Manchester 1985


It must have been  in 1983 or 84 that my cousin Chris reminded me that our grandfather, Carl Dyckhoff, first came to work in Manchester in 1885. From there it was a short step to the idea of a family party to celebrate this centenary – but whose idea was it? We can’t now remember! Manchester was the obvious place for such an event; I was working at Manchester University in the History Department, we regularly used one or other of the two university chaplaincies for student parties, and I suggested that one of them would provide a suitable venue. Chris then let me into a secret:  that his next posting was likely to be as the Catholic Chaplain to the University. Problem solved! Chris took up his new post in autumn 1984, and our planning began in earnest, with the Catholic Chaplaincy as the venue. It was situated next to the Holy Name Church, on the other side of which was Ackers Street, where our grandfather had his first lodgings in Manchester. Where could be more appropriate?

On rooting through my file, I’m struck by the communications differences between that party and the one to celebrate Auntie Hilda’s 100th birthday in 2003. For the latter party, almost all communication was by email; in 1985 I was laboriously typing out circular letters, running them off on the office Roneo duplicating machine (remember those?), stuffing them in envelopes …. and most replies were by hand-written letter or phone.

We came up with the date of Saturday 27 July 1985 for the celebration. We chose a date outside term-time when students wouldn’t be around, and hoped that family members in Holland might take the opportunity to come over for a family holiday in England. In particular, we hoped that the party would provide an opportunity for younger members of the family to get to know each other – and in many cases, to meet for the first time. We planned a buffet lunch in the Chaplaincy (“at a cost of about £5 per head” I said in my first letter to everyone, but I note that this subsequently became £6 and eventually £10 to cover all the extra expenses!) We also planned to have Mass in the Chaplaincy before the lunch, and possibly a disco in the evening. We wrote to all members of the family, plus Auntie Erica (Witte), who had long had the status of “honorary Dyckhoff”; and there was a sufficiently enthusiastic response for us to go ahead with the plan.

We also urged Auntie Ruth to extend her family history, which had taken the story to 1918, and ended with the words “to be continued”. With some trepidation she agreed, and over the next few months she must have worked hard at it, sending her handwritten pages to her daughter Sue for typing. Sue’s typescript then came to me for final typing on my state-of-the-art IBM golfball typewriter (personal computers hadn’t yet reached the University Arts Faculty). Auntie Ruth doubled the length of her history, and took the story up to the death of her father Carl and the birth of her son Nick (the youngest of my generation) in 1953.

Meanwhile Chris and I continued our planning. Our circular letter of February 1985 outlined the plans for the day:  Mass at the Chaplaincy, followed by the opening of the Chaplaincy bar, followed by buffet lunch. A hotel dinner in the evening was mooted, and (again) the possibility of a disco for the youngsters. By 1985 there weren’t enough Dyckhoffs living in Manchester to be able to offer accommodation to everybody, so we suggested B&B at the Post House Hotel, Northenden, at a specially negotiated rate of £13.50; University self-catering flats; and beds or floor space in the Chaplaincy (in the end most people stayed at the hotel, Neville and his family in one of the newly-built “Toblerone” flats, and a few in the Chaplaincy).

By the time of our letter in May we had firmed up the programme; the buffet lunch now included drinks and “surprise extras”, presumably so that we could justify raising the charge to £10! (£5 for children). There were to be pre-dinner drinks (by courtesy of Nigel) and dinner at the Post House at a cost of £9.25, half-price for children under 14, with the under-fives free. A choice of two three-course menus with roast lamb or roast beef, and a special menu for the under-fives (I don’t recall what this consisted of, perhaps one of the under-fives can remember!). There seemed to be no enthusiasm for a disco, as all the youngsters wanted to join in the dinner, and perhaps knew that they wouldn’t have the energy for anything more! We asked people to bring along family photos; in particular photos of married couples as we hoped to make a display of these (and I think we did). We hoped that around 60 people would attend, out of a possible 70, and were very pleased when final numbers reached 62.

The great day dawned, rather grey and cool for July. Chris conducted Mass in the Chaplaincy, and James (the son of Steve and Di) made his First Communion; meanwhile I supervised arrangements for the buffet and kept a lookout for late-comers.

