The mystery of Mary Ellen

One of the most interesting exhibits in the Manchester Police Museum’s Crime Room has quite an intriguing story attached to it – it goes back 40 years and asks more questions than it answers but as yet has no real ending. It’s the story of Mary Ellen and not only is it local to me but it features a house not far from where I worked at the time.
Back in mid December 1982 John Baxendale, who had recently come to live in a Victorian detached house not far from Bolton town centre, decided to have a clear out in the cellar to make a den for his two boisterous German Shepherd dogs. With no functioning electric light down there at the time he was working by candlelight and behind some furniture in a small dark alcove at the back of the cellar he came across what he first thought was a tailor’s dummy wrapped in cardboard and newspaper. Then he realised a tailor’s dummy doesn’t have bones – it was the partially mummified remains of a human body. He contacted the local police station, which was only a couple of streets away, and a major investigation was launched that day, an investigation which has never truly ended.
The house, now a modernised family home, where the body was found – screenshot from Google street view
The remains which were found were mainly bones but with the hands and arms in a mummified condition, and the clothing pointed to the body being female. It was wrapped as if this person had lain down and rolled over in cardboard and paper in an effort to keep warm so it was thought that maybe this had been someone homeless who had crept into the cellar from the outside, gone to sleep and never woke up. A later forensic examination concluded that the woman had been white, about 40 years old and of small stature, possibly only about 4ft 10ins tall, and there was no indication of foul play. A News of the World paper found around the body was dated March 13th 1966, leading police to surmise that she could have lain undiscovered in that cellar for up to 16 years.
Fingerprints were taken from her mummified fingers and descriptions of her clothing – pink underwear, a turquoise jumper, yellow cardigan and brown stretch stirrup trousers – were shared with the media, along with descriptions of her jewellery. She was found wearing one gold cross earring, a gold and diamond eternity ring on her left hand, and black rosary beads – police traced the ring to Birmingham but a jeweller there could offer no help as the jewellery had been mass produced and could have been purchased anywhere.
Two months later the Bolton CID team still had no leads so in a ground-breaking move for that time they turned to the pioneering new technique of facial reconstruction, asking forensic artist Richard Neave, who worked at Manchester University, to create a possible facial likeness using scientific measurements of the skull. It took a week to construct using modelling clay with a wig, eyebrows and eyelashes being glued on by a make-up artist from Granada TV and although it couldn’t be the woman’s exact face it was a face which would have been broadly similar. To give her some form of identity detectives named her Mary Ellen and the facial reconstruction was unveiled at a press conference in February 1983, gaining national attention as it was the first time the technique had ever been used in a public appeal by a British police force.
Mary Ellen and her creator Richard Neave – photo from BBC News archives
Following a tv news report detectives were contacted by Lily Jones who lived in Liverpool and thought Mary Ellen could be her mother, Ruth Hanratty, who had been missing since the early 1960s. Lily had been ten years old at the time her mother went missing and now only had a few old photos to go off but the facial likeness and description of Mary Ellen’s clothing were enough for her to contact the police, however DNA profiling wasn’t around at that time and Ruth Hanratty’s name didn’t show up on any missing persons list so there was no concrete proof that Mary Ellen was Lily’s mother.
With no way of knowing how Mary Ellen had died the coroner at the inquest recorded an open verdict and she was laid to rest in an unmarked common grave in a corner of a local cemetery, however the advancement of DNA profiling over the following years was enough for detectives to reopen the case in late 2009 in a bid to find out if Mary Ellen was Ruth Hanratty. Of course it wasn’t a matter of simply digging up a body – Mary Ellen had been buried in consecrated ground so strict procedures had to be followed which all took time. With DNA samples taken from Lily Jones and members of her family permission for an exhumation had to be sought from the Chancellor of the Diocese of the Church of England, forms had to be filled in and a specialist exhumation company had to be brought in to oversee the proceedings.
To avoid any unwanted attention from members of the public the exhumation, costing £10,000, was carried out at 4am one day in December, attended by Detective Rick Armstrong who had worked on the case from the start, a forensic anthropologist, a forensic pathologist, the police chaplain, a Church of England chaplain, the local authority grave diggers and members of the specialist exhumation company. The grave held six bodies and Mary Ellen had been the second one to be buried there so four others had to be taken out first – they all had identifying tags but Mary Ellen was just ”body of unknown female”. She was taken to Oldham mortuary where DNA was taken from a leg bone and some of the ribs then she was re-interred in the presence of the Church of England chaplain.
It was a few weeks before Detective Armstrong got the DNA results but sadly they weren’t what he was hoping for – with not enough points of match it was proved that Mary Ellen wasn’t Lily Jones’ mother Ruth. And from that day to this no-one has ever come forward to identify Mary Ellen. So who was she and what really happened to her?
Although detectives always held the opinion that she had been homeless and had sought shelter in that cellar Bolton Evening News crime reporter Steve Howarth, who covered the story from the beginning, held a different theory. Had she been homeless she would probably have had a coat and carried a few possessions in a bag, maybe even had a sleeping bag or blanket, but she had nothing only the clothes she wore. She also had the gold and diamond eternity ring which, although maybe not worth a great deal, she would surely have pawned if she was down on her luck and needed money.
The external access to the cellar was just a small door through which a coalman would have tipped the coal so it would have been difficult for someone to get in there without going through the house, which led to the theory that either she lived there at some time or knew someone who did and had been invited there. The house, like many large properties in that area, had once been bedsits often lived in by students who didn’t stay very long before moving on – 1966 to 1970 was the height of the hippie culture and recreational drugs were popular so maybe Mary Ellen had gone to a party there and possibly died of an accidental drug overdose. She could have been a sex worker visiting a client or maybe she wasn’t local and had come to Bolton from another part of the country. The rosary beads suggested she was of Catholic faith so possibly she was Irish and had no family over here.
Although it’s all pure speculation it was Steve Howarth’s firm opinion that she had somehow come to an unfortunate end in that house and someone had wrapped her up and dumped her in a corner of the cellar hoping that nobody would find her, and for 16 years no-one did, although Greater Manchester Police didn’t share the same view. The cold case review unit was confident in the original theory that Mary Ellen had been homeless and there was absolutely no evidence that she was the victim of crime or that anyone else had been involved in her death.
Mary Ellen’s facial reconstruction is on display in the Crime Room at the Police Museum although not knowing the name detectives gave her at the time she was created the museum staff have always referred to her as Jane. Having been chipped around the nose and eyebrows over the years she is sadly looking a bit worse for wear, but then she is 40 years old after all.
The Crime Room information for Mary Ellen concentrates mainly on the facial reconstruction and how it came about so I’ve written her story using information from news archives and recent BBC podcasts featuring interviews with Detective Rick Armstrong and crime reporter Steve Howarth, both now retired. It would be nice to think that even after all this time someone would identify her and provide her real name but had she still been alive today she would now be around 90 years old so probably anyone who could have identified her may also no longer be alive. Sadly the mystery may never be solved and she will always remain Mary Ellen, the body in the cellar.

