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Oldham town centre
Grid reference: SD922053
Location: 53°32’40"N, 2°7’1"W
Population: 103,544  (2001)
Post town: Oldham
Postcode: OL1-OL2, OL4, OL8-OL9
Dialling code: 0161
Local Government
Council: Oldham
Oldham East and Saddleworth
Oldham West and Royton

Oldham is a large town in south east Lancashire. It lies at the edge of the Pennines on elevated ground between the rivers Irk and Medlock, 5½ miles south of Rochdale, and 7 miles northeast of the city of Manchester. Oldham has become the centre of a conurbation of its own, as well as being swallowed into the conurbation spreading outward from Manchester.

Oldham has little early history to speak of but rose to prominence during the 19th century as an international centre of textile manufacture. It was a boomtown of the Industrial Revolution, and among the first ever industrialised towns, rapidly becoming "one of the most important centres of cotton and textile industries in England".[1] At its zenith, it was the most productive cotton spinning mill town in the world,[2][3] spinning more cotton than France and Germany combined.[4] Oldham's textile industry began to fall into decline during the mid-20th century, and its last mill closed in 1998.

The demise of textile processing in Oldham depressed the local economy.[5] Today Oldham is a predominantly residential town, and a centre for further education and the performing arts. It is, however, still distinguished architecturally by the surviving cotton mills and other buildings associated with that industry.

Name of the town

The name "Oldham" is of English origin and may simply mean "old homestead" or "old village". However, it is also said that Oldham is a derivative of Aldehulme, which may be derived from the Old English eald ("old") and the Old Norse holmi or holmr, meaning "old promontory or outcrop", possibly describing the town's hilltop position.[6] (Holm is a word in Old English too, but it means "sea"; somewhat unlikely as a name given as far inland as Oldham.) An alternative suggestion for the menaing of "Oldham" is that it may mean "holm or hulme of a farmer named Alda".[6] The name is understood to date from 865, during the period of the Norse occupation.[6]

Look of the town

Oldham: red-brick mills terraced houses

Oldham's built environment is characterised by its 19th-century red-brick terraced houses, the infrastructure that was built to support these and the town's former cotton mills – which mark the town's skyline.[7] The urban structure of Oldham is irregular when compared to most British towns, its form restricted in places by its hilly upland terrain. There are irregularly constructed residential dwellings and streets loosely centred around a central business district in the town centre, which is the local centre of commerce. In 1849, Angus Reach of Inverness said:

The visitor to Oldham will find it essentially a mean-looking straggling town, built upon both sides and crowning the ridge of one of the outlying spurs which branch from Manchester, the neighbouring 'backbone of England'. The whole place has a shabby underdone look. The general appearance of the operatives' houses is filthy and smouldering.[8]

In the 1870s, John Marius Wilson described Oldham as consisting of:

... numerous streets, and contains numerous fine buildings, both public and private; but, in a general view, is irregularly constructed, presents the dingy aspect of a crowded seat of manufacture, and is more notable for factories than for any other feature.[9]

Although Oldham had a thriving economy during the 19th century, the local merchants were broadly reluctant to spend on civic institutions, and so the town lacks the grandeur seen in comparable nearby towns like Bolton or Huddersfield; public expenditure was seen as an overhead that undermined the competitiveness of the town.[10] Subsequently, Oldham's architecture has been described as "mediocre". The town has no listed buildings with a Grade I rating.

There is a mixture of high-density urban areas, suburbs, semi-rural and rural locations in Oldham. There is some permanent grassland but overwhelmingly the land use in the town is urban. The territory of Oldham is contiguous with other towns on all sides except for a small section along its eastern and southern boundaries. The M60 motorway passes through the southwest of Oldham, through Hollinwood, and a heavy rail line enters Oldham from the same direction, travelling northeast to the town centre before heading northwards through Derker towards Shaw and Crompton.

