Blogging, British Customs

Greater Manchester Police Museum


I have been promising myself a visit to the Greater Manchester Police Museum for some time now, and today I finally made it. It was a fascinating trip and well worth a go if you are into your history, or police history, or are just plain nosey about how our Mancunian ancestors broke the law back in their day.

It is a museum set up in the building of a Victorian police station on Faraday Street/Newton Street in Manchester, and has been a museum since 1981.

I went with my friend Phil, and we spent a good two hours there poking around in the exhibits, the mocked-up offices and police rooms and the original cells at Faraday Street in Manchester. My particular interest was policing in the 1940s (research for a story I’m writing) but the whole lot was a fascinating journey into the past.

There were lots of volunteers on hand to talk to, and I had a great chat with a man called Ron Flowers who was dressed in vintage police uniform. We talked about my Grandad who served the Manchester City Police and we discovered that Ron could have possibly crossed over with him, starting his service just around the time my Grandad was coming up to retirement at the same station. Coincidence!

I took copious notes about what I needed for my story, and I learned a lot more besides. Such as, did you know that handwritten reports were copied in a “copy press” from the start of the police service right through to the 1960s? I had never really paid attention to what a copy press was, but today I learned that they were commonly used to copy documents long before photocopying or duplicators with their smelly purple ink were invented.

I also learned about the changes in the police uniform and equipment over the years, from why they original Bow Street Runners were given tunics that looked like frock coats to why they wore a leather stock underneath their collars. And did you know that the top hats they used to wear were reinforced with bamboo so that if they needed a leg-up over a wall for example they would put their hat on the floor and use it as a footstool. The original Bow Street Runners would carry a hollow cylinder with a screw-top as a baton (or “staff” as they are known in the GM Police) and they would roll up the warrants for the people they were sent out to arrest and carry them inside. As the years progressed, the staffs were more and more used for defence and became solid. And did you know that originally, the only way a police man could shout for help was by deploying a rattle? Very loud and distinct in sound, it was some time before it was replaced by a whistle, which could be heard up to about a mile and a half away.


I also got an insight into the types of crimes that were being committed through the years – and the weapons used in them (shudder). It has given me a couple of ideas for my story, and until I’ve written it I would rather not share them here, but let’s just say that there were plenty of reasons to kill back in the 1940s that I would never have thought of if I hadn’t visited the museum today.

At the back of the museum are the yard where criminals were brought in, and the original cells from when the building was a working police station. The charge office was set up to receive people to be charged and the cells were in a chilly corridor leading off it.

A cell at the Police Museum. Note that there are two wooden beds? These cells would often hold up to 12 men at a time!
A cell at the Police Museum. Note that there are two wooden beds? These cells would often hold up to 12 men at a time!

Upstairs is a room that was used a magistrate’s court, which was something else I learned today. I hadn’t realised that in the early days of policing, minor crimes were judged by magistrates in a court room on site rather than transporting criminals to a courthouse elsewhere. The furniture in the museum came from a police station in Denton that was demolished in the early 2000s, and has been restored beautifully as can be seen in my photograph of Phil in the dock. (He can’t have committed too serious a crime, not with that big grin on show!)


Back downstairs and on the way out we stopped in the small gift shop, where I learned I could ask for any information held in the archives on my Grandad’s service record. I filled in the forms and will hopefully hear in a week or so if there is any information they can share with me.

A very interesting and fruitful visit, and well worth going again. It is open for visitors in a Tuesday from 10.30 – 3.30pm (free entry), and is available for group visits on the other days if you book in advance. It is a popular destination for school visits, although they probably wouldn’t see any of the more gruesome exhibits on show such as the cricket bat studded with six-inch nails used in a gang fight in the 1980s. Painful!

If you can’t get to visit the museum yourself in person, please do go and have a look at their website where you will find more information about both the museum and the history of policing in Manchester. 



British Customs, Music

The Journal of Phileas Fogg

My son will be taking part in his first ever brass band competition tomorrow, which is the North West Area Championships held in the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

It is an annual contest and other parts of the country will be playing their own “area” contest over the coming weeks. The section winners and runners up will go forward to compete against each other at the National Finals which are usually held at the end of September.

