Oldham, Greater Manchester Professional Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning
The history of Oldham
The history of Oldham is one of dramatic change, from obscure Pennine hamlet to preeminent mill town and textile processing capital of the world. Oldham’s industrial history includes hatting, coal mining, structural engineering, mechanical engineering, textile machinery manufacture and cotton spinning – for which the town is most noted.
Oldham has been described as the “most prodigious” mill town in Lancashire, and the “one that grew the quickest, from most insignificant beginnings, [… into…] the cotton spinning capital of the world.”
Since the mid-20th century, Oldham has seen the demise of its textile industry, and the troubled integration of new cultural traditions and religions. With respect to the ensuing depression that followed Oldham’s slump in textile manufacture, one author remarked that “when the fall finally came, it was the town that crashed the hardest.”
The earliest known evidence of a human presence in what is now Oldham is attested by the discovery of Neolithic flint arrowheads and workings found at Werneth and Beesom Hill, implying habitation 7–10,000 years ago. Evidence of later Roman and Celtic activity is confirmed by an ancient Roman road and Bronze Age archaeological relics found at various sites within the town. Though Anglo-Saxons occupied territory around the area centuries earlier, Oldham as a permanent, named place of dwelling, is believed to date from 865, when Danish invaders established a settlement called Aldehulme.
Unmentioned in the Domesday Book, Oldham during the Middle Ages (from the time of its founding in the 9th century through to the Industrial Revolution) is believed to have been nothing but a mere scattering of small and insignificant settlements spread across the moorland and dirt tracks which linked Manchester to York. However Oldham does appear in legal documents from this time, invariably recorded as territory under minor ruling families and barons. In the 13th century, Oldham was documented as a manor held from The Crown by a family surnamed Oldham, whose seat was at Werneth Hall. It was this family which may have produced one of the greatest benefactors to education for the nation; Hugh Oldham. Richard de Oldham was recorded as lord of the manor of Werneth/Oldham (1354). His daughter and heiress, Margery (d.1384), married John de Cudworth (d.1384), from whom descended the Cudworth family of Werneth Hall who was successive lords of the manor of Werneth/Oldham. A Member of this family was James I’s Chaplain Ralph Cudworth (father of the Cambridge Platonist philosopher Ralph Cudworth). The Cudworths remained lords of the manor until their sale of the estate (1683) to Sir Ralph Assheton of Middleton.
Industrial Revolution and Cotton
Much of Oldham’s history is concerned with textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution; it has been said that “if ever the Industrial Revolution placed a town firmly and squarely on the map of the world, that town is Oldham.” Oldham’s soils were too thin and poor to sustain crop growing, and so for decades prior to industrialisation, the area was used for grazing sheep, which provided the raw material for a local woollen weaving trade. In the 17th century, there were in Oldham various thriving crafts and trades chiefly devoted to cloth-making and linen-making on a domestic basis. It was not until the last quarter of the 18th century that Oldham changed from being a cottage industry township producing garments via domestic manual labour, to a sprawling industrial metropolis of textile factories.
The climate, geology, and topography of Oldham were unrelenting constraints upon the social and economic activities of the human inhabitants. Located 700 feet (213 m) above sea level with no major river or visible natural resources, Oldham had poor geographic attributes compared with other settlements for investors and their engineers. As a result, Oldham played no part in the initial period of the Industrial Revolution, although it did later become seen as an obvious territory to industrialise because of its convenient position between the labour forces of Manchester and southwest Yorkshire. Cotton spinning and milling were introduced to Oldham when its first mill, Lees Hall, was built by William Clegg in about 1778, the beginning of a spiralling process of urbanisation and socio-economic transformation. Within a year, 11 other mills had been constructed, and by 1818 there were 19 – not a large number in comparison with other local settlements. The first steam engine for Oldham went into operation in 1794. Oldham’s small local population was greatly increased by the mass migration of workers from its outlying villages, resulting in a population increase from just over 12,000 in 1801 to 137,000 in 1901. The speed of this urban growth meant that Oldham, with little pre-industrial history to speak of, was effectively born as a factory town.
Oldham became the world’s manufacturing centre for cotton spinning in the second half of the 19th century. In 1851, over 30% of Oldham’s population was employed within the textile sector, compared to 5% across Great Britain. It overtook the major urban centres of Manchester and Bolton as the result of a mill building boom in the 1860s and 1870s, a period during which Oldham became the most productive cotton-spinning town in the world. By 1911 there were 16.4 million spindles in Oldham, compared with a total of 58 million in the United Kingdom and 143.5 million in the world; in 1928, with the construction of Elk mill – the UK’s largest textile factory – Oldham reached its manufacturing zenith. At its peak, there were over 360 mills, operating day and night.
Oldham was hit hard by the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861–1865 when supplies of raw cotton from the United States were cut off. Wholly reliant upon the textile industry, the cotton famine created chronic unemployment in the town. By 1863 a committee had been formed, and with aid from the central government, the land was purchased with the intention of employing local cotton workers to construct Alexandra Park, which opened on 28 August 1865. Said to have over-relied upon the textile sector, as the importation of cheaper foreign yarns grew during the 20th century, Oldham’s economy declined into a depression, although it was not until 1964 that Oldham ceased to be the largest centre of cotton spinning. In spite of efforts to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of its production, the last cotton spun in the town was at Elk mill, in 1998.
