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Oldham & District Family History Society


Our Oldham Branch of the M&LFHS was already in existence, in February 2004, when I joined the M&LFHS. It's only now (May 2020) as I write this new account of the Branch, that I've delved into its own beginnings. For my information, where better to turn than the archived 'Manchester Genealogist' quarterly journal, and Mary Pendlebury, a founder member of the Branch. (M&LFHS members can access the journal archives in the Member Area).

Journal 32-1, 1996, includes the Report of an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Society, on the 8th of November, 1995, at which "... following the need to formally establish branches under the constitution of the M&LFHS, and to comply with Charity Law, the following motions were passed:

Motion 1:
That this meeting authorises the Council of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society to establish from time to time Branches of the Society, and that the Branches so established will operate under the 'Rules for Branches' as given in an Appendix to the constitution.
Motion 2:
That this meeting confirms the formal establishment of the Anglo-Scottish FHS and the Bolton and District FHS as branches under the revised constitution, as from the date of this meeting (passed at the AGM, 1995) ...
Motion 3:
That it was the will of this meeting that the M&LFHS maintain the branches namely the Anglo-Scottish FHS and the Bolton and District FHS under the umbrella of the M&LFHS."

With formal recognition of the two branches, it was time for Oldham to consider a similar move and, in the Journal 1996, 32-2, p.82, was the following notification:



"At a recent meeting attended by Officers of the Council, and nearly 100 Oldham based members of the Society, it was decided to form a new group, to be known as Oldham & District, as a Section of M&LFHS. All members of the Society are entitled, under the terms of their membership, to join in the activities of the group, whether by attending meetings, assisting in the transcription of records, or by contributing items of interest for publication in the journal."

Oldham & District Branch of the MLFHS came into being on 27th March, 1996, and so, in the words of founder member, Mary Pendlebury, in her account in the Manchester Genealogist', 1996, 32-2, p.113,

'A branch is born or we told 'em Oldham!...'

"A crowded meeting of Society members and friends based in the Oldham area was held 27 March, 1996. Joan Wood, the Society's chairman, outlined the reasons for calling the meeting, and how a branch should be run to conform to the Society's constitution. After considerable discussion it was agreed that it would be valuable to establish a branch to serve the area. Eight members volunteered to become the 'Steering Group' which would be set up and run the branch for the first few months. A programme has been organised and the first meeting at which Sandy Roydes told us about the Hopwood family of Hopwood Hall, Middleton will have taken place by the time members read this (report in the next journal).

The Steering Group is interested to receive suggestions and ideas from anyone who has an interest in the Oldham area. We interpret 'Oldham and District' very widely to cover Oldham itself, the Saddleworth villages, Royton, Failsworth, Hollinwood, Chadderton, Shaw, Middleton and Ashton under Lyne. There were over 500 entries, in the Society's recently published Members' Interests Directory, which specifically related to our group's area alone, with another 400 concerning research in Lancashire as a whole where a placename was not given). We will be setting up projects within the area, and would like to have your suggestions. We are keen to know what our out of area and overseas members interests are. Do write and let us know. We have not set up a fully fledged committee as yet but have identified certain aspects of the organisational work that require a particular person to take the responsibility. The group are tackling the rest of the work on a co-operative basis for the time being. Oldham people travelled the world to find work, fame and fortune. We look forward to meeting their descendants, either in person, or by correspondence.

Steering Group:
Secretary ... Thelma Gledhill
Projects ... Joan Moores
Research ... Doreen EI-Ahwany
Organiser ... Mary Pendlebury

Group members:
Keith Broadbent
Carol Hughes
Roger Norris
Danny Wright

Meetings at 2,OOpm, Dr Syntax pub, Union Street, Oldharn, on Tuesday, 27 June and Tuesday 18 July"

There was no reference to a meeting planned for August but, by September, we can see in the Journal 32-3, 1996, Calendar of Events, that meetings would henceforth take place, on Thursdays at 7pm, at The Unitarian Chapel, King Street, Oldham (One World Centre). From September 1996, the meetings were still on Thursdays but began at 2pm.

