The Mature Suburb.
William Fermie as Agent.
The advent of the railway.
During the last few months of illness Robert Hedderwick had beenassisted by William Fermie. They had apparently been friends fromtheir youth, both being members of the Fife "clan" that supplied theDucies with their agents. He had helped Hedderwick during thelatter's early days in Manchester, and Hedderwick had beeninstrumental in obtaining for him a post in Lord Ducie's employ, assteward of a farm in Gloucestershire, Whitfield Example Farm, LordDucie being a noted agriculturist and famed breeder of shorthorns.Immediately after Robert Hedderwick's death William Fermie was sentagain to Manchester and whilst staying at Robert Hedderwick's housein Park Place he received this letter from John Morton:
"Lord Ducie asked me if I thought you would like the situation. Isaid I believed there was a time when you would have been glad tohave done so but I thought you now liked the country better than thetown; but there was another thing, I said, and I had mentioned it toyou, and that you said that your salary at Woodchester was muchbetter than Mr Hedderwick's. (108)
It is in such revealing letters that one can recognise the humandilemmas, the personalities, and the subjective influences thathelped to mould the future development, and in addition it shows howlittle material recognition was awarded to Robert Hedderwick for hislabours and sacrifices. It was in response to this hint from JohnMorton that Fermie wrote the lengthy but informative letter to LordDucie detailing the terms upon which he was willing to accept thepost, and substitute the bustle of industrial Manchester for therural seclusion of Gloucestershire.
In Gloucestershire he valued his post as equal to £200 perannum, mainly in the form of perquisites which would have to be paidfor in Manchester. These included a free house, and riding horse withkeep, firewood or coal, candles, potatoes, and vegetables from thegarden when there were more than sufficient to supply Lord Ducie'shousehold, butter, cheese and milk. Against these Fermie compared thecost of living in Manchester.
"I do not take the riding horse into consideration as that is notnecessary for your lordship's business there. But it is well knownthat £200 a year in a country situation is of far more valuethan the same in a large town when the additional expense ofhousekeeping, clothing etc. is taken into account, beside theadditional cost of meat and various necessities of life. There areunavoidably a much larger number of visitors in towns andconsequently a considerable increase in the consumption of bread,meat, tea, sugar, beer, wine and spirits, which will cost me at leastbeyond my expenditure here £20. Again there will be required formyself and Mrs Fermie additional in clothes and washing per annum£15. Also rent for a seat in church £5."
William Fermie gave also an illuminating account of the carefulmode of living of his predecessor who had received perhaps £150per annum.
"Having closely examined the late Mr Hedderwick's books I couldeasily see (and Mrs Hedderwick showed me their annual expenditure inhousekeeping over several years) that I could not live on MrHedderwick's salary and assume that station in society which Iconsider your steward in Manchester ought to take. Mr Hedderwick'sexpenditure has been quite £200 a year ever since he came thereand from observation I know they live very carefully. It has onlybeen from having the surveyorship of the Bury and Ashton roads, inaddition and latterly a few small agencies and a good deal ofvaluations of property taken up by railroad which taken altogetherhas produced him £150 annually besides. A stranger cannot expectany of these things to come all at once..." (110)
William Fermie was appointed to the post, and a salary of£250 was given to him by Lord Ducie, but his tenure of thestewardship lasted for but little more than six years, for he toosuccumbed to the miasmic atmosphere of nineteenth-centuryManchester.
