A Steeple Chase!

The Steeple Family in Oldham, from 1790 to 1851
This little story is a mixture of hard fact and some personal observations, which won't be too difficult to spot!

The contemporary accounts and records, from diaries, local news and directories all serve to give us snapshots of what life was like, in the late 18th and early 19th century across the country, including both Oldham and Derbyshire.

The pictures are from Victorian publications illustrating contemporary events both in England and abroad. the are intended just to help illustrate the wider context of the story.

Part 3

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Circa 1830 to 1850

1830 saw the death of George lV, leaving no direct heir to the throne. Next in line was his brother William, who ascended the throne as William lV. He would reign only 7 years, until his death in 1837, He also had no direct heir and the throne then passed to his niece, Victoria, who was the daughter of his deceased brother, Edward.

Snippets from Edwin Butterworth's Register of Oldham News 1830

"Turnpike Road
We are glad to perceive that two new turnpike roads in the vicinity of Oldham are almost on the point of being completed. The one betwixt Oldham and Rochdale is in a state of great forwardness, particularly that part between Hathershaw Moor and Buersill Bridge and that portion of the road from Oldham to Middleton lying between Mills HIll and Tonge Hall is at present undergoing repairs."

"Too few pews at the new Oldham Church

The interior of this costly edifice is beautifully grand but there is one thing to be said is that out of about 300 pews and seats, both in the gallery and the ground floor, only 42 are free to the people of the parish, which boasts of a population of no less than 50,000 inhabitants. this reflects honour on the trustees, redundant honour on the leypayers and still more honour on those that advocated that this church will at the cost of about 25,000 families, should be devoted to the use of those who in reality contribute the least share."

"Trade at Oldham

The oppressed and starving handloom weavers are still miserably situated. the weaving of fustians, has in a measure, become almost extinct and that of calicoes and other light goods wove by steam substituted in its room. the weavers of silk goods, of which there are great numbers to the district of Oldham are in a very low state, owing principally to the approach of the inclement season. The hatting and spinning continue as usual, brisk."

For the Steeple family 1830 got off to a mixed start. JOHN's son, George, was convicted of a felony and sentenced to 2 months (presumably hard labour).In the same year JOHN's youngest son, Robert (born 1811) was married to Sarah Winterbottom, at Prestwich. Over the next sixteen years Sarah would have six children baptised at St Peter's Church in Oldham.

One of the recurring fears was that of cholera and rabies in the 1830s.

Rowbottom's Diary records that in August, 1831 (check date), William's shop was burgled, and writes, " During the stormy night of of Friday last, 30th August, the butcher's shop of Mr. William Steeple at the Kings Arms Inn, Scotfield, near Oldham was entered and plundered of 60lbs. of beef, one sheep's head and various shop utensils." No mention is made of the culprits being caught or sent for trial so it looks as if they escaped with their booty!

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King william lV


Coronation of William lV

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Reform Riots of 1831


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Snippets from Edwin Butterworth's Register of Oldham News 1832

"Working Politicians
We have heard from an authentic source that a certain extensive roller and spindle maker has actually dismissed several of his workmen for no other reason than that they read political pamphlets and in the opinion of the 'commercial aristocrat' could not both read and work! This is the mild, kind, indulgent feeling he has so boasted of"

A society for mutual instruction has been established at Tonge near Oldham. The number of members is increasing and the field of scientific and political knowledge has with success, engrossed the attention of that towship."

"Strike of the Colliers
A great number of the colliers at the pits in this neighbourhood left their employ on Saturday last, 24th November, through a dispute, which has arisen betwixt them and their masters respecting equalisation in the size of measures used in selling coal."

The demand for all sorts of reform was gaining strong support by the late 1820s and the first Reform Bill was being put together, in Parliament. Reform wasn't just about the working man getting a fairer wage and working conditions. It was also about Parliamentary boundaries and the franchise, ie., who should have the right to vote in a General Election. The franchise, and therefore government, was in the hands of the landed classes. The right to vote depended on ownership of the land ......... ownership was deemed to be of far greater importance than the personal rights of any individual. The initial demands for reform were coming primarily from men of substance in trade or industry who wanted their voice to be heard in Parliament. It was self-interest, in the first place, rather than concern for the misery of the voiceless masses who worked in the mines, mills and factories, which motivated the calls for change. The demands in Parliament, for better conditions for workers, only came afterwards and on the heels of Parliamentary reform.

Oldham was a town that had everything to gain by the reforms. It was now becoming a town of importance in the newly industrialised society. There were manufacturers who now felt that they had the personal importance to merit the right to have a say in how a government was elected and to choose candidates for Parliament that would give their own demands a voice. At the time of the First Reform Bill, Oldham, and many of the other new 'industrial' towns had no representation in parliament whilst many old, once important boroughs (the so-called 'rotten' boroughs of which Old Sarum is probably the best known) did have. The extended franchise and the disfranchisement of the rotten boroughs, with the distribution of parliamentary seats to the new, heavily populated industrial centres of the country, was anathema to the majority in the Lords. If the Bill went through Parliament, Oldham (and many other growing towns), would gain seats in Parliament and the extended franchise would give the vote to a number of the more influential and wealthy men of the town.