Stories from the Crime Room

During my recent look round the Crime Room at Manchester Police Museum I came across many interesting exhibits and stories, some which intrigued me more than others, so here are five of them which I thought deserved more than just a few cursory lines in my previous post.
On display in a corner of the room were the tools used by Manchester’s ‘King of Forgers’ Herbert Winstanley. Born in Liverpool in 1885 he worked in his father’s painting and decorating business until getting employment in Manchester as a design painter and engraver, however in 1937 his health failed somewhat and he was never fully employed again. After taking up etching as a hobby and making a few successful prints he decided to try his hand at copying a £1 bank note using both copper plates and lithographic stones. He obviously had some success as during the years of the Second World War a serious amount of forged £1 notes were found to be circulating round several areas of the country though mainly around Manchester and Salford and in particular at horse and dog racing tracks. Many suspects, mainly known forgers, were arrested and interviewed over the years but all were released through lack of evidence.
On June 2nd 1945 a bookmaker at Salford’s Albion Greyhound Track alerted two detectives on duty to two forged notes which had just been used to place a bet – both notes had exactly the same serial numbers. The detectives had seen the bet being placed and caught up with Winstanley who said he must have got the notes from another bookmaker. He willingly agreed to be searched but having only genuine money on him he was allowed to go free, however the detectives decided to keep him under close observation and discreetly followed him to a house in Rusholme, Manchester.
With backup from another detective the premises were later entered and searched in Winstanley’s presence and on opening a locked bedroom door they found a complete forger’s workshop containing a hand-operated printing press, inks, lithographic stones, copper plates and sheet copper, brushes, parcels of paper and many other tools. Winstanley was arrested and held in custody. The full search of the premises lasted four days and it was finally established that almost £20,000 of forged £10, £5 and £1 notes in various stages of process were hidden around that room.
A month later, on July 5th, Winstanley pleaded guilty to forgery at Manchester Assize Court and was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude. He was released in 1952 and returned to his lodgings, then 12 years later, in February 1964 and at the age of 79, he collapsed and died in the street near his home. He never revealed the method he had used to print the forged notes and his secret was taken to the grave with him.
The plates, lithographic stones, brushes and tools on display in the Crime Room are the original ones used by Winstanley. They have been examined by many experts over the years and even with modern technology it’s still been impossible to figure out the printing process developed and used so many years ago by Herbert Winstanley – ‘King of Forgers’.
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On June 21st 1943 Walter Graham Rowland was convicted of murdering his 2-year old daughter Mavis. He should have faced the death penalty but on the recommendation of the jury was sentenced to life imprisonment instead. In 1945 he was released on condition that he joined the armed forces, which he did, then in 1946 he was discharged from the forces and became a free man. On October 20th that year a woman’s body was found on a bomb site on Deansgate – later identified as Olive Balchin, a 40-year old prostitute from Birmingham, she had been battered to death with a hammer which was found nearby along with a piece of brown paper showing an imprint of that same hammer. The time of death was estimated to be around midnight on October 19th.
A description of the deceased was circulated in the media and enquiries were made about the hammer, resulting in three vital witnesses being interviewed. A waitress in a cafe near the murder scene remembered seeing a woman matching Olive Balchin’s description with a man and another woman around 6pm on the 19th, the licensee of a nearby pub had seen a man and woman arguing later that same evening and identified the woman as Olive, and the shopkeeper who sold the brown-paper-wrapped hammer also came forward with a description of the purchaser. Rowland was traced to his city centre lodgings and arrested as he resembled that description – all three witnesses picked him out in an identity parade and though he admitted to having known Olive Balchin for about eight weeks he totally denied killing her.
In his defence Rowland put forward an alibi to account for his whereabouts during the day and evening of October 19th and this was corroborated by various people including his mother, however the police forensic scientist stated that he had taken samples of soil and leaves at the murder scene and found identical material in Rowland’s trouser turn-ups when he was arrested. Rowland was charged with murder and his trial began on December 12th. He was found guilty and given the death sentence but he denied the charge and lodged an appeal, however on January 27th 1947 David John Ware, who was at the time in prison in Liverpool for theft, admitted that he was the person responsible for Olive Balchin’s murder – it was an admission which caused the adjournment of Rowland’s appeal.
In his statement to the police Ware said the murder took place at 10pm, not midnight, and the deceased’s name was Balshaw, not Balchin, but the High Court wasn’t happy with this statement and sent a barrister to question him, however he changed his story and completely denied he had carried out the murder. Rowland’s appeal recommenced but was dismissed and on February 27th 1947 he was hanged at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison, though he proclaimed his innocence right to the end. Four years later David John Ware was found guilty, but insane, of the attempted murder of a woman in Bristol – she had been battered round the head like Olive Balchin and the weapon used was a hammer.
So did Rowland really kill Olive Balchin or was he innocent all along? No-one will ever know, but whether he was or not, Walter Graham Rowland went to his grave with the distinction of being the only man reprieved for a murder he did commit and hanged for one he possibly didn’t.
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In the afternoon of Friday May 4th 1962 57-year old Sarah Isabella Cross was working in her sweet shop in Miles Platting, Manchester when sometime around 4pm 26-year old James Smith entered through the shop door and attacked her, hitting her numerous times with several large full mineral bottles he grabbed from behind the counter. He then forced open the till and stole what money he could before making his escape through the back door of the premises. Mrs Cross sustained bruising, lacerations and a 9-inch fracture of the skull and died where she lay, behind the counter and surrounded by the shattered remains of the five broken bottles.
Unfortunately for Smith the back door of the shop had not long been painted and was still wet so he left a good set of fingerprints on the door frame – these matched perfectly with his fingerprints from a previous conviction so on that evidence he was arrested and charged with murder. The fragments of the glass bottles found at the scene were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Chorley and were painstakingly glued back together by Detective Chief Inspector Albert Allen, however some fragments of the glass were missing and when Smith’s home was later searched small particles were found down the side of his settee. The pieces were sent for forensic testing and were microscopically matched to the rebuilt bottles.
The evidence against Smith was overwhelming and he was tried at Liverpool Crown Court on October 15th 1962. The trial lasted just three days before a jury found him guilty of murder and Mr Justice Stable passed the death sentence. James Smith was executed at Strangeways Prison on November 28th 1962 and because of the way the broken bottles had been pieced back together the case became known as The Jigsaw Murder.
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Late on Friday November 27th 1970 seven months pregnant Lynda Stewart, aged 22 was walking home alone after a night out with a friend when, in a completely random and unprovoked attack, she was dragged from the main road and through a hedge, punched, kicked, bitten, raped and beaten to death. Her partly clothed body was found the next morning in the garden of a house just a few minutes walk from her home. A footprint had been left at the scene and a crudely made metal ring was found nearby – forensic experts managed to trace the ring to a local engineering company
On learning that detectives were making enquiries at his place of work 18-year old apprentice Ronald Bennell left a suicide note in the locker of another apprentice and disappeared. He was found that night hiding in the larder at his girlfriend’s home, he had taken an overdose of aspirins in an attempt to kill himself. The boots he was wearing when arrested matched the footprint found at the crime scene and plaster impressions taken of his teeth matched the bite marks on Lynda’s body. His clothing contained fibres and skin fragments from Lynda as well as particles of tarmac from the crime scene, and police had also found her handbag and shoes thrown into different bins along the road leading to Bennell’s house.
After Bennell eventually admitted to the murder he was charged, pleaded guilty in court and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1983 then after causing two marriage break-ups during the next few years he killed again in 1989, raping and murdering 42-year old mum-of-three Pamela Noone who was walking through a Stockport park. He was arrested, convicted and given another life sentence in Strangeways Prison but possibly unable to face a second lengthy stretch behind bars he took his own life just a few weeks later.
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Sometime in the 1980s two businessmen contacted a Manchester bullion dealer and offered a quantity of gold bars for sale. They arranged to meet at the dealer’s office, having with them a metal strong box from which they carefully took out 274 50g gold bars, telling the dealer he could pick any four, test them for purity, and if he was satisfied he could pay them in cash for the whole consignment. The dealer picked out four random bars and was about to go off and test them when he was distracted by one of the men and without his knowledge four genuine bars were quickly swapped for the four he had chosen. On testing the four bars he found they were genuine and happily handed over the cash to the men who carefully put all the bars back into the strong box and locked it for safety. With the deal done they then left the shop, purposely ‘forgetting’ to give the dealer the key.
The dealer then spent quite some time sawing open the strong box and when he finally tipped the bars out onto the table he found that many were chipped on the edges. On testing them he found that all the gold bars he had bought, except the four genuine ones, were made of gold plated brass and only weighed 30g instead of 50g – he had paid out £84,000 (over £283,000 today) for 270 fake gold bars. The two businessmen were traced as far as Manchester Airport but were never seen again.
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These five stories are just a handful of those in the museum crime room which piqued my interest. There is another one from the early 1980s, a story which features a pioneering new technique in the forensics of that time and which, up to now, has no end, but I’ll save that one for another time. 

