Molyneux Road, Levenshulme, Manchester, is one of those nondescript drive-past-and-you-miss-it turn-of-the-century terraces seen around the country especially in the North West. This is a social snapshot of families living there just after the houses had been built.
The 1908 Ordnance Survey map shows the neighbouring streets but no sign of the nascent 22 houses eventually constituting Molyneux Road: except this map was out of date because there were already six houses, numbers 1 to 11 forming their own little self-contained block (RG13/3692/0228-0229) and enumerated in the 1901 census.
Although they are quintessentially two-up two-downs, the houses here have gardens not backyards and nor did the front doors lead straight onto the street; this was a desirable address. The residents had ‘cut above’ jobs too. In 1901 Robert Jamieson at number 1, George Atkins at 3 (still living there in 1911) and John Booth at number 11 were clerks (insurance or mercantile); a retired widower and his family lived at number 5, and a warehouse porter and stone mason at 7 and 9.
By 1911, the road was complete with houses from 1 to 43 just as today. Living at the far end at 43, perhaps the last house to be built, were three single women; sisters, Annie (53) and Elizabeth Smith (46) and their lodger, assistant teacher Mary Dixon (21), who worked for Manchester Corporation. Elizabeth was in the up-and-coming communications industry, a GPO telegraphist. Their house, slightly larger than the others, had five rooms (not including kitchen, scullery or bathroom) so each had her own bedroom sharing living space downstairs. What struck me most was that hardly anyone in the road worked in the cotton industry.
I don’t need to remind anyone that this was three years before the devastation of World War One when Molyneux’s young men must have been desperate to join the fray. In 1911, 12 year old Horace Statham lived at number 5. Next door but one, at number 1 lived 11 year old Reginald Harry Bembridge with mum, dad and siblings. Reggie was their eldest son. There’s no way these lads couldn’t have known each other; were they friends, did they play footie in the street and attend the same school? Horace joined up, aged 20, in September 1918. He still lived at number 5, was a turner by trade, 5 ft 4 inches tall, with light brown hair, blue grey eyes and a mole on his left cheek. Reggie’s family had moved round the corner to 199 Broom Lane. Tragically, a month after Horace joined up and a few days before Armistice, his pal died of wounds, 24 October 1918. Private R H Bembridge is buried a long way from Manchester at St Aubert British Cemetery, France.
Another participant in WW1 was George Edward Dunn from number 31 at the other end of the road. He, too, was 11 in 1911, and probably knew the others as they were the same age. When he signed up in May 1917 aged just 18, he was a titch of a lad at 5 ft 3 with a 33 inch chest and expansion of only 3 inches, fresh complexioned, grey eyes and auburn hair. Most of his ‘theatre of war’ was in the reserve but a note shows him forfeiting 8 days pay. What happened? He was given 14 days leave (17.8.19 to 9.9.19) to travel back from somewhere in the Rhine to the UK via Calais. I bet he went to visit mum, widowed during the course of the war and he was eight days late returning to base. Ominously, the note reads ‘disciplinary action taken; but, unlike poor Reggie, George survived.
This link is to the National Library of Scotland map for 1894 clearly showing field boundaries, local works, dye, print and wire-mattress makers. The area was still relatively rural; the houses that would mushroom up but a twinkle in the builders’ eyes.