Andrew Bradley, Rector at St Wilfrid’s Church, reflects on the lives of some of Northenden’s fascinating residents.
It’s been a historic year. Remembrance Sunday saw the 100th anniversary of the WW1 Armistice, and coinciding with this there has been a fascinating art exhibition at the Message Trust in our parish. This exhibition is the culmination of a year-long project involving Year 5 (now Year 6) children at St Wilfrid’s School, in which the lives of eleven Northenden people between 1914 and 1918 were researched. This research then led to some beautiful works of art produced with the help of artist Emma Knowles.
Pictured above is a woman named Edith Ackerley. During the war years she became Head Teacher of Shadow Moss school in the absence of the usual Head Teacher who had joined the war effort. Edith’s story typified the upward social mobility that many women experienced at this time. If you look at her portrait carefully you might recognise a current Head Teacher familiar to all of us! At the same time St Wilfrid’s children have been involved in another historical project, looking at Edward Watkin, who was born 200 years ago next year. Sir Edward is one of Northenden’s most famous and most pioneering residents. Amongst other things, he oversaw the building of the trans-Canadian railway, began to build a replica of the Eiffel Tower at Wembley, and began to build a tunnel under the English Channel, before he was forced to stop by a government terrified of French invasion! By the time this article has been published, a beautiful banner will have emerged celebrating the Watkin story and the story of Northenden generally – once again a partnership between St Wilfrid’s children and a local artist, Jamie Rennie.
A few weeks before Edward Watkin was born in 1819, something really important happened in Manchester, celebrated in a very successful film which hit the cinemas in November: Peterloo. Peterloo was a very significant event in the history of our city and our nation. Over 60,000 people marched to Peter’s Fields (now St Peter’s Square) demanding better representation in parliament – at that time Manchester did not have its own MP, and northern England in general was very poorly served by Westminister. Although the gathering was peaceful, around a dozen people were killed and hundreds injured in a cavalry charge organised by the authorities at the time, but the ’Peterloo Massacre’, as it came to be called, is still recognised as a major milestone in the progress of democracy and social justice in the 19th century. If you haven’t seen the film at the cinema, do catch up with it. It’s not an easy watch, but I came away from the film feeling immensely proud of the people of Manchester and Lancashire, especially local hero Joseph Johnson who became a Northenden resident just down the road from our church and school. Johnson is now buried in St Wilfrid’s churchyard, and there is a lovely stained-glass window in the church dedicated to him. Do come and visit!
As the old saying goes, history is so important if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past. When I was at school, I confess to finding history a bit boring and irrelevant, but no chance of that with our schoolchildren today. This year it’s been great to see them so engaged in the history of their community, city and nation – for their sake but also for the sake of a better future.
This Christmas, as ever, we remember how God took history seriously enough to enter it, and to become part of it in Jesus of Nazareth. His birth in a stable in Bethlehem changed the world for ever, and can go on changing that world in every generation. The more we see history as ’his story’, the more we will let our stories today also become his stories
– and the fairer, the kinder, and the more compassionate our world will be.
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