Posts Tagged ‘history’

Going Underground in Stockport

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

As part of our active discovery of Manchester and anything within a 30 mile radius of the city, on Sunday Sir Pubert and I decided to explore another level and headed underground. We went to Stockport to the air raid shelters that were set up prior to World War II. Stockport is built on sandstone, therefore allowing for some fairly easy digging and there is an extensive length of tunnels and shelters built underneath the city.

One of the shelters has been turned into a museum and you can walk through the tunnels learning about what life was like underground. The tunnels were used when significant bombings occurred in the area as well as during times of threat. It was difficult to imagine what it must have been like to spend time in these underground shelters, hoping you would come back out alive and with your house intact. The camaraderie that occurred amongst those who sought shelter was incredible and I wondered if this sort of compassion would happen today if we were all required to seek shelter in a hole in the ground.

Stockport air raid shelter

Underneath Stockport.

The air raid museum was quite well done but the tunnels themselves are just worth seeing. They don’t have the same impact as the catacombs in Paris with the stacks of bones piled high as you walk through limestone underground graves, but the air raid shelters are a very special part of Stockport’s history.

Library Lady

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

This weekend I intentionally went to TWO libraries. Not just one. Two. Nerd alert.

Library #1 – Manchester Central Library

Since moving to Manchester I have watched with great interest the redevelopment of the Manchester Central library. A large and commanding building situated behind the Town Hall, it has been surrounded by partitions and scaffolding and I have been eager to get inside and take a look. On Saturday it finally reopened and the public was able to visit the new and improved building. Being the eager book-beaver that I am, I was there with the rest of the nerds keen to see what sort of books I could get out on my library card. (Not that I have one yet. I signed up on Saturday.)

The building is circular and features a large dome in the centre. This is where the main reading room is located and is most definitely the high light of the building. The previous week, a friend had mentioned the whispering wall effect that he remembered being prevalent in this room when he used to go there to study. I was excited to see if this still existed or if the architects had ruined it with soundproofing. I believe it may have been reduced slightly, however as I stood in the middle of the room taking a photograph of the inside of the domed roof, I clearly heard the voice of a man who appeared to be standing right next to me and speaking directly into my ear. But there was no man! In fact, a large pillar in the centre of the room blocked my view of the person speaking as he was located directly across from me. It was fantastic! I spent about ten minutes walking around eaves dropping on conversations that were happening at the opposite end of the room from me. I plan on spending a lot of time here feeding my need to listen to other people’s conversations.

Inside the dome.

Inside the dome.

Family history plays a prominent role in the new development. There is a section dedicated to helping people research their family history and discovering more about Manchester. I plan on using these services to find out more about my own family history and trying to discover why exactly my great grandfather decided to move to Australia. Obviously he was just a wise man, but perhaps there’s more to the story.

I haven’t been a member of a library since I was a kid but wandering around the Central library on Saturday made me realise how useful it will be to me as a wandering traveller. Borrowing books from a library is a much cheaper and lighter way of reading books – I don’t need to pack them into boxes and send them on to my next destination! Yes, this is a bit of a blonde realisation and I’m sure many of you are currently shaking your heads at my ignorance. But it’s the truth. So there you go. So I joined the library on the weekend and hope to get a library card. Then I’ll be a real nerd.

Library #2 – Chetham’s Library

Located in the centre of Manchester next to the Football Museum is Chetham’s School of Music. This prestigious school is hidden quite mysteriously behind gates and a lone security guard and is difficult to infiltrate. However, the Manchester Histories Festival is currently happening throughout the city and a few buildings have been opened to the public. So I took the opportunity to go and visit Chetham’s library that I had seen photographs of and read about on various websites.

Please Ring.

Please Ring.

The school features beautiful old stone buildings that make it look like the set from Harry Potter. The library is located upstairs through a wooden doorway and you are instantly welcomed by dark wood shelves and a high half-timbered roof. It is just spectacular – you can’t help but say “WOW!” as you walk into the space. It oozes history and you can just sense the hundreds of brilliant scholars who have spent hours reading books there.

Beautiful books.

Beautiful books.

As part of the festival, there was a gentleman showcasing a wooden letter press and I stood and had a bit of a chat with him about the processes involved. We were then invited to watch a performance of ballads that had been written in Greater Manchester to spread news and stories about what had been happening in the local area. The girl performing the ballads was great and brought a spark to the ballads. I had previously read some of them as they hung on the walls of the Manchester Art Gallery but it was a completely different experience to listen to them being performed.

I was sad to leave Chetham’s library simply because it was such an enjoyable space to be in. If you get the chance to visit make sure you do.

