Let me introduce you to my hometown – Blackley. It’s a small area of Manchester around 3 miles north from the city centre. There are about 11,000 people living in Blackley and there are two main roads running through it; Victoria Avenue, running roughly east-west from Heaton Park, and Rochdale Road which runs roughly north from the city centre towards Rochdale. I was born here and I grew up here, attending 2 primary schools and a secondary school in the area, and now as a married woman with children of my own I live here still.
Blackley is a lovely little hamlet that still has very rural atmosphere despite it being part of Greater Manchester. We have all the usual sort of amenities – schools, churches, library, a golf club, police and fire station, doctors surgeries, parks etc but unusually for a suburban area it has its own cricket team and a brass band (Blackley Band…visit their website here). I was a member of Blackley Band from being a beginner at the age of 7 until after I got married. I am still in contact with them regularly and my daughter plays cornet with them. They had their bandroom on Crab Lane (near to my first primary school) but due to vandalism and general thuggery they were forced to move out about 5 years ago and now have their base in the Community Centre on Victoria Avenue.
I first went to Crab Lane Primary but was taken out of there just before I was 5 to go to Bowker Vale because of difficulties with my class teacher at the time. I went to Plant Hill High School when I was 11 and pretty much enjoyed my time there right through. I had some fantastic teachers – not necessarily good at what they taught but good at teaching me to THINK. My school had a long-running feud with the catholic school up the road, Our Lady’s High School, and it wasn’t unknown for gangs to organise fights at lunchtime and after school several times a week. It got so bad that the schools got together to change the start and end time of the school day so that we wouldn’t meet in the streets. Terrible when you think about it now!
I have loved living in Blackley all my life. It’s so green! Everywhere you look there are trees and grass verges, open spaces, parks and flowers. It is beautiful all year round and I love it here. The people are friendly too and even now, 40 years on, it only takes a few minutes of walking up the main road to spot someone familiar from my childhood. I spent a lot of my time playing out – on my bike, playing football, climbing trees, exploring Heaton Park, playing hide and seek or ralivo, exploring the disused mill site (now a Sainsbury’s) and finding ways to cross the River Irk without getting wet…not always successfully. I had many happy scrapes in and around Blackley and have got oodles of scars and odd bumps from playing where I shouldn’t have been (like the sewage pipes over the river, frozen ponds and building sites when the workmen weren’t watching…)
Let me tell you a little bit about the history of Blackley itself. The name “Blackley” comes from the Anglo-Saxon for “clearing in a wood” and as I described above, it is still very much a rural hamlet. Hints at its rural and farming past are found in some street names; we have French Barn Lane, Plant Hill Road, Cooper Lane, Acre Top Road, Hill Lane amongst others. In the 12th century the area was a deer park and was used by nobility for hunting. Later the land was parcelled off and was then owned by a string of aristocratic and noble families, including the Byron family of whom Lord Byron the poet is probably the most famous.
Amongst the families who have owned Blackley between them were the Egertons and the Booths. The Booth family built a hall on what is now Charlestown Road and their land became what is now known as Boggart Hole Clough – a parkland area that borders Blackley, Moston and Harpurhey. There is a story about why it is called by that name, and I will be writing about that in another post. The hall was pulled down at the end of the 19th century after a period of disuse, and the land came to be used as an infirmary and later again as a leading children’s hospital. Unfortunately, due to changes and cuts in the NHS Booth Hall Hospital was fighting for its own survival since the 1990s and it closed a couple of years ago. For more on its history click here. Blackley Band visited Booth Hall Hospital every Christmas Day morning (10am sharp!) to play carols for the children and staff on the wards and in A&E. I loved this part of playing with the band and played with them every Christmas even when I was no longer a member. One particular Christmas morning we met up with Take That who were broadcasting live from the hospital. Away from the cameras we went with them round a couple of wards and one of my outstanding memories is accompanying them whilst they sang Away In A Manger.
The Egerton family owned the land that is now Heaton Park (again, I will be writing about this later on) and the Earls of Wilton lived in Heaton Hall. If you can’t wait for my article, click here for more information.
Blackley is blessed with a huge number of pubs, many of which I have visited whilst carolling with the band and for my own pleasure. There are several that have “lion” in their title – The White Lion, The Lion and Lamb, Ye Golden Lion, The Red Lion, The New White Lion – and legend has it that there are so many with this in their title in such a small area because it was where the last lion in England was killed. I prefer my own notion that it is because the Egerton family had lions as part of their crest and public houses were named in their honour. This is a picture of Ye Golden Lion in Blackley village to show you its name, its sign and the road that it is on the corner of…Lion Street.
The smallest pub is The Millstone and the largest was the Clough Hotel (until it burned down a couple of years ago).
There are more pubs than churches in Blackley (which is probably typical of England as a whole!) but I will mention some of the main churches in the area. I am a member of St Paul’s, but I was married at St Andrew’s (I lived in that parish at the time) and I was confirmed at St Peter’s. There has been a church or chapel on the site of St Peter’s since the 1100’s in one form or another. The current building was built in the mid 1800’s and is a glorious example of architecture and history. There is a big catholic church at Plant Hill called St Clare’s and I’ve attended a couple of weddings and a funeral there. I told you we were a close community! There are quite a few smaller chapels dotted around the area too so as you see we can cater for any “flavour” of Christianity you care for.
We may be a small place, but we can boast a couple of famous people who hail from round here. Bernard Hill the actor was born in Blackley, Mike Harding the comedian/singer/presenter was born and brought up locally too. Most people will have heard of Bernard Manning and his “world famous” Embassy Club; he was born on the other side of the Clough and lived with his mum on Lewis Avenue for most of his life. Roger Byrne, captain of Manchester United who died in the Munich air disaster in 1958, had his funeral and was cremated in Blackley. Further back in history (1555 to be precise) John Bradford, a son of Blackley, was executed and made a martyr for his Protestant religious beliefs.
It is also said that the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin passed through the area and there are two pieces of “evidence” to support the claim; first of all there is a plaque on the side of the White Lion pub attesting that he slept there and secondly the Flying Horse pub on Crab Lane is said to be named in his “honour”. Personally I would seriously doubt it because the pub really is not that old, only a hundred years or so and Dick Turpin hails from 200 years before then and the road where the pub is forms part of the main coaching route that was used between Manchester and Rochdale before the wider Rochdale Road was built much later. Most coaching inns were called something relevant at the time, and it wouldn’t have been unusual for that particular pub to have seen horses “fly” past it all day. It makes a good story though doesn’t it!
A good story that I know to be true is that the dye works in Blackley village (which became the UK headquarters for ICI) caused the sheets at the local hospital to become coloured blue when the wind was in a certain direction….in the days well before health and safety!! (The local hospital was Crumpsall Hospital which was originally the local workhouse. I will be writing about that another time).
There’s more I could tell you about Blackley but I’m going to save it for later articles. I hope you have enjoyed my little introduction to my home town and my pictures to illustrate certain parts of it. Why not tell me about your own hometown? Link back to me when you have done your post. I’d love to hear from you.
- Farewell to newspaper vendor Lilly, a lady with a real story to tell (menmedia.co.uk)