A museum with a difference

Many times while walking round Manchester’s Northern Quarter I’ve passed the police museum but have never been inside as it isn’t open at the weekends, however after recently reading some excellent online reviews I decided take some time out during my working week to pay the place a visit.
Established in 1981 the Manchester Police Museum is housed in the former Newton Street Police Station which was home to ‘A’ Division of Manchester City Police from 1879, followed by its successors Manchester and Salford Police (1968 to 1974) then Greater Manchester Police until its closure in 1979. During the building’s conversion to a museum the interior was restored to reflect its past and to show the history of policing in the city through the years from Victorian times to the present day. Funded by Greater Manchester Police it’s staffed by a group of very knowledgeable and helpful volunteers who are retired policemen and women or others who have had roles within local police forces.
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Just inside the entrance I was greeted by a very cheerful ex-police officer in casual uniform who showed me into the introduction gallery where there was lots of information about the very early days of policing and a life-size model of a 1920s police box. A typical British police box acted as a miniature police station where a patrolling officer would read and fill in reports, take meal breaks or temporarily hold detainees until transport arrived. Its telephone was linked directly to the local police station and was located behind a hinged door so it could be used from the outside, enabling members of the public to easily call the local emergency services. In addition to the telephone a police box would also contain an incident book, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. Although most police boxes were usually blue those in Glasgow were red until the late 1960s; apparently there are still around eight police boxes dotted round Glasgow city centre but most of these have been turned into coffee kiosks.
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Through the introduction gallery was the uniform gallery with several big display cabinets showing examples of police uniforms, caps, hats and helmets worn throughout the years, although a lot of light reflection rather interfered with getting really good photos. The volunteer on duty was Sandie, a lovely ex-police lady who was an absolute mine of interesting information and stories; she had also been the ‘model’ for the new uniform issued to policewomen in the mid 1970s and was the very first Manchester policewoman to wear it.
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The ‘Bobby Dazzler’ helmet on display is one of two worn by male officers who, to huge applause, famously kissed in the middle of Deansgate at Manchester Pride 2016, recreating Banksy’s ‘Kissing Coppers’ mural. The ‘Bobby Dazzlers’ were created for Greater Manchester Police by decorative headgear designer Brett Dearden using decommissioned helmets – each one is made up of 5,000 reflective tiles and took 15 hours to create.
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The Velocette L.E. was a motorbike used by over fifty British police forces during the 1950s and 60s, the model on display being in the original burgundy colour scheme of the Lancashire Constabulary and registered to that force in May 1966. Equipped with a typical radio telephone of that period, the rider had to stop at the roadside in order to pick up the phone to answer or send messages. This type of motorbike was often referred to as the ‘Noddy Bike’, which has absolutely no connection to Enid Blyton’s storybook character – police officers on foot always had to acknowledge senior officers with a salute as they passed but as it was unsafe for riders to take their hands off the handlebars they were told to nod to their superiors instead, hence they became known as Noddies on Noddy bikes.
Through the uniform gallery was the crime room with one corner decked out to look like a detective’s office in the 1950s and featuring various lethal weapons confiscated by the police over the years. There were lots more information panels, photos and fascinating exhibits on display including the tools of Manchester’s most prolific forger, a quantity of fake gold bullion, jewels and banknotes, and Greater Manchester’s first facial reconstruction. Again Sandie was quite happy to chat at length and tell me some very interesting facts and stories surrounding a few of the exhibits, including the tale of a man who was reprieved for a murder he did commit but hanged for a murder he possibly didn’t – these are all stories which deserve to be covered in a future post.
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From the crime room I went out into a light and airy atrium with lots of photos and models of different police vehicles used over the years, plus three decommissioned motorbikes and a police horse which sadly wasn’t real, although on some open days during school holidays there are often a couple of horses and their riders in attendance in the rear yard.

