Walking With the Scholars

Unlike the city centre districts, in Moston the event colloquially known as ‘the scholars’ took place on Whit Sunday.

The pre-war slum clearances had re-located families like ours into better houses in the suburbs, where the churches mainly walked on Whit Sunday. But as Whit Monday and Friday were both Bank Holidays, we Moston children were willing spectators when the old district’s churches processed through the town centre.

It was the tradition for former adult residents of Ancoats or Collyhurst to return and walk with their old Sunday schools. This meant we saw plenty of familiar faces as church after church marched behind a variety of bands.The old township districts were rightly proud of their Sunday schools. From 1784, they had been offering free education to poor children and adults. And until child labour was abolished altogether, Sunday school superintendents and teachers were in the forefront of the battle to achieve safer and healthier working conditions for their scholars.

When the walks began, around 1800, the long lines of orderly children ranged behind banners, was a visible symbol of the Sunday school movement’s success. The majority of scholars who took part in those early walks would have worked long hours, six days a week, in mills and factories.

On Sunday they earned prizes for good attendance, while being presented with the opportunity of learning to read books that would provide a glimpse into a world outside the slums. Then, at Whitsun, there was the annual Sunday school outing with a picnic tea – a treat which must have been the highspot of a poor child’s year.

At first it was only the protestant denominations who witnessed their Faith by ‘walking’ on Whit Monday. Later the Roman Catholics chose Whit Friday when they also adopted the custom, and all the processions became larger and more lavish. But whatever the day or the location of their particular ‘walks’, to Manchester children, Whitsuntide was synonymous with new clothes.

C & A’s January sales was the place many mothers bought whit week clothes. But it wasn’t unknown for less well off families to resort to a clothing club to ensure their children were well turned out.The dresses girls walked in were showy, but totally impractical for the often damp and chilly Manchester weather. But even when they became available, it was an indulgent parent who allowed a plastic mac to cover up those swanky new clothes for anything less than a torrential down-pour.

I was one of those unfortunates for whom the night before Whit Sunday was reminiscent of a session with the Spanish Inquisition. On 364 days of the year, I was that skinny girl with the extreme parting and two long, fat plaits. But for some reason known only to my mother, Whit Sunday necessitated ringlets, and that meant a night in what we called ‘sore fingers’.

Before my hair was washed and brushed out, some old cotton material was torn into strips about an inch wide. While the hair was wet it was divided into strands and one of the rags was attached close to the scalp. Next, each strand of hair would be wound into a tight spiral around the rag then the remaining material was wrapped over the hair in the opposite direction to hold it in place. The two ends of the rag were knotted together firmly, leaving my head looking like an inept first aider’s attempt to bandage a badly crushed hand – and was about as painful to sleep with.

Girls’ dresses ranged from white through all the pastel shades. On reaching the assembly point, each colour was sorted and allotted a banner or flower basket with long ribbons attached. The Sunday school teachers clucked about, placing girls at strategic intervals along the ribbons.Boys were grouped into uniformed, grey-shorted or even sailor-suited lines. They mostly walked in single file, sometimes holding on to a fancy cord; woe betide any scholar who didn’t maintain the required distance between themselves and the next child.

Pre-school age children walked holding the hand of an adult who might be called on to carry them if they got too tired to complete the whole distance. At the designated time, one of the local Silver or Brass bands struck up a hymn tune, and we followed, accompanied by our parents who kept pace with the procession on the pavement.

Then, suddenly, the music stopped and it was the end of walks and ringlets for another year.

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Moston ‘Diggy’

I once heard that children around the Church Lane area referred to themselves as ‘doggies’ or ‘diggies’, depending whether they lived at the end nearest the dogs’ home, or towards the Lightbowne end, close to former clay pits. By 1951, these had been worked out and infilled with shale, or used as a tip by the corporation, but the local name, the ‘diggy’, persisted. However, clay was still being dug out near Ashley Lane and north of Lily Lane to supply a huge, but now largely forgotten, local industry: brick-making.Map showing Kenyon Lane in 1933 with the brickworks on the left and Lily Lane school at the bottom

Moston, besides the peat mosses which gave it its name, also has extensive areas of clay, as many a gardener knows, and for centuries local potters had availed themselves of this resource. As the industrial revolution spawned a demand for workshops and housing, firms were established to produce bricks, tiles, chimney-pots and earthenware pipes. One such, the Moston Pottery, Tile and Brick Co, had been established by 1863 at the south end of St. Mary’s Rd, near the present-day Dean Brook pub.

Collieries such as Moston and Bradford also had brickworks: they were digging through clay to reach the coal, so why not use it, rather than dumping it? Other early names such as J H Charles and S & J Higham, came and went in the Victorian period, but by the end of the century, major players had arrived in the area.

Amos Reid Bullivant, a builder and joiner from Burgh-le-Marsh, Lincolnshire, came first to Blackley, then to Moston Lane, about 1873, and by 1900 his sons William, Amos and John had joined him in the business. Amos issued shares in 1903 to acquire land and establish a brickworks in an area roughly bounded by Moston Lane, Kenyon Lane, Lily Lane and Ashley Lane. In 1908, with an extended share issue by his son, John, it became the Moston Brick and Building Company Limited.Silton Street, towards Ashley Lane. Originally a cul-de-sac, the near end now connects with Minster Road, part of a 1996-2000 development, on former clay pits

As the name suggested, the firm not only produced bricks, but could undertake whole building contracts, from design (if required) to construction. An early example was the erection in 1909 of terraced houses on Silton St, Birchenall St, Hartley St and Penn St, on land close to the works and purchased by John’s brother, William. Some of these have recently been demolished, but quite a few remain.

