Molly Dancing in Moston

Editors note: This piece was kindly written for Another Music by Carole Gausden

Nobody appears to know the origins of the Manchester version of Molly dancing. It seems clear that ‘our’ Molly dancing had no connection to the East Anglian custom where adult males dressed in female garb, performing to earn a few precious pennies when times were hard.

Some two hundred years ago, the word ‘Molly’ was a term used for an effeminate male. Molly houses were popular bawdy establishments where what we now refer to as -‘cross-dressing’ was a feature. Female dress was also used to conceal or disguise males not wishing to be identified, especially when they were engaged in sabotage or intimidation.

In America, the “Molly Malones” were notorious for their brutality but to us, Molly dancing was an innocent way of persuading grown-ups to part with a few coppers.

In my search for the origins of Molly dancing, I used to make a nuisance of myself at every local history class or event I attended. I pestered people to find out whether they had gone out Molly dancing, and what the money they collected was used for.

My researches led me to the conclusion that, wherever it originated, in Manchester, the practice was confined to the old township areas until the newly built council housing took it out to places like Moston. All the people I questioned had families who came from either Ancoats or Collyhurst, with a single mention of it in Chorlton on Medlock.

Adults took no part in organising children’s games or street activities in the 1950s. It was left up to the older girls who played together to instigate Molly dancing and the May Queen each year.May Day and Whitsun required the best dresses; perhaps the proceeds from Molly Dancing helped. Photo provided by Alan Hampson

In our bit of Moston, it was only the girls who took part, but my father assured me he had been an enthusiastic Molly dancer in Harpurhey in the 1920s. We moved to New Moston in 1956, and I was dismayed to discover Molly dancing was unknown to those who lived on the far side of the Broadhurst Fields divide.

April was Molly dancing time, and as far as I recall, we would go out about half a dozen times each year. Our patch was Honister Road, Bordale and Hesford Avenues with a bit of Brantwood Terrace. If we didn’t do too well, we might include Holmfield Avenue and some of Church Lane, providing no other group had done those streets first.

With rouged cheeks and dressed in frocks, hats and anything else our mothers would allow us to borrow, we set out. One of us knocked on a door with an open handbag thrust out in front of her. As soon as we heard footsteps approaching, we went into our routine.

Jigging about on the spot, we sang (to the tune of “London Bridge is falling down”):-

Molly dancers kicking up a row, kicking up a row, kicking up a row,

Molly dancers kicking up a row, my fair lady.

Cheese and bread, the old cow’s head, put it in a lantern,

With a bit for you and a bit for me and a bit for Molly dancers.

(Optional finale – Cross a molly, cross a molly dancers.)

Boys invariably blew their ill-gotten gains in the nearest sweet shop. But apart from one goody-two-shoes who said she gave it to the Red Cross, the money collected by girls was invested in preparations for their May Queen celebrations. I will keep ‘May Day’ until next time…

The ‘Flicks’ in Moston

What might be regarded as the golden age of the suburban cinema was, with hindsight, rather short-lived, in fact barely fifty years. Moston joined in with its own trio, not counting the Princess (Conran Street) and Victory (Capstan Street), which strictly speaking were in Harpurhey and Blackley respectively, though not far from Moston Lane. The three Moston cinemas are mentioned below, in order of opening date.

The MIP Palace (Moston Imperial Picture Palace)

Opened as a theatre and music hall, with occasional film showings, on Hartley Street, off Moston Lane. An advert in ‘The Stage’ of 7 July 1910 announces “Vulcaris and his Speciality Piano Entertainment” appearing for two weeks, with “Humorous Songs and Excellent Sketches”. The following year saw the “Three Sisters Godfrey, Vocalists and Acrobatic Dancers”. After being acquired by Fred Severs of Little Lever, the MIP was refurbished, extended and reopened as a purpose-built cinema on 29 May 1916. It had a 22ft screen and seated 925. Six years later it became a limited company under directors Eliza Preston and W.H.Simcock.