Panorama of Oldham from Hartshead Pike


Parish Church

St Mary with St Peter

The Parish Church is St Mary with St Peter, which is within the Diocese of Manchester. In its present form it dates from 1830 and was designed in the Gothic Revival Style by Richard Lane, a Manchester-based architect.[11] It has been designated a Grade II* listed building.[12] It was linked with the church of St Mary the Virgin, Prestwich and together the sites were principal churches of the ancient ecclesiastical parish of Prestwich-cum-Oldham.[11]

A church building had existed on the site since 1280.[11] During this time, a small chapel stood on the site to serve the local townships of Oldham, Chadderton, Royton and Crompton. This was later replaced by an Early Gothic church in the 15th century.[11]

As the Industrial Revolution gripped the town, the population of Oldham increased at a rapid rate (from under 2,000 in 1714, to over 32,000 by 1831).[11] The rapid growth of the local population required that the building be rebuilt, which rebuilding created the current structure. Although the budget was originally agreed at £5,000, the final cost of building was £30,000, one third of which was spent on the crypt structure.[11] Alternative designs by Sir Charles Barry, the designer of the Palace of Westminster, although now regarded by some as superior, were rejected.[11]


Early history

The earliest known evidence of the presence of man in what is now Oldham are Neolithic flint arrow-heads and workings found at Werneth and Besom Hill, implying habitation 7–10,000 years ago.[6] The Romans passed by: a Roman road ran nearby. An Early English village was here[6][13] but Oldham as a permanent, named village is believed to date from 865, when the Norse were in the land and a settlement called Aldehulme was created.[6][14]

Until the Industrial Revolution, Oldham is believed to have been little more than a scattering of small and insignificant hamlets spread across the moorland and dirt tracks which linked Manchester to York.[6][15] It is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but Oldham does appear in legal documents from the Middle Ages, invariably recorded as territory under the control of minor ruling families and barons.[14] 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.[16]

Industrial Revolution and cotton

Oldham from Glodwick by James Howe Carse (1831)

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."[5] Oldham's soils were too thin and poor to sustain arable farmig, and so for decades before industrialisation the area was used for grazing sheep, which provided the raw material for a local woollen weaving trade.[16]

By 1756, Oldham had emerged as centre of the hatting industry in England. The rough felt used in the production process is the origin of the term "Owdham Roughyed" a nickname for people from Oldham.[6] It was not until the last quarter of the 18th century that Oldham changed from being a cottage industry township producing woollen garments via domestic manual labour, to a sprawling industrial metropolis of textile factories.[16] The climate, geology, and topography of Oldham were unrelenting constraints upon the social and economic activities of the human inhabitants. Located 700 feet 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,[2][15] although it did later become seen as obvious territory to industrialise because of its convenient position between the labour forces of Manchester and southwest Yorkshire.[17]

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 socioeconomic transformation.[2] Within a year, 11 other mills had been constructed,[6] and by 1818 there were 19 – not a large number in comparison with other local settlements.[15] Oldham's small local population was greatly increased by the mass migration of workers from outlying villages,[6] resulting in a population increase from just over 12,000 in 1801 to 137,000 in 1901.[15] The speed of this urban growth meant that Oldham, with little pre-industrial history to speak of, was effectively born as a mill town.

Royd mill, built in 1907

Oldham became the world's manufacturing centre for cotton spinning in the second half of the 19th century.[15] In 1851, over 30% of Oldham's population was employed within the textile sector, compared to 5% across Great Britain.[17] 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.[15] In 1871 Oldham had more spindles than any country in the world bar the United States, and in 1909, was spinning more cotton than France and Germany combined.[4] By 1911 there were 16.4 million spindles in Oldham out of a total of 58 million in the United Kingdom and 143.5 million in the world; in 1928, with the construction of the United Kingdom's largest textile factory Oldham reached its manufacturing zenith.[15] At its peak, there were over 360 mills, operating night and day;[18][19]

Oldham's townscape was dominated by distinctive rectangular brick-built mills.[20] Oldham was hit hard by the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861–1865, when supplies of raw cotton from the United States were cut off by the American Civil War. Wholly reliant upon the textile industry, the cotton famine created chronic unemployment in the town.[21] By 1863 a committee had been formed, and with aid from central government, land was purchased with the intention of employing local cotton workers to construct Alexandra Park, which opened on 28 August 1865.[21] Said to have over-relied upon the textile sector,[5][14] 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.[5][7][15] In spite of efforts to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of its production, the last cotton spun in the town was in 1998.[15]


