by Dave Dutton
Atherton Town Coat of Arms
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is a former cotton and coal town in the South West of Lancashire, England. Over 20,000 people live
in the town. Sadly, today there are no more mines and no more cotton mills.
Known locally as Bent, its history goes back a surprisingly long way.
Romano-Celtic coins have been found by the side of a stream in a place known as The Valley and in 2003, at Gadbury Fold off Atherleigh Way, archaeologists from Manchester University unearthed evidence of a Roman road and Bronze Age settlement at a multi-million pound business and leisure park development.
The dig at the 300-acre Gibfield Park site in Atherton revealed fragmentary remains of the badly damaged road, which linked Roman forts at Manchester and Wigan and also revealed that mining had been carried out on the site since at least the 14th century.
The archaeologists also discovered evidence of iron smelting in the 16th century.
Assistant county archaeologist for Greater Manchester, Norman Redhead, said: "If this ditch does date to the Bronze Age, it would mean there was human activity in the area 4,000 years ago."
Dig director Peter Connelly, said: "The existence of coal seams very close to the ground surface led the early pioneers of the coal mining industry to the area to carry out small-scale open-cast mining which shows the deep history of the mining tradition in Atherton."
Atherton was at one time also famous for over 600 years for the manufacture of nails, a particular type of which were known as sparables or "sparrow bills" because they were shaped as such. The foundries which replaced the nailworks made machines for the cotton mills early in the Industrial Revolution. A pub on Atherton's Market Street is named The Jolly Nailor. Other pubs in the street have for some reason best known to their owners been renamed - notably the Wheatsheaf and the King's Head - thus losing a link with Atherton's past.
The principal landowners in the early days were, naturally enough, the Atherton family. The "pedigree" is thought to go back to Robert de Atherton who was Sheriff of Lancashire in the reign of King John.
Nicholas Atherton was a retainer of the famous John of Gaunt and William and Nicholas Atherton were present at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
Chowbent was an area of the town which later became synonymous with Atherton itself. In 1642, during the English Civil War, there was a skirmish between the Royalists and the Roundheads there when the area was attacked by the Earl of Derby and his men. They were repulsed by 3,000 horse and foot and were chased to Lowton Common where several Royalists were killed and 200 taken prisoner. Chowbent nailors were prominent in the fight with their home-made bills and battle axes.
A Market has existed at Atherton for hundreds of years - the first written reference about it being in 1693. Until recent times there was a Market near the Parish Church of St John the Baptist every Friday. Sadly, this petered out around 2003. Another facet of the town lost.
The following is a description of Chowbent from the Lancashire Gazetteer, of Joseph Aston in 1808:
CHOWBENT, 2 1/2 miles N.E. of Leigh, 10 miles W.N.W. of Manchester, and 195 miles from London, is in the township of Atherton, and parish of Leigh, under which it has a chapel of ease; patron, Atherton Gwillum, Esq. It has likewise a large dissenting chapel, belonging to a congregation of Presbyterians. This place affords employment for many weavers and nailors, (the later being the original trade of the place) and though it is not a market town, there are many such, which have nothing like the population which Chowbent can boast.
The Parish Church was designed by the renowned architects Messrs Paley and Austin of Lancaster. It is the third such building on the site. A small red-brick Presbyterian chapel was built in 1645 and replaced in 1810 by a larger church. which was demolished 67 years later to be replaced by the present one which took 20 years to complete.
Built in Perpendicular style, it has a Tower 120 feet high and the church itself is 127 feet long and 60 feet wide. The Tower has a distinct lean due to the consequences of old coal-mining workings.
The church is built of Runcorn stone and it was cleaned in 1973 to reveal beautiful colouring underneath the decades of grime which had accumulated as a result of the outpourings of the many factory chimneys in the area.
Chanters is an old farmhouse which was built in 1678 and now sits somewhat incongruously on a modern housing estate.
The slightly later Alder House also still stands and is a private house after many years use as a clinic. This was built in 1697 by Ralph Astley and his wife Ann. It is thought he was an iron merchant who supplied the nailmakers of Chowbent with the raw material before taking it back as finished work.
According to tradition ,he and his wife were struck by lightning at the same time and are buried in the chapel yard close by.
In 1715, the lives of the Chowbenters became entangled in a very important historical event which affected the rest of English history.
The Parson of Chowbent Chapel - James Wood - gathered together around 80 members of his congregation and marched north to Preston where they were set the task of guarding the ford at Penwortham against the Scottish Jacobite attackers of the 1715 uprising.
Armed mainly with their home-made pikes, bill-hooks and pitchforks, they fought with valour and won the day and formed a decisive part of the battle. The Parson was from that day given the nickname of "General" James Wood. (The General was minister at Chowbent for more than 60 years following his father who had served in the same post for almost 40 years. When he became infirm in his late 80's, the Chowbenters carried this beloved man to the chapel in a sedan chair.)
The brave Chowbenters, for their pains, were ejected from their chapel in 1721 by the landowner "Mad" Richard Atherton whose father had been a firm supporter of King James the Second. They carried on with their worship in barns.
Undaunted, these defiant Lancastrians then built their own chapel on land donated to them a short distance away. The story of how they did this was written for posterity in "The Story of Chowbent Chapel" by J.J. Wright in 1921. (Reprints of this fantastic book are now available from Atherton Library at five pounds with profits going to the Chapel. I highly recommend it*)
By a superhuman effort on the part of the congregation, the new chapel was ready for worship in 1722.
The building still stands in Bolton Old Road, Atherton and is a tribute to the craftsmanship and determination of those long-gone Chowbenters. It is now Chowbent Unitarian Chapel and to visit it is like stepping back in time to experience the peace of the chapel and the beauty of its old oak box pews, gallery and triple-decker pulpit. It is a remarkable place.
