The Parish Church of St. Thomas 1872 - 1972

Local History

Early Settlement

The earliest evidence of human activity In the district of Moorside and Sholver is shown by the discovery of flint head workings on Besom Hill, dating from between seven and ten thousand years ago. Between then and the Roman period, however, all details of settlement must be conjectural.

The Roman road, running from Manchester through Copster Hill, Glodwick and on to Castleshaw for the east, left Moorside apparently untouched, though it is possible that people lived here in Saxon times, as the name Barrow (for Barrowshaw) implies a hill or mound raised by the Saxons in memory of those fallen in battle.

By the year 900 there were certainly Norsemen resident in the Wirral peninsular, and in Withington by 1200. It has been suggested that the Norsemen penetrated as far as Sholver where they erected shielings, temporary huts in a remote pasture. The long Anglo-Saxon street village was replaced by an entirely different form of settlement in the areas colonised by the Scandinavians. At Sholver, the grey ring of cottages and farms betrayed its origin by its name and shape: it was the "erg of a farmer called skjolr" who came to these bleak rain soaked hills to clear ground for summer pasture, or a shieling.

On 12th May, 1971, H.M. Stationery Office published the findings of a royal commission on shielings and stated that they were "the huts built by herdsmen who drive their flocks to summer pastures in upland areas. This still occurs in parts of Europe and it was once widespread in the north of England, lingering on and leaving its traces in the Border counties." One of the authors of the report (Mr. H. G. Ramm) found "136 sites of one, two and occasionally three shielings in north east Cumberland and the adjoining parts of north Cumberland".

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The plan of the hamlet of Sholver changed little since the early Middle Ages. At the end of the seventeenth century the medieval timber and plaster dwellings were replaced by solid farms in the local grey sandstone, without substantial changes in the sites of the buildings. The cottages and farms were still grouped around a wide central oval green and, a century ago, the fields around were worked by yeoman farmers who lived in the hamlet. The freehold of these farms had been bought from the Prestwich family in the seventeenth century at the time when the settlement was largely rebuilt in stone.

James Butterworth describes Sholver as "a small village of great antiquity where the houses are chiefly built of stone, and have a rustic appearance," and describes a very pleasant retreat "in the neighbourhood of the cottages called the Dingle". Among early historical references to this area we find, in 1420, that Roger de Asheton held 36 acres of land which belonged to Gilbery Hulme in Sholver, while in April 1540, during the reign of Charles I, Robert Lytham carried out some measuring of Sholver moor.

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The Cotton Industry

Rural life, however, was transformed by the Industrial Revolution and a great change came over the hill farms of East Lancashire in the nineteenth century when many adventurous yeomen began to invest their capital in the rising industries of Oldham. The individual holdings in Moorside were gradually absorbed by Sholver Farm as yeomen farmers drifted away to try their luck in the boom-and-slump economy of the cotton towns.

Into this pattern falls James Mellodew who was born at Bluepits, Rochdale. in 1816, and engaged in hand-loom weaving and farming. After working in the fields at the age of 13, he turned towards Oldham where his elder brother, Thomas, had charge of the Wallshaw Mill as manager. They invented and patented a method of weaving cotton velvet cloth; Parkfield Mill was built out of the royalties from this.

While, in 1780, some families employed in woollens had left Oldham and its vicinity and had removed to Bradford in Wiltshire, there was a steady growth in the cotton industry. The merchants of Manchester, the commercial centre of the cotton industry, began to organise the manufacture of wool and linen in the surrounding countryside. By 1807 there were eight cotton mills and 236 houses in Oldham - 36 years earlier there had been almost "uninhabited wilderness . . . a pleasant heath that was signed out of existence by Act of Parliament."

Many of the mills were owned jointly by several small, manufacturers who themselves worked in the mill as operatives, and merely rented their portion of the mill; an arrangement not peculiar to Oldham. Of first importance was the manufacture of stronger cotton goods. James Butterworth writes of this parish (Oldham) displaying considerable skill in producing velveteen cords and other substantial fustians.

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The Significance of Coal

As the mill system developed and domestic industry, coal was essential, as evinced by the storeyed cottages of Sholver, declined, and Oldham was an important source of supply. James Butterworth claimed that "the Manchester market seems to prefer the coal dug in this parish before that of any other." As early as 1791 there were at least three known colliers in the Moorside area: Garside of Sholver, William Rhodes of Besom Hill and Edmund Kershaw of Sholver, while some of the early coal mines in the area-bell or beehive pits-date back as early as 1542.

Moorside and Thomas Mellodew

Moorside was a somewhat isolated community, at the very tips of the fingers of the municipal extremities, and still retained some of the characteristics of primitive Lancashire. Thomas Mellodew was unwilling, at the first suggestion, to open up business here, but the existence of some weaving activities and mill construction probably overcame his reserve about the district when he was compelled to leave his former place of manufacture.

