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EYEWITNESS IN MANCHESTER 30 OCTOBER 1999 UPDATE: TURNING THE CLOCK BACK IN TIME...

THIS WEEKEND the clocks go back - and not many people will know that summer time or daylight saving time - was pioneered by William Willett, though his idea wasn't adopted until 1916, a year after his death.

This week also saw the passing of the 1000 day mark till the Commonwealth Games in 2002. And there are only two months left before the millennium. It seems there's millennium hysteria in some circles, millennium this, millennium that, they say we're about to leave the dreary old past behind and enter an exciting brand new era of futuristic possibilities and achievements.


Gloom, rain & sunshine on Oxford Rd - at this time tomorrow, it'll be dark
Poppycock! History is a continuum and isn't demarcated by combinations of numbers on the end of the year, any more than the country is divided up into regions by the 100 mile markers on the M6. Wars, economic crises, political upheavals, and the changing of governments, monarchs and presidents are far more significant historical markers than number combinations in years. Which is why I don't regard the coming year as being much different from any other one, except that it happens to consist of an interesting and unusual combination of digits.

I also think it's a little presumptuous to say that Christian Year of Our Lord 2000 is a universally valid and significant world event, as the Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish and other religions have their own year. The Islamic year for instance is 1419, and the Buddhist and Jewish years are well into the 5000's (correct me if I'm wrong). And anyway, our calendar was changed in the 17th century to the present Gregorian one, and it's been established that Jesus Christ wasn't actually born on what was later designated as the first of January year zero.

So the year 2000 isn't actually the year 2000 at all - so why the hysteria? Maybe it'll turn out, like the eclipse in Cornwall, to be an anti-climax, at least from an economic point of view. On the 31 of December, I'll be at work, covering the festivities in Manchester for this website.

Still, I keep reading that we ought to be leaving the past behind, and focusing firmly on the future and the exciting new era of golden dreams and opportunities we're about to enter.

 

Which is why I've decided to pay an impromptu return visit to Manchester 50 years ago - the 29th of October 1949 to be exact. People have requested other years, but for me, 50 years ago is significant, as my father (Bartholomew or Bertie O'Rourke b1908 d1979 of Abbeyfeale Co Limerick Ireland - that's him with me in the picture, right) was nearly fifty years old when I was born, so fifty years ago he was the same age as me (though still living in Ireland). I also like the continuity of a parallel view of today and 50 years ago. At that time, Manchester was in the very early stages of the post-war "modern" era of reconstruction and development - in 1999 we are well advanced, but still at an intermediary stage of this era.

I watched a tv programme recently about time, and according to the "alternative universe" theory, which I don't fully understand, other times and universes, and the people that live in them, co-exist with ours and are very close - just a couple of tweaks of the tuning knob on the space-time wireless set, you might say. So here's what I found when I tuned into this week 50 years ago, with some notes and comparisons to the present day.

 

MANCHESTER, SATURDAY 29 OCTOBER 1949
News items adapted from the Manchester Evening News of that day - keeping as much as possible to the original vocabulary and style

On Monday 24th the Prime Minister Mr Atlee announced cuts in Britain's spending to a hushed House of Commons. Among many cost-saving measures, he proposed a charge of not more than 1s (one shilling) on each NHS prescription, 1d (a penny) on the cost of school meals, with about £30m cut from the housing programme.

MANCHESTER, SATURDAY 30 OCTOBER 1999
Comments made with the benefit of hindsight!

It's boom time in Manchester at the moment - judging from the construction industry, at least. The building of homes is now mostly carried out by private building firms, and council houses are being sold to tenants. But some parts of the Manchester area are still blighted by poverty.

Lions and tigers may roam in large enclosures if Heaton Park if proposals for a zoo go ahead. Mr R C McMillan, Director of Manchester Parks, has said they may start with tame animals and go on to wild animals, which will require the erection of 20 foot high fences.

