POSITIVE USES OF PHOTOGRAPHY – CHALLENGING MONUMENTAL CIVIC FAILURE

Posted in compassionate photographer on March 19th, 2012 by John Coxon

(Thoughts and photography in the service of the community – on respecting the local war dead of Swinton and Clifton in Salford.)

For me photography is a tool I use with a purpose on behalf of my clients or those whose causes I chose to support, whether for profit or not, with my images and journalism. It comes completely naturally  for me to want to record and communicate and share my observations with others in carefully chosen words and images as I have done throughout my working life for over forty years and to do that to the best of my ability whatever it takes for the benefit of others and those who hire my services. As a sequel  to raising awareness of a local issue in my GRAVE OFFENCE log journalism, another incident has occurred which threatens a local monument honouring the fallen of Clifton, an area of Swinton.

A MONUMENT OR A GRAVE IS A PERMANENT MEMORIAL NOT A LUMP OR LUMPS  OF STONE OR A PLOT  THAT CAN BE MOVED WHEN IT SUITS SOMEONE’S OR A COLLECTIVE’S  INTERESTS. Our local monuments,  you would expect to be regarded as sacred but it appears that local officials have in the town hall  have an alternative perspective. Please click on any image to see the larger version

The Clifton War Memorial, Manchester Road - should it be moved ?

 

Citizens are generally proud of where they live and have chosen to live , within a  city, a town, a village and yet identify with and are naturally protective of  their own  neighbourhoods and its familiar landmarks. They accepting change and new positive , sympathetic developments as progress but wanting local landmarks to be retained , kept in good repair on their behalf and  to have things from that unique community history they identify with and can be proud of and giving a sense of stability and continuity. Political changes in respect of changing political boundaries created a City of Salford from the merging of seven local boroughs , each with their own identity, coats of arms and history and the new county of Greater Manchester changed our location from Lancashire on paper at least.  I am not a native of Salford or more accurately the combined borough of Pendlebury & Swinton where I made my home. I am from the South of England but I came here to get my professional teaching qualifications and was in the service of Salford Education as a teacher of inner city kids with learning difficulties for some twenty six years. I am now retired and continue with my parallel profession as a Salford based photographer and journalist and an advocate of the City and my community and all its merits and the merits of its people.

I use my camera to make my living but words and pictures are also my life and, when I am not busy chasing a living for paying clients I give some of my free time to document local history and help raise awareness of local issues through my journalism , mostly on line these days and my photographs. I preserve an extensive archive of images of local landmarks and beauty spots and also share images of precious parts of the fabric of the community. There is so much more to the area where I chose to live to the end and that in such a contrast to the image of the City as just a “Dirty Old Town” as described in the patronising folk song of working class socialist  political activist  Ewan MacColl, father of the late Kisrty MaColl.. Few know that 60% of the area of the cities seven boroughs is actually green space and my neighbourhood is steeped in local history which I respect, admire and seek to protect..

 

Separate annual Remembrance Ceremonies are a local traditon providing a location specific place to express thanks and sorrow for surviving friends and families of the war dead.

Where possible I aim to celebrate record and report on life in my area, loving to photograph joyful weddings, parties, social events and Christenings for local people. I have too, on a number of occasions, produced news items for the media , on a voluntary basis ,for example supporting local charity fundraisers and not for profit organisations by providing images and copy to the local paper as well as , for example, a full length feature article on local waterways which was published by a boating magazine in the USA a few years back.  I also believe in the power of using  appropriate selected images as a tool to helping get your messages across and often an image can provide  irrefutable evidence as opposed to written opinions which are more easily challenged. In the case of the monument you are in no doubt from my images what this is, where it is, and who it represents and where it is likely to be most cherished and respected.

