A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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Midelton, 1212; Middelton, 1292.
This township stretches for about 2 miles along the north bank of" the rich valley of the Irk, and has an area of 1,930 acres. (fn. 1) The highest point, nearly 500ft., is on the northern border; from this the higher ground stretches south-east towards the centre, with a valley to the north, through which Langley Brook flows west to the Roch, and another valley to the east, through which Whit Brook and another flow south from Hopwood to the Irk. The portion of the township to the north-east of the latter brook is called Boarshaw. Hebers and Langley occupy the northern part of the township; Bowler and Rhodes the western; Woodside is in the centre; and Middleton with its church, and formerly its hall, grew up in the angle between the Irk and Whit Brook. On the other side of the Irk is Tonge, now incorporated with Middleton. The population in 1901 was 25,178. (fn. 2)
The principal road is the 'new road' from Manchester to Rochdale, which crosses the Irk by a bridge, and passes northward through the town to the west of the church, and is there called Long Street. Outside the town a branch of it runs north-west and north to Heywood. Another road to Heywood runs near the west and north-west border. The other principal road is the Manchester road from the west through Rhodes, keeping near the Irk, and joining the Rochdale road to the south-west of the church. It continues eastward, through the Market Place, and then divides, going south and east into Tonge, and north-east to Thornham. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Company's railway from Manchester to Rochdale, and the canal between the same places, pass through the extreme north-east part of the township. There are light railways along the roads from Rhodes to Tonge and Oldham, and from Middleton to Rochdale. The town is also connected with Manchester and other places by electric tramways.
In 1840 the town was described as 'situated in a fertile vale, skirted by rising grounds, well cultivated and rendered pleasant by groves of trees; a narrow steep ridge of sandy soil extends along the eastern side of the place, and a large number of the buildings have been erected on the summit and slope of this hill; a considerable number of cottages which may be considered a part of the town are on the sides and at the foot of the western and eastern banks of the eminence.' (fn. 3) There was formerly a medicinal well, commemorated by the name Spaw.
The curfew bell is still rung at ten o'clock. (fn. 4)
The Boar's Head Inn, on the west side of the Rochdale road, is a picturesque black and white timber building on a stone base, with three gables to the street filled with quatrefoil ornament. The timber framing is plain, consisting of uprights and horizontal cross pieces, and the gables are without barge-boards; but the whole presents a very charming appearance, the roofs retaining the old stone slates and the restoration of the building having been effected in a manner so as to preserve all the characteristic features of the old work. At the north end is a later addition (fn. 5) in brick with a good 18th-century window and doorway. A stone in the cellar of the inn bears the date 1632. The building is the property of the Corporation.
The annual rush-bearing or wakes are held on the last Saturday but one in August. A mock mayor was formerly chosen on Easter Tuesday. (fn. 6)
The hearth tax return of 1666 shows that there were here 113 hearths liable. The largest dwellings were those of Lady Anne Assheton with eighteen hearths; Mr. Simmonds, fourteen; Richard Hilton the younger, ten; Susan Wrigley, nine; and Isaac Walkden, six. (fn. 7)
In the latter part of the 17th century the cotton manufacture began to take root in Middleton. For a long time it was a cottage industry, and even in 1770 there were only about twenty habitations in the village. The widow of the last Sir Ralph Assheton is stated to have been resolutely opposed to the introduction of the mill system, perhaps because of its destructive effect on the amenities of the place. The Suffields not residing, this objection ceased, but the land tenure was unfavourable. Silk-weaving was introduced about 1778, and has continued to be one of the chief trades. By 1795 the 'more profitable branches of muslin and nanken' employed the weavers. The first cotton mill was built about 1800. In 1812 the Luddites attacked the mills. (fn. 8) By 1833 all the branches of the cotton manufacture had been established. In that year the great calico-printing works were established at Rhodes. All these trades continue to flourish; there are also iron foundries, machinery is made, and the manufacture of chemicals and soap is carried on.
A botanical society was formed in 1842 and an agricultural society in 1859. The Mechanics' Institute was opened in 1848.
The Middleton Albion, a weekly paper, was started in 1857, and lasted till 1895. The present newspaper, the Guardian, published on Fridays, was established in 1873.