This period in Strangeways' history was of course also the heydayof the railway age, and it was the advent of the railway that was toprofoundly alter the aspect of Strangeways, not only physically butalso socially and economically. As early as January 1825, John Mortonhad written to Robert Hedderwick enquiring "How does the railroadcome on? The folk are all railroad mad hereabouts but I believe youbegan first in Manchester." (111) Three months later he wrote, "Iwish to know particularly your opinion of the rail road betweenManchester and Liverpool, will it be an advantage to Manchester?"(112) The railway in question opened, of course, in 1330, but it wasnot long before sights were set on Strangeways for the route of a newrailway, and this was immediately opposed by Lord Ducie once herealized that its effects might not all be beneficial to his estateand his pocket. In 1831 John Morton wrote to Hedderwick,
"I go tomorrow night to London; you must send me everything youcan manufacture up in your Manchester way against the new rail roadand against all rail roads." (113)
This was closely followed by a letter two days later
"I came here this morning [to London] and went immediatelyto work for you in arranging to oppose this rascally railroad andyour letter which Lord Ducie received this morning I hope will havefull weight in exposing anything but the gentlemanly conduct of thosewho want this bill to pass. Lord Ducie has been duped by them inpromising not to oppose the bill, and they withdrew the clausethrough his property, but he now find if they carry the bill so farthis year, next year they will be able to add this branch also."(114)
The correspondence doe not mention the affair again, and itappears that on this occasion at least the railwaymaniacs' ambitionswere thwarted. Any delay was only temporary, and at the end of 1838John Morton wrote again:
"No less than three railway companies are soliciting a bill, eachto go through Lord Ducie's property and that at the same place, orare they all to terminate at Mrs Clowes' old house. Lord Ducie hassent three sets of paper to you with his signature and seal and youare to fill up the word assent or dissent a you think right."(115)
Thus it was that one man's decision was to bring about a massivechange to Strangeways, and to Manchester itself. It is also areflection of the esteem by now granted to Robert Hedderwick by LordDucie that such an important decision could be left entirely tohim.
The preformed image of Strangeways maintained by Lord Ducie wasthat of a genteel suburb in the Georgian style: "smart"façades complete with railings, behind which dwelt respectablemerchants of Manchester and their families, and it is enlightening toexamine the evidence of a quite different observer of Manchester,Frederick Engels. When he came to Manchester to work for the familyfirm, he lived at first at 70, Great Ducie Street, Strangeways,moving after two years to number 48, Great Ducie Street, whichremained his home till 1858. (116) It was from Mrs Tatham's boardinghouse that Engels made his sorties into the seamier parts ofManchester, and he no doubt had Great Ducie Street in mind when hewrote:
"For the thoroughfares leading from the Exchange in all directionsout of the city are lined, on both sides, with an almost unbrokenseries of shops, and are so kept in the hands of the middle and lowerbourgeoisie, which, out of self-interest, cares for a decent andcleanly external appearance and can care for it" (117)
As for the pleasant, rural prospect of bygone Strangeways, and theattractive, fish-filled river Irk, Engels offers a disquietingcontrast:
"At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a narrow,coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse, which itdeposits on the shallower right bank." (118)
The right bank was of course the Strangeways side of the river,known as Walker's Croft, and the prospect here was scarcelyappealing.
"On the lower right bank stands a long row of houses and mills;the second house being a ruin without a roof, piled with debris; thethird stands so low that the lowest floor is uninhabitable andtherefore without windows or doors. Here the background embraces thepauper burial ground, the station of the Liverpool and Leeds railway,and, in the rear of this, the Workhouse, the "Poor-Law Bastille" ofManchester which like a citadel looks threateningly down from behindits high walls and parapets on the hilltop, upon the working-people'squarter below." (119)
The pauper burial ground mentioned by Engels had existed since1787, antedating even the Workhouse, and the utilitarian lines uponwhich it was run do not excite the same admiration today as was nodoubt elicited from readers of 1816, when, because of the vast numberof pauper deaths then occurring,
"an economical method of interring the bodies of the dead has beenadopted. A very large grave, or more properly a pit, for thereception of mortality is digg'd and covered up, when not actually inuse for depositing the remains of the dead, with planks, which arelocked down in the night, until the hole is filled up with coffinspiled besides and upon one another. The cavern of death is thenclosed, and covered up with earth, and another pit is prepared andfilled in the same manner... many thousands of bodies have beeninterred in this singular depot, it might almost be said, magazine ofmortality." (120)
Engels witnessed the arrival of the railway at Walker's Croft, andhas left us a nauseous indictment of the manner in which it wastreated.