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.[6]

The Platt Brothers, originated in nearby Dobcross village in Yorkshire, but moved to Oldham. Pioneers of cotton-spinning machinery, they developed 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,[10] twice the number of their nearest rivals Dobson & Barlow in Bolton and Asa Lees on Greenacres Moor.[19] They were keen investors in the local area and at one time, were supporting 42% of the population.[10] 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, which together with the main building exists to this day. Platts gained prestigious awards from around the world,[21] and were heavily involved with local politics and civic pride in Oldham.[10] John and James Platt were the largest subscribers for promoting Oldham from a township to a borough, pledging £100 (more than double the next largest sum) in advance towards any expenses which may have been incurred by the Royal Charter.[6] In 1854 John Platt became the (fourth) Mayor of Oldham, an office he was to hold twice more in 1855–56 and 1861–62.[22] John Platt was elected in 1865 to become Member of Parliament for Oldham, and was re-elected in 1868; he remained in office until his death in 1872.[6] 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 nearby in 1822.[2] 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.[2] Philip Sydney Stott, third son of Abraham and later titled as Sir Philip Stott, 1st Baronet, was the most prominent and famous of the Stott mill architects.[2] 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 Oldham's spindles between 1887 and 1914.[2]


On the back of the Industrial Revolution, Oldham developed an extensive coal mining sector, 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.[23]

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.[23] The Oldham Coalfield was the site of over 150 collieries during its recorded history.[23]

Although some contemporary sources suggest there was coal mining in Oldham at a commercial scale by 1738,[23] 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.[6] 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.[6] The mines were largely 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, although two of the four largest collieries survived to nationalisation.[23][24] In 1851, collieries employed over 2,000 men in Oldham,[24] although the amount of coal in the town was somewhat overestimated however, and production began to decline even before that of the local spinning industry.[23] Today, the only visible remnants of the mines are disused shafts and boreholes.[23]


Oldham was created as a parliamentary borough by the Reform Act 1832. The borough's first parliamentary representatives were the radicals William Cobbett and John Fielden.[9]

Winston Churchill began his political career in Oldham. Although unsuccessful at his first attempt in 1899, Churchill was elected as the member of Parliament for Oldham in the general election of 1900.[25]


Cotton mill, now used as processing and distribution centres
The stained glass roof of The Spindles

For years Oldham's economy was heavily dependent on manufacturing industry, especially textiles and mechanical engineering.[26][27] Since the deindustrialisation of Oldham in the mid-20th century, these industries have been replaced by home shopping, publishing, healthcare and food processing sectors, though factory generated employment retains a significant presence.[26] Many of the modern sectors are low-skill and low-wage.[10]

Park Cake Bakeries, recently sold as part of a large shake-up by the Northern Foods Group, have a large food processing centre in Hathershaw, which employs in excess of 1,600 people. Over 90% of the cakes produced go to Marks & Spencer.[28][29] Long existing as an industrial district, Hollinwood is home to the Northern Counties Housing Association,[30] and Mirror Colour Print Ltd; the printing division of the Trinity Mirror group, which prints and distributes 36 major newspapers, and employs 500 staff.[31]

Oldham's town centre contains the highest concentration of retailing, cultural facilities and employment in the area. It has been extensively redeveloped during the last few decades, and its two shopping centres, Town Square and The Spindles, now provide one of the largest covered retail areas in the region. The Spindles (named with reference to textile spindles) is a modern shopping centre with over 40 retailers, banks, building societies and catering outlets. It houses one of Europe's largest stained glass roofs, created by local artist Brian Clarke in celebration of the music of one of Oldham's famous sons, composer and conductor Sir William Walton.[32]

Sights about the town

Oldham's Old Town Hall, built in 1841
Oldham's war memorial

Town Hall

Oldham's Old Town Hall is a Grade II listed Georgian neo-classical town hall built in 1841,[33] eight years before Oldham received its borough status.[34] It has a tetrastyle Ionic portico, copied from the temple of Ceres, on the River Ilissos, near Athens.[9] Winston Churchill made his inaugural acceptance speech from the steps of the town hall when he was first elected to Parliament in 1900 and a Blue Plaque on the exterior of the building commemorates the event. Long existing as the political centre of the town, complete with courtrooms, the structure had stood empty from 1995 to 2017. It was earmarked for redevelopment as part of a number of regeneration project proposals; it officially opened on 21st October 2017 as an Odeon cinema with restaurant complex.