"General" Jimmy died in 1759 at the considerable age of 87, well loved by his flock.
From an extract of "Philosophical Transactions" for 1775, it is stated that the population of Chowbent (ie. Atherton) in 1772 was 354 males and 606 females.
In 1774, John Wesley preached at Chowbent describing the inhabitants of the area as such: "It was lately a den of lions but they are now all quiet as lambs".
In his Journal he wrote: "Chowbent was once the roughest place in the neighbourhood. But there is not yet the least trace remaining, such is the fruit of the genuine Gospel"
Another visitor to the area was travel writer Dorning Rasbotham in 1787 who said:" Several families have acquired fortunes by making spinning jennies and carding machines which they send into Scotland, Ireland and different parts of the Kingdom. Some of the mechanics do not keep less than 30 journeymen employed in the business".
Mad Richard began his own construction in 1723 -Atherton Hall which was intended to be the new family seat. Built
on a grand scale (at a cost then of GBP63,000) with its own lake and a fancy bridge guarded by stone lions, it was never fully completed as Richard died in 1726. This grand building was demolished in the 1820's although parts of it remain and are lived in to this
day. There was a story that when the bells of Leigh Parish Church struck 12 o'clock on New Year's Eve, the lions used to dive off the bridge into the lake and some people gathered there to witness this!
It is thought that the Hall's grounds hosted the Chowbent Horse Races which took place in the 1770's. On the 26th July 1775, there was a race for the not insubstantial sum of GBP50. There is also a record of bull baiting having taken place in Chowbent as late as 1840.
As the Industrial Revolution took hold, the local handloom weavers were fearful for their livelihoods and in 1812, the
Luddites marched from Atherton to nearby Westhoughton to burn down a factory in which new machines driven by steam had been installed.
Three local men and a boy of 14 were caught and hanged at Lancaster Castle. A cart was sent to the castle to retrieve their bodies - it was sent back empty.
inventor of the Spinning Mule, Samuel Crompton himself, once ordered a carding
machine in the 1780's from a machine maker named Cannon in Chowbent.
In 1777, the population of Chowbent was given as 2,200; in 1801, it was 3,249; in 1811 it numbered 3,894; in 1821, 4,145; in 1831, 4,181. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was over 16,000 due to the development of pits, cotton mills and foundries.
came from Wales and Ireland to work and be made welcome in the Atherton
community, along with miners from the Forest of Dean. Their many descendants
live there today.
In 1828, the railway age came early to the town with the opening of the Bolton-Leigh line which passed through Atherton. The world famous George Stephenson himself had built an engine which was brought to the Hulton estate on the outskirts of the town where it was christened "The Lancashire Witch". Rails were laid and the pulling power of this new mode of transport was demonstrated with 13 wagons carrying the passengers. Later, it was demonstrated how much coal could be carried.
The Lancashire Witch had two furnace flue tubes which joined together at the front into a single chimney. Robert Stephenson also added nozzles in the firegrate through which air was pumped by bellows in the tender. Using this method it was possible to burn coke rather than coal and therefore reduced the amount of smoke produced. Weighing only seven tons, the Lancashire Witch could pull a load of 40 tons up an incline of 1 in 440 at 8 mph (13 kph).
The cylinders were placed on each side of the boiler that inclined at about forty-five degrees. The pistons drove the front wheels directly. This made her the first locomotive with steel springs on all wheels.
The Lancashire Witch.
An inventor closer to home was the brilliant Professor Eric Laithwaite - born in Atherton in 1921. He designed the world's first magnetically levitating train - the MagLev. In an interesting parallel with the Stephenson concept, a mile of track was built and the locomotive was tested but in a short-sighted move, the project was abandoned by the Government.
A former professor of Heavy Engineering at Imperial College, London, he also worked during the war at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough on automatic pilots.
At the age of 76, shortly before he died, he was working with America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration - NASA - who had commissioned him to develop a five-mile long track to be tunnelled inside a 10,000 feet high mountain which would hurtle a capsule into space not with conventional rocket propulsion but powered by the professor's beloved linear motors.
Someday, I hope a statue to this very brilliant man will be erected in the town in which he was born. * See story below...
Talking of transport, Atherton was once the headquarters of the L.U.T. - Lancashire United Transport
- one of the biggest privately-run bus companies in the country at that time. Behind the office block on Leigh Road, the generating station provided power for the area and also for the trolley buses which ran in the district.
Coal was important to Atherton and brought prosperity to the town. It also brought tragedy when on December 21st, 1910 one of the worst-ever pit disasters in history occurred at the Pretoria Mine where an explosion killed 333 men, shattering the lives of many a family in the area. A yearly service still takes place to honour the memory of these brave colliers every Christmas.
The partnership of the Fletcher Burrows families dominated the local coal-mining scene. They adopted a paternalistic attitude towards the people in their employ: building model housing ; a school; a church; a social club; pithead baths and forming mines rescue teams all based at Howe Bridge. Some of the buildings exist today and are well worth going to see.
An Atherton invention saved the life of many coal miners. This was the Butterfly clip invented by Thomas Ormerod which checked the rewinding of a mining cage. It can be seen carved on his tombstone in Atherton Cemetery.
Band music was an
Atherton Temperance Prize Band and Atherton Public Band flourished for quite a
while. Records of the Temperance Band, from 1927-1959, are held by Wigan MBC
Archives Service. Atherton Public
Band was active in the 1930s/40s
and competed in the First Annual Brass Band Contest organised by Wigan Borough
Prize Band in 1943 (conducted by A Fairclough). More info on the Temperance Band
In 1916, the miners from six pits formed the Atherton Collieries Football Club and by 1964\65 they had won the Lancashire Junior Shield six times and produced footballers who have gone on to play with clubs such as Manchester United and Everton.
