The History of Rothay Street, Leigh

11 June 2022

This history is a new project – do come back later to see what I have added!

The Canal

The Bridgewater Canal opened in 1761 and is often named as England’s first canal. It was an entirely man-made cut, built to transport coal from the Duke’s collieries in Worsley into Manchester. It was named after its founder and owner, Francis Egerton, the third Duke of Bridgewater.

Stanley Mill

In 1833 Bickham and Pownall built Stanley Mill as a silk mill on land just to the east of Duke Street, in the Bedford area of Leigh. They also built a master’s house on the site. They used to employ about a thousand workers of which 500 to 600 worked in the mill and the remainder worked in their homes. In 1870 there were still nine silk weaving sheds at Stanley Mill, but the silk trade was already in decline. The mill was gradually converted as the cotton trade took over from the silk trade.
In 1876 a job was advertised at Stanley Mills by James Syddall and Co.

Rothay Street 1845-1847

Three fields

For most of the 19th century Rothay Street did not exist. In the 1840s there were three plots, probably grazing fields, to the east of the Stanley Mill site. To the north, the three fields were bounded by the properties on Chapel Street, and to the south, they were bounded by the Bridgewater Canal.

The westerly field is now Cosworth Close and Avon Street. There were three properties in this area fronting Chapel Street. Rothay Street runs down the boundary between the westerly field and the middle field. To the north of the middle field, fronting onto Chapel Street, was a public house, now the Three Crowns. Tweed Street and Picksley Street run down the boundary between the middle field and the easterly field. To the north of the easterly field was Bedford Grove. On the 1840s OS map Bedford Grove looks like a handful of properties including a grand house surrounded by a large pleasure garden, several cottages, and some outbuildings. These houses may have been renamed 1 to 4 Orchard House by 1891 (TBC).

Bank Farm

A farmhouse, Bank Farm, once stood by the canal opposite Rothay Street. On 14th June 1895 Elizabeth Whittle died at Canal Farm, aged 12 years.

Some time before 1895 the farm was renamed Canal Farm.

On the 4th March 1905 the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser advertised a sale at the farm, which gives a good indication of the scale of the farm’s business: “CANAL FARM, LEIGH, the Canal Bank, close to Mather Lane Mills, and 1½ Miles from Leigh and Bedford Station. On Tuesday, March 14th at One pm. George Wilcock has received instructions from Mr Joseph Dickinson, who is declining Dairy Farming, to sell by auction, as above, his very valuable Farming Effects and Contractor’s Plant, comprising Live Stock, etc. — Newly calved and present calving cows, one served in January; fat calf, valuable bay mare, 16 hands, 9 years old, suit spring lurry; two store pigs, 100 fowls, &c. Carts, Implements &c — Stylish nearly new float, dog cart, waggonette to carry 6, two spring shandries. capital spring lorry, with fittings, about 18 cwt; three nearly new carts, pulper, hay cutter, ploughs, weighing machine and weights, &c. Gears and Dairy Utensils — Seven nearly new sets of shaft and chain gears, two sets of brass-mounted harness, kits, &c. Contractor’s Plant. – Nearly new 130-gallon tar boiler (Henley’s patent), two dobbin carts, 12 navvy barrows, tools, wood buildings, &c.”

The disposal continued several months later, when the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported another sale on 15th September 1905. It is a delight to see the horses’ names in this advert. “CANAL FARM, LEIGH. Pursuant to instructions from Mr Joseph Dickenson, Messrs, Richard Greenough & son will Sell by Auction on Monday September 18th 1905, at 1 pm, at the Farm and Premises in his occupation, known as CANAL FARM, the whole of the FARMING STOCK, IMPLEMENTS, DAIRY UTENSILS, and effects, comprising: — 1) Light Roan Cow (had 3 Calves), 2) Roan Cow, served January 25th. 3) Light Roan Cow, in full flow. 4) Black Cow, in full flow. 5) Roan Cow, newly calved. 6) Dun Cow, newly calved. 7) Black Mare, ‘Scott’, 15-3, 5 years old. 8) Bay Horse, ‘Bob’, 16-0, aged. 9) Useful Black Mare, ‘Dolly’ 15-2, 9 years old. 8 Pigs. 30 Head of Poultry. Three Fast Carts, one with Sideboards, &c, complete; Milk Float equal to new; Wagonette to carry 8, Turnip Pulper (by H Mc G & Co Ltd); Chaff Cutter, 3 Sets of Cart Harness, Set of Trap Harness, Sundry Saddlery, Mixing and Lick Tubs, Cow Chains, Milk Tankard, Milk Cans and Measures, Churn, quantity of Oak and Pitchpine Spars, 3 in and 2½ in by ¾ in by 16 ft long; about 12 tons Manure, Hen Cote, and numerous Miscellaneous Effects.”

