Demolition of Philips Park Road Viaduct

This was not your ordinary peaceful Sunday morning in Philips Park, Whitefield; nowhere in sight were the strolling dog walkers in the valley, perhaps once or twice gazing up at the 78ft high structure which had been built long before they were born. This morning, the 28th November, 1965, would be the last time its eight arches formed sentries across the land. Today, heralds The Express, marks viaduct ‘execution’ day!

Philips Park Viaduct. Image from Dorothy Moran Collection held at Bury Archives

On this occasion we might forgive the sensationalist headlines as it was a job that required dramatic action and military precision. In marched territorial sappers from the 42nd Lancashire Division Royal Engineers who, no doubt, helped draw a crowd of two thousand or more – themselves patrolling the borders, an extension of the army; getting ready to bear witness to the monster plumes of smoke which clouded the valley and marked the end of a century’s worth of service. It must have been a morning worth remembering for 17 year old Burnley lad, Peter Lyons, who having been given the order by Major John Timmins, triggered the firing system.

Demolition of Philips Park Road Viaduct on Sunday 28th November 1965. Image from Dorothy Moran Collection held at Bury Archives.

Safety concerns were raised decades earlier after storms had washed away some of the foundations of the viaduct. Disputes then arose surrounding ownership which, in turn, hindered Town Council decision-making. Who actually owned the viaduct? And who was responsible for its maintenance? Thomas Holt, in his book, Pilkington Park, has some suggestions:

I will state what information I have as to who opened the road and built the arches. The second Robert Philips wished to have a coachway to the park without the long detour round Park Lane … Thomas Statter, as agent for the Earl of Derby, who owned the land, desired to open out the district and improve the land values. Also the East Lancashire Railway, who owned the station at Mullineux, wanted a better road to it.

Newspaper reports from March, 1934, stated that Lord Derby had sold the land and was accepting ‘no responsibility for the structure’. And while Miss Philips had always paid for upkeep of the road over the viaduct she would not be liable for any costs relating to what was underneath. The case was presented to a King’s Counsel who came to the conclusion that no one was liable to repair the viaduct.

Three decades later and the collapse of large sections of brickwork in two of the arches finally forced a decision from the Council – to have the whole viaduct demolished! Back to The Express who advised us, ‘explosives had been placed in 171 parts of the 78ft high, 110yd long structure.’ Said Major John: “Everything went according to plan. In fact, every brick just about fell where we wanted it to.”


Newspaper articles and photographs taken from our Dorothy Moran Collection. Archives Catalogue number FDM

Holt, Thomas, Pilkington Park: An account of Whitefield, Besses o’ th’ barn and their parish, (Prestwich & Whitefield Guide, 1962).

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Portrait of a Soldier

After we were awarded Heritage Lottery Funding for our project, ‘Bury Remembers the First World War’, the years 2014 to 2018 were a very special time for us here at Bury Archives! Along with a fabulous crew of volunteers we were able to fulfil our quest to extract and digitise the thousands of soldier images and obituaries which featured in local newspapers during the period of WW1. The project attracted a lot of attention in our community, not least from a group of artists named ‘The Bury Collective’. After presenting them with articles and images extracted from the local press, a whole new body of work emerged consisting of lino prints, etchings, canvases, wood-burnt images and even pottery! All of them signifying an act of remembrance in some way while paying tribute to the many locals who lost their lives during WW1.

Exhibition at The Met, Bury, of artwork produced from the project

This arresting portrait, painted by local artist, Dennis Markuss, is one we’d like to share with you to commemorate Remembrance Day.

I asked Dennis the inspiration behind the painting:

This painting was done as part of a project with artists in The Bury Collective to commemorate The Great War. It was inspired by an obituary in a Bury newspaper announcing Private Leonard Barker being killed in action. What struck me was the contrast between his peacetime job at Messrs. Isherwood’s hat shop and his death in war. I wanted to show him in a helmet partly as a reference to his job, and almost as if he was behind a shop counter, but with the ‘thousand yard stare’ that soldiers develop in warfare.

