Genealogy, history and memories of Blackley, Manchester, UK

Memories of 1930s Blackley by Derek S

Memories of Derek S of Blackley in the 1930s including some links to photographs in the Manchester City Council archives (Manchester local image collection). Further photographs can be found at

100 yards after Grange Park Road, Charlestown Road became a dirt track. There were the “Isle of Man” houses – all named after towns/villages in the Isle Of Man since 1920s and also the golf course and fields. Boggart Hole Clough was always there but it wasn’t always as big as it is now. Where the visitor centre is now was rough ground. In the centre of the Clough was band stand and refreshment room – people would put on their best clothes and go walking. When the White Moss Estate was built (both sides of road), the people who lived there came from the Rochdale Road area - 3 or 4 streets just past Queens Road on the left – houses were “2 up 2 down” hovels – slum clearance in approx 1937. All the men wore heavy black suits because they were inexpensive. Women didn’t wear coats but wore shawls. When the people moved out of Queens Road, the area was roped off and signs put on the end of each street saying “poisoned gas” in red – the poison was put there to get rid of all the vermin. The houses were then pulled down. No cellars in the new houses – coal was kept in the lounge.

Where the Dam Head estate is now, there were two farms – Hodgkinson’s Farm (nearest Rochdale Road) and Ashton’s Farm (up towards Victoria Avenue). Hodgkinson’s Farm House was between Hill Lane and Lion Brow – Lion Fold Farm. 4 times a day, all the cows had to be transferred from the fields (where Dam Head estate is now) to the farm for milking – which meant crossing Rochdale Road – good job traffic wasn’t as heavy as it is now. The farm closed sometime around 1960.

Trams travelled up Rochdale Road from Manchester to the bottom of Charlestown Road to the tram office (as it was then). Some trams went on further up to Victoria Avenue and/or Middleton. People didn’t generally venture to Victoria Avenue but might go into town. Trams were then replaced by trolley buses and the regular buses. No. 24 bus ran between Grange Park Road and Crescent Road, Cheetham Hill. If the regular passengers were a few minutes late, the bus would wait.

There was a farm off Hill Lane, where Kerr Street now joins it.

Milk from Hodginson’s farm – milk roundsmen delivered by horse and cart daily. Brought round in large churns – the farmer would have a measure to dip into the churn and then pour into the householders’ jugs. No fridges so in summer milk would be left outside in the shade in a bowl of cold water with beaded covers over the jugs.

The butcher would do his rounds 2 or 3 times per week – you needed to buy meat fresh as there were no fridges. Houses would have meat safes which were perforated zinc boxes which let in air.

The coal man would deliver once per week. Householders needed to watch whilst he tipped the coal into the coal house to make sure that they got the right amount. Coal was approx 2 shillings per bag. 1935 the rent on a 4 bed house was £1 per week.

The fish monger from Lion Street did his rounds with a baby’s pram full of fish with ice in the bottom. He had a cutting board on the top where he would fillet the householder’s chosen fish. All tradesmen had to call at the back door. The front door was always reserved for family and friends only.

Street lighting was gas. Every evening the gas lighter would go round switching on and lighting the lamps. In the early morning, they would go around again and switch them off.

Up until the outbreak of the second world war in 1939 it was quite common for "middle class" families to have a live in maid. The girl we had was called Betty - she was about 16 when she came to us from a children's home. She was a really nice girland a good friend to my sister and I. It was a great way to find a home and employment to orphaned girls. On the outbreak of war Betty joined the WAAF (Air force), visiting us when she was on leave.

Sundays were observed in a very strict way. We children all went to Sunday School which was so well attended that the church hall was always absolutely full. Children would not play out on Sundays and no housework, washing or work of any kind was done. Only a family walk (with everyone in their best clothes) in the clough or park was allowed. On a nice day the clough would be crowded with hundreds round the bandstand - the only music which a lot of people would hear since most would not have a wireless set.

Whit walks on Whit Sunday – congregation from St. Peter’s, especially the young people, would walk around the parish. There were then walks around the city by most churches on Whit Monday. There would also be bands. The Whit walks continued until the 1980s.