The Three Crowns and Naylor’s Fold

A hotel or public house existed on Chapel Street long before any properties were built on Rothay Street. It was named the Three Crowns by at least 1856. Wigan Council’s ‘Bridgewater Canal Conservation Area Appraisal 2012’ states, “The pub dates from the late 18th Century, with alterations. This building originated as Naylor’s Fold Farmhouse, reflecting the rural origins of the area. Notable features include its sandstone slate roof and timber framed sash windows to the first and second floors.” There were three cottages tucked in behind the pub, called Naylor’s Fold.

The pub was one of two which came up for sale in 1895, and the advert which appeared in the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser on 12 April 1895 in which the auctioneers, Holden and Holden, give a short description of it in those days:

“VALUABLE FREEHOLD PUBLIC HOUSES, situate in the Town ol LEIGH, in the County of Lancaster. Messrs Richard Greenough and Son will SELL BY AUCTION, on Thursday, the 25th day of April, 1895, at 6.30 for 7 o’clock prompt in the Evening, at the COURTS HOTEL, LEIGH, subject to conditions of sale to be then and there produced, Lot 1: – All that Old Established Freehold, Fully Licenced PUBLIC HOUSE known the Three Crowns lnn, Chapel Street. Leigh, in the occupation of Mrs Jane Kemp. The site of the premises has a building frontage to Chapel Street of 103 feet 6 inches, and to Rothay Street of 81 feet 9 inches, and contains altogether an area of 1117 square yards. The premises contain bar, bar-parlour, smoke room, sitting room, kitchen, scullery, pantry, coach house and stable, yard, garden, vacant land in the rear, cellars, clubroom, and bedrooms. This house is the only fully-licensed house between Butt’s Bridge and Brunswlck Street, a distance of 900 yards on the main highway. The house is in Lease to the Wilderspool Brewery Co until the 12th May, 1896.”

Rothay Street 1888-1892

The Recreation Ground

In the late 19th century, there was much concern in Leigh about the lack of recreation space. By the 1880s a bowling green had been built at the northern (Chapel Street) end of the Rothay Street, just to the west of the Hotel, and the rest of the left and middle plots had been developed into a Recreation Ground with a viewing stand on its northern edge. This must have been a lovely facility for the locals, but unfortunately it didn’t last long, as the increasing need for labour led to a rapid expansion of housing.

Rothay Street – the first six houses

On 1st August 1890 Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “Plans submitted by Messrs. Banks, Fairclough, and Stephen, of six houses proposed be built by Mr Peter Mort, in Rothay Street, Bedford, were referred to the Highways Committee. The minutes were passed.”

I believe these were the six cottages behind the pub stretching down the east side of the future Rothay Street towards the canal – odd numbers 1 to 11 Rothay Street. These six cottages appear in an OS map surveyed between 1888 and 1892, and published in 1893.

The Gas Main

On 2nd October 1891 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “It was resolved that the gas manager be authorised to extend the gas mains in Rothay Street, Mill Lane, Widdows Street, and Cunliffe Street, and that the price of coke be reduced to 6s 8d per ton at the Gas Works. The minutes were approved.”

The 1891 Census

By 1891 there were more houses in Rothay Street. The census lists four houses on the west side, even numbers 2, 4, 6, and 8, and nine houses on the east side, odd numbers 1 to 17. In addition, there were still three cottages behind the Three Crowns in Naylor’s Fold.

  • 2 – Peter Hayes, tin plate worker
  • 4 – John Leigh, staionary engine driver
  • 6 – Thomas Lee, coal miner
  • 8 – Richard Shuttleworth, coal miner
  • 1 – John Collier, checkweighman
  • 3 – Ann Lee, widow living on her own means
  • 5 – Elizabeth Barlow, widowed mother
  • 7 – John Seddon, labourer for local board
  • 9 – John Wilcock, coal miner
  • 11 – William Ashton, iron moulder
  • 13 – John Butterworth, loom tackler at cotton mill
  • 15 – James Robinson, cotton reeler overlooker
  • 17 – Aloysius Smith, brass finisher

The new houses in Rothay Street were built with Accrington Brick with Welsh slate roofs. Wigan Council’s ‘Bridgewater Canal Conservation Area Appraisal 2012’ states incorrectly that they were built in 1903, however, the entire street was complete by 1901. The report reads:

“The grid of former workers’ housing formed by Rothay Street and Severn Street is concentrated in a small area between Chapel Street and the canal. This is a densely built up area of red brick terraced housing built to the back-of-pavement, with yard or garden space behind. The form of development is typical of the Victorian grid-iron development that was very prevalent in Leigh at the turn of the 20th Century, to provide housing for the mill workers. The terraces of workers’ houses were developed in 1903 and are considerably plainer than the houses on Chapel Street. Nonetheless, they are distinguished by often subtle variations in window and door details. Rothay Street has a number of properties with tripartite sash windows, divided by stout mullions with the wider central sash having a single vertical glazing bar. Above the windows are segmental brick arches. Some of these houses have segmental arched double reveal door openings.”