Left to right – Norton Commando, BMW Boxer (1990-2008) BMW 1100 RRT

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Purchased in December 1974 and used until 1979 the Norton Commando was one of the last Norton motorbikes used by Greater Manchester Police. Unlike the other 64 Nortons in use by GMP this one was originally an unmarked bike used by the Regional Crime Squad but is now fitted with the fairing as used by the uniform branch.
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Through the rear door of the atrium and across the cobbled yard I came to the Charge Office, again set up to reflect its past use and with several different truncheons and sets of handcuffs in a ‘hands on’ display, with another very friendly ex-police lady on hand to impart information and answer any questions. The pigeon hole shelves behind the counter were an early equivalent of a key safe – at the close of business shopkeepers would hand in their keys which would be kept overnight in a locked box and handed back the following day, meaning that if a policeman needed to access a property in an emergency he could do so without the owner needing to be there.
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A door from the Charge Office led directly to the cells and I have to say that in times past this place must have been pretty grim. Two Victorian sinks stood at the end of the corridor and each cell had just a basic non-flushing toilet in a corner, two wooden beds with wooden ‘pillows’ and one blanket on each. One cell acted as the Reserve Man’s ‘office’ and for the purposes of the museum the walls of another cell were set out as a photo gallery with late 19th/early 20th century mugshots of those who, for whatever reason, had seen the inside of those cells.
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In the old Manchester City Police Force every station had a Reserve Man, a constable who would fingerprint prisoners on their arrival and feed them while they were in the cells, also completing any paperwork and cleaning the police station. Apparently some Reserve Men were quite eccentric and one man could often be seen standing on his head in the cell corridor, practicing his yoga, while another would play his violin to entertain the prisoners.

The Reserve Man’s ‘office’

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Along the corridor wall were cardboard silhouette cut-outs of men, women and children with each cut-out showing the name, crime and sentence of a person who had been in the cells. The dead duck one rather amused me at the time but thinking about it seriously it really wasn’t funny. Back in Victorian times some people would have been so poor they probably had to resort to crimes like that just to put food on the table.
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Back through the Charge Office another door led to what was once the original public entrance to the police station. The double doors are now a fire exit but just a few feet in are the huge iron gates which would have protected the entrance. All the Victorian police stations in Manchester were once fitted with massive iron gates to protect them from rioting mobs and the museum riot gates are now the only ones which survive intact.
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Up the nearby stairs was the 1895 Courtroom, which was originally the police station parade room, and the Doctor’s Room which would have been used by police surgeons to attend to officers or prisoners who were sick and to write up reports of post mortems carried out in the mortuary across the station yard. The Courtroom was originally the Magistrates’ Courtroom above Denton Police Station – the courtroom itself closed down in 1980 and the police station at the beginning of the 21st century, then in December 2001 the police museum looked into transferring the courtroom to the museum’s old parade room. Thanks to a 90% grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the remainder of the cost provided by Greater Manchester Police the project went ahead in 2004, and after lots of careful repair and restoration the courtroom was restored to its former glory in its new location.
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These 19th century stained glass panels originally formed a roof light at Denton Magistrates Court

Back downstairs the museum was beginning to get quite busy and though I would have liked to get some more photos I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it without other people getting in my way so I decided to head for my usual cafe to grab a coffee before getting the next train home.
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Although I spent almost two hours looking round the museum I could have stayed longer as there was so much to see and to read about. Very much like Dr. Who’s Tardis there’s far more on the inside than it looks from the outside though I think my favourite section has to be the Crime Room as it has so many fascinating exhibits and stories. I know I didn’t see everything of interest as there’s so much of it but my visit was so enjoyable I know it won’t be too long before I make a return.

