A small terraced house in Hindsford, Atherton in Greater Manchester has an unknown hidden history. In the 1960s this unassuming former miners cottage played a small but crucial part in the development of British law and in the lives of people in the United Kingdom today.

Where is Hindsford?

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Ordnance Survey Map of Hindsford and Tyldesley, 1890s (Source: http://digimap.edina.ac.uk/roam/historic)
Hindsford is a small geographic area which lies between the towns of Atherton and Tyldesley in Greater Manchester. To anyone not from the locality, Hindsford would appear to be just the location where two towns merge into each other. Hindsford is closer to Tyldesley but it is officially an extension of the Atherton boundary. Even historically addresses here are recorded as “Hindsford, Atherton” or “Hindsford, Tyldesley” but to local people it functioned for the majority of the 19th and 20th centuries as its own community; with different standards of housing,both Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, schools, shops, public houses and industry including Chanter’s Colliery and Burton’s cotton mills.

Robert Street

Robert Street was built in the mid-1870s as part of a housing development by the Fletcher, Burrows Mining Company. The company had been founded in 1872 by Ralph Fletcher and Abraham Burrows and they owned and controlled all of the coal pits in the Atherton region. Fletcher’s ancestors had access to the mining rights of Atherton from 1776 and also owned collieries in Bolton.

Fletcher Burrows was credited as being a ‘good’ company to work for and they are part of the philanthropic trend in the late nineteenth century. In the mid-1870s the Fletcher Burrows Company built a ‘model village’ for their workers at Howe Bridge complete with miners cottages, bath house, shops, school, social club and church. All the buildings were designed by J. Medland and Henry Taylor. At the same time they built similar miners cottages at Hindsford, including Robert Street, for the workers of their Chanter’s Colliery which was sunk in 1854 and expanded in the 1890s.

3 Robert Street (Source: Own Photograph, 2016)
The Residents of 3 Robert Street

In 1881 the first residents recorded on a census at 3 Robert Street are George Foulds (born 1858) a carpenter at the colliery and his wife Mary Ann (b.1858) who was a cotton frame tenter in a cotton mill. The couple were still there in 1891 along with a daughter, Sarah (b.1884).

In 1901 the Tootle family are living are the five-roomed property. Head of the family is William Tootle (b.1868) who works are a colliery fireman. He is recorded on the census with his wife Sarah (b.1874) and their two children; Ernest (1897-1918) and Alice (b.1899). The Tootle family only lived here for a few years before moving elsewhere in Atherton. Unfortunately Ernest Tootle would later become one of the 327 Athertonian victims of World War One (see below).

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Ernest Tootle (1897-1918). Tootle was 21 years old when he was killed in action on 21st October 1918, just twenty days before the end of the war. He enlisted in 1916 as an Officer in the Machine Gun Corps and has been gassed in March 1918. He had previously been a cotton spinner and a Sunday School teacher. (Source: Leigh Journal, October 1918 http://archives.wigan.gov.uk/)
By 1904 William Ainscough (1879-1951) and his wife Susannah (1879-1925) moved to 3 Robert Street. They live there with their children Edith (b.1903), William (b.1904), Gladys (b.1909) and Ann (b.1910). Also living with the family until his death in 1915 is Susannah’s elderly father, Cornelius Latchford. A year later in 1916 William and Susannah have another daughter, Kathleen. William worked as a collier in a coal mine owned by Fletcher Burrows Company.

The Ainscough family stayed at 3 Robert Street for many years, in 1939 only William and youngest daughter Kathleen are recorded there. However we know that even by 1946 the family are still there, as when widowed Edith Hunt (nee Ainscough) re-married at St. Anne’s Church in Hindsford, she lists 3 Robert Street as her address. By 1956 Arthur and Alice Gibbins are living at the property.

Robert Street and the ‘Swinging Sixties’

Allan Horsfall in the 1960s (Source: http://lgbthistoryfestival.org/blog/2014/11/13/allan-horsfall-lecture.html)
The 1960s have been recorded and remembered in history as years of huge social changes, which earned the decade the nickname of ‘the swinging sixties’. One huge social change in Britain revolved around sexuality and the public’s perception of it. In 1961 the contraceptive pill became available to the public and in 1967 both abortion and homosexuality were legalised in Britain. The little miner’s cottage at 3 Robert Street played a central role in paving the way for the campaign for equality for the LGBT community.

By 1964, number 3 Robert Street belonged to the National Coal Board and living there was Allan Horsfall and his partner Harold Pollard. Horsfall worked in the Estate’s Department of the Coal Board, however his real passion was politics and in particular, homosexual law reform. In 1958 he became associated with the Homosexual Law Reform Society and some years later in 1964 he became one of the founding members (along with Collin Harvey) of the North Western Homosexual Law Refrom Committee (NWHLRC).

What is key about the founding of the NWHLRC is that Horsfall publically published his home address in Robert Street along with information about the committee. This was an extremely brave move both politically and socially, as homosexuality was still illegal at the time. The local newspaper, Leigh Reporter picked up the story and published it on their front page (see image below).

“Homosexuals and the law” Front page of the Leigh Reporter, Feb. 1965 (Source: Leigh Reporter, Thursday 4 February 1965)
Inside was an article written in response to Horsfall’s campaign by Tony Buckingham under the title Not Interested. Buckingham writes that he knows Horsfall is “sincere in intention” he also wrote:

“Again speaking personally, I wonder where it will end if homosexual practices between consenting adults were made lawful. Surely it is a fact that most of today’s homosexuals became homosexuals through contamination when they were children.”

Although Buckingham’s comments are shocking to a liberal 21st century audience, his opinion on homosexuality were surprisingly common of that generation fifty years ago. Homosexuality had been such a taboo subject in Britain in the immediate decades prior to the 1960s that the general public had little knowledge about homosexuality and saw it as something akin to a mental illness.

However this appears to be the only major backlash that Horsfall received from the local community. He later recalled his feelings at the time:” I thought all hell was going to break loose. Not a murmur. No letters opposing it, no hostility from neighbours, not much at work.”

Horsfall and Pollard later moved from their Robert Street address in the late 1960s but Horsfall continued his campaign even after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 was passed. He later co-founded the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and he passed away in 2012 at the age of 84.

The Coal Board later sold their properties to the council, in 1976 Christine and Geoffrey Rigby are living there and in the 1980s 3 Robert Street was home to the Howcroft family. Number 3 Robert Street continues to be a domestic property to this day. It is quite amazing that the little house was built as part of a drive in society to change attitudes towards the working classes and provide them with a better quality of life and almost a century later this unassuming property once again was part of a massive social drive to improve the life of millions of men and women across the country.