History Group – Exploring the Guardian’s Digital Archive

With its local roots, there’s a wealth of material about the Burnage and South Manchester area in the Guardian’s archives. These can be accessed for free by any Manchester Libraries user (on any computer) via their Online Reference Library– all you need is your library card number.


After brief instruction on using the search options, and splitting into small groups of two or so, we were on our way. Notices were discovered relating to the death of Captain W.C. Bacon, Shawbrook Lodge, Burnage in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, and a Christmas donation to the Western Front of mufflers from ‘The Maids of Shawbrook’ next door in the same year. Various local residences of note were seen listed for rent or for sale, or had placed adverts for domestic servants such as cooks, laundresses and needlewomen.


A December 1912 debate over the purchase of land for recreation on Errwood Road occupied us next, revealing a spirited argument about the necessity and value to ratepayers of such a measure. Inspector: “Posterity has done nothing for you, and you will do nothing for posterity. Is that it?” Mr Hynes: “No, but posterity can wait. I am surprised you should start a park when there is no demand for it…”


Of particular interest to the group was the story of the Levenshulme Encampment in 1906, where a number of unemployed men occupied an area of land on Matthews Lane, expressing their determination to ‘Till it and hold it against all comers’. They lasted about a month before their inevitable eviction, ‘A number of sturdy labourers and a score of policemen’ helping to force the issue.


Given how easy it is to access and search through the online database, reading through these articles is a fascinating and rewarding way of studying the local area. In addition, it allowed us all to practise our skills in accessing and searching through digital information.


What can you discover hidden in the archives?