Anyone who has visited the Victoria Baths in Chorlton-on-Medlock, will have noticed a beautiful row of houses next door to the baths. These houses are evidence of a bygone era in Manchester’s history and this is the story of one of them.
Our story starts on the southern edge of Manchester city centre. Until 1838, Chorlton-on-Medlock existed as an independent township, separate from Manchester. One surviving clue of this independence is the facade of the Chorlton-on-Medlock town hall, designed by Richard Lane in 1830 and it now adjoins MMU’s School of Art. In the eighteenth century, the area known simply as “Chorlton Row” was still largely agricultural land, before being carved up and developed for residential housing. By the mid-nineteenth century it was an extremely desirable and fashionable area for middle-class housing but at the end of the century, working-class housing replaced many of the former villas and gardens and the district bordered other middle-class-turned-working-class areas such as Greenheys, Ardwick and Hulme.
Until the early 1860s, the land on which the house was built was still open fields, reflecting the semi-rural nature of the area. There was a row of terraces and an farm, Blackstake Cottage, which was a hangover from an even earlier period. The street itself was known at the time as High Street and it was not until the 1960s that it was renamed as Hathersage Road. High Street was surrounded by wealthy, upper-middle class housing developments such as Plymouth Grove, Victoria Park and York Place (which is now under the site of Manchester Royal Infirmary).
Around 1865, a block of four houses was built at the eastern end of High Street, adjoining Richmond Grove. They are currently called the ‘Venetian Villas’ because of their ornate Italianate-style architecture. Strangely, on the next plot are four other houses from the same era, but these are in the Gothic-style, which is reflective changing architectural tastes in the mid-nineteenth century. The houses featured long front and rear gardens, and the length of the plot from the front gate to the back garden wall was 260 feet/79 meters.
Highfield was the name given to the four houses, which were individually known as No.1 Highfield, No.2 Highfield etc. They later became 16, 14, 12 and 10 High Street, so for the purpose of this article, we shall refer to the house by its modern numbering of 42 Hathersage Road.
In December 1867 the house was advertise to let. The advertisement reveals it featured everything a respectable person in Manchester could want in a house in the 1860s, with plenty of ‘mod cons’, such as a bath and an indoor toilet:
“A Good HOUSE, three parlours, six bedrooms, dressing-room, bath and closet: fronts the south and has large garden; rent, £100”
The first residents of Number 42 were the Fulda family. Sigismund Anthony Fulda was a merchant born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1834. His wife, Amelia Frank was born in Manchester in 1847. The couple married in 1867 and their son Frederick was born in 1870, whilst they were living at the property. They also had three servants: Sarah Thomas, Elizabeth Bull and Annie Green.
Fulda was part of a close-knit community of German merchants in Manchester, the majority of whom lived in Chorlton-on-Medlock and worshipped at the German Protestant Church on Wright Street (now the Stephen Joseph Studio). Next door to the Fuldas at 40 High Street was Noah and Sophia Kolp, both also born in Frankfurt. At 38 High Street was Henry Patterson, a magistrate and alderman for Manchester City Council. From at least 1859, Fulda was a naturalised British subject. He was a member of Manchester’s Grand Jury and he also sat on the Chamber of Commerce.
By the early-1870s, the Fuldas had left High Street for the The Oaks, a large house in Rusholme. Their only child, Frederick was educated at Charterhouse and at the University of Oxford. Sadly, he suffered from ill-health from a young age and at the age of 20 he was a patient at a hydropathic establishment in Buxton. He died in 1904. The following year, Sigismund died and he left some of his estate, valued at £95,276, to charity. Amelia later moved to St. George’s Square in London, where she died in 1924.
Between 1872-75 the house was occupied by Eagle Henderson Macmillan, a secretary for the Manchester and County Bank. Macmillan was born in Scotland in 1841. The son of a classics teacher, he grew up in Edinburgh. The family home, 15 Buccleuch Place, was also a high school. Macmillan was the only one of his siblings to have an unusual forename, his brothers, for example, were called Robert and John. Eagle Macmillan lived at Number 42 with his wife Jane and their two sons; John and Ernest.
The next residents were the Becktons, who lived at the property for around three years. Joseph Beckton was a machinist and rented the house for £105 per year. During this period the house itself, along with those neighbouring properties, were owned by Henry Holme.
