When we think of the birthplaces of former Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, we are more tempted to think of grand locations like Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, rather than the backstreets of suburban Manchester. Nonetheless, the birthplace of David Lloyd George was a little terraced house and even though he technically only spent a few months in the city, Manchester was very proud of its famous son.

New York Place, where Lloyd George was born, has long since disappeared but the recent acquisition of L. S. Lowry’s 1958 oil painting of the street will no doubt re-spark the interest in the connection. Lowry’s paintings are evocative of a changing landscape in and around the industrial city but his depiction of New York Place is even more poignant as Lloyd George was really first Prime Minister who had an ordinary, humble background. As Clement Attlee said, Lloyd George “was the first man to go from a cottage to 10 Downing Street” and here is the history of his birthplace.

Above: L. S. Lowry’s oil painting of 5 New York Place (1958) (Source: https://thelowry.com/2021/04/19/ls-lowry-painting-of-former-prime-minister-david-lloyd-georges-birthplace-to-go-on-display-at-the-lowry-after-being-acquired-for-the-nation/)

A wilderness of bricks: Where was New York Place?

New York Place was located in Chorlton-Upon-Medlock, just to the south of the city. The street straddled the boundary between Chorlton-Upon-Medlock and Ardwick and as a result it was often recorded as being in both locations. The name ‘New York Place’ was likely to distinguish it from other streets named York Place (in Hulme, Higher Broughton and Chorlton-Upon-Medlock), rather than in emulation of the Big Apple in America.

Ardwick and Chorlton-Upon-Medlock were absorbed into the Borough of Manchester in 1838 but they each existed as independent townships before this. In the eighteenth-century Ardwick, just a mile from the centre of Manchester, was regarded as open countryside. As such it was a very popular residential location for Manchester’s elite, who built their elegant homes around the edge of Ardwick Green, which originally had a lake at the centre. Chorlton-Upon-Medlock was known as “Chorlton Row” and it was largely agricultural land before it was carved up for residential development as Manchester expanded in the 1790s.

Above: A Map of Chorlton-Upon-Medlock in 1850. New York Place can be seen behind Marsden Street. The house Lloyd George was born in had not been built at the time this map was surveyed. It was built opposite the row of five houses shown on the map. The gardens of villas on Ardwick Green can be seen just off Barlow Street. All these streets were demolished and remodelled in the 1950s and 1960s. (Source: Ordnance survey five feet to one statute mile. Manchester and Salford, 1850, The University of Manchester Special Collections: https://luna.manchester.ac.uk/luna/servlet/view/all?sort=reference_number%2Ctitle%2Cimage_sequence_number%2Ccreator)

It was not until around 1841 that New York Place was laid out on empty land at the back of terraced houses on Marsden Street, Wootton Street and Higher Temple Street. Initially only five houses were built and a decade later, in 1850 another four were built. These were constructed in two pairs divided in the middle by Hargreaves Street. It was one of these pairs which was Number 5. Geographically New York Place was just one street away from the elegant suburban villas around Ardwick Green; socially the residents were worlds apart. New York Place was described as a ‘narrow thoroughfare’ and Number 5 was ‘a dingy-looking house in a dingy setting – a tiny street of some half-dozen small houses surrounded by a wilderness of bricks.’ The houses here were built cheaply and they consisted of four rooms above a cellar. Hardly any sunlight would have penetrated the rooms of houses on New York Place as they were surrounded on all four sides by other streets. The street was only connected to a sewer system in 1869 and in that same year it was drained and flagged, almost 30 years after it had been first built. The early residents would have been plagued with mud, filth and stagnant water outside their front doors and they embarked on an endless battle to keep their homes clean.

Residents of No. 5 New York Place

The first resident of Number 5 New York Place was Elizabeth Dickin who lived there for two years. As the house was rented it had a frequent turnover of tenants; James Harrison, Samuel Jones, George Carter and Robert Metcalfe and their families all lived there across the 1850s and 1860s.

For a brief period in late-1862 to mid-1863, the house was occupied by William George, his wife Elizabeth and their infant daughter, Ellen (b.1861). Both William (1820-1864) and Elizabeth (1828-1896) were born and raised in Wales, coming from Trefwrdan and Llanystumdwy respectively. William was a teacher and his work brought the family to Lancashire and eventually to Chorlton-upon-Medlock. It was at 5 New York Place that Elizabeth gave birth to a son, David Lloyd George on 17th January 1863.

