Oldham Historical Research Group

William Rowbottom's Diary as published in the Oldham Standard

[1798] 1799
Hatting within the last months is fallen nearly to nothing, for it is an absolute fact that a deal of hatters are at this time entirely without work, and gloomy as the alternative may be several are begun of weaving fustian.

December 6th – A servant of James Taylor’s, of Sarah Moor, having set down fifteen ponds of cotton cardings at a shop door in Oldham, while she did a small errand, they where in an instant stolen and no trace left behind. But be it spoken to the shame of the persons concerned in it that in this enlightened age that ignorance and superstition had such influence over them that they consulted all the witches, conjurors, and wizards in this neighbourhood, but be it spoken in their disgrace these dark oracles laid the scandal on an innocent person as will be seen hereafter.

The popular belief in witches and wizards was as strong in Oldham as anywhere else. This hard-headed Oldhamer was determined to put astrology to some practical proof, but, as it seems, with only poor success. As to the popularity of witchcraft credulity at that time, I need only remind my readers of the incident mentioned in the life of Samuel Crompton, his relative’s cows being bewitched, so that the milk and cream refused to yield any butter until the witch dissolved the spell by churning the milk herself. Even in living memory in the neighbourhood of Springhead a certain farm contained a field in which was a dark place containing a pit, called “Th’ Pob Hole”, in which a certain witch, called Nan o’ Pob’s, was said to have committed suicide. Her ghost served as a terror to at least three generations of children round about Hey and Lees.

For on the 11th John Robishaw, of Thorp, was apprehended, and his house searched, when a quantity of cardings, which are believed to be those stolen, were found in his house. He was, of course, committed to the New Bailey to take his trial at the next sessions.

December 18th – Yesterday was an uncommon day for rain, so that the water rose astonishingly, and did a deal of damage.

December 19th was observed as a day of general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the glorious victory obtained on the seas over our different enemies, when the colours taken by Lord Howe Bridport St. Vincent and Duncan were carried to St. Paul’s in procession before the King, Queen, Royal Family, great officers of State, &c., &c. The people in general saluted his Majesty, but when Mr. Pitt came nothing was heard but hisses and groans: His servants were much pelted with dirt, &c. When service was concluded Mr. Pitt eluded the vigilance of the mob by going into another carriage, and so got safe into Downing-street. The effigy of Pitt was hung up in several parts of London, but the mob were very civil. Opposite the bank a britania was fixed up with these lines –


A vessel quite crazy and almost a wreck,
At her helm as a pilot unskild on the deck,
Without chart or compass, who neer heaves the lead,
Who steers by his stars or false lights in his head.
The storm too, increasing midst sholes and midst shelves.
Half the crew in dispair making rafts for themselves.
Provisions all out, the last water cask staved,
By a miracle only that ship can be saved.

At Oldham, &c., it was observed with great sollemnety.

December 26th – Ned Lee apprehended on a charge of stealing glass from Mr. Hibbert’s, Stock-lane, brought before Sit Watts Horton and by him commited to the New Bayley to take his tryal for the same.

Mr. William Hibbert was a fustian manufacturer at Stock-lane. We find his name among the subscribers to Hollinwood School.

December 26th – Died that great patriot who put a stop to general warrants, John Wilkes, Esquire, F.R.S., in the 72nd year of his aged. Died in London.

John Wilkes was born in 1727. Rowbottom describes him as “that great patriot”; but Bishop Warburton once declared in the House of Lords that “the blackest fiends in hell would not keep company with him when he arrived there”. I know not what authority the poor Bishop had for making this statement, nor whether the statement is not more a reflection on the Bishop than on John Wilkes. Wilkes seems to have had his admirers in Oldham, great demagogue though he was. From the life of John Horne Tooke, I learn that, “as a senator, Mr. Wilkes was bold, intrepid, and persevering. He was however not only deficient in oratory, but devoid of all its graces and qualifications, for his utterance was difficult, his voice unmelodious, his figure unprepossessing. Besides the want of personal beauty he possessed the glaring defect of Rosciu. (squinting) As a man, his character was equivocal; he had yielded to all the passions in succession, and the witcheries of women and conviviality proved ruinous to his affairs. Such were his necessities and his ambition even in early life that he had secretly solicited a government as well as an embassy, and had afterwards subsisted in a foreign country on a pension from that ministry (the Rockingham) which he appeared to condemn”.

This year ends with the most distressing times ever experienced by the oldest person living in respect of weaving and hatting being down.




The annals for 1798 are not to be found. This is to be regretted, as no doubt they would contain notices of many important events. The battle of the Nile was fought in this year, in which many Oldhamers took part. Nelson’s victory was celebrated in Oldham by illuminations throughout the town on the 4th October, though the battle was fought on the 1st August. Irish affairs were also very lively in 1798.

Among local events, according to Higson, Hollinwood Chapel was robbed on Jan. 28. On the 25th March a Sunday school was commenced by the Rev. Wm. Winter, incumbent of S. Peter’s, in a small room in which he held a day school, at Mill End, top of Goulbourn-street, now Church-street, and 134 scholars were admitted the first day.

April 11th – Several “Jacobins” were apprehended at Manchester.

April 15th – James Nield, of Oldham, millwright, died.

April 18th – The Oldham Volunteers numbered 60, and a meeting was held to raise funds to buy them clothing. Two bodies of volunteers were raised in Oldham. The command of the horse association was entrusted to Mr. Ralph Kershaw, of Copster-hill.

June 18th. – The horse association exercised on Northmoor.

