12 March 1904

By Joseph Isaac NEWTON - No IV

Until recent years the most available road for wheel traffic between Ashton and Oldham main road and Parkbridge was only from the canal terminus at Fairbottom. From here they were obliged to go by a narrow, steep, winding road leading through Keb-lane to the main road at Bardsley. For loads of iron and coal to make their way up such a gradient called for extra power.

In view of these difficulties a new road was made in 1877 almost on a level and along the north side of the canal from Bardsley Bridge to the canal terminus at Fairbottom. The making of this road certainly opened the most convenient passage in any direction in and out of the valley. The distance between Fairbottom and Parkbridge, having been a ground for the deposit of forge refuse for years, has formed a clean, hard road.

The ironworks of Messrs LEES have also been a source of employment for at least a century past. Recent extensions of the business include the present means of disposing of the produce from the works to the elevated railway above. In connection with this firm, situated at the west end of the works, there was formerly a low shed, in the eighteen fifties used in textile roller turning.

The present mill adjacent to the railway arches now stands on the same ground, and was built about 1858. The building has been used in the manufacture of cotton since 1883. Adjoining this mill tower the arches of the A. O. and G. Railway, of which the foundation stone was laid on the bed of the river on October 1st. 1859, and the opening of the railway in 1861 was celebrated in one of the rooms of the mill.

Prior to the construction of the railway there was a supposed cave running some yards underground, but it was buried under the embankment between Parkbridge and Dean Shut, and another is said to be in the rock near Rocher Colliery. The legend in connection with these caves is that they once formed a place of refuge at the time the district was invaded. It seems more probable that the so-called caves of this locality were really formed in the efforts of the people to get the coal for their own use, and finding in history that the quality of coal is thought not to be known prior to about 1300, may it not be possible that taxation on minerals was thus instituted about that period.

In the valley between Parkbridge and Oldham Park runs a brook which joins the River Medlock right under one end of Parkbridge Mill, where a thunder storm, apparently more severe in the neighbourhood of Oldham, caused a serious flood on July 25th, 1886, owing mostly to a quantity of debris clogging up the mouth of a culvert in its course, where the water quickly accumulated in volume, and which on becoming liberated, issued in such force that the archway failed to take the stream, the flood hence making its way in and about the premises and causing much damage to take place.

The River Medlock runs through another archway right under the floor of the iron forge, and during a flood on August 15th, 1857, the area about its outlet got made up with debris, when suddenly the force of the water lifted and swept away the floor of the works, and, unfortunately, a workman named John GOODHEAD, was taken with it, and drowned.

During repairs the entrance of the culvert was made in the form of a rapid, meaning that the river course was made steep and the bottom paved, which now acts as a flush to the culvert. Lower down the stream the wooden bridge crossing the river from Tanpit Field to the orchard and beyond has been displaced several times.

In the course of an unusual thunder storm in the vicinity of Bank Top Wood in 1856, the brook which runs through the wood comes to another culvert, or underground water course, which travels alongside the length of a stone wall protecting the east end of the orchard. The culvert, as in the above, got made up with shingle, and in consequence the flow of the brook swelled with that of a rutted path, breached the wall in various by undermining, and doing much further damage to the road and to a filled up portion of the river bank, which helped the flood, in this case, to wash the footbridge mostly on one side of the river.

This footbridge, then being two or three feet wide, was only a simple, weak structure, so in addition to several minor mishaps at times, the heavy flood that caused the accident to the floor of the iron forge in 1857, totally destroyed the bridge and took most of it down the river, and there being no proper cartway to the residence in the garden only by fording the river lower down, a new strong timber bridge, as now, wide enough for vehicular use was then erected on deep driven piles, which seem to have weathered the strain of more recent floods.

The storm, which was accompanied with much thunder, was most terrific all through the district, and swelled the canal so rapidly that the overflow — about half its present width — near Bardsley Mill could not give sufficient escape, and the canal, being full to overflowing, burst its bank at the head near to the weir, then rushing down the river in double current with the flood washed away about 80 yards of the river wall and some yards inward of Mr SHAW’s front garden at Bardsley Brewery.

Further, the combined flood and its deposit of debris at Messrs WOOD and WRIGHT’s printing works, Clayton Bridge, caused considerable damage to premises and manufactured goods, and at the same time washed away many bodies from Phillip’s Park Cemetery. A short time afterwards there was a heavy law suit between the above printing firm and the canal company. The trial was at Liverpool, at which some people from Bardsley went as witnesses.

Between the old river course and the cartway referred to there was formerly a neat garden invested by Mr S OGDEN, while the orchard was extended by Messrs Robert BOOTH and Jas. LEIGH, and when in full growth the grounds were most attractive with the blossom of a variety of fruit trees, including a fine pear tree standing in company with the ivy-clad chimney and pillars of the old pumping engine, both of which now form a highly valued picture to many photographers.