What I cannot do as an ethical professional is stand by and do nothing and merely watch crazy or unethical liberties being taken near my home with the local resident’s heritage and especially, for example,  where, rightly or wrongly as I see it,  the impression has been given that the council  appear to be complicit in proposals to exhume bodies from a local disused graveyard rather than dismissing that part of the planning application immediately it was made and even more so when that plot of land under debate includes a war grave. Annually the City provides civic dignitaries to represent the citizens at Remembrance Day ceremonies so thus it seems hypocritical that the Council have failed to move in to protect as sacred, the  last chosen resting place in the  former Unitarian chapel  grave yard along with his family members , a local hero of the great War , Private Wilbraham Blears formerly of 12 Chorley Road Swinton. Lack of sensitivity is also being demonstrated  another crazy, in my view disrespectful  plan to move a memorial at Clifton to the fallen of the two World Wars near the motorway junction and opposite the Robin Hood public house an aptly named Memorial Cottages adjacent to the monument. Will they rename them if his silly idea comes to pass ? That monument commemorates those men from Clifton who died for King (1914-1918) or Queen 1935-1945 and Country and it is in my view fatuous, money wasting and indeed insulting to Clifton and Swinton folk to even think of moving it from where it belongs to the neatly clipped lawns of the Civic Centre possibly for the convenience of local dignitaries who attend annual Remembrance Day ceremonies.

 

Citizens are proud of where they live and have chosen to live , within a  city, a town, a village and yet indentify with and are naturally protective their own  neighbourhood . They accepting change and new positive , sympathetic developments as progress but wanting local landmarks to be retained , kept in good repair on their behalf and  to have things from that unique community history they identify with and can be proud of and giving a sense of stability and continuity. Political changes in respect of changing political boundaries created a City ofSalfordfrom the merging of seven local boroughs , each with their own identity, coats of arms and history and the new county of /Greater Manchester changed our location fromLancashireon paper at least.  I am not a native ofSalfordor more accurately Pendlebury & Swinton where I made my home. I am from the South of England but I came here to get my professional teaching qualifications and was in the service of Salford Education as a teacher of inner city kids with learning difficulties for some twenty six years. I am now retired and continue with my parallel profession as aSalfordbased photographer and journalist and an advocate of the City and my community and all its merits and the merits of its people.

 

I use my camera to make my living but words and pictures are also my life and, when I am not busy chasing a living for paying clients I give some of my free time to document local history and help raise awareness of local issues through my journalism , mostly on line these days and my photographs. I preserve an extensive archive of images of local landmarks and beauty spots and also share images of precious parts of the fabric of the community. There is so much more to the area where I chose to live to the end and that in such a contrast to the image of the City as just a “Dirty Old Town” as described in the patronising folk song of working class socialist  political activist  Ewan MacColl, father of the late Kisrty MaColl.. Few know that 60% of the area of the cities seven boroughs is actually green space and my neighbourhood is steeped in local history which I respect, admire and seek to protect..

 

Clearly this cross secured so poignantly indicates the local importance for this monumenr.

Where possible I aim to celebrate record and report on life in my area, loving to photograph joyful weddings, parties, social events and Christenings for local people. I have too, on a number of occasions, produced news items for the media , on a voluntary basis ,for example supporting local charity fundraisers and not for profit organisations by providing images and copy to the local paper as well as , for example, a full length feature article on local waterways which was published by a boating magazine in the USA a few years back.  I also believe in the power of using  appropriate selected images as a tool to helping get your messages across and often an image can provide  irrefutable evidence as opposed to written opinions which are more easily challenged. In the case of the monument you are in no doubt from my images what this is, where it is, and who it represents and where it is likely to be most cherished and respected.

What I cannot do as an ethical professional is stand by and do nothing and merely watch crazy or unethical liberties being taken near my home with the local resident’s heritage and especially, for example,  where, rightly or wrongly as I see it,  the impression has been given that the council  appear to be complicit in proposals to exhume bodies from a local disused graveyard rather than dismissing that part of the planning application immediately it was made and even more so when that plot of land under debate includes a war grave. Annually the City provides civic dignitaries to represent the citizens at Remembrance Day ceremonies so thus it seems hypocritical that the Council have failed to move in to protect as sacred, the  last chosen resting place in the  former Unitarian chapel  grave yard along with his family members , a local hero of the great War , Private Wilbraham Blears formerly of 12 Chorley Road Swinton. Lack of sensitivity is also being demonstrated  another crazy, in my view disrespectful  plan to move a memorial at Clifton to the fallen of the two World Wars near the motorway junction and opposite the Robin Hood public house an aptly named Memorial Cottages adjacent to the monument. Will they rename them if his silly idea comes to pass ? That monument commemorates those men from Clifton who died for King (1914-1918) or Queen 1935-1945 and Country and it is in my view fatuous, money wasting and indeed insulting to Clifton and Swinton folk to even think of moving it from where it belongs to the neatly clipped lawns of the Civic Centre possibly for the convenience of local dignitaries who attend annual Remembrance Day ceremonies.

