Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The 'Angel' of the Meadow


We’ve provided various stories in the last few weeks about some of our fallen heroes in World War One. This week we’re turning away from the battlefields of France and Flanders, back to the city of Manchester to honour the passing of a highly influential individual, who had many dealings with the Refuges over the years, Thomas (Tommy) Johnson.

Thomas (Tommy) Johnson

Thomas Johnson was well known in the history of the Manchester ragged school movement. Born and bred in Angel Meadow, Tommy was orphaned at an early age and spent his childhood in extreme poverty earning a living through street hawking. His saviour came with the opening of the Charter Street Ragged School, which gave him a rudimental education as well as food and clothing.

As an adult he was determined to devote his time to helping the poor, needy and fallen around Angel Meadow. He eventually took over as Superintendent of the Charter Street Ragged School and was instrumental in its extension to include a medical mission, recreative evening and educational classes, lad’s club and working girls’ home.

One of the safe havens in Angel Meadow – The Boy’s Rest
Tommy never forgot his roots. Being from Angel Meadow this was probably not hard. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Angel Meadow was one of the worst slums in the city. The Refuge magazine in 1915 described it as “the haunt of the criminal, the rendezvous of the vicious and the home of squalor and sin.” Nearly every house in the area was a lodging house offering cheap accommodation for a few pence a night.

Tommy’s work amongst the poor invariably brought him into contact with the Refuge and its committee. He had a close relationship with its founders Leonard Shaw and Richard Taylor, who regularly visited Angel Meadow and its inhabitants in the early days of the Refuge. Their own establishment of a coffee house in the area in 1881 provided temporary aid to lads who frequented the Common Lodging Houses of the district and give them safe accommodation for the night.

The news of Tommy’s passing in 1915 was received with great sorrow by those who knew him.

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