Music on Oldham Road

By 1841, Bernard, now aged 65, and Ellen, aged 55, resided at The Briton’s Protection, Oldham Road, with sons Bernard, then aged 15, described as a pattern designer (perhaps in the adjacent mills), and John, aged 14, who was still at school. Also living with them was Catherine Derr, a 15-year-old servant from Ireland. No doubt the two sons gained early experience assisting in the family pub, giving them the knowledge and skills that later would help them create the first edition of ‘B & J McKenna’, a brewing and inn-keeping business in Manchester that would last until the early 20th Century.

In the mid-19th Century, the running of the The Briton’s Protection, at the centre of an increasingly populous area, would have been full of challenges, as well as growing trade opportunities, despite the ‘slump of unprecedented proportions’ in the cotton industry in 1841/42.11 These were rapidly-changing and, no doubt, tough times. Just 50 yards away were the busy Rail Goods Yard and the adjacent Potato Market, with up to 30 potato merchants. High density housing surrounded the mills on both sides of Oldham Road, a street that by 1849 had become, according to one observer, a focus for raucous music and wild drunkenness:

‘In returning, last Sunday night, by the Oldham Road, from one of my tours, I was somewhat surprised to hear loud sounds of music and jollity which floated out of the public house windows. The street was swarming with drunken men and women and with young mill girls and boys shouting, hallooing and romping with each other. Now, I am not one of those who look upon the slightest degree of social indulgence as a downright evil, but I confess that last Sunday night in the Oldham Road astonished and grieved me. In no city have I ever witnessed a scene of more open, brutal and general intemperance. The public houses and gin shops were roaring full. Rows and fights and scuffles were every moment taking place within doors and in the streets. The whole street rung with shouting, screaming and swearing, mingled with the jarring music of half a dozen bands.’12

The writer, Inverness-born Angus Reach, was no elderly disapproving prude but a 28-year-old journalist and author on the London-based Morning Chronicle and later a staff member of Punch. He died prematurely (aged 35) and, perhaps ironically, a contributory cause of death may have been alcohol consumption.13

Reach’s description of the sounds of music and jollity floating out of public house windows has a parallel almost a century later that can be seen in this photograph of the George & Dragon/Band on the Wall in c1946. Note the open half-light window above the left side of the bandstand, allowing the music – now electronically amplified! — to float out to Oak Street. We will never know if the music then heard in the street was less ‘jarring’ than the music heard by Reach in nearby Oldham Road 95 years earlier.

Figure 7 – Musicians on stage at Band on the Wall during World War II, probably Rudi Mancini, accordion, and Jim Hart, drums, c1943

Figure 7 – Musicians on stage at Band on the Wall probably just after the end of World War II, possibly Rudi Mancini, accordion, and Jim Hart, drums, c1946

11Chartists Ancestors – www.chartists.net

12Angus Reach, ‘Manchester and the Textile Districts in 1849’

13Edwards, P.D., “Reach, Angus Bethune (1821–1856)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press