The Rum Story, Whitehaven

Until June 1998 Jefferson’s Wine Merchants in Whitehaven was the oldest family owned wine and spirit merchants in the country. Founded by Robert Jefferson in 1785 the family business traded in wines from Spain and Portugal and rum, sugar and molasses from the West Indies. A large proportion of the sugar imported into Whitehaven was from the Jefferson-owned estate in Antigua and it was from there they also imported their famous rum, with all the imports being carried by their own ships.
The wine merchants business operated from the same Whitehaven premises for over 200 years, then after the last two Jeffersons decided to wind things down and close the shop in 1998 plans were put in place to convert the premises into a tourist attraction which explores Whitehaven’s links with the rum trade. Housed within the original 1785 shop, courtyard, cellars and bonded warehouses of the Jefferson family the Rum Story opened its doors to the public in September 2000 and is the world’s first Story of Rum exhibition.
Authentically designed to show the different aspects of the rum trade from its very early days through to more modern times the museum doesn’t shy away from the dark side of the past – crime, drunkenness and slavery, all fuelled by rum, are clearly depicted and information panels tell of the links between rum and the navy, rum and the Titanic, and how Nelson was pickled in a barrel of his favourite brandy after his death.
An archway between what is now the gift shop and the premises next door led to a light and attractive covered courtyard where I found the kinetic clock which performs every half hour and depicts the way rum is made, from the harvesting of the sugar cane to the bottling of the rum itself; it was seeing a picture of this clock in my ‘111 Places’ book which inspired me to visit the museum.
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Behind the clock was the original Jefferson’s clerk’s office, substantially unchanged since the turn of the 19th/20th century. With its high desks and stools, items of office equipment, old safe and hand written records on display it had been the hub of the Jefferson empire for many many years. Although it was free to look inside the office there was an entrance fee (currently £9.95 for adults) for the main museum where double doors took me into an Antiguan rainforest complete with accompanying sounds and humidity.
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One of the busiest ports in the country during the 18th century, Whitehaven had an extensive trade with Africa, America and the Caribbean, and rum and sugar became the town’s driving force. Ships sailed from Whitehaven loaded with manufactured products to be traded for African slaves who were then shipped in appalling conditions to the Caribbean, where they were traded for sugar and rum which were then shipped back to Whitehaven. One of Cumbria’s most famous products, Kendal Mint Cake first produced in 1869, was made with Caribbean sugar imported into the town.
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African village
Slavery chains and shackles
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Rum cellar
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The cooper’s workshop where young men would learn the art of barrel making
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The giant ‘Jefferson Barrel’ could hold 1,720 gallons of rum (7,819 litres) and filled with Jefferson’s Rum today the contents would be worth nearly £40,000 at the current prices. The story of Horatio Nelson’s life and naval career, told on pictorial information panels, was extremely interesting and I learned more about him there than I ever did at school. Starting his naval career at just 12 years old he rose rapidly through the ranks and became a captain at the age of 21, in charge of 200 men in the West Indies. He was respected and loved by all who served under him and after his death at Trafalgar in 1805 his body was brought back to England preserved in a barrel which, although reputed to have been full of rum, was more likely to have been his favourite brandy.
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Many of The Rum Story’s settings are so authentic that they are used for scenes in television dramas and period films, and to see these sets for myself I could understand why as they are so realistic. With three floors of well set out displays and shed loads of information the museum was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been in, though I couldn’t possibly photograph everything there was to see as there was so much of it. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the clock performing as I just missed it both going in and coming out and with only two free hours in Tesco’s car park I didn’t want to linger, however there’s a cafe in the courtyard so I may very well go back another time for a coffee and to see the clock in action.

Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick

Home to the world’s largest coloured pencil, the Derwent Pencil Museum was featured in my ‘111 Places’ book along with another place in Keswick which seemed quite intriguing so towards the end of my first week on holiday I decided to pay a visit.
Back in the early 16th century graphite was discovered in the Borrowdale area of Cumbria, with the first documented use of it for writing and drawing being in 1565. In the early days of pencil making a small cottage industry making artists’ pencils by hand started in Keswick, this then became a commercial venture from 1792 onwards. By 1811 the town had three main manufacturers – John Ladyman, John Airey and Jacob Banks, but by 1829 that number had increased to thirteen.
The Cumberland Pencil Company started life in 1832 under the name of “Banks, Son & Co”. This company passed through several owners before becoming the Cumberland Pencil Company in 1916, and in 1932 the first coloured pencil was produced. In 1980 the company was bought by the American firm Acco Brands, known then as Rexel, and the Derwent name became a brand of their product range.
The factory was renovated several times over the years, the last renovation being in the 1950s, but as machinery and production methods changed over time the factory became unviable. In the mid 1990s plans were put forward to redevelop the building but they didn’t meet the criteria for the Lake District National Park Planning Authority so eventually the decision was made to re-locate to new premises in Workington outside the National Park boundary.
The new factory was officially opened by the Queen on June 5th 2008 though the old factory building still stands close to the River Greta in Keswick, with the Pencil Museum, which opened in 1981, situated in a single story building in front of it. In December 2015 the museum was badly damaged by several feet of flood water when the river broke its banks as a result of Storm Desmond; many artefacts were destroyed and although a lot of the exhibits were salvaged one limited-edition collection was completely ruined and couldn’t be replaced. After an 18-month closure the museum reopened to the public in June 2017 with Countryfile  tv presenter John Craven cutting the ribbon.
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Paying my £4.95 at the door I was given a Derwent pencil as an ‘entry ticket’ then found myself walking through a mock-up of a graphite mine tunnel leading to the main part of the museum. A couple of life-size models represented mine workers and a display case on top of a large wooden box contained three skulls, and while I could ~ maybe ~ see the significance of the models I hadn’t a clue what the skulls were all about. To be honest the whole set-up felt weird and wouldn’t have looked out of place as part of a fairground ghost train.

Emerging from the ‘mine’ I found the rest of the museum to be fairly light and bright, with information panels on the walls showing the history of graphite, the company, and how pencils are made. Several display cases contained examples of various items produced over the years but unfortunately so much glass produced too much light reflection – photography wasn’t easy and a lot of my shots had to be severely cropped or deleted.
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Paint cart and pots

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Painting machine

One thing I did find interesting was the development of the ‘secret map and compass’ pencil. During WW2  Charles Fraser-Smith was known to be a civil servant in the textile department of the Ministry of Supply but in reality he was a ‘gadget man’ working at the direction of MI6, developing and supplying a wide range of spy and escape gadgets for the Special Operations Executive. Always on the lookout for ways to help airmen evade capture, prisoners of war to escape, and secret agents to get information back to Britain, he approached Fred Tee, the technical manager at Cumberland Pencils, to see if a pencil could be made with a secret compartment.
Tee worked out how to make the pencils then he and his fellow managers, all sworn to silence by the Official Secrets Act, would creep back into the factory after hours to do their work. A box of finished pencils would be taken off the shelf and the insides partially drilled out, then a tightly rolled map would be slipped inside each one, the metal ferrule would be placed on the end, a tiny compass inserted and the eraser glued back on; at the end of the job each pencil looked just as it had at the start.
In 1999, as part of the company’s commemoration of the forthcoming millennium, Clive Farrar, the technical manager at the time, wanted to reproduce the WW2 pencil. It was a job which proved to be very difficult even with modern machinery and technology; the story is told by Clive himself in a continuously running video and an example is displayed on one of the information boards.
Also for the millennium the company produced the Borrowdale Collection, a special edition box containing all the Derwent ranges plus some special edition pencils which had been produced over the years. There was no indication of how much this would have cost to buy but looking at the prices of some of the things in the shop and on the website – some items well over £200 – it would have been extremely expensive.
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To commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 Derwent crafted a special Diamond Jubilee Pencil; only two were made, with one being presented to Her Majesty and the other being displayed in the museum. Using previously archived graphite originally taken from the Borrowdale mine where it was first discovered the pencils were meticulously hand crafted by Clive Farrar using the traditional pencil making skills from before 1832. Once painted, the barrels were embellished with caligraphy by Paul Antonio and finished with a crown encrusted with 60 diamonds supported by white gold fleur-de-lys to symbolise royalty.
Also to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee, on the wall nearby was a portrait of the Queen produced by pencil artist Samantha Norbury whose clients include Sir Cliff Richard and well known darts players Bobby George and Phil Taylor. Commissioned by Derwent it was created using only Derwent Artists’ Pencils.
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A set of 72 Derwent Artists’ Pencils