Emil Samuel Hesse lived at the house between 1878-81. Hesse was a German-born silk merchant who had offices on Portland Street. Following from Hesse was James Henry Mort, a merchant. The household consisted of wife Jane and children; Edith, Gertrude and James, who eventually became a surgeon.
In 1891, the census reveals there were two servants at the property; Mary Bates, a cook and Ruth Lacey, a housemaid. Edith Mort was around the same age as Ruth, but the two women had vastly different experiences of life. Although poorer, Ruth had more freedom. She eventually left the Morts and worked for another family and she married in 1906. Edith, however, as the eldest daughter remained at home with her mother. After her mother’s death, she then lived with her brother. In her later life she lived at One Oak, a large detached house in Wilmslow. Also in the household three other unmarried women, one was her sister, and a widow. Edith died in 1960 at the age of 91.
After Jane Mort and her daughters left 42 Hathersage Road (High Street) in 1895, the property was briefly occupied by William Nash in 1898 and John Hart in 1899. By the time Hart was living there, the rent had fallen to just £40 per year, reflecting the changing nature of the area. Rows of terraced houses had been built on Thurlby Street, Howarth Street, Keswick Street and Chelford Street. More housing was built opposite the house on Denham Street in the early twentieth century. The construction of the baths in 1906 on what had once been a lawn and tennis ground next door the house was another marker that the area had become distinctly suburban. By 1910 the area was now catering to the upper-working classes and lower-middle classes, a notable change in just a few decades.
Manchester and Salford Methodist Mission Maternity Home and Hospital
With the changing nature of the area it explains why the house was no longer used as a single domestic residence from around 1903. Wealthy families no longer wanted to reside in the area and they retreated to further away places such as Didsbury and Alderley Edge.
Number 42 instead became a maternity home and hospital, occupied and ran by the Manchester and Salford Methodist Mission. The Mission was founded in 1886 and aimed to help those in society who were most at need. The maternity hospital opened at the house in 1903 and initially it had 15 beds available.
In this case the hospital dealt solely with unmarried mothers, which would suggest that the amount of unmarried women having children at this time was both a moral and social concern. However, in line with the Mission’s work, there were certain requirements to be met to be allowed admission into the hospital:
- The mother must be aged 25 or under.
- She must be unmarried.
- This must be the first case of pregnancy.
- She must be able to pay the fees of £3/3s. (modern equivalent is £332)
The cost of the service is key point here. The average salary of a general domestic maid in 1899 was £14/6s. per year, so this fee would have amounted to several months wage. It’s also important to note that in some households, wages were only paid annually. This would have prevented some of the poorest women in Manchester for using the hospital. It also shows that, whilst willing to help the poor and unfortunate, the Mission was in turn creating social divisions within the working-class community themselves.
The 1911 census gives us a snapshot of how the maternity home and hospital operated and who made up the patients. At the time of the census the matron was Clara Elliott and the two nurses were Lillian Walker and Mary Ann Reeds. There were 7 women in the home at the time and two babies under one month old. The occupations of the women were recorded: 3 domestic servants, a cap maker, a confectioner, a children’s nurse and a lithographer.
The building continued to be used as maternity home and hospital until the late 1950s and into the 1960s. In 1926, the adjoining property Number 40 High Street (now Hathersage Road) was also purchased by the mission and turned into further accommodation for mothers and babies. Unfortunately, the records of the Mission and therefore, of the maternity home too were destroyed in a bombing raid during the Second World War. The baptism registers from 1917-1929 survive and they are located at Archives+ in Manchester’s Central Library and some other records for the maternity home covering the dates 1925-1929 are located at the National Archives, Kew.
In 1981 plans were submitted to Manchester City Council to demolish Numbers 36-42 Hathersage Road and replace the Victorian houses with a block of flats. Fortunately, the plans were rejected. This may have been due to the houses proximity to the Victoria Baths. At the time, the building was in the process of being save and recognised for its architectural merit. It was itself was granted listed building status in 1983. If the houses were demolished it would have had a detrimental impact on the character of the area. Also in 1983, plans were submitted and approved to convert the four properties into flats and self-contained bedsits. As of 2018, a one-bedroom flat in one of the former-houses could be rented for £600 per month, showing how history repeats itself and the area is once again a desirable place to live.
Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath
- Manchester Courier, 9 December 1867, p.1
- Manchester Evening News, 28 October 1903, p.1
- Sheffield Telegraph, 12 June 1905, p.5
- Manchester Courier, 19 February 1910, p.10