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Oldham's Danish settlers named the place "Aldehulme" around 865 AD. There had been a wool industry in the area centuries before the Industrial Revolution. Oldham's population increased from 12,000 in 1801 to over 100,000 by the end of the 19th Century. Oldham already had 89 cotton mills by 1830, compared with Manchester's 100. Oldham dominated the world's cotton spinning industry at the end of the 19th Century: in 1890 the town produced 11.4 million spindles, 13% of the 87 million produced in the entire world. There are a number of important satellite towns around Oldham, which also played an important role in the growth of the local cotton industry.
Chadderton (established in 350 AD as Streetbridge) had over 50 spinning mills by the late 19th Century, as well as a strong coal mining industry. The town was built on three main industries, textiles, engineering and aircraft production. The first cotton factory was built in 1776, and at the height of the Lancashire cotton trade there were sixty mills in Chadderton. The last mill in production spun its final length of cotton in 2000. As in other cotton towns, many of the surviving mill buildings have been put to other uses. Part of the massive Hartford Engineering Works, the largest engineering works in the world, was based at Chadderton, cotton mill machinery was exported all over the world from Platt Brothers' Hartford Works. In 1938 A.V. Roe and Company built a large new factory on Greengate, moving from their old site in Newton Heath, the new factory was to be twice as big as any other aircraft factory. During World War II over three thousand Avro Lancaster Bombers were built at the Chadderton factory.
Chadderton's notables include Henry Taylor, Britain's greatest ever amateur swimmer, who won three gold medals at the Olympic games held in London in 1908, he also held many swimming records, and won 35 trophies and 300 medals during his swimming lifetime. Another native of Chadderton was Lydia Becker, suffragette and champion of education for girls, she was the first woman to serve on the Manchester School Board, and was re-elected every year for twenty years until her death from diptheria in 1890. She was born at Foxdenton Hall, her father, Hannibal Becker, was the owner of a chemical plant in Chadderton.
Crompton lies to the north of Oldham and was historically a textile town: the town's wool industry dates back to the 1400s, with early the mills at Low Crompton and Greenfield, Shaw being established by the 18th century. In the eighteenth century a law stated that everyone buried in Crompton must be buried in woollen garments, wool being the main industry in the town until superseded by cotton in the late eighteenth century. By 1920 Crompton had 36 cotton mills, after which it declined until the last mill closed in 1989.
Set on the main road between Manchester and Oldham, Failsworth is famous for its historic landmark Failsworth Pole. There has been a settlement in the area since Saxon times and the Romans built a road through. Famous sons include Ben Brierley, and more recently Michael Atherton, the former England captain.
Failsworth is a mill town, the first cotton mill being built in 1825, the year Ben Brierley was born, but there were also silk and hatmaking factories and dyeworks near the border with the Manchester districts of Clayton and Bradford. The country park of Daisy Nook is between Failsworth and Droylsden and in the heyday of the cotton mills provided an escape to the fresh air for the millworkers.
Named after Lord of the Manor John de Leghes in the 14th Century, Lees was a rural conglomeration of small hamlets, which saw its ambitions to be a Lancastrian spa town (Lees' natural springs were visited by thousands in the 18th Century) thwarted by the urbanisation caused by the Industrial Revolution. Before it became a mill town, Lees was known for the restorative power of its spa water, which was bottled and sold around the country. Annie Kenney, one of the first suffragettes to be imprisoned worked at the Leesbrook Mill.
The first written record of the name Ryeton (or Ryton) was in a survey of 1212. Lying to the north west of Oldham, Royton was reputed to be the home of the first powered cotton spinning mill in Britain, Thorp Mill, built there in 1764. Ironically, Royton was the location of Elk Mill, the last cotton spinning mill to be built in England, in 1928. The Shiloh PLC cotton spinning company still produces cotton wool in Royton.
To the east of Oldham and bordering on the Pennines, Saddleworth dates from before the Norman Conquest and was mentionned in the Domesday Book, with Stone Age burial sites found nearby. A Roman road ran through a former fort established at Castleshaw in AD79. Abundant grazing land and soft water enabled a flourishing wool industry where local people were already skilled spinners and weavers centuries before the cotton industry came to nearby Oldham. Two-thirds of the area covered by Saddleworth is rural and is part of the Peak District National Park. It is home to a museum and many arts and crafts shops and hosts a famous brass band contest. Famous natives of the area are the Wrigley family, manufacturers of the well-known chewing gum.
In its heyday Shaw was said to have more millionaires than any other area, mainly because of the share dealing associated with many of its cotton mills. It contained one sixth of all the spindles in Oldham, the largest spinning town in the world. Today many of the remaining mills are in use as industrial units and a large catalogue company has a distribution centre at Shaw Mill.