Moreover, the village lay on the road maintained by the Oldham and Ripponden Trust. These turnpike roads had been created on account of the rapid growth in trade in the eighteenth century, the one running through Moorside had bars at Watersheddings and Grains for the collection of tolls (in 1865 the Corporation took over the repair of the roadways in the Borough). All coaches between Hull and Liverpool passed through the town daily, thus providing reasonable communications.

Initially Thomas Mellodew had run a number of looms as a velvet and fustian manufacturer at Vinegar Mill, Royton, with great success. In 1842 began the "plug" riots. He was one of the victims: he had warned the people that if they treated him as they had some of his neighbours he would close his mill, and never open it again. However, the mob did not heed the threat and they "drew the plug" from his lodge. Mr. Mellodew was incensed by this, closed the gates of his Mill, and never operated in Royton again.

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The Moorside Mills

In 1842, the same year in which the railway line was extended from Middleton to Werneth, Thomas Mellodew came to Moorside where he rented a mill called "Fronches Old Mill" shown on the maps of the time as Cowper's Mill, belonging to Samuel Lees, the father of Asa Lees, textile machinery maker, and Eli Lees who was running some looms in this mill. Eli Lees's firm was still weaving in Greenacres Road in 1972.

There is still standing up the short lane to Sunfield Avenue from the opposite side of the main road from Grafton Street, a row of houses known as "The Fronchies Row", a "cluster of cottages denominated Francisees." Perhaps the inhabitants of these were the first to weave in the area and it was natural for Mr. Lees to use the name for his mill, rented by Mr Mellodew.

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The Development of Moorside

Success attended the efforts of Thomas Mellodew and his business soon expanded. He began to purchase property and to erect dwellings until the whole of Moorside village, with the exception of a few houses, became his; the number of houses in his possession varying in estimate between 200 and 300. His interest in industry extended to the quarry at the foot of Besom Hill with its brickworks, which he ran in a partnership with John Clegg and which lasted until 1882.

As Moorside was on too high a level to be supplied with corporation water, a reservoir was constructed which supplied all of Mr. Mellodew's houses. He also purchased land until his estate included 500 acres, on which were two coal-pits - his own property, as he had bought the rights to the minerals. In the meantime his spinning and manufacturing business kept expanding, until it was recognised as one of the largest and most complete establishments of the kind in the district.

In order to find work for his employees he constructed the Spinners' Lodge during the cotton famine due to the American Civil War. This was called Lincoln Lodge, after President Lincoln, but was always known as the Spinners' Lodge as they had built it.

Thomas Mellodew received "no adventitious" aid from other sources. He introduced some improvements in the manufacture of velvet which proved a source of great profit, and exhausted two patents, one producing cotton velvets to imitate silk, the other for producing a fast pile velvet. Another patent he obtained concerned a process by which velvets, with a cotton back, were made to take the same dye as a silk face.

The two mills were kept busy, even through most of the cotton troubles, as the market for velveteen guaranteed a steady demand, until the emergence of man-made fibres after the last war. The family firm amalgamated with their oldest customer, Balstone, Cooke and Ravenese Ltd., in 1947, and eventually was wound up in 1956.

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Changes in fortune

Part of the old mill, and the extensions to the old mill and weaving shed, still stood on Northgate Lane in 1972, being used by Doncaster's Moorside Ltd. and by a number of smaller concerns. The Parkfield Mill on the opposite side of Ripponden Road has been demolished and it's three acre site was at this time occupied with houses and a filling station: its chimney once stood at what is now the beginning of Haugh Hill Road.

The old turnpike road brought the first electric tram to Moorside on Saturday, 18th October, 1902 (in this year there were 84 electric trams in Oldham) and in 1913 Moorside had a petrol bus service - a Tiling-Stevens petrol electric double deck bus, one of three in the town to carry passengers on to Grains Bar, and eventually on to Denshaw. In 1919 the three buses were withdrawn from service, and trams continued the service up to Grains while the motor bus service was suspended.

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Later Settlement

Later development began in May, 1966, with new construction on what had been farm pastureland, as the County Borough made a start on its huge Sholver housing estates. On elevated land, some 1,000 ft. above sea level, the local authority began its scheme to provide nearly 1,700 housing units. In addition, a number of private builders' estates began to appear on Haven Lane, Counthill, Parkfield and Turf Pit Lane. This tremendous increase in population has changed Moorside in its character from a cluster of houses sheltering under the brow of a hill to a large piece of suburbia; the former hill dwellers have given place to a developing suburban community.

Thomas Mellodew's contribution

An article in the press compared the effect upon Moorside of the Mellodew family in the following words.. "What the Platts have done for Werneth, what the Leeses have done for Glodwick, what the Radcliffes have done for the district of Mumps and Saint James's, the Mellodews have done for Moorside. Nay, we might say more. Moorside is more the individual creation of the late Thomas Mellodew than the other districts were the creation of his contemporaries."

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