Coldalhurst is an historic area located at the heart of Astley in Greater Manchester. At the very top of Coldalhurst Lane, at the junction with Manchester Road, there are some old buildings which today are used as the Doctors’ surgery and therefore they serve as a key community asset. However, if you were to travel back in time a century, or even two centuries, you would find that this exact same site has always been home to a key community asset, the village blacksmith.
Coldalhurst is an historic name is Astley, its lands lie almost opposite the manorial estate of Astley and the Manor House of Damhouse. Coldalhurst land is mentioned as early as 1250 when Alexander De Trafford gifted some land here to his daughter Alice. Its name appears to have changed over the centuries, sometimes appearing as ‘Cowdal Hurst’.
At the very start of the nineteenth century, the Shaw family can be traced to Coldalhurst Lane. The family of blacksmiths are recorded here as early as 1810, when John Shaw married Peggy Baxter, at St. Mary’s Church in Leigh, which at the time was the parish church. John and Peggy had several children. Their eldest son James (1813-1881) appeared to have taken over the family business, when his father was elderly. In 1838 James married a young woman named Martha at Eccles. The 1841 census recorded the couple with three children at the smithy at Coldalhurst. James and Martha later had other children; John, Elizabeth, Hannah (born & died 1843), James, Hannah, Henry and Mary Anne.
In turn James’ sons Henry and James followed their father into the profession. The 1881 census recorded Henry working at the forge (or smithy as it is also known) with his father. The family also remained close neighbours, a pair of semi-detached workers cottages were built and in one property lived John and Peggy Shaw with their unmarried daughter Mary Anne and in the other cottage lived their grandson Henry and his family. The 1881 census also revealed John was a farmer of five acres, which suggests that he did indeed retire and leave the business to younger family members. Only a few months after the census was taken John Shaw died at the age of 68. The next census of 1891 showed Henry and his brother James both working as blacksmiths at the forge and living next to each other.
The Twentieth Century
By 1901 Henry Shaw was running the blacksmiths forge alone. He was living at Coldalhurst with his wife Ann Elizabeth (1855) and their children; Alfred (1876), Edith (1879), Elizabeth (1880-1949), James Henry (1882), Frank (1884-1972) and Annie (1886).
Given their location at the junction of Coldalhurst Lane and Manchester Road, the Shaw’s would have been able to capitalise on business travelling through Astley to Manchester, Leigh and Tyldesley. We know from census records that Henry Shaw recorded his occupation as a “shoeing smith” which suggests a lot of his business involved horses – the main method of transport in Astley at the time. The first motorcar, owned by the Arrowsmith family, did not appear in the village until around 1910 and the first public bus service was not until 1920.
The census of 1901 gives us an idea about how busy Henry Shaw was. He was running the blacksmiths with the help of his three sons, keeping the business in the family. Two of his daughters work too, which was commonplace among working-class families at the time. However, they are in employment which would have been deemed “suitable” roles for young Edwardian ladies. Elizabeth was a dressmaker and her younger sister Annie was a pupil teacher. A pupil teacher would have been commonplace in Victorian and Edwardian schools. They were normally pupils of school leaving age who showed academic promise, so they stayed on to help the school in return for extra tuition.
Later in the twentieth century, Frank Shaw took over the business from his father Henry. Neither Frank nor his sister Elizabeth ever married and they were still recorded at Coldalhurst Lane in 1939. Frank Shaw continued to work as a blacksmith until at least 1949, as this is his occupation as recorded in Elizabeth’s will.
In the early 1950’s, after well over a century, the Shaw’s ceased to run a forge at Coldalhurst and the buildings were sold to the Davies brothers who used the premises as a property repair business and later also as a DIY shop.
By the beginning of the 21st century the buildings were sold again and are now used as a Doctors surgery, ran by Doctor Sivakumar and Doctor Gude. The former Shaw family home is now the surgery and offices and the former forge building is a pharmacy. This is a good modern example of a use for a historic site and one which celebrates local history and pride in the community.
- Census information and Birth, Marriage and Death registers – http://www.ancestry.co.uk
- John and Sylvia Tonge, The Second Pictorial Astley, (Self Published, 1992)
- John Lunn, A Short History of the township of Astley, (Manchester: Co-Operative Wholesale Society Limited, 1968)