Next 10 houses in Rothay Street

On 2nd September 1892 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported: “HIGHWAYS AND BUILDINGS COMMITTEE, Meeting held July 26th, Mr Fairclough, chairman. — It was resolved that the plans of three houses proposed built by Mr James Kerfoot, fronting Widdows Street, Bedford; of ten houses proposed to be built by Mr John Fairclough, fronting Rothay Street, Bedford; and of five cottages proposed to built by Mr James Ince, fronting Organ Street, Westleigh, be approved and passed, all with the recommendation to adopt Duckett’s closets.”

There are ten houses in one terrace on the east side of Rothay Street, odd numbers 13 to 31, which I thought could be these ten houses, but this does not tally with the existing 1891 numbers. This remains a mystery.

The Naming of the Streets off Rothay Street

Until 1894 the roads off Rothay Street were not officially named. The Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported on the Highways and Building Committee meeting on 27 April 1894, “The Chairman read the report of the Assistant Surveyor with reference to the naming of streets, which stated that the following streets […] require naming as well as nameplates; the name put opposite the street in the list below is the name put on the plans at present being prepared by Messrs Banks, Fairclough, and Stephen: — First street off Rothay Street, Bedford —  Avon Street; 2nd street off Rothay Street, Bedford — Severn Street; 3rd street off Rothay Street, Bedford — Wye Street.”

It is apparent that there was a developing theme of naming local streets after rivers. Wye Street is probably today’s Cosworth Close – what a shame that this name did not survive (probably due to the building of the Bedford Spinning Mill). Picksley Street, built at about the same time as Rothay Street, did not share the river theme. It may have been named after John Picksley, an Overseer of the poor in Bedford in 1856.

The Drowning of Martha Priestley near the bottom of Rothay Street

On 29 March 1895 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported this tragic story:

SAD DROWNING CASE AT BEDFORD Mr S Butcher, district coroner, held a second inquiry Tuesday afternoon at the Railway Hotel, Leigh, into the circumstances attending the death of Mrs Martha Priestley, the wife of Joseph Priestley, spinner, of 9 College street, Leigh, who was found drowned the Manchester Ship Canal Company’s canal at Leigh, near the Mather Lane Bridge, about six o’clock on Tuesday morning.

Joseph Priestley, husband of the deceased, residing at 9 College Street, Leigh, said he was formerly a spinner but was now a general labourer. His wife was forty-four years old. He last saw her alive at twenty minutes to nine o’clock on Monday evening. Whilst witness was putting the children to bed — two of whom were twins — deceased went out without saying anything. On Sunday night she came home after visiting one of her married sons, and told him put her into a club. She seemed to have been upset. She had not been well of late, and had suffered from a cough. One of her sons went away one Saturday morning a few weeks ago and got married the same day, and that seemed to have upset her. Deceased was away all night. In witness’s opinion deceased went to see a cousin of hers named Slater.

Ellen Arrowsmith, Brunswick Street, Leigh, said she was ‘knocker-up’. She knew the deceased very well, and last saw her alive about half-past five that (Tuesday) morning at deceased’s front door. Deceased said: “Well, Ellen, I think it has been a wet night.” Witness said : “Yes, it has.” The front door was partially open, and deceased stood on the door step.

Joseph Priestley (recalled) said the front door was unlocked all night. Witness saw the witness Arrowsmith that very morning at half past four. Witness had been up all night waiting for his wife to come back, but at half past five he locked the door and went into the yard.

Elizabeth Blackburn, 122, Trafalgar Street, said she last saw the deceased at nine o’clock on Monday evening near her house. She saw deceased cover her face and turn her head away from the light so that witness should not see her. Deceased at that time was about ten yards from the canal. Witness said: “Are you going to the canal?” Deceased replied: “That I am not.” Witness recognised deceased by the clothes she wore, for they were the same clothes as those worn by the woman when pulled out of the water.

By a juryman: “There was no lamp lighted near the place.”

Thomas Harris, Dakin’s Lane, Butt’s Bridge, said he was going to his work about quarter to six along the canal bank when he saw the body of the deceased in the water about 120 yards from Dick Mather Bridge on the Butt’s side at the bottom of Rothay Street. Witness pulled it to the side, and then went for PC Higginbottom. Deceased was perfectly dead, and her arms were stiff. The body was removed to the Navigation Inn.

Hannah Woodward, 7 College Street, Leigh, said the deceased was brought home about nine o’clock that morning.

The body bore no marks of violence. The Coroner said the probabilities were that the body had not been in the water very long, for it is certain that otherwise it would not have been floating. The jury returned a verdict of “Found Drowned.” Deceased leaves a widower and eight children.