The "Colls" have a loyal following as do their counterparts in the town - Laburnum Rovers FC. The slope on both pitches has to be seen to be believed.
In 1966, the last of the many coalmines closed down and brought an end to an important part of Atherton's history. Generations of cotton and coal workers were consigned to a footnote of history.
The great cotton mills came and went...and with them the jobs of local people.
Atherton still survives - a proud and defiant Lancastrian town - but touched, as are a lot of towns, by the troubles of the modern age.
New hope exists for the community as a multi-million regeneration scheme is being put in place which may yet prove its salvation. It remains to be seen. Any employer thinking of relocating or opening up a factory or industrial unit would do well to consider Atherton. You would have a ready-made (and good-humoured) workforce.
But whatever the future brings, Atherton has made its mark on the past and, let us hope, with the help of its young people, it may still have a part to play in tomorrow's world.
Good owd Bent!
ALDER HOUSE, CHOWBENT
I reproduce this article from an edition of The Carbon of July 1921 which gives an insight into Alder House and its owners. Despite being given by the Fletcher Burrows family to the people of Atherton, it was acquired by Wigan Council and later sold by them to a private owner for GBP1. The Alder House Action Group was started in the early 1980's by a group of Athertonians wanting to take over the house for the benefit of the community but were not granted their wishes. The group later became Atherton Heritage Society.
The following historical note relating to Alder House is a very interesting one.
The name, Alder Fold, was changed by the late Miss Withington to Alder House about 100
years ago. It was originally a farm of about 33 statute acres, with a small house, barn and
cottages and must have belonged at one period to the Atherton family, as there is still paid
to the estate a fee farm, or modus rent, of GBP1 1s 10p per year, but when and how it became
a separate possession modern owners have no record. The original farm house and cottages
are very old; one of the bedrooms is still covered with the original pollard oak boards,
probably grown upon the estate, and many centuries old. . The house known as Alder House
was built by Ralph Astley and Ann, his wife, in 1697. He was related in some way to the
family of Sir Thomas Tyldesley, who was slain in the battle of Wigan. Over the porch in
rude form are represented the three fields of the family, with a device of his own, being a
mixture of the arms of Gray's Inn, London, of which he was said to have been a member,
with the motto of that Inn, the first verse of the 46th Psalm, " God is our refuge and
strength, etc."; underneath it is the head of a barrister, with his wig. At that time Atherton
was mainly a village of nailmakers, and he appears to have been an iron merchant, probably
supplying the workmen with the raw material and taking it back in finished work, as by
tradition he did a large trade with Ireland. From a letter of his lawyer's, dated June
25th, 1723, he seems to have been hasty tempered, for in it he says :-" I would have you
discourse with Mr. Atherton in the manner we mentioned yesterday, and, if possible, keep
your temper." He died September 30th, 1721, and Ann, his wife, August 29th, 1727-having
been both struck by lightning at the same time, according to tradition. They are buried in
the chapelyard close by. At their death the estate went to the Mort family, of Astley, most
likely to Thomas Mort, of Damhouse, who was living in 1733. A descendant, Nathan Mort,
father of John Mort, is said by one account to have come to live with John at. the house
from Damhouse, Astley, the crows following him upon his removal, upon which tradition has
it that John said :" The very fowls of the air know that I have been robbed of the
inheritance," there having been some legal disputations. John Mort was intended for the
ministry, but, owing to having an impediment in his speech, he declined all advance to that
end and when he was 19 years of age, went to Nottingham and bound himself apprentice to
a stocking weaver, returning home to become a. manufacturer of fustians, and to some
extent a cotton spinner, most likely by hand or very small water wheels;; the earliest known
in this neighbourhood being at the Woodlands, just over the border of Atherton in Hulton;
the next one used for carding cotton at Lodge Farm, Atherton. It may interest some persons
to know Mr. Mort's prices for cotton yarn in 1740 - 44s. to 52s. 2d 1/2d. per skein; 52s. to
62s. 2 3/4d. per skein; and 62s 3d upwards per skein-the bulk of the yarn then made would
be much coarser. From an extract from the volume of " Philosophical Transactions " for
1775, it is therein stated that the population of Chowbent (Atherton) in about. 1772 was
354 males and 606 females.
Mr. John Mort, the last of the family died on January 12th, 1788, in the 86th year of his
age. The following lines written by the celebrated Mrs. Barbauld when upon a visit to Mr.
Mort, fully describe his character:-
" Happy old man who, stretched beneath the shade
Of large grown trees, or in the rustic porch
With woodbine canopied (where linger yet.
The hospitable virtues) calm enjoys!
Nature's best blessing all, a, healthy age,
Ruddy and vigorous, native cheerfulness,
Plain-hearted friendship, simple piety,
The rural manners and the rural joys,
Friendly to life, though rude of speech, yet rich
In genuine worth; not unobserved shall pass
Thy bashful virtues, for muse shall mark,
Detect thy charities, and call to light
Thy secret deeds of mercy; while the poor,
The desolate and friendless, at thy gate,
A numerous family, with better praise
Shall hallow in their hearts thy spotless name."
The large grown trees above mentioned were beech trees and were cut down by the late.
John Unsworth, timber merchant and sold to the contractor, and were used as piles for the
foundations of the Sankey Viaduct, Newton-le-Willows. It is said that Mr. Mort was
carried from under them into the house where he expired.
John Mort left all his property to his partner Peter Valentine, whose family lived 'with him
many years. He died in 1794, aged 46 years. The business was continued for some time, the
family taking young gentlemen into the house to learn the business.
A pane of glass is scratched: T. K. for Kinnard, T Sneyd and others dated 1793.
