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Interesting Roytonians

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Literary and Philosophical Societies abounded in the district. Also about this time there were the Hampden Clubs, Mechanics Institutes and Mutual Improvement societies, all established for the improvement of the education of the people. These institutions were supported by the working classes, and by voluntary subscriptions, and were conducted by operatives and employers alike, who instructed each other in various branches of education, music and the sciences.

Small groups of men met together in the pursuit of knowledge. Mathematics, mechanics, botany, geology, entomology and other sciences coming within their range of study. “The aim of geology,“ says an authority “is to describe accurately, the long succession of changes in the dust in this ‘cooling cinder the earth’, and to assist them in an orderly way to understand their causes.” In this way it calls up nearly all the other branches of science for help - astrology, physics, chemistry, mineralogy, botany and zoology. So we see how these men were led from branch to branch in their studies. Though of humble birth and of limited means many of these men obtained a distinguished place in The Temple of Science and others became noted botanists like John Mellor who was featured in the last edition of The Bugle.

The Mathematicians

In Oldham and it’s surrounding areas there was quite an ‘outbreak’ of the study of mathematics. Simple minded men, whose elementary education had been picked up at odd intervals, did not hesitate to attempt the study of this the most difficult branch of knowledge. These men were mostly weavers, who followed their occupation and their calculations concurrently. The loom would be stopped whilst the problem and the solution were written in chalk, possibly on the loom house floor. Sunday was the day when they met for mutual study and chief amongst these were John Kay of Royton, John Butterworth of Royton and James Wolfenden of Hollinwood. They not only acquired proficiency in maths but earned distinction as propounders of problems and providers of solutions and they were frequent contributors to scientific journals and magazines.

John Kay

John Kay was born in Elly Clough, Royton in 1781 of humble parents. As a boy he had little education, but during his limited leisure hours from his job as a hand-loom weaver he was determined to increase his store of knowledge. When eighteen years of age, he became friendly with John Butterworth (who you will read about in the next edition of The Bugle) and so became acquainted with mathematical studies. Under Butterworth’s guidance he lost no time in disposing of the rudimentaries of mathematics, and concentrated on the more difficult aspects of the science. In this field he obtained distinction and won prizes for his solutions of mathematical problems.

His first mathematical correspondence appeared in 1808 in the ‘Gentleman’s Diary’ and in 1810 he gained second prize in an award given annually by the proprietor of that periodical. Up to 1816 he continued to enrich it’s pages with many curious and elegant geometrical and mechanical questions and solutions. He was also a contributor to ‘The Enquirer’ and the ‘Leeds Correspondent’ but, like Butterworth, his favourite publication was the ‘Gentleman’s Mathematical Companion’. When, on the appearance of the prize question in the ‘Companion’ he provided the answer, he was awarded with the first prize. Considering he had the likes of Gompertz, Simpson, Butterworth and Epsilon as his opponents, it gives some idea as to the depth of his knowledge.

Apart from his mathematical prowess he achieved many other things. At the age of twenty he was elected constable of Royton, which office he filled to the satisfaction of the authorities for several years. He subsequently became a manufacturer of cotton cloth, and at the time of his death he had been an overseer of the poor of Royton for several years.

All this was packed in to a fairly short life as he died on December 31st 1824 in his 43rd year. His remains were interred in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Church, Royton and the place where he was laid to rest was marked by a plain stone bearing the inscription:-

In mathematics soared his noble mind,
Peace probed his soul, he felt for all mankind.
He loved true virtue, but disliked vain pride,
Truth was his aim and reason was his guide.

Douglas Ashmore

Sources :- Rev C E Shaw, Varley’s Royton Annual, J W Kershaw and Bruce Langridge - Oldham Interest Centre.