A year later, and Mary Pendlebury marked the first anniversary of the Branch's existence, with this account, in the 'Manchester Genealogist', 1997, 33-2,

"The Oldham and District branch is just one year old. We have had an eventful and, we feel, successful year. The Steering Group has worked hard to provide interesting meetings and accompanying help desk, bookstall, members' interests file and refreshments (!) each month. We have helped overseas and out of town members using our knowledge of local resources and geography. We have attracted many new members to the parent society through helpful publicity from the local paper.

We have also run our first course for beginners - attended by 22 people. This was as a result of local demand and was run by the Steering Group collectively. We are nearing the end of three projects which we believe will be helpful to the Society as a whole. Firstly, the updating of the list of marriages of Oldhamers at Prestwich Church; secondly, building an accurate database of all Oldham's places of worship of all faiths and thirdly, surname indexing the 1891 census for Middleton.

We have had many minor disasters such as a lost speaker, buildings being demolished around us, the roof being drilled (loudly) during the meeting and either too much heating or no heating at all. In spite of this our audience still turns up - Oldhamers are a hardy lot! We are proud of our modest achievements in our first year and hope that we will be able to continue to provide a forum where members in the Oldham area may meet, learn and exchange ideas."

Steering Group :
Secretary ... Thelma Gledhill
Projects ... Colin Wood
Organiser ... Mary Pendlebury

Group members:
Keith Broadbent
Carole Hughes
Doreen EI-Ahwany
Roger Norris
Dannie Wright"

For many years, starting in 1998, Mary Pendlebury organised an annual visit to London, providing an opportunity for Branch members to pursue their research at the National Archives.

I asked Mary about the annual London Trips and she replied,

"These deserve a whole booklet to themselves! We started with a group of 15 or so who went down to London by train and stayed for three days doing intensive research at the Family Record Centre in Clerkenwell using the national GRO BMD indexes in big, heavy books on the ground floor, and the country-wide census films in quieter surroundings on the first floor. We also had one day at Kew at the National Archives for more adventurous souls. The trips grew in popularity and length of stay until we were taking a coach-load of 45 or so for a week (Mon to Fri/Sat). We branched out and arranged guided visits to archives and other interesting places during the visit, including the British Library, LSE for the Booth Archive (twice), the Parliamentary Archive, SoG, the Wellcome Institute (full of weird and wonderful stuff) and the Wesleyan archive. Everyone had their own tales to tell and often went off to all manner of strange places. For our accommodation we did the rounds of Halls of Residence, in Bloomsbury, if we couldn’t get in to Hughes-Parry (our first and favourite place). Some were OK, some awful. We used to go at Easter in the beginning but, later, as there were more overseas students at the University who stayed over the holidays, we went in the early summer."

Mary went on to tell me that, in recent years, as more and more people turned to the internet to do their research, sadly, interest in spending time amongst the actual archives, in London, declined. Subsequently, the 2018 trip to London was the last to be arranged.

Thursday, December 13th, 2007 saw the last Branch meeting, at the Unitarian Chapel. However, this followed a period of uncertainty, during which the Chapel was being modernised and which meant that the two store rooms, either side of the stage, were to be put into general use for the Chapel. This meant that, in the future, the Branch would not be able to continue storing their equipment there. It was a blow because the equipment included bulky and heavy items such as an overhead projector, big screen and stand, boxes of books etc. Subsequently, as the Branch searched for a more permanent home for their meetings, several were held at different venues, such as the Baptist Chapel on King Street and at the Church on Union Street opposite the library. The Education Suite at the library was finally agreed upon, especially as, in the future, the meetings could be held on Saturdays. The first meeting, in the Education Suite at Gallery Oldham, was on Saturday, 12th January, 2008. The meetings would continue to be in the Education Suite until July 2017, when the venue became subject to changes due to development projects around the Library. The following couple of years, again, became very unsettled for the Branch, with no venue which really 'fitted the bill.' For the last months of 2017, the meetings were held in the Mahdlo Centre in Oldham. Then, in 2018, the meetings were held in the Lees Suite in the Civic Centre. Following that, in early 2019, came the return to Gallery Oldham ... sometimes in the Education Suite and sometimes in the Performance Space. For the most part of 2020, our meetings were booked to be held in the Performance Space (although, of course, many of these were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic). Hopefully, though, this will continue to be our venue into 2021 and beyond!