August 31st. – Edward Gregg Hopwood, of Hopwood and Chamber Halls, Esquire, died. He was succeeded at Hopwood by his son, Robert Gregg Hopwood, Esq. The Chamber Hall property went to his three daughters.

The Gregg Hopwoods have long been associated with the history of Oldham. Edward Gregg, Esq., was born in 1721, he resided at Chamber Hall, and Butterworth says: Becoming an intimate friend of Robert Hopwood, Esq., the last of the original local family of the Hopwoods of Hopwood he is said to have served as a substitute for him in the army during the Jacobite disturbances of 1745, and in consideration of this service, Mr. Hopwood being entirely without heirs, devised the estate of Hopwood to Mr. Gregg and his family after the death of his lady. Mr. Hopwood died July 19, 1762, and Mrs. Hopwood, in 1773. Mr. Gregg on acquiring the estates of Hopwood, took the name of Hopwood in addition to Gregg, in accordance with an Act of Parliament passed for that purpose in 1773 (13 Geo. III), and became Edward Gregg Hopwood, Esq.

At this time velveteens were woven at 46s. to 50s. per cut. This price would include the spinning of the weft. Nankeens were woven at 7s. to 12s. per cut, and calicoes at 3s. 6d. per cut.

John Winterbottom, of Mumps, died this year.

E. Butterworth says:- Fowleach afforded a habitation to the Winterbottoms. A Richard Winterbottom held lands near School croft, in Oldham, in 1606, and in 1688 Thomas Winterbottom possessed property at or near Goldburn. James Winterbottom, yeoman, of Fowleach, was living in 1724. John Winterbottom, yeoman, of Mumps, who died in 1798, was a relative of Mr, Joshua Winterbottom, of Oldham, who died in 1789.

About this time the steam engine was being introduced at several mills in Oldham and Crompton, notable Mount Pleasant Mill, Oldham, and Greenfield Mill, Shaw. “Twemlow Factory”, now Hartford Mill, which is incorporated with Messrs Platt Bros. Old Works, was built about this time by Mr. James Lees, son of Mr. John Lees, inventor of the carding feeder.


September 15th. – George Russell was hanged on Newton Heath for croft breaking.

The spot is still pointed out at Newton Heath where the gallows stood, and it is said that the dead body of this unfortunate was exposed for some time on a gibbet after he was dead.

October 30th – Joseph Dunkerley, Rhodees, Esq., died.

December 4th – Sacrilege at Oldham parochial chapel.

December 23rd – John Clegg, Esq., of Bent Grange, died.

December 27th – A most remarkable frost.

The year 1799 commenced on Tuesday, which was a cold, frosty day, and it ushered in such a Christmas as was never experienced before, for by the lowness of the fustian trade roast beef, pyes, and ale, are not to be seen on the poor man’s table. On the contrary, it is graced with misery and want, and a universal lowness of spirits and dejected countinance appear in everyone. Humanity is fled from the breast of everyone, so that the wretched and miserable poor, by pineing, unpityed, and unnoticed. Oh, that this new year may be a more comfortable year then the last is my wish. Their hopes, but no assurance, for things grow every day worse and worse. Nothing is to be seen or heard but the wofull tale of the poor. Fustian weavers, who are relating their wofull storys to one another, for by the dearness of cotton the masters are compeld to pay the weavers a verey little. Verey few pieces now are paid above 12d., and those must be very good pieces, but most of weaving is done at 9d. Nankeen is wove 36 reed, 50 yards long, at 9s. a cut; calicoes, 3s. 6d. and 4s. a cut, 28 yards. Cotton, such as is wove into velveteens, nine shafts, &c., is sold at the amazing price, 2s. 10d. a pound.

Poor Rowbottom little dreamt of the great convulsion then at work. He little thought that a world was in labour. What could we do now with such prices? And yet the country was evidently being sorely tried. But we must remember this is only one side of the story. This was the hour of darkness. The old fustian trade, so long the staple trade of Oldham was then undergoing what people now call evolution. The cotton trade was creeping from its chrysalis, leaving a mere empty shell behind, and struggling towards the light.

The following is an accurate statement of the price of the different articles:- Grey boyling peas, 2½ d. to 3d. per quart; Meal, 1s. 6d., 1s. 8d.; very good, 1s. 9d.; flower, very good, 2s., 1s. 11d., 1s. 7d., 1s. 1d.; malt, 1s. 7d. per peck; treacle, 5½ d.; butter, old, 9d.; candles, 8½ d.; butter, new, 11d.; chees, 5d. to 6d.; pork, 3½ d. to 4½ d.; beff, 5d.; mutton, 5d.; onions, 1½d.; hops, 1s. 10d.; bacon, 7d.; soap, white or brown, 9d. per pond; salt, 3d.; sugar, 9d. to 10d. a pond; potatoes, ½d. per score, or 9d. per stroke.

January 1st – Joseph Wright, of Oldham, Sarahmoor, died; disorder, consumption.

January 5th – Ann, wife of Thomas Ogden, of Burnley-lane, died. She had been sick a long time; age 74 years.

January 8th – Ann, wife of Eley Dyson, of Chadderton Mill, entered at Oldham; age 71 years.

January 19thJohn Scott, hatter, Oldham, died.

Page 43

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William Rowbottom's Diary as published in the Oldham Standard
Transcribed by Mary Pendlbury & Elaine Sykes
Courtesy of Oldham Local Studies & Archives
Not to be reproduced without permission of Oldham Local Studies & Archives.
Header photograph © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for re-use under the C.C. Licence.'Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0'

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