People and places of Middleton
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202 Grimshaw Lane

James Hilton "modernised" 202 Grimshaw Lane in 1899. Quite an extensive amount of work was carried out and there was patently a definite aim to convert from a duel purpose house/workplace building into a home.

Ascending the two steps up to the centred front door there is a small vestibule with a flagstone floor. Facing is the inner vestibule door, the upper half paned with decorative glass. Entering through this door there is a step up to the newly floor-boarded 143 sq.ft front room. This room was typical of the Victorian show-piece front room where "important" guests were received with a tiled fire-place with a carved polished 4ft 6in surround, picture and dado rails, a plaster ceiling rose and a moulded cornice around the room. The ceiling rises to 10ft 9ins but the original flagstone floor is below at the level of the vestibule he had constructed. This brings the true original height to an impressive 11ft 7ins. Surely we are moving in to the territory of "big chambers".

The door leading through to the rear of the house would have been of vertical planks supported at the rear by the wooden "Z" construction, not dissimilar to an exterior back gate today. Indeed two of these doors still survive, this particular door having been replaced by a four-panelled door. There was a stone step at this doorway up into the rear room. This room even up to the time of my Nanna's death in 1978 was always known as "the house". This room is 189 sq.ft. and has a flagstone floor as do all the other ground floor rooms, and is 8ft 6ins in height. Two 8in by 3.5in beams cross the ceiling from either side of the 6ft wide chimney breast to the opposite wall. A dado rail had been installed and curiously, just two of the four walls had been given wooden skirting boards whilst the other two were left with the original plaster type ones. Apart from the front room which has wooden skirting boards at the new floor level, the other two ground floor rooms still have these plaster type skirting boards as well. The big alteration in this room was the fireplace. I remember as a little boy the two ovens, one hot, one warm, to the left of the fire. There were two "arms" on hinges or pivots which swung over the fire and on which pans could be stood. There was a hook to hang a kettle and a damper that could be pulled down to heat the hot water for the newly installed bath. The water tank was built in to the chimney breast. I'm not qualified to state whether this would have been the original fireplace but would have thought not. Certainly the water tank which required piped water was not there in 1853 as water had to be carried up from "Owd Jem's Broo". It was not just piped water that was a missing luxury which we take for granted today. Candles and oil lamps would be used in 1853 before the advent of gas and the gas mantle, then eventually electricity. I would imagine that the fire was more of a long cooking range previously. The room is shielded from drafts by a 2 foot wide wooden screen projecting from the wall and stretching from floor to ceiling.


Passing through into the kitchen on the left is the traditional "boxed in" staircase. This room of 121 sq.ft. is also 8 ft 6 ins high. The room was certainly used for some weaving or spinning activity as there are still three tell-tale wooden plates running parallel with the stairs, 2ft by 3ins and a half inch deep flush against the ceiling. In the far corner of the kitchen is one of the original remaining doors. This leads into the other room at the front of the house. This room, 11ft by 10ft has a ceiling 10ft 9ins high, the difference in height between the two front rooms being accounted for by the slope of Grimshaw Lane. Once again this room used to have the flat wooden slats embedded in the ceiling.

Climbing the stairs, at the top you are facing two further steps to the door which takes you into the front two rooms. This is because of the extra height of the ceilings in the two front rooms below. The upstairs rooms are of the same area as the rooms below and the height of the rooms are 8ft at the front of the house and 9ft 3ins at the rear. At both the front and rear, the upstairs ceilings curve down in line with the roof to meet the walls. The door between the two front rooms is the other original door although a ball and socket latch has been fitted. In this room the chimney breast has now narrowed to four feet wide at the front of the house.

The family of 1900

The photograph shows the family group just after the completion of all the work. For the record they are James Hilton and second wife Martha (Tonge). His first wife died shortly after giving birth to Marion (my Nanna) who is stood on the doorstep behind James. She married James Atkinson. Next to her is Ethel who never married. On Martha's left is Annie who married Wilf Ogden and moved to Blackpool and on James' right is Ellen Tonge, Martha's daughter and James' step-daughter. She married Arthur Firth and went to live on Greenhill Road. I believe that before marriage all four girls worked at the CWS Jam Works. Certainly Marion did and Ethel had a certificate commemorating 43 years there, a real job for life.