Below is a transcription of the obituary:

Mrs Barker, of 172, Wood Street, Bury received a War Office notification yesterday morning that her husband, Private Leonard Barker (1997) of the C Company 1st 5th Lancashire Fusiliers (T.F.), had been killed in action. Private Barker was called up on August 9th last year and proceeded to Turton. He was previously on the National Reserve. His name is on the All Saints’ roll of honour and he was a member of the Conservative Club, Elton. In time of peace he was employed at Messrs. Isherwood’s hat shop. Mrs Barker has received letters of sympathy from Sergeant J. White and Private W. Isherwood, on behalf of the non-commissioned officers and men of her late husband’s company, and also Lord Kitchener’s message of sympathy from the King and Queen.

The soldier’s eyes, looking past the viewer and into the distance, powerfully convey Dennis’s intention to create the ‘thousand yard stare’ of traumatised service men de-humanised by warfare. Yet much more is communicated through this heavy-lidded gaze – it almost feels like an appeal for empathy. As viewers we can respond to this appeal and identify the human emotions reflecting back at us: despair; hurt and suffering; fear; sadness and, perhaps, resignation. His helmet, although signifying his military role, is framed by light – a kind of spiritual glow which rises above him. This and the soft pastel green of his jacket creates an aura of serenity in contrast to a scene of battle. Once we know the story behind the painting it makes us aware of the lives these men left behind: for Leonard Barker, what could be more peaceful than standing behind a counter helping the people of Bury choose their hats?

You can see more of Dennis’s remarkable artwork on Facebook

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Photo Donation of the Month: St Chad’s Violin Class

This splendid class photograph was donated to us by Joan Lord who had acquired it from the home of the Riding family from Phoenix Street, Bury. The inscription on the back of the photo reads: ‘St Chad’s Violin Class, winners of the 1st Prize, Bury Music Festival, 30th April 1909’. After checking the 1911 census and finding there were two daughters living at 29 Phoenix Street: Hannah aged 17 and her sister, Jessie, aged 13, Joan helpfully suggested that one of these girls may be pictured.

St Chad’s Violin Class, April 1909

While The Bury Times published the results of the various competitions held during the festival in 1909, unfortunately, individuals in these larger classes are not named. What we do learn, however, is how well St Chad’s Violin Class played their piece, ‘March from Eli’ by Costa:

“Accuracy good, a really capital tone, full and smooth; intonation also remarkably good;
bowing appeared good, plenty of bow being used; a capital sense of rhythm; the portion
in F major was played with nice singing tone, but the quavers were rather hurried;
a good attack, well in hand and well drilled – 72 marks”

The children’s violin classes were set for competitors under the age of 14; looking at the ages of the Riding girls in 1911 it would seem that Jessie would be about the right age to compete. Another reference to the Riding family can be found in Michael H. Helm’s book, The History of St Chad’s C. of E. School, Fishpool, Bury; commenting on the school’s success at the music festival, Helm reveals the St Chad’s violinists were nicknamed “Daddy Riding’s Violin Band because he gave them weekly tuition”. Checking back to the 1911 census we find that the ‘Daddy’ of the house is William Alfred Riding whose occupation is a ‘furniture salesman’ (could he be part-time violin teacher too?). If the research fits the picture there would have been a lot to celebrate in the evening of 30th April, 1909, at number 29 Phoenix Street. Much congratulations from father to daughter with a warning, perhaps for next time, not to hurry those quavers!


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VE Day 1945: a town’s celebration

Using three editions of The Bury Times newspaper published just after VE day in 1945 we discover how the town celebrated this momentous occasion in history. Be inspired by archives.

Out of the darkness…

…there was light. Both literal and metaphorical: people turned their faces from years and years of rooms without views to welcome in the day’s light. It was contagious, so much so that after the new spring light had dimmed towards the end of the day night lights were lit, some by the Channel Island Evacuees, to decorate window sills in rainbow coloured jars; little miracle pots of light which burned all night. For passers-by looking in, the display of warmth and glow would have been a stark contrast to the blacked-out windows which had punctuated their streets for so long:

There are spears of light in the grim darkness.
The night is ending, and dawn, sweet and serene
is breaking.

