Ramsbottom is a small town in the Irwell valley, north of Bury (in Lancashire, England) and south of the area known as Rossendale - Rawtenstall, Haslingden, Bacup etc. Colloquially it was often known as "Tupp's Arse" (A "tupp" is a dialect word for a sheep, and a ram is of course a male sheep). As a boy I often wondered why the town buses carried a badge or shield depicting a ram's head rather than its bottom. In reality the name has nothing to do with either end of a sheep but rather seems to mean something like "the valley of wild garlic". Richard Mabey mentions the town in his book "Flora Britannica". In the section dealing with ramsons or wild garlic (Allium ursinum) he says that the plant is also known as stinking nanny, stinking onions, and Londoner's lilies. The plant was sufficiently impressive when found en masse to be the derivation of several place names of which he cites Ramsey Island (off Pembroke), Ramsey (Essex), Ramsholt (Suffolk) and several more. Mabey goes on to say that in spite of the strong smell they are surprisingly mild to eat. If you are not sure what it looks like here is a picture but as some of its alternative names suggest it is the smell which is really distinctive
It has also given rise to family names. To many people it will bring to mind the song/poem about Albert Ramsbottom who was killed by a lion on a visit to the menagerie in Blackpool Tower. David Hey in the 1997 Phillimore Lecture delivered to the British Association for Local History discusses the distribution of Ramsbottom as a surname and finds that it is centred on the settlement of the same name, suggesting strongly that the surname derives from the place name. Heys also says that the modern pool of surnames is smaller than that of the Middle Ages even though the population then was much smaller. This helps us to understand that many of our surnames have a single-family origin. The lecture is printed in the journal of the association, "The Local Historian" for November 1997. A link to BALH can be found on my links page. The fact that the settlement gave rise rise to a surname suggests to me some antiquity but it was only in the 1800's that it became a parish. The church of St Paul's, where for a short time I served communion, was consecrated only in 1850. Tottington, Holcombe, and Edenfield have a somewhat longer pedigree but as chapelries of Bury Parish before they became parishes in their own right. Shuttleworth is also relatively recent as a parish although it beats Ramsbottom by a short head.
Ramsbottom developed through the 19th century mainly as a textile town. It had mills for spinning, weaving, printing etc although the Square Mill was in its day innovatory in that it combined many such processes under one roof. The Grant family, which hailed from Scotland, were among the first. They have been immortalised by Charles Dickens as the Cheeryble Brothers. At one time there was a tower erected to honour their memory, Grant's Tower, on the eastern side of the valley, above Park Congregational Chapel. One of my very earliest childhood memories is seeing it fall down when I was walking along the "Top Road" (later the A56). This was in 1944. It was erected in 1828. On the other side of the valley was Peel Tower built in 1852 to commemorate Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) who as Home Secretary was merciless in letting people hang. Read the book of VAC Gatrell "The Hanging Tree" which has much enlightening information about attitudes to capital punishment in the late 1700's and early 1800's. The tower is 124 feet high and on a clear day it was possible to see Blackpool Tower from the top.
There is an excellent book of photographs available which includes pictures from the late 19th century and many from the early 1900s as well as later ones. The book was compiled by Ramsbottom Heritage Society and is called "Around Ramsbottom". It is published by Chalford Publishing Co. The captions are generally excellent although if you are hoping to see your ancestors not everyone is named. My grandfather appears in a picture of Peel Brow School in 1904 but I would not have known had he not been pointed out to me together with great-uncle Albert who is standing next to him. My mother also went to Peel Brow and here is a picture of the class of 1928. I also went to the school myself for a short time in the war years. The school also basks in the limelight of one of its most excellent headmasters who knew a great deal more about education and the moral fabric than the do-gooders and wimps who are currently fashionable in our schools. I refer, of course, to Doctor Rhodes Boyson.
In my days there was a working railway which ran north up the valley from Bury. Going south we usually changed at Bury and went on the electric train to Manchester. The line through Ramsbottom closed to passengers in the early 1970s but has since been reopened as the East Lancashire Railway. Pictures of the town and the railway can be found at a site on my links page.
At all times there has been a steady movement of people about the country. Whilst some families may have been associated with a particular parish for centuries many parish registers show evidence of new people moving into into the parish. However during the second half of the 19th century a large number of people moved into the area in search of work. The rapidly expanding textile industry could provide a more prosperous living than some of Britain's farming communities. My own Stukins family were part of this movement when they came from the Isle of Ely (Cambridgeshire) in the 1870s. Prosperous is here a relative term. In the 1891 census Ramsbottom had many residents who had been born in Ireland or Scotland, as well as many others from nearer home. As with present day migrants there seems to have been some kind of grapevine and several households from a distant village could end up living close to each other. See my census strays page for more information. Much of the town was part of the civil parish of Tottington Lower End.picture of the parish church which is unusual in that it is one of the few parish churches without a dedication to a saint. A quick scan of the census fiche for say 1891 will show that Edenfield, Ramsbottom, and Tottington were magnets for people moving into the area from more rural areas. Tottington Wesleyan Chapel
Ramsbottom Heritage Society operate a Heritage Centre in the town and also publish a number of useful booklets covering the area together with Tottington, Shuttleworth, Summerseat, Cheesden and Birtle. See my links page for further details.
Last update 18/06/2004