Didsbury today is the product of its location, and its people over the years. The importance of the rocky bluff, which seems to have attracted the head of the Didde clan is a feature which identified his name with his sphere of influence.
Didde’s Buigh/Borough or, in this case the shortened form, ‘Bury’. There is some evidence of a building more permanent than a clay cottage, possibly a church but the first written reference to a church is the record of the gift of land to the church at the rocky bluff, by Albertus Grelly in 1235. That chapel came under the jurisdiction of St Mary’s Church in Manchester.
In 1352 the Bishop of Lichfield gave the little church a chaplain and licensed the regular offering of Mass there. The parish extended over all the Manor of Withington, from Chorlton to Heaton Norris and Reddish, and South to Didsbury and the Mersey. This is the importance of the location which lasted well into the 18th Century.
There were four river fords between Stockport and the old Roman road between Stretford to the West and Stockport to the East. Millgate Lane, the oldest road in Didsbury, led to one leading to the roads heading for Congleton. This, and the one on the road to Cheadle were significant for troop movements in the Civil War and later for Bonnie Prince Charlie on his abortive march south to London and on his retreat again.
These routes also made Didsbury a focal point for necessary river crossings for those connected with the early stages of industry in Manchester, and perhaps because of the river hazards, was the location where the wealthy merchants chose to live out of town. Here the ‘establishment’ centred on the church, although it was still a rural community and well served by people brought up in service, from grooms to gardeners and most tradesmen. As a result, the end of the Napoleonic War saw growth in Didsbury.
The sandstone tower of the church built in the late 16th century held a goodly set of bells. There began a period of refurbishment and expansion of the church. The benefactor of not only the Free Church but St. James as well, was James Heald, the MP for Stockport who lived in Parrswood House.
So was born the new training college for Wesleyan Ministers, the present day Didsbury campus, part of the MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University), and much more. Two pubs had long since flanked the village green, once the centre for special occasions, and this area was known as the ‘gates of Hell’ because of the temptation to drop in for drink rather than go to church. This area was used in this way right up to the Great War in 1914-18.
A look inside the church reveals the Mosley Memorial and a reference to Ambrose Barlow of that once long established family. Andrew Barlow was baptised at St. James but became a Catholic priest and in the dark times for the Catholic Church, administered to the recusants of South Lancashire until his death at the scaffold.
The plaques in St James reveal more of the people who gave a good deal of their lives to its benefit. There are others too who are not recorded – in all a veritable litany. Their fortunes and their departures – form a rich tapestry. Names like the Birleys, one of who still lives in the last of their family houses next to the Elms. This is now a thick copse of much overgrown trees.
Other well known Didsbury names are the Bamfords, the Blands, (Lady Ann particularly), the Broomes (especially William and Ann), the Faringtons, the Fieldens, James Heald, Rev Kidd, Rev. John Newton, Colonel Parker, Henry Simon, Ernest Simon and Sheena Simon, Fletcher Moss, the Tattons, the Twyfords, the Yannis family, S and J Watts, Daniel Adamson, Dr. Milson Rhodes, Charles Blackburn, Sir Christopher Needham, Sir John Marks, Mrs Ann Heald (and the dairy), Olive Shapley, Sir Charles Groves, Sir Nieter Mallick, Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, and recently Sir lain Hall. These and many more had an effect on the life of Didsbury.
Many of the famous names listed above built grand houses like Didsbury Manor, Scotscroft, the Cedars, The Elms, Parkfield House, Lawnhurst, Broome House, the Parsonage, and the chateau-like daddy of them all – The Towers.
Howard Spring, the author of ‘Shabby Tiger’ and ‘Rachel Rosing’ also lived in Didsbury but more modestly. There are many fine but smaller houses in Didsbury, many of which were homes of the new generation of successful Jews in who worked various professions or owned businesses before the 1939-45 War. Some of them have moved away now.
The one time streets of terraced houses where ordinary working people lived are now the homes of well set up professionals and of those in the entertainment world – and a new ‘Leisure complex’ at East Didsbury proclaims more change. We all regret the passing of the former rural scene, but the flagship school beside it is the bonus.
Didsbury still maintains some sense of community. There is a sense of pride and independence. ‘Cheshire Life’ in the Feb 2002 issue picked up on this sense of pride. It comes from a long way back in history.