Near to is situated is Bank Wood, which in former days grew many fine plants of the hollin and rowan tree, while along the brook grew the haw, honeysuckle, and dog-rose, shading many other rare plants, including valerian, Angelica, marsh crowfoot, forget-me-not, and ferns, and further on the incline leading up to Bank Top, the purple orchid and primrose once grew plentifully.

How delighted the botanist would be to find such a collection in the locality now. The writer well remembers, in company with other boys, cutting the fistular internodes of the flowering stems of Angelica for blow tubes, and thus amusing each other by blowing the various small fruit from the hedgerows over a given mark, and a pleasure which reminds me of a verse by Fawcet on the scenes of early life:—

Hail, loveliest scene these eyes have e’er surveyed,
Where my gay childhood innocently grew,
Where oft my feet with truant pastime played,
And my warm youth life’s freshest pleasure knew.

On the south side of Tanpit field we come to a road in company with a brook which leads through a well-known dingle to Alt and Hartshead, &c. On one side the dingle is covered with a thick growth of butter-bur, a common plant, which first flowers in early spring, then develops some strong rhubarb-like leaves, from two to four feet high. The other side of the road used to be thickly planted with oak and other trees, where the bank — as in feature with all the banks around the valley — was warmly clothed with a robust growth of the bracken fern. The dingle, including a field above the wood, was formerly a rabbit warren. The rabbits also infested the fields and woods for some miles.

On climbing a steep brow from Tanpit field to Fairbottom Fold we sight the offices where the principal business of Messrs LEES and Co, colliery proprietors, was mostly supervised. The manager, Mr HORSFALL, resided in the same fold. Soon after the closing and disposal of the various colliery plants the premises were said to have been purchased by the late Dr GARDINER, of Ashton-under-Lyne, who, in his enterprise, planted a variety of trees on the banks around Fairbottom to the gay appearance it now displays.

Passing by a grassy footpath southward through the woody dale of Holden, then crossing a brook at its east end, we pass some beautiful scenery, and onward from the brook (where in 1869 there was a man drowned in a pool of water at the crossing), up another incline to Alt Hill. We may here take advantage of a halt and observe that there has been a gradual decay of foliage all around.

The remaining picturesque scenery here and along the valley of the Medlock reveals that the serenity of the neighbourhood in mediæval times must have been delightful to witness. And while the woods and hedgerows of the surrounding district may have contributed interest to the naturalist of the past, the old dwellings in the vicinity of Alt Hill are equally attractive to the antiquarian and photographer.

A few years ago some of the old property of about 200 or more years’ standing was demolished, including the farm and public house, the Hunters’ Tavern, previously mentioned, and a wide, roomy house, with an ornamented stone doorway facing a south garden, which must have been a fine residence of its time. A short distance away there are several other old farms still tenanted, bearing the dates 1710-1758, or, rather most of the farm dwellings are perhaps of the 16th and 17th century build.

(At this point, the article becomes unreadable, so I’m afraid Joseph’s reminiscences end here!)

An Excellent Programme

The second concert of the season was given by the members of the Black and White Minstrel Troupe in the Victoria Congregational School on Monday evening. There was a crowded audience, and the programme was an ambitious one for the local troupe. The class of entertainment, while harmonising in some of its features with that of the music hall, is of a more refined character; the professional element is little in evidence, and its objectionable manner is altogether absent. A combination of vocal and instrumental music and humour, songs, sentimental and comic, with patter absurd, if you will, but of an admissible character, had been furnished by the artistes. They were a concert party that supplied good, wholesome entertainment, and that is evidently what a large section of the people want.

The first item was a quartette, “Sweet and low,” sung by Misses A ROBINSON and E A GEE, and Messrs CROSBY and RIDGEWAY. This was very ably rendered, and the audience were not slow to show their appreciation. Mr Fred UTTLEY sang “Looping the Loop” in excellent voice, and Miss Helena GATTLEY “Vacant chair,” for which both received hearty applause. In “Old folks at home” Miss E A GEE displayed considerable talent, the only fault being a slight unsteadiness, for which she was afterwards pardoned by her excellent rendering of “Sweet Genevieve.”

Mr MULDOON was the success of the evening with his delightful singing, dancing, and banjo playing, and he thoroughly earned the ovation he received, and Olive UTTLEY, in “Good old Jeff,” sang very creditably. She possesses an excellent voice, her intonation being almost faultless. Mr James CROSBY sang “Underneaf dat ole umbrella” and Da Massa’s run, ha, ha” in his usual humorous style, which met with hearty approval.

Miss Annie ROBINSON earned rapturous applause by her delightful rendering of “Massa’s in de cold, cold ground” and “Piccaninnie mine, good night,” The second song suited her admirably, and her clear voice was displayed to great advantage. “Sons of the motherland” and “Good night” were ably rendered by Mr Wright RIDGEWAY, “Camptown races” by Mr Fred UTTLEY, and “Naval bridge” by Mr George ALCOCK.