Facilitated by its flourishing textile industry, Oldham developed extensive structural and mechanical engineering sectors during the 18th and 19th centuries. The manufacture of spinning and weaving machinery in Oldham belongs to the last decade of the 19th century when it became a leading centre in the field of engineering. The Platt Brothers originated in nearby Dobcross village but moved to Oldham. They were pioneers of cotton-spinning machinery, developing innovatory products which enabled the mass production of cotton yarn. Platt Brothers became the largest textile machine makers in the world, employing over 15,000 people in the 1890s, twice the number of their nearest rivals Dobson & Barlow in Bolton and Asa Lees on Greenacres Moor. They were keen investors in the local area and at one time, were supporting 42% of the population. The centre of the company lay at the New Hartford Works in Werneth, a massive complex of buildings and internal railways on a site overlooking Manchester. The railway station which served this site later formed the basis of Oldham Werneth railway station. The main building exists to this day. Platts gained prestigious awards from around the world and were heavily involved with local politics and civic pride in Oldham. John and James Platt were the largest subscribers for promoting Oldham from a township to a Borough; pledging £100 (more than double of the next largest sum) in advance towards any expenses which may have been incurred by the Royal Charter. In 1854 John Platt was made the (fourth) Mayor of Oldham, an office he was to hold twice more in 1855–56 and 1861–62. John Platt was elected in 1865 to become MP for Oldham, and was re-elected in 1868; he remained in office until his death in 1872. A bronze statue of Platt existed in the town centre for years, though was moved to Alexandra Park. There have been recommendations for it to be returned to the town centre.
Abraham Henthorn Stott, the son of a stonemason, was born in nearby Shaw and Crompton in 1822. He served a seven-year apprenticeship with Sir Charles Barry, before starting a structural engineering practice in Oldham in 1847 that went on to become the pre-eminent mill architect firm in Lancashire. Philip Sydney Stott, the third son of Abraham and later titled Sir Philip Stott, 1st Baronet, was the most prominent and famous of the Stott mill architects. He established his own practice in 1883 and designed over a hundred mills in several countries. His factories, which improved upon his father’s fireproof mills, accounted for a 40% increase in the spindles of Oldham between 1887 and 1914.
Although textile-related engineering declined with the processing industry, leading to the demise of both Stotts and Platts, other engineering firms existed, notably electrical and later electronic engineers Ferranti in 1896. Ferranti went into receivership in 1993, but some of its former works continue in other hands, notably the original Hollinwood site now operated by Siemens.
Other notable engineering firms of Oldham included Dronsfield Bros Ltd., William Bodden & Sons Ltd., S. Dodd & Sons Ltd., George Orme Ltd., and Joseph Nadin Ltd.
On the back of the Industrial Revolution, Oldham developed an extensive coal mining sector, created by Darby III correlated to supporting the local cotton industry and the town’s inhabitants, though there is evidence of small scale coal mining in the area as early as the 16th century. The Oldham Coalfield stretched from Royton in the north to Bardsley in the south and in addition to Oldham, included the towns of Middleton and Chadderton to the west. The Oldham Coalfield was the site of over 150 collieries during its recorded history.
Though some contemporary sources suggest there was coal mining in Oldham at a commercial scale by 1738, older sources attribute the commercial expansion of coal mining with the arrival in the town of two Welsh labourers, John Evans and William Jones, around 1770. Foreseeing the growth in demand for coal as a source of motive and steam power, they acquired colliery rights for Oldham, which by 1771 had 14 colliers. The mines were to the southwest of the town around Hollinwood and Werneth and provided enough coal to accelerate Oldham’s rapid development at the centre of the cotton boom. At its height in the mid-19th century, when it was dominated by the Lees and Jones families, Oldham coal was mainly sourced from many small collieries whose lives varied from a few years to many decades, though two of the four largest collieries survived to nationalisation. In 1851, collieries employed over 2,000 men in Oldham, though the amount of coal in the town was somewhat overestimated, however, and production began to decline even before that of the local spinning industry. Today, the only visible remnants of the mines are disused shafts and boreholes.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority
Greater Manchester is one of the country’s most successful city regions. Home to more than 2.8 million people and with an economy bigger than that of Wales or Northern Ireland. Our vision is to make Greater Manchester one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old. We’re getting there through a combination of economic growth, and the reform of public services.
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) is made up of the ten Greater Manchester councils and Mayor, who work with other local services, businesses, communities and other partners to improve the Greater Manchester City Region.
The ten councils (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan) have worked together voluntarily for many years on issues that affect everyone in the region, like transport, regeneration and attracting investment.
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Areas we cover in Oldham
Austerlands, Bardsley, Chadderton, Delph, Denshaw, Diggle, Dobscross, Failsworth, Grasscroft, Greenfield, Grotton, Heyside, Higginshaw, Lydgate, Oldham, Royton, Scouthead, Shaw, Springhead, Uppermill, Waterhead.
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