One Maltby, of the family of the then Bishop of Durham, hanged himself in a portion of the
house, what was the warehouse, now taken down. The tradition is the Valentines lost
heavily in the wars by privateers taking their goods when on vessels on the high seas. Peter
Valentine the younger, inherited the property after his father's death. He was a talented
man, and of some learning.
After living in America for many years he came home and died unmarried in 1843.
The last of the family died about 56 years ago. The only fact of public interest may be in a
then cottage, now a part of the house, in which the father and mother of a one-time
Member for this Division lived for a time, Caleb Wright, M.P. who from thence when 11
years of age, often before half-past five in the morning, was merrily on his way to the mills
at Tyldesley to begin practically a 13 hours day, and who could well remember the spot
where he rested his weary frame on his return home at night, and then Miss Withington
oft-times supplying his brothers and sisters from the abundance of her own table.
On a brass plate upon a tomb in the chapel-yard is the following:-" This monument was
erected by John Mort, to honour the memory of Adam Mort and Martha., his Wife, who,
after a. short but well-spent life in conjugal happiness, in the fear of God, and in the
service of their generation, were together summoned to share the glorious resurrection to
eternal life, and receive the reward of the faithful. August, 1730,"
THE MEMOIRS OF ATHERTON OVER 82 YEARS
was given to me by Steve Glover of Chowbent Chapel. It was written by
Athertonian Robert Greenhalgh in 1936 when he was 82 years old and is a
fantastic look at the history of Atherton as he remembered it. Mr. Greenhalgh's
grandson, Mr. Ken Greenhalgh of Anglesey, gave it to the chapel for their
archives. What is almost unbelievable is that Robert remembers talking to
his great grandfather who was born just before the American Declaration of
Independence was signed!
"I am now in my 83rd year and was born in Atherton in the year 1855 during the Crimean War. I have thought that I could record some historical facts and reminiscences that would be interesting to Athertonians and bring back to their memories many events that have been forgotten.
Atherton at this time consisted of one long straggling street: Bolton Old Road, Church Street and Market Street. Bolton New Road had been made 40 or 50 years before and was very sparsely built on.
At this time, and for many years after, the name of the village was Chowbent although the station on the Bolton & Kenyon railway line, which had been opened about 20 years before, was called Atherton.
One feature of Bolton Old Road which must strike one very forcibly was the number of public houses. This is probably accounted for by the fact that it was one of the principal stage coach roads from Yorkshire through Bolton to Liverpool, Chester and North Wales and it seems to me that, with the evolution of the road motor it is once more resuming this traffic. In my time there were, in the following order: The Blue Bell, Lord Nelson, Rope and Anchor, Farriers Arms, Brown Cow, Beehive, Another and Then, Travellers Rest, Swan, Bears Paw, Bulls Head, Queens Head, Kings Head, Woolpack, Jolly Nailor, Wheatsheaf, Punch Bowl and Rampant Lion. Eight of the above houses have been closed and perhaps as many new ones opened. The population at present must be at least 10 times as great.
At the period I am writing about, the houses could be open all the hours of the week, night and day. I well remember an incident that occurred in my apprentice days just after the restriction of the 11 o'clock closing time. We were repairing a colliery winding engine which had broken down and, as was usual in those days, the manager sent one of the labourers with a two gallon bottle for the allowance beer to the Bull & Butcher at Dangerous Corner just before closing time. In a short time the labourer, who had a serious impediment in his speech, came staggering back with only the handle of the bottle in his hand and managed to say incoherently "I've fawn un broken t'bottle" The managers words were "tha has .… fire as like," I don't like to quote the exact words but needless to say they were most emphatic. The missing H was perfectly aspirated and, after some very pungent criticisms of the government, work was resumed and the repairs finished.
Chowbent at this time could, I feel sure, be described as being, if not a lovely village, a very quaint one with quite a decent rivulet running through a ravine known as The Valley. It had a few very good houses in its midst.
The first two after leaving the junction of the old and new roads, on a site now covered by the Iron Church, were occupied by the Fletcher and Sanderson families. These houses were finely situated with extensive grounds, gardens and vineries in which there was an abundance of grapes grown at that time, more of a luxury than they are today.
One of the houses had what I thought was a fine entrance portico which, on dismantling, was sold to Dr Sephton of Culcheth and it stands there today. The Fletchers, who lived at the Laburnums, I remember possessed a sledge, not one put together out of an old orange box and a few nails, but one that had evidently been brought up in a more favourable climate for sledging. It must have felt a bit undignified when being driven, as I have seen it, on the foundry dam. The foundry dam was then an attractive sheet of water. It supplied the water wheel that was the motive power for working the old foundry. I can remember on one or two occasions in a dry summer going with a messenger to ask Mr Hulton to let some water out of the Hulton Dam, which was on the same stream.
The Hulton Dam at that time was as picturesque and was as well surrounded by trees and shrubs as any lake I have seen in the Lake District. At this time the Foundry Dam was filled with pure clear water in which vegetation flourished and was well supplied with fish. I have seen bucketsful caught when the dam had to be run off for cleaning the sludge and usually these fish were taken to Mr A. Sylvesters, Alder House, a very good house overlooking the valley where he had a fishpond. He had also a vinery in which he grew pineapples, the only place in this neighbourhood where I have seen them growing. Alder House is now a welfare home owned by the Urban District Council given, I believe, by Messrs Fletcher Burrows & Co.
I have a copy of a plan of the Alfred Mort Estate, which was extracted by the late T. Hoyle Hope from a deed of early 18th century which shows the position of Alder Fold. I think it is worthwhile to make a copy of this as ii shows Chows Tenement which Mr Hope always contended was the origin of the name Chowbent. I have heard him say that it was a corruption of Chows Bend. This plan also shows how well wooded the estate was. In 1861 the postmaster general refused to change the name of the post office from Chowbent to Atherton. It remained for another generation to effect this change.
