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Oldham, UK

Town of Oldham, Greater Manchester, England

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Oldham is experiencing a period of renewal and economic regeneration that has parallels with the way the Borough developed during the latter half of the 19th century, when it enjoyed a phase of remarkable growth.

Although Oldham's existence can be traced back to the 11th century, it was the Industrial Revolution - and cotton in particular - that laid the foundations for the town's prosperity. By the end of the 19th century Oldham was recognised near and far as nothing less than the greatest cotton spinning town in the world.

Contrary to what might have been expected, the rapid period of industrialisation left vast swathes of the rural landscape virtually untouched. Today two-thirds of the Borough remain open countryside.

On the doorstep is the Pennine moorland of Saddleworth, extending into the Peak District National Park. The dramatic scenery of this countryside offers up a host of contrasts from the isolation of the reconstructed site of Castleshaw Roman Fort, one of a series built on the Roman military road from Chester to York, to the delightful village of Uppermill. Dobcross, once the commercial heart of the district, remains one of the most attractive villages in the Pennines and was used as the setting for the film Yanks. Its numerous weavers' cottages, clothiers' and merchants' houses surrounding the village square have remained virtually unchanged in 200 years.

Moving from the surrounding countryside into the town itself is to step into a rich municipal heritage. In the very centre of Oldham is Alexandra Park. The park, built in 1865, was funded by a government loan designed to boost jobs when the American Civil War caused supplies of cotton to dry up and left many people out of work. Alexandra Park covers 72 acres, with a boating lake at its heart, and features a statue of Joseph 'Blind Joe' Howarth (who held the job of town crier for 40 years) and a pagoda built as a meteorological observatory in 1899 to commemorate the town's Golden Jubilee.

Also in the centre of the town of Oldham, and once its cultural heart, is Tommyfield, in years gone by famous for fairs, side-shows and circuses and a rallying point for mass political meetings. The name derives from Tommy's-Field, a meadow which was rented by pig breeder Tommy Whittaker from the landowner Sir Nathanial Curzon. Today it is home to one of the largest outdoor permanent markets in the north of England.

Much of Oldham's town centre architecture is Victorian. The original Town Hall, with its impressive facade, was built in 1841. It was from the Town Hall steps that Sir Winston Churchill made his inaugural acceptance speech when he was first elected as a Conservative MP in 1900.

Close by is Oldham Coliseum, the town's repertory theatre, together with the striking parish church of St Mary's, designed by local architect Richard Lane in crude Gothic style. The parish church was built in 1830 and its interior was painstakingly restored to its original unusual design in 1974.

The ongoing regeneration and redevelopment of the Borough ensures that future generations living and working in Oldham will have as much to be proud of in their town as anybody has had at any time in its rich and vibrant history.

Oldham Council website

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