Above: William George and Elizabeth Lloyd, parents of David Lloyd George. (Source: The National Library of Wales, https://www.library.wales/digital-exhibitions-space/digital-exhibitions/david-lloyd-george/the-life-and-work-of-david-lloyd-george/david-lloyd-georges-early-life#&gid=1&pid=2)

The family did not stay long in Manchester and within a matter of months after David’s birth they moved back to Wales on the account of William’s ill health. He gave up teaching to run a smallholding but he died in 1864. Elizabeth gave up the farm and moved in with her brother, Richard Lloyd, a bootmaker. He helped raise his nephew and niece and he was one of strongest influences on the life David Lloyd George.

It is almost impossible to sum up the life and career of David Lloyd George (1863-1945) in a few sentences and in brief he went on to become one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century. Despite his start in life he became part of the lower-middle classes through his career as a solicitor and he was elected as a Liberal MP in 1890. However, it was his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1908-1915) and as Prime Minister (1916-1922) that Lloyd George became most well-known. He introduced the People’s Budge in 1909 which taxed the wealthy to pay for social welfare, which was radical at the time. In 1911 he introduced the National Insurance Act which offered some protection to workers if they experienced ill health or unemployment. This was a monumental step forward for social reform in Britain and it was the first time this had been officially introduced into law. Later, as Prime Minister, Lloyd George navigated the country through the First World War and in its aftermath he continued to introduce progressive legislation. This included the partial enfranchisement of women and full enfranchisement of all men in 1918, the introduction of social housing under the Addison Act 1919 and also the National Health Insurance Act of 1920 which extended existing policies and made them more inclusive. Among his descendants are the historians Margaret Macmillan and Dan Snow.

Above: David Lloyd George in 1915 (Source: The New York Times Current History: The European War, (April–June 1915). Volume 3. p. 221)

This priceless gem we cherish so thankfully: Manchester and the Lloyd George connection

Life continued as normal at New York Place in the years and decades after the George family left. In 1871, 40 year old George Hubbard, a twist maker-up, lived at Number 5 with his wife, Elena and their two children, John and Anne. The house was later occupied by Edwin Chadwick, a hooker (someone who operated a machine which laid fabric flat with equal folds) until his tragic death in 1874, when he was hit by an omnibus on Mosley Street. John Hesketh lived there until 1884 paying a weekly rent of 5 shillings and 6 pence.

The Townsend family lived at Number 5 New York Place from the early 1890s. Joseph Townsend (b.1841) worked as a salesman in coal yard and he eventually became manager of it. He lived at Number 5 with his wife, Mary (b.1842), their two daughters daughters,  Sarah (b.1873) a cigarette maker and Barbara (b.1874), an embroideress, and his son Herbert (b.1876) who worked as a barrister’s clerk. In the 1890s Townsend’s elderly aunt, Mary Twyford (b.1818) also lived with the family. The Townsends were still at the property ten years later in 1901 and the family moved not long afterwards.

Above: New York Place. The photographer was stood in the alley which led to Wootton Street and they were facing Marsden Street which can be seen in the distance. Number 5 New York Place can be seen on the right of the picture with the lamp outside. This image really provides a good idea of how narrow and oppressive the streets were. (Source: m79155, Manchester Local Image Collection)

By 1911 the terraced house was being used as a boarding house. There were six people living in the house, consisting of two separate households. Mary Finn and her two daughters, Nora and Anne occupied two rooms and Frank Lane, James Kilburn and Annie Massey occupied the rest of the house. Lane was a widower who worked as a rubber sorter, Kilburn was a tea tester and Massey was a dressmaker who worked from home.