The works in Chowbent, as far as I can remember, consisted of 3 spinning mills: Bag Lane, Barracks and Bridgefoot, each of which I have seen burnt down. Dan Lane Mill at present a doubling mill was used for making textile machinery. There were 4 bolt works, the old foundry, two or three works making spindles and flys, a clay pipe works and a goodly number of small nailmakers whose workplaces were for some reason or other were called Rocks, which were very often in cellars. Chowbent was famous for making boot nails which were known in the trade as sparrowbills. I do not know how they became associated with Chowbent and also Chowbent Sparrowbill Dumplings which became familiar to people in districts situate in long radiuses from Chowbent. It always appeared to me a marvellous craftmanship which enabled the nailers to make two sparrowbills in one hammering; it always fascinated me.
There were many collieries belonging to Messrs John Fletcher and others. Some of these mines were quite shallow. I remember one near Chanters Farm which was called the ladder pit. The inlet and exit was by means of ladders.
The places of worship at this time, say 1859, were, The Parish Church, The Unitarian Chapel, The Baptist Chapel and I remember Mr J. Rawlinson conducted a sort of missionary service in his ironmongers shop on the site very nearly where the church tower stands today. In 1859 a few gentlemen got together and decided to start a cotton mill. I think it was one of the first mills built within a radius of some miles to take advantage of the Limited Liability Act and so The Atherton Spinning Co Ltd was formed. Amongst the first directors were:
Mr John Warburton - Atherton Mr Thomas Silcock - Tyldesley
Mr Jonathan Hesketh - Atherton Mr Peter Greenhalgh - Atherton
Mr Isaac Bolton - Bolton Mr Phillip Manley - Atherton Secretary
Names nearly all forgotten by the present generation.
My earliest recollection was the building of the foundations for the engines. Mr Chadwick of Leigh was the contractor for this work. I well remember the huge ponderous stones that were required. Today no stones would be used as cement is entirely used for this purpose. As I lived not more than 100 yds from this work, one Saturday afternoon when I was about 5 years old, I must have been so interested and curious that I went when all was quiet to investigate what was going on and, unfortunately, I fell down in the foundations and cut a piece out of my leg, giving me a reminder that exists today. I suppose I made as big a noise as I could and somebody came and rescued me out of my difficulty.
The engines that were put in were very fine specimens of engineering made by John Hick of Bolton. They were a pair of high-pressure beam engines about 800 horse power. These a few years after were what engineers called McNaughted, that is two additional cylinders were added and made into compound engines. Of the other engines which subsequently the company had to acquire I had a good deal to do with. First the replacement of the beam engines with a pair of horizontal engines by John Musgrave and Sons. A pair of triple expansion engines by Woods about 1000 horse power and another pair by Yates & Thorn about 1000 horse power also a pair of compound engines by John Musgrave & Sons about 800 horse power. I think the above was a group of mill engineers that were unequalled in the world but, strange to say, with the exception of Hick Hargreaves have, for one reason or another, gone Out of existence. I can only account for it by the development of the steam turbine, electric driving and the diesel engine. My own firm, who have made scores of engines, principally winding and hauling engines, have not made an engine for at least 20 years. The first large winding engine we made was ordered by Mr John Gregory at Dangerous Corner but, for some reason that I forget, it was completed for Mr John Speakman and is working at the Woodend Colliery today although it is about 65 years since it was built.
But to revert to the Atherton Spinning Co. For the first few years they went through a precarious time. Just as they were about to start spinning, the fierce American Civil War started so for a long period there was no supply of cotton, the mill did no spinning and there was great distress in Atherton. A relief fund was started and, as I happen to have a balance sheet of this fund, it may be of interest if I give an extract showing a list of those who subscribed sums of overGBP6. Altogether a sum of GBP1,354.7s 2d was subscribed.
Lord Lilford 300.00 John Norbury 50.00
Lady Lilford 20.00 Mrs Diggle 36.00
Dowager Lady Lilford 60.00 Alfred Sylvester 30.00
Manchester Relief 230.00 MiIIar Selby 30.00
Mansion House Comm. 150.00 Thos. Lee 30.00
J. Fletcher & Others 120.00 John Hall 20.00
Jas Burton & Sons 75.00 Carr & Nichols 12.00
A Friend per Mr. Sylvester 10.00 T.E. Withington 10.00
Jonathan Hesketh 6.00 John Warburton 6.00
Win. Hesketh 6.00 Win. Shakeshaft 6.00
J.D. Selby 6.00 Thos. Carr 6.00
Ralph Pool 6.00 Ralph Unsworth 6.00
Richard Manley 6.00 George Marsland 6.00
Thos. Carr, Auditor Geo. Marsland, Auditor Thos. Lee, Secretary
The Atherton Spinning Co passed through many vicissitudes and trials. I may be excused in mentioning that my father was a promoter of the mills and was a director for nearly 50 years and chairman for many years and I was a director for 27 years until the concern was taken over by the new company changing its name to Atherton Mills.
About the time of the building of the first mill, King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, was married to Queen Alexandria. To celebrate this event the only floral arch that I remember in Atherton was erected across the street from the mill offices. I do not know who was responsible for its erection.
