4th November 1944 - Manchester

Now down to 15/- after fare to Manchester.  Fine, sunny, but thicker fog over Pennines.  2 engines to train.  Incredible scenes – one part, quite near Stalybridge, crofts and little stone walled fields running up like Wales.  Wet mist and smoke everywhere.

Manchester – The Food Office shut.  Disaster.  Tried to call Daphne – wrong number, another disaster.  Tremendous damage – “Old Wellington” Inn revealed – many vacant spaces – plenty of horses – three young men leading rough ginger cob with cloth on him – smashed houses here and there – trams, trolley buses, buses – the great Library is safe – so is the Museum – saw Sayce [the Curator] who was lecturing on “What are the Fairies” so decided to stop – sudden feeling of happiness – must go in Museum.

In the slums saw, in a derelict side street, a crowd of boys making a bonfire in the middle of the road, throwing orange light on the surrounding ruined buildings – Nov: 5 tomorrow.  Everywhere long queues waiting for buses.

Parked and locked cycle in courtyard and went into Museum.  Egyptian collections beautifully arranged against pale blue-grey backgrounds.  Even the glazing-bars and woodwork of the cases painted grey.  Labels very good.

Natural history collections looked clean and properly cared for, a thing such material rarely does.

Noticed there is now a considerable collection of “folk material” or whatever you like to call it.  Remember Sayce was very keen on this when I was here 10 years ago.  Promised to send a good Essex flail.

The lecture was extremely interesting.  Sayce gave the usual stories of Wales, Ireland, England etc, but told us this, that I had never known before, that the natives of S. Africa also believe in ‘fairies’ in the form of small people, miniature reproductions of themselves, and that they regard these creatures as the spirits of their ancestors.  There are similar beliefs among the Arabs.  From this he wishes us to surmise a similar condition in the British Isles, that our fairies are really in the first place ancestral ghosts.  He discounts that they are folk stories of great antiquity relating to primitive pygmies who were driven out by later invaders. All manifestations of fairies, ghosts, etc. he attributes to hallucination.  He made many interesting points, but his theories are by no means watertight in my opinion.

As regards the pygmy theory, we have that interesting fragment of a Castor pot which shows men chasing little dwarfs dressed in hooded cloaks.  My own opinion is that we should distinguish very clearly between fairies and ghosts.  Admittedly many curious creatures are neither one nor the other, but the “little people” cannot I think be considered ghosts, as they are given human attributes – childbirth, etc.

Well attended about 50-60, said to be the usual number.

After the lecture, I spoke to Sayce, who did not of course remember me from 10 years ago, [when Rudsdale had attended a Museums Association training course at Manchester Museum] and we went up into his office.  Met a young man whose name I think is Carrow, from Sussex, who is a collector of watches and watch movements.  He was apparently about to deposit a large collection with Manchester Museum, before going abroad for the Min. of Transport.  I gathered that he was a road transport engineer, and that a number of young men are being compulsorily sent to the Argentine to look after the British-owned railways there, the idea being to pack the companies with British personnel in case of trouble in the near future.  He said he had already been offered one job in South Africa, but had refused it.

He said he had a watch movement by a Colchester maker, and promised to send it on.  Gave my name and the Museum address.   I suppose until my dying day I shall be collecting for Colchester.  Why?

We had a cup of tea (no milk) and sat talking until 6, about museums, collections, exhibitions etc.  Talked about my idea for an agricultural museum in conjunction with Zoological Society.  Sayce has got some sort of ideas himself, but would not reveal exactly what they were.  I told him that an agricultural museum was a very necessary addition in the north, and suggested that with its glorious building, Wythenshawe was ideal – well remember the massive buildings and yards which I saw there.  Sayce had heard of my Royal Show exhibit, and Carrow had seen it.

Dark when we came out, and of course I had no where to go and practically no money – only about 8/- left.  Had intended to ask Sayce to cash a cheque but funked it.  Decided to go on to Wilmslow, to try to find Daphne.  Very dark, wind getting strong, and cycled along grimly on a good main highway, with lights all the way, some gas, some electric.  Went through Withingon, Disbury, Cheadle.  The traffic lights have just had all screens taken off, and the reds greens and yellow flash as big as moons.

At Cheadle called at ‘George and Dragon’ opposite church for a room, but was refused, not because full, but “Because we don't take nobody on Saturdays and Sundays – too busy in the bar.”  The behaviour of innkeepers gets steadily worse.

At last found the beginning of a sizeable village which I found to be Handforth.  Called at the “Bull’s Head” and had a cider, but no room there.  Advised to try “The Café” at bottom of the hill.  Did so, and instantly regretted it, - a very low class boarding house, full of cats (though pleasant cats) a blousy, dirty woman, a filthy man, called “father” and a squally brat.  Much against better judgement booked bed – “separate bed, mind you, though you’ll have to share the room” and left my kit.  Regretted it the moment I got outside.  Went on to Wilmslow and found to amazement that this was no village as I had thought, but a town of 20,000 inhabitants.  First enquired for RC Church.  No, never heard of Daphne Young.  Went next door to police station – everybody very helpful - … After considerable discussion located the school – Lady Denaby – got phone number.  And there was Daphne – Hullo, EJ?  How are you?  Arranged to meet me in half an hour.  Suddenly on spur, phoned Queen’s Hotel, Alderley, and booked a room with no trouble at all.  Then a weary wait in the dark blowy streets, which as far as I could see in the lamplight had no architectural interest whatever.  At last DMY arrives, just as if she was cycling up to the office, and says “Hullo, EJ”.  Went in a noisy pub and had a drink.  Told her what I was doing – trying to get down to Shrewsbury.  Place full of Waafs and Americans, wearing each others hats, a lot of RAF men too.  Got a £1 off Daphne to help.  Then went back to the dreadful café, collected luggage and set off for Alderley.  Got there by 11.15.  Looks very comfortable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eric's "British Museums Tour" does provide a very responsive impression of the "state of the nation" as it really was in October-November 1944, rather than the more common general platitudes that get thrown about.

His description of the industrialised north really is something far far away from today.