Sewerage arrives in Rothay Street

On 15 April 1898 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported the resolutions of the Highways and Buildings Committee, “Resolved that the specifications and provisional apportionments, now submitted by the Surveyor, in respect of the sewering etc the following streets, that is to say: Avon Street, extending from Back Rothay Street to the west side of No 20 Avon Street. Back Avon Street North, extending from Back Rothay Street West to the west side of the rear of No 20 Avon Street. Passage, extending from Avon Street to Back Avon Street North be approved.”

The 1901 Census

By 1901, the entire street was complete, from numbers 2 to 48 on the west side and numbers 13 to 47 on the east side. This was an interesting survey, as I expected to see many more mill hands among the heads of households. Reputedly these terraces were built for workers in the mill industry, but there was a much wider range of residents. That being said, many of their wives and daughters worked in the mills. The heads of each household were:

  • 2 – Caleb Owen, iron foundry cashier
  • 4 – James Hayes, cotton spinner
  • 6 – Thomas Leigh, coal miner
  • 8 – James Daniels, iron grinder
  • 10 – James Pomfret, machine painter at iron foundry
  • 12 – William Ward, self-acting minder at cotton mill
  • 14 – John Leigh, corn mill carter
  • 16 – James Graham, cotton card room hand
  • 18 – William Williams, house painter
  • 20 – James Hayes, coal miner
  • 22 – Alice Leigh, living on own means
  • 24 – James Fletcher, journeyman joiner
  • 26 – Thomas Wood, sexton at the cemetery
  • 28 – James Hampson, furnace tender at the iron foundry
  • 30 – Martin Conway, coal miner
  • 32 – James Robinson, cotton spinner
  • 34 – Jane Makin, widowed mother
  • 36 – George Dunn, superannuated retired police sergeant
  • 38 – Frederick Crank, agricultural machine fitter
  • 40 – James Ratcliffe, coal miner
  • 42 – John Yates, core maker at the iron foundry
  • 44 – Joseph Walton, coal miner
  • 46 – Charles Burridge, wood worker, sawyer and machinist
  • 48 – James Heaton, coal miner
  • 13 – William Hunter, general carter at a brewery
  • 15 – Patrick Gibbons, factory engine tender
  • 17 – Martha Woodward, widowed mother
  • 19 – Thomas Eckersley, cotton spinner
  • 21 – Joseph Harvey, journeyman joiner
  • 23 – Jane Cross, housekeeper (non-domestic)
  • 25 – John Butterworth, cotton weaving overlooker
  • 27 – Robert Thorpe, machine painter at iron foundry
  • 29 – John Gregory, foreman at grocery warehouse
  • 31 – John Rainor, clogger
  • 33 – William Langhorn, police pensioner, retired
  • 35 – William Hindley, striker at the iron foundry
  • 37 – Mary Parkinson, widow living on own means
  • 39 – Peter Rowbottom, coal miner
  • 41 – Samuel Pendlebury, agricultural iron machine fitter
  • 43 – John Collier, colliery check weighman
  • 45 – Mary Holt, married mother
  • 47 – Alfred Lythgowe, iron moulder at the iron foundry

The arrival of WCs

The houses in Rothay Street would not have been built with flushing toilets. Instead the residents would have used ashpits and midden privies. On 14th October 1904 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported plans to convert unsanitary ‘wheelout’ ashpits and midden privies in the St Thomas’s area and many other parts of Leigh into water closets. “The Urinals Sub-Committee recommended that the Town Clerk be instructed to ascertain on what terms sufficient land could be obtained for the erection of urinals on the following sites, viz: […] east side of Rothay Street, etc.”

Rothay Street 1905

Concerns about the unfenced canalside

On 6th September 1907 the Leigh Chronicle reported, “Councillor Gregory has called the attention of the Highways Committee to the land adjoining the canal near Rothay Street being unfenced, and the Town Clerk has been instructed to draw the attention of the owners to the matter.”

Naylor’s Fold, Rothay Street, demolished

On 24th July 1908 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “OLD PROPERTY TO BE DEMOLISHED. Mr S Wilson, the Town Clerk, applied for an order for the demolition of property in Naylor’s Fold, Rothay, Street, Leigh, on the ground that it was unfit for human habitation. Mr T Hunter, the Borough Surveyor, said the buildings were dilapidated, dangerous, and quite beyond repair. Mr Dootson, who appeared on behalf Edmund and George Seddon, said he did not object to the order. They, however, asked that no part of the expense of pulling down should fall upon them, and if there was any surplus, that it should be handed over. Smith thought they had better acquire the ground for a public park. (Laughter). The order was made.”