(Bury Times, Saturday May 12th, 1945, Pg 4)

What to do with all this dark material that had served our town so well? Members of the Women’s Voluntary Service, experienced in distributing clothes for those in need, now turned their thoughts to dressing servicemen stationed on the Norfolk coast. We can’t have our Lancashire Fusiliers dilly-dallying through the waves without a pair of decent-fitting trunks! Duly and dutifully they shaped those blackout-blinds into soldiers’ bathing costumes. Parcelled for the attention of Major R Trevor Roper, 6th Infantry Holding Battalion, Hunstanton, Norfolk.

VE Day Street Party, Infant St, Prestwich. From Dorothy Moran Collection, Bury Archives.

On Infant Street in Prestwich and Ivy Road in Elton, householders reached into their linen cupboard to air their best spot-clean tablecloths, spreading them over the trestles outside their front doors. The swathes of white reflecting the sun lit up the faces of children as they took in what was before them: Never before had they seen such food! A reporter shook his head and noted down, “some households will be on short rations for a few days”.

Image taken from Bury Times, Saturday 12th May, 1945.

More light

After the children had finished their taste of partying the night promised more. Parents were eager for their boys and girls to be lost in “the thrill of fireworks” where “the crack of rip-raps” and “exploding rockets” may have made some folk wonder upon the notion of peace. Bonfires were lit, some alight by the side of air-raid shelters where once they’d gathered, gas-masks in hand, to share a mix of hopes and fears.

For grown-ups, the public houses were granted an hour’s extension. The dance halls, including the Palais and Derby Hall, allowed music and dancing to carry on past midnight. Well into the night people “waltzed from war into peace”. In the Market Place a farandole was performed around the tram stop, while others chose the Peel Monument to be their dancing partner.

Image taken from Bury Times, Saturday May 12th, 1945


Sunday 12th May marked the official thanksgiving day for the whole nation. Every church in Bury and the surrounding townships welcomed in a congregation ready to share their gratitude. The two services at Bury’s parish church gave thanks firstly to the military, secondly to the townspeople with a special mention for workers and the part they played in wartime services.

Image taken from Bury Times, Wednesday May 16th, 1945

Above the singing congregation, the walls of the church reflected ‘battle honours’ from past wars; for most of them this would not have been the first time they were assembled together offering praise and thanks for a conflict’s end. The rector gave them hope:

It is for us to embody, to bring to its maturity,
and display in all its glory, the idea of unity in diversity;
to make it plain to the world that such a way of life
not only works, but works better than anything else;
to show that it is both possible and uplifting for people
to do different things, follow different traditions and hold
and propagate different views without impairing the underlying unity.

(Canon Hornby’s address to the congregation, Bury Times, Wednesday May 16th, 1945, pg 1)

Interior shot Bury Parish Church taken August 2014

Disgusted Ratepayer

A list of criticisms came from this quarter aimed at the Town Council. Why hadn’t they opened up the coffers and splashed out on something flash to decorate the town! The Derby Hall had nowt, one paltry Union Jack bedecked the electricity showrooms and a few ‘dirty flags’ hung miserably from the transport offices! Not good enough, an utter disgrace! What about all that bunting used for the Royal Visit? Why couldn’t Bury be like Whitefield? This neighbouring township was easily the best in show with masses of bunting, clean flags AND coloured lights!

The Town Council had their reasons and may have taken to heart Winston Churchill’s acknowledgement, in his VE day announcement, that there was still work to be done: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” Yes there were those throughout the town who still had loved ones in the Far East: “hundreds of families with men-folk fighting in the East will not really celebrate until those boys are home”.

The Italians love their children too

At Warth Mill Camp a hundred or so German prisoners would not believe their country had been beat; amidst the firing rockets and searchlights they kept close, “their faith in the fallen Wehrmacht”. Hang on a minute! Another reporter has more enlightened news: some of these same prisoners turned their floodlights towards the neighbouring Bolam Housing Estate, reflecting the help they’d given during the day to prepare victory parties.

Imprisoned in a mill at Burrs, Italian POWs sought comfort in the knowledge they would soon be home with their children. Memories spoke to them warmly from the cold brick walls.

