• David Walshe

From Chicago to Little London: The story of a mysterious magic lantern slide.

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

In late October 2020, I spotted an item on eBay which I deemed to be a rare view of an old Southport cottage. It was a magic lantern slide simply entitled ‘Thatched Cottage at Southport’. The cottage in question was immediately unrecognisable to me; I just had to have it, despite not having a slide viewer or any personal experience of how to view slides without one! An offer was accepted and by early November the item had crossed the Atlantic and was in my possession.

Detailed upon both faces was the address of the company that produced the slide;

‘McIntosh Battery and Optical Co, 141 & 143 Wabash Avenue, Chicago, ILL. U.S.A.’

And upon one face, handwritten in ink;

‘No. 349 Thatched Cottage at Southport England’.

I was able to get my first close up of this rare view of antiquity by attaching the slide up against an external glass door using tape, and with the aid of a magnifying glass, I was able to enter the scene. With a good size brick & thatch cottage before me, a family of six stood somewhat reluctantly outside, a row of distant semi-detached houses, a littered lane, plus fences rising to one side, various trees and hedges. I had placed the slide in the position as it was shown by the previous owner. This was also the view which included the handwritten title, attached via a sticker, so I presumed this must have been the appropriate panorama.

My first line of enquiry was of course with the Chicago based company and their reason for taking photos of Old Southport, so without any previous knowledge of lantern slides or the McIntosh Battery & Optical Co, I did the obvious and found my purchase via, catalogued with the corresponding number, sandwiched between ‘Hadden Hall, from the Terrace’ and ‘A Kentish Lane, West Orpington’.

McIntosh Battery & Optical Co Illustrated Catalogue of Magic Lanterns

The publication gave me the date of 1890 to work from and therefore a good starting point. Whilst looking through this vast list of slides from all over the globe, I started to notice that the ones from England were mainly of the southern regions. So much so that I started to count the ones of northern England, and then the ones specifically from the north west. Images of The Lakes, Lancaster and Liverpool were the only ones featured along with just one solitary slide of Southport, No.349. How puzzling? I thought.

After some failed enquiries within the lantern slide fraternity, I decided to seek assistance locally from historian Martyn Griffiths, whom I knew was an experienced lantern slide user from attending some of his online zoom events. Martyn agreed to scan and enlarge the slide for me, and if he could, refresh it if required. So during mid-lockdown, I drove to his house to have it scanned and blown up. After a short wait in the car, Martyn reappeared to discuss his findings. Unfortunately it turned out that the slide did have some close up irreparable damage, however, more interestingly Martyn had scanned the slide the opposite way around to how I had previously viewed it. At first this did not look right to me as I was convinced it was the other way around. Martyn’s opinion was that it was somewhere in Churchtown. I didn’t quite agree but I did consider that it could be perhaps Carriers Lane, (Coudray Road/Beresford Drive) however when I consulted the 1894 OS map, I couldn’t get the distant houses to align with anything in Churchtown.

With thanks to Martyn Griffiths for enlarged image

By this time I had also started to discuss the slide on my local history twitter feed, ‘Secret Sand Land’. A few suggestions came forward that it could be in Birkdale or Ainsdale, however I felt that if the image was either of those two, it would have been written as such, as in 1890 they were not part of Southport. After tirelessly scouring the 1894 OS map I felt that the image was either in Trap Lane, the predecessor of today’s Southbank Road or in nearby Ash Lane, what became Everard Road, both falling within the forgotten district of Higher Blowick. It was also around this time that Martyn emailed me to say that the same slide had appeared on the Facebook group, ‘The Southport of Yesterday’. At first I thought perhaps the image is not that rare after all. The owner that had shared it on Facebook also showed the image in the way I had first thought it should be, so I now thought it conclusive that this was the correct view…but still no further on to pinpointing the location!

Another eBay purchase of a lantern slide lead to me seek advice from the experienced seller, who unequivocally told me that the way I had been viewing it was correct. Maybe I was never going to solve this riddle after all?

But it was to be by pure chance that during one early morning spring bike ride, whilst out taking photographs of gate posts and generally looking at buildings for historical clues of any kind, that all the jigsaw pieces of the mysterious lantern slide fell into place. I was riding down Hawkshead Street, towards Tithebarn Road about to turn left up towards Meols Cop bridge, when I had the sudden urge to turn right to take a photograph of the original site of Little London from the top of the Sussex Road rail bridge. Whilst gliding down Tithebarn Road through the fresh spring breeze, I noticed a triangular stone tablet, sitting pretty in between the apex of a pair of classic Southport Victorian semi’s;

I had never noticed this before, but instantly realised this could be an indication of the previously undetermined site of the Little London Tithebarn. After arriving back home I immediately found my copy of Harry Fosters’ book, ‘Southport’s Inner Suburbs’ for I knew this to contain one of the few references to a Tithebarn in this area. I found the page and to my delight, I found an Edwin Beattie painting of The Tithebarn (it had to be a Beattie!) which sent sparks flying. Across the Lane from the Tithebarn stood a cottage, with three chimneys, and three trees in front of it, that if my slide was viewed the way Martyn had scanned it would match perfectly. In fact the detail of the trees was faultless. The fence, running upwards in the background was also shown on the painting; I suddenly realised that the mystery lantern slide was where I had just gone past on my bike where the pair of houses called Tithe Barn Cottages stood.

The Tithebarn on Tithebarn Lane by Edwin Beattie. With special thanks to Gillian Morgan and Sefton Library Services.

