History: Saddleworth by Motor Car

by Peter Fox

THE AGE of the motor car is very firmly with us and for better or for worse they are as important to many people’s lives as the simple toothbrush.

At the turn of the 20th century they began to appear in very limited numbers on the roads of Saddleworth. These early vehicles were licensed locally by Oldham Council (BU being the registration in the area) and the Oldham Local Studies Library and Archives holds documents that give us an insight into some of the early cars owned by Saddleworth people.

The first car in Saddleworth in these records was registered as ‘BU 5’ on 18 December 1903 by Mr George Arthur Schofield of Westfield, Greenfield who had a 6hp Daimler weighing 16cwt, described as a tonneau body painted brown, picked out in yellow (lining) and with yellow wheels.

The number of cars registered at first was in limited numbers, being no more than three to five per year. But by 1910 numbers were increasing and following the end of the First World War they became even more numerous.

This photograph shows a 6 hp (horse power) Rothwell Car, made by the Eclipse Machine Co, of Oldham and registered BU 29 by the Oldham Registration Authority in June 1904. A two-seater painted green, its first owner was Ernest Robinson of Dobcross

The age of the petrol driven engine however hadn’t totally taken over as the licensing records show that on the 28 March 1906 the Butterley Brothers of Heather Bank, Greenfield, registered a 10hp Turner Miesse steam-driven car with a tonneau body in dark blue.

It wasn’t just for personal transport that things were changing: on 6 February 1905 the ‘Greenfield Mill Company’ registered an 8hp, 8cwt vehicle made by ‘Gregory’ a two seater powered by a one cylinder engine.

Many early commercial vehicles up to the 1930s were fitted with a removable body so that at weekends and holidays it could have a ‘charabanc’ fitted to carry people on an outing.

The only early references in the local papers are certainly not ones advocating this new form of transport but more ones recording the consequences of it.

In April 1904 the papers recorded; ‘Alarming Motor Car Accident in Delph ….. a motor car with two passengers collided with a horse and greengrocers cart belonging to Mr William Bailey of Delph. The mishap happened on turning the White Lion corner, going towards River Bridge. The motor-car and horses and cart were damaged, but there were no personal injuries.’

In September 1912 the paper recorded a problem that is as inherent now as it was then: ‘Problem of Motor Cars Speeding through New Delph …..Councillor Hudson moved that the Clerk writes to the Automobile Association.’

There were many individual companies producing these early motor cars and the Oldham area was no exception to this, with Rothwell cars originating from a company that originally started making sewing machines. By 1887 they had started producing cycles, then motor cycles and in 1901 motor vehicles.

The company, based at Viscount Street in Oldham, continued to produce Rothwell cars until 1919. They gained a good, if mainly local, reputation for the cars and the commercial vehicles they made.

Bradbury’s of Oldham had a similar history in that they started by manufacturing sewing machines, reputedly being the first in Europe in the 1850s, and went on to produce bassinettes (prams), cycles, then motor cycles. They certainly experimented with producing cars but it was with limited success.

There is a rumour that Bradbury’s brought a car to test on the hills around Chew Valley in Greenfield and such was its lack of success that it was buried on the spot in the peat were it had stuck – awaiting to be discovered by archaeologists of the future.

The Ford Motor Company was the first big manufacturer of cars, with the Ford Model T being synonymous with the mass produced car. Manchester was to become the first site for Ford to produce cars outside of the USA at Trafford Park, though originally using imported parts in 1911 and merely assembling cars.

ARTICLE_05_OS-RT-Autos-01_c1910_SMALL JPEG
A pickup truck operated by J. Buckley & Co., Woollen Manufacturers, Uppermill and Meltham appropriately loaded with a number of skips. c1915

Just three years later they were using assembly line production and by 1914 output had reached upwards of 10,000 a year before the war intervened.

This output makes an interesting comparison when you realise that Rothwell Cars of Oldham in just over two decades made only a total of less than a thousand cars and commercial vehicles.

These new Ford cars were affordable in comparison to others on the market at the time. In 1912 the British-built Model T’s were offered for £175 at a time when powerful competitor Austin cars were offering their smaller, slower 10 hp model for £240.

The local papers recorded that Doctor Herbert Ramsden, of Dobcross, who for many years was the Medical Officer of Health for Saddleworth, was the first man in the district to have a Ford car. Doctor Ramsden always contended that this type of car at the time was better than any other for the hills of Saddleworth whether driven by himself or the family coachman Mr Stanney.

The car was to change the landscape of our streets over the next century – it is virtually impossible to take a photograph without it being ‘cluttered’ by cars.

There are other ways in which the car has changed the Saddleworth landscape – there was a demand for safety to improve roads, some of the improvements included the demolition of various buildings, for example Tame House and the Stationmasters House at Delph Crossroads.

The car was to add another aspect to the villages: the demands for petrol was a basic necessity and at first with no petrol stations it was sold in gallon tins a role often taken on by the local blacksmith.

By the 1920s numerous garages offering service and fuel had developed and most of the villages had at least one, with Greenfield having three.

This period of development of the car and commercial transport isn’t as well documented as other forms such as the canal and railway so if anybody can offer photographs or information the Museum would love to hear from you – email curator@saddleworthmuseum.co.uk


One Reply to “History: Saddleworth by Motor Car”

  1. The Rothwell car and before it the Eclipse sewing machine, were made by some of my ancestors.
    Many years ago I met a chap who with a couple of friends were paid 1 Penny a car to help push the new cars up the slope on to the Manchester road.
    Not run in they didn’t have the power to make it on their own.
    I understand there is one Rothwell car in existence. It was in Leeds.
    Many years I approached the owner to swop my 1929 Lagonda for the Rothwell, but he wouldn’t budge.
    After some 52 years I still have the Lagonda.
    Happy motoring

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