War memorial

Oldham's remarkable war memorial was raised after the Great War in memory of the fallen. On a granite base stands a bronze sculpture depicting five soldiers making their way along the trenches in order to go into battle.[35] The main standing figure, having climbed out of the trenches, is shown calling on his comrades to advance. The base serves to house books containing the roll of honour of the 1st, 10th and 24th Battalions, Manchester Regiment. The pedestal has two bronze doors at either side.[35]

Commissioned in 1919 by the Oldham War Memorial Committee, the memorial was designed and built by Albert Toft.[36] It was unveiled by General Sir Ian Hamilton on 28 April 1923, before a crowd estimated at over 10,000.[35] The monument was intended to symbolise the spirit of 1914–1918.[6]

The inscriptions on the memorial read:

  • Over doors: "Mors Januva Vitae, 1914-1918" ("death is the gate of life")
  • Opposite side: "To God Be The Praise"

Civic Centre

The Civic Centre tower is the currwnt council's civic palace. Built in 1976, it stands 15-storeys high, built of white brick at the summit of the town, the tower standing over 200 feet high so that it can be seen as far away as Salford, Trafford, Wythenshawe and Winter Hill, and offers panoramic views across the city of Manchester and the Cheshire Plain.

The Lyceum

The Lyceum

The Lyceum is a Grade II listed building opened in 1856 as a "mutual improvement" centre for the working men of Oldham. It is a Grade II listed building.[37][38]

The Lyceum replaced an earlier building constructed in 1839. The facilities provided to members included a library, a newsroom, and a series of lectures on geology, geography and education, microscopy and chemistry, female education, and botany.[37] Instrumental music was introduced and there were soon 16 violinists and 3 'cellists. Eventually the building was extended to include a School of Science and Art. Music had always been important in the life of the Lyceum, and in 1892 a school of music was opened, with 39 students enrolled for the "theory and practice of music".

The Lyceum continued throughout the 20th century as a centre for the arts in Oldham, and in 1986 the local authority was invited by its directors and trustees to accept the building as a gift.[37] The acceptance of the Lyceum building by the Education Committee provided the opportunity to re-locate The Music Centre and "further enhance the cultural activities of the town".[37] In 1989 the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Music Centre moved into the Lyceum building, which is now the home of the Oldham Lyceum School of Music.[37]

Oldham Carnival

The annual Oldham Carnival started around 1900, although the tradition of carnivals in the town goes back much further, providing a "welcomed respite from the tedium of everyday life".[39] The carnival parade was always held in mid-to-late summer, with the primary aim of raising money for charities.[39] It often featured local dignitaries or popular entertainers, in addition to brass, military and jazz bands, the Carnival Queen, people in fancy dress, dancers and decorated floats from local churches and businesses.[39] Whenever possible, local people who had attained national celebrity status were invited to join the cavalcade.[39] The carnival's route began in the town centre, wound its way along King Street, and ended with a party in Alexandra Park.[39]

The carnival was a popular and prestigious event,[39] though it fell out of favour in the late 1990s.[40] The carnival was resurrected in 2006, rebranded as the "People's Carnival".[40]


  • Professional sport:
    • Football: Oldham Athletic A.F.C. (professional team)
    • Rugby League: Oldham Roughyeds R.L.F.C. (professional team)

Oldham Athletic play home games at Boundary Park near the Chadderton and Royton boundary, hence the name. Oldham Athletic A.F.C. were founded in 1895 and joined the Football League in 1908 as a Second Division side. The club has had two separate spells in the top tier of the English league divisional structure, however, it is currently playing in the fourth tier for the first time since 1971.