This meant that the Tithebarn must have stood across from the cottage or farmhouse photographed on the slide and in the direction of Little London exactly where Edwin Beattie’s detailed painting placed it. To my knowledge the Tithebarn, which Edwin Beattie described as ‘the old Tithebarn for the Parish of North Meols’ has only ever been touched on in print by three local authors. Peter Aughton looked at the fact that no building was evident on Bankes 1736 map (which only showed the Bold estate) nor on Yates 1786 map, but he did make the link that a Tithebarn could have been used as a place to store wool for the London merchants mentioned in a 15th century deed for a place called ‘Londehey’ in North Meols.

Walter Jesson also made the wool merchants link to the naming of Little London and recognised that the Tithebarn location had not been identified. He actually placed it on the site of the old Outrams Bakery, now the Sensing Devices business on the corner of Laurel Grove and Tithebarn Road. Harry Foster, showed the wonderful Beattie painting above and also put forward Jesson’s take on the location but also stated that little was known about it.

On Hennet’s detailed map of Lancashire for 1812, a Lane can be seen linking the hamlet of Little London to Ormskirk Road (later Meols Cop Road and Norwood Avenue today). This is almost certainly Tithebarn Lane and midway along this Lane, buildings can be seen on both sides.

Image credit Lancashire County Council

These buildings opposite each other on the angle is also replicated on the 1848 OS map, and by using Lancashire County Councils MARIO mapping overlay feature we can see the location of these buildings in relation to today. The overlay shows us that the larger building, the Tithebarn, was situated in front of where numbers 40, 42 & 44 now stand, and across the road roughly in front of numbers 65 & 67 is the location of the cottages on the magic lantern slide. It is also worth noting that numbers 63 & 65 bare the stone tablet entitled Tithe Barn Cottages, and that the old Tithebarn dairy business, run by the Todd family that lived in both 63 & 65 with the dairy listed as the latter and which appears to have been entered via an entrance in between 65 & 67.

Image credit Lancashire County Council

So I’d finally cracked it, and didn’t my family know that I had arrived at my eureka moment! However, I now wanted to dissect the image further; The whereabouts of the stretch of twenty four semi detached houses and the other buildings just about evident, and more importantly who were the family in the picture? The fence was clearly the beginnings of Hawkshead Street bridge, but what was the other bridge like structure, possibly a rail bridge rising in the opposite direction to the fence. Another investigative bike ride was required!

At first I thought that the houses must have been the back of Beacham Road on the left hand side immediately as you turn left off Lesley Road, but a cross reference with the 1894 OS map, surveyed between 1889/90 showed that they weren’t built. This was clarified by a few houses bearing the date of 1892. Around the corner in Laurel Grove, one house had the year 1887 inscribed upon it, as did a pair on Tithebarn Road which were the earliest I could see in this area and also in the viewing line of the slide, so it was clear that the image was taken before 1887.

It did take me a few days to finally figure it out, but when I did the whole vicinity became clearer. On one of Martyn’s enlarged images of the slide, I was able to count twelve chimney stacks, and also identify the corresponding outriggers at the rear of the houses. After another look at the 1894 OS map, beyond Beacham and Lesley Road, and even Morven Grove, is Poulton Road, which lined up perfectly with the view of the slide, and that had twelve pairs of semis with outriggers. It was more than apparent that it was Poulton Road in the distance, with part of Meols Cop junction rising from what is now Norwood Avenue. I decided to take a closer look for more clues. Amongst this stretch of semi-detached houses on Poulton Road, the date stones range from 1878 to 1880, therefore definitely placing the slide between the years 1880 & 1887.

Section of Poulton Road on 1894 OS map showing the row of distant houses on the slide. Image reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Slaters Directory for 1883/84 shows only five dwellings, all unnumbered, listed as being on Tithebarn Lane, which therefore narrows the image date down to being between 1884 & 1887. The Lane was a surviving strand of old North Meols, just about existing amongst the rapidly developing town of Southport, which in 1875 was extended to take in the villages of Crossens, Churchtown, Marshside and also the developing district of High Park. Little London was uprooted briefly to the Windsor Road and Barton Street (St.Luke’s Road) area following the introduction of the railways, however the original Blue Anchor is still shown in its original position on the 1894 OS map.

Slaters Directory for Southport & Birkdale 1883/84

During a series of town council meetings in 1877, Tithebarn Lane had been described as, ‘a very dirty lane’, ‘knee-deep in black slush’ and that five houses within the Lane had been ‘certified by the medical officer to be uninhabitable’. However six or seven years later, we still had Margaret Parkinson, landlady of the Blue Anchor, still surviving from the original ‘small-metropolis’. Along the Lane over Sussex Road and before the next road (in the direction of Meols Cop Road, but listed as Windsor Road), we have two dwellings, with the heads of households listed as Samuel Newton, labourer and William Howard, farmer. It is highly likely that the family in this rare image of one of the named above.

The Howard family are listed on Tithebarn Lane on the 1881 & 1871 censuses and a Hugh Howard, is listed as being in Little London in 1851 and named as living on Little London Lane next to Cop End in 1841.

The date of the image is definitely between 1884/87 and we know that the council wanted rid of the surviving cots on this ‘dirty lane’. Is it therefore likely, given the disinclined body language of the woman, that this could actually be an image of the family being evicted from there home prior to the modernisation of Tithebarn Lane circa 1885/86 and that the photographer took it, by a chance occurence whilst wandering off the beaten track between Lancaster and Liverpool, dreaming of being back at the Terrace at Haddon Hall.

David Walshe (Secret Sand Land) Copyright 2021.

Photo blend by Michael Walshe ( Instagram)

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