I am very foggy about any laws which governed the attendance at schools in my young days but, as far as my recollection goes, there did not seem to be any control or compulsion at all. You could please yourself whether you went to school or not. I started my literary training by attending an academy when I was about 4 years old so that I had a pretty early start. I dare say there were very good reasons for this. One was that my brother, Richard, was a student there and most likely my parents thought it was a cheap way of keeping me out of mischief. I am not sure whether the fee was one penny or two pence per week. However, this important event must have left a deep impression on my mind as I distinctly remember, on entering the school, seeing the late Mr. Thomas Hamer sitting by the fire peeling potatoes for the mistresses dinner. I suppose that, because he was the senior scholar, it would entitle him to be promoted to this high post. I was destined in later years to work and play with him in a great many capacities; in holiday travel, educational and social work and lastly, until his death, on judicial work on the bench at the Leigh Courts.
The school was conducted by Miss Green. It was simply a cottage at the top end of a street that was always known as the Barracks, now called Cannon Street. Just as I am writing it is being dismantled under the slum clearance act. So far as I can remember the scholastic needs of Chowbent were served by the following schools: The Lane Top, always called by this name up to a few years ago, is now known as Hesketh Fletcher Senior School and the head of this school was Mr Broadbent; Miss Green's School in the Barracks; Mr Ralph Dunster's School in Bolton Old Road; Miss Davies at the corner of the Walk which was at that time a rather pretentious house but the school was behind over a stable and, by a singular coincidence, is also being dismantled. Miss Davies's School was looked on as a rather high class academy for what you may call finishing off. I can recall many names of ladies who passed through this school afterwards became well known in society in both Tyldesley and Atherton. I recall that the art of knitting was one of the prominent accomplishments in the curriculum. I must not omit to mention a school that was conducted by Miss Hesketh in the house now used as the Atherton Estate Office. Miss Hesketh was most urbane and a gracious lady and one to whom many people in Atherton were greatly indebted for her many kindnesses. Her brother, who I as a lad used to regard as the most courteous gentleman that I had ever met, but he suffered I think from locomotive ataxia and he had many other troubles but Miss Hesketh gave him a home and comfort to the end.
After leaving Miss Green's I was put for a time under the care of Mr Dunster who was a man of many parts, combining his rather limited literary attainments with that of lettering gravestones at which he was certainly an expert as can be seen today in the nearby chapel graveyard, as I think he carved most of them. He also regarded himself as an artist but I think most of his critics did not give him very high rank in his painting. However, I do know that he brought to a friend of mine for criticism a portrait supposed to be Mrs Esther Cowsil but he explained that he was not quite satisfied with it so he put on a few whiskers and converted it into a good likeness of Mr James Croft.
In due course I was put under the care of Miss Davies for a year or two until a new school was opened by Mr Elliot in the lower schoolroom of the Unitarian School. This was a fairly good school which attracted boys from the surrounding districts - a good number coming from Tyldesley but I think it was not a financial success as we had three different masters in about 4 years.
I commenced work at the foundry when I was 13 years of age at a salary of two shillings and sixpence per week. When I was 14 years old the first science and art school for a radius of a good many miles was opened at Tyldesley under the auspices of Mr W. Lomax who spent for years endless of time in promoting the welfare of these classes. The first subject taught was geometrical and mechanical drawing taught by Mr Stott. This class was attended by students of variable ages ranging from 14 to 50 years of age. I was the youngest. In the first exam in 1869 I got a first class certificate and obtained a prize. I attended this class for a few years and afterwards became a teacher in the class.
When I look back I am surprised that several students tramped from Atherton to Tyldesley at night when there were no vehicles, no lamps on the Tyldesley Old Road, a walk of at least 3 miles in all sorts of weather. We must have had a stronger incentive to improve ourselves than prevails today. It astonishes me that with the better conditions and facilities given now and with all the inducements there are so few comparatively who take advantage of the excellent schools that exist today.
But to resume my own educational course. When I was 17 years old, the Rev M.C. Frankland suggested it would be a good idea if Mr Phillip Peake and myself could have a course at Owens College and if our parents would consent he would prepare us for the entrance exam. We got consent and for several months we went to Mr Frankland's house at 6 o'clock in the morning once a week but when the time came to go to college it was found that Phillip could not go. I disliked the idea of staying in lodgings in Manchester and, as the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway had not even been thought of then, I had to walk to Tyldesley station and by rail to Ordsall Lane then to walk to college, making a walk of about 7 miles per day. This made a rather strenuous day. After three sessions at college some of my friends suggested that I could compete for a Whitworth Scholarship, which I did, and succeeded in 1876. At this period, besides the theoretical exam, the competitors had to compete in practical work at the works of Sir Joseph Whitworth and it was in this practical work that I was able to excel my competitors.
In early days Chowbent's only water supply was by means of wells. These were dotted all over the place. To name the principal ones: a pump in Park Street, a well with a windlass over it at Gib Fold Farm; a well in Water Street near where the Fire Station is now; a well and pump in what was then known as "Pump Fowt" but today named Lord Street; three wells in the Valley and a few pumps in private houses:one in the Parsonage where Mr Frankland ( a Chowbent Minister) lived, one in Manor House where I lived for a few years.
The business of carrying water was a very formidable one but about the year 1766 an arrangement was being made by the authorities for a supply from Manchester but I think Tyldesley, after investigating the possibility of making a reservoir at "Cut Acre Clough" about 1866, stepped in and made an agreement with Manchester on the understanding that they were to supply a certain quantity to Atherton and an agreement was made between the two townships but in this agreement I believe there was nothing said in it about pressure and this lapse was the cause of an expensive law suit.
As time went on, the Tyldesley supply began to run short but, as Tyldesley got the first pull, they could get enough and Atherton had to go short as the pressure at the boundary was so small that it could not find its way into Atherton only occasionally when Tyldesley was not using much. Of course the state of things led to trouble and irritation on both sides so at last it was decided to test the problem in the Law Courts.
The judge ruled that the word quality mentioned in the agreement did not mean that there need be pressure in the water. He said if it would only run out of a teacup it would fulfil the contract. This led to a very serious position for Atherton and much cogitation as to what should be done.
