‘Our House’: 84 Albert Road, Blackpool

For the first of my ‘Our House’ blogs, I would like you to join me as we grab our buckets and spades and travel to Blackpool, to visit Mrs Naylor’s boarding house.

Mrs Naylor was actually the third proprietor of ‘Elmhurst House’. It is worth noting that 84 Albert Road would have several names over the next century. When it was first built, it was actually called Phoenix House.

The first occupants of the house were the Meadowcrofts from Oldham. Rosanna Meadowcroft and her husband, Jonas, had moved to Blackpool in the late 1880s.

An early colour postcard of Blackpool

Rosanna Meadowcroft managed the boarding house while her husband worked briefly as a brewer, before setting up an auction and valuation business. It appears from the census that they had a reasonably comfortable existence, employing a housekeeper and waitress to help with the day-to-day running of the boarding business.

The Meadowcrofts continued to operate the boarding house until 1907 when tragically and unexpectedly, Jonas died. With no children to support her, Rosanna decided to leave 84 Albert Road and move back to her native Oldham.

The next occupants of 84 Albert Road were the Butson family from Lancashire. Somewhat unusually for this period, it was both Thomas Butson and his wife Mary that managed the boarding house – normally during this period it would be Mary Butson who managed the boarding house. Mary assisted in the business while also caring for the couple’s three children; Clement born 1904, Majorie born in 1908 and Alfred Leslie born in 1909.

The couple’s youngest son, Clement, would make a name for himself as one of the best-known circus producers in the post-war era. At the age of 24, he became the Manager of the Blackpool Tower Company before becoming a Junior Executive of the Tower Circus. From there he was promoted to Entertainments Manager for the Tower Company, responsible for all their live productions. As the Guardian states, this meant he was in charge of the live performances of virtually the whole of Blackpool. Clem travelled the world to bring the best entertainment to Blackpool. He brought artists such as Vivian Leigh and Gracie Fields to the resort. In 1947, he took his talents outside of Blackpool and began working with the legend, ‘King of Pantomine’ Tom Arnold. Clem’s work included bringing the Moscow State Circus to London and Manchester, and directing a Texas rodeo of 100 horses in London. His work was described as ‘The finest production of a circus that the modern world has ever seen’.

In 1913, when Clem Butson was still living at 84 Albert Road, the house appeared in several newspapers for all the wrong reasons when a thief stole a purse from one of the guests.

Just over a year after the above story was published, Britain entered into WWI. Throughout the war, the Butson family remained at 84 Albert Road, moving out not long after it had officially ended. The next occupiers were the Naylor family. As per the postcard at the start of this blog, it was Mrs Mary Elizabeth Naylor that was the proprietor of the boarding house.

When Mary Naylor took over in 1920, Blackpool was attracting approximately 8 million visitors per year. It was one of the most popular seaside resorts in Britain. Visitors to the resort during this period could enjoy such attractions as Blackpool Zoo, a visit to the circus, dancing at the Tower Ballroom, a trip to the Pleasure Beach or a walk down the ‘Golden Mile’, enjoying some of the weird and wonderful stalls.

Mary Naylor remained in charge of 84 Albert Road until 1934. However in 1933, a shocking event occurred at the house that led to a servant being charged with murder! On the night of the 28th October 1933, Elsie Elizabeth Sanderson complained to Mary that she felt ill. Mary and her daughter helped Elsie get into bed and cared for her. At 4 am, Mary heard strange noises coming from the bathroom and sent her daughter to investigate. When her daughter looked into the bathroom, she could see that Elsie appeared very sick. A doctor was sent for, and he sent Elsie straight to the hospital. In the meantime, Mary Naylor was looking through a window and into the yard, when she saw what she thought was the body of a baby. The baby was still alive and was transferred to the hospital, where she sadly died.

Elsie was later charged and pleaded guilty to infanticide. At her trial at the Lancaster Assizes, she stated that she did not remember anything about the evening. Her bench reported that she had been very ill since the night in question and had been in the care of two doctors. Elsie’s mother also testified that the man who had got her daughter pregnant was planning to marry her. She further stated that Mrs Naylor was prepared to keep her daughter on as a domestic servant. All these factors seemed to have worked in her favour, and after hearing the evidence, Elise was given a nominal sentence of one day.

It’s not clear whether Mary initially re-employed Elsie following the trial. However, by the beginning of August 1934, she was advertising for a new maid.

Mary did not only use the newspapers for advertising for staff, but she also used it to promote her boarding house business. During the 1920s and the first part of the 1930s, she regularly advertised 84 Albert Road in the local and national press. However, her adverts suddenly stop in the autumn of 1934.

After finding no living records for Mary after 1935, I decided to look and see if I could find a death for her. I searched in Blackpool and couldn’t find anything. I then decided to explore outside of the area and discovered that Mary died of a pulmonary embolism at the Stanley Hospital in Liverpool.

Probate record for Mary Elizabeth Naylor

Following Mary’s death, the Cook family took over the boarding house. Elizabeth Cook and her husband, Percy Reginald Cook moved into Elmhurst House in 1935.

Like Mary Naylor, Elizabeth Cook also used the newspaper to promote 84 Albert Road. In 1935, she placed over 45 adverts in local papers to try to get business. Comparing Naylor’s and Cook’s adverts, it is evident that the Cooks’ had upgraded the accommodation, providing electricity and washbasins in some of the rooms. She also charged a reasonable rent, charging a daily rate 14/6 in 1953, which was the average rate for a room at that time.

