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a blog by Chris Barrow

Ellen Mellor

My maternal grandmother Ellen Mellor is standing at the front door of their terraced house on Gorton Road, Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester, sometime in the 1920’s.

Husband Albert has taken the photograph.

Outside you can see the cobbled street and a large brick wall that was still standing when I visited them in the 60’s.

On the other side of the wall is Ardwick Junction – one of the largest railway sidings in the country.

As a child I would sit for hours in the front upstairs bedroom of this “two up, two down” property, watching row upon row of wagons being shunted from one siding to another, hitched onto coal-fired locomotives that would export Manchester’s engineering products all over the UK and beyond.

I remember the sound of those magnificent engines, the screech of iron wheels on iron tracks and the billowing clouds of steam that enveloped the house.

Back here in the 20’s you can see a Victorian hatstand in the hallway. To the right was the “front parlour”, always immaculate with a couple of chairs and a small table, plus a cabinet full of pottery. This room was rarely used – special occasions only and children not allowed.

I ponder at the context of this photograph – is Ellen having a conversation with a child outside the door (perhaps my uncle or mother) or simply deep in thought and the moment captured by a devoted husband?

She told the story of standing at this same spot in the early 1940’s, when the railway sidings were a regular Blitz target and watching as a parachute bomb silently passed above them, left to right, following the line of the street to land and explode 200 metres further down from their home and demolish a whole block of homes.

During the Blitz, with the children away in Blackpool, Albert and Ellen would sit under their dining table until the raids were over – the back yard wasn’t big enough to accommodate a shelter and there were no other places for the community to “hide”, other than in their homes. Albert built an iron top and legs for the table during the war, in the hope that this would protect them should the house fall down on them. Happily his engineering ingenuity was never put to the test.

There are no winners in the game of war. I’m sure my many friends across Europe have similar photographs from their family archives and can tell equally if not more frightening stories about bombs dropping on civilians and the devastation caused by men seeking power.

Having recently read Kate Atkinson’s “Life after Life” I can appreciate the terror of these campaigns on both sides of the conflict.

When this picture was taken, the Great War was a memory and the trials and tribulations of the rest of the 20th Century, depression, war and austerity, were yet to evolve.

They lived in this same home until the mid 60’s.

I lived there with them for a time when my Mum was hospitalised after a nervous breakdown in the early 60’s.

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