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Interesting Roytonians

Samuel Smethurst (b. 1853)

I am writing this little resume of Samuel Smethurst’s life with it’s final years incomplete. I do so remembering John Crothers, Royton Local History Society’s former vice chairman, and former Royton councillor, who sadly passed away in February 2012. Like Cllr. Smethurst, John was a long serving council member and a man of many parts, having business interests, community projects and a church life apart from his council duties. Although incomplete, it seems that now is the right time to narrate Councillor Smethurst’s story as a mirror to John’s.

Samuel Smethurst is remembered today as the donator of the public recreation ground at the Royton end of Broadway. He was born in Hollinwood in 1853, the second of six children. His father John was a building contractor and, after spells at Wesleyan and National schools in Hollinwood and Rochdale, he eventually entered the business with his father, becoming a foreman at James Smethurst’s, Hollinwood. He later went into partnership with James’s son at J. & S. Smethurst and when the firm floated as a limited company he became it’s managing director. He lived at Longsight, Royton, at premises variously referred to as ‘216 Oldham Road’ and ‘Coldhurst House’. Samuel’s career coincided with the spread of the limited liability movement and the great boom in cotton mill building. His firm was responsible for the construction of over 40 mills in the Oldham area.

Described as scholarly rather than athletic, he found expression as a young man in political debate and when joining the Oldham Political Debating Society, he first gained a taste for public representation. He became a member of the Oldham Conservative Party, eventually becoming it’s chairman. In 1875 he married Jane Rydings, the daughter of an old Failsworth family. In 1892 he was elected to the Oldham School Board, his success here leading to an appointment to the Royton School Board where he was a strong proponent of denominational day schools.

In the 1899 Royton Urban District Council elections he was asked to stand for the Conservatives in the Dryclough Ward. He won and was re-elected unopposed for three terms, becoming chairman in 1907. As an urban district of Lancashire Royton did not officially have a mayor or a town hall, only a ‘chairman’ and ‘council offices’. In the great divide within the party at the time, Samuel supported free trade against protectionism as the best option for the cotton industry and was forced to resign from the chairmanship of Oldham Conservative party as a result.

Described as genial and unassuming, he fulfilled many public roles almost too numerous to name. A long time Wesleyan lay-preacher, he was strongly attached to the Methodist church and school at Luzley Brook in Royton. He was a founder of the Oldham Poor Children’s Aid Society and was president of, and benefactor to, the Royton Poor Children’s Fund. He served as a magistrate on the Oldham bench and at Royton. He was a director of the Federated Employers’ Insurance Association, director of the Oldham Excess Insurance Company and chairman of Coombes’ Ltd. A busy man in a busy time.

However his lasting legacy is the land he left to be used as a perpetual playground behind old Edge Lane (Oldham Road) at the end of what is now Broadway. The dedication plaque on the low wall bordering the land reads:

ROYTON
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EDGE LANE OPEN SPACE
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This land is the gift of
SAMUEL SMETHURST. ESQ., J.P.
To Be Used as a Children’s Playground
FOR ALL TIME.

Michael Higgins