"My mum and dad owned our property but they didn't pay them for the house that they took away from them and then tried to charge them for its demolition..." Peter
Kersal photographer, Shirley Baker, now has national and international recognition for her work which captures life in Salford and Manchester in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties.
A new exhibition of her classic photography in the areas during the 'clearances' has opened at Manchester Art Gallery*, and some of those who featured in the iconic prints were shown around last week to recall the days of bombed out houses, ice cream vans and swinging off lamp posts.
In the exhibition there's one really cute shot of three very young lads by some steps in Ordsall, which has become a classic, and these lads, the Williamson brothers, Derek, Peter and Steven, recalled the times and that Shirley Baker photo...
Shirley herself, who unfortunately died in 2014, said of her photos that "They are the observations of one person and they tell only a fraction of the story…". The Williamson brothers told a bit more of that story as they brought back to life the conditions, the fun...and the flagrant abuse of the community by Salford City Council.
The photo was taken in 1964, and Derek Williamson – seen at the forefront of the photo – clearly recalls it being taken on Gertrude Street, which has now disappeared...
"I remember Shirley coming down the street with another man and she asked us to pose for her" he says "I'm sure she promised us an ice cream, which we didn't get, because the ice cream van is next to us.
"We lived about 150 yards from there on Robert Hall Street, where there were ten of us living in a two up two down" he adds...
This is the area where the Monty Python 'Eeee, we had it tough' sketch comes to real vivid life, and not from some condescending Cambridge grads...
"...My mum and dad lived downstairs with the baby, and the boys were in one bedroom, top to tail in bed, and the girls were in another" says Peter – seen at the back of the photo in long trousers
"We had an outside toilet and a tin bath..." he adds "I get asked what was it like living in poverty, but we weren't in poverty because we had what we needed. We had smiles on our faces and if you had a bike you were always busy doing something. Just because you don't have money doesn't mean to say you are poor..."
And Steven adds, "It was rich because we loved each other...We'd share toys and presents, and those streets were our playground and our riches. We'd say 'Let's go and play in the bombed houses', or the croft, which was the remains of the bombed houses...."
Peter remembers Shirley Baker taking photos in the area again in the Seventies when all the houses were getting pulled down... "We used to jump off the roofs onto all the old mattresses that we'd dragged out of the houses...It was fantastic. It's only when you get older you realise what danger is. But as kids there was no danger, we'd jump on the mattresses, bounce off and go back on the roof..."
Their playground was taken away when it came time for the brothers' community to be 'cleared' and re-housed in the 'Landings' on Regent Road - and it's at this time that the brothers agree with Shirley Baker's assertion that the photos are infinitely political, as a way of life was destroyed.
"Whichever government was in at the time broke down the areas, to take away the 'riff raff'" Peter insists "As kids, we wouldn't have known about that but when you get older you realise what was happening...
"My mum and dad owned our property but they didn't pay them for the house that they took away from them; and then tried to charge them for its demolition" he adds "There was no compulsory purchase or anything. They just took the house off them, gave them this other rented house and tried to charge them for knocking it down."
Derek recalls that his parents were glad to get out of the house as it was too small and damp, while the new one was much bigger, but Peter adds: "For my mum and dad it was the worry of how they were going to pay the rent..."
The brothers recall that others, who didn't want to move, were harassed out... "There were two old brothers and the Council used to terrorise them" says Steven "They cut all the gas and electric off to get them out..."
"They never bothered anybody, they just didn't want to move" says Peter... "It was bullying, definitely" adds Derek...
"As kids we didn't care about politics" says Steven "It was just about going out on your bike and having fun...."
The three bothers still live in Salford – near the Precinct, in Eccles and in Swinton – but, like Shirley Baker, they realise that it wasn't just bricks and mortar that the Council destroyed, it was a whole working class culture...
"There are still some people who are there and are great, but the way the kids are brought up now...there's no respect like we had in those days" Peter argues "We appreciated everything that we had; and loyal friends...in those days people looked after each other.
"Ordsall is now unrecognisable to us; it's not for me, it's been ruined" he adds "In those days it was Salford and people stuck together. Now, because everything has been split up, it's not the same. People don't care about anything because they've lost interest in life as such..."
Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men
Until 28th August
Manchester Art Gallery
Mosley Street, Manchester, M2 3JL
0161 235 8888 Open daily, 10am- 5pm, and Thursdays 10am-9pm
* See previous Salford Star article for a full exhibition preview and interview with curator Anna Douglas – click here
See also Salford Star article on the property boom in Ordsall that is currently forcing families out of the area – click here for online version or click here for the PDF of the original print magazine