Harpurhey Baths – Memories of Irene Sylvester

The following material has been provided by John Drinkwater. John came across this letter and thought it would be of interest to the archive. The letter contains an excellent description of the Superintendents accommodation at Harpurhey Baths, Rochdale Road, Manchester.

Irene Sylvester Older70, Cherry Tree Drive,
Hazel Grove,
Stockport SK7 6AS

 Started 3rd Sept 2000

Dear Clare,

I am going to have a stab at typing this letter, as for reasons which I will explain after, you will find it easier to read.

It was a lovely surprise to receive your long newsy ­ letter and I devoured every word. Many thanks also for the paper regarding Harpurhey Baths. I do so hope that the local residents keep up their petition to prevent it being demolished as it is such a magnificent building with its lovely golden coloured facing slabs similar to those on the front of London Road Fire Station.

Harpurhey Baths Manchester Opened 29th October 1910

In my mind’s eye I am entering the building through our private side entrance up the first flight of stairs turning right on the half -landing past the radiator which scarred me for life, up the second flight and on to the top square landing. I then turn left and walk along the corridor past the first room on the right – our sitting room (no lounges in those days) with its three piece suite, a small round table with an Aspidistra in a big blue pottery bowl resting on it, our big black upright overstrung piano with ‘Ernst Kaps Dresden’ painted on it just above the keyboard and our gramophone with its record cabinet below.

The family would usually gather in the sitting room on Sunday evenings when yours truly would struggle painfully through one of her ‘party pieces’ but end up playing “Oh can you wash your  father’ shirt” on, the black keys!

Father would put on his favorite record which was – wait for it – ‘O Donna Clara’ followed by such as ‘The Skaters’ Waltz’ or ‘Tales from the Vienna Woods’ etc. etc.

Continuing along the corridor the next room was our playroom with its assortment of toys including ‘Horace’ our old teddy bear which had been passed down probably from our Eric to our  Winnie,  then to me and finally to our Eunice. Also there would be Eunice’s rather splendid motor car, one or two dolls,  boxed games galore, jigsaw puzzles, loads of books to read especially my “Girl Annual” which I always received at Christmas. We also had a bagatelle which was always great fun for children and grown-ups alike.

In the middle of the room stood a very long table, originally from father’s office downstairs, and on which my best friend and I would spend many happy hours playing table tennis. My best friend’s name was Clara George and I am happy to say that we have always kept in touch right up to the present day, some 65 years later.

Now then where was I? Continuing along the corridor I would pass the staircase leading up to the bedrooms and the next little room was what was always called the ‘glory-hole’ in which was stored all the paraphernalia which  Mother  would need to keep the house clean. I have often wondered how she managed it all, even with our Winnie and Father’s help as the rooms were so big and there were so many of them to keep clean. Little wonder that she suffered from a bad back.

We now continue further along the corridor until we come to the last room which was our main living room. In addition to the radiators which were in all the rooms, the living room also had a very big gas fire.

The furniture consisted of a large square unpolished white wood top table with two leaves underneath the center which could be inserted to make it into an even larger table. This was covered with a brown chenille type tablecloth with fringed edges during the daytime and that in turn would be covered with the normal cotton tablecloth at mealtimes.

Standing majestically against one wall was our high backed sideboard which was made of solid walnut with three mirrors at the back. These were topped with beautiful carving right across the full width of the sideboard. The base consisted of three narrow drawers and two, very deep drawers and two side cupboards. The whole lot weighed a tone which many a removal man would have testified.

When Mother broke up her home before going to live with Eunice this master craftsman’s work of art had to be just dumped on the Corporation tip. In addition to six dining  chairs there  was  Father’s  chair which  opened out at the base and let down at the back so that he could have a short nap after his dinner before returning to his duties downstairs. Mother also had an easy chair and I’m sure there would have been a settee of some kind.

On the wall was our walnut glass fronted pendulum clock which struck at the half hour and the hour. This was topped with a carved wooden horse and the story goes that when our Eric was a little boy he used to say; “Come down gee-gee or you’ll fall”.

There was a door from the living room which led into the scullery with its deep white Belfast sink, various cupboards our own New World gas stove – blue mottled with a large oven which replaced the black iron stove supplied by the Corporation. Mother was still using that stove some 20 years later.

As seen from the photograph the main rooms looked out over Rochdale Road and we always had a grandstand view of anything passing, like processions etc. We would watch and wave to people going by on the No. 17 buses to Rochdale, No 16 to Heywood and the No. 59 to Oldham.

We would often travel on the latter bus to Chadderton – Mills Hill Bridge – to visit Aunt Maria (Mother’s sister) and Uncle Jack and my Cousin Dorothy.  Mother would do her washing on Sunday mornings in an otherwise empty wash-house and Eunice and I would swim either in the evenings when the Baths were closed or on Sunday afternoons when we had the plunge to ourselves. I had to go with the school during the week too but it was never quite the same. I was utterly spoiled of course.

Do you remember the canaries in the aviary which Father built inside the porch leading on the roof – our playground – from the corridor? Anyway I think that is enough nostalgia for today I hope you’ve accompanied me on this trip down memory lane.

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One Response to “Harpurhey Baths – Memories of Irene Sylvester”

  1. Edward Gill says:

    I was most interested to come upon your website and to read about Mayfield Baths and Washhouse. When we lived on Tipping Street in the kmid 1930s, I used to go to the Swimming Baths and my mother went to the Wash-house every week. We were a large family of 8 – 10 with mam and dad. Mam used to get everything ready the night before, sorting out the cotton from the woollens and coloureds from the rest all of which was packed into an old pram with the posser and rubbing board packed on the bottom and a tin bath on top; it stood ready in the lobby overnight. On the following day, all the kids were packed off to St.Thomas’ School and mam went off to the wash-house; it was her weekly day out when she met her friends to socialise and do the washing. When she had finished she used to have a hot bath herself before leaving for home. When we came out of school we used to go round to the wash-house to meet her and look through a window to watch the women doing their washing; the noise was deafening and you could hardly see through the steam! It was a very hard life for those women. Women today have no idea of the sheer drudgery.

    Edward Gill Cardiff

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