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A journey through Saddleworth

May 10, 2009

North West scenes begins a series of articles on the Saddleworth area and begins with James Butterworth,who at the beginning of the 19th Century began to travel the area

Saddleworth Fold above the village of UpperMill

Saddleworth Fold above the village of UpperMill

Prior to James Butterworth’s history of the area, Saddleworth had been given little or no attention by writers of any description.

John Atkin  in his book Description of the countryside 30-40 miles around Manchester said that Saddleworth was a large valley about seven miles long and five across in its broadest part situated in an angle of Yorkshire

It is he continues

“a wild bleak region of which a very small part is under cultivation but industry has accumulated in it a large number of inhabitants who gain a comfortable subsistence by the manufacture of woollen cloth for which the place is particularly famous.

Atkin though noted that its trade had increased in a very rapid way with a more than quadrupling of the amount of cloth manufactured in the area in the last 50 years and noting that the arrival of the Huddersfield and Ashton canal would improve the movement of both raw materials and finished cloth in and out of the area.

Mountains and valley areas were, until the late 1700’s seen as a wild landscape inhabited by unknown terrors.  People still believed that unnatural forces lurked at the tops of hills.  Mountains were “irregular and gargantuan outlines which upset the natural spirit level of the mind”.  They were dangerous places to go.  With communications bad, the people that lived there had little contact with the outside world.

The coming of the Industrial Revolution began to change the area.

“The desire to supplement income by the weaving of sheep’s wool, and the advent of basic industrialisation led to the taming of the valley floors, in order to harness the power of water to power looms and other textile equipment in the newly-built mills, and the emergence of new villages. “

It was at this point that James Butterworth began his tour of the region which resulted in the publication in 1828 of his Historical and topographical account of Saddleworth.

James was born in 1778 in the small hamlet of Pitses, in the Medlock vale between Oldham and Ashton.  He was one of 11 children from a weaving family, but like many weavers his time at the loom gave him opportunity to learn to read and to think.

In 1803 he became the postmaster of Oldham which allowed him some freedom to travel around the area and in 1817 he produced his “History of Oldham” and later became a schoolteacher as well as a freelance news reporter for the local paper.

He continued to publish histories of the area, that of Ashton under Lyme in 1823, which was expanded to cover Stockport, Mottram and Glossop, followed by a History of Rochdale.

His foray into Saddleworth was the first of its kind and it was thought that it was the area’s connections to the Church in Rochdale which gave him the ambition.

The work gave a first real insight into the area which was rapidly changing as industrialisation continued apace.

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