"About two years ago a railroad was carried through [thepauper burial ground]. If it had been a respectable cemetery howthe bourgeoisie and the clergy would have shrieked at thedesecration! But it was a pauper burial ground, the resting place ofthe outcast and superfluous, so no one concerned himself about thematter. It was not even thought worth-while to convey the partiallydecayed bodies to the other side of the cemetery; they were heaped upjust as it happened, and piles were driven into newly-made graves, sothat the water oozed out of the swampy ground, pregnant withputrefying matter, and filled the neighbourhood with the mostrevolting and injurious gases. The disgusting brutality whichaccompanied this work I cannot describe in further detail." (121)
Victoria Station, Hunts Bank,1844
The arrival of the railway precipitated the change in thecharacter of Strangeways that had started many years previously, andwhich had been so far resisted by Lord Ducie, and this was thegradual metamorphosis from residential suburb to shopping centre. The1840s were difficult years, for Strangeways as elsewhere. Many houseswere vacant, for people were unable to afford the rents, like theunfortunate Mr Swain who wrote to William Fermie just after Christmasin 1843,
"I have sent you the key of 37, Ducie Street and am sorry to becompelled to leave in the way I have. I have had one execution in thehouse which stripped me of many of my best things and I found itimpossible to stay in the house... I would be honest if I could but Icannot see three children starve." (122)
This was, too, the time of the Chartist riots, past Strangeways onKersal Moor, a traditional place of assembly for Manchester folk, andone resident of Strangeways recalled how
"One day a party of ruffians came running up the Cheetham HillRoad [formerly York Road] carrying with them sacks filledwith stones which they had taken from the sides of the road, wherethey had been placed in heaps for repairing. These fellows rushed tothe doors of the houses threatening to smash both doors and windowsunless something was given to them." (123)
The change in policy came about largely as a result of the attemptby one Joseph Lodge to open a butcher's shop. In the January of 1843William Fermie sought Lord Ducie's advice on how to deal with such abreach of one of the principal covenants, and received the reply that"as regards the Butcher's shop, if you proceed to give a notice, youmust of course if that is ineffectual proceed to ejectment; as theformer course would be ridiculous without the latter." (124)
Fermie wrote to Lodge a month later giving the warning, andnotified him in August that proceedings were to be taken. (125) Thereaction to this must have come as a considerable surprise to LordDucie and his agent, for in answer to all their efforts to maintainthe good character of Strangeways, they received a petition from"Owners of land held under lease from your Lordship" asking for anextension in the leases to permit the trades of "Butcher and Plumber,besides other kinds of shops which are now open and which are notobjected to as a nuisance." The reasons given were "the increasingpopulation, and the railway terminus coming into the immediateneighbourhood; as such trades would not in any way deteriorate butrather enhance your Lordship's estate, and also be of interest to theowners of property." (126) The petition had seventy-nine signaturesaffixed, the first being "on behalf of the Trustees of theStrangeways Unitarian Congregation." The sequel to the petition was aterse memorandum to the Earl of Ducie from Fermie stating "Earl Duciewill not take any further steps against butchers' stalls or shopsafter so many of the tenants petitioning for liberty to open suchshops." (127) The memorandum was approved, and the main thoroughfareswere, in Engels' words, "lined... with an almost unbroken series ofshops." (128)
One aspect of Strangeways' history of which so far we have seenlittle, is its population. Strangeways was neither a parish nor evena township, so that no figures are available for the population ofStrangeways alone. The figures for the whole township of Cheetham do,nevertheless, give a good indication of the rapid increase inpopulation occurring especially during the 1840s.
Year Males Females Total
1801 341 411 752
1811 531 639 1170
1821 894 1113 2027
1831 1820 2205 4025
1841 2681 3401 6082
1851 4956 6219 11175
The census returns for 1851 give us, naturally, a much clearerpicture of the social composition of Strangeways at the time. Asmight be expected, most heads of households came from Manchester, orit would be more accurate to say they formed the largest singlegroup, but the fact that they formed only a quarter of all heads ofhouseholds in Strangeways is a striking indication of the importanceof immigration to Manchester at that time. As for their occupations,there is a marked preponderance of the service and distributivetrades - already by 1851 Strangeways was becoming dominated byshopkeepers and their employees.
1851 Census: Heads of Households
Other northern counties 53
Elsewhere in England 70
Married Male 428
Single Male 22
Widowed Male 28
Married Female 11
Single Female 10
Widowed Female 62
Number of Children
As for their age distribution, as we might expect in a populationlargely composed of newcomers who had settled in Manchester inpursuit of work, most heads belonged to the 25-40 age group. Therewere also a great many single males living in Strangeways at the timeas lodgers, just as there were a great many unmarried females whoworked as domestic servants.