Oldham Roughyeds play home games at the Whitebank Stadium in Limeside and are one of the original twenty-two rugby clubs that formed the Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895, making them one of the world's oldest rugby league teams. They have been league champions on four occasions and have won the Challenge Cup on three occasions but currently play in the second tier.

Other sports clubs include:

  • Basketball:
    • Oldham Titans Basketball Club
  • Cricket:
    • Oldham Cricket Club
    • Werneth Cricket Club
  • Football:
    • Avro F.C.
  • Golf:
    • Oldham Golf Club
    • Werneth Golf Club


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  40. 40.0 40.1 "A History of Oldham's Carnivals". oldhamcarnival.org.uk. 2007. Archived from the original on November 14, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071114183027/http://www.oldhamcarnival.org.uk/carnivalhistory.htm. Retrieved 2007-11-10. 


  • Bygone Oldham. True North Publishing. 1996. ISBN 1-900463-25-3. 
  • Ballard, Elsie (1986) [1967]. A Chronicle of Crompton (2nd ed.). Royton: Burnage Press Limited. ISBN 5-00-096678-3. 
  • Bateson, Hartley (1949). A Centenary History of Oldham. Oldham County Borough Council. ISBN 5-00-095162-X. 
  • Brownbill, John; Farrer, William (1911). A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 5. Victoria County History. ISBN 978-0-7129-1055-2. 
  • Butterworth, Edwin (1981). Historical Sketches of Oldham. E.J. Morten. ISBN 978-0-85972-048-9. 
  • Carter, James (1986). Oldham Colosseum Theatre - The first hundred years. Oldham Leisure Services. ISBN 0-902809-15-6. 
  • Daly, J.D. Oldham From the XX Legion to the 20th Century. ISBN 5-00-091284-5. 
  • Crawford, Elizabeth (23 November 2000). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-23926-4. 
  • Drummond, Christine (2005). Oldham Celebrates; Events in Oldham's History. Oldham Arts and Heritage. ISBN 0-902809-58-X. 
  • Eastham, Reginald H. (1994). Platts; Textile Machinery Makers. R.H Eastham. 
  • Fanning, Gerry (2001). British Mining No. 68 - Oldham Coal. Keighley: Northern Mine Research Society. ISBN 0-901450-54-5. 
  • Foster, John (1974). Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution - Early industrial capitalism in three English towns. Weidenfield & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-76681-0. 
  • Frangopulo, N.J. (1977). Tradition in Action: The Historical Evolution of the Greater Manchester County. EP Publishing, Wakefield. ISBN 0-7158-1203-3. 
  • Gibb, Robert (2005). Greater Manchester: A panorama of people and places in Manchester and its surrounding towns. Myriad. ISBN 1-904736-86-6. 
  • Gurr, Duncan; Hunt, Julian (1998). The Cotton Mills of Oldham. Oldham Education & Leisure. ISBN 0-902809-46-6. 
  • Kidd, Leonard (1977). Oldham's natural history. Oldham Libraries, Art Galleries and Museums. 
  • Llewellin, Mark (2000). They Started Here!: The Story of Oldham Coliseum Theatre. P & D Riley Publishers. ISBN 978-1-874712-47-3. 
  • Marlow, Joyce (1969). The Peterloo Massacre. Rapp & Whiting. ISBN 0-85391-122-3. 
  • McNeil, R.; Nevell, M. (2000). A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Greater Manchester. Association for Industrial Archaeology. ISBN 0-9528930-3-7. 
  • McPhillips, K. (1977). Oldham: The Formative Years. Neil Richardson. ISBN 1-85216-119-1. 
  • Millett, Freda (1996). Images of England; Oldham. Nonsuch. ISBN 1-84588-164-8. 
  • Nadin, Jack (2006). The Oldham Coalfield. Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-2945-0. 
  • Oldham County Borough Council (1973). Official Handbook of Oldham. 
  • Sellers, Gladys (1991). Walking the South Pennines. Cicerone Press. ISBN 978-1-85284-041-9. 

Outside links

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