Oldham Historical Research Group


by John Marius Wilson

OLDHAM, a town, a township, several chapelries, two sub-districts, and a district, in Lancashire. The town stands on an elevation between the rivers Irk and Medlock, near the source of the former and near the W bank of the upper part of the latter, on branches of the North-western and the Lancashire and Yorkshire railways, at the junction-terminus of the Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne and Guide-Bridge railway, and at a branch canal from the Rochdale and other canals, 7 miles N E of Manchester. The Roman road from Westmorland into Yorkshire passed through its site, and can still be traced in the vicinity; but scarcely any other vestiges of antiquity about it either meet the eye or figure on record. The town, in despite of its name, is all comparatively modern, and makes little or no appearance in history. It originated in the introduction of textile manufactures, seemingly in the time of Charles I.; it acquired an impulse by the introduction of the factory-system about theyear 1770; it acquired a still greater impulse by the expiration of Arkwright's patents in 1783 and 1789, and by the introduction of the steam-engine; it got great advantage from the existence of numerous and valuable coal mines in the immediate vicinity; it reaped benefit from successively the water-power of the neighbouring streams, the formation of the canals, and the formation of the railways; and, under combination of these advantages with local enterprise and skill, it rose, within the limits of the township, from a pop. of 12,024 in 1801 to a pop. of 72, 333 in 1861.

The town consists of numerous streets, and contains numerous fine buildings, both public and private; but, in a general view, is irregularly constructed, presents the dingy aspect of a crowded seat of manufacture, and is more notable for factories than for any other feature. The Town-Hall stands in Yorkshire-street; was built in 1840, at a cost of about £4,000; has a tetrastyle Ionic portico, copied from the temple of Ceres, on the Ilyssus, near Athens; includes the Police Office, with separate entrances from Greaves-street; and contains a beautiful public assembly-room, 66 feet long and 33feet wide. The Working Man's Hall stands in Horsedge-street; was built in 1814, and rebuilt in 1854; and contains a public room, not much inferior in size and beauty to that in the Town-Hall. The Lyceum stands in Union-street, with a side-entrance from Clegg-street; was built in 1856; is a handsome edifice, with deep sunk area, enclosed by ornamental iron palisades:and contains a staircase-hall, a lecture-room, a news-room, a reading room and library, Various class-rooms, and other apartments. The Temperance Hall stands in Horsedge-street, was built for a Hall of Science, by the followers of Robert Owen; and passed, by sale, to the Temperance Society. The school of Science and Art was built in 1865; is in the pointed style, of brick, with stone dressings; measures 80 feet in length, and 45 feet in width; is adorned, in front, with distyle doorway, and with stone medallions; and contains a gymnasium, 42 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 14 feet high, an antiqueroom, 42 feet long and 20 feet wide, and a mechanical drawing-room, 35-feet long and 28½ feet wide. The Free-masons' Hall was founded in the latter part of 1868, is in the Italian style, and cost about £2, 500. The Public Baths stand in Union-street, with a separate entrance for females from Clegg-street; were erected in 1854, as a memorial to Sir Robert Peel; have ornamentalvestibules and waiting-halls, for respectively males and females, adorned, at the entrance of the males' waiting-hall, with a fine marble bust of Sir Robert Peel; and contain plunge baths, hot and cold shower baths, and vapour baths, in excellent arrangements, and with all requisite appliances. A subscription bowling-green is on Frank-hill, and has convenient refreshment-rooms. A public park was formed in 1865, under the operation of the Lancashire Public Works' Act, at a cost of about £31,000; comprises nearly 60 acres, obtained chiefly by purchase of the Swine-Clough estate; has two principal entrances, the one on the W or Sheepwashes side, the other on the E or Glodwick side; and is adorned with entrance-buildings, in the Italian style.