Star Bleach Mill, Burrs, Italian POW artwork, image taken c.1979 from Graham Cooper Collection, Bury Archives

The other day’s news

There was a reward for the safe return of a grey and black tabby kitten, a family mourned its loss at 38 Union Street.

A nest of chicks toppled from a gas lamp on Ainsworth Road, despite Bury Corporation Gas Department’s best efforts the baby birds did not survive.

Ainsworth Bill argued with Ainsworth Joe over the next ‘V’ Day celebrations. There should be a special thanksgiving for the reinstatement of the Cockey Moor bus stop: says Bill, “wey’n bin feightin’ for’t bus stop o’ this while” – why should our little war finish because, “nowt’s bin said about it on’t wireless”.


Inspiration for this piece is taken from:

Reports in The Bury Times, Wednesday May 9th 1945, Saturday May 12th 1945 and Wednesday May 16th 1945.

Churchill, Winston (8th May, 1945) “End of the war in Europe” International Churchill Society, available at: accessed May 7th 2020


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The Spirit of a Town: Graham Cooper & Douglas Sargent Photographic Archive

Back in 2016, Graham Cooper donated a slide collection which consists of over 300 images taken during the late 1970s and early 1980s of Bury, as Graham describes, ‘at the threshold of change’.

Editing the slides during lockdown 2020

In his publication, Sense of Place: Outside Art in Bury, Graham refers to this collection of Kodachrome slides as, ‘examples of individual creativity as expressed in the decoration of homes, ornately adorned public houses and various other forms of novel measures which were also aesthetically appealing’. Graham and his photographer friend, Douglas Sargent, undertook a journey which sought out these forms of local outdoor art; forty years on from the images being created we get to see which features were identified in creating the ‘spirited nature of a town’.

Graham Cooper’s publication, ‘Sense of Place’

For all of you who were living in Bury during the 1970s and 1980s, these images will have a powerful effect on the memory! You will really start to feel that sense of place. Ask me how I know? I witnessed two very strong reactions: one from former Archivist, Helen Lindsay, who was thrown (with a jolt!) straight back to her childhood and her memories of Birtle Church; the other reaction was from Stephen Perry (who helped scan the images) – he chased himself back to his schoolboy-days when he and his friends gathered, causing mischief? (no we don’t believe that!), on street corners. Let’s see the images and read what they have to say:

Mural of Christ and the Fisherman, Birtle Church Hall. c.1979.

Helen and her memories of Birtle Church Hall:

This magnificent mural adorned the wall of Birtle Church Hall, on Castle Hill Road. The Hall played host to hundreds of events and groups such as Brownies, Guides, Recorder Group, Playschool, Harvesters, Sunday School and Keep Fit, not to mention the countless jumble sales, coffee mornings and seasonal fairs held throughout the year.

Sadly the Hall was demolished to make way for housing but thankfully Graham recorded the interior for posterity as part of his brilliant photographic archive.

When I first saw this image it stopped me in my tracks and instantly I was transported back to the 1970s and, dressed in my Brownie uniform, gathered with my contemporaries singing around a toadstool, (not a real one) or playing a vigorous game of British Bulldog. I think I was an Elf (the yellow ones) and only ever attained one badge, Safety in the Home. To this day I always ensure that saucepan handles are turned inwards. A useful skill to have!

Stephen and his memories of Bell Lane:

Bell Lane/St Paul’s St, c.1979. ‘Distinctive window configuration’.

Having recently moved back to Bury after decades away, I was delighted to be transported back to the Bell Lane of my childhood, prior to the demolition! This image of the area on St Paul’s Street reacquainted me with Mr and Mrs Albert Berry from No. 2A. I recall them having an immaculate house full of antiques, and a beautifully manicured garden which was situated at the double-fronted rear of the property.

Another fond memory: The Grapes pub on Bell Lane/St Paul’s Street. The street lamp on the corner was a place where children congregated and could be quite noisy! Aunt Mary’s (Mary Warburton) hardware shop was next door to The Grapes (this property had moved from near Berry’s Yard when those properties were demolished). All now a distant memory for me so it’s great to be transported back in time.

The Grapes public house on Bell Lane/St Paul’s Street. c.1979. ‘Ornately adorned public house’.

