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 4

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Prince Albert

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In 1840 Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, the younger son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

1841 was the year in which Oldham got its new Town Hall pre-empting gaining borough status by 8 years, and was the year in which the first national census was carried out which actually named householders and the people living within that household. Previous censuses (which had been held every 10 years from 1801) had collected numbers for statistics, rather than identifying the individuals. The census gave an age (rounded down to the nearest 5 in most cases, except for children), an address and an occupation. Also included was information on place of birth, a 'yes' or 'no' for birth in the county of the enumeration or abbreviations for Ireland, Scotland, Wales and overseas. In the census of 1841, JOHN's son, William, is on Cheapside, with his children and recorded as an 'innkeeper'. He was the licensee of 'The Crown', which he would later rename, 'The Shoulder of Mutton'; very appropriately for a man in the butchery trade! He had previously been the licensee of the 'King's Arms', Ashton Road (Scotfield) in 1834/1835 and, in the 1838 Pigot's Directory of Oldham and district he was recorded as a butcher on Yorkshire Street.

JOHN's son, Thomas Steeple, and his wife Hannah, are living at Stockbrook, with their children. Thomas is a farmer. In the directories of 1843 and 1844 Thomas is recorded as a 'shopkeeper' at Stockbrook. Two of his children, John and Sarah, are living nearby, at Stockbrook, with their uncle William Smethurst. John, age 17, is a bookeeper and Sarah is an apprentice milliner. William Smethurst (Hannah's brother) was a cotton spinner and manufacturer. In 1844, John died and his obituary, in the Manchester Times, for August 17th read, " Died - On the 6th inst., much respected, aged 21 years, Mr. John Steeple, nephew of Mr. William Smethurst, cotton manufacturer, Stockbrook, Near Oldham." JOHN's son, Robert Steeple, is a butcher on the 1841 census and is recorded living with wife Sarah and their three children, on Henshaw Street. Robert, also, had connections with the licensed trade in the 1840s and is recorded as a 'beer retailer' in directories for 1843-1844.

Of JOHN's daughters, Ann, who had married Edmund Pendleton, is recorded on the census as a farmer, apparently widowed, at Little Green, Middleton. Also with her are the children, Edmund, John and Ann.

Thomas Corns, the oldest son of Elizabeth (née Steeple) and Peter, who had both died in the early 1830s, is recorded as a butcher. He is living with his aunt, Harriet (née Steeple) Hollingworth and her family, at Cockhouse Fold. Amelia (née Steeple) and her husband,

William Whitehead, together with their son Edward, were living on Maygate Lane, William was a butcher, as was son, Edward.

At the time of the 1841 census, two of JOHN's children, Stephen and Sarah, were living in Derbyshire. Stephen was married and farming, with his family in Aldwark. Sarah's first husband, Richard Broome, had died. She had re-married in 1834. Her second husband was also called 'Broome'. His given name was James and she had a son, Stephen by him. They were farming at Whitle Bank, near New Mills, in 1841. Also on the farm was her younger brother, Henry Steeple, who was working as a 'domestic servant'.

Their widowed father, JOHN, appeared to be staying with his son, Stephen, on his farm at Aldwark. Later that same year, in mid August, JOHN was still in Derbyshire (or had returned) and was now staying at Whitle Bank, where his daughter Sarah lived. Whilst there he contracted enteritis and died on the 17th, aged 81. His body was returned for burial to Oldham. His burial, at St. Peter's, records him as a 'farmer of New Mills'. Had he returned to Derbyshire, after wife SARAH died, to live with his son or daughter?

Was JOHN's son, Henry still in New MIlls in August? So far, I have no answers.

marriage of Queen victoria and Prince Albert

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The 1840s were known as the 'Hungry Forties', in Oldham, as there was much unemployment and consequent hardship. The 1841 census shows 1800 empty properties but also buildings in which more than one family were forced to live because of financial hardhip. So great were Oldham's difficulties that the London Relief Committee made a grant of £500 for aid. 1842 saw the mills brought to a standstill, across the borough, as the mill boilers were put out of action by discontented workers. Unrest continued as the workers demanded a 'fair day's wage for a fair day's work'. In 1846 the Corn law Abolition Act was passed and the following year, 1847, there was a measure of success for the reformers with the passing of the '10 hours bill'. Although, from a 21st century point of view, the Chartists might appear to have been frighteningly hell-bent on revolution and change at any cost, their aims were virtually all for the rights that we, today, enjoy and take for granted.