Each band competes with others of a similar standard, in sections which are ranked in a similar way to the football league. There are the Championship Section bands who are the equivalent of the Premiership – although without the wages for the players! – and then a First Section, Second Section, Third Section and Fourth Section. There is also a separate Youth Section for most areas.

Each section is told which test piece to play, which makes it fair across the country. So all Third Section bands will be playing the same piece and will be judged on it to try to make a level playing field so to speak.

My son is playing with Less Band who are a “new” band, having only been formed in recent years. They have not contest much at all and tomorrow sees them competing for the first time in over a year. They are ranked amongst the Fourth Section bands due to their inexperience and their lack of contesting, but they are a gutsy bunch and I had the privilege of taking them for a rehearsal on their test piece earlier this week. The piece they have been given to play is called “The Journal of Phileas Fogg” composed by Peter Graham.

Peter Graham is a fantastic composer of brass and wind music and he is a professor at Salford University in the music faculty. He has composed and arranged hundreds of pieces for bands at all levels of competency, and the all stand out as being musically demanding as well as technically demanding. The piece the Fourth Section are going to be playing tomorrow is no exception. It is a lovely piece which tells the story of Phileas Fogg’s travels around the world as per the Jules Verne book “Around the World in 80 Days” published in 1873. There are 10 little sections depicting life around the world – the hurry to the station, a chase by Cossacks, the Can-Can in Paris, a Spanish bullfight etc – and each one has its own pitfalls for the bands on stage.

Here is a video of Black Dyke Band playing some excerpts from it. You will probably (and correctly) surmise that this is no Fourth Section band. Black Dyke are the equivalent of Everton or Manchester City when it comes to banding, in other words, they are one of the elite bands. They are a Yorkshire band too so will be competing next week at their own area contest on a more difficult and demanding piece called Cambridge Variations.

But for now, sit back and enjoy around 4 minutes of the music that my son will be playing tomorrow on his contesting debut.

Good luck to all the bands who will be competing in Blackpool tomorrow, and especially good luck to the Lees Band and their conductor Matt Corrigan.


British Customs, History

The Immortal Memory

lord nelsonToday, 21st October 2015, marks the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar which was the most decisive battle in British Naval history. Sadly, it also marks the 210th anniversary of the death of our greatest Admiral, Lord Nelson.

The battle itself was part of the Napoleonic wars, which raged in the early part of the 19th Century, from 1803 – 1815. The British fleet was outnumbered by the combined forces of the Spanish and the French navies, who had 33 ships to the British 27. By the end of the battle, which lasted a matter of hours, not a single British ship had been lost, whilst the French and Spanish had lost 22 of theirs.

Sadly, the British did not get away without any losses, and alongside the loss of Nelson, many sailors were either killed outright during the battle or died shortly afterwards from wounds received.

It proved to be a turning point in the war, and it also proved that the British were supreme when it came to naval warfare and defence. People still sing about Britain ruling the waves in the song “Rule Britannia”, and it still stirs the hearts of patriots up and down our fair isle.

You may know that my family has a strong naval and boat-making history. My great-grandfather, Percy Swain, is descended from a long line of boat builders, and I have traced my family tree back to the 1600’s which shows boat making and sailing has been thriving in the family since then. There are a couple of men called Swain on the ships at Trafalgar, but it’s unclear whether those are family names, or the name of the position they held, for instance “boatswain”. It would be nice to think that they were part of my family, but I doubt we would ever find that out for certain now. It would be extra special if they were part of my family, especially as my daughter has served with the Royal Naval University cadets for three years and wants to enlist in the regular Royal Navy if she passes the interview with the Admiralty Board at their next sitting.

royal navy logoIn honour of all things naval, and because it is Wednesday, and because it was blowing a bit of a stormy gale out there tonight, we toasted Lord Nelson tonight with a tot of rum each.

So, if you would like to join us, raise a glass (but stay seated) yourself and say with us:

“To the immortal memory”, and “To ourselves”.


(In case you are wondering why the Royal Navy stay seated, it’s because of the danger that could be encountered on the high seas by either tall waves or low ceilings!)