In the centre of the room was the one thing I’d really gone to see – the world’s largest coloured pencil. The idea of technical manager Barbara Murray, the yellow pencil is 26ft long, weighs 446.36 kilos, or just over 984 lbs in old money, and was completed on May 28th 2001.
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Once I’d seen all there was to see, which didn’t take very long as the museum isn’t a big place, I had a browse round the shop where I came across a multi-coloured sheep which had been part of the Herdwick Trail  in 2016. Full size models of 60 ewes and 48 lambs were sponsored by local businesses, decorated by local artists and dotted around the tourist routes from Keswick to Windermere. Eventually they were all auctioned off to enable The Calvert Trust, a residential centre for people with sensory, learning or physical disabilities, to develop their riding school’s facilities.
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Although the museum had been interesting in many ways much of it was given over to displays of different pencils in various tins, tubes and boxes and ‘artistic arrangements’, and while the information boards gave great detail of the discovery and use of graphite and how pencils are made I thought they were rather lacking in the finer details of the history of the place; even the website seems to concentrate more on the products they sell.
With the mock-up of the mine tunnel at the entrance, three random skulls, a seemingly pointless life-size model in a pilot’s uniform standing at the far end, and the multi-coloured sheep in the shop this, to me at least, was a bit of an odd place. It passed 45 minutes of my time though, and having seen the world’s largest coloured pencil in the flesh, so to speak, I can now cross the museum off my ‘places to see’ list.

J B Banks & Son Ltd, Cockermouth

I don’t know where I first found out about the traditional hardware shop and heritage museum in Cockermouth – it wasn’t featured in my ‘111 Places’ book so maybe it was on a leaflet picked up from somewhere a couple of years ago – but while I was in town getting the antihistamines for my horsefly bite I thought I may as well check the place out.
Around 1829 John Banks opened a tin smithy business in a building at the rear of what is now the hardware shop, then in 1836 he added a plumber’s workshop to the tin smithy and opened the shop at the front, with the deeds of the property being signed by William Wordsworth’s father who was then the land agent for Lord Lowther. John’s son, also named John, later joined his father in the business which then became J B Banks & Son. As well as being a successful businessman John Banks was also a local personality of some influence and his proposal that there should be proper control over the ownership of guns eventually led to the introduction of the gun licence.
In 1902 the business employed 16-year old Wilfred Jackson. Every day he would cycle to and from his home, five miles each way, and often acted as the delivery boy, carrying all manner of items for neighbours and customers on his bike. In 1923, at the age of 37 and by then a partner in J B Banks & Son, Wilfred married Daisy Emerson who had a confectionery business in the town and their son Jack was born in 1926. Wilfred worked full time until he had major surgery at the age of 72 then he resumed work on a part time basis until his death at the age of 78.
On January 5th 1933 the business became a limited company and in 1942, at the age of 16, Jack Jackson joined his father Wilfred in the firm, though he took a break from the business in 1944 when he joined the Royal Marines for three years. In 1957 he married Dorothy Eckford and they went on to have three children, Kay, Alan and Vanessa. In 1958 Peter Chandler, who had been Jack’s best man, joined him in the shop and worked there for many years until he retired through ill health.
Jack Jackson, like John Banks before him, was a man of many parts. He was a founder member and President of the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team established in 1953, and by the late 1960s he had bought out the remaining ‘sleeping partner’ in the business. In his spare time he collected all kinds of local memorabilia, particularly antique locks and keys, and in 1969 he became a magistrate, only retiring in 1996 when he reached the age of 70.
On three separate occasions between 1950 and 1970 the shop front was damaged after being hit by lorries going uphill on nearby Castlegate, the steep and narrow road going out of the town. All three lost control on the ascent and slipped backwards, crashing into the shop front. It was also in the late 1960s that the shop was extended backwards and joined to the separate tin smithy at the rear, and it was then that the long forgotten well was discovered in the former shop yard
As a young girl Jack’s youngest daughter Vanessa would get pocket money for cleaning all the brass scales and weights and polishing the mahogany shop counters, then she officially joined the payroll in 1985 at the age of 22. The firm also owns the commercial and residential premises behind and above the business and Vanessa managed the letting of these premises as well as working in the shop. When Vanessa passed away in 2018 at the age of 55 her role was taken over by her daughter Sarah who had become the fourth generation of the family firm when she joined in 2014, and now with Sarah and her dad, Chris, who has taken a more active role in the business, J.B Banks continues to serve its customers and community.
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The heritage museum came about as a result of the devastating flood of November 19th 2009 when the rivers Cocker and Derwent, which meet in the town, burst their banks after heavy rainfall. The shop was flooded to a depth of 4.5ft, counters were overturned, stock was ruined and silt was left everywhere. The clean up and salvage operation took eight weeks, during which ruined stock was removed, the whole floor was replaced, stained and aged and the counters were repaired, cleaned and polished.
Due to an accumulation of paperwork and items collected and stored upstairs over many years there had been no room to put things during the flood so realising that space was needed in case of an emergency Vanessa and expert locksmith Ken Day, who joined the business in 1963 and is still there, took on the task of sorting through everything on the first floor during 2010. With nearly 200 years of history to go through it took quite some time to identify and label all the items found in the old workshop; while many items were retained others were sold and local archives took some of the interesting paperwork for their records.
The workshop and office were left as authentic as possible, with original ‘sit up and beg’ desks, high stools and typewriters from different eras in the office, while in the workshop a massive workbench running the length of six windows was left with vices, hammers, anvils, pipe benders and more, looking just as if the workers had put down their tools and gone home for the day. Once everything was sorted out the public were allowed through the rear doors of the shop on a regular basis from 2011.
Entering the shop from the sunlit street was like stepping into another era. Even though it does sell plenty of modern day items it looked just like the independent hardware shops I remember from my childhood, where you could get almost anything no matter how obscure it was. It also reminded me of the classic Two Ronnies ‘Four Candles’ sketch, and looking round this shop I was in no doubt that it would be possible to buy four candles – or even fork handles.
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Pre-decimal coins and old keys set in a counter top

