A tour around Oldham for the town’s local History Festival

Our reporter Jean got the chance to explore the history of Oldham in-depth at the local history festival and shares her findings from her guided tour with us here.

Google Oldham and you will find that it was just a scattering of small settlements until the Industrial Revolution when the population exploded.

People from around the country including Ireland travelled to this moorland, swampy town to find work in the cotton mills and the supporting industries.

In the hundred years between 1801 and 1901, the population went from 12000 to 137 000.

Areas like Westwood, where Tesco’s is today, became high-density housing areas within easy walking distance of mills and machine manufacturers like Platts.

I was able to spend a pleasant one and half hour guided tour around the area as part of the Oldham History Festival.

We met with the guide at the Anchor Mill. This Grade 2 listed building was built in 1881. In 2008 a group of local Bangladeshi businessmen who had been brought up in the area bought the mill and turned it into a multiuse building which includes a bazaar, snooker hall and cash and carry.

Our next stop was the former Moravian Sunday School building. There was already a Moravian church at Salem, Lees on the way out of Oldham towards Yorkshire when the Moravian Church was built on Main Rd.

Worshipers had started to move to Westwood where there was a growing concentration of mills and therefore work. The foundation stone for this building was laid in August 1865 but this building soon became too small for the growing congregation and a new church was opened on Middleton Road around the corner.

The original building became the Sunday School. Extended in 1896 at the cost of £650. This building was rebuilt in 1906 at a cost of £1850. The foundation stones are now well eroded, probably because of the acidic atmosphere caused by mills and later heavy traffic on Middleton Road.

The early 20 century trams were a cause of concern in 1912 when the church committee wrote to the Tramways Manager to complain that the grinding of the trams were disturbing worship and they asked that the trams slow down when passing the church and that the drivers didn’t ring their bell at service times.

The Manse to the Moravian Church

Behind the church on Neville Street is Neville House. Once belonging to the Tramways Corporation, it is now a care home. For those of us born in the fifties, we remember it as a cinema with Saturday Cowboy matinees. Later it showed Asian films.

The ornate front of the old picture house

On  February 21 and 22, 1952, students from Dhaka University and Dhaka Medical school and political activists were killed when Pakistani police opened fire on the Bengali protesters who were demanding official recognition of their Bengali native tongue.

Soon, a makeshift memorial was erected and was immediately demolished by the police. The Language Movement gained momentum and was officially recognised in 1956.

To commemorate the dead the Shaheed Minar (Tower of the Martyrs) was completed in Dhaka in 1963. It was demolished in the Bangladesh Liberation War and rebuilt in 1971.

In 1990 Kamal Hossain led a campaign to get Oldham’s own Shaheed Minar and the monument he designed was unveiled in Westwood in 1997. The Language Martyrs are remembered every 21 February.

When shopping at the Featherstall Road Tesco’s it is difficult to miss the Shapla flower on the roundabout. This is the national flower of Bangladesh.

Like Hilda Ogden I can no longer call wall paintings murals but whatever you call them this mural on West End St is amazing. To me, it depicts the history of the borough of Oldham. The few minutes that we spent looking at it were far from enough to take in all in.

We now made our way back to the Anchor Mill. Having lived nearby for nearly seventy years there was stuff I didn’t know and it was good to share the bits I did know.

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