The result of this was that I was appointed as engineer to get out some scheme to get over the difficulty. We got out levels and found, fortunately, that at the point where the water had to be delivered was the very lowest level that it could get to in Tyldesley, so the conclusion came to was to construct a tank at this lowest level and let the water in without requiring any pressure and then to pump it at our leisure and get any pressure that we desired. I made plans for this scheme. For I suppose financial reasons a deputation had to interview the powers that be in London, so the Chairman of the Board, Mr A. Hope, Mr Crippin, Mr T. Smith, Mr D. Schofield and myself had this interview and got consent to proceed.
The scheme, after many difficulties, was complete and Atherton could get as much water as she required and at an adequate pressure which soon aroused much consternation amongst our Tyldesley neighbours, so much so that they decided that it would be as well if a new agreement between Atherton, Tyldesley and Manchester should be negotiated and this was done and thus made the Hindsford pumping station obsolete. It now lies there today most likely rusting away. During the time all this trouble was going on an additional supply from Bolton was arranged and so Atherton is today fairly well supplied with water. I seem to have been involved a good deal with water difficulties in Atherton.
The Atherton Spinning Co were for many years at cross purposes with the Hulton Colliery Co on the matter of pollution of the Carr Brook which supplied their reservoirs and, as a director, I had to take part in solving this problem. The parties involved in this case were Laburnum Spg Co, Gamble & Smith, Bouth & Co, Leigh Dying Go, Jones Bros, all of whose works were on this stream. We appointed Mr Stephens of Banks Fairclough to make investigation and report. I should like here to testify to his ability as an expert in assembling all the necessary facts. He was a man who it was most desirable to have on your side rather than against you. It will be remembered that he represented Tyldesley against Atherton and I should think it would be he who would persuade the judge in that action that the quality of the water supply did not include pressure. After years of protest we went to the court for redress before Vice Chancellor Smith. It was, I remember, about the most anxious time I ever experienced. I was in the witness box about 5 hours explaining to the court, amongst other things, how I had in my young days seen trout caught in the Foundry Dam half the length of my arm.
This statement apparently gave our opposing counsel an opportunity to air his forensic sarcasm by several references to Mr Greenhalgh's fish story. However, the result of the action was that we got an injunction with a recommendation that we should, under the circumstances of the war which had just started, contrive to prevent the closing of the pits and we did come to an arrangement that if it were necessary we could use towns water and that the Hulton Colliery Co were to pay a certain portion of the expenses, the defendants to pay damages and costs. This arrangement continued for about 20 years when trouble started again, Hulton Colliery maintaining that, as they had ceased polluting the stream, the charges should be dropped.
In conclusion I would like to record a rather interesting account and unusual fact that I knew personally two of my great grandfathers.
One was my grandfather's father, Mr. Wright Greenhalgh, who is buried in the chapel graveyard in Bolton Old Road. He was 84 years of age and I attended his funeral in 1862 so he must have been born in 1778. It seems strange that I must have talked with a person who was two years of age when the American Declaration of Independence was declared also that he would be a youth at the time of the French Revolution. Another rather curious thing, he lived within two hundred yards from where I reside today.
*The Story of Chowbent Chapel is a must for anyone interested in Atherton's past as it also gives a great insight into what made the character of the people of the area. Also available from the local history section of Leigh Library is the Bedford-Leigh Postal Directory of 1885 which also covers Atherton and Tyldesley and is a fascinating glimpse into who lived where and what their occupations were. Great for tracing the family tree. Around GBP5. There are also hundreds of reference books, microfiche files and a local historian to help anyone interested in tracing their background.
A Genius from Atherton - Eric Laithwaite:
Magnetic train travel will put professor on map
from Leigh Journal - Jan 2003.
AN Atherton-born scientist who died five years ago after Britain snubbed his maverick ideas on train travel has finally achieved his goal from beyond the grave.
China has launched its GBP750 million new magnetic train, the brainchild of Atherton's Professor Eric Laithwaite -- and hailed as the fastest, non-polluting train in the world.
Sadly, Prof Laithwaite, born in Atherton in 1921 and who served in the RAF during the Second World War, retired disappointed in the 1970s after his Hovertrain -- designed on similar lines at Maglev -- was abruptly cancelled by the Government.
He was labelled a crank but China has proved his critics wrong and experts are now predicting that he will soon be remembered as one of Britain's all-time greats.
China launched Maglev, which stands for magnetic levitation, with passengers describing the train as like "flying without wings".
The train, powered by magnets instead of fuel, made its first journey on New Year's Eve.
If the train is a success, there are plans to build an 800-mile connection to Beijing at a cost of GBP24 billion. Before his death in 1997, Prof Laithwaite said: "I have been saying what a good idea this was since 1947. "I didn't need anyone to pat me on the head and say that I was right. I always knew I was." Chances of the high speed train, which can reach speeds of 310 mph, of being built in Britain however are slim, according to railway experts because of high costs.
Mining in Atherton before the turn of the century - thirteen hour shifts for sixpence!
The following extract is taken from the June 1924 edition of Carbon - The magazine of the Atherton Collieries. (Price 2d).
Carbon was issued for a number of years and is a rich source of mining and general history for the town and surrounding areas at that time. There are many copies in the local history department of Leigh Library and are well worth taking a look at. If they were all re-printed in one large book, as a facsimile, I think they would sell really well.
A reminiscent chat with Mr. John Shaw, of Hamilton Street, Atherton, brings to light many interesting facts about the life of the miner many years ago. Mr. Shaw has been a loyal and hard-working servant of Messrs. Fletcher Burrows & Co., Ltd., and recently was the recipient of a certificate for 54 years' service with the firm.