The lions and tigers never got to roam in Heaton Park, though there's a farm now, as in 1949. Here's a recent QTVR panorama of the gardens in front of the hall.
Representatives of Manchester Corporation are recommending a "go slow" policy in the city centre to cut down accidents. Certain streets and dangerous curves will be narrowed by "Keep Left" bollards. Car parking in Albert Square will be limited to two hours between 8 am and 6pm. And parking restrictions in and around Deansgate have caused motorists to use back streets on the Salford side of the Irwell as an extended car park.
In 1999 there is still a traffic problem in Manchester, which the council is attempting to solve by placing further restrictions on cars, which will be banned from several major streets in the newly rebuilt city centre.

A newly designed track maintenance vehicle will enable engineers to replace nearly a mile of overhead cables on the Manchester to Altrincham railway line tonight. The special carriage is powered by two Lancashire-built bus engines, so the vehicle can move forward at a steady 4mph. A crew of 10 to 20 men will stand on the roof and install the cables, which carry 1500 volts and will have a life span of about 20 years. The work will be carried out on the section from Oxford Road Station to Cornbrook.

The cables put up in 1949 lasted into the 1970's when the Altrincham to Manchester line was upgraded to the 25,000 volt AC main line system, allowing trains to go from Crewe through Oxford Rd to Altrincham. In 1992, the line from Altrincham as far as Cornbrook was converted for use by Metrolink trams. Here are two views of the tracks from the end of Oxford Rd Station platform - the lower one in panoramic mode.

The Moss Side Vigilance Committee has suggested the setting up of a force of coloured special policemen to patrol the large Negro community in Moss Side east and Moss Side west. The specials will wear ordinary police uniforms so they can be accorded the proper respect. About 3000 coloured people have settled in Moss Side. There are no regulations banning coloured men from applying to be policemen, though there are not known to be any coloured policemen in England. One officer commented it might be embarassing if coloured men suddenly decided to apply as "our men show no racial bias whatsoever in the execution of their duty".
Nowadays, the euphemistic "negro" and the ethno-comparative "coloured" have been banished from the language, to be replaced by "black". In the Greater Manchester police force in 1999 there are many black police officers, but they are still under-represented in proportion to the population they serve. A recent government initiative aims to resolve this imbalance. Interesting that in 1949 there was already a community of some 3000 black people resident in Moss Side and that even before apartheid's introduction in South Africa, the authorities in Manchester considered recruiting black policemen.

Withington Girls School Manchester gathered in the Whitworth Hall Manchester University for the Foundation Day ceremony.

Withington High School for Girls continues as one of the top independent girls schools in Manchester. Does anyone reading this recognise herself in the picture on the left?
A three day boom in Manchester shops came to an end on Monday, as peoples fears of new purchase taxes have been allayed by Mr Atlee's annoucement in the Commons. It's reported that people were going into shops with as many as 50 single pound notes and either buying goods on the spot, or putting down deposits. Buying has now returned to normal.
Many people pay by credit card nowadays, though it may come as a surprise that a significant proportion of people in Manchester still operate on a cash-only basis. VAT replaced purchase tax in 1973 - it's now a standard 17.5 per cent on most items.
At Lewis's department store on Piccadilly and Market-street, you can buy supergloss paint at 5/- (five shillings) a pint or 9/9 (nine shillings and ninepence) a quart. Slumberland mattresses cost £12/7/4 (twelve pounds seven shillings and fourpence) - Three piece lounge suites are on sale for £59/19/6 (fifty nine pounds nineteen and six) and there are gas boilers on sale at 59s 6d (fifty nine shillings and sixpence).

 

Today, you'd probably be more likely to buy home decorating goods at out of town stores like B&Q, MFI, Housing Units, and others. In some outlets, you can probably get a knock-down "soiled" three piece suite for under a hundred pounds.

POSTSCRIPT 2001: Lewis's sadly closed its doors in February 2001 after a long period of decline.

Pounds, shillings and pence became pounds and pence with decimalisation in 1971. Nowadays the burning question is whether the pound will join the European currency, the Euro.

