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Oldham in 1839

OLDHAM, a parliamentary borough and manufacturing town in the parish of Oldham-cum-Prestwick, in the Middleton division of the hundred of Salford and the county palatine division of Lancaster. Its direct distance from London is 165 miles north-west ; from Lancaster 43 miles south-east ; and from Manchester 6 miles north-east. The town is situated on an eminence on the western bank of the Medlock and near the source of another stream called the Irk. The rapid rise of this town is mainly attributable to its being in the vicnity of extensive coal-mines, which give employment to a large portion of its population, and to the great increase of cotton manufactures since the middle of the last century. In 1760 it is said to have consisted of only sixty dwellings : in 1801 its population was 12, 024, and in 1831 it was 32,381. The number of steam-engines employed in the manufacture of fustians, cotton, and woollen and silk goods has been roughly estimated at eighty, which is probably under the truth. The making of hats is supposed to be carried on here upon a larger scale than in any other part of England, and it was in this particular branch of manufacture that Mr Thomas Henshaw, the principal benefactor of the town, realised his great wealth. Fairs for the sale of cattle, horses, sheep and pedlery are held by custom on the 2nd May, 8th July, and the first Wednesday after 12th October.

In 1827 an act of parliament was obtained for improving the road between Oldham and Standedge and for effecting other improvements in the town itself. Since then a local police has been established, and gas and water works erected. About the same time the old Church of St. Mary, some portions of which are believed to have been erected in the reign of King Stephen, was taken down, and upon its site was laid the foundation of a new one, which, Mr Baines observes, was by mistake dedicated to St. Paul instead of St. Mary. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the diocese of Chester and patronage of the pastor of Prestwick. Its annual net income is £191. The parliamentary boundary is co-extensive with the chapelry of Oldham, comprising the towns of Chadderton, Crompton and Royton, in addition to the township of Oldham. Oldham was first constituted a borough by the Reform Act, and now returns two members.

In 1832 the Sunday-schools within the chapelry were thirty-eight in number and afforded instruction to more than 8000 children of both sexes. What is called the free grammar-school was founded by James Assheton, or Ashton, in the year 1606, but the income appears to have never exceeded its present value, which is about £26. In 1826 it afforded partial instruction to fourteen boys free of charge. A much more important foundation is that of Thomas Henshaw, above mentioned, who, in 1807, after making sundry bequests, the chief of which was an annuity of £300 a year to his widow during life, directed that the sum of £20,000 out of his estate be applied in supporting a blind asylum to be afterwards established at Manchester, and that £40,000, together with the rsidue of his estate, should be appropriated to instituting and supporting a Blue-Coat school, either at Manchester or Oldham, as the trustees might deem advisable ; but he further directed that no part of these sums be expended in the purchase of ground or the erection of buildings, not doubting that either public or private benevolence would supply both the one and the other. The tastator died in 1810, and fifteen years elapsed before his confidence in the benevolence of others was shown to be well grounded. In the meantime a bill was filed in the Court of Chancery, praying that the bequests in the favour of the Blue-Coat school and the Blind Asylum might be declared void, and the widow and next of kin declared entitled to the residue of the estate. The prayer having been refused, the property was vested in the name of the accountant-general, and had in February 1826, accumulated to £96,320 6 pence, three percent consols, inclusive of £11,000 stock for securing the annuity for the widow, &c, which stock at the death of the annuitants will go in augmentation of the funds of the school. The blind asylum has been recently opened in Manchester. The ground for the Blue-Coat school was given in 1825 by Messrs. Radcliffe and Jones, and is situated on the lower part of Oldham Edge. The cost of erecting the school was principally defrayed by a subscription among the inhabitants of Oldham amounting to between £5,000 and £6,000, and the building itself was completed in 1833-34 under the direction of Mr Lane. It has a handsome stone edifice of considerable length, ornamented with several pinnacles, and comprising among its many apartments a spacious lofty school-room, dining-rooms, and an elegant entrance-hall.

Since 1834 two other schools have been established at Oldham with the assistance from grants from the lords of the Treasury, made at the recommendation of the National and British and Foreign School Societies. One of these can accommodate 1200 and the other 500 children.