Oldham Historical Research Group



"Joseph Travis, Grocer, of Oldham"
by Anne Grimshaw


   My 5x-great uncle, Edmund Elson (born 1740), owned two properties about 10 yards east of Rochdale Road along Booth Hill Lane in north Coldhurst/Tetlow Fold/Northmoor area. According to the enclosure map of 1804 one of these was next to land held by John Travis (size: 2 acres 2 rods 27 poles) and the other close by.
   Edmund Elson was the brother of Samuel Elson, my 4x great-grandfather. Edmund died on 18 June 1813 – six years before ‘the Manchester Meeting’ which came to be known as the Peterloo Massacre, or simply Peterloo (16 August 1819). His death was noted by local weaver, William Rowbottom, who kept a diary 1787-1830 the transcription of which is on this website

1813 June 18th Died Edmund Elson, of Northmoor, joyner and loom maker, aged 73 years – a man with a universal good character. [I like that bit! AG]

   Unusually for my ancestors, Edmund left a will. The executors were his wife and sister, both called Mary. All other beneficiaries of his will had their family relationship stated except another executor: Joseph Travis, grocer of Oldham. Who was he? Presumably not a relative. Why was he an executor? Was he related to John Travis, the owner of the land adjacent to property owned by Edmund Elson?

The trial of Henry Hunt

   A Google search for “Joseph Travis” + Oldham + grocer produced a real surprise! He was a witness at the trial of Henry Hunt, the Radical speaker for electoral reform at Peterloo on 16 August 1819. This took place at the York Lent (February-April) Assizes 1820. (Presumably Joseph Travis walked there and back, about 60 miles each way part of it over the Pennines...)
    At the trial, the proceedings were recorded verbatim by court reporters and later published in various publications now online one of which was The Trial of Henry Hunt
   Joseph Travis had been assigned to counting how many people were going along the road towards Manchester on the morning of Monday 16 August 1819. For this, he stated he was “employed by the magistrates as a Special Constable or else I should not have gone.” Shortly after, he says, “I was forced to come on”. Does there sound an element of reluctance and coercion here?
    The road to which he was assigned was probably the main Rochdale-Oldham road which passed the end of Booth Hill Lane before passing through Coldhurst and on to Bent Green (now the Rochdale Road entrance to Oldham Civic Centre) then south-east to Manchester – about an eight-mile walk.
   If Joseph Travis was related to John Travis, did Joseph live on Booth Hill Lane or somewhere else in the Coldhurst/Tetlow Fold/Northmoor area but which he referred to simply as Oldham?
   As a witness at the trial of Henry Hunt, Joseph stated that he counted 864 people. With him, and writing down the numbers, was “Mr Chippendale”. Joseph also stated that he did not think that Mr Chippendale was present at the trial. On the morning of 16 August 1819 while getting his orders from the magistrates Joseph had to call on his 71-year-old father, John Travis, to mind the shop. According to Joseph there was no cause for alarm at the behaviour of the marchers and hence no reason to consider closing the shop [and losing passing trade? AG] He knew some of the marchers, including one of the Reformer leaders, ‘Doctor’ Healey, probably more of a quack than a medical doctor or at best a herbalist/apothecary.


   This threw up another question: who was “Mr Chippendale”? I came across the answer by chance when looking at Gallery Oldham’s Peterloo exhibition. Indeed, there was a whole display panel about him and an artist’s impression of him! William Chippendale was adjutant and captain of the Oldham militia who enthusiastically ran a network of spies for the authorities – he was a spymaster and one who seemed to relish his job of undercover work with code names and so on.
    So, depending on your viewpoint: was he a ‘hostile witness’ (for the Prosecution) or was he an upstanding citizen of Oldham who was trusted enough to have direct links to the Home Office and the military in London? Yes, he really did and in one letter made an indirect reference to Joseph Travis when he stated:

“With the assistance of a Friend I counted the Columns & made the best estimate of the Stragglers that Circumstances admitted of and we made the whole to amount to about three thousand...” HERE

   (Of course, William Chippendale could have been referring to someone other than Joseph Travis but Joseph is a very good ‘fit’.) Joseph did not know much about Mr Chippendale but considered him a ‘gentleman’ so perhaps they were not really friends as such although they had discussed matters about the counting.
    So, if Joseph Travis was a Special Constable working, at least on 16 August, with William Chippendale, he was acting on behalf of the Loyalists and authorities but was he doing so reluctantly? Cross-examined by Henry Hunt himself, Joseph did not attempt to discredit the Reformers in any way. His only negative comment was that following the well-behaved crowds of Reformers were some unruly stragglers.
    Six years before all this he had been an executor of Edmund Elson’s will. Had they talked about the growing Reform movement albeit somewhat muted then? The cry for reform of the electoral system had been rumbling for some time and tensions were rising between the powers-that-be and the ‘lower orders’. What had Edmund Elson made of it? Only a year before his death (1812) the authorities had clamped down viciously on the Luddites who regarded the new steam-powered looms as a threat to their livelihoods, thus they broke into manufactories and smashed them.
    Edmund Elson was a loom-maker and joiner: someone who made hand-looms from wood. His work would have been threatened too. Did he have Reformist leanings? Or was he content with the status quo? Or was he, like many, simply apathetic?
    As Henry Hunt’s trial was beginning in early 1820, William Rowbottom noted in his diary the death of Joseph’s father:

February 9th 1820 Died, at Oldham, Mr. John Travis, chandler, soap boiler, and grocer. A man universally respected. His age, 71 years [born 1749]. HERE


