Oldham Historical Research Group



OLDHAM, a parochial chplry., tnshp., market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, in the par. of Prestwich-cum-Oldham, hund. of Salford, co. Lancaster, 4 miles N. of Ashton-under-Lyne, 6 N .E. of Manchester, and 190 N .N.W. of London. It has stations on the E. section of the Lancashire and Yorkshire, the Oldham branch of the London and North-Westem, and the Oldham and Guide-bridge Junction section of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire railway; It is a large manufacturing town of modern date, situaed on an eminence near the right bank of the river Medlock, and skirted by the small rivers Irk and Irwell. The rapid rise of this town is mainly attributable to its situation on the edge of the Lancashire coal-field, which gives employment to a considerable number of its inhabitants, and to the great increase of cotton manufactures, consequent on the important innovations in machinery introduced by Arkwright and others. For manufacturing purposes, Oldham seemed especially adapted by nature, the mill system requiring for its success coal and water power, which were both here combined in the greatest abundance. The first mention of textile manufactures in Oldham is in the reign of Charles I., and subsequently linen websters are frequently mentioned in the parish registers; but the great development of trade did not take place till about a century ago, when mills on Arkwright's plan, driven by water-power, were erected here in 1770, and on the expiration of his patents in 1783 and 1789, a still further development of manufacturing industry took place. The erection of water-mills was shortly followed by the application of steam power, for which the unbounded supply of coal was of great importance. A branch canal, joining the Ashton canal, was cut in 1792, coming up to Hollinwood, and several lines of railway now intersect the township, so that its productions can be carried speedily to all parts of the country, giving to Oldham an important place in the manufacturing system of Lancashire. It was first chartered on the 13th of June, 1849, and is divided into eight wards, the bounds of the municipal borough being conterminous with those of the township, which has an area of 4,617 acres. In 1760 it is said to have consisted of only 60 dwellings. In 1801 it contained only 12,024 inhabitants, and 25 mills, but had increased by 1841 to 42,595, and ever since has gone on augmenting in population at a greater ratio than any other town in Lancashire, with the exception of Manchester and Preston. In 1861 it had a population of 52,820, with 9,900 inhabited houses, and in 1861 72,333, with 13,810 inhabited houses, and about 100 mills within the township, though there are at least 150 within the parliamentary borough. The limits of the parliamentary borough, which is a new borough under the Reform Act, returning two members to Parliament, include, besides the municipal borough, the townships and hamlets of Chadderton, Crompton, Hollinwood, Mumps, Royton, and Shaw, containing altogether 18,335 houses, inhabited by a population of 94,344, and somewhat above 2,000 electors. It is governed by a mayor, 8 aldermen, and 24 common councillors, with the style of "mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of the borough of Oldham."—The town is well supplied with water and lighted with gas, the works being the property of the corporation. In order to secure a more abundant supply of water, additional works have been undertaken, at a cost of about £200,000, under a recently obtained Act of Parliament. The public buildings comprise the townhall, a Grecian structure, in York-street, copied from the Ionic temple of Ceres, near Athens, and approached by a flight of steps. It contains several spacious apartments, one appropriated to the county court, where also the county magistrates hold petty sessions on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, another appropriated to the corporation business, an entrance hall with painted window, and an assembly room above. On the ground floor are the offices of the police. The Lyceum is a block of buildings in Union street, erected in 1856. It contains lecture and club-rooms, two class-rooms, a library, public news and reading-rooms, and an observatory, with a telescope presented by J. Platt, Esq., the president of the institution. The Working Man's Hall, in Horsedge·street, was originally erected in 1844, at the suggestion of the late Mr. Fergus O'Connor, M.P., but was greatly improved in 1854, and the assembly room heightened, which is now the largest room in the town. The Temperance Hall, in Horsedge· street, was originally built for a hall of science by the disciples of the eccentric philanthropist, Robert Owen, but was afterwards let as a casino, and is now the property of the Temperance Society. The public baths, situated in Union-street, were erected in 1854, as a memorial to the late Sir Robert Peel, whose bust, executed in marble by Munro, stands in the vestibule near the entrance to the reading and waiting hall. The union workhouse, situated in the Royton-road, was erected 1851, at a cost of £13,300. The Oldham Lunatic Asylum was erected in 1856, at a cost of £2,000.