Oldham church, or St. Mary's, dates from an early period, probably the latter part of the 12th century; stands on an eminence, near the centre of the town; was built in 1827; is in the later English style; has a pinnacled tower, and several beautiful painted windows; and contains a few monuments. St. Peter's church stands in Chapel-street, near the centre of the town; and was built in 1756, and enlarged in 1804. St. James' church stands in Greenacres Moor; and is a recent stone edifice in the pointed style. St. John's church, in Chadderton, is a cruciform edifice, in the later English style; and has a tower, intended to be surmounted by a spire. Holy Trinity church, in Coldhurst, was built in 1848; and is in the early English style. Holy Trinity church, in Waterhead, also is in the early English style; and consists of nave, aisles, and chancel, with a porch. Christchurch, in Glodwick-road, was built in 1844, on a site presented by Earl Howe; and is a neat cruciform building, in the early English style. St. Thomas' church, in Werneth, was built in 1855: and is in the early English style, with tower and spire. St. Margaret's church, in Hollingwood, is a plainstructure, with aisles, chancel, and tower. The school-church in York-street was built in 1865, at a cost ofabout £1,000; is in the early English style; and consists of nave and semi-octagonal chancel. Independent chapels are in Hope-street, Union-street, Greenacres, Hollinwood, and Dunkerley-street; Baptist chapels, in Manchester-street, Ferney-bank, Horsedge-street, King-street, and two parts of Hollinwood; Wesleyan chapels, in Manchester-street, Greenacres Old-road, and Hollinwood; Primitive Methodist chapels, in Waterhead and Lees-road; New Connexion Methodist chapels, in New-street and another locality; Independent Methodist chapels, in Lower King-street and George-street; United Methodist chapels, in Grosvenor-street and King-street; a Moravian chapel, in Lees-brook; a Unitarian chapel, in Lord-street; and a Roman Catholic chapel in Shaw-street. One of the Independent chapels was enlarged, and another built, in 1865. The Manchester-street Baptist chapel is a spacious building. The Manchester-street Wesleyan chapel was built in 1789, and enlarged in 1850; and contains about 1, 500 sittings. The Greenacres Old-road Wesleyan chapel was rebuilt in 1864, and contains about 1,000 sittings. Two public cemeteries were formed, at Greenacres and at Chadderton, in 1857, at a cost of £9,733 for land, and about £12,000 for buildings, laying out, and incidental expenses; they jointly comprise about 39 acres; and they are tasteful and ornate.

The blue coat school stands on an elevated and commanding spot, within the town; originated in a bequest by T. Henshaw, Esq., in 1807, of a sum of money which accumulated to upwards of £100,000; was built in 1834; is an oblong structure, with three gables, and with the front to the S; and is usually attended by about 120 scholars. A grammar school is in Schoolcroft; was founded by Mr. Asheton; and has £33 a year from endowment. Another endowed grammar school is at Hollinwood; an Independent grammar school is at Green-acres; public schools are connected with seven of the churches, with six of the dissenting chapels, and with the Roman Catholic chapel; and there are two other public schools at Glodwick and Townfield. The work-house stands in Royton-road; was built in 1851, at a cost of £13,305; and, at the census of 1861, had 432 inmates. Numerous improvements have been made in the arrangements of the workhouse, at different times; and a new lunatic asylum was constructed, at a cost of £2,000, in 1856 The endowed charities, additional to those of the schools, amount to about £135.

The town has a head post-office‡ in Greaves-street, a receiving post-office in Greenacres Moor, two railway stations, with telegraph, at Mumps, two banking offices, and four chief inns; and publishes three weekly news-papers. A weekly market is held on Saturday; and fairs are held on the Thursday after 2 Feb., the Thursday after 2 May, the Thursday after 8 July, the Wednesday after 11 Oct., and the second Monday of each of the other eight months. The manufacture of fustians, velveteens, cotton cords, and other textile fabrics, is carried on in 171 mills. The manufacture of hats was long a staple trade; suffered much decline in consequence of the introduction of silk hats, and of the general diffusion of the hat trade through the country; and has again, in some degree, revived. The manufacture of mill-machinery and engines is carried on in many large works, one of which is of remarkably great extent. The manufacture of gas meters also is considerable. The working of the neighbouring coal mines, and the transit traffic in coal to Manchester and other places, form an important branch of trade. The coal exists at many depths, from a few feet to 250 yards; and occurs in seams varying in thickness from 1½ to 5 feet; and that of the Black mine and the Bent mine is of very superior quality. The persons employed, within the borough, at the census of 1861, in cotton manufacture, were 4,209 males under 20 years of age, 7,808 males at 20 years of age and upwards, 6,056 females under 20 years of age, and 8,446 females at 20 years of age and upwards; in fustian manufacture, 106 and 79 m.and 162 and 68 f.; in silk manufacture, 20 and 301 m.and 98 and 529 f.; in hat manufacture, 13 and 345 m.and 12 and 98 f.; in rope and cord making, 22 and 40 m.and 1 and 1 f.; in boot and shoe-making, 53 and 445 m.and 2 and 22 f.; in iron manufacture, 822 and 2,452 m.and 1 f.; in brass founding and working, 36 and 48 m.; in tin-plate working, 35 and 76 m.; in engine and machine-making, 317 and 1,088 m.; in spindle-making, 80 and 186 m.; in the making of factory implements and tools, 108 and 261 m.; in coal mining, 622 and 1,580 m.; in the making and selling of bricks, 67 and 313 m.and 1 and 1 f.