The cornermen of the troupe, Messrs F WHALLEY, F UTTLEY, J CROSBY, C E MIDDLETON, J WHITEHEAD, and F ALCOCK, with Mr W RIDGEWAY as interlocutor, diverted the audience with amusing conundrums and smart repartee. Great credit is due to Miss Bertha ROBINSON for the excellent manner in which she accompanied the various songs, etc.

The entertainment concluded with a laughable farce, entitled “Dr Draculum.” The characters represented were; Dr Draculum, Mr J CROSBY; Joshua, his apprentice, Mr T H WHALLEY; and Policeman XX, Mr J WHITEHEAD. The scene depicted is the interior of the surgery. General Grumpus is coming to have his leg cut off, and also Mr Simpson to arrange about a partnership. Mr Simpson arrives when the doctor is out, and his assistant, thinking Mr Simpson if General Grumpus, proceeds to cut off his leg. The farce concludes with the assistant poisoning Mr Simpson and the policeman by mistake.

The concert was in every way a success, and reflects great credit on all who took part. We hope the troupe will not be long before they give another evening’s fun and enjoyment, as we are sure everyone present would be glad to spend another night in the same way.

”Old Robert,” the Railway Porter

At the close of the Town Council meeting on Monday evening, a presentation was made by the Mayor (Alderman H PRATT) to Mr Robert BELL, for 50 years a passenger porter on the Great Central Railway, 20 years of which he spent at Dukinfield Station. Some months ago “Old Robert” retired from active service, and a number of gentlemen formed a testimonial committee to collect funds and make a present to Mr BELL, in recognition of his long service and general courtesy to the passengers.

The members of the Council present were Aldermen J KERFOOT, A ELSE, Councillors G H KENYON, J BANCROFT, J D HIBBERT, G DEAN, G McFARLANE, W WILLIAMS, A C BOWDEN, H BROWN, B J HARVEY, J T NEWTON, J TAYLOR, A MORRIS, C H BOOTH, W E WOOD, J AVISON, J BARDSLEY, and J COOKE. In addition there were present the Messrs Percy WAGSTAFFE, G POTTS, G H BRYAN and GURNHILL (station-master). Mr BELL was accommodated in the deputy Mayor’s chair.

The Mayor, addressing the assembly, said the duty he had been asked to perform was one which gave him very great pleasure indeed. All of them for many years had been acquainted with a railway porter at Dukinfield Station who had always been willing and ready to render any good service to the passengers there. — (Hear, hear.)

His kindness and affability had won for him many friends in Dukinfield, and they were sorry that an affliction had come upon him through which he had to retire from the position he had fulfilled for so many years with credit to the railway company and to himself. — (Hear, hear.) The person he was alluding to was Mr Robert BELL, or “Old Robert,” as he was familiarly called. — (Hear, hear.)

Drunk and Disorderly.— John QUARMBY appeared before the magistrates sitting at Ashton on Wednesday charged with being drunk and disorderly at Waterloo on the 20th of February. He pleaded guilty. — Superintendent HEWITT said he had been before the magistrates on the 20th of May last for being drunk on licensed premises, and he was now fined 5s and costs.

Peddling Without Certificate at Woodhouses.— At the Ashton County Police Court on Wednesday, Mary McDERMOTT, said to belong to Newton Heath, was charged with peddling without certificate at Woodhouses. She pleaded guilty of peddling without certificate, but pleaded ignorance of the law. In answer to the chairman, she explained that she was a widow, and was short of work. That was why she had taken to peddling. — The case was dismissed.

An alarming occurrence was witnessed on Friday dinner time at the corner of Bentinck-street and Stamford-street. A man was crossing the street when a lurry, wheeling sharply round the corner, caught him, knocking him to the floor. He was found to have sustained injuries to his arm. Fortunately a doctor was in the vicinity and dressed his injuries, and he was then conveyed home on the lurry.

Sir, — I see from your last week’s journal that the landmark mentioned above is to be closed for ever to all lovers of country rambles. I for one am extremely sorry to hear this, and I feel that I shall be voicing the opinion of many others when I say that it will be a great pity if the demolition of one of the few landmarks of this part of the country is allowed. I should be very glad to see a committee formed which could take in hand the renovation of the old building.

I have visited it many times and taken many visitors to see it — visitors who have come from far and near and have heard of its excellence. I think we ought not to allow such a notable structure to “die out,” and in many districts it would not be allowed. What is there more cheerful than to think of one “old place” where you can take a friend for an hour or so to spend and so view the sites around? The verse you give, which I partly repeat below, was sent in by an old and near relation of mine —

”Look well at me before you go.”

I think if every visitor, young and old, had only thought seriously of these few words “Hartshead Pike” would have been in a state of “good preservation” today. I only hope that some of our old Ashtonians will come forward and do what was done in 1751. Surely we cannot rest in peace and see such an old and historical building fade away. I should like to see this matter taken up by the pen of a more ready writer.

Prospect Place, Mossley-road, Ashton-under-Lyne

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