   Joseph inherited his father John’s estate which included the land off Booth Hill Road – and his debts. This monetary misfortune led to Joseph being declared bankrupt in October 1821. The London Gazette 12 July 1823, which cited his bankruptcy, referred to his asset: the land which had belonged to his father and quoted its size: 2 acres 2 rods 27 poles, exactly as on the enclosure map of 1804.
    But Joseph Travis appeared to have weathered the storm. The 1851 census showed him as a widower and an annuitant (living off his own means) in the household of his cousin Edmund Travis, a landed proprietor in Burnley Lane, Chadderton, born in 1790. [Was he named after Edmund Elson? AG]. Joseph Travis died the following year in January 1852 aged 77 (born 1775). He was buried at Holy Trinity church, Shaw.
    I have found no family relationship with Edmund Elson and Joseph Travis but they appear to have been closely acquainted and almost nextdoor neighbours and thus would have known each other.

Oldham’s motto
Finally, William Rowbottom noted in his diary just two and a half years after Peterloo:

" 10th March 1822. At night died, in Church Lane, Oldham, Mr. William Chippendale, captain and adjutant in the Oldham local militia, his age 30 years."

   As Samuel Andrew of the Oldham Standard, a later annotator of the diary, stated:

Mr. Chippendale married the daughter of John Lees, Esq., of Church-lane, Lord of the Manor of Oldham. He died young, but he stands credited, according to tradition, with having invented or suggested the motto for the Oldham coat of arms. “Haud facile captu” – “Not easily caught”. E. Butterworth says:- “The armorial bearing of the Oldham family was – Sable chevron, or between three owls proper; on a chief of the second three roses, gules seeded, or. As there seems to be no authentic motto relating to the arms, a military officer of a local corps, inclined to be waggish, imparted a jocular motto. HERE

   What a fascinating story that short phrase in Edmund Elson’s will “Joseph Travis, grocer of Oldham” has uncovered! Here was someone who had known an ancestor of mine and had also actually spoken with Henry Hunt! He is my own, albeit very tenuous, link to the Peterloo Massacre!

   There were several John Travises described as yeoman, tallow chandler, grocer, dealer, chapman and combinations of these occupations living the Shaw/Royton area. I am not sure whether Joseph’s father was the same John Travis as described in William Rowbottom’s diary as:

“Old John Travis of Goldborne [Goldburn] and his family, were somewhat important people in Oldham.” HERE

 He had prospered and had the trust of local people and businesses so much that he acted as an unofficial banker. Perhaps he was let down by his ‘financial’ customers? In addition, Samuel Andrew, annotator of William Rowbottom’s diary, stated:

Up to a certain time his wealth increased, but misfortune is said to have overtaken him through his connection [in 1805] with the Rochdale Canal Company, in which undertaking he is said to have dropped a great amount of money.”

And another thing: if you see the recent film Peterloo, watch out of an on-off appearance and one line of dialogue from “Mr Chippendale” (played by Ryan Pope).

Postscript to above article:

Further Adventures of Joseph and John Travis
Anne Grimshaw

   The snag about doing family history (anybody’s not just mine) is that I cannot leave it alone! Even when something is ‘finished’ it is niggling at me all the time. Such was the case with “Joseph Travis, grocer, of Oldham” who appeared, as executor on the 1813 will of Edmund Elson my 5 x great-uncle. According to the Enclosure Award map of 1804 of the Coldhurst area of Oldham, the land next to Edmund Elson’s two properties was owned by a John Travis.
   I am forever trawling the website of the Oldham Historical Research Group
HERE   ... and what should I find there but another reference to Joseph and John Travis. In 1799 when invasion by the French under Napoleon Bonaparte was anticipated, a list of men aged between 15 and 60 had been drawn up and Joseph Travis was one of them. Aged 22 he was a member of the Oldham Loyal Association, a sort of Dad’s Army raised to defend the homeland in the event of a French invasion. In the list above him was John Travis junior aged 15 and above that, John Travis, aged 50 and two unnamed women (probably wife and daughter) - all four in the same household and whose dates fitted the John and Joseph Travis I knew.
   I stated, in the article above, that Joseph, son of John Travis, had played a minor role as a Special Constable in the build-up to Peterloo on 16 August 1819 - counting and noting how many people walked along the road towards Manchester. This entailed having to leave his shop in the care of his 71-year-old father, John Travis. Further research indicated that Joseph had been born c.1776 and died 1852 and his father was born c.1748 and died 1820 leaving his son, Joseph, with considerable debts that could not be covered even by the sale of his land.
    The annotator, Samuel Andrew, of William Rowbottom’s diary (1787-1830 fully transcribed) stated that John Travis had bought shares in the Rochdale Canal Company which had got into financial difficulties and he lost a lot of money. I think it was at that point that I was Googling for more information about the Rochdale Canal Company. I cannot remember my exactly search terms but when it came up with an image of a Rochdale Canal Company share certificate I was pleasantly surprised. When I read it, I could hardly believe my eyes - it had belonged to John Travis!

Rochdale Canal Company share certificate 1805

Contributed by Anne Grimshaw

  It transpired that the certificate had been through auctions twice a year or two ago but remained unsold. So where was it now? Had it been returned to the vendor? Yes! Did he still have it? Yes! Was it still for sale? Yes!
   To cut a long story short ... John Travis’ share certificate is now mine! Apparently there are thought to be only three such certificates in existence. But, even if, maybe, I have the wrong John Travis (there were dozens of them it seemed to me), I have a wonderful piece of Oldham history and a great ‘story’ - I just wish these Travises were my family!
Click on image for larger copy

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