The silk weaver's windows or "lights" were designed to keep out the dust, probably not as vital in this area of Middleton as in a weavers house situated on a busy thoroughfare such as Long Street. They were made up of small 9in by 5in panes and have been replaced by sash windows. The long sill of the old style weaver's windows of next door can be seen at the right hand side of the picture. Indeed at 200 Grimshaw Lane the outline of where one of these windows was sited can still be seen in the brickwork at the top right corner of the house. At the rear of the house cement rendering makes it impossible to tell if there were weavers or sash windows originally.

The height of the front door has been increased to incorporate a new glass pane and give light in the vestibule. The surrounding brickwork gives the appearance that the doorway has been narrowed indicating that this may have been the "taking in" door where raw materials were brought into the house. However I am no expert on building methods. The stone lintels and transoms over the doors and windows have a circle cut into them. The only other buildings with this feature that I have seen are in an old photograph of the Bird in Hand pub on Grimshaw Lane and the houses next to it. These are now Evan's Newsagents and the Spar shop. Whether this was a trade mark or just some decorative design I do not know. Indeed the only purpose to be gained by mentioning this at all seems to be in showing what a "sad old fart" I have become wandering the streets of Middleton looking at peoples lintels!

200 Grimshaw Lane was the home of weaver Amos Hyde. The house seems to be almost a mirror image of 202, with the living rooms of both houses back to back and the smaller kitchens of each house furthest apart. Colette and Alan live here now and over the years the house has had extensive alterations. Colette disagrees with me over the position of the of the original staircase believing it to have been at the front of the house, whereas I think it would have been in the same position as the ones at 202 and 204 Grimshaw Lane. The truth is that neither of us have the expertise to give a valued judgement on the matter.

The big difference between the two houses is at the front where because of the slope of the lane, four steps have to be climbed to reach the front door which is about three and a half to four feet above street level. The ground floor is at the same level as 202 and ceiling heights are the same. We have both wondered if either of the two front rooms were deeper when the houses were built or is it just vacant space under the floor. Unfortunately a past resident has tarmaced over the floors and so we have no way of investigating this possibility and the prospect of an even "bigger chamber".

204 Grimshaw Lane was the site of George Booth's house. This house had two main differences from 200 and 202. There was only one room running the East/West length of the house, both upstairs and downstairs. Also the front of the house had only one front window downstairs and the front door was at the eastern corner rather than in the centre of the building. I managed to trace Beryl Power (nee Anderton) who grew up there as a young girl and she was able to give me a lot of information on the house and the alterations that her parents Annie and Arthur Anderton made when they first moved there in the late 1940's. The house had been used for some years as a tobacco warehouse. In the far corner of the front room next to the chimney breast was a large old coal-fired baker's oven which her mother had taken out because it was smoking. I think that this will date from around the early 1900's as I remember my Nanna after the oven was removed saying how much colder the room was that backed on to this oven. Beryl also believes that at one time the house was used as a Police Station but has no evidence of this.


What sticks in her mind most of all is the very old shop counter and the strange downstairs layout at the front whilst the upstairs was used as a storeroom. On entering the front door the shop counter ran north to south on your right hand side. Behind running parallel to the old counter was an ancient partition wall which divided the front room including the front window in two. There was a door in this wall which led to the second half of this room and was a storeroom for the shop and another door led from this room to the rear of the house. Mrs Anderton had this wall removed to make a long front room and had a new partition wall built upstairs to make two bedrooms each with its own window.

There are further reasons to suppose that this was the original Jumbo Co-op shop. The out-houses, or messuages as they are referred to in the deeds, at 200 and 202 each consisted of a toilet and coal place. However at 204 where the shop was, there is a long outbuilding (See diagram below) containing not only toilet and coal place, but a larger central storage space. This space certainly couldn't be used to store weaving materials such as silk as it was too susceptible to changes in weather and temperature and would be totally unsuitable. It is much more likely that this building was used as a store in connection with the shop. Indeed, this run down building could possibly be deemed the first ever CWS "Warehouse".


When the Lowbands group was finally disbanded on 4th February 1861 the stock was bought by the Middleton retail Co-op for £13-5s. This is further evidence that the shop was not at Jagger's. Surely if he was running the Jumbo Co-op he would have bought the stock as he carried on trading in grocery and beer at his shop further up Grimshaw Lane. It seems to indicate that he was buying his supplies elsewhere and his shop was his own separate business.

