The Parish Church of St. Thomas 1872 - 1972

School Days in Moorside

Early Days

"Under the frowning brow of Besom Hill, the descent of the hill following the rivulet Beal, one comes to a cluster of cottages denominated Francisses: here is a public house, and in the vicinity a public school for the instruction of youth built many years ago". so James Butterworth describes the way down to "Old Moorside" and introduces us to the school whose enlargement in the year 1834 was commemorated by an oval stone plaque in the gable end of the long row of cottages on Sholver lane, where it could be easily seen in the end wall of house number 27.

We know from an indenture dated 2nd May, 1834, that the representatives of John Cowper conveyed to trustees a plot of land containing 350 square yards upon trust to permit "the edifices erected thereon to be used for a Sunday and Day School for the instruction and teaching of children in such branches of religious instruction as the trustees in their discretion should think fit". The enlargement was carried out through a public subscription and a school was established in it. Unfortunately, the trustees had no funds with which to maintain the building and it gradually fell into disrepair, placing the trustees in debt to the sum of £90.

Moorside Church School

Thomas Mellodew undertook to relieve the trustees from their debt if they would surrender the old school premises to him. The Charity Commissioners gave their approval and the exchange took place in July, 1863, two years after Thomas Mellodew had provided a substitute in the form of a new school (Church History). Of the trustees for this 'new' building, one is the incumbent of the parish. the other is the owner, or owners, of the cotton mills at Moorside and Parkfield. On the 16th November, 1861, the Standard newspaper described the opening ceremony of this building that was to serve for so many years. It had been erected not only as a school, but also as a temporary church to provide a pastoral centre until the church could be built.

Back to Top

Opening Ceremony

At the opening ceremony it was stated that Thomas Mellodew of Moorside, at his own cost, had erected a building which would serve as a temporary church for the district of Moorside, and afterwards as a school house. To celebrate, a tea party was held on Saturday night and was very well attended. At this opening ceremony, Mr. J. T. Hibbert spoke on education in general and stated that in 1818 one person out of every seventeen in the country attended school; in 1832 the proportion was one in eleven, in 1851 it was one in eight, but in 1858 it was one in seven. In France the proportion was one in nine; in Holland one in eight; in Prussia one in six; but in those countries education was compulsory whilst in England it was voluntary. Most of the children in England did not attend school 150 days in the year. He concluded by remarking on the ennobling, elevating and refining influences that education imparted in the school, and the principles of religion taught in the church.

Oldham and Education

Education in Oldham had it's origin in the generosity of James Ashton of Chadderton who, in 1606, gave half an acre of land for building a school "for teaching of children the English, Latin and Greek tongues, and instructing them in good manners". The school was not built until 1611, with its first schoolmaster being the Reverend Thomas Hunt, incumbent of Oldham Church. This close link in Oldham between Church and Education was illustrated when the chairman at the meeting to commemorate the opening of the church and school building in Moorside was the Minister of the parish, the Reverend W. H. Chambers. Forster's Education Act made' elementary education compulsory in 1870, so by some nine years Thomas Mellodew had prepared the district to meet its opportunities, and subsequently its legal requirements, in education.

Back to Top


The first schoolmaster of the new school was W. Smith. He was a Yorkshireman who came from Keighley and, being a keen cricketer, he founded the Moorside Cricket Club in 1862. He was succeeded, in 1869. by W. T. Mitton., after him came Joseph Mitchell.

Early Adult Education

Schooling in Moorside, however, was not simply a question of teaching children. On the 10th December, 1859, on its back page, the Standard carried a report on the Third Annual Meeting of the Moorside Mutual Improvement Society which was held in the schoolroom (the old one before the building on Northgate Lane was erected), on Saturday evening, with Mr. John Dawson, schoolmaster, presiding. The secretary, Mr. William Cryer. read the report which stated that the institution was founded on the 6th May, 1856 (before that period there was a night school run in connection with the Sunday School held there which at one time had had as many as 86 scholars, mostly adults, but which dwindled subsequently to 17).

Back to Top

The Report of the Mutual Improvement Society

In 1856 John Dawson was engaged as teacher, in which office he continued for two-and-a-half years. By paying a subscription of a penny a week they had formed a library containing 130 volumes. There had been an increase of members, and altogether the institution was in a very flourishing state. The nights for instruction were those of Thursday and Friday, when reading, writing, grammar, geography, arithmetic, algebra, mensuration, geometry, elocution, "etc." were taught. The receipts from various sources during the year were £12-4-6d., and the disbursements amounted to the same sum.

The Mayor's Speech - Education in Moorside

The Mayor, A. Leach. then addressed the meeting and asserted that those who resided in the neighbourhood would readily admit that the Moorside of the present day was not the Moorside of thirty years ago. At the latter period it was one of the most benighted districts around Oldham. The young people had no taste for literary pursuits - dog and cock fighting, gambling, running, wrestling and games of similar nature were the prominent amusements in that district 20 or 30 years ago. Owing to the spread of education in the neighbourhood these barefaced practices were being removed, and were giving way to other more important and beneficial studies and pleasures.

