A Brief History of Oldham Grammar School
and Hulme Grammar School in Oldham

A comprehensive history of both schools can be found in the exhibition to celebrate 400 years of Oldham Grammar School, which was presented at school in 2011. Exhibition

The origin of Oldham Grammar School lies in the Reformation. Thomas Hunt, incumbent of Oldham from 1580 to 1611 was an enthusiastic Protestant and a noted Puritan. He acquired a wide reputation as a Puritan 'Godly Minister' and Puritan families from both Lancashire and Yorkshire were happy to send their sons to him when he began to conduct a school in his house.

Oldham born Laurence Chaderton, one of the foremost Puritans in England, appears to have been the driving force behind the endowment of the Grammar School at Oldham in 1606. Sir James Assheton of Chadderton, patron of the curacy of Oldham, gave half a Lancashire acre of land in the centre of Oldham to ten trustees in order that a school house could be built. The trustees' copy of the foundation deed, a well-preserved document written on parchment, is held in our archive, along with the only book known to have survived from the early days of the school, a 3rd edition dated 1617 of William Fulke's "The Text of The New Testament of Jesus Christ".

The school building was erected in 1611. About 40 feet long and 15 feet wide, and constructed of local Pennine stone, it was demolished in November 1921, some years after the school had closed. Fortunately, a series of photographs were taken so we know what it looked like in some detail; the doorway with its date stone and a window were incorporated into our present school building in the 1920s.

Oldham Grammar School

Photograph of the Grammar School from Oldham Local Studies and Archives

The Grammar School flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries when Oldham remained a rural Pennine settlement. A description of the village from 1756 mentions the White Horse Inn "with a spacious paved area in front. Crossing the way the stately free Grammar School was beheld in antique dignity, free from adjacent dwelling." However, this idyllic landscape was about to undergo extraordinary change.

The transformation of Oldham from rural settlement to the country's largest cotton-spinning town continued rapidly throughout the 19th century. The industrial revolution caused an unprecedented expansion of the town as the population increased from 12,000 to 137,000 in the space of 100 years. In 1865 the Charities Commission noted that "The Grammar School is placed in a filthy lane inhabited by the lowest settlers and is enclosed by a slaughterhouse," and was no longer fit for purpose. The school was closed and abandoned the following year.

A number of local citizens took an interest in securing the future of the Grammar School but there were insufficient funds to build a new school. Mr Hesketh Booth, a shrewd local lawyer, was instrumental in obtaining funds from the William Hulme Trust, a fund that was specifically for the benefit of schools in the area. A board of governors for Hulme Grammar School in Oldham was established in 1887 and the following year land was purchased from the Chamber Estate. The area was, at the time, open country yet to be surrounded by Chamber Road, Windsor Road, College Road and Frederick Street. Architect John Whittaker Firth was engaged to design the new building to house 400 pupils from the age of 8 years. The foundation stone was laid by Mr Joseph Travis on 16th September 1893 and the building was ready for occupation by spring 1895.

Oldham Hulme Grammar School, artists impression

Artist's Impression of the new Hulme Grammar School from Oldham Hulme Grammar School Archive

The Hulme Grammar School at Oldham opened its doors to its first pupils on 1st May 1895. Headmaster of the boys' school, Samuel Ogden Andrew, a local man who had gained 1st class honours in Classics at Oriel College, Oxford, was assisted initially by four, and later by six, masters. The girls' school, administered separately but in the same building, was in the charge of Miss Alice Foxall, a graduate in Philosophy from London and previously a lecturer in teacher training at University College, Cardiff.

Almost half of the children attending the school in the early days were from local families that owed their livelihood to the textile industry — mill owners and managers, textile manufacturers, textile machinery engineering companies and textile salesmen. A fifth of the children had professional fathers such as Doctors, Ministers, Teachers, Solicitors, Accountants and Journalists. Over half of the boys left school at the age of 14 or 15 in order to take up an apprenticeship in their family firm.

During the early part of the 20th century the school became well-established and by 1920 numbers had increased so much that the building became overcrowded. A large, three-storey extension was added, and opened as the girls' school in 1925, with the boys' school taking over the original part of the building.