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Thomas Seville 1818-1906

During his long life Thomas Seville served in all parts of local government, its justice system, church life and the social welfare of the growing town of Royton. He was born at Birchinlee, Royton in 1818, into a farming and cotton spinning family. At age 25 he was sent to Blackburn to learn the ‘manufacturing’ or weaving part of the trade after which he went into partnership with his brother-in-law John Milne, first at the Union Mill (later to give it’s name to the street) and then at Springhill Mill nearby, named after the iron works first built on the site. The business was such a success that, in the 1850s, he was able to move house from Union Street to a grand new house - Elm House, next door to Downey House - built beside a great elm tree which shaded the entrance to the then public gardens (soon to be cleared away to make Church Street).

The partnership with his brother-in-law was dissolved in the 1860s and for the next forty years he headed a family enterprise at Springhill (Thomas Seville and Sons) long after the demise of family-owned weaving and spinning firms in a mainly spinning town.

Despite disastrous fires in 1875 and 1889 (when 300 hands were thrown out of work) his firm throve. In 1875 it comprised of two weaving sheds containing 396 calico looms, spinning rooms and outbuildings fed by the River Roy, with reservoirs 12 feet deep cut into the hill slope south of Brook Street. There were also 21 cottages and a smithy. Houses and units cover the site today.

Thomas was a dedicated liberal in politics and soon became de facto head of the party and a staunch supporter of free trade. After a long campaign to become a magistrate (supported by the Oldham Chronicle, a liberal newspaper) he joined the bench in 1869, eventually becoming the oldest JP in the area. He served on the old Board of Highway Surveyors and was a founder of the movement to elect the first proper local government body for the town - the Local Board - in 1863. He served on various Board committees, eventually becoming Chairman.

Thomas Seville was also Overseer of the Poor in Royton, then served as a member and Chairman of the board of guardians of Oldham Poor Law Union (a union of workhouses which included Royton). He was a trustee of the Poorfields Charity and during the Cotton Famine distributed food to the unemployed out of his own pocket.

During this time he was a long-serving churchwarden at St Paul’s Church in Royton. Recalling the days when gardens and farmland bordered the church, he said that St Mary’s Church in Oldham had once donated an old bell for the new tower at St Pauls - “the only thing Oldham ever gave them !”

Thomas lived at Elm House until he ‘retired’ in 1880 and went to live at Southport. The business was run by his sons but in 1893 he returned permanently to Elm House, possibly to oversee the flotation of the old family firm on the Stock Market. He died there in 1906, aged 88.

Sources: mainly Oldham Chronicle and Oldham Standard reports 1860-1906, too many to list, but see obituary O.C. 24 Feb. 1906

Michael Higgins