Chorlton Book Festival returns on Saturday 19th September. Due to the current situation, we had to rethink how we could make the festival work in 2020.
The obvious answer was for the whole programme of events to be streamed online. This unfortunately meant that we were unable to include some festival favourites, including the ever popular walking tours around Chorlton.
So this year we thought we’d celebrate the support of two local writers, artists and historians who made the tours so successful and such a big part of the festival for many years.
Andrew Simpson and Peter Topping.
Here is a specially commissioned article written by Andrew and Peter about their work and love of Chorlton and Manchester.
Chorlton can boast an impressive list of writers, stretching back into the 19th century.*
Not all of them were born here and only some have chosen to write specifically about the township, but it is by any standards an impressive list.
And two of those who were born elsewhere but made their home in Chorlton are Andrew Simpson and Peter Topping.
Andrew has written three books, of which one was a study of Chorlton-cum-Hardy in the first half of the 19th century, while Peter is a well know local artist who has just published his first book.
Together they have collaborated on another eight of which three are about Chorlton, and are currently working on three more projects.
What continues to fascinate them are the lives of people who seldom get into the history books. It is less that history has forgotten these people but rather it just ignored them. So, theirs are the stories behind the doors which no one has bothered to open.
This fascination has also led them to work on a series of history walks and exhibitions, culminating with two major installations, one of which covered an 80 meter site and told the history of Chorlton in sixteen panels, starting at the village green in the 16th century and finishing in the 21st.
Both were unique partnerships with local developers, and each became known as the History Walls, because as Peter says “You could stroll through our past following the panels”.
Peter’s new book, “Smile Dammit Smile!!! Chorlton”, is inspired by the popular broadsheet Billy’s Weekly Liar which was sold across the northwest in the middle decades of the last century and offered up humorous implausible stories which had a ring of truth about them. Building on these Peter has presented a whole new set of Chorlton stories, supported by over 270 paintings, contemporary and period photographs, illustrations, documents and maps. Purporting to be a journal dedicated to investigative journalism it has lead with stories on “Bodies Found in Southern Cemetery” to a story on the proposed revised route for HS2 through Chorlton and the construction of a new station to be sited in the township.
Andrew’s most recent book, published in January, was a commission by the children’s charity, the Together Trust and records their work since 1870 in supporting young people in Manchester and Salford. Of his remaining two books, one was about Manchester during the Great War and the other was The Story of Chorlton-cum-Hardy.
When asked which was his favourite of the three, he nominated the book on Chorlton in the first half of the 19th century. “I had planned to write a straight history of the place, but the more I dug deep, the more I realized the book should be about Chorlton when it was still a small rural community on the edge of Manchester when the city was going through the Industrial Revolution. There was so much materia,l that it turned into a description of the lives and customs of the people who lived here”.
And those very lives and customs became the basis for a favourite of both Peter and Andrew’s which was The Quirks of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, which affectionately recorded the lives of past and present residents, along with some of our most notable buildings.
All of which just leaves a roll call of their other books, which include the story of Hough End Hall, three books on the history of pubs in Manchester, Chorlton and Didsbury, an affectionate look at changing Didsbury , and their book on Churches, Chapels, Temples A Synagogue and Mosque.
As for the future, their book on The Lost Stories of Chorlton-cum-Hardy told from the objects in our attics, cellars garages and sheds, is nearly finished, while the one on canals and one on the history of Greater Manchester by Metro tram are proving fun to write.
And that is how it should be for two retired individuals, who just enjoy writing and painting about the place they love.
Many thanks again to Andrew and Peter. Looking forward to working with you on the best Chorlton Book Festival yet in 2021!
All images from the collections of Andrew Simpson & Peter Topping
*Joshia T. Slugg, Reminiscences of Manchester Fifty Years Ago, 1881, Thomas Ellwood, A History of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, published in 26 articles between 1885-86, Nora Templar, John M Lloyd, The Township of Chorlton cum Hardy, 1972, and in the 21st century Andrew Simpson, Peter Topping, Michael Billington, Steve Kelly, Ed Caesar, Phil Pearson, and Copland Smith