Airfix model of the queen’s coronation coach in the toy shop. It added a touch of topicality to the display of smashing Chad Valley sets and the usual board games.

My absolute favourite shop window belonged to a hairdresser. With mirrors representing lakes, and dozens of the small glass animals popular at the time, someone had created a magical fantasy world which changed regularly enough to keep me going back time after time.

Before turning for home down Ashley Lane, there was one final stop to be made. I was just tall enough to see over the wall of the front garden of what I called the ‘gnome house’. There was a wishing well surrounded by ornamental woodland creatures and colourful gnomes.

If there had been the ‘best in Lane’ award, it should have gone to a shop with no window display to speak of. It was where my friends and I headed after our Saturday morning swim at Harpurhey Baths. Faint from hunger, we pooled the last of our coppers, and went into the little shop for a generously filled paper bag of broken biscuits to share on the way home. No biscuit has ever tasted as good since.

I used to travel home from school on the bus between the Ben Brierley and Gardeners Arms. On those journeys I first recall noticing there were some bits of Moston that seemed out of time amongst the urban sprawl.

Logically, I knew the Lane had ‘a past’, but where did Yeb Fold fit in? In those days, the cottages wouldn’t have looked out of place as an illustration in a book of country folklore. And how come in 1958, there was a herd of cows grazing in a field surrounded by modern semis, only a few feet from the bus window.

Curiosity led me on to discover ‘Billy Buttonhole’, a silk weaver living on the Lane in 1841 (see part 1). Strange to think that had he lived in the same place 100 years later, rather than weaving silk by hand, Billy might have been producing Lancaster bombers or radar at Ferranti’s.

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Street Life: The Lane – Part 1 (before incorporation)

Miss Mary Taylor lived in the house where the dog’s home stands today. In 1841, she sent her manservant, John Robinson, to take a record of the inhabitants of every dwelling in Moston. This private census provided a unique snapshot of Moston Lane at a particular moment in history. The hotch-potch of lanes and farm tracks that became today’s Moston Lane, started at Rochdale Road and wound its way to approximately where the Gardeners Arms now stands.

Moston was mostly farm land, but surprisingly it was the domestic hand loom which was more important to the local economy. On the Lane, there were 56 households in total. 34 relied wholly or partially on silk weaving for their income, while only 11 were supported by farming, with the remainder involved in trades such as bricklaying and textile finishing.

Weavers had a reputation for independence, and it wasn’t unusual to find them taking a St. Monday holiday in Boggart Hole Clough.

John Whitehead (known as Jack o’shop) kept a provision store at Street Fold, where he also baked oatcakes. It appears to have been the only place to purchase food on The Lane, with the nearest competition being from Ann Schofield on Ashley Lane (formerly Brass Knob Street).

Beer was to be obtained at the Thatched House, and from Samuel Taylor at the Owd Loom or John Whitehead of the Bluebell. For anything stronger, it was necessary to go to Kenyon Lane where there was a ‘hush’ whisky still.

The small number of given names made nicknames essential. Some of the more picturesque were Owd Yeb, Billy Buttonhole, Old Gimp, and Plutcher. And, because Sarah Holland’s tiny cottage was called ‘the castle‘, she was known to everybody as Sally Castle.

A couple of characters singled out in the census were John Howard, famous for running down (catching) hares twice. And Emmanuel Herd of Great Hurst farm, who claimed to have often sighted the Moston Boggart.

Some years later, an animal carcass believed to be that of the Boggart, was found trapped in briars on Nuthurst Farm. When it was exhibited at the Blue Bell Inn, hundreds flocked to view the creature.

Over the 40 years between Miss Taylor’s census and the nationwide census of 1881, many things had changed in Moston. The domestic silk weavers were all gone, and farm land was starting to disappear under bricks and mortar. The remaining farms on the Lane were mostly in the stretch from Yeb Fold to Toll House and Turnpike farms at Chain Bar.

Incomers who had been born in places as diverse as North and South America, Australia, Italy and Russia, as well as all counties outside Lancashire, had settled in Moston by 1881. These newcomers were a mixture of ‘masters’ and ‘men’.

John Sankey, born Salford, employed 74 men at his match works, as well as a number of women making up matchboxes at home.

John Barber from Castleton Derbyshire, was one of two rope and twine makers living on the Lane, close to the ropewalk.

There was little physical separation of the classes on the Lane. Chain Bar was a typical example, with a mill owner who manufactured cotton sponge (absorbent) cloth, living in close proximity to a coalminer and a lamp man at the colliery.

In the 1841 census, there had been a significant number of females supporting themselves and their families by weaving. In some parts of the country, it was common for middle-class daughters to be kept at home to assist with domestic duties. On the Lane, girls from professional and the better-off classes were often sent out to learn a trade such as millinery or dressmaking.

