Oaklands is a spacious Victorian villa which was built to reflect a time of prosperity and comfort. However, over 140 years later it is now derelict and awaiting demolition. Just 30 years ago Lowton’s Newton Road contained several substantial historic houses which reflected the changing history of the area, unfortunately one-by-one these have all been lost. 2021 will likely be the last year that Oaklands exists, so here is its history.

Where is Lowton?

Lowton is located in Greater Manchester, some 11 miles from Manchester city centre and 2 miles from Leigh. Lowton itself encompasses a large area including districts known as Lowton village, Lowton St. Mary’s, Lowton Common and Lane Head. It was first recorded in 1201 and like much of Lancashire, it was involved in the cotton spinning and silk weaving industries. Glue and sweets were also manufactured there.

In 1911, A County History of Lancaster, described Lowton as being “situated in flat uninteresting country, covered for the most part with bricks and mortar, for the very scattered town of Lowton spreads itself in every direction, leaving spaces only for pastures between the streets or groups of dwellings.” Despite this, it was still largely rural compared to neighbouring towns and in 1901 it had a population of only 2,964 persons.

The post will focus on Oaklands, a house situated in Lowton St. Mary’s. The name of the property is also sometimes recorded as The Oaklands. The area was named after the church established there in 1861 and it was also widely known for the train station which was located there between 1884-1964.

Construction

Oaklands was built between 1882-1883 on a two-acre plot on the corner of what is now Newton Road/ Hesketh Meadow Lane. Although the current address of the property is 196 Newton Road, until the 1890s the road was named Mather Lane. For the majority of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Mather Lane/Newton Road was a prestigious residential location. Originally only containing some farms, large houses such as Lowton House (also referred to as Lowton Hall) and Sycamore House were built in the first few decades of the nineteenth century. After the construction of other houses later in the century, such as: Green Lawn, The Elms, and the Vicarage, the neighbourhood became distinctively upper-middle class.

Above: Oaklands in March 2021 (Source: Thomas McGrath, 2021)

The house was designed by the renowned Bolton-based architectural firm of Bradshaw & Gass. Some of their other buildings (including some later ones) include: Mather Lane Mill and Leigh Spinners Mill, Croal Mill, Bolton, Atherton library, Astley Bridge library, Stockport library, Westhoughton Town Hall, Farnworth Town Hall, the Stock Exchange building and the Royal Exchange (both in Manchester). Oaklands cost £8000 to build, which is approx. £811,000 in modern terms. The house is built of pressed red brick and in typical late-nineteenth century fashion, it is a convolution of architectural styles; Gothic-revival, Queen Anne revival along with some Arts and Crafts elements. The house has an octagonal turret and terracotta details around the exterior. On the façade of the house is a plaque which bears the carving ‘EQUAM SERVARE MENTEM’ (to preserve an equal mind). The interior, although altered, still retains period features including: a tiled mosaic entrance hall with J. G. entwined in the centre, wooden panelling on the ceilings and carved doors with glass panels. The staircase window was stained glass featuring two Pre-Raphaelite women, unfortunately, one side of this window has been destroyed.

A Self-Made Millionaire

Oaklands was built for the Green family. The head of the family was John Green (1836-1893) who was the epitome of the self-made man of the nineteenth century and his story really is one of ‘rags to riches’. This was clearly something he chose to reflect in the design of his home as well. He was born in Atherton in 1836 to William and Margaret Green. He was christened at Chowbent Unitarian Chapel and even after the family moved away from Atherton, they returned to Chowbent Chapel to christen their children. They moved to Bolton around 1840 and then to Oldham Road in Manchester around 1848. John’s father was an engineer in the cotton mills, so his skills were highly sought after and he would’ve commanded a higher wage than those who worked as carder or weavers in the mills. This is likely the reason why the family moved so much and they eventually settled on St. Stephen Street in Salford. This was a working-class district centred around what is now Salford Central Station and the boundary with the River Irwell, where there was plenty of opportunity for employment.