This article isn’t intended to be a full-on exploration of why the images were taken; Graham’s retrospective vision of the reasons behind the shots can be gleaned from his Sense of Place publication. However, an awareness of their conception should be borne in mind when viewing them as a complete archive; it can then be appreciated how challenging this venture must have been. Armed with a camera and a quest to search the neighbourhoods for all types of both recognised and informal art must have presented a dilemma: what to include and what not? Browsing the images will enable you to become the photographer’s eye – you will then see: ceremonial architecture; commercial advertising; Bay City Rollers graffiti; garden ornaments; prisoners’ of war reminiscences; spitfires on brick; a Van Gogh bus shelter … and so much more. It seems that Graham and Douglas, quite literally, left no stone unturned!

No stone left unturned: Steam Tank Engines Graffiti by railway workers created c.1900

From Helen and Stephens’ memories coupled with the rationale behind the images we discover the visual language which is intrinsic in every photograph we create. Images from the past, especially, offer multiple ways of connecting with us; they evoke memory, spark conversation and fire our imagination. These three aspects knit our community together (so important in these uncertain times) and allow us to celebrate our heritage – a shared ‘sense of place’. Archives of photographs are unique and special and need to be preserved, as Graham very eloquently states in his publication:

Although it is important, where possible, to understand the context by visiting such community assets in situ, please note many of the examples illustrated…may no longer exist and are lost without trace. They now exist in the collective memory and photographs available to the public in the Archive.

Working from home has allowed me time to prepare these images, along with their accompanying data in a format ready to be uploaded to our new website. We will keep you posted with our progress and certainly let you know when the images have been added.

Graham Cooper was born in Bury in 1949. He left his home town in 1975 to study mural applications at the Royal College of Art in South Kensington. He was based in London until c.1998 and then moved to Sidmouth, Devon, where he currently lives with his family. Check out his website for further information on projects he’s been involved in.

Grateful thanks to Stephen Perry and Daniel Cooke who did a fantastic job of scanning the slides.


Cooper, Graham, Sense of Place: Outside Art in Bury (Harmonie Press, 2016)

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Photo Donation of the Month: Birth and Death of a Mill Chimney

A couple of months’ ago we were asked to carry out some research into the history of Bury Boot & Shoe (formerly Woodhill Mills) off Brandlesholme Rd. The request came from an interior designer who was carrying out renovation work on the mill building (now Wharfside Apartments). It’s always a complex business delving into a building’s past and Woodhill Mill was no exception, especially as the place existed well before building plans had to be submitted to the local authority for approval around 1860.

A lot of groundwork had been covered in an archaeological survey carried out by Matrix Archaeology in 2005. We have a copy of the resulting publication and it makes fascinating reading – it’s available to view here in the search room, should anyone wish to do so.

Mill chimney at the side of Bury Boot & Shoe Co. 1982

During our research we managed to locate the original building plan for a new mill chimney dated June 1903 – it was to be a towering structure that once built reached 60 yards into the sky! There is an interesting piece of oral history quoted in the archaeological survey from a John Yates whose mother witnessed the chimney being built from her home at nearby Woodhill Cottage. John recalls how the hole being dug for the foundations of the chimney was so huge that his mother was afraid their cottage would collapse! He also remembered seeing a photograph of the chimney being felled, “but where the picture is now I have no idea”.

Plan of new mill chimney for Woodhill Mill, 1903

Not long after we’d carried out the research, and exhausted the resources we hold here, we were visited by an ex-employee of Bury Boot and Shoe who kindly donated a block plan of the mill building and some photographs of the chimney demolition carried out in 1982. Perhaps these were the same images seen by John!*

North West Steeplejacks; felling of mill chimney, 1982.

The photographs have now joined the building plan and have helped to create another story from the archives! We have a beginning: a design for a new chimney which once building work commenced put fear into a local woman as she saw the ground opening up close to her cottage; we then have an ending – when the North West Steeplejacks arrived to knock it down. What happened in between? It would have been a dominating presence in the lives of the folk who lived nearby and we’re sure they all have their own stories to tell.

* We’ve since been advised that the photograph John Yates was relating to was one of the demolition of the original mill chimney demolished when the featured chimney was erected in 1903. For more information see comments below.


