Stories about my Dad (1) Manchester Lane

Just after the war had ended, in 1947,  there was a horrendously hard winter in England, with huge amounts of snow, and much hardship for ordinary people, with the extreme cold and the continuing spectre of rationing.

Manchester Lane is a tiny country lane which runs between the village of Hartshorne and the hamlet of Boundary. As my Dad, Fred, used to live in Woodville, at either No 9 or No 39 Hartshorne Road (in red), he would make frequent use of Manchester Lane to produce a circular walk around the district. He would walk down Hartshorne Road to the very bottom, near to church with a square tower (cross “+” with a black square attached, and turn right at the Bull’s Head Public House (PH). He would then follow the summit ridge of Horn Hill, a route used since Neolithic times, and walk at last along Manchester Lane itself (in yellow) as far as the water tower (“Wr Twr”) at Boundary.  He then turned right and right again, and returned finally to Woodville along Ashby Road (in green), and then High Street (also in green). You can see his route on this map:

The orange arrow points to Woodville. Hartshorne Road is the red road running to the north east. In those days, it was very countrified…..

When he reached Hartshorne, Fred would turn right past the Bull’s Head, which dated from Georgian times, into Manchester Lane :

He was now in Manchester Lane which he followed for quite some distance. In 1947, this tiny country road was completely blocked by the snow. Indeed, the snow was so deep that the authorities, with the help of the RAF,  improvised an emergency snow plough by mounting an aircraft engine, complete with whirling propeller, on the back of a lorry. They then backed the vehicle into the lane, and it cleared the twelve feet deep snowdrifts without any problems.

This country road had always created a big impression on Fred, and he was forever going off for “a walk round Manchester Lane”. This healthy jaunt was around three or four miles long, and it would take at least a whole morning. It left behind the factory chimneys of Woodville and, once you got to Manchester Lane,  it went right out into open countryside, between leafy hedges and past green fields, with a splendid view looking back towards Hartshorne, Woodville and Midway. Fred never tired of the fresh air and the blue sky, the sun, the wind, the ever-changing faces of the weather and the varying aspects of nature.

Occasionally he would see a remarkable sight, such as one of his abiding memories, an old man well into his eighties, sitting astride the gable of his house roof on Manchester Lane, mending or replacing the broken ridge tiles. This is the cottage today, gentrified beyond belief:

On a darker note, Fred would often tell the tale of an isolated barn, in fields down to the south of the lane, which had been the centre of a deathbed confession by a man in faraway Australia. This macabre episode took place in the 1930s, when a farmworker who had emigrated from Woodville, well before the turn of the new century, lay dying in Tasmania, and asked to make his peace with God. He confessed that, years before, he had murdered a young woman and buried her body beneath the floor of a particular cold grey stone barn near Manchester Lane in far away England. The barn was something like this:

The Australian authorities notified their English counterparts of the man’s confession, and the calm tranquillity of the South Derbyshire countryside was soon  disrupted by the arrival of teams of policemen who dug up the floor of the barn, and indeed, a number of other similar barns in the area. They found nothing, although their researches were extensive. It remains a minor mystery to this day, why the dying man said what he said. Perhaps he just disliked policemen, or alternatively, perhaps he thought that many of them were too fat after all those donuts and needed to work off a little of their excessive weight.

The barn nowadays seems to have been swallowed up by the extended farm buildings at this farm. It may even have been demolished:

Whatever the case, this was a good place  to pause, and to take in the beautiful view. And then it was upwards and ever onwards to the right turn that would take him towards the old Toll House at Boundary:

Originally, the toll house was eight sided so that the toll keeper could keep a wary eye out for people who were approaching from whatever direction.  In addition, eight sided buildings are supposed to be immune to demonic possession, which is nice. Then it’s another right turn so that Fred could follow Ashby Road which would eventually become High Street and take him homewards. But there was more to see yet. A quarter of a mile beyond the Toll House was the Water Tower at Boundary:

Just after Ashby Road became High Street in Woodville, there is a small turn off which used to lead to a tiny farm which nestled among the shops and terraced houses. One day, when my daughter was just six years old, Grandad Fred took her to see the farm. It was lambing time and she was able to feed some of the newborn lambs with a bottle.  She will never forget doing this for the rest of her life. She will never repeat it though, because this is the turn off today. I just love our brave new world. It’s so interesting and so clean:









Filed under History, Humour, my Dad, Personal, Wildlife and Nature

22 responses to “Stories about my Dad (1) Manchester Lane

  1. Invaluable history, John. I well remember that winter. My brother and I were staying with grandparents in Durham. One morning I stepped outside the back door and disappeared into the snowdrift.

    • I think everybody who experienced that winter seems to think that it was the worst of the many very severe winters of the 1940s. Here in Nottingham, the trouble started when it all melted, and the city experienced some of its worst floods of the century.