It is only from the deeds of 202 that I have been able to discover that George Booth built the house next door at 204. Historians who may have previously searched the census for him will have had great difficulty in tracing him there. In 1851 the houses weren't built. In 1861 George Booth and wife are still at Lowbands on the census along with an 11 year old coal miner and a boarder called John Greenhalgh. This was George's nephew, his sister's son. The Greenhalgh family were living at 204 along with George's brother James and his wife and son, also named George. James Booth, George's brother, was working at the new Middleton Gas Works and coincidently at 204 at the present time, live Alf Healey and family and Alf's son Robert works for British Gas, so things seem to have come full circle. George Booth doesn't appear on the census at 204 until 1871. George, in an interview he gave at the age of 79 says that Lowbands ended in May 1862. We know that it ended in February 1861, but as May 1862 seems to have stuck In George's mind it is possible that this is the date that he and Mary actually left the farmhouse to move to 204 Grimshaw Lane.

It is my contention that these two houses were the site of the silk manufacturing business connected to Lowbands. They are the only houses in the area large enough to fit the description of "big chambers" and "warping mills". George Booth said of the other co-operators that "not one of the lot would undertake to superintend the business at a £1 a week" and it seems likely that bringing two outsiders, William Taylor and Amos Hyde into the group was George's solution to the problem of no one else wanting to shoulder some of the responsibility. Joseph Healey's "four loom" house is a bit of a mystery. Not only can it not be found but also if the manufacturing business was moved there it means that "one of the lot was willing to undertake running the business", because Joseph Healey was one of the original group! I think the likely solution to this problem is either that the business was temporarily run from Healey's house, wherever that was, for a few months whilst 200 to 204 were being built, or that Joseph Healey was a journeyman weaver working at 202 or 204, and it became known as "Joseph Healey's" by association. Very tantalisingly Hannah Taylor's Will in 1897 is witnessed by a J. Healey !

The site of Amos Hyde and William Taylor's homes as the silk manufacturing business also brings a certain logic and credibility to the earlier mentioned statement, "that they engaged two weavers to do the work for them". However this statement supposedly referred to the 1846 group which met at Wil1iam Taylor's of Stocks. I said that I would return to this topic.

The date of 1846 only appears in an article in the Oldham Industrial Co-operative Society's Record. It is not a very reliable source and contains a number of inaccuracies as illustrated by the fact that even the name of the farm is wrongly called "Lowbins". The 'Middleton and Tonge Industrial Society Jubilee Book' relates the story in a different order starting with the men meeting at Jagger's house at Tonge, telling the story of Lowbands and then finishing thus;

"The Middleton silk weavers, we think, were among the earliest productive co-operators in England. They possessed by reason of long training the requisite technical skill. What they lacked was greater business aptitude and a fuller knowledge of men and affairs. We must set up a further claim for the Middleton silk weaver Co-operators. They were amongst the earliest to realise the importance of technical education. They established a designing school, the avowed intention being to get abreast with their Lyons rival in the trade. Mr Tom Brierley the dialect writer who was one of the school informs us that it was declared in the Manchester press to be unique in Lancashire and on a visit to the school of design in Manchester, he considered on comparison that the drawings of the weavers who met in William Taylor's Cottage at Stocks, Alkrington, and paid two-pence a Sunday, were quite as good. As regards education generally the same class of men were actually attending classes at the Temperance Hall at five o'clock in a morning".

This format raises some interesting questions. If all this happened six years before the start of Lowbands, why is it put at the end of the story and not at the beginning? Why has the date been missed out and when read in the full context of the account of Lowbands, appear to refer to the Lowbands silk weavers as opposed to the earlier group? It leads to the question of whether the design school was at William Taylor of Stocks or later at William Taylor of Grimshaw Lane.

Tom Brierley may not be the most reliable of witnesses. Apart from time playing tricks with the memory, he was certainly not a man who could handle stress and appears at one time to have been on the edge of a nervous breakdown. In March 1866, he became secretary of the Middleton and Tonge Industrial Society and the Jubilee Book records his service as follows:- Mr Tom Brierley quickly discovering that the weary drip of responsibility which his sensitive, refined nature could not take lightly, was quite incompatible with the quietude of the home loom-shop, which had been his lifelong environment, resigned in a fortnight after his appointment and gladly returned to the society of his beloved maiden sisters in pastoral Alkrington where he would be free from the unreposeful worry of so many "meddlesome mesthurs".

