The red sandstone that built early Manchester floated down the River Irk from the quarries of Collyhurst. Named from the Old English, ‘col’ a hillock and ‘hyrst’ a wooded place and once the site of rolling hills and beautiful wooded valleys where pigs roamed on the common.
The Industrial Revolution was not kind to the area, travellers along the railway viaduct saw street after street of houses with black smoke hanging over them.
Today the valley of the Irk has been cleaned up but is still littered with the remnants of industry and the area faces many of the problems of East and North Manchester.
Its common was first mentioned at the time of William the Conqueror, it would become a place where the citizens of Manchester would be allowed to graze their pigs and cattle, as well as burial site for the victims of plague.
It was also used for the practice of archery and during Elizabethan times efforts were made by Parliament to secure the future of the sport which was dying out so a law was laid down that boys above the age of seven and men should possess a bow and at least two shafts of arrows and that archery should be practiced on all holy days with parents and employers responsible for their children and servants practising at least four times a year.
Now buried beneath a playing field on the corner of Rochdale Road and Collyhurst Street, dating from around the 1650’s the Hall, built of the red Collyhurst sandstone, overlooked the River with grassy banks sloping down to the water in the valley of Smedley, filled with orchards and gardens. The Hall was built by a branch of the Mosley family.
No history has ever been written of it, it was said to have hosted a fleeing Henry Hunt after Peterloo, but by the 1850’s it was in ruins and was demolished, terraced housing was built on the site which has been occupied since the housing itself was demolished in the 1960’s
It’s position on the Irk saw the creeping tide of industry begin to encroach but not before the poet Edwin Waugh had captured this tranquil scene
“I walked along the main road from Rochdale to Manchester – at that time the country around Collyhurst was all green with one or two quaint rustic houses scattered about the scene – the road dipped down to a little old bridge, well below the present level and the deep clough through which the river ran was wild and lonely – the scene looked all the more weird because it was the reputed dwelling place of the noted wise women or fortune teller whose fame had reached my town.
Chemical and Dye works, the railways, gas works and paper mills all located there while houses, schools and churches followed.
The Berry family were also associated with the area. Berry Blacking began with William Berry in his cellar on Bury Road in Salford and was made out of soot and treacle he expanded, moving into Collyhurst and the family became one of the richest in Manchester.
The Berry’s were philantropists and were behind the founding of one of Manchester’s oldest social welfare centres the Collyhurst Guild. Founded in 1886 providing clubs for the people who lived in the area including a lads and girls club as well as a workers union
In Gay Street was the nursery school founded in 1923, the pupils came in the morning and stayed until three in the afternoon, were served with a lunchtime meal and then put to sleep on stretcher beds on the veranda so the story is told.
By the 1960’s the area was experiencing some of the worst deprivation and conditions in the country. Many of its houses were described as some of the worst in City, with water pouring through ceilings, and walls having fallen down not being replaced, while the River Irk flowed in front of the houses strewn with oil drums, old buckets, rusting bikes and motorcycle wheels
One of the areas was that around Livesy Street – a reporter visited it in 1964 describing the scene as being reminiscent of the Blitz, vagrants and prowlers scavenging the streets by night with those remaining residents unwilling to go out and small fires burning on the ground while another area bounded by Eggington St, Rochdale Rd and Collyhurst Road was daubed the black hole of Collyhurst in a council meeting.