By 1861 William Green had set himself up as a draper and his three daughters; Elizabeth, Martha and Ann were milliners. John, aged 24, was a glue manufacturer. By the time of his marriage in January 1864 he was living in the centre of the city on Lower King Street. His bride was Emma Lees Smith (1839-1875). Emma was the daughter of Samuel Lees Smith; a warehouseman and Margaret Forshaw and she grew up in Salford. John and Emma had the following children: William Lees (b.1865), Alfred Henry (b.1867), Frederic Arthur (b.1869) and Mary Annie (b.1871 – died as an infant).

John’s business also expanded and he started to manufacture glue, soap and size (a substance used to alter the absorption of paper and materials). His works were based on Hyde Road, however around 1868 he moved his business and his family to Lowton. The family lived at Pocket Nook House adjoining the railway line and next to John’s works. John adapted to the semi-rural environment. In the 1871 census he described himself as a glue manufacturer employing four men and as a farmer of 77 acres, employing two men. In 1870 there was a terrible accident at the works involving 30 year old George Kay who fell into a vat of boiling size. He was rescued by workmate but he was not expected to live. Fortunately, the father-of-three did survive and went on to have four more children.

Above: An OS Map of Lowton from 1891. Oaklands can be seen listed, as can John Green’s soap and glue works near the railway line and Pocket Nook House, his former residence. (Source: National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/view/101103698)

Sadly, Emma Green died at the age of 37 in 1875. Three years later, John remarried to Anne Price (1854-1919) in Liverpool. There was 18 years between John and Anne and just 11 years between her and her eldest step-son. This age gap could be the reason why Anne applied to the Diocese of Chester for a license to marry John. John and Anne had two children together: Beatrice Mary (b.1881) and Philip Sydney (b.1883). John became a prominent figure in the local community and he served as a County Magistrate from 1889.

John Green only got to enjoy his new home and family life for a decade as he died suddenly whilst in Blackpool in September 1893. He was only 57 years old. He died from ‘syncope’ due to an insufficient blood flow to the brain (this is more commonly associated with fainting). It is likely John had other medical conditions regarding his blood pressure too, to cause the fatal result. His estate was valued at £29,698/16s./10d. which would make him a multi-millionaire by today’s standards, as this is over £3.3 million in modern terms.

The Green Family: 1890s-1950s

Anne Green, her step-children and her children continued to live at Oaklands after John’s death. Anne joined the Golbourne, Lowton, Culcheth and Kenyon Education Sub-Committee. Education was important to the Green family. All of the sons were sent to Manchester Grammar School and even Beatrice was still recorded as a student at the age 20 in the 1901 census. It is not known what she studied but her mother and brothers were clearly in favour of higher education for women. In 1907 Beatrice married Robert Jaffrey Forbes, a professor of the pianoforte. He taught at what is now the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where he was later the principal. Beatrice and Robert had one child and Beatrice died aged 99.

William, Alfred and Fredric (known as Fred) took over their father’s business. John brought his sons into the business at a young age and he had them working various different roles. In 1886, 17 year old Fred was nearly blinded in an accident at the glue works and there was an emergency trip to Manchester to save his eye. In 1903 he married Rachel Thompson and moved to Newton-le-Willows, where his family lived at Hetherlea, a large house on the edge of Mere Road.

In 1908 William Lees Green married Rose Agnes de Braunstein (nee Monaghan) and in 1913 they moved across the road from Oaklands to Green Lawn. Unfortunately, William and Rose had a tough time and William died aged 55 in June 1920. More can be found about William, Rose and Green Lawn here.

Above: The impressive turret and side bay at Oaklands are now visible as all the mature trees were felled in late February and early March 2021. Note the damage to the staircase window in the centre of the façade. (Source: Thomas McGrath, 2021)

Philip Sydney Green took a different path to his brothers. He studied at Wigan Grammar School and Manchester Grammar School. He then studied medicine at University of Manchester and he eventually became a surgeon at the Crescent Road Military Hospital in Crumpsall around 1911. He later studied radiology at the London Hospital and he was regarded as a specialist in X-rays, which were still somewhat in their infancy at the time, having only been discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Röntgen.

