If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess

If walls could talk.

If concrete could confess.

If soul could seep through cement.

If only one of those monochrome apparitions could reach out and take me by the hand, leading me into a world of smoke and ale and revelation.

image

The woman stood by the door on the right of the picture is my great grandmother. The two little girls are my grandfather’s older sisters. The guy on the far left, in the bowler hat, is my great grandfather. The other two younger men could be family, I don’t know. Will probably never know. Posing with a football and a trophy of an unknown triumph, they remain silent, anonymous ghosts. Enigmas of imagination.

The building itself, its very brick and mortar, contains more than can be revealed in a two dimensional image. It contains that which is valued in meaning.

Ancestors of mine dwelt in that place between 1901 and 1939. A descendent of theirs also ran the pub for a short period in the 1950’s. What emotions those rooms must have absorbed. Laughter and tears resonating in time. My great, great grandmother died in there, as did her son in law, my great grandfather.

Behind those upstairs windows, in one of those unseen rooms, my grandfather was born. At the other end of life’s spectrum, two of his siblings died in there.

Happy times, sad times. The building stands in the photograph as a mausoleum of memory.

I would love to be able to go into that pub today, buy a drink and take a seat in the corner. Shift my sight and listen to echoes. Watch the ghost of an old man skip through those doors as a little boy. Perhaps whistling the tune of a song that one day, many years in the future, he would sing to another little boy.

Hand me downs of blood and mannerism and story.

Alas the pub no longer stands-it fell victim to the slum clearances that transformed whole neighbourhoods and scattered communities. I’ve been to the site where it originally stood. Ironically there was another pub there, empty and boarded up. Perhaps its own ghosts were walled up inside, caught in the shadows. Memories in a new mausoleum, waiting for people of their line to come searching and shift their sight.

 

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91 thoughts on “If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess

  1. I know how you feel about that photograph since I have turn of the century photographs of my grandparents, too, and walked the streets of the municipality of Salerno that my great grandparents and generations before them walked, saw the house my grandfather was born in, etc. We are all connected, whether we want to recognize it or not, to the past. This is a lovely post. Good luck living with your ghosts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve done the same, walking the streets of the former 19th century industrial area of Manchester called Ancoats. It is now an English Heritage site, with some of the old mills preserved. There are a lot of streets in this area, all within minutes of each other, that many of my ancestors (from differing branches of my tree) lived, worked, and died. It was to great to walk those same streets, armed with a list of names and dates.
      Thank you.

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  2. Wow! What a blessing to have photographs this old. I have no photographs of my great-grandparents. I barely have photos of my grandparents!
    Such a legacy, Andy. I’m glad you’re chronicling this in your blog for posterity.

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  3. Ah, the past cuts both ways. How fortunate you are to have these pictures and know these stories, but how difficult it must be to long to go sit in the pub… and it’s gone. Loving history and the past as I do, I am always caught between celebrating and morning at the same time.

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    • Yes that’s exactly it. Many a time I’ve been stood at a graveside knowing my ancestors have also stood where I am now standing. Until it was their turn.
      Or walked down streets that remain lamenting that the houses have now gone . There is a pull to it, a mournful, fascinating pull.

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  4. Hi, Andy – Great blog! I’ve really enjoyed spending time reading your posts about your ancestors in both wars. I too have inherited many old family photographs and find them fascinating. My great-great-grandparents came to South Africa from Manchester in 1880 as part of a dodgy settler scheme and the snippets of history that I have about them have kept me wondering for years, and guessing the bits that no-one knows.

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    • Hi Susan, thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ yes sometimes what you don’t know is as intriguing as what you do! And the thing with family history is it is never ending. I will be still putting dates died onto that tree until someone adds mine! Out of interest-what surnames have you got for the ancestors from Manchester?

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    • Thank you Roberto. I also have other photographs of gt grandparents on my mother’s side (these here are on my dad’s side) but the one photograph I wanted is now lost. That was of one gt grandfather whose grave I visited in Greece, where he was killed in WW1. I have discovered so much about his life, but don’t know what he looked like.

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  5. Glad you were pressed so that I would find you! Very enjoyable piece. I share your fascination and am ancestry.com-ing it too. I don’t know what value all this time spent has, but there is just something so frustrating about each of us only having less than a hundred years. It seems we are hoping to pass on wisdom gleaned, to advance the next generations. In any case, there is a place in my heart and mind where it feels as though they live. I am working on a novel that brings them to life in fiction, and, funny, as I write and research, sometimes I find out my hunch was true!