Fencing off the canal

On 30th October 1908 the Leigh Chronicle reported, “The Town Clerk reported that several of the owners of property in and about Rothay Street refused to agree to contribute towards the cost of erecting an unclimbable iron fence on the vacant land adjoining the canal. Resolved that the Mayor and Town Clerk be appointed to confer with such owners with view to their agreeing contribute towards the cost of the fence.”

On 15th January 1909 the Leigh Chronicle reported, “A DANGEROUS PART. Councillor Gregory moved that the vacant land adjoining Severn Street and Rothay Street be at once fenced off from the canal. He said there had been six or seven children in the water, and it was miracle none had been drowned. Part of the fence had been put up, but it had been left open in the middle, the most dangerous part. Councillor Hunter seconded. The Town Clerk said they had made a list of the owners affected and apportioned the cost between them. The greater number had agreed to sign, but there were one or two that he and the Deputy Mayor had not seen. It would be a dangerous precedent to pass that resolution as there were other dangerous places in the borough. The matter might be left while to enable them to come to some arrangement. The resolution was defeated, and the Council rose at 25 minutes to eleven after a sitting of about three and half hours.”

Proposal to use the space by the canal

On 5th February 1909 the Leigh Chronicle reported, “The Town Clerk has been instructed to enquire from the owners of the vacant plot of land behind Rothay Street whether the land can be acquired temporarily as an open space, and if so, upon what terms.”

Paving, Lighting, and Sewage

On 16th April 1909 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “The Borough Surveyor submitted specifications, plans, sections, estimates and provisional apportionments in respect of the sewering, levelling, paving, flagging, channelling, making good and providing with proper means of lighting the following streets or parts of streets: — Back Severn Street North No 1, extending from Back Rothay Street East to point 82 yards or thereabouts in an easterly direction; Back Severn Street South No 1 extending from Picksley Street to Howarth Street; Picksley Street, extending from Severn Street to the Bridgewater Canal…” etc.

The Building of Bedford Mill

On 16th July 1909 the Cotton Factory Times reported, “PLANS.—The Highways Committee of the Leigh Town Council have approved plans of a new spinning mill to be erected in Avon-street, Leigh, by the Bedford Spinning Co., Ltd.” The new mill was to be built on the vacant land bounded by Avon Street, Rothay Street, the canal and the Stanley Mill.

On 23rd July 1909 the Cotton Factory Times reported, “New Mills at Leigh. The Bedford Spinning Co, Ltd, has now been registered, with a capital of £60,000, for the purpose of erecting a new mill in Avon Street, Leigh. Land has been secured and the contracts placed for machinery. The following are directors: — Mr J H Holden (Leigh), Mr O E Tunnicliffe (Eastbourne), Mr W Fairclough (Leigh), Mr H Speakman (Leigh), Mr J Fairclough (Leigh), and Mr T D Paradise (Kingston-on-Thames). It is officially announced that the new Leigh Manufacturing Company’s mill, which is situated at the Bedford end of Leigh, is to commence work in September. Work will be found for a considerable number of weavers, and a few warpers and warp dressers.

On 13th August 1909 the Cotton Factory Times reported, “APPOINTMENT. Mr H L Moulds, who for the last 14 years has been in the service of the Leigh Corporation, has tendered his resignation, to take effect at the end of the month, he having been appointed secretary to the Bedford Spinning Co, Ltd, who are erecting a large mill in Avon Street, Leigh. Mr Mounds is to be complimented on his appointment.”

On 4th March 1910 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported that the building was complete, “The inclement weather which has of late been experiences comes very hard on the outdoor worker, and with the building trade not being at all brisk, much hardship is being endured. Some 140-odd men find employment at the Bedford Spinning Company’s new mills in Avon Street, and had the weather been at all suitable, the building would have been roofed many weeks ago. The chimney is now completed, and the bricksetter sees fit to follow the usual custom, denoting to the townspeople that his work is done by flying the Union Jack from the top. The pillars from the roof are in position, and the directors, who by the way are local men, expect the roof to be on before the end of the month. The first sod was only cut as recently as July last, and an endeavour was being made to turn out yarn not later than June next. Whether or not this will be done, time alone will tell. If it is delayed, it will certainly not be the fault of the directors.”

On 24th June 1910 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “Mr S Boond, electrician, of Leigh, has been entrusted with the electric lighting installation of Bedford Spinning Co Ltd, Rothay Street.”

In October 1910 the first consignment of cotton arrived at the mill. On 21 October 1910 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported: “The first consignment of cotton was received at the Bedford Spinning Company’s new mill on Friday last, being exactly 15 months since the cutting of the first sod. More than one half of the mill is already fitted with machinery, and it is hoped to have it completely filled before the end of the year. The trial runs of the engine and of the machines already fixed have been quite satisfactory. It hoped to have the mill in full swing before the end of February, a state of things upon which the directors are to be congratulated. Mr J H Holden, of Messrs Tunnicliffe’s and Hampson Ltd, is the chairman of directors, whilst the management has been entrusted to Mr George Holden. Work will be found for about 250 people, and this additional means of employment should greatly benefit the town in general.”