I’d asked Jackie to provide the buffet lunch (Jackie had worked with me as a temp., and she also ran a catering business). She provided an excellent feast of cold meats and poached salmon, salads and several sweets; and for one of the “surprise extras” Chris had organised three large apfeltorten from Duwe’s, the Belgian bakery in West Didsbury once patronised by our grandparents. Each of these was decorated with the family crest in icing on top, and made a good show at the buffet table. There was soon a happy buzz of conversation, and I remember a lot of excited running around by the children, some of whom had never met each other before. Two of them (Ed and Ben) must have been keeping a close eye on me, because they seemed to pop up in most of my photos! The youngest there were my nephew Max, Corrie-Ann (daughter of John and Jo), and James (son of Bruce and Helen); all were about three years old, and appeared somewhat bewildered by everything! All the remaining members of the older generation were there:  Auntie Lu, Uncle Mac and Auntie Hilda, Auntie Hilda Driessen, Auntie Margaret, my father Eric, Auntie Ruth, and Auntie Erica Witte. At some point in the proceedings we all assembled outside for a group photograph, taken by a photographer from The Universe.

A glance at the few photos I took reminds me that we had a wall-mounted display of an up-to-date version of the family tree mounted on large sheets of black card (prepared I think by a friend of Andrew and Martin). Two older versions of the tree (dating back many years and prepared by a German member of the family and by Auntie Ruth) were also on display, together with Auntie Hilda Driessen’s wall-hanging of 26 Palatine Road, and oval-framed portraits of our grandparents, Carl and Tony Dyckhoff. On the three tables below this display were numerous albums, stuffed with family photos.

Every family group and adult single person was given a copy of Auntie Ruth’s family history. By then this also contained photocopies of over twenty old photos mostly relating to the days of my grandparents, plus copies of the old family trees. I think Neville was responsible for copying the family trees, and Nigel and his sons Andrew and Martin organised the photocopying of my text of the history, plus assembling and binding the whole. Helen Entwisle prepared the art work for the front cover. Neville made a video of the party, which was made available for people to buy at a later date. Chris produced a copy of the Manchester Dyckhoff Line for everyone, and I circulated a list of all family names and addresses (Chris and I are still doing our best to keep both of these up to date!)

As traditional with Dyckhoff celebrations, an Alphabet was written for the occasion (by Auntie Ruth).

A      is for Anniversary and the start of our clan
B       is for Belgium, where it all began
C      is for Carl, who founded it here
D      is for Descendants, from far and from near
E       is for Everyone, you are all of the best
F       is for future, I hope yours is blessed
G      is for Generations, both present and past
H      is for health, may all yours last
I        is for me
J        Just guess who I am!
K      is for Kith and also for Kin
L       is for Limefield, which I lived in
M      is for Manchester, it’s home for some
N      is for Netherlanders, we’re so glad you’ve come
O      is for Olden days and Other celebrations
P       is for Palatine Road and its three generations
Q      is for the Quick and the Dead
R       is for Remembrance, it must be said
S       is the Sadness of those bereft
T       is for Those who have been left
U      is for Union – United we stand!
V      is for Venue, this one’s well planned
W     is for Welcome to all who are here
X      pressed rather badly, but very sincere
Y      is for Youth, both present and past
Z       is for Zest, long may yours last.

Nigel fulfilled his role as speechmaker in his usual stylish manner. Just what he said I can no longer recall, but he certainly gave a special vote of thanks to Auntie Erica for her role as friend and supporter of the family over very many years. He doubtless said kind words about Auntie Ruth and her family history, and about Chris and me, as organisers: I know I received a very large bouquet, which subsequently had to be split between three vases, and Chris a bottle of whisky (I wonder which lasted the longer, the flowers or the whisky ? – good question, said Chris!).