  2. “. . . supposed to be immune to demonic possession.” Perhaps in today’s world, we need more eight sided buildings? The story of the woman buried beneath the floorboards of a barn is interesting. Details sometimes get lost over time, but the main theme remains. I wonder what someone will find one day while remodeling an old barn.

    • That is certainly a possibility, although personally I think that he did not like policemen and wanted to have one or two out there digging and “getting a sweat on” as the English expression has it. One other possibility is that as the dying man told his tale, the police misunderstood what he was saying. That area is certainly not short of similar barns, and it wouldn’t have been difficult to make a crucial error when the route was being written down.

    • Thanks very much. I’ve always been fascinated by the tiny details of history which surround us in their thousands. One day I was driving the school football team back from another defeat in Mansfield and we were stopped at some traffic lights. The lad right next to me pointed to a chip shop and said, “Do you see that metal barrier in front of the shop?” and he went on to say “When the policeman captured the Black Panther, that’s what he handcuffed him to.”
      I’ve never forgotten that choice detail of history, or the fact that the one of the houses two hundred yards down the Ring Road used to be a newsagent’s. It was run by a Mr and Mrs Torvill, although their daughter never seemed particularly interested in it.

  3. GP

    That old man perhaps left the mystery of the murdered girl to keep his own memory in their minds. His own twisted version of “15 minutes of fame?”
    I had a cousin that walked like your father, my dad had to go drive around town and bring him home for dinner.

    • The “15 minutes of fame” is an excellent idea. It certainly does strike me as having a ring of truth about it.
      My Dad grew up in a country area, and he always went out for a walk every morning if he could. It was usually at least three or four miles, although he never even came close to missing a meal! Like many wives, my mother was glad to get him out of the house so that she could do the cleaning, but woe betide him if he wasn’t there when she put his lunch on the table!

  4. After living through the violence of war, your father may have found inner peace during his long walks in the open countryside.

    • That is very perceptive! Thank you for that idea. I knew my Dad for around 50 years, and that thought had never occurred to me. I suppose that as a child, especially, I never thought of my Dad as having any problems, and whatever terrible tales he told me, I accepted them as being just normal events if you’re in the RAF. All I noticed were his facial tics and twitches which did gradually disappear in the late 1970s….just thirty years after he left Bomber Command.
      Thank you again for your thought. It has certainly given me something to think about.

  5. There’s a lot more to wandering methodically around the lanes and streets than just looking at the scenery. I’m glad this is only part (1).

  6. There are three more to come. Two describe his early teaching career in a school full of miners’ children and the third is perhaps over long, but contains his favourite jokes, including some genuine ones from the wartime RAF. I’m sure you’ll find something to suit!

  7. What’s delightful post John and how lovely to recall his footsteps adding in photos for us to share with you. It’s sad how times have changed the British countryside, rabbit hutches now replace farmland and open spaces with their cramped dwellings and miniature gardens. Sure housing is needed, but at what cost and when do we say ‘enough is enough?’

    • I’m very glad to hear that you enjoyed it. At one time my Dad’s village had about 3,000 people living and working there. Now it’s more like ten or twenty thousand who all travel to Derby, Leicester, Burton-on-Trent or even Birmingham to work. None of them know anything whatsoever about where they live, and the tragedy is, that given the chance, they would love to!
      The simple sad truth is that England is now more or less full up. Every institution is under enormous pressure because of our over population, and it’s difficult to see where it will end, other than in disaster.

  8. Chris Waller

    That’s fascinating story about the death-bed confession. Your dad’s walk was, I suggest, nearer to 6 miles in length – quite a morning stroll! I used to like cycling down Manchester Lane from the Boundary end, having made the slow climb up Woodville High Street and Ashby Road, Cycling up Manchester Lane was much harder work. I’ve often wondered why it was called Manchester Lane, since it is a very long way from Manchester.

    • I’d have to say that I don’t know the origin of Manchester Lane, but I’ve always understood that it was originally a hunting trail from ancient times . One story that I’ve heard was that it had the name of “Manchester” because it was part of a medieval road system whereby goods were taken to Manchester along it. To be honest, I’m not sure that that is right because in the Middle Ages, Manchester was an insignificant village, awaiting its starring part in the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps “Manchester” is a corruption of other words, perhaps from Anglo-Saxon?

  9. Thank you for the post, the photos and for taking me along. Do you live nearby? The places are so beautiful. And I wonder what the police would have done if the remains of a body had been found. Regards, Lakshmi

  10. There is a green and white roundabout in the village of Woodville. If you look at it as a clock, I was brought up very close to it, on the red road which is at one o’clock. Had they found a body, the local police would have called for officers from the Metropolitan Police in London to come and investigate it. In the late 19th century, the local police forces outside London were deemed as being incapable of dealing with such serious crimes.

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