British Customs

Rushcart Festival

I had a lovely time yesterday playing with the Littleborough Band at the annual Rushcart Festival. Yes, that’s right, I had a lovely time PLAYING. I thoroughly enjoyed putting my musical head on for an hour or so and exercising my cornet blowing muscles for a change. The music was great fun to play and I enjoyed sitting second man down to an old friend of mine called Steve who I haven’t seen for quite some time. In fact the last time I saw him was a couple of years before I got ill so as well as playing alongside him, it was nice to catch up with him in between pieces too.

But what about the Rushcart bit, I hear you ask.

Well, seeing as though you did ask me, let me tell you what the Rushcart festival is all about.

Traditionally, church floors were covered with rushes to help keep the dust down and to provide some sort of warmth in the winter and they were replaced every twelve months. Most churches would make the annual clear out and re-rushing into some sort of a festival and all the local people would get involved in some way or another. In northern England, particularly Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, this coincided with the annual Wakes Week which was when the local mill would close down for a week to enable essential repairs and cleaning etc, and the workforce could enjoy a week of leisure time. As they had no work to do for the mill owner, they were available to help out at the church.

The process of recovering the floors was broken down into stages, beginning with the gathering of rushes from the river banks and ponds. The cut rushes were then loaded onto a cart. It was a skilled job to properly load a cart so that the rushes didn’t fall all over the place and it became a very competitive business between neighbouring towns and villages to see who could build theirs the biggest and the highest, or the most elaborate and highly decorated.

The loaded cart was then paraded to the church and lots of activities sprang up around the parade which turned the rushbearing into a festival over the years. As with most traditions, it died out with the advent of modern flooring for one thing and for the changes in mechanisation in the mills meaning that Wakes Weeks also died out. But luckily, there are pockets of people who work hard to keep the tradition alive and one of those groups keep the rushcart festival going in Littleborough on the outskirts of Rochdale.

It is a two-day festival held over the weekend and the band were invited to play on the bandstand in Hare Hill Park to welcome the rushcart as it arrived from the town centre, having been pulled by the local rugby team. There were lots of other things going on yesterday: a Viking re-enactment group, lots of food stalls, local produce, several rings of Morris men dancing as well stalls for children, face-painting and so on. The weather was kind too as the sun shone all day. Ideal festival weather.

Here are some photos of the rushcart and the Vikings in action.

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Blogging, British Customs

HMS Biter

I spent the evening tonight taking part in a ceremony to rededicate HMS Biter at the Imperial War Museum North at Salford Quays.

The ship has been out of action for about a year now for a refit and it is making a very welcome return to the water tonight. The ceremony itself was held outdoors, on the quayside in the docks, and I have to tell you that even now, a mere three hours later, I am still frozen to the core. We were treated to that typically Mancunian rain – you know the one, where it feels “a bit damp” but before you know it you’re soaked to the skin – and even sat under covered stands didn’t help as the wet air just circulated round us as we sat.

It was exciting to see so many Naval dignitaries there – we were treated to the sight of the Vice Admiral of the Fleet battling with his sword on the stairs of the stand – and it was lovely to hear a young Air Training Corps band playing for the crowd’s entertainment and for the hymns during the ceremony.

In these days of all things “cutting edge” it was lovely to take part in something tonight that has its roots way back in history. It was also very pleasing that the ceremony has its eyes very much on asking for God’s protection for those who will serve on the ship, and those who are back at home looking after those who serve on her. We sang the Naval hymn – Eternal Father Strong To save – and we recited the Naval prayer at the end of the ceremony.

I think for me the most striking thing about tonight was that there were so many young people there, both on parade as the ships company and in the band providing the music. The vast majority of people there representing the Navy tonight were of student age or younger, which is remarkable. 

After the ceremony we were treated to a drinks reception inside the museum. I have never been inside it before, but I will certainly be making a return visit sometime soon. There are exhibits from all over the world, and from all walks of “war”, including some debris from the Twin Towers in the shape of a huge twisted hunk of metal that was once one of the window frames, and a burned out car from Afghanistan. The area we were in for the reception had images from the URNU projected around the walls – and can you spot who was in two of the pictures??!

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Here is the Naval prayer:

O eternal Lord God, Who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea; who hast compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end: Be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us, Thy servants of the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea and of the air and from the violence of the enemy; that we may be a safeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth and her dominions, and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of our Islands and Commonwealth may in peace and quietness serve Thee our God; and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land with the fruits of our labours and with a thankful remembrance of Thy mercies to praise and glorify Thy holy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

It’s reassuring to know our future safety is in good hands.


