Stockport and Haybes ; wartime links

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Stockport and Haybes

It came as a surprise to learn, towards the end of 2013, that Stockport had a connection to a village in the French Ardennes, due to the First World War. In 1921 Haybes was described as “before the war, a pretty riverside place on the Meuse with about two thousand inhabitants.” Between the 24th and 26th August 1914, this small town came under attack by the advancing German army. Some of the population fled into the slate mines to escape the enemy soldiers. The result of the attack was that 594 houses out of a total of 610 were destroyed by shelling and fires and, of the civilians who were taken prisoner, 56 men, women and children were killed. A tragedy undoubtedly and certainly Haybes was just one of many communities which suffered for being in the wrong place. But why did Stockport become involved?

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This is a question we are still trying to answer fully. We know that in 1919 an appeal was sent out to all the French departments and some foreign countries for financial help to rebuild Haybes. In June 1920 the town of St. Etienne sent some money, followed in August by a donation from a school in Switzerland and in October 1920 Stockport Council began enquiries about what aid was needed.

In July 1921 the mayor of Haybes, Louis Bouvart and his deputy visited Stockport to meet the town council and plead their case. The Stockport Advertiser of 8th July 1921 reported on the meeting. Marcel Braibant, Conseiller General des Ardennes, spoke about “the unfortunate village of Haybes, which was in German occupation for the greater part of the war”. Sir Thomas Rowbotham compared Haybes to his home town of Bramhall which he said was just the same size and “It would be a real joy to the people of Stockport if they could help in some little way to rebuild this village which he had compared with Bramhall”.

No mention is made in the Council minutes of this delegation nor of Haybes. Despite this, the councillors did respond favourably as subsequent events showed.

At the beginning of September the Stockport Advertiser announced that “M. Marcel Dupré, the celebrated organist of Notre Dame, Paris, has generously offered to give an organ recital in Stockport, the proceeds to be devoted to the fund for the restoration of Haybes”. Alderman Charles Royle who was Mayor, called a meeting at the Town Hall and the offer was accepted and a small committee “was formed for the purpose of carrying out the arrangements”. No minutes of this committee seem to have survived so presumably it was a private one despite the Mayor being chairman and the Town Clerk (Robert Hyde) and Councillor Green being the treasurers.

The date for the recital was set for Thursday October 13th and the chosen venue was the Centenary Hall of Stockport Sunday School as there was a “fine organ” there. Admission charges were fixed at 2s and 1s. Presumably the lower charge was for children though this is not stated.

It was quite a coup to have M. Dupré appearing in Stockport. Born in 1886, Marcel Dupré rapidly established his reputation as a concert artist after World War I. He performed from memory the complete organ works of Bach in a series of recitals in Paris. He toured extensively as a virtuoso, giving as many as 110 recitals in a single trip and making ten tours of the U.S. alone between 1921 and 1948. International success came first in England, and then in America, where the improvised organ symphony at his first recital was hailed in the press as ‘a musical miracle’. In 1926 he was appointed Professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where he remained for 30 years. Small wonder then that his recital attracted a large audience. The programme closed on a stirring note with the playing of the French and British National Anthems. M. Dupré, asked after the recital for his opinion of the organ said it was a splendid instrument.  According to the Stockport Advertiser “It was one of the most interesting instruments he had found on his tour through England.” He also praised the acoustic qualities of the Centenary Hall.

Stockport was able to send a substantial amount to Haybes to assist in its rebuilding. It has not so far been possible to establish exactly how much but it is a testament to the generosity of the Stopfordians of the early 1920s. Times were not easy but people recognised the great need of Haybes and responded.

In 2014, Haybes is commemorating the centenary of its devastation and it seems fitting that Stockport should also remember the part it played in the post war reconstruction of one small town which had had its world turned upside down by the events of August 1914. The work of hunting for more information about the Stockport/Haybes connection is continuing.

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