Town & Borough of Rochdale

Rochdale is probably best known as the birthplace of the singer, Gracie
and as the birthplace of the Co-operative Movement. The present Metropolitan Borough was formed out of six independent local authorities in the early 1970s – Heywood, Littleborough, Middleton, Milnrow, Rochdale and Wardle – and stretches from the north-eastern side of Manchester to the Pennines and the borders of South Yorkshire. Rochdale is the main town and is the administrative and commercial centre of the borough.
Rochdale was a major weaving district, and the upper floors of cottages in towns like Wardle, Littleborough and Milnrow still bear evidence of Weaver’s windows, where cotton, and earlier wool, was woven.

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Rochdale Town Hall, Yorkshire Street shopping centre, St Chad Parish
Church and the original Rochdale Pioneers Co-operative

History of Rochdale

Rochdale appears in the Domesday Book under the name of Recedham Manor, and was part of the Salford Hundred. Ownership of the manor belonged to the Crown in 1399, and continued so until it was purchased by John Byron in 1638.

It was eventually sold by the poet Lord Byron in 1823, when it passed
to the Dearden family, who still hold the title. In earlier medieval times, Rochdale had been an important market town, with weekly markets held from the 13th century, and an annual fair. The market was held outside the parish church, and had a long-standing “Orator’s Corner”.

The local reformer and Rochdale MP, John Bright spoke here on Anti-Corn Law Reform.

Rochdale Town Hall

Rochdale Town Hall.
Aerial Photo Courtesy of © 2005

By Tudor times it had already become an important area for the manufacture of woollen cloth. The present St Chad’s parish church was built in 1194, on the site of an earlier church which dates from 769 AD. It was not until 1891 that the town stocks were removed from near the church gates. By the eighteenth century, as steam power took over in the new textile mills, the many fast-flowing streams which ran down from the neighbouring Pennine Hills made Rochdale, and its six towns, very strategically placed to develop textile production into a fully mechanised and productive industry.

Most of the mills have now gone. Yet there survive many vestiges of its mechanisms, its millponds, water channels and converted mill buildings. The Cheesden Valley, a pleasant country walking trail, high above Heywood still has industrial remains of this era, and the Ellenroad Steam Engine , near Milnrow has been restored to a fully working condition.

The industrial wealth of Rochdale, and its growing importance as an industrial and political entity, resulted in the town being grant Municipal Borough status in 1856, upon which the council immediately sought to build a fine new Town Hall (pictured top left) as a matter of civic pride. Suitable land was purchased alongside the River Roch, and a competition to design a new town hall was announced. The foundation stone of the winning design,
by William Henry Crossland of Leeds, was laid on 31st March 1866 and the building was completed in September 1871 at a total cost of 160,000.

It is a grand, imposing and elegant building, which dominates the approach
to the town from Manchester. Its two main features are the porte-cochre, an entrance porch large enough to receive and shelter horse-drawn carriages, and its bell tower, a campanile-type structure, separated from the main building.

Later, the River Roch was paved over, and still runs beneath the town centre, in order that trams could be routed into the town. Trams ran until November 1932.

Aerial Photograph of Rochdale

Rochdale and the Pennine Hills. Aerial Photo Courtesy of © 2005


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Gazetteer of Greater Manchester