Matrix Archaeology, Bury Boot & Shoe Co, Woodhill Mill, Brandlesholme Road, Bury: Archaeological recording, (2005)


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Stand United Reformed Church: An Expanding Archive

As each year passes we welcome in more and more church records; some wait to be catalogued into new and exciting collections where others join existing ones – helping to create a comprehensive archival record of a church’s history.

The old Stand Chapel built 1792 and demolished to make way for the new church in 1885.

Stand Lane Independent Church is an example of an archive which keeps on growing! And with the church closing its doors to regular worship, we have opened ours to include another set of carefully preserved documents and photographs to add to our collection.

Part of the new donation of records.

The history of Stand Lane Independent Church at Chapelfield is well documented; not only as an archive in our holdings but in the many local history publications that sit on our shelves. Reading about the church is one thing, seeing its historical documents another but to hear stories told by one of the congregation added another dimension to this extraordinary archive!

Church Secretary, Renata Cappelli.

We were entertained this way when we visited the church at the end of last year. While handing over the extensive set of building plans, church publications and photographs, Church Secretary, Renata, regaled memories of the congregation at Chapelfield; taking us back in time and introducing us to ministers from long ago.

Rev Richard Slate
A newspaper article printed after his death describes Rev Slate as a “tiny, careful, smoothly-earnest man, consistent and faithful as a minister made more for quiet sincere work than dashing labour or dazzling performance”. After listening to Renata, we know better! This diminutive gentleman, along with fellow Reverend from Farnworth Church and armed only with their sermons, marched into Pendlebury to convert the ‘heathens’! Did they succeed? Not exactly … the people from Pendlebury were having none of it and chased the pastors away, pelting them with stones for good measure!

Rev Richard Slate, minister from 1809 to 1826.

Rev Alexander Anderson
In the church’s souvenir booklet of the Grand Bazaar 1897, a character sketch of Rev Anderson draws on his benevolent nature – his ministry is regarded as one of “a lifetime of singularly beautiful and devoted service”. Renata confirms this with tales of his kindness and consideration for the poor and destitute during the cotton famine of the 1860s: so moved was he that he sold his own furniture, books and clothes to provide food for the victims.

Rev Alexander Anderson, minister from 1852 to 1894. This enlarged portrait was on display in the Sunday School ‘so that his face may become familiar to the younger generation’.

It was a real pleasure to meet Renata and her tour of this beautiful building gave further insight into the church’s history. We were shown the breath-taking memorial window of Rev Anderson.

Memorial window of Rev Alexander Anderson.

And also of prominent member of the congregation, Walker Allen.

Section of memorial window for Walker Allen.

Below are some other images taken during our visit:

Amongst the records we collected from Renata are an extensive set of architectural plans, drawings and sketches. They’re perhaps the largest and most complete set of plans we’ve ever seen, the most surprising being a blueprint for the memorial trowel (presumably used for the laying of the foundation stone).

Drawing of the memorial trowel, 1884.

The records have now been repackaged, listed and accessioned and are ready for integration with the existing collection. Check out the entry on our catalogue using Catalogue Ref No. CSI for more details.


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Photo Donation of the month: A Winter’s Tale

In January 1963, the local press was full of reports of the ‘arctic spell’, where on Boxing Day 1962, snow descended upon Bury and its surrounding towns. There were messages from the police who patrolled danger spots such as rivers, lodges and reservoirs to warn children of the dangers of thin ice; local shops advertised notices of soaring prices ‘due to the severe weather’; sports pages – once full of victories and defeats – listed postponed matches, leaving players wondering when they would be able to play off their back log of fixtures.

Taken from the Bury Times, January 1963.

Was there anyone out there, apart from sledging children, taking delight in the frost, snow and ice? Of course, there must have been many who saw the beauty and drama of a town’s transformation and we have the evidence of at least one: Gertrude Jolley from Prestwich! She composed this enchanting scene from Narnia, subsequently donating it (amongst other striking images) to Prestwich Library for their local history collection. We now hold the collection of photographs taken by Gertrude in the late 1950s and 1960s of a rural Simister before completion of the M62.