British Customs, History


As today is Friday 13th, I thought I’d share with you a couple of superstitions that are connected with this date.

Friday is said to be the day that Christ was crucified, Judas hanged himself and it is the day that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Accordingly, it is considered to be the unluckiest day of the week, and clothes made on a Friday week reputedly not fit the wearer.

It is not a good day to undertake a new project, move house or start a new job, and on no account should an important journey be started on a Friday.

In the days of capital punishment in the UK, hangings were usually carried out on a Friday. It’s also considered an inauspicious day to be married or to give birth. Children born on a Friday may be burdened with more of their fair share of misfortunes in life.

Should a Friday fall on the thirteenth of the month, it is especially to be feared.

But why?

The number 13 is the number of people at the Last Supper, and superstition has it that it is unlucky to have 13 guests at a dinner party. Many hotels do not have a room number 13, and many tsk buildings do not have a 13th floor.

Washing one’s hair on the thirteenth of the month will bring a male child, and the thirteenth card in the major arcana of the tarot deck is the card for death.

I don’t personally bother too much with superstitions, but for some reason, Friday the 13th is the only one that has the power to check me from time to time.

How about you? Is there something in it do you think, or is it just a load of old wives tales designed by the early church to make people toe the line?

As ever, I’m interested in your thoughts.

British Customs, Christianity, DailyChallenge2013

Take Me To The Water

I wanted to share this with you today because we have been talking about baptism a lot recently and this song was used in the service on Sunday morning – very theatrical and dramatic which had a profound effect on everyone.

Sunday just gone was the day we think about Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, hence the water theme, and we revisited the readings from Sunday at last night’s bible study group. We talked about what baptism is, what it means, why did Jesus need to be baptised if he was from God anyway and a whole host of other questions along those lines.


We talked about the necessity (or not) of water in baptism, and how it is a symbolic cleansing as we undergo a major change and are claimed by God as his own. The Christian church is full of symbolism, none more so than when we baptise each other.

When we baptise babies, parents and godparents are pledging to God the life of that child. Some would say we dedicate them to God, others say we are placing them on their own personal pathway of faith. It has been the tradition that when children get to a certain age – different in different churches but generally around 12 years old or thereabouts – they undergo further tuition and take the decision to become Confirmed. This is a confirmation of faith and confirmation of the decision that was taken by their parents when they were baptised as children. But what happens then?

I am finding that now, as an adult with much more water under her bridge than I could have ever anticipated at the age of 14 when I got Confirmed, I would actually like to take the conscious decision to be baptised into my church because – at last – I know what it is I’m getting myself into, so to speak. But I can’t, because I’ve already been baptised and as Christians we believe that there is one baptism, one faith, one Lord.

It calls the practice of baptising babies into question then doesn’t it? By admitting a child into the church by baptism as a baby we are denying them of the chance to make an informed choice later on. So why do we do it?

Some would say that without a baptism, a child would fail to thrive, or isn’t “in God’s care” and therefore at risk from devils and demons…. yeah, I know. Superstitions run high even in this age of modern enlightenment, but the point remains that baptism for infants and children is still a highly respected sacrament in many people’s lives.

I made the point last night in our discussion group that the baptism of infants might well have stemmed from a pagan ritual from pre-Christian times where children were subjected to a host of practices in order to protect them. I suggested that the symbolic cleansing of babies could have been linked with other practices people had, such as placing iron near or around the crib and drawing a protective circle on the floor so that evil spirits couldn’t harm them. I have no proof of that by the way, it’s just my imagination connecting a few fragments of pagan lore that I know about with the very murky beginnings of infant baptism that the church alludes to.

What is your experience of baptism? People in different faiths would obviously have a different ritual for infants, and I’m interested to know about those as well as how other Christians from different countries practice it. Is it something preserved for adults only where you are, or do you routinely have infant baptisms? Do you have any sort of “follow up” practice when children grow older? Are you a person with no faith? How do you “welcome” babies into the fold? Do you have an equivalent naming ceremony or is it something that just doesn’t matter to you? How far wide of the mark am I with my pagan/early Christian mythology theory??

I’m interested in all of your answers and your experiences whatever they are and wherever you are.  Please drop me a line with your thoughts.