Muddy Waters

I was born in a suburb of Manchester called Longsight.  Three miles from the city centre, a halfway house, neither inner city deprivation or outer suburban splendour.  A place one came to, to escape the former and aspire to the latter.  Immediately after the 2nd world war it was nearly 100% English in its population, but that changed very quickly.

The war’s aftermath wrought many changes.  Lots of houses with no man, only women and children, the man either dead or strayed. Which resulted in a rise of lodging houses to cater for the single and not so single men travelling around looking for work, men who had been either soldiers or fully employed during the war.  The Irish families started moving in to the area, men who had immigrated during the thirties and had been in good employment as Bevan Boys or on government construction sites during the war and were now raising families.  Slowly also a few Italians, Maltese, Germans and West Indians started to drift in, who because of the war had been washed upon England’s shores.  Once the first wave of Irish settled, they attracted more of their own from the inner suburbs and soon they were rivalling the English in terms of population.

They were obvious for their vigour and zest for life.  the English had been flattened by the war, the Irish had been earning a reasonably good living and had not been ground down.  They had also escaped De Valera and his insular policies and the cloying grasp the Catholic Church had on its congregation.  They liked the freedoms, they flourished and so did the Church.  New churches were being built in all the suburbs financed by the impecunious English and the vim and determination of the Irish.

Into this burgeoning atmosphere I was born and reared, the eldest of three sons, of an English farmer’s son and an Irishman’s daughter.  For us also Longsight was a half-way house although my parents lived in the area all their married lives, moving from modest Duncan Road to the opulence of Birchfields Road in the space of 20 years.

For me , my life and thoughts were formed in Duncan Road, a long wide road split by the three main roads of the district.  Slade Lane to the east, Hamilton Road in the centre and Beresford Road to the west.  The east end of the road was a mixture of early, mid and late Victorian terraced houses, one of which was ours, to the west the houses were Edwardian terraces.  Looking at them now, you wonder how families managed in them, they were that small.  The Irish with their larger broods were taking the bigger houses on the three main roads, the English with their smaller families and wage packets were contented with the smaller houses.

I do not think it can be stressed enough the burden that was put on the English population during the war.  It had worn them out, family values had been eroded and I think they wondered whether it had all been worth it.  In a lot of ways the Irish were fresher and certainly fitter to take on the rejuvenation of the country.

My mother’s family had escaped death when a landmine dropped from an Heinkel bomber had killed 45 of their neighbours and destroyed their home on Christmas Eve 1940 and this was their chance and they escaped to Longsight and a better life.  My father used to  large farmhouse living and having spent the war in a reserved occupation, working long hours on the development of the newly invented radar system, was totally deflated.  This then was my inheritance, my mother’s enthusiasm for life and my father thinking at 27 that his best years were behind him.

My mother worked occasionally, when there was work about and her father a retired stoker from Ballinamore Bridge in East Galway did more than his share of looking after us kids during the school dinner break and after school.  This man helped greatly in forming my character,  he deserves a blog to himself.  Let it just be said for now that I thought the world of him.  He had been born in 1874 and sometime in the 1890s had left Galway and settled in Manchester, eventually gaining regular and full time employment with the Manchester Gas Company for whom he worked until retirement 38 years later in 1939.  He married a Manchester girl of Laois and Kildare parents at the fashionably late age of 44 in 1919 and they had their first children, twins, in July 1922.

In Manchester, in this period after the First World War, there was a great deal of civil unrest brought on by Michael Collins and his mates in Dublin.  To the north of the city along Oldham and Rochdale Roads and along Stretford Road to the west, the police could hardly control the political foment.  Manchester was a channel, formed by friends of Eamonn Boland, Collins’s compadre, through which arms and ammunition were smuggled into IRA hands in Dublin.  One of the blackguards who supplied this channel was the son of a cousin of my grandmother’s Eddie Lenihan.  Eddie was receiving these weapons from his many contacts and while he waited to pass them into the chain, he stored them temporarily at his mother’s house.  His mother naturally was worried sick and called on my grandmother, who was in the throes of marriage to help her somehow.  Mrs Lenihan’s husband, serving in the Irish Guards, had been killed at Loos in 1915 and she had nobody to turn to in trying to save her errant son. Into the lining of their long coats, which women wore in those days, they stitched as many guns as they could and set off walking from Ardwick to Northenden, then a rustic village to the south of Manchester, about five miles away on the south bank of the River  Mersey.  At the bridge over the river,  ran Palatine Road and it was here the two ladies stopped and unstitched the guns and threw them into the muddy waters  and then mightily relieved, made their way home.  I do not think for one minute did this stop Eddie’s gallop, but his feelings are not on the family record.  My mother must have been told this story many times as she grew up for it made a big impression on her young and enthusiastic soul.

During the school holidays and if she was not working, she used to take us on bus trips all over Manchester and mainly the Manchester she knew as a child.  Miles Platting, Newton Heath, Collyhurst,  Ancoats,  Ardwick and completely in the other direction. Styal Woods!  I knew Manchester intimately before I was ten years old.  We did the Styal Woods trip five or six times, I cannot remember now it being nearly 60 years ago but the trips are indelibly etched into my memory.

To get the bus to Styal, we had to walk one and a half miles , to the Birch Villa, a pub in  Rusholme, on Wilmslow Road and wait for its hourly arrival.  Off the bus went, down Wilmslow Road, through Fallowfield, Withington and Didsbury. along Palatine Road into Northenden and points south.  We always used to get off the bus outside Northenden Golf Club and cross the road onto the bridge and look into the muddy waters, whilst my mother related the happenings of thirty years previously.  We never moaned or groaned but after a while of looking into these murky depths,  we crossed the road and waited for the next bus an hour later.  Of this dutiful sons are made.

The follow up to this story is that after another interval of 30 years, I was involved in the demolition industry in Manchester, when it was decided to demolish the old bridge at Northenden and replace with new.  I priced this tender in full knowledge of my family’s past and chequered, I was going to get the job and find the guns.  I priced to do it for next to nothing, we came second or third, the opportunity was lost.  Obviously more than two women in Manchester had a gun up their sleeve all those years ago.

I hope you do not mind two blogs in a day but I might be busy tomorrow.

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