Description on the reverse: Reservoir near Baguley Brow Farm, Bowlee. Early in 1963, after long frost, the water leaked from the reservoir and the ice cracked and slipped.

This particular photograph is of the reservoir near Baguley Brow Farm, Bowlee. We can’t be sure if the figure in the scene is a companion of Gertrude’s but the dark-clothed ‘stranger’ certainly adds a touch of mystery and melodrama to the composition. There is a gesture, a slight incline to the right that suggests he may turn round and beckon us; do we ignore those warnings from the police and follow him towards the cracked ice? What did Gertrude do?

Check out description of the other photographs in the series on our catalogue.


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Unveiling the Radcliffe War Memorial

Most of us will pass a war memorial every day, as we drive or walk to work; as we take a leisurely stroll on a sunny Sunday morning – they are part of our community and our heritage; they are a focus for personal remembrance and a public record of gratitude for sacrifices made by our ancestors not that long ago.

They come in all forms from small brass plaques to a set of memorial gates in a churchyard; obelisks and columns, crosses and sculptures. When spending time in their presence, particularly around moments of public remembrance, they can help take us back into the past – maybe even feel some of the grief our forebears shared with each other as they stood in silence to remember those they’d lost.

Every November we might gather around these memorials, lay our poppies and wreaths in an act of remembrance. Yet how do we remember something that we have never had direct experience of? How do we imagine what a gathering of people might look like in fresh grief? Did they have poppies, did they pray or sing, just who was there at the very first unveiling?

This is where Archives come in; dipping into a box holding carefully preserved records – be they photographs, ledgers or reels – can evoke a time and place; breathe life into our imagination as it takes us back into the past. This time our journey will take us to the unveiling of the Radcliffe War Memorial on Saturday 25th November 1922.

Taken from The Radcliffe Guardian

Who to unveil?
There was a rumour that Lord Derby had promised to perform this duty. It was he who carried out the ceremonious task for the cenotaph in Whitefield; it was done with such feeling that the people of Radcliffe were disappointed that Lord Derby’s duties in the recent general election prevented him from being in Radcliffe on the 25th. What about someone from the District Council? Someone who had served in many spheres of public work and was well-respected in the town? Look no further than Dr George Scarr. His devotion to the education, health and well-being of the community was well documented in the Radcliffe newspapers. Everyone decided that Dr Scarr was a worthy replacement for Lord Derby!

Dr George Scarr. Photograph taken when he was Chairman of the Governors of Stand Grammar School. c.1928

Who will attend?
This is the community’s memorial, paid for in part by public subscription; a sizeable space must be allocated for the next of kin of those who died. An enclosure will be constructed on the Heber Street side of the memorial for relatives of the deceased soldiers and sailors. In they will flock bearing their invitations – a mourning army of mothers and sons, fathers and daughters. They will welcome the procession of ex service men accompanied by the Radcliffe Brass Band who will have walked from Radcliffe Bridge Recreation Ground. Those who have fought and survived the war and cannot take part in the procession will have their own space on Spring Lane. The seven steps that lead us to the memorial will provide an elevated platform for the clergy; members of the District Council; high-ranking military representatives and, of course, our very own Dr Scarr.

How did it go?
The morning hung heavy with fog. What if it was the same damp and misty conditions that took over proceedings when opening the Ambulance Drill Hall? Fears were unfounded and by afternoon the fog had lifted – a clear view of a crowd of thousands could be seen by the photographer whose job it was to preserve these memories. The Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony was set for 3pm but spectators had assembled long before then. The fine weather had made it possible for children to sit, huddled together in a neat, warm row upon backyard walls. Through the open upstairs windows of houses and upon the rooftops of nearby shops people gathered for a better view; waiting patiently for Dr Scarr to pull the chord which brought away the Union Jack. The crowds were silent as the falling flag revealed the bronze symbols of Victory, Liberty and Peace while Dr Scarr read out his dedication:

I unveil this Memorial in proud and grateful memory of those from this town who fell in the Great War … this memorial to the gallant lads of Radcliffe …

These words formed only a small part of what turned out to be a truly memorable speech reproduced for all to see in next Saturday’s newspaper. On finishing the Lord’s Prayer, official wreaths were laid at the base. The ‘Last Post’ was sounded by the 5th Battalion of Lancashire Fusiliers before a vote of thanks was given to Dr Scarr. Thousands of voices then joined in to sing ‘Abide with me’.