The 1911 Census

To follow

Mill Lane Mill

In May 1914 the owners of the Bedford Spinning Company opened a second mill, Mill Lane. On 23 May 1914 the Manchester Evening News reported, “LEIGH MILLOWNER’S GENEROSITY. To celebrate the completion of the Mill Lane Spinning Company, Leigh, which has now got into full working order, the directors of the Bedford Spinning Company and the Mill Lane Company took their workpeople and wives, husbands, or sweethearts to Blackpool to-day, and not only paid their Railway fares but allowed each employee half-a-crown for expenses. Over 1,100 people went this morning in two excursion trains the famous Lancashire resort. Arrangements were made so that twelve full hours could be spent Blackpool.”

The Bedford Mill in Wartime

In October that year employment was affected by the First World War. The Daily Citizen (Manchester) reported on 31st October 1914: “LEIGH MILLS ON FULL TIME. It is officially announced that Messrs Tunnicliffe and Hampson’s three spinning mills and the mill of the Alder Spinning Company, the Bedford Spinning Company, and the Mill Lane Spinning Company, which employ altogether nearly 2,000 hands, are going on full time on Monday until further notice. The Mather Lane Spinning Company’s three mills, Messrs S Courtauld and Co’s Brook Mill, and the Platt Fold Mill, belonging to the Fine Cotton Spinners’ Association, which employ about 1,600 hands, have been on full time since the war started. The collieries are also busy working five and, in some cases, six days a week.”

Rothay Street 1926 – coal yard

The Coal Yard

In 1926 the land at the bottom of Rothsay Street was being used as a coal yard, probably serving the Bedford Spinning Company Mill.

Combined Egyptian Mills

The Bedford and Mill Lane Spinning Companies were two of the 34 cotton mills bought up by Combined Egyptian Mills, which was formed in 1929.

Rothay Street 1937

The 1939 Register

In 1939 there were many more cotton workers in Rothay Street. The heads of each household were:

  • 2 – Doctor Thomas Flitcroft, medical practitioner
  • 4 – Peers Bent, gas works foreman
  • 6 – John Lee, retired cotton spinner
  • 8 – James Hayes, cotton spinner
  • 10 – John Smith, retired cotton spinner
  • 12 – Matilda Jones, widow, domestic duties
  • 14 – Harold Makin, blacksmith, incapacitated
  • 16 – William Smith, bobbin carrier
  • 18 – Alice Barlow, widow, domestic duties
  • 20 – Albert Brindle, cotton spinner
  • 22 – William Prescott, cotton spinner
  • 24 – Samuel Hayes, cotton spinner
  • 26 – John Tildsley, cable examiner for cable manufacturer
  • 28 – Thomas Shaughnessy, iron moulder
  • 28 – Thomas Howe, colliery onsetter
  • 30 – Margaret Conway, spinster cotton weaver
  • 32 – William Rothwell, cotton operative, bobbin carrier
  • 34 – George Makin, textile labourer
  • 36 – Henry Smith, cotton spinner
  • 38 – Peter Lythgoe, baker and cake confectioner
  • 40 – Joseph Wood, cotton spinner
  • 42 – Arthur Yates, tool fitter and die sinker
  • 44 – Emily Bullard, cotton weaver
  • 46 – Elizabeth Gibson, widowed householder
  • 48 – James Eaton, colliery surface labourer
  • 13 – Oswald Collier, cotton spinning mule cleaner
  • 15 – Thomas Jenkinson, old age pensioner
  • 17 – Frederick Woodward, iron foundry labourer
  • 19 – Florrie Leigh, widow, domestic duties
  • 21 – Sarah Haspell, widow, domestic duties
  • 23 – William Carrington, Inland Water Transport
  • 25 – Ellen Gore, widow, domestic duties
  • 27 – Robert Newsham, colliery shop firer
  • 29 – Granville Grundy, coal merchant
  • 31 – Ellen Corrin, cable stores packer
  • 33 – Edward Smith, cotton tape sizer
  • 35 – Charles Belshow, agricultural engineers’ mechanic
  • 37 – Thomas Costello, bus driver
  • 39 – John Hindley, blowing room major, cotton mill
  • 41 – Robert Thorp, retired cotton spinner
  • 43 – William Lee, warehouseman at cotton mill
  • 45 – James Morris, cloth transport worker
  • 47 – Samuel Lythgoe, operative baker

Combined English Mills

Combined Egyptian Mills was renamed Combined English Mills in 1953.