The people were formerly very Radical in their politics, Chartism finding a ready welcome. Samuel Bamford, born at Middleton in 1788, poet and politician, was several times imprisoned on charges of treason. He died in 1872 and has a monument in the cemetery. (fn. 9) Amos Ogden, who died in 1850, was another prominent Radical. (fn. 10)
MIDDLETON, like Bury, in the 12th century formed part of the Montbegon fee of Tottington, held later by the Lacys and the Earls and Dukes of Lancaster. With its dependencies or hamlets—making up the whole parish of Middleton—it was held of the lord of Tottington by one knight's fee, with payments of 10s. a year for castle-ward and 13s. 4d. for sake fee. (fn. 11)
The tenants adopted the local surname. The earliest on record is Roger de Middleton, son of Alexander, who about 1180 made a grant of Ashworth. (fn. 12) In 1193, having shared in the rebellion of John, Count of Mortain, he made peace with the king by a fine of 5 marks. (fn. 13) It was found in 1212 that he held the fee of one knight (in Middleton) 'of ancient tenure,' of Roger de Montbegon, and also held a plough-land in Cheetham of the king. (fn. 14) He died before 1226, when Avice his widow was of the king's gift. (fn. 15) His son Robert (fn. 16) succeeded, but was dead in 1242, when his heir held the knight's fee in Middleton, part of the dower of the Countess of Lincoln. (fn. 17)
This heir was his son Roger, who in 1243 had a suit with Geoffrey de Middleton respecting the third part of four plough-lands in Middleton. (fn. 18) It was perhaps a later Roger de Middleton who appears in various ways as lord of the manor in the last quarter of the century, (fn. 19) and whose son Roger succeeded him. (fn. 20)
In 1313 Roger de Middleton and Agnes his wife made a settlement of the manor, the remainders after the death of Agnes being, in default of male issue, to their daughters in succession—Maud, Ellen, Alice, Margaret, Margery, and Joan. (fn. 21) Four years later a similar arrangement was made with respect to the third part of the manor and the advowson of the church. (fn. 22) Roger died in August 1322; (fn. 23) his widow Agnes was living in 1353, but probably died shortly afterwards. (fn. 24) The manor and advowson then went to the representative of the second daughter, Maud, who was first in the remainder. She married Thomas de Barton of Fryton in Rydale, by whom she had several sons; (fn. 25) and secondly John de Amsworth, (fn. 26) who continued after her death to hold the manor by the courtesy of England, but was outlawed. (fn. 27) Maud's right passed to her son John de Barton, (fn. 28) after whom Thomas de Barton, perhaps as trustee, was in possession, (fn. 29) followed by William, the son of John. William de Barton occurs between 1363 and 1384. (fn. 30) He married Isabel, daughter of William de Radcliffe, and had a son Ralph, who died in 1398 seised of the manor of Middleton with its hamlets of Ashworth, Birtle, Ainsworth, Meadowcroft, and Lynalx. The heir was his son Richard, born at Middleton in 1386. The wardship was granted to James de Radcliffe. (fn. 31) Richard de Barton had sons John (fn. 32) and Richard, and was living in 1457. (fn. 33) The elder son died before his father, leaving a daughter and heir Margery, who was in 1439 contracted to marry Ralph Ashton, a younger son of Sir John Ashton of Ashton-under-Lyne. (fn. 34)
The descent of the manor is somewhat uncertain. (fn. 35) By a number of agreements made in 1457 a great part of the estate was settled upon heirs of 'Richard Barton, of Middleton, the elder, esquire,' (fn. 36) the grandfather of Margery. Richard's widow Alice had lands granted to her as dower early in 1466. (fn. 37) By 1480 the greater part of the Middleton estate was held by Sir Ralph Ashton and Margery his wife; but Alice Barton widow of Richard, Margery Barton widow of John, and Richard and Ralph Barton, held various messuages and lands 'of the inheritance of Margery.' (fn. 38) Three years later it was recorded that Sir Ralph Ashton held the manor of Middleton in right of his wife, by one knight's fee, rendering yearly 13s. 4d. and for ward of Lancaster Castle 10s. (fn. 39)
Sir Ralph Ashton, brought up at court and made a knight before 1464 and a banneret by Richard Duke of Gloucester at Hutton field in Scotland, 1482, (fn. 40) held various public offices (fn. 41) and was by Richard III appointed ViceConstable of England. (fn. 42) In his native place he acquired an evil reputation, the custom of 'riding the Black Lad' at Ashton commemorating (according to the general opinion) the popular detestation of his conduct. (fn. 43) Early in 1484 he made a lease to Richard his son for twenty years of the manor of Middleton, (fn. 44) and probably died shortly afterwards. (fn. 45) In 1487 Richard Ashton, his son and heir, obtained a general pardon from Henry VII. (fn. 46) He was made a knight in 1497, (fn. 47) and held the manor of Middleton by the service of a knight's fee, until his death, 28 April 1507; the clear value at that time was estimated at £109 6s. 8d. (fn. 48)