In 1842 the Railway finally arrived in Oldham with a line from Middleton junction to Oldham, Werneth. In 1847, this line was extended as far as Mumps, as part of the newly formed Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. This railway link, with the capability of tramsporting enormous quantities of heavy and bulky goods, all over the country and more speedily than by canal, opened up even greater business opportunities for Oldham's industrialists.

Robert Steeple had his own share of bad luck; in 1845, on April 26th, the Manchester Times & Gazette reported, "Fatal Accident from Cattle Driving - On Thursday, as a young man named Edwin Fallows, was engaged in driving some cattle into the slaughter house of Mr. Steeple, butcher, near Higher Groves, OIldham, an ox struck him on the breast a severe blow with the foot. He was so seriously injured that he was at once taken to his bed, and died on Saturday at the beer-shop of Mr. Robert Steeple, top of Henshaw Street." Robert had opened a shop on the corner of Henshaw Street and Coldhurst Street in 1837 and obtained an excise license in 1840 for the 'Fisherman's Home', next door and just on the corner of Coldhurst Street. He held the licence for these premises until 1845.

Robert was in the news, again in the same newspaper, less than 12 months later, when 2 men were accused of stealing 50 pounds (weight) of beef from his shop. The 2 suspected men don't sound as if they had really thought their plan out before they stole the beef. It was reported that, " .... two men named William Pickering, a stranger only lately arrived in town, said to be from Hull, and James Meadowcroft, a young man resident in West Street, were brought up by Supt. Wild and policman Clegg, charged with having stolen a large quantity of beef (about 50 pounds), from the shop of Mr. Robert Steeple, butcher and beer seller, Henshaw Street. - Mr. Steeple stated that on Tuesday night about eight o'clock he missed a large quanitity of beef from his shop. Hannah Plant, a servant, stated that the prisoners had been drinking at Steeple's a short time before the beef was missing. Richard Mycock, a carter, deposed that he saw the prisoner Pickering going along High Street with a large quantitiy of beef under his arm, shortly after 8 o'clock on Tuesday night. On speaking to the prisoner, he dropped the beef on the steps adjoining the Distict Bank and ran off as quickly as possible. The beef was identified by the prosecutor from the manner of its being dressed, and from the way the skewers were put in. The prisoners denied any knowledge of the transaction and also denied that they had been in each other's company anywhere. They were committed for trial at the Salford Session."

1848 saw the culmination of the national unrest when news of the Paris Revolution in France reached England and the Chartists saw the chance of revolution on home soil. A petition, for the Chartist demands, was presented to the House of Commons and on the same day Manchester woke to find cannons ready for action in the streets. A militant band of thousands of workers had planned to march from Oldham and Ashton, to Manchester but, being warned of reprisals and danger, returned home. Chartist fervour for armed confrontation gained momentum, but plans came to nothing as men were drilled for a National Guard (in Oldham) which never came to fruition and a supposed consignment of arms for the Chartists turned out to contain nothing but fancy dress for a dance. Chartist support had reached its peak by1848 and, from that time, it's influence declined considerably.

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In 1849 Oldham was incorporated as a municipal borough, giving it Borough status in the United Kingdom. The new 'Borough' had to get itself organised, create a list of those townsfolk who were eligible to vote for Council members and hold an election so that each of the 8 new wards in the borough was represented. The wards were, St. James, Waterhead Mill, Mumps, Clarksfield, St. Mary's, St. Peter's, Westwood and Werneth. The first election, for the town councillors, was held on Thurday 2nd August 1849. St Mary's ward (which included High Street) returned 3 councillors (as each ward did), namely John Nield, an innkeeper on Henshaw Street, George Bentley, a shopkeeper, also of Henshaw Street and Edward Bullman, a Gentleman. These 24 councillors then elected the Aldermen, who included Richard Shiers, Gentleman, of Waterloo House, for St Mary's Ward. The first Mayor would be William Jones. Once this structure was in place the new Council got on with the business of running the affairs of the new Borough. The council needed officers, as well as a Town Clerk, so a Borough Treasurer and a High Constable, were appointed. A finance committee was created, as were a committee to "inquire into and report upon the subject of the Police Force to be established in the Borough" and a committee for Standing Orders & Bye Laws. One of the first jobs was, as always, to work out what money was needed and from where it could be collected. The rateable value of property, in the Borough, was assessed at £101,440 1s. 8d. It was estimated that the Borough expenses from November 1849 to August 1850 would amount to £700 for the Watch Rate, £500 for the Borough Rate and £500 for the Poor Rate. Warrants were issued for the collection of these rates..

