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BALL, DENNIS – THE STORY OF FAILSWORTH 1973. Failsworth Urban District Council Publications.   

 

History of the town that stands between Manchester and Oldham, from pre-Roman times to the 1970’s. The story meanders somewhat, with little regard for chronological ordering of events. Stuart Period events are described in a chapter on the Elizabethan era in the town, etc, which fragments the text, but overall, it is a fascinating anecdotal history. The name Failsworth seems to mean the Homesteads on the Rising ground, but Ball criticizes one historian, Mr. Higson for claiming that the town was named after Mr. Fail.  

 

In 1200, the Byron Family, who got into a serious boundary dispute with neighbouring Ashton, owned Failsworth. This led to such fierce battle that the opposing sides were heavily fined by the State. A later boundary dispute, this time with Newton Heath, was settled more amicably, by the intervention of John Dee, Collegiate Church warden at the time. Dee was of course later to become one of the most notorious alchemists of the Elizabethan era. Plague hit Failsworth in 1594 and 1605, at a time when it killed up to a 1,000 in Manchester and its surrounds. Failsworth men were predominantly puritan. They fully supported Parliament. When the national Protestation petition (calling for an oath of allegiance to the anti-Papist faith) was circulated in Failsworth, on the 28th February 1642, Humphrey Barnet, the minister for Newton Chapel not only signed it himself, but openly encouraged his congregations and parishioners to sign it too.  And marched to the defence of Manchester during the siege.            

 

In 1644, Fairfax bought four packhorses from Failsworth at 6d each, to carry his supplies. There are some great anecdotes here. In 1768, one Hannah Beswick, sister to Charles Beswick of Fletcher Fold, Failsworth, died. She was so afraid of being buried alive that she begged her brother and his descendants to embalm her and watch over her unburied corpse for one hundred years. It is said that the family kept her in a grandfather clock, taking her out for inspection at periodic intervals. She was finally buried in Harpurhey Cemetery in 1868. 

 

Failsworth established a Co-operative movement similar to that of the Rochdale pioneers in 1844. Their shops offered goods on tick to trustworthy customers. It is believed that Bonnie Prince Charlie passed through Failsworth on his way to Oldham from Manchester in 1745. The town certainly had a strong Jacobite community. They were to become notorious in their support for radicals and chartists in later years. At one point an effigy of Thomas Paine was paraded through the streets, and houses were searched, unsuccessfully for copies of the outlawed Rights Of Man books produced by Paine. 

 

Failsworth people also supported the war against Napoleon. The twenty householders who refused to support the British cause were severely ostracised by their peers.  Close to Failsworth is Crime Lake, created accidentally by flooding during construction of the Holllinwood cut of the Rochdale Canal. Rumours abound that the water swallowed a whole village, including its church. In reality, only two cottages were submerged by the very slowly rising waters. No one was hurt, as the flooding actually took months, giving the occupants plenty of time to leave. Failsworth became a major town in the cotton production industry that made Manchester so famous in the Industrial revolution. Failsworth even had the biggest and most successful hat making business in Europe. In 1858, the factory at Walmsley tried to speed up production without giving extra pay. The workers went on strike for eight months. Bear baiting was common practice. Another pleasure was clog-fighting, where men in heavy wooden boots would hold I each other’s arms and take it in turns to kick each other in the shins until one or the other was too crippled to fight on. Lovely. Ball ends with a description of Failsworth Pole, the maypole that many believe to have existed there since pagan times. It remains one of the most significant landmarks in North Manchester to this day.  A rare, and entertaining local history record that is well worth a look.    

Arthur Chappell

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