Sunday, 8 March 2009

A Glimpse of the Mersey Valley 50 Years Ago Today

A couple of years ago Phil Robinson, of Chorlton Civic Society, knowing of my interest in the Mersey Valley, passed on to me a black, loose-leaved folder which he had found among the archives of the Civic Society. The folder contained details of a study performed 50 years ago by a local lady named Hilda F. Broady. Mrs Broady had chosen a small area (which she refers to as, “the plot”), in what she called “Chorlton Meadows”, and studied the wildlife of that spot at regular intervals over the course of the year 1959. The spot that she chose was not technically in the Meadows but was in ‘Barlow Wood’, the site of an ancient wood above the Mersey floodplain. Barlow Wood is now off limits to the public because it is within the boundaries of Chorlton Golf Course. The study gives an interesting insight into which plants and other wildlife were present 50 years ago and I have decided post it (in instalments) on the Friends of Chorlton Meadows blog because of its intrinsic interest and because I think that it should be better known. I will post each instalment on the days corresponding to those on which Mrs Broady surveyed her plot in 1959.
Some local Chorlton people have told me that they remember Mrs Broady and it is likely that she was a school teacher who probably lived in Chorltonville. There is always the possibility that some people, including Mrs Broady’s surviving relatives, may object to this work being published on the FoCM blog and if so they should contact me and, if necessary, I will gladly delete it. Nevertheless, they should know that I post it in the spirit of greatest respect for Mrs Broady, her work and her curiosity, and for the fact that she obviously loved the Mersey Valley and its wildlife as much as I do. I sincerely hope that she would approve.

Mrs Broady’s journal commences with a section entitled, “Some Interesting Historical Facts About The Site Of The Plot”

The hamlet of Hardy consisted of groups of cottages between Hardy Farm and Jackson’s Boat, the last of which were taken down shortly after the flood of 1854 [this date is indistinct in the original typescript and could be ‘1954’ – must check - ed.] when Chorlton Meadows were flooded to a depth of about three feet.
According to Whittaker, the word “Hardy” is derived from the name of that ancient Forest of Arden, but as the settlers in Manchester cleared away the woods, detached patches of the thicket were left standing here and there. One of these skirted the Mersey in this district, hence the name “Hardie.”
Barlow Wood is the only remains of the ancient Forest of Arden left standing in the district. The tract of low lying land behind Barlow Hall up to Jackson’s Boat is known by the name of Barlow Leys, which was formerly of a marshy character, and used by the farmers of the village as a ley for their cattle, but about 1822 it was drained and placed under cultivation. Barlow Hall stands on the top of a series of slopes stretching to the river.
Mr. Thomas Ellwood traced the history of the township from the year 610, when it became colonised by the Saxons, “who disencumbered the land of its ancient oaks,” to the present time (1922) remarking that in the spring time of 1865, when he first came to Chorlton, the acres of orchards in bloom made it one of the prettiest villages he had seen.
Barlow Wood is now skirted on one side by the golf links, and on another side by Council house property.

The Journal

8th March 1959

After surveying Chorlton Meadows, a plot was chosen in a spot known as “Barlow Wood”.
It was a bitterly cold day, and the ground was very cold and dry. The grass, which was short and only a few inches high, appeared parched. I tried to uproot some plants but the ground was too hard to manage without digging tools.
There is a tree in bud on the plot, and another half-dead tree. There are a number a number of similar woody shoots which I cannot yet name. There is the bed of a stream, which is completely dry and the ground hard.
Shoots identified as Sycamore – Acer Pseudoplatanus.

For comparison, the weather on the on the 8th March 2009 was cool, windy and overcast by mid-day. Around lunchtime there was a heavy shower and around 2:30 pm there was a brief hailstorm .
The above was obviously just a preliminary survey and Mrs Broady next surveyed her plot on the 1st April 1959 and I will try to post the next instalment on the 1st April 2009 – ed.

Posted by Dave Bishop, 8th March 2009

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