And what can we say about the flowers?
Bearers of floral tributes had been arriving since the foggy early morning. More and more arrived throughout the day, so many that they had to be laid in the Congregational school hall until the crowds had subsided. Someone tried to count the wreaths, bouquets and garlands as they were handed over but admitted to being “completely overwhelmed”. It was said that they came from every “mill, work-shop, church, school, club and public-house in the town”. The sight of all these flowers may have prompted others to contribute the next day; on Sunday thousands of people visited the cenotaph where children could be seen carefully placing bright posies on the steps. Someone saw a woman carrying a ring of red and white chrysanthemums and heard her say, “Aw’ve paid some brass for this, more thon aw con really afford, but aw couldn’t let other folks be showin’ what they thowt abeawt thur lads and me not do anythin’ for eaur Jim”.

So now you know, with the help of archives held here at Bury, just how people gathered on a weekend nearly a century ago to remember their dead. The 612 gallant lads of Radcliffe, in the immortal words of Dr Scarr, “who suffered and died in the Great War” have a memorial “worthy of their sacrifice and of the ancient town which the majority of them claimed as their birthplace”.


Inspiration for this piece is taken from:

a miscellaneous private collection of Radcliffe publications and photographs donated earlier this year catalogue number RMX/9.

Reports in the Radcliffe Guardian, November 25th, 1922 and December 2nd, 1922.

A portrait of Dr Scarr taken from Stand Grammar School Collection; Catalogue Ref SSG/12/2/6


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Photo Donation of the Month: Leslie Priestley’s view of Bury

Just look at how much fun you can have in your workplace before the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force in 1974!

This fabulous photo donation came into us recently and we felt we just had to share it! Who is this fearless duo, where are they and what were they doing so high up above the town of Bury?

Leslie Priestley (L) Tommy Cannon (R) on top of Williams Deacon’s Bank, 1936

Well, the year is 1936 and Leslie Priestley (left) and Tommy Cannon (right) were just doing their job – painting the flagpole on the roof of Williams Deacon’s Bank on Fleet Street (The Rock). What a perfect opportunity to stand on the parapet and strike a perilous pose for the camera. While Leslie was up there he took advantage of his lofty position and captured the following image of The Rock (using his first ever box camera) which he subsequently developed and printed at home.

The Rock taken from Williams Deacon’s Bank, 1936

At the time these pictures were taken both men were working for William J Bolton, Decorators & Signwriters, situated just a short distance away on Union Square. Leslie told his family that painting flagpoles was one of the worst jobs – with a ladder precariously tied to the pole!

William Bolton’s Shop, Union Square, Bury, 1931

Just four years after these photographs were taken, Lesley Priestley left Billy Bolton’s for military service and joined the Royal Artillery. His civil trade was not wasted during this time as he painted lettering on vehicles and produced signs for the army.

After the war Leslie returned to his painting and decorating working now for Fred Grandidge & Sons of Paradise Street, Bury. Not long after, he supplemented the day job by teaching his craft to apprentices three evenings per week at the Municipal School of Art in Bolton.

Leslie Priestley turned out to be a dedicated full-time teacher producing hundreds of examples of graining, marbling, signwriting, heraldry and gilding to be used as teaching aids for his students. We were so pleased to learn that these specimens have been donated to Bolton Museum where they can be preserved for future generations to admire.

You can just tell from Leslie’s proud stance on top of Williams Deacon’s Bank that he was destined for greater things and it was fascinating to read the family’s account of some of his achievements! Like the full-colour and gold-leaf restoration of Bolton’s Coat of Arms at the town hall in 1973; the restoration of the Royal Coat of Arms at Deane Church, Bolton (1976) and his production of a Bolton Coat of Arms presented to Bolton’s twin-town, Le Mans, in July 1973.

Grateful thanks go to Leslie’s daughter, Irene, for donating the photographs and providing us with so much rich history surrounding the life and work of a painter from Bury.


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