Back to Parliament, and in 1831 the First Reform Bill was presented to the House of Commons. There was a great deal of opposition to it, in the House, and the government fell. In the ensuing election the Whig candidates supporting reform swept to an overwhelming majority, and the Second Reform Bill was presented to Parliament. There was more opposition; compromises and concessions were demanded; changes were made and it was finally passed.The blow came, however, when the House of Lords rejected the bill. The bill could only become law once the House of Lords had passed it. This decision by the peers, to ignore the wishes of the elected government and the electorate, so outraged the populace that rioting broke out in several towns and cities as the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the King struggled to find a solution that gave some satisfaction to all parties.

Eventually, the Third Reform Bill, with a few new changes, was presented to Parliament and passed. It again went up to the House of Lords. There were still delaying tactics and there were threats and counter threats as the King and peers still resisted the wishes of the country, as a whole. Talk of revolution was again heard, everywhere, as angry and dismayed workers absorbed the news. So serious was the situation seen to be, by the authorities in Oldham, that 100 special constables were sworn in to reinforce the regular force in the expectation of riots. Nationally, though, public opinion and outrage prevailed as the protests and demonstrations brought the real threat of revolution so much closer. Tthe majority of anti-reform peers were forced to abstain from voting against the bill, thereby allowing it to pass, and it finally became law in June 1832. Oldham had gained the right to elect 2 members of Parliament.

Church bells were rung, banners flew and cannon were fired in the celebrations that followed. In the subsequent election Oldham had 5 candidates: 2 radicals, 2 tories and 1 abolitonist. The Reform Act of 1832 gave the franchise to 40-shilling freeholders allowing far greater numbers, especially in the towns, to vote. The General Election, in 1832, saw the anti-reformers suffer massive defeats at the polls. In Oldham it was an overwhelming victory for the radicals who polled 1322 votes whilst the tories polled only 246 and the abolitionist's 4. Oldham returned their 2 radical candidates, William Cobbett and John Fielden who had worked tirelessly, for years, to bring about reform.

Houses of Parliament burning 1834

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Now, with representation in Parliament, the aims of those working on behalf of the 'working man', were primarily for shorter working hours, trade unionism, opposition to the 'truck' system (payment in goods in lieu of wages) and the repeal of the Corn Laws. However, In the years after 1834, there was an increasing divide amongst the reformers, between those whose declared aims were radical political reform including universal male suffrage, at any cost, and those moderates who were anxious for more conservative reform by constitutional means. The more radical of the reformers became known as the Chartists. The Chartists' aims had a basis in political reform but many of their objectives had strong appeal for the industrial working classes of, in particular, Lancashire and Yorkshire. The working man saw that the political reforms would open the door of opportunity and give workers the chance to have their own voice, demanding social and economic changes, heard.

The Police Commissioners turned their attention to the weekly market held in the Market Place and wanted to change the way in which the stalls were organised. Oppostition to the proposals was very strong and feelings ran high. The stallholders had a meeting in 1833 and decided that they needed to take charge of their own affairs and subsequently rented a field, known as 'Tommy Field', after the man who had bred pigs there for many years. Ever afterwards, up to the present day, Oldham's market has been known as 'Tommyfield'.

In 1834 the soon-to-be-hated Poor Law was passed which, basically, swept away the old system which had been in operation since 1601. It ended out-door relief for the destitute and grouped parishes into 'unions' under an elected Board of Guardians. Relief would only be given to the able-bodied poor within the confines of the workhouse whose conditions should be inferior to those of the poorest labourer. In other words, it was formulated to deter all but those in the most desperate straits from asking for help.There was a great deal of resistance to the implementation of the provisions of the act, in various parts of the country, and Rochdale, OIldham and Ashton were still resisting the changes, over 10 years later, in 1845

After reigning for just 7 years, in 1837, King William died leaving no children .. ......... the next in line to the throne was his young niece, aged just 18 years old. Her name was Victoria.

On 30th December, 1837, the 'Manchester Times and Gazette' carried a news item in the 'Local Intelligence' section' that announced "LECTURE - on Monday last Mr Thomas Steeple, of Middleton, gave a lecture on domestic economy, in the schoolroom Tonge Lane, near Middleton. He said that ............ education was the foundation of economy and wherever there was ignorance there was sure to be oppression. The lecture seemed to give great satisfaction."

Thomas was JOHN's grandson and his parents were John Steeple and Sarah Pendleton.Thomas, who was only 20 at this time, hadn't followed his father into the butcher's trade but had become a shoemaker instead; a trade he followed for more than 10 years. However, by the 1881 census he is recorded as a 'retired butcher'.

There was a Post Office on Market Place and, in 1838, William Bamford was the Postmaster. Letters from Manchester and all other places, arrive by mail gig every day at 8:30 in the morning and 2:15 in the afternoon. Letters were despatched at 6:30 in the morning and 3:30 in the afternoon. Letters sent to Royton were sent on foot, every morning at 9am.

Against the backdrop of national political unrest there were still the pressing local issues which had to be addressed as a family got on with the dramas and heartache, highs and lows, of day to day life.

In 1838, JOHN's wife, SARAH, died and was buried at St Peter's in Oldham. Their son, George, also died in 1838, just a couple of months after his mother. At his burial he was recorded as a butcher, of Glodwick Lane.

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Queen victoria in Coronation robes 1838

Queen Victoria in Her Coronation Robes, 1838