With daughters out at work, families would sometimes employ a servant, like Mary Rose from Wednesbury, Staffordshire. She worked for Alfred Antrobus, a commercial traveller in provisions, and his wife. The statutory school leaving age was then 12, but Mary was only eleven. She was one of a number of similarly aged girls from the midlands who found employment in Moston.

As the Lane evolved from its semi-rural aspect, a few amenities began to spring up alongside shops and houses. Sergeant Moses Thompson lived at Number 2 Moston Lane, in a house belonging to Lancashire Constabulary. Jane Tickle occupied a cell at the Police station next door.

In 1845, a silk mill started up in a former residential school for pauper boys, which had once been a workhouse with 10 inmates.

At Chain Bar, a primitive Methodist chapel was built in 1864, and the Catholic cemetery was created in 1875. A Methodist chapel school opened at Street Fold in 1881.

The foundation stone for the Simpson Memorial was laid in 1885. The centre’s influence on Moston’s cultural life will feature in The Lane part 2, 1890 to 1959….coming soon.

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Street Life: Where did it all go….?

Imagine stepping into your house to find it had gone back seventy years in time.

If you had a telephone, it would be bakelite, and probably stood on the hall table for maximum impact on the neighbours. The primitive instrument didn’t have a single push button, let alone a touch screen. I wonder how many of today’s youngsters would know how to go about using it to ring Failsworth 1956?

In the kitchen, you would probably find packets of clear starch, washing soda, dolly blue and laundry soap on the oilcloth-lined shelves.

Somewhere there would be a wash boiler or zinc tub with posser, rubbing board, flat irons and a ‘maiden’ (wooden clothes airer).

If the house lacked a larder, there might be a wooden cabinet with perforated zinc doors. This meat safe was designed to allow air but not flies to get to foods now kept refrigerated.

Fireplaces were the focal point of the living room. The hearth would have a stand with fire irons (poker, shovel, fire tongs and small round brush), known as a ‘companion set’. The mantelpiece likely had at least one black and white family portrait, sometimes hand-tinted to pass as a colour photograph.

Hi-tech at the time, the radiogram replaced the piano as the status symbol in ‘the best room’. With parlours kept exclusively for visitors, a fire screen (the more ornate, the better) concealed the bare, seldom used grate. Lacking a parlour, the one my parents received as a wedding present stood before the desultory iron grate in their bedroom.

The most noticeable bedroom disappearances are, chamber pots (the Po), flock mattresses, and counterpanes. Wartime shortages meant bedding was often patched and dingy from much laundering. Young housewives disguised the shabbiness of their beds with fashionable sateen or lacy counterpanes like the ones they saw at the cinema.

My grandparents slept on their lumpy flock (kapok) mattress until the 1960s.

As a young child, I had my afternoon sleep on that bed. But I was oblivious to the lumps while falling asleep to the strains of ‘My old man said follow the van’, which was one of nana’s extensive repertoire of music hall songs.

In the days when Friday night was Amami night, bathrooms for those lucky enough to have one, were often cramped and cold.

My mum’s horror of nits meant my long hair was washed with either Derbac or green soft soap in the kitchen’s pot sink. Something must have worked, as I never had an infestation of those nasty crawlies.

Between the weekly hair wash, pin curls (a strand of hair secured by two crossed kirby grips) would do for work. But come weekend, styling was achieved with paraphernalia the Spanish Inquisition might recognise.

Water lily shampoo pads were the latest thing. After washing, setting lotion was applied, and depending on the style required, one or more items of ironmongery were employed. A sort of curved bulldog clip with fierce teeth was used for waving, while curls were created by winding hair onto metal curling pins.

Until the boyfriend’s knock sounded at the front door, the finished style was protected by a hair net. These nets could vary from ‘invisible’, to the full ‘Ena Sharples’.

The lad’s hair would likely be Brylcreemed, and if he was a ‘sharp dresser’, might be sporting drainpipe trousers and crepe soled, ‘beetle crusher’ shoes.

The disappearance of some items is to be regretted, but I feel seamed stockings won’t be missed by anyone forced to wear them. They were becoming old fashioned when, as a young teenager, my dad came home with a pair he probably bought cheaply from someone in the pub or at work. Those seams never stayed straight, and I would honestly rather have gone out with my legs covered in gravy browning, complete with eyebrow pencil seams, which was the wartime answer to a shortage of stockings.

Products containing the lethal hexachlorophene once added to Signal toothpaste and baby toiletries, has rightly been consigned to the dustbin of history. However, rather than vanishing altogether, other less than healthful products simply changed their name. These days, no cigarette manufacturer would dare tempt smokers with benign pastoral names like Woodbine, Sweet Afton or Passing Cloud.

But, some things really did vanish. Who now remembers Rinso (detergent), pluck (offal for animals) or Benger’s food (wheat flour and extract of pancreatic enzymes which pre-digested warm milk for invalids).

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