How life in The Heatons was shaped over 100 years ago.
By Phil Page with original photographs by Anna Dowson
The influence of the Victorians on all aspects of British society was immense. Their era was a period of rapid change which left its mark on the development of the nation and they transformed the landscape of Britain, morally, culturally, industrially and architecturally. Evidence of their influence is still scattered across The Heatons.
During Queen Victoria’s reign the country moved from a society primarily based on farming and cottage industries, with people living in simple housing and travelling about by horse and cart, to one in which electric lighting, improved health and sanitation, typewriters, telegraphs, express trains and ocean-going liners all became an accepted part of society. The population became more literate and there was a growth in the demand for newspapers, novels and periodicals, leading to a general enrichment of life.
The coming of the railway was the one thing which impacted most on the development of The Heatons, as it opened up the area to wealthy families who wanted to live in a peaceful, semi-rural environment, away from the pollution of the busy industries of Manchester and Stockport. The train station opened in 1852 upon the instigation of local clergyman Edward Jackson, who had links with the northern division of the LNWR.
With the establishment of the station, the Victorians built houses of grandiose scale with generous gardens along Heaton Moor Road, side by side with several public and amenity buildings. The length of Heaton Moor Road soon presented itself as the centrepiece of an affluent and desirable new suburb. The character of the area today is still defined and dominated by the scale, form and settings of these buildings evidenced by creations such as the beautiful wrought iron and glass verandas of the shopping centre, a testament to Victorian ornate design.
The Victorians of course, established the moral climate of the age and churches were commissioned and built. St Paul’s was constructed in 1877, (with its imposing tower added by 1900), the Methodist Church in 1894, and the former Congregational Church, (on the corner of Broomfield Road), in 1896.
Places for the local worthies to meet were also an important part of Victorian society and the Conservative Club and the Reform Club were constructed in 1881 and 1888 respectively; the latter designed by architect Alfred Darbyshire, an admirer of the designs of Alfred Waterhouse, who designed Manchester Town Hall.
The Victorians loved entertainment and music and were not averse to building public houses as centres of social entertainment and reverie for the local population. The Plough on Heaton Moor Road was built in 1886 in Gothic Revival style, predominantly in sandstone with the inscription ‘He that by the plough would thrive himself must either hold or drive’ curving over the main door below a beautifully carved scene of ploughmen at work.
Perhaps one of the greatest Victorian legacies however was a commitment to providing open spaces to ensure quality recreation and leisure time for the community. The land on which Heaton Moor Park was built was donated by Lord Egerton, with the specific instruction that it was to be ‘for the free use and enjoyment of the public as a public play, pleasure and recreation ground’. It was formally opened to mark the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee on 17th July 1897.
As you walk around The Heatons it’s hard to escape the ghosts of our Victorian past. In many ways, they were not so different from us and our high-tech 21st Century, in which rapid communications and development of ideas seem to move our lives along at a frightening pace. The Victorians undoubtedly felt that their era was the same and it is perhaps fitting that, within the hurly-burly of our modern life, we still live in their world – walking their streets, living in their houses, reading their books and travelling on their railways!