Richard Ashton, his son and heir, then about twenty-five years of age, succeeded. At the battle of Flodden he captured Sir John Forman, serjeantporter to James IV, and Alexander Barrett, high sheriff of Aberdeen, with two others, whom he delivered to the English commander, the Earl of Surrey, afterwards created Duke of Norfolk. (fn. 49) From the king in 1523 he received a perpetual grant of a leet or view of frankpledge in the vill of Middleton, with courts, fines, and amercements belonging; also the park and free warren in his demesne lands in the manor, with all liberties. (fn. 50) He was also made a knight. (fn. 51) Sir Richard died 11 January 1548–9, and was buried at Middleton. (fn. 52) His son and heir Richard was thirtyeight years of age, but did not long enjoy possession, dying on 4 August 1550. (fn. 53) His son, another Richard, who was fourteen years of age, (fn. 54) had also but a brief tenure, as he died on 17 July 1563, holding the manor of Middleton by the ancient service of a knight's fee and 23s. 4d. rent, and also the manor of Radcliffe, a recent acquisition. Richard his son and heir was only five years old. (fn. 55)
Richard Assheton twice served as sheriff of Lancashire, (fn. 56) and was knighted at the coronation of James I. (fn. 57) He died in 1617, (fn. 58) and his son and heir Richard followed him within twelve months, leaving as heir his son Ralph, then twelve years of age. (fn. 59) He paid £25 in 1632 on refusing knighthood. (fn. 60) In 1640 he was returned as one of the knights of the shire. (fn. 61) In the Civil War he took a leading part on the Parliamentary side. (fn. 62) He was appointed a deputy lieutenant of the county in 1642, in opposition to the Crown nominees, and sequestrator in 1643. Ascolonel of the levies he was constantly in active service; commanded at the siege of Bolton in 1643, relieved the town of Lancaster and defeated Lord Derby at Whalley, but was himself defeated at Mid dlewich in Cheshire. Soon afterwards he took part in the siege of Lathom, and fought at Preston and Appleby with greater success. (fn. 63) He died 17 February 1650–1, and was buried at Middleton, where there is a memorial brass commemorating him and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Kay. (fn. 64)
The eldest son, Richard, having died in infancy, by witchcraft as it was supposed, (fn. 65) the new lord of Middleton was Ralph Assheton, the second son. Like others of his father's party he welcomed the restoration of the monarchy and was created a baronet in 1660. (fn. 66) He died five years later, (fn. 67) and was succeeded by his son Ralph, the second baronet, who enjoyed the estates for fifty years, dying in 1716. (fn. 68) He had succeeded to the Whalley Abbey estate in 1697, in right of his mother. He represented Liverpool in Parliament in 1676, and was knight of the shire, as a Whig, from 1694 to 1698. (fn. 69) Having no son he was succeeded in the baronetcy and at Middleton by his nephew Ralph, son of his brother Richard. This Sir Ralph (fn. 70) died in 1765, leaving two daughters as coheirs, and the baronetcy became extinct. (fn. 71) Mary, the elder daughter, married Harbord Harbord, afterwards Lord Suffield, and had Middleton Manor with her moiety of the estate; Eleanor, the younger daughter, married Sir Thomas Egerton, afterwards Lord Grey de Wilton, and received the manor of Radcliffe. (fn. 72)
The manor and estates remained in the Harbord family for the greater part of a century. (fn. 73) They were about 1848 sold by Lord Suffield to Peto and Betts, great railway contractors, (fn. 74) and on their bankruptcy in 1861 were disposed of to various persons. (fn. 75) William Wagstaffe acquired the lordship of the manor and the advowson, with a considerable share of the land, and about 1880 Mr. Alfred Butterworth of Werneth purchased them. (fn. 76)
Middleton Hall was situated a little to the south of the church, and was pulled down in 1845, a cotton factory being built on the site. An account of the house written immediately before its demolition describes it as an ancient structure erected at different periods, the oldest part being of timber and plaster, with later additions in stone. A south front, which was of brick, was added at the beginning of the 19th century by the first Lord Suffield. The house contained some good panelling and plaster ceilings, and a large stone chimneypiece with the date 1587. (fn. 77) The original timber house is said to have been built round two spacious courts, and was approached by bridges over a moat. The great entrance was described about the year 1770 as 'resembling a ship turned upside down,' from which it appears that it had rested on crucks. (fn. 78)
