The Romancing Of Lorenzo? Perhaps Not.

I have just finished this book about the blues musician Skip James:


Not afraid to look at the darker side of James’ character: that of gambler, bootlegger, pimp and (alleged) murderer, it sheds some light (at least the amount that James allowed himself to divulge to the author) on the life of this blues player, and on blues music in general.

Some readers have commented on the book’s descent into bitterness about James’ (and some of the other old bluesmen’s) declining powers over time, a decline which is understandable given the circumstances of their lives and breaks from performing and practising music which lasted for decades.

I do like Skip James the artist, though I’m not sure if I would have liked Skip James the man.


Towards the end of the book, there is a passage that made me laugh, about the time when James finished recording Lorenzo Blues in honour of his wife, Lorenzo. The producer Maynard Solomon beamed: “Mrs James, you’ve just been immortalized.” 

The passage read:

Lorenzo Blues, his most recent composition, was probably the poorest piece of doggerel James ever invented, and Lorenzo herself was far from flattered by her husband’s mock description of her: “She stumbles when she talks, she wobbles when she walks . . . She’s shaped like a Coca Cola bottle . . . “

How is that for a romantic ode?

In your face, Lord Byron.

After The Slap

I don’t know where exactly this photograph was taken, but it is of a strawberry seller, in 1877.

By the look that the woman is giving the guy, and the way that he holds his hand to his hang-dog face, I reckon that she has just given him an almighty slap for taking a strawberry without paying.

What do you guys think?


Throwback Thursday: Tracing My Blog’s Birth Parent

City Jackdaw was a weekly penny magazine that ran in my home city of Manchester from 1875 until 1880. I came across a reference to it at a time when I was searching for a name for my blog. I am a sucker for history and connections, so it seemed quite apt.

I also liked the idea that it was something that some of my Mancunian ancestors may well have read.


I found the following description of it:

‘The subject matter was broad and current. Poetry, articles, sections on the theatre and “Claws of the Week” were regular features.’

That seemed quite relevant. When I started my blog, I incorporated into it a series of posts that occasionally feature on Fridays, called ‘Claws For The Weekend’.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for connections.

It was also described as ‘a humorous and satirical journal.’

I try.

One day I may get myself a copy of the 19th Century City Jackdaw, or check one out in the archives of Manchester Central Library. I think that would be kinda cool.

Like tracing a birth parent.

Why City Jackdaw?

As my next post was to be my 300th post, I thought it appropriate to re-blog my very first post. Go back to beginnings, when an unsteady fledgling Jackdaw first took the leap from its comfortable nest. Three hundred posts, and still trying to figure things out. Thanks for flying with me.

City Jackdaw

Birds. I like birds.

I am not a birdwatcher, and try to refrain from twitching. But when out and about I try to take notice of what is around me, whether I am walking along the coast, through the woods, or down the street. Birds pay no heed to our borders and our boundaries. They are everywhere. I like that sense of freedom.

 Corvidae is the latin name for the family of birds that includes Crows, Ravens, Jays and Magpies.  These are considered to be among the most intelligent of birds. Crows can do all sorts of things, regularly featuring on YouTube. Look them up. Google ‘Crow funerals.’ Crows dance. Use tools. Fly upside down (really!)  Recognise human faces. Upset a crow and its personal. I have been out and about and found a Crow studying me. Figuring me out. (Good luck says my wife.)

Jackdaws are the smallest of…

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Showing Restraint

You guys know what I’m like with old photographs.

I came across these three when writing my ‘Claws For The Weekend:Admissions’ last Friday. Although that was a light-hearted post, this is an altogether darker post, if not a little disturbing.

This first photograph is from around 1869, and was taken by Henry Clarke of a patient in a restraint chair at the West Ryding Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield, Yorkshire.

Does this old man have an air of defiance, or of being subdued, about him? Or was he incapable of experiencing either feeling?


This is another photograph by Clarke, from around the same time, of a patient being restrained by warders. I know that sometimes restraining patients was done for their own safety, or for the safety of others, but there is something about how he is being held by the hair to be captured by the camera that is disturbing.


This last photograph, of which I know neither the photographer nor the location,shows a seemingly isolated patient in restraints.

Looks like a still from a horror film doesn’t it?


My wife worked for a while in a psychiatric hospital. And even though she and colleagues were trained on how to restrain patients for the safety of everyone concerned, the term used was ‘care and restraint’, with the emphasis on care.

Thankfully today, the practice is, or should be, done in a more dignified manner for everybody involved.