A friend and neighbour, Carole Gausden, has an early memory of seeing “Mandy”, with Jack Hawkins, one summer’s evening in the 1950s.

The last film shown was “The Cruel Sea” (also starring Jack Hawkins) in 1959, after which the owners stripped out the seats and converted the building into an indoor market (they themselves had a carpet stall), in which form it will be remembered by many. More recently, it has become one large food hall, with the main entrance on Pym Street, and now renamed “Moston Superstore”.The well-known MIP Market, Hartley Street, in October 2007. So far, no photos of the MIP as a cinema have come to light.

The Adelphi

A tin hut named the Empress was opened on what was then Dean Lane (now Kenyon Lane) around 1914. It is not clear whether the Empress was renamed or replaced, but by 1918 Vincent Tildsley was disposing of the “Adelphi Cinema, which he ran at Moston”. At that time it could accommodate an audience of 900. A year later the company went into liquidation and changed hands several times up to 1932.The Adelphi in 2007, as Deanway DIY, on Kenyon Lane (originally part of Dean Lane, through to Oldham Road, Newton Heath).

By 1937, having been acquired by H.D.Moorhouse, a brand-new building was opened, seating 1312 and with a 36ft wide proscenium. In this form it lasted until 1962, when it became a bingo hall. After this closed, despite some fire damage while it stood empty, it was taken over by Deanway DIY, who still own it and whose manager very kindly allowed me to look round and take interior photos. The seating ranks and much of the original decorative plasterwork are still intact.Inside the Adelphi in 2019, looking from the back row towards the screen, still quite recognisable as a former cinema.

The Fourways

The “Four Ways”, as originally styled, opened on 17 October 1939 with a screening of “Submarine Patrol” starring George Bancroft and Richard Greene. Located at the junction of three roads, Moston Lane, Charlestown Road and Chain Bar, locals said the “fourth way” was into the cinema itself, but this may have been tongue-in-cheek. It had 1256 seats, a screen 38ft wide and was the only one of the three that I visited, as a cinema. The Fourways, from Chain Bar, in 1959. Inset: a similar view sixty years later.

My friend Steve Wilson has provided a personal glimpse into life behind the public view:-

My grandparents, Fred & Emily Booth, worked at the Fourways in the early 1960’s. Emily was an Usherette, evenings only, checking tickets, showing people to their seats and taking a turn with the ice cream and popcorn tray, while Fred was the Fireman, caretaker, handyman and Jack-of-all-trades. The box office and projection room had their own staff.

I once spent a day with my Grandad, helping him out. His first job was to stoke the coke-fired heating boilers, then clean out the seating area, which was usually littered with cigarette packets and dimps, empty ice cream tubs, toffee papers and popcorn bags!

He would also do any repairs needed, such as replacing damaged seats or changing lightbulbs. Another job was putting up posters and pictures in the display outside, for any new films being advertised.

In the evenings he would don his Fireman’s uniform and keep an eye on things generally. He was only 5’6” but he would not be messed about. He was known as “Fiery Fred” and if anyone misbehaved he would frog-march them to the door by the scruff of the neck and throw them out, no matter how big they were!‘Fiery Fred’ and his wife, Emily, outside the Fourways entrance in 1962 [Photo by Steve Wilson].

The Fourways lasted until November 1973, the last main feature being “Live and Let Die” with Roger Moore, but unlike the other venues it was demolished soon afterwards and replaced by flats named “Fourways Walk”.

Local history articles often end rather wistfully, lamenting what has been lost, but this one can sound a more optimistic note. Thanks to volunteers who came together with Miners’ Club owner Louis Beckett, the 70-seater Moston Small Cinema opened in 2012, so the tradition of communal film-watching in Moston can continue to be enjoyed by present and future generations.Inside Moston Small Cinema during a screening of “Round Here” (by Modify Productions) in March 2018

 

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“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].