As I mentioned in my first post here on the Archives Plus Blog, I’ve been researching the history of Armenians in Manchester – I first became interested in this particular community when I discovered that my new home in Didsbury once belonged to an Armenian family, the Funduklians, back in the early 1900s.
In order to find out more about life for Armenians in Manchester during the early twentieth century, I visited the Tameside Local Studies Centre in Ashton-Under-Lyne, to access this oral history tape from the 1980s, part of the Manchester Studies Collection. Only one interview relating to Armenian community exists, so I spent a morning listening to a rather muffled but enchanting recording of Mr Shahbenderian and his wife talking about their lives in Manchester. This particular couple also generously donated some of their photographs to the Documentary Photographic Archive at the Greater Manchester County Record Office, including the image below:
Like many of his co-patriots, Mr Shahbenderian’s route to Manchester came via the family business. He followed his father to the city in 1914, in order to help in the latter’s textile company. Aged just twelve, he worked during the day at 38 Queen Street, and in the evenings pursued his education, later gaining a diploma.
“I was very fond of drawing…of course I’m fond of reading”
(Mr Shahbenderian on his love of drawing/reading)
“I like to work at the age of 82, until I pass away one day”
(Mr Shahbenderian on returning to work after retirement made him unhappy)
He later became a church warden for the Armenian Church and secretary for the Manchester Armenian Society, of which Mr Funduklian, the former resident of the house in which I now live, was also a member.
Mrs Shahbenderian arrived in Manchester in 1925, just over ten years after her husband. She described being unable to speak English (only ‘a little French’) upon her arrival, but quickly learned the language by ‘listening carefully’ and reading the newspapers. She also described the Armenian Ladies Association, of which Mrs Funduklian (again, a former resident of my house) was also a member. This group was an important resource for the Armenian community in Manchester, and amongst its many activities, met to discuss English and Armenian literature, socialise and learn English.
The Armenian Ladies Association in the 1920s (source)
Furthermore, the Armenian Church was an important social hub for the Manchester Armenian community during this time. The basement was converted into a meeting place where people ate, talked and sang. According to the Shahbenderians, there were demonstrations and talks, dinners and dances, and it sounded like a lively and happy place to be. Members of other migrant communities were also welcome, with Iranian students from Manchester University and individuals from Cyprus mentioned as examples.
“when they come to Manchester they feel strange…”
(Mr Shahbenderian describes how newcomers to Manchester often felt)
Evidently this strangeness was only a temporary feeling for most, as Mr and Mrs Shahbenderian both agreed that Manchester made them and others feel very welcome.
“We are very very happy to be in England, which I think is the best place to be in the world”
“We are very happy with English people”
(Mr and Mrs Shahbenderian on living in England)
I found these sentiments very moving. It is reassuring to know that Manchester has a history of welcoming people from all over the world, and I hope that the Armenians who once lived in my home felt as happy as the Shahbenderians.