You can rent a radio from Whites Radio and Television, 62 Swan St, Shude Hill, for 2/- a week, including all service, maintenance and replacement valves. In the age of digital television, renting your tv is coming back into fashion. In 1999, Granada introduced a new tv rental scheme which allows you to keep up to date with the latest equipment for five pounds a week.
Television transmissions from Sutton Coldfield transmitter near Birmingham, commence on December 17th, but there is a shortage of supplies of television sets in the Manchester and south Lancashire area. The reasons include a tv boom in London, and the fact that three times as much work is required to build a television set as a radio. Local councils are currently giving permission for the standard H type of television aerial to be mounted on roofs in this area.
Interactive digital television has been launched and Manchester is leading the way. Cable and Wireless are offering a digital cable internet service in the Manchester area. You can watch tv and also access a special digital TV version of Manchester Online.

At cinemas in Manchester, two films have arrived simultaneously. Both are described as "musts" and among the dozen finest films seen in Britain since the war. They are the British film "The Third Man" directed by Carol Reed, and written by Graham Greene, and from Italy, "Paisa" directed by Roberton Rosellini.

This weekend, "The Blair Witch Project" opens in Manchester, showing at both the Cornerhouse (left) and the Odeon cinema (below).

 

Here is a selection of what's on at theatres in Manchester on Saturday the 29th of October 1949. And here's what's showing in the same theatres tonight 30 October 1999...

Library Theatre:

"The Servant of Two Masters" and The Little Foxes

Library Theatre
"Arcadia" - play by Tom Stoppard
The Library Theatre is still one of Manchester's foremost theatre venues.

Odeon Theatre

Sir Lawrence Olivier in "Hamlet"

Odeon Cinema
It's been a multi-screen cinema for many years - tonight there are various films showing including... "Blue Sea", "The Blair Witch Project", "Election" and others...

Opera House:

"Bitter Sweet" a new comedy starring Jack Buchanan

Opera House
Till tonight: The Reduced Shakespeare Company "The Complete Millennium" - Musical
Returning in November: "Oh What A Night", starring Kid Creole

Palace Theatre:

"Bless the Bride" a musical by Charles B Cochran

 

Palace Theatre:
"La Traviata" an opera staged by Opera North
The Palace Theatre is still going strong, though the building is a little run down

Manchester Hippodrome Ardwick Green:

"Old Mother Riley and her Daughter Kitty"

 

The Manchester Hippodrome was demolished many years ago, like other theatres in Manchester, including the MMU's Capitol Theatre, Didsbury. The venue has been accommodated in the ugly 70's building on Oxford Rd (pic upper left).
The The Grosvenor Picture Palace, (same pic, left had side of Oxford Rd) was saved - it's now the Footage and Firkin pub. And opposite the BBC, you'll find the Northern Ballet School (left), housed behind this shabby but beautiful facade.

If, like me, you enjoy turning the clock back to past times, I can recommend three excellent places to visit, all of which are being or have recently been revamped and extended:

Styal Quarry Bank Mill, Styal Cheshire, owned and run by the National Trust:
RecentIn 1991, the water wheel was rebuilt and is now in use, and can be viewed at close quarters by visitors. They also have a magnificent working steam engine. Quarry Bank Mill is one of the most important industrial revolution heritage sites in the country, and is an absolute must! More details at the National Trust's website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Portland Basin Heritage Centre, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Tameside
Recently re-opened, this museum has a superb display of industry-related exhibits with a strong "hands on" element, which is ideal for kids. You can peer into a reconstructed parlour from the 1930's, see an old fashioned chip shop, and try on some of the hats which were made in Denton and other parts of what became Tameside. See the official Tameside website at www.tameside.gov.uk
Manchester Central Library is where I researched the 1949 news items Back copies of the Manchester Evening News and other local newspapers can be looked at on microfilm. See also my Eyewitness in Manchester Central Library feature

That's all from a cool and changeable late October Manchester. Let's take a final look at that late afternoon sunset on Lower Mosley Street - tomorrow night it'll be dark at this time. Below is the same scene, taken a couple of minutes later in panoramic mode - was I looking at Manchester though rose-tinted spectacles? I'll leave that question to another Newsletter...

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