In 1913 the Company purchased three 5-ton tipper lorries, demonstrating their expansion and modernisation, and by 1939 there were around seven clay pits in operation, some connected by narrow-gauge tramways to the works.

After World War II, they played a major part in the rehousing programme, all around Greater Manchester, such as 64 of the houses in the Greaves Estate at Rochdale. The scale of their business is revealed in a reply to a query about brick requirements, published in the Liverpool Echo in November 1945:-

“We have erected many thousands of houses, both for municipalities and private schemes. The total number of bricks for a five-roomed house is 15,000 to 18,000 and for a six-roomed house 20,000 – J.Bullivant, Director.”

As well as houses and flats, Moston Brick built many other commercial, educational and religious buildings. A few examples may give an idea of their range:-

Telephone exchanges at Collyhurst and Moss Side (1926), cinemas in Prestwich and Clayton (1928-9), Tuberculosis Dispensary (now the Sickle Cell unit), Oxford Rd (1931), Appleby Lodge, Fallowfield (1936), St.Patrick’s RC Church, Collyhurst (1937), Lansdowne House (shops and offices), Didsbury (1938), Woodthorpe flats, Victoria Park (1940), Regent Rd flats, Salford (1946), Higher Lane primary school, Whitefield (1953), the Central Synagogue, Jackson’s Row (1953), Moston Labour Club, Chain Bar (1955) and St.Clare’s Church, Blackley (1958).

Aside from the cinemas, most of these are still standing.

The company went into voluntary liquidation in 1931, during a depression in the building trade, but managed to revive and carry on until 1973 under John Norman Bullivant (John’s son), being finally wound up in 1976. I haven’t discovered whether brick production ceased during this period, or earlier, but the works was demolished in 1977 and replaced by light industrial units the following year.

There is now no trace of this once-important concern, but their legacy is still all around us. Collyhurst Exchange, Ryder St, built for Post Office Telephones in 1926 and still used by BTSt.Patrick’s RC Church, Livesey St, opened in 1937 as a replacement for the original (1832) building Manchester’s Central Synagogue, completed in November 1953. Moston Brick’s price for this was just over £63,400

Queen of the May

Just like Molly dancing, our May queen was organised and performed by a fluid group of girls who played together in the street. It has little connection to organised events featuring Rose queens or intricate Maypole dancing, but it was a good excuse to dress up.

In the 1950s, fancy dress hire was unimaginable. Thankfully crepe paper was amazingly strong and versatile, if not actually colour fast in a sudden downpour.

The money earned by Molly dancing provided the wherewithal to ensure we were well turned out, but it was the older girls who passed on the May queen ’knowledge’ year by year.

The first of several decisions to be made was the choice of queen. Anyone in possession of a long dress was an automatic contender. That’s how I came to be queen in 1952. The previous year, tricked out in blue georgette, elbow length lace gloves and ringlets, I was my auntie’s bridesmaid at St. John’s, Ashley Lane.

The next important choice was the May queen’s attendants. Their duty was to hold the decorated garf (or garth) over the queen as she waited expectantly at each front door. A garf was a half circular hoop of anything that could be decorated with crepe paper flowers.

With the exception of the queen, everybody else would be dressed in a paper pinafore type garment with matching headgear. The final decision was which two colours would form that year’s theme. Some flexibility was necessary as it was possible the newsagent’s might not have enough crepe paper in either colour to satisfy our needs.

It was the older girls who did the cutting out, but we all had to sew our own outfits.

The main colour was used for the skirt section and the heart-shaped top of the pinafore. Colour 2 was cut into 3 or 4 inch wide strips for apron ties and the rosette style caps held on with hair clips. Some of the secondary colour was gathered into a frill and sewn around the heart shape bodice.

The Maypole consisted of a brush stale (broom handle) wrapped in some of the remaining crepe paper with the required number of ‘ribbons’ attached. It was usually the tallest girl who carried the Maypole while the rest held onto the streamers.

The favourite and most artistic task was sculpting the crepe paper into flower petals to be attached to the garf.

By the 1st of May, we were all set. The girls with the Maypole stood poised while the queen and her entourage approached each front door and knocked…

Crepe paper doesn’t stand up to being threaded and plaited like a real Maypole, so no actual dancing took place. To make up for the static nature of our display, we sang instead:-

Around the merry maypole, and all the live long day,

We crown you [first and surname of the queen], we crown you queen of May.”

We sang several variations on the theme, but I’m sorry to say I have
forgotten the others.

Our reward for the efforts put into Molly and Maypole dancing was a ‘garden’ party. That is to say, a kitchen table covered with a cloth was set up in someone’s back garden.

The pennies and halfpennies collected by us bought the ingredients for the feast, and our mothers prepared it. Most foodstuffs were off ration by that time, so we were able to enjoy as many sandwiches, jellies and fancy cakes as our funds would stretch to.

We played games until it went dark, and I don’t remember a single occasion when our celebrations were rained off.

It’s 67 years since my debut as May queen, and I still remember it as one of the highpoints of my childhood.Modern day May Queen’s preparing for a ceremony in Failsworth in 2018

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