Lark Hill Place, set within Salford Museum, is a reconstruction of a typical late 19th century street and takes its name from Lark Hill Mansion which once occupied the museum’s site. The street was created in 1957 by the then curator of the museum at a time when slum clearances in Salford saw many areas changed to make way for more modern housing. He decided to salvage and restore several original shop and house fronts and their contents, and with the help of members of the public who donated various objects, and a group of local children who would raid skips for period items and beg or borrow them from their grandparents, he developed Lark Hill Place, with the theme being set on an early winter’s evening in 1897.
From the light and airy museum reception area and café double doors led to a corridor with information boards on the walls, then another set of doors took me into Lark Hill Place itself and I was instantly transported back to the late Victorian era; even at first glance I could see that this place was very unique and extremely interesting.
The street ran left and right from a central ‘square’ and working my way round clockwise from there the corner shop on my immediate left was James Critchley’s clogger’s shop. It originally stood in Whit Lane, Pendleton, until it was demolished, and it supplied clogs and boots to many millworkers and those who worked at the nearby coal mines. Next door was Louisa Greenhalgh’s haberdashery; Louisa’s name first appeared in local directories in the 1840s, listed as a dressmaker, milliner and haberdasher of Bedford Street, Salford. The mahogany door of the shop dates from about 1750 and originally came from Hope Hall, a brick-built house once set in pleasure grounds on Eccles Old Road, Salford, though those have long since been lost to redevelopment.
Next to the haberdasher’s was William Bracegirdle’s forge which once stood in Salford’s Ordsall Lane. In the late 19th century blacksmiths and wheelwrights were higher up the social standings than other manual workers as they were considered to be the backbone of transport, however when automobiles took over and trade diminished blacksmiths became the first generation of automobile workers, though after 1901 the Bracegirdle family became general labourers.
Next was the Georgian House, showing what a room in the original Lark Hill Mansion would have looked like in the late 18th century. Much of the furniture is in the Chippendale style and on the right of the room was a square piano made by Christopher Ganer of London in 1789.
Next door to the Georgian house, and at the end of the street, was the Victorian parlour, richly decorated and furnished and containing two pianos. Above the pianos and against the back wall were several glass domes containing decorative arrangements of stuffed birds, flowers and plants, reflecting the Victorian fascination with natural history and for bringing exotic birds into the home. Although the darkness meant I couldn’t get a clear photo of it, high on the wall outside the room was a fire plate decorated with a liver bird; this came from a property in Salford’s Broughton Street and shows that the house owner had an insurance policy with the Royal Insurance Company which was established in 1845.
Set back in the far corner was a door with an undertaker’s sign indicating that funeral orders could be taken there even though the undertaker’s premises were elsewhere. Victorian funerals could be lucrative affairs, reflecting the increasing wealth of the industrial classes, but in spite of the potential for undertakers to become wealthy themselves through their work the association with death seems to have prevented them from being seen as truly ‘respectable’; the discreet unassuming sign at Lark Hill represents the careful tone which undertakers used in all their advertising and paperwork, from business cards and catalogues to invoice paper.
On the corner to the right of the undertakers was a Victorian post box and Adolf Renk’s pawnbrokers shop, although the Renk family were never true pawnbrokers; they traded mainly as jewellers and watchmakers. Established in 1836 by brothers August and Charles Renk, originally from Germany, the shop was situated at 144 Chapel Street in Salford. Charles’ son Adolph took over the business in 1903 and it remained in the family until the shop was taken down in 1956, with the main components of it being saved to become part of Lark Hill Place.
Next door to the pawnbroker’s was the Bracegirdle’s cottage, a simple one-up, one-down affair. William Bracegirdle learned his trade from his father who was also a wheelwright, and he and his wife Elizabeth had four children, Elizabeth, Ellen, Albert and Joseph. Elizabeth worked as a cart hirer while Albert and Joseph became joiners; it’s assumed that Ellen worked away as a housemaid. Their simple home was more sparsely furnished than others, with the one downstairs room being used for cooking, eating, washing and general living, while attached to the wall near the back door was a vertical wooden ‘ladder’ which went through a hole in the ceiling to the bedroom above.
Next was Mrs Driver’s house with a self-explanatory sign outside the door. Mrs Driver practiced leeching at her home in Bury Street, Salford; she became known as the ‘plaster woman’ as her secret ointment recipe was very popular among the locals. The red and white pole outside the house came from a local barber’s shop; in former times barbers were allowed to carry out bloodletting and minor operations and the poles became symbols of this as the stripes represent blood and bandages.
