Oh, Wakes a week it was

Reporter: Janice Barker
Date published: 22 June 2009

Step back in time and an exodus was under way in Oldham this week — by coach, bus and train to the seaside.

This week is the first week of the Wakes fortnight — but in Oldham today there are no signs of the tradition going back to the 19th century.

When Oldham was a booming mill and engineering town, firms would close down for two weeks and it became a ghost town.

Other textiles towns had their own holidays at different times of year. In the 19th century, districts as close as Hollinwood and Royton had a different Wakes, Hollinwood’s beginning at the Sunday nearest July 20, St Margaret’s Day.

And to finance the new, longer holidays, Wakes Clubs became a local institution — workers saved week-by-week with a pay-out before Wakes.

Werneth Spindles Works was the first to run a “going-off club”, where employees saved 6d a week in 1871 for a 25s (£1 .25 pay out).

For most, seaside resorts remained the favourite and dozens of trains departed for the coast, the first soon after 3am.

But, as traditional industries declined and schools objected to the holidays at crucial exam times, the exodus dwindled to a trickle, and Wakes weeks were ended in 1992.

Although it had been held in August and September, by the 20th century Oldham Wakes traditionally began on the Saturday before the last Saturday in June — giving families a chance to enjoy cheaper holidays before the rest of the country’s children began their six-week summer break.

Before the days of a car for every family, Mumps rail and coach stations, and the Yelloway depot, were packed. It was boom time for seaside landladies when Oldhamers went on their Wakes holidays.