The ghosts of our past. A Heatons childhood at the turn of the 20th Century


With Halloween just round the corner, we asked MOOR’s history writer Phil Page for a different take on a ghost story. Here’s one that can be read by, or shared with, your children.

We are ghosts from your past. Our names are Martha, Charles and Henry. We were children in the Heatons over a hundred years ago. I’m Martha, the oldest of the children in the photograph. This is what our lives were like.
Our world was different to yours. We had no internet, no mobiles phones and no television. At home, we had to make our own entertainment. There were no cars or aircraft. The days were quiet. We lived our lives in a semi-rural environment, worlds away from the pace of your modern, twenty-first century lives.
We were not from a poor family. We owned a piano and enjoyed singing songs together in the evening. We played card games and board games and acted out charades. Once a month our uncle William would come round with his magic lantern and project images onto a screen for us, perhaps of wild animals or a story told in pictures. One day a foreign marching band consisting of four men came down the road with a dancing bear. It had a muzzle across its jaws, but I was still scared that it might escape and bite me. I felt very sorry for the bear, it didn’t look happy, and some boys poked it with sticks. Uncle William took a picture of it but I never really liked looking at it.

Our parents hired a nanny to take care of us. She would teach us reading, writing, good manners, how to dress properly and how to behave in the company of older people. The days could sometimes be quite boring with the constant prodding to be proper and polite. If Henry put on his shirt inside out, he had to keep it that way all day. She said it was bad luck to change! She took us for walks in Heaton Moor Park and occasionally organised a trip to Belle Vue Zoo. If we were well-behaved, she would get sixpence from our parents and take us for a ride in a Hansom Cab along the cobbled streets from Heaton Moor Station to Moor Top. We only actually saw our mother and father in the mornings and evenings and were expected to be ‘seen and not heard’.
Our nanny also looked after us when we were sick, although she had some strange treatments for different ailments. When Henry was young, he caught whooping cough. She said she would cure him by making him swallow a spider in butter!

We lived in Heaton Moor village, near the shops with the verandas. We didn’t always have to go to the shops though. In the mornings the milk cart would come round and sell us milk for our porridge from two giant churns. The milkman also sold fresh cream, which we put on the berries and blackcurrants we picked from the hedges along Green Lane and Shaw Road.
The rag and bone man was also a regular visitor to our street, and if we had any old clothes to give him, we might get a windmill or balloon in exchange. On Tuesdays, the fish seller would knock at our door and sell us filleted fish ready to cook for tea. On Fridays, the muffin man came and we could buy pikelets or oatcakes which my father really liked.

On Saturdays, we were allowed to play on the Moor. A lot of our friends liked to dress up as soldiers. When the war came, some of them were old enough to join up but we never saw most of them ever again.
So remember, just like you, The Heatons was our home. We walked your streets, visited your shops, played in your parks and lived in your houses. Your open spaces were filled with the sounds of our cries and laughter. Listen carefully. You may catch our voices on the breeze, sense us standing in your shadows or hear your name whispered in the quiet moments before you drift into sleep.

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