He always considered, though he might be singular in the idea, that when manufactories were introduced into a neighbourhood that had been neglected they served as pioneers to education and civilisation, and they tended to diminish crime (Hear, hear!). He had spoken to many parties who wondered how those who worked six days a week could have any time to devote to education; but they now saw that there were, in nearly every town and village in the country, institutions founded to meet the growing wants of the people. It was desirable that Mutual Improvement Societies should be attached to Sunday Schools to carry on the education that had been commenced.

Back to Top

Thomas Mellodew's comments

Councillor Thomas Mellodew congratulated the members of the society on the progress they had made in their studies. It would eventually be time for them to turn their attention to some of the sublimer sciences, and a man could not advance far in them without a knowledge of chemistry. He confined himself to that study because he knew it would lead on to others, as it was inevitably connected with them all.


In 1883 the present old school (later the first church hall) was enlarged on the same site enclosing and adopting much of the old building. During the time of rebuilding, classes were held in the Cotton Chamber at the end of Northgate Lane, and in the Band Room at Parkfield Mill (the Moorside Mill Reed Band was disbanded in July, 1898). The school log records on 29th September, 1882, "the school closed after the examinations for the rebuilding of the school" and on 6th November, "the children who have been at home for five weeks are very backward in their work", and on 7th August, 1883, "For six months of the year the infants have been taught in temporary premises. They are now taught in two rooms on the ground floor and have not gained much by the alteration of the premises". In 1911, on a visit on 17th and 18th January, an H.M.I. reported that "The premises are ill adapted for Day School purposes and they do not appear to have been designed for them originally"

Back to Top

The School Log

The school log of this early period has illuminative remarks on conditions of the day. In 1873, on Tuesday, 11th November, "two girls appointed (temporary) as monitors. One to assist in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Each to have lessons from the mistress and to be paid sixpence per week". On Monday, 14th November, 1874, "Annie Pickup commenced her duty as monitor, her salary to be 4/- a week". On Tuesday, 15th June, 1875, the Vicar, the Reverend Thomas Holmes "brought several ladies to the school this afternoon. The children sang a few songs and afterwards the clergyman brought one pound of sweets to be distributed among them, which pleased the little ones very much". On Monday, 21st May, 1900, a "holiday was given this afternoon to celebrate the relief of Mafeking". In the year 1901, Friday, 13th December, there was the worst snow for twenty years "last night. Just above the school street lamps were buried and a wagon of calico lies buried in a drift". In the year there was repeated and serious neglect of duty on the part of the caretaker - this will question the assumption that in the bad old days there was little trouble with craftsmanship and attention to duty.


The log records that in 1907 arrangements were made for incandescent lighting for the school, for the sum of £2-12-6d. (and also that on Monday, 4th August, 1926, workmen finished three weeks' work involved with installation of electric light).

The Great War

On Thursday, 1st October, 1914, the staff agreed to a 2½% reduction in salary to help the local distress fund. On Friday, 16th July, 1915, there was a sale of small French flags for the French Flag Day Appeal, and on Friday, 13th August, 120 eggs were brought to school by scholars for the "Eggs for our Wounded' appeal. In 1920, on Thursday, 11th November. at 10-45 a.m., there was an address in the large room on an unknown warrior from France and his burial in the Abbey, followed by two minutes silence.

These matters are but general snippets selected from the extensive details contained in the well kept school logs. Those who wrote these records are no longer with us but their help has been gracefully accepted.

Back to Top

Changes in Legal Status and Administration

In February, 1904, the Charity Commissioners having determined that the endowment of Moorside Day and Sunday Schools was held solely for educational purposes transferred their jurisdiction to the Board of Education under the Board of Education 1899 s.2. This marked a definite change in the status of the old church building and school house, but the close parochial links through usage of the building were not affected by the new jurisdiction in any way.

Further changes in the jurisdiction of the school took place. In January, 1950, the then trustees were informed that the Minister (of Education) had made a scheme "by which the present Trust for your school will lapse on being merged in the new General Oldham School Trust" - this was the Henshaw and Church of England Educational Trust Registered which was constituted by order in Council on 9th December, 1950. This scheme was framed by the Minister of Education under the Endowed Schools Act 1869-1874. It provided for the transfer of the sites and buildings of Henshaw's Blue Coat School, Oldham, and of the Old National Day Schools attached to sixteen parishes in Oldham, as well as for the consolidation of their endowments.

Voluntary Status

In February, 1950, the trustees of Moorside Church of England School consented to the application for aided status made by the managers of the school: this meant that the clergyman of the parish and three other members of the Church of England, along with two representatives from the Authority, formed the governing body. In 1955 the mill owners who, since 12th June. 1863, by order of the Board of Charity Commissioners, were to appoint trustees for the Moorside Day and Sunday Schools, declared that they were willing to transfer the appointment of trustees to the Parochial Church Council.

