1970s Gorton is the setting for the first part of book one in my new gritty crime trilogy. Gorton is a suburb of East Manchester, and is also the place where I was born and raised until the age of 13.
Book one of the trilogy is called Born Bad and the first part of the novel describes Adele and Peter’s tough upbringing with a drunken, violent father and a slovenly, beaten mother. The remainder of the book tells the story of how that upbringing affects them into adulthood.
I have chosen 1970s Gorton for the setting of ‘Born Bad’ part one because, by doing so, I have drawn on many childhood memories. However, I wish to add as a disclaimer that although I draw on the characteristics of many people when creating my characters, none of the characters in the book are intended to depict any real people, either living or deceased.
Gorton has changed very much in recent years with rising unemployment and an increase in violent crime. However, the Gorton that I remember was very different from the Gorton that is now portrayed in the media. It was a working class area where most people worked for a living or, as was the custom in those days, the husband worked and the wife stayed at home to look after the children.
What is Gorton Famous For?
Belle Vue – formerly a zoological gardens, which opened in 1836 as well as a speedway stadium, amusement park and amusement hall complex. Belle Vue hosted many sporting events including wrestling, boxing and rugby.
Sadly the zoo closed in 1977 and the amusement park in 1980 followed by the speedway in 1987. Nowadays all that is left of Belle Vue is the Greyhound Racing Stadium and a snooker hall although that part of Gorton is still often referred to by locals as Belle Vue.
Shameless – Although the programme featured the fictitious Chatsworth estate, it was actually filmed on the council estate in West Gorton.
The monastery is grade II listed and has been included amongst the 100 most endangered sites in the world alongside the ancient ruins of Pompeii and the Taj Mahal. It was designed by Edward Pugin and built by Franciscan monks between 1863 and 1872.
The Franciscans left the monastery in 1989 and it fell into disrepair as well as being ravaged by dry rot. It was also prey to vandalism and theft, and many of the artefacts disappeared.
Fortunately, a £6 million fundraising campaign enabled the monastery to be restored, and many of the artefacts were returned. It now functions as a conference and events centre.
I’m pleased to say that I visited the interior of the monastery in the early 70s when the monks were still in residence and before many of the artefacts disappeared. It’s a stunning building. I’m also old enough to remember the monks in their brown habits walking in and out of the building when I passed the monastery on the bus to Manchester.
My Memories of Gorton
Belle Vue – In those days its main attraction was the well-known zoo with an accompanying fun fair. We used to love visiting Belle Vue in the school holidays.
When I was a teenager I moved out of Gorton but still lived within easy reach of Belle Vue, which also ran the Zoo Bi Doo disco. It was very popular amongst teenagers and was great fun, a precursor to the clubbing days of my 20s. Many of the kids who went to Zoo B Doo also went to the same secondary school as me.
I also remember attending the East Area Athletics championships at Belle Vue, where I represented my school in the 200 metres sprint. No, I didn’t win. I came third out of four runners.
Gorton Cross Street – This was the place where parents went for their weekly food shop but, as well as supermarkets, it had many other shops including clothes shops, haberdashers, toy shops etc. It was rare for our parents to venture into central Manchester in those days because of the expense, even though it is only a few miles away. Therefore, most things would be bought at Gorton Cross Street. There is still a thriving shopping centre in Gorton but the street has been renamed and most of the shops have changed.
The Corner Shop – We had one at the top of our street and many others dotted about the surrounding streets. I have vivid recollections of women standing in the shop gossiping, often wearing hair rollers and turbans. Women would also gossip on their doorsteps and I remember that a trip to Gorton Cross Street with my mother would take an age as she would stop to chat to many people on the way.
The Red Rec – This was where many of the older boys went to play football. It was also the place where most of the surrounding streets had their bonfires on Bonfire Night. Back in the 70s, the abundance of fireworks from people attending a dozen or more bonfires used to frighten the living daylights out of me. It’s a pity I can’t see it again nowadays because it must have been quite a spectacle.
Although I was nervous of the fireworks, I still have fond memories of all the mothers mucking in with Jacket potatoes baked on the bonfire, homemade treacle toffee and Parkin.
The Local Park/Playground – Although we referred to it as the park, it was actually a playground next to the Red Rec with some fields off to the side. From what I recall, I don’t think the park even had a name; it was just ‘the park’ as far as we were concerned. I have based the playground in ‘Born Bad’ on our local park.
As kids, when we felt a little more adventurous we would take ourselves off to one of the ‘proper’ parks, the ones that had names, such as Sunny Brow Park, Peter Pan Park or Debdale Park.
Playing out in the Street – At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged bore – those were definitely the days when we didn’t need games consoles and mobile phones to entertain us. We knew how to entertain ourselves and would play out for hours.
Here are some of the games I remember from the 60s and 70s:
Skipping – when the mothers would often come out to hold the ends of the rope.
Two and three a ball against the wall to chants such as Pontius Pilot the king of the Jews bought his wife a pair of shoes etc.
Handstands against the wall.
Paper chase, where we tucked bits of paper into wall crevices etc. and each piece of paper would have a clue as to where to find the next one.
Knock a door run – when we were feeling a bit devilish.
Please Mr Fisherman.
Ticky It – still played by children nowadays but I think it’s changed its name.
Hide n Seek.
Check out those street urchins – I’m the skinny one second from the right.
Black and White TV – Yes, I still remember our first rented black and white TV. Most of the sets we rented used to jump and we would have to change the position of the indoor aerial to get the picture right. When it became impossible to adjust we would send to the rental shop for a replacement.
School Sports Days – Back in the days when winning was celebrated (and not just the taking part). I remember taking my giant sized prize bars of chocolate home and being ordered to share them with my brothers. Having brothers in school had its advantages though as it meant that half the school would be cheering for me whenever I entered a race. Yes, believe it or not, I used to be quite an athlete back in the day. I don’t think my arthritic knees could cope with it nowadays though.