The fenced monument area has seating for local quiet reflection - the robin hood public house across the road. I have rendered it sepia to disguise the eyesore it is having been painted bright orange !

PRIVATE W.L. BLEARS- A GRAVE OFFENCE ? – A local modern twist on a tragic Swinton born First World War soldier’s story.

Posted in compassionate photographer on March 8th, 2012 by John Coxon

Please note  – Click on any of my images below to enlarge and see in greater detail.

 

I was photographing what were the central Salford grand red brick head quarter premises of the Co-Operative Society from the late 1800’s , at the time in a very  poor state  of repair  (since then restored and converted to modern apartment accommodation) a few years back.  I was horrified to see, in a pile or rubble and litter, behind the dilapidated building, these fragments of an early Victorian family grave headstone.  You would like to think that barring mindless acts of vandalism , grave sites and headstones are sacred and ought to be treated with due reverence. but that is not always the case as a recent example on my doorstep attests to.   Very recently I was called upon by a local activist to photograph an interview with BBC Radio news at  a grassed area between two surface car parks behind Swinton Precinct near my home   This was the site of a proposed supermarket  for ASDA-Walmart  the global retail giant   whose plans included the removal of the remains of over three hundred local residents from what was the grave yard of the Swinton Unitarian Chapel .  That site also contained the remains of a local soldier who saw active service twice  in France during the first World War with two different regiments.

The link with the find of the broken headstone at the Co-op headquarters is that the  soldier, Private  Wibraham Lomax Blears  buried on that grassed site with full military honours but his official headstone along with all the others was removed and presumably destroyed   when the chapel was demolished  but a covenant prevented building on the site until  now.   A few years after that Co-op headquarters were built the  family of Edward Blears and Elizabeth Lomax Wilbraham  lived at No 12  Chorley Road , Swinton and , in 1865, a second son,  was born  to them and he eventually was to work for the Eccles  Co-Operative Society in the grocery section of the Swinton branch located on Worsley Road. He would almost certainly have known that old building and maybe even visited it at sometime during his employment.   Here is an image of part of that impressive building before it was restored and re-developed.

 

As it happens  I come from a military family and my mother , during military service in the ATS during the Second World War was a very good table tennis player and in those days of austerity soldiers would  play competitively in the mess or NAFFI and cap badges were used as prizes. my mother often outplayed male counterparts and gave me her collection when I was about ten. One of those badges  was actually from  the first World War, the very badge that soldiers like Wilbraham Blears would have often polished with pride with “Brasso”  wadding  as I did this morning before photographing it  ( as I had done so often myself as a child so proud of my collection)

By co-incidence I also have in my possession a brass button board which very probably belonged to my father,  Ted Coxon , who saw military service  in ordinance,  motor engineering , armourer and then in the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and until today had no idea that the board is also from the First World War .  I researched the patent number on the board and was able to identify it as being dated 1917 so it is highly likely  that Private Blears  had the exact model in his kit issue on enlistment. ( The brass button board acted as a guard when polishing buttons which were attached to his uniform.   The patent number  end with /17 denoting the year.)

Wilbraham  enlisted in the Manchester Regiment February 1916. Once basic training was completed he left for Egypt in the November of that year. After a comparatively short time he was dispatched to France and transferred to The King’s Liverpool Regiment. Early 1917 he was struck down by the debilitating disease “Trench Fever” and spent a period of rehabilitation in hospital ,firstly in Dundee , and later Blackpool. Blears’ elder brother James Edward of the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers too endured a bout of the disease but he survived the war and returned home to Swinton. (Trench Fever I read was first reported in the trenches of the Western Front in December 1914. Upwards of a third of all British troops reporting bad health had developed the disease. Transmitted by body lice symptoms consisted of sudden high fever, severe headache, inflamed eyes and persistent pain in the legs, symptoms similar to those of Typhoid and Influenza. The modern day equivalent of the condition is “Lymes disease.”)

Once recuperated Wilbraham rejoined his battalion fighting on the front line in France for a further six months before being invalided back home towards the end of 1917 suffering from gas poisoning. the Death certificate confirmed that he died from Broncho Pneumonia passing away on Monday 13 th May 1918 at Royd Hall Military Hospital, Lindley, a suburb of Huddersfield in Yorkshire. The funeral with full military honours took place a few days later, his body interred in Swinton Unitarian Church Chapel Yard, Swinton Hall Road, Swinton. A Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone commemorated Wilbraham’s grave. We are told his death came as a great shock to his parents who were led to believe his condition had been improving. all these details are contained within this copy of his actual death certificate.