I expect we all disappeared home or to the hotel around 5 pm. for a bit of rest before the evening event, dinner at the Post House Hotel; and I don’t seem to recall much about this – which presumably means that it went off OK! Perhaps I just settled back to enjoy a good meal and stopped worrying about whether the day had been a success or not. Nearly all of us were there, including most of the children, and I think I had a table plan to ensure that family groups were mixed up a bit. Uncle Mac and Auntie Hilda from Gatley were our oldest guests, both in their mid-eighties. Their daughter Pauline later wrote to me:  “I was quite astonished at my parents’ stamina. Mum went home at midnight and Dad arrived home practically with the milkman at 2.40 a.m.! So that says it all – they liked the party!”

We hadn’t arranged much for the Sunday. I think Chris suggested Mass at the Holy Name Church for those still around, followed by lunch at the Red Lion in Withington (Chris isn’t sure whether this lunch happened), and I issued a general invitation for tea at my place in Chorlton.

Just as well everyone didn’t turn up as the house was quite full enough with my father, Roy and his family, Auntie Hilda Driessen, Rosemary and Henk van Berckel with Monica, Robert Jan and Bart, and Hil and Frans Van der Staay.

Did we achieve our aim of helping youngsters from different branches of the family to get to know each other? They certainly mixed well on the day, but were there any lasting friendships as a result? One direct outcome from the party was that Frank Driessen, then 18, spent a few months living with Neville’s family to improve his English. He certainly succeeded:  next time I saw him he spoke English like a native with scarcely any accent, making good use of phrases like “you know” and “I mean”! I invited the youngsters to send me their comments on the party, and certainly I received a few such letters, mainly from the Dutch youngsters who had enjoyed meeting their English family.

Chris has added that we had good coverage in both Universe (National Catholic weekly) and the Manchester Evening News. One result was that the Local History Section of Manchester Central Library asked us to lodge a copy of Auntie Ruth’s  History with them, where it can no doubt be accessed to this day. Another outcome was a number of letters fromWitte & Dyckhoff employees and others with their reminiscences.

I remember that Chris and I spent the day telling anyone who would listen that we hoped there would be another family party in about ten years time, but that we wouldn’t be organising it! We hoped that members of the younger generation would take this on. But in the end the next big event was not till 2003, to celebrate Auntie Hilda Driessen’s 100th birthday, and organised by her daughter Rosemary (and guess who helped – Chris and me!)


Auntie Hilda Driessen had let it be known that this would be her last visit to England (she was then 82). She stayed with me for the weekend, and I then took her and my father to stay at Rhos-on-Sea, North Wales, for a few days. Towards the end of Chapter V of her history, Auntie Ruth wrote about how her family decamped to stay in Aber, North Wales, in summer 1914:   “…. in a house overlooking the station … the first rumours of the Great War reached our ears … “trainloads of troops passing our windows …” Well, Auntie Hilda realised that Aber wasn’t far from Rhos and was very keen to see if the house the family had stayed in was still there. So we drove down an extremely narrow single-track lane for what seemed an age, with my father getting increasingly worried that there would be nowhere to turn at the end!   (I’m sure some of you will remember how anxious my father was about everything). The house was still there, Auntie Hilda introduced herself to the present occupants, told them about her 1914 visit and had a good look around, while I turned the car round and my father heaved sighs of relief!  No problem, as we say these days!

March 2009


1.      The buffet at the Chaplaincy (view of Oxford  Road in the background)

2.      The piece de resistance, the apfeltorten from Duwe’s (but only 2 of them have the duck crest!)

3.      Display in the Chaplaincy.  A. Hilda’s wall hanging of no. 26 on the left. Portraits of Grandparents Carl and Toni above, and below that the family tree with some photos  of couples linked to it.  On tables, photo albums from various members of the family

4,      Uncle Mac and Auntie Hilda in the Chaplaincy.  (our caterer Jackie in the background)

5.      Family members in the Chaplaincy.

6.      Dinner at the Post House.  My niece Livy standing on the left, Ben in the foreground

7.      Post House again.  Ed and Ben in foreground, A. Ruth and Pauline to right, Michael, Frank , Bart, and Frans to left

8.      41 Clyde Road, my grandparents first home, in West Didsbury.  A. Hilda took me there and asked for a photo

9.      Grandparents’ grave in Southern Cemetery.  Again, I went with A. Hilda on this occasion.


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