There’s no place like home, so my first blog post is going to focus on the street where I live in my hometown of Atherton, Manchester!
Although it may look like your average street of Victorian terraced houses, behind each front door is over a century worth of public and private facts and stories. The lives of the former residents make this street far from ordinary!
Hamilton Street was first planned in 1893, at that point the street as we known it today consisted of fields belonging to a few farms dotted around; Morley Fold, Hillock, and Crab Tree. The street was only designed as far as Dan Lane (now Tyldesley Road) to Crab Tree Brow and the only domestic property which already existed was Southbank, the home of the manager of Dan Lane Mills. In the early 19th Century, prior to the development of Hamilton Street, a small coal seam ran below the future site of the houses and it was accessible from Morley Fold pit head and the Hillock pit head.
The first six houses, described as “workers cottages” were built in 1894. The land belonging to Lord Lilford and the contractor being John Thomas Smith, who eventually built most of the late nineteenth century properties on the Street. The next block of houses “Homerton Terrace” were built in 1896, followed by “Hill Top Terrace” in 1899. As the houses were constructed privately over a number of years it is possible to trace the change in architectural styles and the progression of standards of living simply by travelling down Hamilton Street.
Properties were built along Hamilton Street between the 1890s and the 1990s and therefore it is a long street, over half a mile in length. The late nineteenth century houses at the East end of the street, which neat front gardens define Hamilton Street as a respectable working class area. By the Edwardian era, styles have changed and we find more houses with bay windows being built on the street. The next lot of development in the inter-war and post-war years shows semi-detached houses being built, with expansive front and back gardens, rather than just a rear yard.
However the street is home to more than just residential properties. The Lee Spinning Mills (Dan Lane Mills) was located adjacent to the street from the 1840s-1970s, upon the demolition of the industrial buildings a supermarket (Hillards but now in use as Tesco) was built on the site. The Labour Exchange was built on the corner of Hamilton Street and Crab Tree Lane in 1927.
Hamilton Street was also chosen as the location for two of Atherton’s most prominent public spaces; Central Park in 1912 and the War Memorial to the 415 fallen men and women of Atherton who died during two World Wars. The first solider from Atherton to die in the First World War, James Mills lived at 180 Hamilton Street. Finally Atherton’s first purpose-built secondary school, Hesketh Fletcher High School (now known as Atherton Community School) was built on land on Hamilton Street in 1967.
Hill Top Terrace, 1899
This post is going to focus on just one house in particular, which is located in Hill Top Terrace (built 1899). Despite all the houses in this row having an almost identical façade, the interior of the first six houses is larger than the rest of the block. Unlike the other ‘two up, two down’ structure of the rest of the terraces, these first few houses have a vestibule, entrance hall, two downstairs reception rooms, a kitchen, pantry and three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. It is worth noting that as with modern housing developments, the interior features of these first six houses were identical. So each was built with the same front door and etched glass vesituble door. The tiles on the floor are in the same pattern in each house, as is decorative corbelling and plaster work.
The Latham Family
James Latham (1851-1916) his wife Ellen and their children Jacob, Edward, Sarah, Ellen and Mary moved into their new property after he signed the deeds on 14 February 1899. It was quite rare in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century for working class families to own their own homes, most rented them off landlords.The Latham family actually owned the property for 89 years, with successive generations living there and despite its 116 year old history there have only been two families that owned the house in Hamilton Street.
The late nineteenth century architects must have planned for the larger terraced houses on Hill Top Terrace to appeal to the better off working classes such as the Latham’s. Indeed the 1911 census reveals an aspiring middle class element to this part of the street. James Latham is a miners agent and his youngest daughter, Mary is an apprentice milliner. Next door despite having only three bedrooms the five Livesey brothers (all batchelors) employed two domestic live-in servants. On the other side from the Latham’s; William Henry Brown is a cashier in a chemist, his wife a school mistress and their sons are pupils of accountancy and surveying. The trend is continued with their other neighbours, James Green is a engineer in a coal mine. Mr Parker is a bolt manufacturer and employs his son as a clerk. Henry Roughley is also a miners agent and later sits as a magistrate.
From the census records James Latham appears to have been an ordinary man working class man, who died in 1916 at the age of 65. However deeper archival research has revealed that he was a well-respected and prominent member of society in Atherton. The Rate books for 1916 reveal that he not only owned the family home in Hamilton Street but he also owned No. 168, 170, 172, 174, 176, 178, 180 and 182 Bolton Old Road, Atherton which he let to tenants. Furthermore he also had an illustrious career within the mining community.
He started his career like most men within the industrial North West as collier at the Atherton Collieries owned by Fletcher, Burrows and Co. However he quickly developed a desire for the welfare of his fellow workers and in 1882 at the age of 32 he was appointed secretary of the Atherton branch of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miner’s Federation, later in 1889 he was appointed as vice-president and in 1905 he rose to the rank of trustee of the Federation. His obituary in the Leigh Journal (23 June 1916) states:
“It should be remembered to the credit of Mr. Latham that he was one of the first trade unionists leaders in the country, and probably in the Kingdom, to obtain for his members a standard rate of wages.”
James Latham was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Friendly Societies movement and therefore he was not a great supporter of the 1908 Old Age Pensions Act as he believed that through better wages and conditions workers could join Friendly Societies and not have to rely on Government hand-outs. He was an elected member of the Atherton District Council for twelve years and a member of the Education Committee and Public Library Committee.
Therefore it seems James Latham was an upstanding and committed man to his family, colleagues and to his town. James died in 1916 and a few years later in 1920 Ellen also passed away. The property was then lived in by Edward Latham, a veteran of World War One, his wife Lilly (they married in 1922), his son Derek (born 1923) and also still living at home was Edward’s sisters Ellen and Mary who never married. The house was eventually sold by Derek Latham in 1988 to Eamonn and Maria McGrath.
Had I not decided to research the history of my house, the same one in which James Latham and his family once lived, then his story and accomplishments may have gone undiscovered. It is quite amazing how an ordinary house can be the setting for an extraordinary life.
1901 Census of England and Wales, National Archives, Kew
1911 Census of England and Wales, National Archives, Kew
1916 Rate Collectors Book, Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
Leigh Journal, Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
“Atherton: A manorial, social and industrial history” by John Lunn (Atherton: Atherton District Council, 1971)
‘Atherton Collieries’ by Alan Davies (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2013)