Discovering the Mysteries of Vernacular

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Last night I discovered a lovely series of animated videos on the TED-Ed website, the educational offshoot of TED talks. These two-minute videos offer insights into the Mysteries of Vernacular or where certain words come from. The chosen words include ‘Odd’, ‘Window’ and ‘Gorgeous’, with one of my particular favourites being ‘Fizzle’. The videos have been made by Jessica Oreck (good name) and Rachael Teel and are informative, funny and beautifully put together. Have a look-see.

Remembrance Sunday

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Today is Remembrance Sunday – the more family friendly day to mark the end of World War I and to remember those who fought for us. While I still plan on having my one minute silence tomorrow at 11am, I headed to the parade this morning. It dawned on me that this would be particularly poignant for me as on this day 95 years ago, my great grandfather, William, was in the French countryside fighting for the Allies. He grew up in Salford not far from where I am now living and moved to Perth in his early 20s. In 1918 he returned to England and was then sent to France to fight.

William kept a diary throughout that year making short comments each day about the voyage by ship to England and then his experiences during the war. On this day 95 years ago (interestingly it was also a Sunday) he wrote:

“Nothing much doing today. We are out of range of sounds of gun fire & all is peace. “

On the 11th, his entry is:

“Germany accepted our armistice terms today & I think this puts “finni” to him.”

A fabulous, witty statement that shows great insight into a man I never met. I like to believe that he and I share a love for words as well as having moved to the other side of the world to live in each other’s home towns.



The White Cottage

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

One of the key reasons that influenced my decision to move to Manchester was that this is where my great-grandfather (my dad’s dad’s dad) was born and raised. In 1910, William left England and sailed to Australia where he fell in love with a lady, had plenty of babies and started the Australian Davies clan. It wasn’t until 2006 that my Australian family became aware of our English side and over the past few years we have been getting to know one another and researching our very extensive family history. William was one of nine children so it is a particularly large family tree.

Last year when my parents were in Europe, there was a large family gathering at one of my ‘cousin”s house (by ‘cousin’ I mean my great grandfather’s sister’s granddaughter.) With over 40 people it was overwhelming to meet all of these people who are genetically related to me. In some it was easy to see genetic similarities while others were less obvious. One of  the ‘cousins’ in my Dad’s generation is a clone of my grandfather. In some of the other cousins I could see my rounded facial features and red cheeks.

At this family reunion, one of the cousins brought along a painting of a white cottage that was apparently the house where my great grandfather was born and spent his early childhood. This cousin believed she knew the whereabouts of the actual cottage and so last week, a group of us went in search of the potential home of our ancestors.

The cottage, now named Rose Cottage, is in an area that we know our family was living in. The shape of the building is very similar to that in the painting and the country side surrounding it is certainly the same except with a few extra developments. We are hoping to contact building authorities and look at ownership records to see if they are listed as living in there. The cottage is a listed building so there should be some sort of information on its history somewhere.

The potential family home

The potential family home

The mystery of trying to discover where our family lived is fascinating and addictive – I would love to research more into our family history and see how they lived. I love the fact that I have returned to my great grandfather’s place of birth and am now living in the city that he left in order to establish a new life in Australia.

Portugal, I Love You

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

You know you’ve enjoyed a country when your stomach is screaming with pain from eating too much food and drinking too much wine. Maybe it was the fried, salted peppers, or maybe I just over indulged but my stomach is currently on holidays from my excessive Portuguese eating habits. It is glad to be back in the country where while everything is full of butter, it doesn’t drip down your chin as you bite into your food.

Jess and toast

Butter chin!

We returned to Paris at lunch time on Sunday after a week away in Portugal. Sunny, warm Portugal. It was Tom’s birthday present – I bought him tickets and accommodation for four days in Lisbon and three days in Porto. The main reason for this present was because Portugal is a country I have wanted to visit and I had started to miss the beach beyond belief. Really, it was a present for me, but Tom didn’t seem to mind.

Lisbon was a fascinating city and I don’t think I have ever walked through a city that has worked my calf muscles as much. I thought there were hills in Lyon – that was NOTHING compared to the mountainous terrain of Lisbon. You can be walking along a street and decide to turn right, only to discover that to get to the next parallel street you have to go up an almost vertical incline. To add to your woes, you have to deal with cobblestone footpaths that are made up of super slippery tiles, so you have to grip on with your toe, feet and leg muscles to avoid going backwards.

Lisbon hills

Danger hill alert!

Of course, you then get to the top of the hill, walk along a nice flat area for awhile, only to discover that you now have to go back down the slope without slipping over and falling on your butt. It was hilarious watching slow and cautious tourists being over taken at rapid speed by locals, often elderly women with walking sticks. I was once over taken by an old lady carrying a carpet over her shoulder. I wanted to bow, kiss her feet and compliment her on her walking abilities and hope that one day I could walk as well as she could.