Elizabeth Cook left the boarding house in the 1950s, and a new owner took over the business. However, by 1980s, 84 Albert Road and the subsequent houses next door were purchased and turned into one hotel called The Georgian. In 1987, the hotel got a famous owner when legendary singer Vince Hill joined the board of the hotel chain who owned it. He was quoted as saying that his attention would be on The Georgian, where he hoped they could extend the cabaret room so they could have ‘Vince Hill weekends’.

Today, the hotel is still called The Georgian. Although the building has been extended on the top floor and the ground floor/entrance has changed, it is still just about possible to make out the old boarding house.

84 Albert Road, Blackpool © Michala Hulme 2020

References

‘Clem Butson: A Gentle Showman: Obituary’, The Guardian, (27 June 1988), p.37.

‘Girl Remanded’, Lancashire Evening Post, (20 November 1933), p.7.

‘Mr Clem Butson’, The Times, (28 June 1988), p.16.

‘Vince moves into Hotels’, The Stage, (12 March 1987), p.3.

Trace Your Peterloo People

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Trace your Peterloo People

Date: 13 July

Location: Manchester Central Library

Time: 10am – 3.45pm

Learn about Manchester Histories’ Peterloo Descendants Project – the research, the people and the film – with historian Michala Hulme.
Join us in a full day of discovery at our Peterloo focussed genealogy open day. Book a 30 minute 1-1 session with a member of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society (MLFHS) and delve into the wealth of resources to start you off on your own family tree, or help break through a brick wall in your research.
Michala Hulme, genealogist and historian at Manchester Metropolitan University, will bring to life stories of modern day descendants of Peterloo witnesses, tracing links over 200 years of family history. Join Michala’s masterclass for expert guidance in furthering your own research or explore the amazing library building on a special tour with a member of the library team, including a visit to the vaults!

The Flood that Divided a City

This weekend thousands of revellers across the UK will don the colour green, grab a Guinness and celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Arguably it is celebrated more in England now than St George’s Day. However, relations between the native residents of the Victorian English city and our Irish Catholic ancestors had not always been so harmonious, and in Manchester this came to a head during a flood in 1872.

 

During the early hours of Saturday 13 July 1872, torrential rain began to batter the city. The rain would continue to fall for the next thirteen hours. It was so bad that a resident described it as being like ‘a water sprout had broken out over the city’. Manchester’s flood defences were no match for mother nature.

 

By the afternoon the River Medlock had burst its banks, flooding the newly built municipal cemetery, Philips Park. The worst affected area of the cemetery was the east portion of the Roman Catholic section. Coffins that had been newly laid were swept from their graves and travelled with the flow of water into the heart of the city. For three days bodies were being recovered and sent to the local police station, which was acting as a makeshift mortuary. The furthest body was discovered in Castlefield, some three miles from the cemetery. In total the number of bodies recovered was 76. A request was sent to the Guardians of the Poor for eighty coffins to reinter the bodies into a higher portion of the Roman Catholic cemetery.

 

The flood of 1872 was not the first time that this section had been under water. In 1868, a flood defence was built along the river bank but in 1869, the Catholic community argued that the wall was not adequate enough to protect them from future flooding, and they were proved right.

 

Since the opening of the cemetery in 1866 to the flood in 1872, over 12,000 burials had been conducted in the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery. The size of the Catholic section was approximately eight acres. The most popular form of burial was the public grave which could take as many as twenty coffins.

 

In the wake of the floods, the Catholic community became increasingly angered by the treatment they had received from the council – Irish working-class Catholics had come under particular scrutiny from the authorities during the nineteenth century, both for their living conditions and their political opinions when it came to Home Rule in Ireland, particularly following the murder of Sargent Brett in 1867 by a group of Manchester fenians.

 

Since the opening of the cemetery, Catholic community leaders had argued that out of all of the religious denominations in the cemetery, they had been given the worst plot of land to bury their dead. However, now they had a point. A local Catholic priest wrote to the Manchester Guardian and Home Secretary, stating that a public enquiry by the Home Office was needed to address the failings of the Corporation.

 

A public enquiry was held at the cemetery on 24 July 1872. In charge of the proceedings was Peter Henry Holland, burials inspector for the Home Office. Even before the meeting started, disagreements were taking place between the two parties. The Burial Inspector argued that the meeting should take place on neutral ground, whereas John Gornall felt it should be at the Catholic chapel. After a heated debate, it was decided that meeting should take place in the ‘neutral’ dissenters’ chapel. The result angered members of the public who shouted ‘we want to be treated as Christians, not as barbarians’.

 

The feeling throughout the meeting was one of hostility towards the Burial Inspector and members of the council. Even when the enquiry officially opened, members of the public could be heard shouting angrily. The police were called to stop any violence and keep the public in order. After a series of heated debates on both sides, the council announced that they planned to build a new river wall and stop all burials in the low lying part of the cemetery.

 

Although burials did stop in the low-lying part of the Catholic cemetery, the Catholic community still felt that they had been treated terribly by the corporation. In 1875, less than three years after the Flood, the Catholics opened their own cemetery only a couple of miles from Philips Park. The new cemetery in Moston, named St Joseph’s, had an immediate impact on the number of Catholic burials in Philips Park, which fell dramatically. To further insult the governing authorities, the Catholic community erected a large monument to the Manchester fenians – Manchester Martyrs as they are otherwise known – in the heart of their new cemetery.

 

The degree of anti-Irish prejudice had regional variations. It was worse in the northern industrial towns. Although Manchester never achieved the bitter sectarian rivalry found in Liverpool or Glasgow, there was still an undercurrent of hostility towards the Irish.

 

Fast forward to 2018, and Irish Catholic migrants are an integral part of the community. Any anti-Irish or anti-Catholic sentiment has no place in the modern city. This Saturday (17 March 2018) in cities across the world, myself, along with thousands of others will wear something green with pride to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.