Through the door at the back of the shop the ground floor of the museum was a mixture of antique tools and equipment, memorabilia and old signs and school photographs, with a unique ATCO Trainer car and the old well in one corner. There’s a long-standing rumour that there may be a secret passage in the well, connecting it to the nearby castle, but so far no-one has ever tried to find it.
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Fire bell from Cockermouth fire station

The ATCO Trainer car was manufactured by Charles H Pugh Ltd of Birmingham, a company better known for the production of lawn mowers. After the introduction of the Highway Code in 1931 and compulsory driving tests in 1935 the car was designed as a Safety First trainer car for school children, to help stem the rising numbers of road casualties by giving them basic training in car handling and road sense from an early age. Built around a 1939 ATCO lawn mower with the cutters removed it had a 98cc 2-stroke petrol engine in the back and scaled-down versions of a full-size car’s controls, with the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals all in the normal positions. With a speed of 8-10mph starting was by a pull handle between the two seats and there was just one forward and one reverse gear.
The original plan was to sell these cars in great numbers to schools and local authorities as part of a nationwide road safety initiative, a plan which received widespread backing from the press, politicians and the House of Lords, and distribution was to be through the motor trade and established ATCO lawn mower outlets. The cars were launched on June 16th 1939 but after only 250 had been built the project was cancelled with the outbreak of World War 2; it was estimated that 200 had been sold with the rest being broken up for the war effort.
With the introduction of fuel rationing, and the car’s small engine being able to achieve a distance of up to 80 miles on just one gallon of petrol, some of the cars were registered for the road to be used by adults rather than children and the Sunday Chronicle of November 26th 1939 featured a picture of an Oxford businessman driving a road registered ATCO Trainer through city centre traffic.
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The wooden staircase to the upper floor of the museum was decorated on both sides with a large collection of old locks and keys, from simple padlocks to plate locks, penny-in-the-slot toilet door locks and even police cell locks. Set back in a corner at the top of the stairs was the small office with its high desks and stools, pre-war items, advertisements and paperwork, all looked over by an oil painting of John Banks.
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1930s radio, still working

The rest of the large space featured the long workbench and tools of the tin smithy and plumber’s workshop on the right while on the left floor-to-ceiling racks contained a diverse mix of tools and various other objects collected over the space of many years, from clogs and clog irons rescued from the old cobbler’s shop next door to a more up-to-date bus stop sign.
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If I had read the labels on most of the items in there I would have been there for hours but with only an hour for on-street parking I couldn’t linger too long, so with three quick photos of the nearby streets with their colourful houses and shops I made my way back to the van.
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The shop is open Mondays to Saturdays from 9am to 5pm and the museum from 9am to 4pm. There’s no charge to look round the museum but there’s a visitors’ book and an unobtrusive donation box on a table near the foot of the stairs. Visitors can take as many photos as they want and dogs are welcome in both the shop and the museum. If anyone reading this is ever in the Cockermouth area then I can recommend a visit to step back in time for while – it’s a fascinating place.

Salford Museum and Peel Park

Salford Museum & Art Gallery started life as Lark Hill Mansion, built in 1809 by Colonel James Ackers and situated in extensive grounds. After 40 years as a private house Salford City Council purchased the building to be used as an educational site, planning to turn it into a public museum and library, and in 1849 Mr John Plant was appointed museum curator and librarian. The building opened as the Royal Museum and Public Library in April 1850, the first free public library in England, and after less than five months was attracting an average of 1,240 visitors per day; extensive refreshment rooms were then opened on the basement floor and two adjoining rooms were added to the library, allowing it to accommodate nearly 12,000 books.
In 1851 three of the East rooms in the museum were knocked into one with proposals to turn the space into an art gallery, then in 1852 a large extension was added to the back of the building, creating a reading room on the ground floor and a museum room above. Between 1854 and 1856 the North and South galleries were opened along with a lending library of 2,500 books, and by 1857 visitor numbers had risen to an average of 3,508 per day. On his death in 1874 Edward Langworthy, a local business man, former Mayor of Salford and an early supporter of the museum, left a £10,000 bequest to the museum and library and this was used to build the Langworthy wing which connected the north and south wings; it was finished in 1878 and officially opened in August that year.
Fast forward almost sixty years and by 1936 the fabric of the original building, the former Lark Hill Mansion, was found to be structurally unstable so it was demolished and replaced by a new wing to match the Langworthy wing. It took two years to complete and was opened in 1938, then in 1957 part of the ground floor of the new wing was turned into Lark Hill Place, a reconstructed Victorian street named after the original Lark Hill Mansion. Although the museum originally had a wide remit when it came to collecting artefacts from different parts of the world it now focuses on social history with a Victorian gallery and hundreds of Victorian objects on display in Lark Hill Place.
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The main entrance to the museum took me through a foyer and into a large and bright reception space with a shop area and a pleasant café beyond it, and on the right was the local history library and a magnificent staircase leading up to the galleries above. After looking round Lark Hill Place, which was my main reason for going to the museum, I went to have a look upstairs; unfortunately a couple of the galleries were closed while the various collections and displays were updated but I had a pleasant wander round the Victorian Gallery, and though I’ve never really liked Victorian paintings I did like the sculptures and the various objects on display.

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In an octagonal glass cabinet was the orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system named after the fourth Earl of Orrery, and though the first one was made for him around 1713 the one on display dates from the early 20th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any really clear shots of it as there were reflections and things in the background on all sides, also I was careful to obey the instruction of ”please do not lean on the glass”
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A section of the fabulous ceiling

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In another gallery was the Superlative Artistry of Japan exhibition, a range of works including paintings and ceramics and several contemporary pieces representing food samples. In the middle of the floor was a wire mesh waste basket crammed full of empty cans – it seemed a strange place for visitors to discard their rubbish but it was actually part of the exhibition.