There are besides three commercial banks, a savings-bank, and numerous insurance oflices. The subscription bowling-green is situated on Frank-hill. - The principal manufactures are fustians, velveteens, corduroys, cotton, woollen, and silk goods, employing above 100 steam-engines and 17,000 hands within the limits of the borough, besides nearly as many more in the populous suburbs and manufacturing villages which surround Oldham. The manufacture of hats is also a very important branch of industry, and before the introduction of silk hats was even more remunerative than at present, the beavers requiring greater skill and capital in their production. It was in this manufacture that Mr. Thomas Henshaw, the principal benefactor of the town, realised his great wealth. After a temporary depression, the trade has again to some extent revived, and is now carried on by six large firms. There are many important works for the manufacture of mill machinery and engines, which has recently become one of the staple trades of the town, the one firm of Messrs. Platt Brothers employing nearly 4,000 hands. There are besides several extensive iron and brass foundries, gas meter manufactories, firms for bobbin and pattens, rollers, moulds, pipes, nails, tanneries, rope-works, and other establishments, besides about 30 collieries in the vicinity, which last give employment to about 1,200 persons. - 0ldham is a polling-place for the county elections, and a petty-sessions town. The Oldham Poor-law Union contains the townships and hamlets of Alkrington, Chadderton, Crompton, Middleton, Oldham, Royton, Thornham, and Tonge. It is also the seat of a new County Court district co-extensive with the poor-law union, and the head of a superintendent registry district, formed in 1848 out of that of Ashton-under- Lyne. Two weekly newspapers - the Oldham Advertiser and Telegraph and the Oldham Chronicle - are published in the town, both on Saturday. - The living is a perpet. cur.* in the dioc. of Manchester, val. £346, in the patron. of the Rector of Prestwich, who retains the great tithes, and the patronage of the curacies of Oldham, and the district churches of St. Peter's, Ringley, Hollinwood, and St. James's, on Greenacres· moor. The church of St. Mary, which stands near the centre of the town, is a modern structure, rebuilt in 1827, with a castellated tower surmounted with pinnacles, and containing twelve bells. In the chancel is a painted E. window. Besides the five churches mentioned above, there are four newly constituted parishes, under Sir Robert Peel's Act, having endowments each of about £150, in the patronage of the crown and bishop alternately. Coldhurst church was erected in 1848, and is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Glodwick church was erected in 1844, on a site presented by Earl Howe. Waterhead church, also a modern structure, is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Werneth church, erected in 1855, has a tower surmounted by a spire, and is dedicated to St. Thomas. There is also the district church of St. John, situated within the borough of Oldham, but belonging to the township of Chadderton, not yet completed. The Roman Catholics have a church in Shaw- street, with schools in connection. There are numerous Dissenting places of worship, including three belonging to the Wesleyan Methodists, three to the Independents, and one each to the Primitive, New Connexion, and Wesleyan Association Methodists, Baptists, Particular Baptists, Unitarians, Society of Friends, and Mormons. There are two large cemeteries, formed in 1857, one at Greenacres-moor, and the other in the township of Chadderton. The charities produce about £150 per annum, exclusive of the bequest by Thomas Hcnshaw, who, by a will dated November, 1807, left £40,000 for the endowment of a blue-coat school at Oldham, on condition that the inhabitants would provide a site and suitable buildings, and £20,000 for the Blind Asylum in Manchester. These sums were vested in trustees, who had to sustain a protracted suit in Chancery against the heirs-at-law; and, in consequence, the money had accumulated to above £100,000 in 1829, and the school-house was completed in 1834. This institution is built on an elevated site fronting the S., and has three gables. The grammar-school was founded in 1611, and has an income from endowment of about £35. There are also National, British, Sunday, and infant schools in the several districts, and denominational schools in connection with the Primitive and New Connexion Methodists. - Saturday is market day. Fairs are held on the first Thursday after Candlemas, on the 2nd May, Sth July, and on the Wednesday after 12th October.

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