The Unitarian church was demolished in 1985 and Wilbraham’s  name was subsequently added on a memorial screen wall dedicated to military casualties of WWI in Southern Cemetery, Manchester. his body though remains where so many of us believe it should remain, where he was buried in his home town. As well the the indignity of exhumation one wonders how can the developers be certain who each set of remains belongs too and it seems so utterly disrespectful to both the descendants of Private Blears and the other families of people buried here are simply collected together  and buried together in some communal marked pit in  another local cemetery for the convenience as savings on costs for the phenomenally wealthy American owned  retail chain , the biggest retailer in the entire world.  To add insult to injury , we hear that the Unitarian Church have actually sold the covenant to the current owners of the Shopping Precinct and thus there is no further barrier to developing this graveyard site other than the matter of ethics which does not appear to come into the thinking of either the struggling owners of the Precinct or the wealthy ASDA-Walmart magnates.  Incidentally Pte. Blears’ body lies alongside   six members of his immediate family and 306 other internments of Swinton people in the Unitarian Chapel Yard , all under threat of removal, the bodies to be relocated elsewhere.  The removal of Private Blears headstone  frees the Commonwealth War Graves commission from any further responsibility. It is I think possible that at least the remains would be re-interred in the local Swinton public cemetery rather than elsewhere in the City.

In Memoriam (Lest We Forget)

Comment.  I am not personally convinced that adding another large supermarket in Swinton Town Centre will bring the promised community benefits or many new jobs as supermarkets often prefer part-timers who come at less cost through for example having fewer employment rights. ASDA- Walmart have already taken over a former Netto store maybe a mile from the proposed new site and will no doubt close that unit and transfer existing staff to the  new build superstore. The Local Authority do not seem in any way opposed to the development or prepared to  take issue over the unnecessary removal of the remains of locally interred residents. Currently the actual privately owned Precinct is struggling to survive with a number of units already  going out of business and yet recently increased rentals have made it even harder for local businesses . Increased traffic problems will ensue and parking problems will increase. There is already a large supermarket a stone’s throw  from the site, Morrisons,  and a recently enlarged Aldi supermarket just a stroll away. Construction work will take some of the existing units with loss of jobs and will entail closing the large existing car park for roughly six months with dire consequences for all the businesses currently trading on the Precint from which they are unlikely to recover or even survive.  ASDA -Walmart have been dismissive of the issues , apparently calling the grave yard site a neglected waste ground when in fact the grass is well maintained. the owner’s of the Precinct did remove the notice which announced that the grassed area was a grave yard and without action initiated by one or two concerned residents  no respect whatsoever would have been paid in terms of the dignity of those interred and the feelings of their surviving families. I also see no justification for removing any of the bodies or say converting it to a memorial garden and also restoring an appropriate  memorial of some kind for Private Blears in the home where he was born and where he is buried with his immediate family.  I hear there is , as far as I can ascertain,  no legal barrier to this development  although I have no idea why the Council did not dismiss the application as soon as it was sent in. With luck and the help of the media and gathering local support, the moral issue will take precedence over avarice and business interests  of a foreign owned global market dominating corporate because so many people have expressed disgust and dismay at what they  see of unwelcome desecration of a burial ground. Private Blears in a sense is the focus of that dismay given he did not die of natural causes but from the rigours of War. ( some of those buried were the young boys and men victims of an horrific local coal mining disaster. )  The building of new premises is a matter for planning legislation but the movement of human remains very much falls into  a different legal framework which one can only hope will be fully explored and lead either to the planning application being dismissed or full and due attention paid to the identification of all individual remains and appropriate and dignified  arrangements being made for their re-interment solely at the expense of the developers since their removal only serves their business interests .

Some information here is used with due acknowledgement  to Salford War Memorials Project and Salford Local History library for access to the burial records of Swinton Unitarian Church and copies of the Eccles Journal.

Links :-

Salford War Memorials Project  (website forum)

Salford War Memorials Project (SWARM Facebook)

No to Asda at Swinton Precinct Facebook Group!

 

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