Back to Top

First steps towards a third School

In 1949 the school managers were concerned about their inability to provide accommodation to meet the growing numbers of school children; to this problem the raising of the school leaving age to fifteen had contributed, but they were advised not to attempt the erection of additional classrooms "since a new school is to be built . . . in the future". Moorside, however, had to wait nearly twenty years for this provision of new accommodation. In July, 1953, children of eleven years could no longer continue at Moorside, but were in future to be transferred to a secondary school.

In 1952, however, changes in the boarding establishment of the Blue Coat School resulted in an enlargement enabling children of secondary school age, who would otherwise be in attendance at all-age church schools, to go there. This extension allowed the managers of all-age schools to re-organise as junior schools.

The Institute

At this stage of our day school history we have a glance at a building that served as an extra classroom for the school on Northgate Lane. The parish magazine of January, 1910, describes how plans were laid for a new church club, with the formation "of a strong committee", and it was announced that "The firm has most generously granted us a lease of land at the nominal sum of 5/- a year upon which to erect our institute". In January, 1913, it was claimed "we need a thousand pounds for an institute" while in 1920 we hear that "the young men have purchased an army hut (from Heaton Park) for our institute for the parish on borrowed money (they lent themselves £100) ". A parcel of land 102ft. x 59ft. was made available by the firm of Thomas Mellodew for 30/- per year in an agreement dated 29th September, 1920.

The Opening

Saint Thomas's Recreation Hut was opened on Saturday, 11th December, by Thomas Mellodew in a ceremony that began at 3-30 p.m. A silver plated key was presented to Thomas Mellodew by the Vicar, the Reverend James Harold Garnett, and he was asked, on behalf of the committee, to declare the Institute open. The ceremony was followed by tea in the school and a social in the evening. In the magazine of 1924 it was stated that "The old hut will not last for ever….look forward to a day when a more permanent building shall take its place". Meanwhile, an inner porch and a piano were needed. In July of that year the Institute billiard team played the first year's games in the second division of the Oldham and District Sunday School and Institute Billiards League. For many years this building served as a social centre for the young and older men of the parish but, by 1957, there were so few numbers and so little interest shown that if was resolved to close it. By April of that year an offer of the building and a sum of £ 180 were made to the Parochial Church Council, who welcomed the Institute as a solution to the overcrowding in the main schoolroom.

Back to Top

The Institute as an additional classroom

In the following year (1958) alterations and decoration work were carried out, £800 costs being incurred by the Church Council, and the new classroom came into use on Friday, 10th October, 1958; at this stage there were 180 children on the roll, organised in six classes. By this time the land was in the possession of Mr. Jack Longden who kindly offered the use of the land on which the Institute stood, for a period of ten years rent free. In effect this offer continued until the demolition of the building in 1971. The use of the Institute as an additional classroom, and the improvements to the main building in 1955 (costing £3,095) helped to provide adequate accommodation until a new school could be built.

The Third School

On the 27th July. 1963, notice was posted of the enlargement of the Church of England Primary School of Saint Thomas, Moorside. by providing additional accommodation for 120 children. This was the first sign of the new school designed, eventually, to replace the one on Northgate Lane. The original wish had been to site this new school on the glebe land but the drainage problem at that time did not allow such development. Eventually, the Borough Architect allocated a site on phase 1 of the Sholver Housing Scheme which was claimed "to be conveniently placed to the church". The new instrument of management was sealed on 10th January, 1966, and work on the first stage - a minor works project - was begun in the summer of 1967; this building was occupied by staff and children at Easter, 1968. The main contractor for the first stage had been J. Blunn & Co.

Work on phase two, after re-designing by the architect to produce a modified version of the open plan system for the junior blocks, was begun in May, 1969, and the children were admitted during the summer term in 1970. The main contractor for this part had been the Haldean Building Company. In the summer of 1971 the sports pitch was laid, completing the school project. With two playgrounds, climbing frames, sports field. well equipped hall and efficient kitchen, the children and staff were presented with an incredible contrast to life in the old building. In the new classrooms, carefully designed furniture and equipment, brought new interests into school work. A splendid view over the estate towards the church and beyond to Oldham Edge and the distant hills, completed the transformation.

The Official Opening

The school was officially opened and blessed by the Bishop of Hulme on Saturday, 10th October, 1970, before a packed hall of guests, parents and parishioners. During the opening remarks the chairman paid tribute to those who had provided educational facilities in the area so many many years ago, and also pointed out how the school was itself a monument to educational progress, with its phase one on traditional lines and its final phase designed for open-plan work.


Back to Top

The Parish Hall

When the old school building was vacated by the children the Church Council designated it the Parish Hall, and it was intended to be used solely for the church's organisations. However, such was the pressure for school places that the Authority was permitted to rent the building for educational purposes through the day, with the church confining itself to week-end, evening and one afternoon per week for its activities, which were held under the difficulties that dual purpose usage always brings. In February, 1971, fire damage resulted in the closure of the hall until September while repairs and decoration were carried out and new wiring and lighting installed. Soon there was to be a County Primary School, Hodge Clough, in the district, the first state provision of primary education in the parish, and the fourth school to be built here.

Back to Top