Town & Borough of Oldham
Oldham Civic Centre, St Mary's Church, The Old Town Hall and Yorkshire
Oldham is situated
some 8 miles to the north-east of Manchester city centre, set high in
the Pennine Hills, dominated by St Mary's church on its summit, and
overlooking the whole of the Cheshire Plain. Within the Metropolitan
Borough boundary are included the towns and villages of Chadderton,
Crompton, Delph, Denshaw, Diggle, Dobcross, Failsworth, Greenfield,
Lees, Royton, Shaw, and Uppermill. It extends from the borders of Manchester
in the south, Rochdale in the north, Tameside to the south, and to the
Saddleworth Moors, the South Yorkshire Borders and the Peak District
National Park on its eastern borders.
The Danes in
The town can be
dated from 865 AD when Danish invaders established a settlement here
with the name Aldehulme. In 1215 much of the lands of Oldham were given
to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem by Roger de Montbegon. Since
medieval times, Oldham has been a centre of the textile industry, though
it came into its own, like many other Lancashire towns, with the onset
of the Industrial Revolution in the latter part of the 18th century.
19th and 20th century it became one of the world's leading cotton spinning
towns. Yet, it often comes as a surprise to visitors to learn that two-thirds
of the borough is open countryside, untouched by industrialisation,
with the wild splendours of Saddleworth's Pennine moorland on the very
The town Arms are the family crest of Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter
and founder of the Manchester Grammar School. It features an owl holding
a scroll in its beak - the scroll carries the letters "DOM", making
a typical medieval name-pun "OWL-DOM", which is the original pronunciation
of the town (and the family's) name - still reflected nowadays in the
local pronunciation of "Ow'dom". This pun is also repeated in the town's
2 mottos : the older one reads "Haud (pronounced "owd") Facile Captu"
(meaning "Not easily caught" - a reference no doubt to the canniness
of the local populace), and the later current motto "Sapere Aude" (meaning
"Dare to be wise" - the "Aude" also being pronounced "Owd").
In 1536 Lawrence Chadderton, after whom the district of Chadderton is
named, was born in Oldham. He was to become the translator of the King
Oldham and the Moors.
Image Courtesy of www.webbaviation.co.uk © 2005
Manufacture in Oldham
Oldham had long
been on one of the major routes from Lancashire to Yorkshire, as it
lies on the old Roman road which linked Manchester to York across the
Pennines. Even though this road had deteriorated to little more than
a muddy dirt track, by the middle of the 18th century it was to assume
a growing importance for the moving and distribution of trade products
in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. In medieval times, Oldham
was a centre for the production of woollen cloth, thanks to large areas
of suitable moorland grazing for sheep which surrounded it.
As early as the
17th century plans had been put forward for improving the road network
infrastructure, and various turnpike toll roads had been proposed following
the 1734 Turnpike Act. Few roads were actually realised however, and
Oldham remained largely inaccessible to all but the occasional pack
horse trains which moved wool in a very inefficient and piecemeal fashion.
Even 25 years later, a proper road did not exist between Oldham and
neighbouring Manchester. The first regular coach service to Manchester
came into operation in October of 1790, with a journey time of over
2 hours and a fare 2s.8d (about 13p), with half fare for travellers
on top of the coach.
The Industrial Revolution
saw considerable development of Oldham's industrial base. In 1759, Francis
Egerton the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater had built the first commercial canal
to bring coal from his mines in Worsley into Manchester. Canal fever
spread quickly, as it offered a viable and cheaper alternative to road
transportation. The steam driven machinery of Oldham's many new mills
needed Worsley coal to drive them.
Oldham had coal in abundance, but at that time there was no real mining
development in an industrial sense or on a large enough scale to supply
fuel-hungry steam engines. Inevitably a plan to build a trans-Pennine
canal which would run through Oldham was promoted in the mid-1760s -
this was to become the Rochdale Canal, which, with the later connection
to the Ashton Canal was completed in the 1790s. With the new capability
of receiving raw materials and foodstuffs, and of exporting its textiles,
Oldham came into its own and grew into a major industrial town during
this period. In 1799 a short-lived passenger service was opened between
Manchester and Stalybridge. Within 30 years the railways appeared and
even the new canals could not compete with its speed and efficiency.
While it would be
a truism to say that Cotton created modern Oldham, it would be a mistake
to think this was the town's only industry. Oldham began to produce
its own coal in the 19th century, and perhaps more importantly, it began
to develop a base in the production of engineering machinery - initially
for the textile trade, but later for other industries. The transition
from the production of woollen cloth to the spinning of cotton came
about in Oldham during the 18th century. The Saddleworth woollen trade
was already well established when in the 1740s Manchester merchants
began distributing cotton to surrounding mills for carding, spinning
Many new inventions for the fast processing of cotton were introduced
- most significantly the "flying shuttle" of John Kay, which instantly
made weaving very fast, so that traditional spinning wheel production
could not supply spun cotton fast enough to keep weaver's looms supplied.
That problem had been solved by James Hargreave's "Spinning Jenny".
This revolutionised the Oldham spinning industry and from 1750 onwards
the old romantic cottage industries of home spun yarns ended and the
machines were exiled to the attics of Oldham. The process became quickly
mechanised and mass production methods, introduced about 1770, overtook
traditional ways, and necessitated workers moving into the new mills
and factories to work. Oldham's first mill was Lees Hall, built about
1778 by William Clegg.