The following year, in 1850, the Borough Council was given the powers of the Police Commissioners. More committees, with specific reponsibilities and duties, such as 'General Purposes' and 'Surveyor's', were set up. The way in which the Rates were to be assessed and collected was also formulated. "Tenants and occupiers of houses of annual rent value of £4 - also to include shops, cellars, vaults, manufacturies, warehouses, factories, print works, dye works, breweries, railways, coach houses, stables, timber and coal yards, wharf foundries and other buildings, yards, gardens, lands, tenements and hereditaments etc., in Oldham," were set at 6d in the pound for Police purposes and 3 halfpence in the pound for, "defraying half of expenses of lighting street lamps".

That same year the Council turned its attention to the market, setting standard charges and regulating the size of stalls. Non-resident traders, from outside the borough, were charged at a higher (usually double) rate than that of the resident stall-holders. The charges were set on a weekly basis (even if only one day was actually spent trading). They ranged from 1/- (1 shilling), for residents, per stall size not exceeding '54 superficial feet'. Those traders qualifying were: butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers, those selling 'cooked or uncooked victuals (except butchers' meat)' and those selling hats caps, bonnets, linen, cotton cloth, hosiery, drapery, tinware, hardware or 'other manufactured goods'. For the same charge, those selling pots and earthenware were allowed a stall not exceeding '108 superficial feet' for 1/-. Those selling medicines were allowed a stall no larger than '18 superficial feet' for 1/-. Trading from a cart, selling fish, fruit, hay, vegetables or garden produce would cost 1/- if you were a resident. If a trader sold his produce from a 'barrow or hogshead' not exceeding '18 superficial feet' then the charge came down to 3d (3 pence). Traders with 'baskets' or 'umbrellas' selling similar produce were also charged 3d. For 'smaller baskets' the charge was 1d. For a person 'standing or moving about', selling matches, laces, or other 'trifling articles' the charge was also 1d. The higher charge, of 2/6 (2 shillings and 6 pence), for residents, was reserved for those 'selling by auction' or 'mock auction', in any public place. If you were from out-of-town then the charge rose to 5/-.

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Later that year, of 1850, a set of Bye Laws was passed. They included definitions of the terms that would be used, for instance 'council', so that there could be no excuse for confusion. Some of the Bye Laws were extremely lengthy and presciptive, such as those 'Relating to Common Lodging Houses', in which there were 17 separate sections covered. They included such points as the number of people, or sex, allowed to sleep in one bed and that prosecution, and an initial fine of 20/- (20 shillings) would follow for any landlord convicted of allowing thieves, prostitutes, 'idlers' and the 'disorderly' to stay on their premises. Other Bye Laws included those relating to 'ordering and keeping of swine styes, swine and poultry'. Fines, starting at 5/- could be imposed if if they were kept close to a street and were a 'nuisance to the neighbourhood'. Nor should they be kept in any 'dwelling house or room therein or in any cellar'. Poultry had to be kept away from the gardens and crops of others in the neighbourhood.

There were Bye Laws relating to 'offensive matters and substances', such as privies and ashpits. A Privy had to have a door and no more houses were to be built unless there was provision for a privy. There were regulations to prevent the obstruction of streets, to state how carts should be drawn, to stop prostitutes and people selling or distributing 'indecent material', to prevent anyone bathing in a public place or using abusive language, making a noise with a horn, or behaving in an 'annoying' manner. There were numerous examples of what was prohibited, such as throwing stones, throwing anything from a roof, pulling down official notices, leaving windows or trapdoors open in a dangerous way, 'burning coffins, coffin boards or rags within 100 yards of a dwelling', allowing water to run away other than through pipes and drains and so on. There were also Bye Laws relating to industrial practices and premises such as offensive smells and the height of chimneys, to ensure that smoke should be carried high enough before being released. Owners of premises with lodges or reservoirs had to ensure that the water wasn't polluted. There were heavy fines, of 40/- (40 shillings) under the heading of 'Fire Engines', for assaulting the superintendant of fire engines or damaging the fire engine or equipment and raising a false fire alarm. However, if the fire engine actually attended a false alarm, the fine went up to a massive £5.

Hackney carriages had to have licences and wait at designated places and then onlybetween certain hours. They had to be in good repair, clean and dry. The driver must be sober and not smoke whilst driving. The standard rates charged were determined for a coach with 4 wheels, drawn by one horse and carrying 4 passsengers inside, + the driver, for 1st and 2nd class travel, for distance travelled, or for time taken. For example, 1st class travel for up to 1 mile was 1/-; 2nd class was 9d. Or, if charged by time, not more than 15 minutes would cost 1/- for 1st class and 9d for 2nd.class.