It was also around this time that people in Manchester started to take an interest in New York Place as Lloyd George became a more prominent figure in society. Lloyd George was extremely proud of his Welsh heritage. He grew up in Wales, he spoke Welsh and he continued to live in Wales with the exception of his time in London. He had only lived in Manchester for a few months as a new-born but this link was enough for the people of Manchester. In January 1913 the house was decorated with flags and bunting to celebrate his 50th birthday. The fascination with Lloyd George was a result of his progressive policies which actively benefitted the ordinary working-class people of Manchester, including those who still lived at New York Place. One newspaper even went as far to make a tenuous link between Manchester, the Chancellor (as he was at the time) and social reform. It stated: ‘but indirectly Manchester is responsible for the Insurance Act. Had there been no Manchester, there might have been no Lloyd George; the world would have gone blundering along aimlessly towards everlasting chaos.’

Above: Number 5 New York Place decorated for the 50th birthday of David Lloyd George in January 1913. (Source: The Manchester Guardian, 16 January 1913, p.7)

The house was described as ‘the priceless gem we cherish so thankfully’ but it is doubtful that those who lived in the small rooms with no indoor sanitation would have agree it was a ‘gem’. Nonetheless, the interest in the house and the nostalgia it created continued and it was renewed after Lloyd George’s death in 1945. In that year Mrs F. Bramley wrote to the MEN: ‘I wonder how many people have the honour of being born in the late Earl Lloyd George’s birthplace? It would be quite interesting to know. My husband was born at 5 New York Place, on September 11 1908, in the same room as that grand old man. His mother made the suggestion of writing [to] you, as she – now 76 years of age – really feels quite proud of the fact.’

In 1918 David Lloyd George was granted freedom of the city of Manchester and he visited the city for the ceremony. The residents of New York Place anticipated that the Prime Minister would visit their street but Lloyd George developed a bad cough and he cancelled a number of appointments, which left the residents disheartened. It is not known whether he ever visited his birthplace but there was a rumour he made a secret trip during his lifetime.

The occupier of Number 5 at that time was a Miss Matilda Timney (1864-1947). Matilda had moved to the property around 1914 and she had spent her entire life in its shadow, as she had grown up on Higher Temple Street. She was particularly proud of the connection between her home and the Prime Minister and she even had two cats named ‘Lloyd’ and ‘George’ in his honour. Fortunately, Matilda was able to meet Lloyd George at a later date when he made a trip to Oldham, which was arranged by the MP of Oldham Sir Edward Grigg. Matilda met Lloyd George again in 1935 at a railway station and they talked for a few minutes about the house and shook hands. At that time she was running Number 5 as a boarding house. In 1939 she lived there with Michael Dolan, John E. Heslin and Robert K. Burrows. Matilda was the longest in-situ resident of Number 5 as she lived there for over 30 years. She died in 1947 at the age of 82 and she is buried in Southern Cemetery.

The Decline of New York Place

The final residents of 5 New York Place were the Meecham family. In 1938 John Joseph Meecham (1919-1975) married Mary Holt (1920-1990) and they moved to New York Place around 1947/48. They lived in the two bedroomed house with their children; Christina, Christopher, James, John, Linda, Matthew, Michael, Patricia and Robert. The domestic situation of the Meechams was typical of many families in the post-war years. The house was too small for the size of the family and it had hardly been updated since the Townsends lived there half a century earlier. In the 1950s there was still no electricity, no bathroom and it was still lit by gas.

Manchester City Council had been enacting slum clearance programmes since the 1930s and Victorian streets were replaced with modern council houses, maisonettes and flats. The council planned to demolish 1,110 houses in the area around New York Place which was bounded by Downing Street in Ardwick, Brunswick Street and the River Medlock. This also involved rehousing almost 4000 people. At the same time the council turned Rusholme Road Cemetery into a public park, with a bowling green and children’s facilities for the new estates (although the graves of the former residents of this area remained underneath). It is now known as Gartside Gardens. Though these slum clearances were desperately needed, in their fervour to carry out these projects many houses including former mansions which would now be deemed salvageable were demolished, along with shops, businesses and other public buildings which were destroyed. Moreover, the traditional working-class communities which had often lived in these streets for decades were uprooted and displaced.  