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Sashimi Boat food sample in vinyl chloride resin, courtesy of Maiduru Co. Ltd

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By the wall in a partially closed gallery was a glass case exhibiting a huge fish, a tarpon caught in the West Indies. There was no date on it, possibly due to some of the exhibits being moved and updated, but the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company operated between 1839 and 1932 so the fish would have been caught sometime during those 93 years.
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The museum building is situated on the edge of Peel Park which was once the extensive grounds of Lark Hill Mansion, so after coffee and cake in the very pleasant café I went to look round the park itself. Following a 7-year campaign by Sir Robert Peel and Mark Phillips MP for a public park it was agreed that part of the Lark Hill estate should be used, and after winning a design competition in 1845 Joshua Major & Son laid out the park. Paid for by public subscription it was the first of three Manchester and Salford parks to be opened to the public in 1846. In 1851 the park was the main public venue for the royal visit of Queen Victoria to Manchester and Salford, a visit which was attended by 80,000 people; in 1857 a statue of the Queen was erected in the park then in 1861 a statue of the Prince Consort was erected after his death.
The peak of the park’s popularity came in the 1890s; by then there was a lake, a fountain, a bandstand, a bowling green and cricket pitch, a skittle alley, seating areas and pavilions. It was the place to see and be seen but years later, in the aftermath of both world wars, many people moved away from the area and the park was no longer the focal point of a community. In the years between 1954 and 1967 it underwent a major redevelopment and landscaping then in 1981 it became part of The Crescent conservation area. Unfortunately the park fell into disrepair in the last few years of the 20th century but after receiving a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2016 it underwent a second redevelopment and reopened in 2017.

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Some very early blooms in a sunny corner

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The River Irwell and some of its residents

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Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore the park as much as I would have liked; although the sun was still shining the blue sky of earlier had been replaced by clouds which were getting darker by the minute so not wanting to get caught in a downpour I cut my visit short and made my way back to the station a couple of minutes walk away. It proved to be a good move as I was just crossing the road near the station entrance when I was hit by a heavy shower of hailstones. I didn’t mind too much though, I’d had my few hours out and got plenty of photos, and now having recently seen photos of the park in full bloom I’ll certainly be going back later in the year when the leaves are on the trees and the weather’s good.


Lark Hill Place, Salford

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.

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Lark Hill Place from the entrance

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Looking left

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Looking right

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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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’.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.


Visiting the museum (3) – Natural History & aquarium

Bolton’s past industrial heritage has had a very strong influence on the town and its people over the years and the ground floor of the main gallery was dedicated to various aspects of local history. Just inside the wide entrance Samuel Crompton’s original Spinning Mule was enclosed in a very large modern glass exhibition case but there were so many light reflections showing up that I couldn’t get a decent shot of it from any angle. Although the gallery has been modernised to a certain extent it still retains many of its older features and it looked so attractive that at first I was more intent on photographing my surroundings rather than studying the exhibits.

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Main gallery, ground floor

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African elephant viewed from below

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American brown bear, donated by Manchester Museum

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Common shrew

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Harvest mouse

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A colourful bird collection

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I could have spent much longer in the natural history section than I actually did but there was another part I wanted to see and mindful of the time I made my way out through the museum shop and down the second staircase which, like the one I went up, was lined with various paintings on one wall. I remember being taken to the museum by my parents when I was a child and just for fun I would run down one set of stairs while they went down the stairs at the other side and we would meet at the bottom – it was a race to see who could get there first and somehow I always seemed to win.

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The bright and attractive museum shop

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Going down…

Down in the basement of the building was the aquarium – completely separate from the museum it originally opened in 1941, six years before the museum itself, and though the decor and the lighting have been changed over time the layout is the same now as it was back then. At one time the fish collections were limited to British species only, including salmon, pike and trout, but this has changed over the years and the aquarium now has collections from several different countries.
Bolton aquarium

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Nile Tilapia from Egypt

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Piranha from the Amazon

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Stingray from Brazil

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Suckermouth catfish from Brazil

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Lake Kurina Rainbow Fish from Papua New Guinea

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Lake Malawi Chichlids from Africa

Those were to be my last photos of the afternoon, time was getting on and I didn’t want to be late back at the car park. After all these years of not going to the museum my visit had proved to be extremely interesting ; I’d been very impressed with the general refurbishment, the Egyptian galleries and the natural history section and I’d got some good photos too, so maybe on a rainy day when it’s too wet to do a dog walk I’ll make a return visit to see what I missed this time.

Visiting the museum (2) – History, art & textiles

Bolton’s Central Museum hasn’t always been situated where it is now. Back in 1876 Samuel Taylor Chadwick, a wealthy local doctor, left a bequest of £5,000 to Bolton Corporation for the building, furnishing and maintenance of a Museum of Natural History in Bolton Park, which was later renamed Queen’s Park. The bequest came with the conditions that the building must be erected within four years and entry to the museum would be free for everyone. Building work began in 1878 and the Chadwick Museum finally opened in June 1884, with its first curators being father and son William and Thomas Midgley who expanded the museum’s varied collections during their many years there.
By the 1930s it was recognised that the Chadwick building was too small to continue housing the museum’s growing collections so work began on fitting out a larger museum in the current town centre building ; unfortunately the outbreak of WW2 interrupted the works so the new museum didn’t open until October 1947. With the Chadwick building lying empty it fell into a state of decline and eventually the local council decided that the cost of repair and renovation would be too great, so after 73 years service to the town the building was finally demolished in 1956.
The room next to the Egyptian gallery was reminiscent of the old Chadwick Museum, and with a mock-up of the front of the old building and embroidered portraits of its founder and curators on the walls it told the story of the museum’s beginnings and early years.
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A doorway on the right led into the art gallery, and though there were some older paintings on the walls a lot of the ‘art’ was modern stuff. It was very colourful though and I did quite like a painting of ‘four amaryllis in pots’ by someone-I’ve-never-heard-of although most of the other modern stuff didn’t impress me at all. From there I moved on to the textile collection which is one of the largest in the country, though I really only had eyes for some of the bright coloured fabrics on display.
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The textile gallery

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From the textile gallery I moved on to the large main gallery where the upper floor was dedicated to the natural history section with its many displays of animals, birds and sea life from the UK and other countries, but I took so many photos in there that section will have to feature in another post.
To be continued….