Some photographs of Polefield Road are here: 1. 2. 3.

In Blackley Village there were many shops and businesses:

There was a match factory (Bryant & May), a tannery and Levensteins (dye works), all on the left hand side of Delauney’s Road. Later, ICI bought out Levensteins and the other land. If the wind was in the wrong direction, there were terrible smells right up Charlestown Road. Off Blackley New Road there was another dye works, later bought by Connolly’s which is now BT Cable. There was a mill next to this with a very large chimney which was demolished in about 1936 to make way for Connolly’s. There were nice cottages near to the bottom of Rayson Street and Chapel Lane where they join Old Market Street. It is possible that these were demolished at the same time as most of the shops in the village (1960s).

Smithy – still had some horses & carts – children used to go to watch the horses being shoed. On May Day the horses would be dressed in plumes and feathers.

On Lion Street there was a barber, fishmonger, draper, greengrocer. Co-op building – large grocery store (predecessor to the supermarket) was on the corner of Old Market Street and Domett Street. The other side of Domett Street was the Methodist chapel – quite a large chapel. It had a good youth section, especially during the war where the group would meet at someone’s house. On the opposite side of Old Market Street was a timber shop, fish & chips, Anderton’s bakery with cakes & confectionary (with awning). Further back up an entry, towards Oakworth Street were some cottages. Walker’s – crockery & household goods & fancy goods. A chemist. Oakworth Street. Entwistle’s news agency. Butcher. District Bank (which later became National Westminster Bank) until 1980s (the building had previously held a butcher’s shop). Small road then Post Office. School Lane where St. Peter’s School used to be. Very low shops (maybe sunken) – houses where the front room had been opened into a shop – Beetson’s greengrocery.

The current Fox Inn was built around 1935 to replace the old building which stood out into the middle of Old Market Street – gave the impression that there was no way through. The old building was demolished to make the road wider. There was a café next to the Fox – the building is still there.

Living in the 1930s

As there were no fridges, our mother would go down to Blackley Village more or less every day to get fresh food and of course you could get all you needed in the village. Butter was cut from a large block and then patted into shape with two butter paddles and then wrapped. Bacon was sliced to order - all dry cured either green (plain) or smoked and wrapped in greaseproof paper. Cheese was also cut to order using a wire to cut your order from large blocks. Coffee was ground as you wanted it - the smell was fantastic. All foods were only available in season - only root vegetables and cabbage in winter with tomatoes, peas, beans, soft fruit in the summer and apples in winter. No eggs in winter except if you put some in Isinglass (colloquial name for sodium silicate - see Wikipedia entry here) in an earthenware barrel for winter baking.

Friday night was "Amami" night which was when all had their weekly bath so the kitchen had to be at full blast as all the hot water came from a back boiler behind the kitchen fire and then piped up to the cistern in the bathroom. The kitchen fire also heated an oven at the side and was used to boil water in a copper kettle. The fire was also used to make toast - the bread was put on an 18 inch long brass toasting fork and held in front of the fire - plenty of English butter - gorgeous!

Wash day was always on a Monday - white cotton items were put in soak and then put in a boiler and boiled until clean. Other items were put in a "Dolly" tub with hot water and Persil and pounded with a posser until clean. All items were then put through a mangle to remove excess water. The clothes were then put on the rack which consisted of five six feet long poles then the lot was hoisted up to the ceiling on ropes and pulleys. When nearly dry the items were ironed with metal irons heated on the kitchen fire. A very long day's very hard work.

No housewife would allow her doorstep to be dirty so my sister's job every Saturday was to clean and stone the front and back doorsteps, the window ledges and the coal house step.

There was much more snow in the 1930s and it was my job to clear the paths - sometimes one to one and a half feet of snow - many times each year.

Children were children for much longer in the 1930s and we had the Clough and the back fields (now Dam Head) as our playground and there were no cars on the roads. If we were a little late for the bus going to Crumpsall Lane School the bus driver would wait for us.

We were lucky that my family was able to afford a reasonable standard of living but for many families the early 1930s were an era of deprivation and despair.