Portuguese lady

Look at that skill!

The good thing about hills is that you often have a nice view from the top of them. There were LOTS of nice views in Lisbon and these vistas, terraces, or look outs were really well used. There was almost always a little kiosk cafe where you could sit and have a drink, a historical monument or an over priced tourist venture.


Beautiful Lisbon.

On our first day in Lisbon we were the stupid tourists who paid to go up a lift that used to be run on steam (if it still was run on steam I would have enjoyed it more. Instead it was just an ordinary lift with wires and electricity and stuff) for a 5-10 second ride in order to get ‘a view’ over Lisbon. If we had waited and walked around for a bit longer, we may have realised that if we had walked up the hill NEXT to the lift, we could have had the same view for free. But hey, what’s the point of being a tourist if you don’t get ripped off? Plus it was Portuguese prices which means we could have gone up and down the lift four times before it cost anything near the price of going up the Eiffel Tower.

Lisbon elevator

The Elevator of Santa Justa

It was interesting being in a European city where there are few buildings dating back past the mid 18th century. A massive earthquake in 1755 destroyed most of the city so it was interesting to then visit Porto which has some much older buildings and feels like a much older city. There is a feeling of hardship in Portugal – it is one of the EU countries currently struggling with its economy and it is quite obvious from the living standards in the cities and it the country towns we passed when on the train. People make do with less and have done so for centuries but global economies are making it harder for this to be possible. However, while people’s homes appear run down and falling apart, it was also interesting to see that houses with city or water views that had once belonged to generations of family members were being transformed into fancy hotels and tourist restaurants. This really annoys me. The fact that large numbers of delightful cities are transformed into Disneylands just to maintain economies and to satisfy rich tourists is horrifying. While I am one of those tourists, I don’t want to see a city taken over by souvenir shops and tourist menus. I go to a city to see its history, discover how people live there, and eat local food. This is becoming much harder to achieve.

Lisbon restaurants

Tourism is taking over

Anyway, potentially contradicting my previous statement, we spent one afternoon in Porto doing what the tourists do – visiting port cellars and sampling the local produce. Much like going wine tasting in the Swan Valley or Margaret River, there were hoards of tourists wandering from cellar to cellar, demanding free samples and feeling hard done by if they had to pay for something. We joined in and visited four port cellars and sampled approximately 10 different ports. That’s a lot for one afternoon.


The first three ports

In two of the cellars we were able to join tours that took us into the caves where the port is stored and provided us with a bit of information about how the port is produced. You can see a highlight of these tours in a movie on my Flickr site, where a particularly amusing girl provided us with a very interesting tour of the Croft cellar. The main reason it was interesting was the way in which she spoke English – it was just delightful. Plus the fact that she appeared strict and like a scary teacher at first, and then started dropping really sarcastic jokes throughout her speech just made it a tour to remember.

Basically, the key thing I learnt from my four cellar visits, ten ports and two tours, was that I like Tawny Ports because they are oakier due to being aged in smaller oak barrels than Ruby Ports. See? I was listening. And if you have a vintage port, drink it within 2-3 days of opening. And all Port grapes are grown in the Douro region in Portugal. SO THERE YOU GO.

Portugal was fantastic. I will write some more later but right now I have to go and buy a baguette for lunch. Tough, I know. I do have to venture outside into grey and windy Paris where it is fairly cold. That’s not sunny Portugal!

Time to Read

Monday, July 18th, 2011

My new job has provided me with a new interest in the history of Paris. I have always liked knowing the history behind places but I am now starting to get a much better understanding of the development of this city and who all of those Louis-s were. I have started reading a book called Seven Ages of Paris written by Alistair Horne and it is proving to be a good read, although you have to concentrate a fair bit in order to remember which king is which. It covers the history of Paris from the early 1100s through to the late 1960s. I’m trying to read some of it every day and yesterday Tom and I spent the morning at the laundromat, avoiding the rain and trying to do some washing as the washing machines at Les Récollets are broken. Exciting stuff. I almost fell asleep from the warm temperatures and eye movements.

History of Paris book

History book and washing machines.

Madrid Part 4

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Free Tours

We went on two tours run by New Europe Tours while in Madrid – the first a free three-hour walking tour that was run by a hyperactive Pom called Colin. Col showed us around Madrid with much enthusiasm and told us about the endless number of kings who ruled Madrid. It was so informative that we decided to go on the Tapas Tour that took us to four tapas bars where we had beer or sangria and sampled tapas while learning about the Spanish eating habits. It was a great way to discover the city while learning a bit of history. I always feel like such a tourist sheep on guided tours but they’re usually very enjoyable. I am thinking of applying to be a guide in Paris. Lots of people’s names and random dates to learn!