Suffer The Children

I recently read about a local retired clergyman, Canon Jim Burns, who has written a book about the history of the whit walks in Manchester. He says that the first procession of Church of England members took place in 1801, between St.Ann’s Church and Manchester Cathedral.

In those days children worked for six days a week between 4.00am and 8.00pm. The local Sunday schools did not want the children, on their one day off, to become involved in cockfighting, gambling, or the drinking of gin.


The idea they came up with was for the Sunday schools from around Manchester to have a big assembly for the children to attend, but the place to hold it could not be decided upon. Some argued for St.Ann’s church, which was more fashionable, while others argued in favour of the Cathedral.

In the end a compromise was reached in that the children would all meet together at St.Ann’s and then walk to the Cathedral. Thus was the walk born.


I cannot help but think of my own children today. We ensure that they are nourished, educated, get enough sleep and have enough leisure time . In short, we allow our children to be children. Contrast this with the description we have already heard-of children working between 4.00am and 8.00pm. In a difficult, dangerous environment, children were used as they could fit into places among the machinery, and reach parts with their small hands, that adults couldn’t. Small hands that were often caught in the machinery. Accidents with children being injured or maimed was common. Disease was often present too.This was a time when children were not allowed to be children. In times of poverty, every member of the family had to contribute.

Ancoats has been described as the world’s first industrial suburb. It is now a heritage site. I have walked the streets where my ancestors lived, worked, and died. This is an area where some of the old mills still stand. I have seen a door with a handle positioned low in order for it to be reachable for these young members of the workforce.

A window on childhood. Does this girl look outside, imagining her escape?

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It just doesn’t seem right to think of these two girls as workmates, or colleagues. I have a daughter around the same age as these two.

I like to think that they remained lifelong friends. But we will never know what life held in store for them.

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I am reminded of something an elderly great aunt of mine once said. When thinking of some of the younger generations of the family now starting out on their own, with their own homes in nice gardens, and new cars.

She said “I look at them and think to myself, ‘if you only knew where you have come from, how poor we were and how much of a struggle things were.'”

I feel thankful for my own childhood, and for that of my children. I am still learning where I have come from.

Angel Meadow/Hell Upon Earth

I came across this six-minute video on YouTube and wanted to share it with you people.

Just a few minutes walk from Manchester city centre, Angel Meadow in the 19th Century was anything but heavenly. Under the dark skies of the industrial north, this was one of the city’s worst slums. A London-based journalist, Angus Reach, on visiting it, described it thus:

‘The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel Meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, by those unhappy wretches the ‘low Irish.’

The cellars that he described were situated beneath lodging houses, crammed and overcrowded with the most unfortunate people in the direst of circumstances.

Reach visited one such cellar:

‘The place was dark, except for the glare of a small fire. You could not stand without stooping in the room which might be about twelve feet by eight. There were at least a dozen men, women and children on stools, or squatted on the stone floor, round the fire and the heat and smells were oppressive…the inmates slept huddled on the stones, or on masses of rags, shavings and straw which were littered about. There was nothing like a bedstead in the place.’

Another memorable description by Friedrich Engels in his book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.’ :

‘Such is the Old Town of Manchester, and on re-reading my description, I am forced to admit that instead of being exaggerated, it is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world.

If anyone wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air–and such air!–he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither. True, this is the Old Town, and the people of Manchester emphasise the fact whenever any one mentions to them the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth; but what does that prove? Everything which here arouses horror and indignation is of recent origin, belongs to the industrial epoch.’

I have a few personal connections to this place. My great-grandfather lived in one of the 19th century lodging houses. I have followed his journey, on the 90th anniversary of his death, from the church in which he got married all the way to the soil of Thessaloniki  that now holds his body close to her Greek heart.

Timothy O’Sullivan, an orphan who swapped the hell of the industrial slum for the hell of the first industrialised  war.

When you view this short film, look out for the Tobacco factory-that is where I worked for five years. My mum worked there fifteen years before I did. It has now become an apartment complex.

And of the two ragged schools, my Dad used to play pool downstairs in the Sharp Street one.

Also, St Michael’s flags: These are the mass graves of 40,000 paupers, many the victims of Cholera.The burial ground was unpaved for forty years until it was laid with flagstones.  When my Dad was a kid he used to play football on them. It reminded me of the historical description attributed to a local, Rochdale Road resident:

‘There was at one time a number of gravestones covering the remains of some dear lost ones, but these have been removed and a few are to be seen in some of the cottages….Very often are the bones of the dead exposed and carried away and a human skull has been kicked about for a football on the ground.’

It was many years after the time of this description, but my Dad never did mention what he used for the football.