Bedford Mill to be closed

In 1963 Combined English Mills announced the gradual closedown of ‘the Bedford Mill’ in Leigh. On 3rd January 1963 the Liverpool Echo reported, “COTTON MILL TO BE CLOSED. Shutdown To Be Gradual. Last remaining mule-spinning mill owned by Combined English Mills (Spinners) Ltd, the Bedford Mill at Leigh, is to close down gradually. In a statement to-day the company said that the trade union representatives and the 70 operatives still employed at the mill had been informed. Production, it was stated, had been at a low level for some time. The closure will not affect the overall productive capacity of the groups, which was being increased by the extension of shift working at re-equipped mills in the same locality. Many of the operatives who will be displaced will be offered employment at nearby units of the Combined English Mill group.”

Planning Permission Granted for 51 Rothay Street

Planning Permission was granted in 1982 to erect 10 semi-detached houses and 1 bungalow on ‘Part Of Site Of Former Bedford Mill Avon Street Leigh’. This development included 51 Rothay Street.

Stories in the Street

Much though I would love to do so, I can’t research everyone in the street. A few individuals and businesses have grabbed my attention, though:

2 Rothay Street – Caleb Owen, Dr Thomas E Flitcroft

This prominent double fronted property is on the corner of Rothay Street and Chapel Street opposite the Three Crowns. It had certainly been built by 1901, and may have been one of the first six houses.

In the 1891 census it was the home of Peter Hayes, tin plate worker.

In the 1901 census it was the home of Caleb Owen, a cashier at the Bedford iron foundry. In 1899 and 1901 he stood as a candidate to represent St Thomas’s in the local council elections.

On 24 April 1908 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser advertised that 2 Rothay Street was available to let, “TO BE LET.—Parloured HOUSE, No 2 Rothay-street. — Apply John Sims, 33 Chapel Sheet, Leigh.”

From before 1915 until the 1940s number 2 was the home of Dr Thomas E Flitcroft. On 14th July 1915 the Liverpool Echo reported, “Dr T E Flitcroft, 2 Rothay St, Leigh, has been appointed certifying surgeon, under the Factory and Workshop Acts, in succession to Dr C Challinor (deceased), for the district of Leigh.”

Mrs Margaret Flitcroft was one of four women appointed in a group of 18 new Magistrates. The Lancashire Evening Post reported on 29 January 1931, “FOUR WOMEN IN LIST. The following names are to be inserted in the Commission of the Peace for the County Palatine of Lancaster by fiat of the Chancellor of the Duchy Lancaster, dated yesterday, on the recommendation of the Lord Lieutenant.”

When Dr Flitcroft died in December 1946 a charming obituary was printed in the Manchester Evening News. It read, “GAVE TOWN BEAUTY. Dr T E Flitcroft, Medical Officer of Health for Tyldesley since 1928, has died, aged 71, at his home in Rothay Street, Leigh. He beautified refuse tips at Tyldesley by planting them with lupins.”

10 Rothay Street – Alfred Wilkinson VC

On 16th November 1896 an article about a mining accident appeared in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, “Cage Accident at a Leigh Colliery — As the night shift were descending the No 2 Pit of Messrs. Ackers, Whitley and Company’s extensive Bickershaw Collieries, Plank Lane, Leigh, on Friday, an accident occurred of an alarming character. The cage, which was full of men, was lowered with great velocity, and on reaching the bottom of the shaft it was jumped with such force that four colliers were badly shaken. One named Alfred Wilkinson was so seriously injured that he had to be removed on the ambulance to his home in Rothay Street, Leigh.”

Alfred Wilkinson of 10 Rothay Street earned a VC in 1918 at the end of WW1. His story broke in the Manchester Evening News on 28th December 1918. They reported: “LEIGH’S FIRST VC. Private Alfred Wilkinson, 1/5th Manchester Regiment, a piecer, Rothay Street, Leigh, has been awarded the Victoria Cross for signal bravery in France. Four messengers had been killed in succession when sent for reinforcements, which were badly needed. Private Wilkinson stepped forward and volunteered to try a fifth time. It seemed certain death, but he managed to get through, and reinforcements came. He is the first soldier the Leigh district to gain this distinction. The news arrived to-day.”

His story and photograph then appeared in the Liverpool Echo on the 30th December 1918: “LEIGH SOLDIER’S VC. Information has reached Leigh that Private Alfred Wilkinson (22), Manchester Regiment, of 10 Rothay Street, received the Victoria Cross for bravery in France. Reinforcements were urgently needed in a critical position, but one after the other four messengers who had tried to get through were shot dead. Wilkinson then volunteered, got through safely, and brought back help. He was a piecer for the Mather Lane Spinning Company, Leigh, before joining the Army in December, 1914. He has a brother in the Army.”

On 30th December 1939 a story submitted by J R Smith of 10 Rothay Street appeared in the Daily Herald. It read, “No Place Like It. A member of the balloon barrage section called up for duty did not wish to leave his family alone in the house and sent them away to the seaside. When he reported for duty he found was to be stationed in a field behind his own home! — J R Smith, 10, Rothay-street. Leigh, Lancs.”