If you wanted to hire the Town Hall, you could, subject of course to official approval of the purpose. The large room and ante room could be hired for religious and charitable purposes for £1. For lecture purposes the charge would be 30/- (30 shillings) or, if it was a course of lectures, 20/- for each one. Floral exhibitions (for the large room + 2 ante-rooms) would cost more, being as much as £2 each time if less than 3 in the same season. The cost came down to £4/10/- (4 pounds and 10 shillings) if 3 were booked. For the large room and 2 ante rooms, the charge was £3/3/- for public dinners and tea parties, balls were £4/4/- and concerts £2/2/-.

The following year, late in 1851, Queen Victoria was to visit Lancashire. The Council sent an address to the Queen, full of praise and promises of loyal service from the town. A similar address was sent to Prince Albert and included grateful thanks for the Great Exhibition.

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1851 census..........

Robert Steeple had died the previous year, in 1850, leaving his widow, Sarah, to carry on his butcher's business with their children. She is recorded on the census on Manchester Street, as head of the household and a butcher, together with her son William. He would later marry and continue as a butcher, living in Waterhead Mill. Whatever entrepreneurial plans JOHN's son, William, had considered, when he bought and rented properties and land around the borough, were ended when he died in 1854. On the 1851 census he is still recorded as a widower, living alone and as a butcher, on Lord Street. This property is also recorded in the Burgess Rolls of 1850-1851.

The Burgess rolls were a list of those who were eligible to vote in elections, ie., those who had the franchise.The requirement for inclusion in the Burgess Rolls, at that time, was to rent or own a property assessed as worth £10 per year.This gave the vote to approximately 1 in 7 men, indicating that William had done quite well in business, over the years (so far, and surprisingly, I have not found anything to indicate that he left a will). At least 5 of his 10 children had died even before 1841 and, in 1851 his daughter Sarah was a 'house servant' on West Hill in Oldham. Of his own son, Wlliam, and other daughter Mary Ann, I have so far found no record in 1851. However, both are found on later censuses. Both Mary Ann and Sarah married Derbyshire men, in 1856, and went back to the family Derbyshire roots, to live in Hayfield and nearby Chapel en le Frith.

JOHN's daughter, Harriet, and her husband William Hollingworth are found, still living with their family, at Westwood. His son, Thomas, is still living with his own wife and family at Stockbrook. Of his son, Henry, there is no record to be found on any of the censuses and he only appears again when his death is registered in Oldham in 1874. That only leaves Amelia, who married William Whitehead. The 1851 census finds them in Droylsden and William is still a butcher. Their own son, Edward, is married with a wife and family and living nearby, on the same street. He is recorded as a beer seller.

On this census the various Steeple families are seen to be getting on with their lives with the usual pattern of births, marriages and deaths. Many stayed in the town of their birth, some moved a short distance and some were following trades that would take them, as the years passed, to other parts of the country and, in some cases, to other parts of the world. The early Steeple men, whether or not they are sons, or husbands of Steeple women, all seem to follow one of a very small number of callings or trades. They tend to be farmers, butchers and shopkeepers (the majority), in the licensed trade (quite a few), or tailors (a few). Some descendants would achieve success and a degree of affluence whilst some would find life more of a struggle. However, it's heartening to think that whilst I've found none (yet!) that have achieved real fame and fortune, I've not found any that have fallen on really hard times and been described as paupers or in the workhouse. In other words, the 'Steeple-Chase' uncovered a story of the lives, loves and deaths of a very ordinary family. But they were my family!

Bibliography and Source Material

The Diary of William Rowbottom, of Oldham, 1787 to 1830
(quotes are with original spelling, grammar and puctuation unless meaning was obscured)

Register of Oldham News from the years 1830 to 1832 by Edwin Butterworth of Oldham
(During his short life, 1812 to 1848, he ran a busy news agency covering local news for newspapers in Manchester and Leeds. He also researched and wrote a formidable amount of information about parishes in Lancashire, much of which was done for Edward Baines, of the Leeds Mercury.)

Various Trade directories Oldham

Trade directory Derbyshire year 1827-1829, publisher Stephen Glover

Dunn's Survey of Oldham 1829 (Map and schedule)

Oldham Maps years: 1804, 1824, 1829, 1848

A History of Oldham by Hartley Bateson pub. 1949

Annals of Oldham & District by Giles Shaw

Baines' Lancashire

The Journal of John Wesley pub. 1864

Census return for 1841 and 1851

Parish Records for baptisms, marriages and burials.

Burgess Rolls for 1851

The Minutes Book for Oldham Council 1849 - 1854