Given that Tom Brierley's anecdote about the Design School was given a further 34 years after this somewhat gentle and patronising description of his state of mind and character, and that he would be an old man recalling events some 54 years previously, there has to be a question mark against the reliability of the detail of his story. One has to assume that he knew what he was talking about and in the absence of other evidence his account has to be accepted but I have designated his account as "a definite maybe" for the time being. Quite apart from the Jubilee Book switching his account to the end of the story, there are other instances of how he may have been slightly confused. .

Consider William Taylor of Stocks just near Sunk Lane. William Taylor of Grimshaw Lane just near the other end of Sunk Lane. At the home of William Taylor of Grimshaw Lane is a co-operative and the secretary is non other than the son of William Taylor of Stocks. It is the Lowbands co-operative which is recorded as selling its high quality goods and "designer" waistcoats to Alexander Henry and John Rylands in Manchester, indeed it was Jacky Taylor, the son of William Taylor of Stocks who was authorised to do so. As it is the Lowbands co-operative which seems the better organised, it would seem more feasible that this was where the Design School was sited. It is thus easy to see how a mistake could possibly have been made by Tom Brierley.

The members of this design school were also attending lessons at the Temperance Hall. At what date did these lessons start? It would seem that they would be likely to be organised by the Middleton and Tonge Industrial Society and possibly but not necessarily have come into operation once the retail shop got of the ground in 1850. If this were the case then this would indicate the design school coming after 1850 and rule out it being sited at William Taylor of Stocks. However until evidence to the contrary emerges, it has to be accepted that the design school was at William Taylor of Stocks but the possibility that Tom Brierley was mistaken has to be given serious consideration.

The only way of finding the truth of the situation would be to uncover the newspaper article in the Manchester press which he referred to. If this was published between 1846 and 1851 then the school was at Stocks. If however it was published after 1853 then it must have been at Grimshaw Lane. This will unfortunately be like trying to find a needle in a haystack as the article could be in any Manchester newspaper published between 1846 and 1860. If anyone has seen or ever happens to come across such an article I would be delighted to hear from you.

Rector Durnford is quoted as saying of Middleton folk, "The people are too apt to disbelieve what they ought to believe, and to believe what they ought to disbelieve". Should this be correct and there be Middletonians amongst you who still doubt that this terrace building of three houses were part of the Lowbands farm complex and still cling to the idea that the shop was at Joseph Jagger's beerhouse, note this quote from "The Story of the CWS" by Percy Redfern. "George Booth was put in charge. A Jumbo Co-operative Society was also devised to buttress his efforts, and a loom-house included in the building was converted into the Society's new store". This statement by Percy Redfern, who not only penned this official history for the CWS Jubilee, but founded and was also for many years previously the editor of the "Wheatsheaf" magazine, surely encapsulates exactly what was going on at Jumbo in 1853. Indeed I believe that I have produced to any reasonable thinking person, enough new and old evidence to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that these three houses were the silk manufacturing centre and the Jumbo Society Co-operative shop attached to Lowbands Farm. "I rest my case" so to speak and leave it to the unconvinced to prove otherwise.

I also believe but concede that I have not yet proved that this was also the site of the silk weaver's "design school". I hope one day to be able to find out the truth behind this matter as well but for the time being must leave the topic "an unsolved mystery".

It was however not so much the establishment of a farm supplying its own shop and a silk manufacturing business and design school which lodged the Jumbo farm co-operators in the forefront of CWS history. It was the events and meetings which first took place there originally organised by Middleton man George Booth, which directly led to the establishment of the CWS. The aftermath of these meetings, and nothing short of the "hijacking" of the honour of being "the founder of the CWS" by Abraham Greenwood of Rochdale from George Booth, led to much bitterness and resentment by Middleton people. The injustice of the situation and the fact "that credit was not given where it was due" caused much ill feeling. The sheer scale of the resentment which existed at the time cannot be underestimated and I don't think has ever been understood by the powers that be in the CWS. It can perhaps be better gauged by pointing out that without any exaggeration even today, nearly some 150 years after the event, this resentment is still strongly felt in many quarters of Middleton. The resentment itself has become part of Middleton history. What follows is an account of the meeting at Jumbo Farm and the events that occurred later.

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