The town was made a parliamentary borough in 1832, and a municipal borough in 1849; is divided into eight wards; sends two members to parliament; and is governed by a mayor, 8 aldermen, and 24 councillors. The municipal borough is conterminate with the township; and the parliamentary borough includes also the townships of Chadderton, Crompton, and Royton. The first parliamentary representatives were the famous William Cobbett and John Fielden. Borough courts are held on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday; and a county court is held on every alternate Friday. The town is a polling-place for the S division of the county. The police force, in 1864, comprised 52 men, and was maintained at a cost of £3,783. The crimes committed in 1864 were174; the persons apprehended, 105; the depredators and suspected persons at large, 272; the houses of bad character, 64. Water and gas are supplied from works belonging to the corporation. Extensive additional waterworks were constructed in 1864-6, at a cost of nearly £200,000. The Brushes Clough reservoir, formed about 1856, covers 5 acres, is 45 feet deep, and has capacity for 40,000,000 gallons; and a sudden leakage from it, in Sept. 1866, flooded a mill and several houses, and caused considerable alarm. Corporation income, in 1855, £51,859. Amount of property and income tax charged in 1863, £20, 660. Electors in 1833, 1,131; in 1868, 2,316. Pop.of the m. borough in 1851, 52,820; in 1861, 72,333. Houses, 13,810. Pop. of the p. borough in 1851, 72,357; in 1861, 94,344. Houses, 18,335. Bishop Hugh Oldham, the nonconformist S. Ogden, and the philanthropist T. Henshaw, Esq., were natives.

Three chapelries within the town, Oldham, St. Mary, Oldham, St. Peter, and Oldham, St. James, were constituted in 1835; twelve other chapelries, either within the borough or including parts of it, were constituted in years from 1835 till 1866; and all are politically in the parish of Prestwich. The fifteen chapelries rank as ecclesiastical parishes; and they had a pop. in 1861, of Oldham, St. Mary, 16,576, Oldham, St. Peter, 7,094, Oldham, St. James, 17,520, Chadderton, St. John, 6,081, Chadderton, St. Matthew, 4,273, Coldhurst, 3,046, East Crompton, 3,414, Glodwick, 7,200, Werneth, 5,888, Waterhead, 3,941, Royton, 7,493, Shaw, 3,618, Hollinwood, 6,298, Tonge-with-Alkrington, 5,029, and Unsworth [?]2,000. Fourteen of the livings are vicarages, and Unsworth a p. curacy, in the dio. of Manchester. Value, of St. M., St. P., and St. J., each £300.* Patron, the Rector of Prestwich. The values and patrons of the others are stated in articles on their own respective localities.

The township is divided into Oldham-below Town and Oldham-above-Town, and comprises 4,617 acres. Real property of Oldham-below Town, £134,054; of which £16,715 are in mines, £235 in quarries, and £13,487 in gas-works. Pop. in 1851, 28,732; in 1861, 41,770. Houses, 7,784. The increase of pop. arose from the erection of mills and machine-works, and from the advantages of railway communication. Real property of Oldham-above-Town, £95,996; of which £8,960 are in mines, and £840 in gas-works. Pop. in 1851, 24,088; in 1861, 30,563. Houses, 6,026. The increase of pop. arosefrom the extension of the cotton trade, and from the enlargement of machine-making establishments. The two sub-districts are conterminate with the two divisions of the township. The district comprehends also the sub-district of Chadderton, containing the townships of Chadderton and Tonge; the sub-district of Middleton, containing the townships of Middleton and Alkrington; the sub-district of Royton, containing the townships of Royton and Thornham; and the sub-district of Crompton, conterminate with the township of Crompton. All the district, except Middleton and Thornham townships, is in Prestwich parish. Acres, 16, 872. Poor-rates in 1863, £53,701. Pop. in 1851, 86,788; in 1861, 111,276. Houses, 21,834. Marriages in 1863, 782; births, 4,075, of which 235 were illegitimate; deaths, 3,142, of which 1,617 were at ages under 5 years, and 22 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 6,528; births, 38,174; deaths, 25,130. The places of worship, in 1851, were 17 of the Church of England, with 12,689 sittings; 9 of Independents, with 3,580 s.; 4 of Baptists, with 1,170 s.; 1 of Quakers, with 155 s.; 1 of Unitarians, with 188 s.; 1 of Moravians, with 484 s.; 10 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 3,968 s.; 1 of New Connexion Methodists, with 442 s.; 8 of Primitive Methodists, with 2,301 s.; 5 of the Wesleyan Association, with 638 s.; 1 of Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, with 438 s.; 2 of the New Church, with 234 s.; 3 undefined, with 600 s.; 2 of Latter Day Saints, with150 s.; and 1 of Roman Catholics, with 490 s. The schools were 26 public day schools, with 3,437 scholars; 65 private day schools, with 3,660 s.; 74 Sunday schools, with 17,663 s.; and 33 evening schools for adults, with 865 s.



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