In 1840 and later the manor courts continued to be held annually for the appointment of constables for the several townships in the manor and parish. (fn. 79)
LANGLEY, on the north-west of Middleton, gave its name to a family which occurs from time to time till the 15th century. (fn. 80) Cardinal Langley and the Langleys of Agecroft, lords of Prestwich and Pendlebury, are supposed to have belonged to it. At Langley the local family was succeeded by a branch of the Radcliffes; (fn. 81) by sale and descent it passed to the Wrigleys (fn. 82) and Ferrabees. In 1846 it was purchased by James Collinge of Oldham. (fn. 83) The hall was pulled down in 1886. (fn. 84)
It appears from the inquisitions that many of the neighbouring families held land in Middleton, but the position of the holdings is not given. (fn. 85) 'Hebers,' an estate of 26 acres, &c., then lately inclosed from the waste, was in 1611 held of the king by knight's service by Edmund Hopwood of Hopwood. (fn. 86) Boarshaw was the home of a yeoman family named Jones; one of them, Thomas Jones, was Protestant Archbishop of Dublin from 1605 to 1619, and ancestor of the Viscounts Ranelagh. (fn. 87)
Early in the reign of Henry VIII disputes broke out respecting the boundaries of the manors of Middleton and Bury, which were much intermingled, and a commission was issued to determine them. (fn. 88)
Formerly the government of the place was in the hands of the constables chosen at the manor court held in May. An Improvement Act for Middleton and Tonge was passed in 1861; (fn. 89) these townships had long been treated as forming one town, though in different parishes. In 1886 a charter of incorporation was granted, (fn. 90) and the town is governed by a council composed of a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors, six for each of the wards—North, South, and West—into which the borough has been divided. The corporation own the gasworks, which were established in 1847 and transferred to the town in 1861. (fn. 91) Water is supplied by the Heywood and Middleton Water Board. (fn. 92) The town has a commission of the peace; the police station, with court room, was built in 1873. The corporation have established a free library, (fn. 93) built in 1888, a small park, public baths, and a fire brigade. A cemetery was formed in 1861.
Lord Suffield in 1791 procured a charter for holding a weekly market on Friday and three annual fairs; he also erected a market-house and shambles, taken down in 1851. The charter was for a long time practically useless; in 1840 there was no market held on Friday, and the business done on Saturday was trivial. At that time also the fairs were scarcely observed; the times fixed were the first Thursdays after 10 March and 15 April, and the second Thursday after 29 September. (fn. 94) A monthly fair was established in 1862.
To minister to the largely increased population many places of worship have in recent times been erected. In connexion with the Church of England Holy Trinity, Parkfield, was consecrated in 1862; the rector of Middleton is the patron. (fn. 95)
The Wesleyans 'originally met for devotion in a chapel at Back of the Brow, where they continued till about 1788, when they removed to a chapel at the bottom of Barrowfields.' (fn. 96) This was followed in 1805 by a chapel in Wood Street, represented by the present one in Long Street, built in 1901. There is another chapel at Rhodes. The Primitive Methodists appeared in 1821 at Middleton, and at Rhodes in 1835; they have also a chapel at Bowlee. The New Connexion held meetings in 1804, and though they erected a chapel at Barrowfields, became extinct in a few years. The Wesleyan Association held meetings in 1837, but failed; subsequently work was resumed, and as the United Free Church the body has chapels in the town and at Hebers.
The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion used the abandoned New Connexion chapel in 1815, but in 1824 built St. Stephen's in High Street.
The Congregationalists held meetings as early as 1818, and used the New Connexion chapel for some years, with varying success, and at last in 1836 built Providence Chapel; this was replaced by the present building in 1860. A division in the congregation occurred in 1866, and Salem Chapel, built in 1855 by secessionists from the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, was acquired and continues in use. (fn. 97)
The Baptists have a chapel, dating from 1862.
The Swedenborgians first met in a cottage in 1801, and in 1832 opened the New Jerusalem Temple in Wood Street; they have another at Rhodes, begun in 1861.
The Unitarians in 1825 unsuccessfully tried to form a congregation. Their present church originated in services in the Temperance Hall in 1860.
St. Peter's Roman Catholic school-chapel was built in 1867. There is a house of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Passion. (fn. 98)