Above: Number 5 New York Place in 1950 (the house on the left with the man and children stood outside). The house was around 100 years old when this photograph was taken and the Meecham family lived there at the time. (Source: m73154, Manchester Local Image Collection)

However, due to the connection with Lloyd George, there was a sense of optimism that 5 New York Place could survive the clearances. Much earlier, in 1918, the house was sold alongside 17 other neighbouring properties at auction and the lot fetched £1160. This initially sparked rumours that the house would be turned into a museum. It might seem strange to want to preserve a terraced house but it must be remembered that Lloyd George was the first Prime Minister who had been born in such ordinary conditions and this really resonated with the public at the time. In the end the new owner continued to rent the house out to Matilda Timney but it was suddenly a popular tourist destination. In the 1920s American tourists parked their expensive cars on the edge of Ardwick Green and toured the back streets of Chorlton-Upon-Medlock on foot looking for the house. Even in the 1950s Mary Meecham stated “We still get visitors who want to see the room where he was born”. This room was likely hers and her husband’s bedroom, so I’m sure she was thrilled with the requests.

In 1955 the historical significance of the property was officially recognised. The council erected plaques on several buildings which had been the former homes of influential residents of Manchester. This included Richard Cobden’s house on Quay Street, Elizabeth Gaskell’s house on Plymouth Grove and Humphrey Chetham’s house at Clayton Hall. Lloyd George’s birthplace was also given a plaque and this hinted at the possibility it would be saved from demolition as this lowly terraced house was included in this public campaign alongside much larger and grander buildings (these others were all eventually given listed building status). It was stated at the time that New York Place would not be demolished for another 16 years and Number 5 could be left standing as a memorial, even if the rest of the street was demolished.

Above: A advertisement for the auction of houses, including 5 New York Place in 1918. Even here the connection with Lloyd George was made, presumably as an attractive selling point. (Source: The Manchester Guardian, 19 October 1918, p.12)

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be and history was not deemed as a reason for stopping progress. In 1955 The Lord Mayor of Manchester, Alderman R. S. Harper stated: “Rather than have an old house standing in a pleasant development area I feel it would be better to have a garden with a small commemorative plaque indicating the birthplace of the great statesman.” In 1956, the 106 year old house was deemed unfit to remain standing and in June 1957 the house was demolished along with the rest of the street. Lowry’s painting of New York Place was completed in 1958, so he would have made his preliminary pencil sketches at some point in 1957 or earlier.

Lowry recognised the importance of capturing the fabric of the city during this period of change. The painting was purchased by Sir John Smith in December 1958 from the Mayfair-based gallery Alex Reid & Lefevre. Sir John Smith (1923-2007) was a banker, Conservative politician and veteran of the Second World War. In 1965 Sir John and his wife, Lady Christian Smith (nee Carnegy) (1927-2018), founded the Landmark Trust. The Trust has played a fundamental role in saving, restoring and providing new uses for some 200 historic properties. In line with the vision of the Trust, the properties represent a range of different historical periods and are reflective of different architectural styles, sizes and origins. Given Smith’s interest in architecture and heritage, it is no surprise that his eye was drawn to Lowry’s painting. The art historian T. J. Clark sums up the symbolism in the artwork: ‘Lowry seems to add nothing, but it’s what he takes away that matters, so that all we see is the smallness of the house itself, the funeral black of the door, the vase of dead flowers in the window and the street to the left where this tiny house is repeated, again and again. One doesn’t need to see a person to grasp the kind of life lived here.’

There were plans to name a tower block on the site after Lloyd George but this did not transpire. Instead houses were built and the site of Number 34 Wadeson Road is roughly the site of Number 5 New York Place. It is marked with a plaque. Just recently neighbouring houses dating from the 1960s were demolished on Wadeson Road to make way for new apartment blocks, as once again housing on the fringes of the city becomes desirable. In 2020 a semi-detached house on the street sold for £325,995 and we can only imagine what the former residents of this area would have thought about that! Although the city councillors 63 years ago were perhaps less enthusiastic about preserving the tangible connection to Lloyd George, the links are still there today and even Google maps pinpoints the location of Lloyd George’s birthplace. Lowry’s painting was listed at auction in Sotheby’s in 2019 along with other items which belonged to Lord and Lady Smith. The painting was recently acquired through the government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme (instead of a £262,500 Inheritance Tax bill) and it will go on display at The Lowry from May 2021.

Researched and written by Thomas McGrath

~

Sources: