People and places of Middleton
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Local History

The humble beginnings of Middleton are somewhat sketchy to say the least, largely due to the trend of the passing down of Christian names from father to son, a trend that continues with prominent people throughout the towns history. Indeed it gets confusing as to which actual 'Roger', 'Ralph' or 'Richard' you are reading about which becomes apparent in the more detailed sections here. Research also throws up many complexities surrounding the development of the town and record sources sometimes contradict each other, so much so that much of it is beyond my own capacity to take in as I am no expert in history. I have compiled a brief history of Middleton below from the information I have gathered which I hope serves as a general and easy to follow guide. A more detailed listing of events and information can be found in the chronicle of events on the menu.

Brief History of Middleton

The Parish Church at dusk.

Middleton has a long and ancient history thought to go way back to before records began to Anglo-Saxon times and beyond and we can only really guess about its actual beginnings. The Parish Church dating from around 1100 is believed to be on the site of a much more ancient structure when Middleton would have been a tiny hamlet in rolling fields with very few inhabitants. It was only after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 that records really began. The name Middleton is supposedly derived from being in the centre of several surrounding settlements, (Middle town) and particularly because of its fairly central position between the more prominent Manchester and Rochdale.

The first recorded Lord of Middleton was a Roger de Middleton. Middleton in the 12th Century was a dependency of the Montbegons of Tottington. Tenants who rented the land from them often adopted the name of the town as their surname, (which adds even more to the mystery of who they actually were) hence the first recorded Roger de Middleton in the 1100's. A succession of heirs followed where through marriage, the estate of Middleton fell into the hands of the de Barton family and through marriage again to that of the more familiar Assheton family who were to become Lords of the manor of Middleton for many years from the 1400's and whose namesake is still very much noted around the town.

The manor and estate of Middleton was passed down to several generations of Asshetons, curiously most of whom again were named after their forefathers so there is a succession of Ralphs and Richards, and through the various conflicts of these medieval times, several Lords fought at battles and held certain high positions often being knighted as a result and bringing advantages to the town which helped it to grow. The first Ralph Assheton in the 1400's was knighted for services but it would seem he had a dark side as he had somewhat of a roguish reputation following his alleged treatment of certain folk and was a man to be feared. His Grandson Sir Richard Assheton is perhaps more well known as the one who led the Middleton Archers to battle at Flodden Field in 1513 and were victorious. He partly re-built the Parish Church to largely as it still looks today. The large stained glass window commemorates the Middleton Archers and the victory at Flodden and is thought to be the oldest war memorial known. The Asshetons resided at Middleton Hall, an ancient and rather ramshackle dwelling (date of construction unknown) that stood on the banks of the River Irk behind what is now Market Place.

The hearth tax return record of 1666 shows 113 hearths liable. The largest dwellings being those of a Lady Anne Assheton with 18 hearths, Mr Simmonds, 14, Richard Hilton the younger, 10, Susan Wrigley, 9, and Isaac Walkden, 6. The first is obviously a member of the Assheton clan but could this have been referring to Middleton Hall or another possible dwelling? The other names don't seem immediately familiar to me but it would be interesting to find out who these people were and where. Could they have been tenants in some of the other large Halls around at the time?

Having said the above, the development of the town seems considerably slow when records show that there were still only 20 dwellings here as late as 1770, over 100 years later. It was not long after this that the population of Middleton really escalated with the introduction of silk weaving in 1778. Like many of it's neighbours Middleton became heavily involved in the cottage industry of handloom weavers who worked from home in all aspects of cotton manufacture. The last active Lord of the manor was Harbord Harbord, who later became Lord Suffield. He became Lord through marriage to the heiress of the last Assheton. In 1791 he obtained Middletons market charter allowing a weekly market and various fairs. Many shops appeared around this market forming the town centre much of which is still the same today.

Middleton Weaver.

As always with demand, technology was advancing fast and machines were being invented to do the weaving. Middle classes were moving in and building factories and mills to house the huge machines, the first one believed to be in 1800. This was to the disgust of the hand-loom weavers who could no longer compete. During this period of industrial revolution there was much unrest and Middleton saw it's own riots in 1812, 1820 and 1843 where the 'luddites'would try to sabotage these new factories and destroy the machines that threatened their livelihoods. A political attitude ensued in the town as laws of Parliament were not kind to the ordinary working class. A trend in rebellion was apparent for a period with people keen for reform such as Sam Bamford who became a well-known figure in the campaign. He was imprisoned several times for his trouble and Chartism became the popular trend. The Botanical society formed in 1842, Mechanics Institute in 1848 and Agricultural Society in 1859.

As the mills provided employment, the population continued to soar and although working conditions were often poor, some mill owners provided homes for their workers and even facilities for the education of their children. By this time there were also iron foundries, mechanical engineering and chemical manufacture as well as farming and mining. Many locals were setting up shops that thrived in the town centre and localised areas where housing was booming. A local paper, The Middleton Albion had been established in 1857 and lasted until 1895 but in the meantime the Middleton Guardian established in 1873 was clearly the winner of the two still going strong as our local weekly newspaper today.

Much of the land of the estate of Middleton was sold off for development as housing demand continued to increase. I believe a descendant of Lord Suffield still holds the title of Lord of the manor of Middleton today, but he doesnt reside here and there is little much else left other than the title itself.

The Governance of Middleton had previously been in the hands of the constables chosen at the Manor Court. In 1861 an 'Improvement Commission' was established. The gas works was acquired and water laid on and a police station and court room built in 1873. Through acts of parliament, Middleton gained additional areas within its boundaries incuding Tonge, and Alkrington and parts of Hopwood and Thornham in 1879 to become the area it is today. In 1886, parts of Great and Little Heaton were incuded and it was granted borough status and Middleton Corporation was established to oversee the governing of the town. This comprised of a group of 6 Aldermen and and 18 councillors headed by a Mayor. By 1894 the whole borough was established as a single civil parish, the separate townships now recognised as districts of the borough. The corporation established a free library built in 1888, parks, schools, a public baths and a fire brigade. Sanitation was greatly improved as were roads and the area was by now well served by the railway system. The population in 1901 was 25,178 according to the census of that year.

Alkrington Garden Village was developed throughout the first half of the 20th century. During the 1950's there were many 'slum clearances' ordered where sub-standard houses, mostly terraced, did not meet current standards required of the day and were demolished. Street after street was flattened resulting in many homeless people requiring re-housing and the first council estates began to spring up to accommodate them. This was when the huge Langley Overspill Estate was built on the outskirts of Middleton believed to be one of the largest in the country. This not only accommodated the casualties of Middletons own slum clearances but many more from Manchester areas such as Collyhurst. Although geographically within Middleton's borders Langley was until recent years under the separate administration of Manchester City Council.

Middleton Weaver.

Many more areas all over the borough were developed during the sixties and Middleton had a beautiful town centre and gardens with greenery, floral displays and seating from where to admire this crowning glory. In 1974 Middleton Corporation merged with Rochdale Council (Almost Oldham) to form part of the newly formed larger Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council. Some older Middletonians feel this was a mistake as a lot of Middletons history and identity has been lost as a result and it is felt that Rochdale could put more effort into Middletons interests but now Rochdale has complete control and largely calls the shots. Having said that Middleton is currently undergoing a complete regeneration programme (whether we wanted it or not) and is believed to have the most expensive bus station in the world at the time of writing. The population of Middleton today stands at over 45,000, almost double the figure of the 1901 census in just over a hundred years.

Written by the editor. July 2008

Further reading

To go further back into Middleton's history, Stuart Mendelsohn has written about Medieval History and Archaeology of SE Lancashire, including Middleton. There is also a link to his archaeology blog which has posts about Middleton.

Stuart says, "In the 17th Century Hearth Tax, the largest house had about 22 hearths and it was in Little Lever, a detached township of Middleton. The different detached townships of Middleton are unusual compared to most parishes in England. It would appear that some parts fit together with Bury Parish, Radcliffe may have been connected to Middleton too, according to a note in the Victoria County History."

Visit Stuart's pages here.

Middleton, Manchester Pre World War II
Local lady and expat Joan White has developed this interesting site looking at many areas of Middleton of the past. An invaluable tool for researchers and for people in a nostalgic mood!

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