The Branch continued, through the years, with data research projects, which are all archived, and can be accessed in the Members' Area of the website. A list of the Oldham contributions (incuding those in the Public Area) is under the Branch 'Research' link. I asked Mary what projects they had decided to start with, and she replied that they began with little idea of what they actually wanted to do as projects but, as the FFHS (Federation of Family History Societies) was just starting the National Burial Index, it was decided that the Branch volunteers would concentrate on transcribing the burial registers for the Oldham area. This kept everyone occupied for years! They contributed the work to the NBI but also put the results on CD for the Society to sell. Very early on, the Branch Committee was approached by Ian Hartas, who was starting up his Cheshire BMD website, and asked if they could get the co-operation of the Oldham Registrar to do similar work there. The registrar was in favour of the suggestion but the legal situation had to be clarified first. Eventually, it was agreed, and Oldham became the second area to be included in the project. Initially, Roger Norris and Mary started the transcription work, and then it was handed over to a whole group of Oldham volunteers, including Malcolm Firth and Dorothy Bintley. The Projects Officer at the time was Colin Wood.

Coming back to the present, we now feel that, it is also very important for us to include more general research articles about the wider district, and the people who have lived and worked in this area over the generations. This area has a long history of industry, including hatting, coal mining, engineering and, of course, the manufacture of cotton; and then, of course, there were the artisans and labourers who serviced those industries and workforce: the shopkeepers, the cobblers, the carriers, the builders, and many more too numerous to mention. There have been good times ... and there have been times of terrible hardship and poverty. Just scraping the surface of our history, we can think of Peterloo, in 1819, which saw a large contingent from Oldham and the townships, with many desperately injured or killed. The subsequent inquest on a local man, John Lees, proved to be a test case of national importance. Political activity was strong, in the days before it was lawful, and one of Oldham first two MPs, was the veteran Reformer, William Cobbett. He was the author of the illicit, but much read, 'Political Register'. The area had a strong suffrage presence, both through the suffragette Annie Kenney and the suffragist Marjory Lees. Marjory's mother, Dame Sarah Anne Lees, was the Mayor of Oldham, in 1910, and only the second Lady Mayor in the whole of the country. The story of our local heritage, and our forebears who lived through those times, is a rich one and offers many avenues for our exploration and research.

Oldhamers, doing research, are fortunate in having had the Butterworths, in the early 1800s, who kept records and wrote up our history; we have Rowbottom's Diary of the everyday trivia in life from 1787 to 1830; we have Giles Shaw's 'Local Notes & Gleanings' and we have archived local newspapers that go back to the early mid 1800s. All of these can be found at the Oldham Local Studies & Archives Library. A list of the newspapers (archived on film) can be found 'HERE'  page.

There are so many stories still to be written. Perhaps you feel that this is something that you would like to undertake ... if so, please do so! 

To learn more, please visit the website Pictorial Index  on the Research/Local Interest page.

As a Branch we endeavour to provide an interesting and informative programme of meetings, throughout the year, with the exception of December, and hope to continue doing so. During the pandemic, of course, our in person meetings were suspended but we introduced online meetings on Zoom, which proved very successful as we could reach a much wider audience. Once in-person meetings were again possible, we began to offer a mixture of zoom only, hybrid and in the Library only meetings. Details of the current Programme are HERE.

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Where to find it  ...

Navigate the Branch website pages and see at a glance where you might find what you are looking for, with this site map, HERE