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    • Bringing them to life in fiction is a great idea. We can take the bare bones of what we know and begin to add flesh and blood to their lives. I have discovered so much and yet there is so much I still don’t know. It’s ongoing! Always ongoing ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I have many ancestors who lived in the Ancoats area. From different family branches at different times. I have walked the area with the list in my pocket. It is now an English Heritage site, the old industrial mills now conserved in the heart of Manchester. I can’t remember now if I’ve posted about it or not ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a great feeling walking the very streets where my ancestors lived, worked and died. I often wonder if some of the neighbouring ancestors from different sides of my lineage were acquainted with each other. At least on nodding terms. There was a pub in Ancoats too that my gt gt gt grandfather ran, and died in. I have ancestors from Jersey Street too. What were the names of yours? Maybe we’re related! How you doing, cuz? ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • Very intriguing! Both my mum’s parents had roots in Ancoats and their names were Ludden and Cummings. I did start to research this a couple of years ago but seem to have got side tracked. You’ve inspired me to pick this up again. I’ve noticed that Ancoats is going through a regeneration process and it’s lovely to see this happening after the area being so run down for all of those years. I’m doing fine Cuz, how you doing?

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  6. I was born in one such house. It still stands – 114 years old,all wood & stone – & I can point to the window where I was born. The picture alas does no justice to it. It is too one dimensional. If only walls could speak

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  7. I LOVED the mysterious feel you added, like a ghost
    story of sorts. I sometimes will pass a old building and
    have the urge to just explore, see what is there, absorb
    the memories of another time as ghosts roam, watch
    the living….enjoyed this read:)

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  8. Great post! I have always loved old photos (I play around with restorations for friends and family) and imagine stories for what/who is captured. It’s so very nice that you have a REAL story for this shot…it’s wonderful ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thank you. Yes I love them too, I often feature them on here. I have a favourite that says on the back of the photograph ‘Mary and her grandfather Jasper, around 1900’. That’s all we know. Great photo.

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  9. Great post! It is amazing how these images from the past can connect us with family from days gone by. They underscore, too, the way that place changes. I often wonder how my own ancestors – visible to me in fafing monochrome prints – would view our world today; with its interlinked societies connected by a technology that would have seemed magical even two generations ago.

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    • Yes an imaginative, two-way perspective is good.
      I’ve stood in many a spot my ancestors have stood, for example gravesides, and tried to put myself in their place. Somehow reconnect with the emotions. Thanks for reading.

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  10. This is superbly written. It really is amazing to see old photos and think about how different times were then, and how physical places can emotionally connect you with individuals that you may or may not have met but are aware of. I am sad that it is no longer standing. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ on the bright side, it is truly a blessing that you still have this picture to remind yourself.

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    • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ I have walked that street, have walked many streets, thinking of those long gone who I nevertheless am connected to, trying to imagine the places as they were back then.

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  11. There’s very little in this world as fascinating as genealogy. Thank you for reminding me of that with this post! The mind does like to fill in those blanks for us, doesn’t it? When all we can do is speculate? I will say one thing though, and perhaps I’m not the only researcher who’s felt this way, it seems our ancestors sure were made out of some amazingly tough stock to survive things we couldn’t possibly dream of today. Good luck on your journey, maybe someday you’ll discover the identity of the trophy winner! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  12. Oh yes, what I have discovered over and over is how hard people had it back then. I am thankful for their struggles, without which I would not be here. Thank you.

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  13. Sometimes I think they had it better back then. Maybe harder work, but with all of our modern conveniences to help us do things faster, it seems we don’t have the time that they did back then for each other.

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  14. Before expressing my thoughts on this beautiful essay, I would like to express my gratitude to you, Andy, for taking me back through time into the world of your ancestors. It was a pleasure to read. This piece of literature, if you would call it that, is creative and enchanting; allowing me to dream about the lives my ancestors led. “If walls could talk, concrete confess..” contains no more than can be revealed in this multi dimensional essay. It is as good as they come. Congratulations. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Sorry I overlooked your comment. I’d asked in a local newspaper letter’s page for photographs of that pub. Luckily for me a reader kept the newspaper to show to an old lady next door when she got back from holiday. She ran the pub in the 1950’s.

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  15. Brilliant ! Lovely post, so poignant and eloquently written. It also brings to mind that we are making history and memories for our grandchildren, love `em. I found your blog by accident while searching for pictures of Collyhurst, on Google images, connected to a social history project I have. I have recently started a couple of blogs myself, on Blogger (I might give WordPress a try)

    This without doubt is the kind of material I aspire to write, you have inspired me, thank you.

    http://paulsobscura.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/a-brief-glimpse-of-another-time.html
    http://www.oratoragitator.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/battle-of-cable-street-1936.html

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      • Hi Andy, nice to be in touch. Re Collyhurst, I am trying to find a photo of, or map showing Albert Croft. I`m researching street politics (Fascism / Anti-Fascism) in the 30`s and 40`s. So many buildings / venues from that period have sadly disappeared without a trace. Cheers. Paul

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      • Don’t know if you are on FB, but there are groups on there focused on Collyhurst and Ancoats, etc. Posting on there may get you a result.

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