A bit of self-indulgence here! I was delighted to find that much of this episode revolved around Manchester city centre, the Manchester suburb of Prestwich (where I live) and Chirk, a place I love to visit. I just couldn’t believe that they never mentioned that Ralf’s footballer great-grandfather had played in the same Chirk and Wales teams as the great Billy Meredith, whose name was clearly visible on the documents shown. Ralf’s mentioned it in media interviews, but maybe the BBC producers didn’t realise just what a big name Billy Meredith is to Manchester football fans!
Anyway, how exciting that Ralf’s grandparents lived in Prestwich, and got married at the church next door to my old primary school. Apart from the odd name check in Coronation Street, individual suburbs don’t generally get mentioned on TV! They met whilst working at Prestwich Hospital. Back in the day, Prestwich was best-known for being home to a large psychiatric hospital, and to some extent still is. When I was a kid, before there was the respect for mental illness that there hopefully is now, you could usually guarantee that someone would yell “Oi [name of kid they wished to annoy], you’ve missed your stop,” as the school bus passed the hospital building. Ralf’s grandad was local, but it was interesting to hear that his grandma had moved here from Chirk because the hospital had such a big workforce then that it attracted people from outside the area.
We then heard about his grandad’s war service, first as a medic in Orkney, and then as an engineer on board an aircraft carrier in the Far East, and how he took part in the Battle of Okinawa, on board the first British ship to be attacked by kamikaze pilots. The celebs this series do seem generally more knowledgeable and less hysterical than those in previous series: Ralf was impressed but not overly emotional, and clearly knew about kamikaze pilots rather than having to be given an explanation.
Hearing about his Welsh great-grandfather’s local and international football career was fascinating for football fans, but what a disappointment – well, Ralf said that it was, and I’d have felt exactly the same in his shoes – that he gave it up during the short-lived religious revival! We heard about how people had burnt footballs, tickets and football shirts, as the revival held that sport was some sort of danger to the soul. Good job that Billy Meredith never got involved in all that! We all know that Oliver Cromwell wasn’t keen on football, but the 1904-05 religious revival doesn’t get a lot of coverage. Hmm, Wikipedia informs me that it was once featured in the BBC series “Bread of heaven”. Yep, that’ll have been named after the hymn to which we used to sing “We’ll support you ever more” in school assembly, whilst the headmistress sang “Feed us till we want no more”. No danger of anyone I know giving up football for the sake of religion!
He then looked into his dad’s family, who, apart from being related by marriage to Nottinghamshire gentry, had been amongst the great 19th century Manchester families who were involved in planning and sanitation … might not sound very glamorous, but it was a big thing as the city grew so rapidly. And it was good to see how pleased Ralf was to find out that his family had played a part in the development of our beloved city.
I really enjoyed this episode. I’ve enjoyed all of them, but anything local particularly resonates with me, as it clearly did with Ralf too.