Gorton in Olden Times
Back in the nineteenth century a local resident of Gorton, John Higson, was unhappy that books about the history of Manchester and the surrounding area never mentioned Gorton. He set about compiling a collection of tales and anecdotes about the history of the township, and coupled it with research into as many old documents as he could trace. The result was “The Gorton Historical Recorder”, which he self-published. The book is very now rare and it is extremely difficult to find copies, though Google has digitised a copy and made it freely available in the web here.
We may publish extracts on this site from time to time to shine a light on how people used to live. The following describes how Bonfire night was celebrated almost 200 years ago.
“At this period the pastime of gunpowder plot was highly honoured, especially by “Young Gorton.” The youths near Winning Hill and Bottom o’th Brow assisted in collecting fuel, such as “sticks and stows,” and the leaves blown off the trees in the vicinity of the hall, and other woody places. They also canvassed the neighbourhood for subscriptions, and generally obtained sufficient to purchase a cart and horse load of coals. Some of the cottagers gave 1d., 2d., or 3d., and some farmers, to save their fences, 6d. Their poetical petition was:-
“Remember, remember, the fifth o’ November
Is gunpowder treason and plot;
I don’t see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”
“A turf or a coal
For th’ bunfire hole.”
Sometimes the words were abbreviated, as follows:-
“Remember, remember. the fifth o’ November,
O turf un o coal for t’ King’s sake.”
About dusk the fire was lighted on a piece of vacant waste land near the Black Horse, and was replenished till long after midnight. Large quantities of potatoes were roasted in their “jackets,” and eagerly devoured by the bystanders. In various cottages and farm houses the inmates “joined either at toffy or tharcake,” or perhaps both. Since the introduction of a policeman, the annual bonfire, which had existed from time immemorial, has been discontinued.”
N.B. The hall referred to in the text was Gorton Hall, a grand house that was once situated near the junction of Brookhurst Rd and Old Hall Drive. The Black Horse was a nearby pub on Far Lane, where the old cottages now stand. Tharcake was made from oatmeal, treacle and butter – similar to modern parkin. And although fireworks had been known in Britain since Tudor times, they were extremely expensive at the time described, and well beyond the resources of ordinary citizens living in a small township like Gorton.