A CALL FROM THE PAST
Cyril Holmes, who moved into the flat in 2005 after his wife died, was born in 1921 at 11 Burton Street, Pendlebury, an estate comprising of some seventy homes. The terraced houses, thought to have been built in the mid 1800s, were typical of their time; namely two up, two down with a yard, outside toilet and one cold water tap. The estate was made up of four main roads; Peers Street, Burton Street, Maurice Street and Barlow Street.
The area was known affectionately as ‘New Bilston’ or 'Bilston', by the locals, after the potteries town in Staffordshire, where many of the residents had moved from in order to get work in the local coal mines, such as the Wet-Earth, Agecroft, Clifton Hall and Wheatsheaf.
Cyril’s family moved into the house in 1914 and by 1928 there were nine of them living under the one roof; a grandfather, parents Peter and Elizabeth and their children, Ivy, Leslie, Minnie, Cyril, Victor and Lionel.
Because it was only a two bed roomed house, Peter had built a partition wall down the middle of the front bedroom, which effectively divided the window and room in half. The two girls occupied one half of the room and the three elder boys the other. The baby, Lionel, slept in his parents’ bedroom. Because it was such a squeeze the three brothers slept in a three quarter bed, head to toe on a fleece mattress with an old army overcoat as a blanket. His grandfather had the front room as his living quarters which meant the rest of the family only had use of the kitchen during the day. There was only gas lighting downstairs, so candles were used in the bedrooms. Apparently, 11 Burton Street was the first house on the estate to have electricity installed and the first to have it taken out because they couldn’t afford it.
Peter, Cyril’s father, was a carpenter in the mines and his main job was installing pit props which kept the roof and walls from collapsing. Cyril’s elder siblings all left Cromwell Road School and started work at the potteries (Pilkington’s) in the late 1920-early 30s. However when it was time for Cyril to leave school in 1935 it was during the depression and there were no vacancies at Pilkington’s, but luckily there was an apprenticeship at Matthews and Yates in the offering and so he became a skilled sheet metal worker, staying with the Swinton based company for over 50 years. Sadly Cyril’s grandfather died in 1932, followed tragically by his father, Peter, in 1934, from heart disease - he was only 47. Two years later his younger brother Victor died from gangrene after an accident, he had just turned twelve. Then in 1944 his eldest brother, Leslie, who was an original member of the 45 Commando, died in Normandy, during the D-Day landing operations, he was only 30. By this time both the girls had married and left home.
Cyril continued to live in Burton Street with his mother and younger brother Lionel until his marriage to Jean in 1951. His mother continued to live there until 1968, when she died aged 78. By which time Burton Street had been her home for some 54 years. Just a few years after Elizabeth’s death, in the mid 1970s the whole estate was demolished as part of the national slum clearance project and the present Laurence Lowry flats and several houses were built in its place.
At the beginning of July 2011 the front gardens and entrance to the flats were being excavated by Emanuel Whittaker, the company carrying out the renovation work for City West. This was in order to extend the entrance and lay foundations for a new car park and it was during this time that Janet, Cyril’s eldest daughter, noticed the uncovering of some large stone cobbles amongst the rubble and it suddenly dawned on her that they were in fact the setts that used to make up the old estate’s roads.
Out of curiosity Janet decided to investigate and using Google Earth she obtained a current aerial view of the present site and then super-imposed it upon a 1925 ordinance survey map. From this she was able to determine that the road was in fact Burton Street! So the cobbles that Cyril’s family had trod for over 50 years had suddenly come to light again!
But the story didn’t end there, because to Janet’s amazement she could also see that the only house that was located in the area where they were actually digging was her Dad’s old house. And sure enough when she returned the following day the digger had just started to uncover the foundations of the old end terraced house. Cyril could even watch the unveiling of the remains from his first floor flat window which overlooks the garden and entrance area.
John Millward, the site manager, kindly allowed Cyril and Janet access to the building site where they could view and photograph the unearthed foundations, and for old time sake they were also allowed to take away a couple of old house bricks and street cobbles.
Who would have thought that after all these years Cyril would see the remains of the house where he was born 90 years ago and once again stand in what used to be his front room. When you think about it, it’s quite amazing the number of strange coincidences and exceptional circumstances that led to this unique event.
As Cyril said with a smile on his face; ‘It’s almost as if the ‘old girl’ is letting me know she is still around’.
Reflecting on his childhood, Cyril says, ‘Although we lived in poverty and times were extremely hard we had a good childhood and loving parents. We may have been barefoot, but we were happy. The house holds some very special memories for me and it was great to stand inside it again.’
Cyril has two daughters, Janet and Susan, two grandchildren, Ruth and Steven and two great-grandchildren, Jasmine and Harrison.
Cyril with his two great grandchildren and their Gran, Janet, Cyril's eldest daughter
His only surviving sibling Lionel, now 83, lives close by in Clifton. The brothers often spent time reminiscing together but neither of them could have ever envisaged this strange turn of events.
If the link above doesn't work click HERE