Stories From the Past

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

I was trying to think of a non-cheesy title for this entry but appear to have failed miserably. Damn. Oh well, I can always go back when I think of something better and change it.

Anyhoo, here’s a story for you. In 2006, my dad received a letter from a long lost ‘cousin’. I use the term cousin loosely as he is the grandson of my Dad’s grandfather’s sister. Follow that? Anyway, we have since met a whole bunch of distant family members who live in England near Manchester and who are apparently my relatives. I can’t exactly deny it having met them and discovering that the ‘cousin’ who sent the original letter looks and acts EXACTLY like my grandfather (my Dad’s dad). Very spooky. It turns out, my great grandfather (William Davies) came to Australia from England and started the Australian blood line that I am now part of. So the point of my ramblings is to tell you about the diary that William wrote in 1918 and that my Dad and I have been attempting to read and copy out so that we can send electronic copies to family members on the other side of the world.

It has been a fascinating read. The diary is a day-to-a-page diary that William has written brief accounts of his activities over an entire year. During the year he joined the army and went by ship to England where he worked in the arsenal fixing guns. We follow him to France where he describes “Fritzy” dropping bombs on Australian and British troops nearby and then the end of the First World War on 11 November. It is amazing to read his story – a young man, having left his lady back in Australia, is out enjoying himself with his army-buddies while also going through some very tough living conditions. His mood shifts from excited to bored to frustrated to chipper to flirtatious as he undertakes various activities throughout the year. Some of my favourite entries include:

Thursday 14 February, 1918 – On a ship headed for England, currently mored at Sierra Leone.

Still at anchor & the heat is very oppressive. The sun is not near so hot as it is in W.A. but there seems to be an oppressive sticky heat all the time which makes one feel very dull.  The officers & nurses went ashore again today but their impressions of Sierra Leone are not much. Seven of the war workers went ashore last night on one of the lighters without permission, two of them got arrested on shore & sent back to the boat & the other five got back on the boat quietly this morning. The two who were arrested were sent back this morning by the police & they have been put in the cells. I am orderly sergeant today & I have been going around the boat all day on detective work trying to find the other five who were ashore. I have arrested three so far & they are now in the cells.

Sunday 19 May, 1918

A beautiful sunshiney day.

A memorable day today. Stan Reeve & I went to London this morning arriving about noon. After a stroll around to see the places of interest we went into a place in Fleet St for dinner & for an ordinary dinner we had to pay 5/6 each. After dinner we visited Buckingham Palace, the Palace gardens, Hyde Park & Rotten Row. Sat & heard the band in the Park for an hour or so, had tea & after tea took a bus ride out to Richmond. Arrived back at Hyde Park corner about 10.45 & was strolling through the Park to the bus to come home when the air raid alarm went. It was a beautiful moonlight night. We walked about after the alarm until the firing commenced & then took shelter in the Regents Palace Annex where there was about three hundred girls living. Saw girls of all sorts & sizes in all sorts of array. We had heavy incessant firing & the bombs were dropping frequently until about 1.30 AM about that time the raiders were driven off & the all clear signal given. About ten minutes afterwards the alarm was again sounded & this time we were near Leicester Square & we took refuge in the tube station. Nothing came of this however we got the all clear again about 2.20 AM. We came out & we could not find a trace of any damage although from the heavy & constant firing and bomb dropping one would have expected to see the place in ruins. We walked about until three in the morning & as we could not get home we managed to get a bed at the Australian Aldwich Rest hut. This morning it is again a beautiful day & one would never imagine there had been anything the matter. We started for home by tram & our first glimpse of the result of the raid was about a mile or so out where two or three houses were wrecked at a place called Avondale Square & windows were smashed all around the place & several people killed. Arrived home at 11.0AM & there does not appear to have been any damage done at Woolwich.

Friday 11 October, 1918

Spent a day straightening up our shops, pitching tents etc, raining all day. Tonight half a dozen of us visited the tunnel again & the Scheldt Canal which runs through it. The Canal was built in Napoleans time about 1802 & it is filled with barges which are packed with rough bunks where the German troops have been quartered. The Canal is six miles long & comes out at St Quentin. We explored a good part of it & got one or two small souvenirs & saw the place which the Germans are supposed to have used for a corpse factory at the entrance of the tunnel. There was plenty of vats of fat about & the stench was horrible but I rather doubt it being a corpse factory. Ammunition is strewn all about the tow path & bombs are scattered everywhere & there is one or two machine gun emplacements, a most interesting experience.

Monday 11 November, 1918

Germany accepted our armistice terms today & I think this puts “finni” to him.