In 1916 he married Margaret Katharena Jackson but the couple only had a matter of months together before Philip was shipped off to serve at Mesopotamia for two years. He was a Captain in the Royal Medical Corps. He returned to England in June 1918 and was sent to France in July. Unfortunately, Philip died of pneumonia caused by influenza on 13th November 1918 at Wimereux, two days after the Armistice was signed. There is no doubt that the death of her son would have deeply saddened Anne and she died a year after he did, in 1919 at the age of 65.

Above: Philip Sydney Green (1883-1918) (Source: Leigh Journal, 26 June 1919, Wigan Archives)

Margaret Katharena was awarded a widow’s pension of £75 a year in 1919 but she had to give this up in 1921 when she re-married. Her second husband was her brother-in-law, Alfred Henry Green. Alfred had never married at that point and he had lived always lived at Oaklands with his step-mother. He had studied chemistry and was a member of the Chemical Society of Great Britain. I think it’s rather lovely that these two found each other after so much sadness. Alfred and Margaret still owned Oaklands but they did not live there. During the Second World War, Oaklands was given over to the Admiralty for the duration of the war. Alfred and Margaret later lived in Southport, where they both passed away in the late 1950s. Their estate was left to their nephew and niece; Arthur and Freda (children of Fred and Rachel).

Oaklands Children’s Home

In December 1945, the Primary Education Committee of Lancashire decided to purchase the house to use it as a remand home for girls. It was estimated to have needed £3,500 worth of repairs and alterations to adapt the domestic residence for its new purpose. The alterations eventually cost £3,250 and the home could accommodate 26 girls. Oakland’s Children’s Home eventually became a boys’ home and it could accommodate around 29 boys. An extension was added to the side of the house in the 1960s. Lowton became part of the Wigan Borough in the 1970s and thereafter children from around this area could be sent to Oaklands.

Above: An advertisement for the roles of ‘house mothers’ for various children’s homes, including Oaklands. (Source: Liverpool Echo, 18 June 1965, p.19)

*NOTE: The following part of this article covers sensitive topics, including abuse*

The poet and author, Lemn Sissay (b.1967) lived in four children’s homes in the Wigan Borough, including Oaklands, between 1979-1984. Sissay has been transparent about the abuse he suffered and witnessed during his time in these homes. He wrote a blog post in 2013 to raise awareness about what went on in these locations which were supposed to be caring for young, vulnerable children and teenagers. The post can be found here. As early as 1951, potential cases of abuse were highlighted at Oaklands. In that year a superintendent at the home was found not guilty on the charge of ‘improperly assaulting boys under 16’ but the fact that it made it to court would suggest that acts of misconduct did happen even in the early years after the home was founded.

It is important to share and acknowledge this darker side of the building’s history. Tied within these walls are the memories of real people and many people who passed through this property are still alive today. It is also import to note that these experiences will not have been shared by all the children who resided at Oaklands and that this is in no way reflective on all the staff who worked there over the years.

Oaklands Today

The Children’s Home closed in the early 1990s and in 1992 the building was converted into offices for the use of Wigan Council. Oaklands was used for this purpose until 2016, when the council decided the property was no longer suitable. It has since stood empty for a few years and unfortunately it has suffered some vandalism during this time.

Above: The gateposts at Oaklands (Source: Thomas McGrath, 2021)

In 2020 plans were approved to demolish Oaklands and to build 19 houses and an apartment block containing 6 flats on the site. This historic house will go the same way as its neighbouring buildings: Sycamore House, Green Lawn, The Elms and Lowton Hall. In 2018 Ed Thwaite, the chairman of Lowton East Neighbourhood Development Forum stated:

“This is the last straw. It has all happened very quickly. It would be sacrilege to see it go. I do think it is a shame the extension was put on it as that has spoiled it somewhat but it is very sad to think it might be pulled down […] The grounds are full of mature trees and there is a lot of wildlife in there because it hasn’t been maintained or manicured for years.”

A petition to save the building was started by Nicole Broome and it is such a shame that the house itself couldn’t have been converted into apartments but in the 21st century, land is worth more than our historic environment. For the time being, whilst the house remains, it stands as a tangible link to the history of Lowton.

Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath

Image Above: Oaklands as viewed from Hesketh Meadow Lane, 2021 (Source: Thomas McGrath, 2021)

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