This article is published as a tribute to Junction lad Ray Wilson, a good friend who sadly passed away in 2007
Ray had a much cut down and edited version of his work published in a local publication as his original work was much too detailed, specific and long to be appropriate for the nature of the magazine. The following article is Rays original un-edited version as he would have liked to have seen it published for serious local historians and anyone with an interest in the CWS. Despite long hours of serious work and extensive research, Rays natural quirky and satirical humour shines through.
The Lowbands Farm Story
Opposite the Jumbo Centre car park on Grimshaw Lane there stands a short terrace of three houses, the most westerly having iron railed steps up to the front door. The centre house my great grandfather James Hilton bought and 'modernised' in 1899.
"It was only the fourth house in Middleton to have a bath in it". my Nanna used to boast. I'm afraid I can't shed any light on how she could be so specific that it was the fourth house or which houses took the Gold, Silver and Bronze in the 'Middleton Bath Installation Olympics'.
Apparently my great grandfather although himself a Wesleyan Methodist, allowed Mormons to hold baptism services in the bathroom to fulfill their requirements of full emersion baptisms. Surely this was the ultimate gesture in religeous tolerance and shames the hollow calls for religeous co-operation voiced by many of the worlds spiritual leaders of today. Would Ian Paisley lend the Pope his bathroom I wonder?
Whether these newly annointed souls would have eventually reached their chosen heaven is for others to decide but the fact remains that in the 98 years that the house has been in the family, there has never been any problem with the drains. Just good luck or could it possibly be related to the sheer volume of freshly blessed liquid which would have inevitably poured down the plughole?
As far as I'm aware, the above is a rather insignificant contribution of this house to the history of Middleton. However the deeds to these houses reveal a secret hidden or forgotten for almost 150 years. Having conducted a broad outline research, all the indications are that these three houses were specifically built to be part of the Lowbands Farm Co-operative and as such will have played a major role in the history of Middleton and the founding of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Debatably they could be the most historically important loom houses remaining in Middleton. George Booth and the men and women of Lowbands Farm instigated the formation of the CWS. Indeed while the Rochdale Pioneers and other co-operators were still talking, thinking about and planning it, the Jumbo group were running a miniature working template for the CWS and did so for ten years. It is down to the original co-operators of Jumbo, these men and women of Middleton, George Booth in particular, that the CWS and hence the Co-op Insurance, Co-op Union and Co-op Bank all came into being.
In due course it is my intention to publish a fully referenced and documented report on my research which may probably be of more interest to the academic historian. However inspired perhaps by the example set by early co-operators and the great value they placed on education, I have applied and been accepted for a degree course at the Open University. Along the way I hope to gain a Diploma in Modern Social History. Lowbands Farm will be my main project. In the meantime what follows is a rough picture of what I have discovered so far. There are a few surprises for local historians and a few unsolved mysteries and frustrating unanswered questions which beg explanations. One thing I feel certain of is that George Booth and the early co-operators of Middleton had their glory stolen and have never received the credit due to them in founding the CWS. This is their story. You be the judge.
Continued by chapters belowGeneral Background
How Lowbands Began
The Early Days
Enter George Booth
202 Grimshaw Lane
Who Founded the CWS?
The end of Lowbands
Bibliography and Acknowledgements