This was also the address of Barnes Business Agent. On Christmas Eve 1947 he advertised in the Manchester Evening News, “Now is the time to Sell your BUSINESS: Free Advice, No Charges if not sold. — Write for particulars, H. Barnes, Business Agent, 10 Rothay Street, Leigh.”

Non 25th June 1958 an advert was placed in the Manchester Evening News which read, “MORRIS 8 Series E (1947 model). £200 o.n.o., 10 Rothay Street, Leigh.”

17 Rothay Street

On 19th Feb 1913 Martha Woodward of 17 Rothay Street was buried at Leigh Cemetery, aged 77 years.

18 Rothay Street – Williams and Dean

Williams and Dean frequently advertised for staff in 1893: “Agents wanted for the new patent Gas Burner. Enormous saving in gas. Selling by thousands. Good commission. Sample 6d. Williams and Dean, Rothay Street, Leigh, Lancashire.” These adverts for agents continued into 1894.

On 2nd Oct 1906 Rothay Street resident Ann Dean was buried, aged 50. She may well have lived at number 18.

On 3rd June 1911 Georgina Bonner of 18 Rothay Street was buried at Leigh Cemetery age 68 years.

20 Rothay Street

On 7th April 1909 John E Brindle of 20 Rothay Street was buried at Leigh Cemetery age 2 years.

31 Rothay Street – James E Corrin

James E Corrin moved from Mill Lane to number 31 sometime between 1901 and 1905. He was a plumber who was born on the Isle of Man. On 10 February 1905 he advertised in the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser, “Lead and Glass Works Brideoake Street, James E Corrin, Sanitary Plumber, Glazier, Authorised Gas and Water Fitter. Incandescent Gas Fittings a Speciality. Estimates Free. Repairs promptly attended to. Residence – 31 Rothay Street, Leigh.” In 1909 James Corrin was one of the first in the Leigh Exchange area to obtain a telephone – number 143. In 1914 he advertised a gents bike with a three speed gearbox for sale cheap, then in 1914 he advertised a ‘swath turner’ for sale for £7 cash. James died in 1925,

41 Rothay Street

On 7th Oct 1913 Alice Pendlebury of 41 Rothay Street was buried at Leigh Cemetery age 9 years.

46 Rothay Street

On the 22nd May 1894, James Howard died at 46 Rothay Street, aged 59 years.

Unknown House Numbers

The McGee family

Sarah McGee, age 54, of Rothay Street, was buried at Leigh Cemetery on 3rd February 1900. Her husband Patrick died later the same year and was buried on 30th October 1900.

Mr Whalley, Rabbit Fancier

On 30 November 1894 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “Success of a Leigh Fancier — Mr J Whalley, of Rothay Street, Leigh, took the first and special prizes at Wigan on Saturday, with his rabbit, ‘The Leigh Hero’. The same rabbit took the first prize at Harwood and Bradshaw on the 17th inst., also the first at Blackburn on the 3rd Inst.”

A Tragic Railway Accident

On 12th April 1929 the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported a terrible accident, “Joseph Wood (49), blacksmith, of Rothay Street, Leigh, was found with his head cut off yesterday morning on the LMS Railway line, between Glazebury and Tenyon Junction, about two miles from his home.

Cellofoam, Avon Street

Cellofoam was a significant business and employer in the 1970s. In 1971 they advertised: “BONDED JERSEY AND JACQUARDS AT FACTORY PRICES! Bonded Jersey and Jacquards assorted colours from 60p yard. Remnants from 25p. Bri Nylon curtaining and ready-made curtains. PLUS Fantastic reductions on bonded garments. Surplus Ladies Coats and dresses in Dicel art silk only £6. Midi trouser suits in herringbone worsted wool £8. Also, large selection of Ladies garments and child’s wear. Call now at the Cellofoam Shop, Avon Street. Leigh. (Off Rothay Street, Off Chapel Street, Near County Meters.) Open 10 am — 4 pm Mon — Sat. 39 Bus from Liverpool passes door). Telephone: Leigh 5277. 26 (Greengate) bus.

Windoplan, Avon Street

Another business based in Avon Street and Rothay Street from about 1968 to 1971 was Windoplan, a division of Seba Products. They advertised in 1970: “INSTANT CURTAINS from only £2-15-0 per curtain, way below shop prices! Taped and hemmed… just hook them up. Tailored to your own window size in only two weeks. Choose from luxury fabrics in a beautiful range of colours. All fully lined for perfect drape. 14 DAY DESPATCH GUARANTEED. Send for FREE samples and size/price chart. Credit terms available. Dept. DM8, WINDOPLAN, PO Box 21, Rothay Street, Leigh, Lancs.”