Born in Westhoughton in the year 1844, Mr. Shaw came to Atherton when he was six months old. In his early days education was not compulsory, the poor people acquiring a small amount of learning at the Sunday School. He
remembers the old church wardens chasing children on Sundays in order to take them to church. Asked if he was ever taken to church he replied with a laugh :" No, they could never catch me."
In 1851, at the age of seven; Mr. Shaw started work at the " Old Gib " mine; his occupation being " manning doors." The working hours were very long, commencing at 6 a.m. and finishing often after 7 p.m. For this job he was paid 6d. per day.
Reckoning Monday," as pay day was then called, came every fortnight, when the mine was closed down.
There were boilers and two engines down' the "'Old Gib " pit and the air currents were regulated by means of the furnaces, which drew the air through the workings. Work was done by the light of candles stuck in clay, and the coal was dragged in boxes to the pit-shaft.
Mr. Shaw can recollect the time when-women were employed to drag the " tubs " by means of the belt and chain. Smoking was also allowed at work. " The miner's calling was not as easy as it is today," said Mr. Shaw, for they had to cut their own props and put tallies on the tubs to ensure safe arrival at the right working place.
When he retired 15 years ago, Mr. Shaw had worked down every mine belonging to Messrs. Fletcher, Burrows & Co., including the " Old Chain " and " Day Eye."
Nearly 52 years ago an explosion occurred at the " Old Chain " pit, when 40 men including a brother-in-law and nephew of Mr. Shaw were killed - he himself was away at Walkden, a very fortunate absenteeism for the explosion occurred near the place where he usually worked.
The underlooker was
Mr.Wm.Seddon, nicknamed William " Doctor."
The colliers in those days were very superstitious: the sight of a woman wearing a red cloak first thing in the morning being regarded as a sure sign of disaster, whilst a similar meeting with any other woman was looked upon as a prediction of one day's play.
Atherton at that time was only sparsely populated. Cock fighting, bull baiting, and horse racing were in vogue, the race-course being from the Central Station to Church Street. Cut Acre Clough was a favourite resort of wrestlers and many people used to journey to the " Sand Hole " at Leigh to witness cock fights.
On one occasion Mr. Shaw walked 18 miles to see a bare-knuckle fight, but on his arrival the scene of the combat had been raided by the police. During the whole time he worked down the mine he had never suffered from a serious illness and has very rarely been off work.
Peter Wood of New Zealand sent this amusing article to me...just shows how some things don't change I suppose..
found this gem in
the archives of The Times, dated 21 May 1872. Sounds like Christmas Eve in the
The grounds of Crystal Palace on a fine Whit Monday present one of the most amusing sights in London, and no one who happened to visit Alderley Edge, Dunham Park, or any of the popular places of resort in the manufacturing districts of the north of England at Whitsuntide could fail to be struck by the great difference in the behaviour and appearance of the holyday folks in the north and south on this occasion. As regards sobriety, demeanour, personal attractions, and, except among the lower classes of Londoners, taste in dress, the comparison tells decidedly in favour of the southerners, as may be seen by paying a visit to Sydenham in the summer, when cheap excursion trains have brought southward some of the Nottingham "lambs", the workers in the Staffordshire potteries, Yorkshire factory operatives, ironworkers from Sheffield and the Midland districts, the Rochdale "fellies", and some of the natives of Chowbent, distinguished among their countrymen of Wigan, Bolton and Manchester - but not for politeness. On such occasions it is painful to see the coarse rough horse-play between the men and women, and the great proportion of the men who have evidently been "soaking" during the whole trip.
CORONATION OF KING GEORGE V.
acquired a programme for Atherton's Celebrations of the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. It took place on June 22nd, 1911 and gives the order of proceedings etc.
They were led from the Town Hall by the Fire Brigade, followed by the Ambulance Corps, Atherton UDC (Rest in Peace!) councillors and officials; 14 schools and then "Tradesmen's Turnout".
"At a given signal at 10-45 am, the societies and schools will file into the Fair Ground FOUR DEEP. Immediately all are assembled, The Atherton Public Prize Band will play the tune (St Ann) once through, the people remaining silent.
The conductor, Mr Belshaw, will count three; all assembled to commence singing on the fourth beat. Three beats will also be counted between verses"
For Our Country began:
Lord, while for all mankind we pray
Of every clime and coast
O hear us for our native land
The land we love the most
"The following address to their Majesties, the KING and QUEEN will be read by the Chairman of the District Council, J S Burrows Esq JP:
"We the inhabitants of Atherton, desire to offer our Loyal and Affectionate Congratulations to your MAJESTIES on this your CORONATION DAY, and to Wish your MAJESTIES many Years of Happiness"
After the Address has been read, the Royal Standard will be waved by the Marshal. At this Signal, all are requested to give Three Hearty Cheers for the KING and QUEEN.
The Band will then play a verse of the NATIONAL ANTHEM and the following words will be sung, the Conductor counting three at the commencement, and between verses."
Then the United Procession proceeded throughout the town and the schools left to make their own celebrations.
On June 24th, a CORONATION TEA AND ENTERTAINMENT will be given to all Old People in Atherton of 60 years of age and upwards who have given their names in and received tickets.
On the back of the programme it says:
The Atherton Coronation Committee, who, as will be seen by this booklet, are doing what they can to make the LOCAL CELEBRATION worthy of the occasion, venture TO APPEAL TO all Public Bodies, Shop-Keepers and Householders generally to do their best by means of Flags, Banners, Bunting, Flowers, Pictures and other Decorations and Illuminations to make such a Festive Display on THURSDAY June 22nd, as becomes the Day and befits the Township.
The Committee would be pleased to see a good show of Tradesmen's Turnouts in the Procession.
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