Next door to Mrs Driver’s and on the corner of the square was John Hamer’s shop which was originally situated on Salford’s Broad Street. John Hamer was a chemist and druggist and lived with his wife Emma and their three children, Edward, Arthur and Mary; they also had a domestic servant called Elizabeth. In the days long before the National Health Service many people couldn’t afford to see a doctor so would seek the advice of a chemist; John Hamer sold his own remedies, made up in the back room of the shop, and many drugs which are now illegal including opium.
Across the corner from the chemist was the Blue Lion Tavern which had been a corner-site public house on Cook Street and originally called the White Lion. It was run by Emma Jane Twyford who, in spite of being married, was listed on census records as being the head of her household. Emma was the last proprietor of the Blue Lion as it was demolished in 1892 to make way for a Threlfall’s brewery – the reconstruction at Lark Hill Place was made up from three different pubs demolished during Salford’s 1950s rebuilding works.
Next door to the Blue Lion was the William and Mary house. Before the Industrial Revolution timber framed houses were common across Salford and one such house dated back to 1306. It was originally built as a manor house for the Wythin Grave family, eventually becoming Ye Olde Rovers Return Inn during the 18th century. It traded as a pub until 1924 then later became a working mens’ café and finally the Rovers Return Trinket Shop before being demolished in the late 1950s.
The William and Mary house at Lark Hill Place was reconstructed with timbers from that building, with wooden panelling from Kenyon Peel Hall, Little Hulton, and a staircase from a house in Gravel Lane, Salford. Representative of a property from the late 17th century it contains objects from the same period, including a high-backed walnut chair, a gate-leg table and a cabinet with marquetry decoration, while on the wall are portraits of Sir Robert Honeywood and Frances Vane who were married in 1631 – Sir Robert was a Commonwealth ambassador to Sweden in 1659.
Set back in the corner to the right of the William and Mary house was the tobacconist’s shop. Eugene Morand, originally from Italy, was a cigar merchant of Chapel Street in Salford; he had a wife, Louisa, and a son, James, and must have been quite a wealthy tobacconist as he also had a domestic servant. According to the trade directories of the time, E Morand Tobacconist’s traded from 1861 to 1893 in Salford, Hulme, and Whalley Range. On the wall to the right of the shop is a Muratti mirror advertisement; it came from a tobacconist’s in Broad Street, Pendleton, and is said to show the actress Lily Langtry who became known as the ‘Jersey Lily’.
At the end of the street, and facing towards the square, was Henry Radcliffe’s toy shop with its window displaying many different types of toys from the era, including a model ark with a collection of animal pairs, several books and a Victorian rocking horse.
To the right of the toy shop was the printshop, part of a booming industry in the mass production of text. Salford had its own newspapers, the Salford Chronicle founded in 1868 and the Reporter, founded in 1879. The Reporter changed its name frequently and in later years became the Salford City Reporter, continuing production until 1997 when it merged with the Advertiser. On display in the printshop were a two-handed printing press, several printing tools and a variety of printing blocks.
Next door to the printshop was the music shop containing a wide range of musical instruments and products. Although the commercial potential of musical instruments and recordings developed greatly during the 19th century dedicated music shops were rare in Victorian Salford, with piano tuners being more common. Since more and more people owned their own pianos at home and earlier instruments were becoming harder to maintain the demand for tuning services became too much for the piano makers, so independent businesses and tradesmen were able to flourish, with tuners being well respected.
On the corner next to the music shop, and the last shop in Lark Hill Place, was Matthew Tomlinson’s general store which originally stood in Fairfield Street, Manchester. It sold a diverse range of products from sweets and chocolate to groceries, fabric dyes, soap and herbal remedies, and several brands on display in the Lark Hill window were still around when I was a child.
Away from the light and airy main part of the museum, once I’d been in Lark Hill Place for a few minutes I really began to feel as though I’d stepped back in time. Getting photos looking through windows wasn’t easy as there was quite a lot of light reflection but I got enough shots to show what the individual rooms and shops were like. Looking round and getting an insight into Victorian times had been a fascinating experience, and as the museum is only a 10-minute train ride from my local main station it’s a place I may very well revisit in the not-too-distant future.