100 years of life in the Suburb

Reporter: by Janice Barker
Date published: 29 June 2009

Residents from near and far gather for milestone gala
Garden Suburb residents will travel far and wide to get back to their roots for the centenary Rose Queen Gala on August 1.

And more than 30 former rose queens will be attending, one coming over from Germany, and including one who was crowned in 1948.

Other ex-residents are travelling from Cornwall and even a family from Australia.

But one resident will not have far to travel — 83-year-old Kenneth Everington from Meadow Lane, is the longest-serving resident.

He has lived in his home for 82 years, moving there when he was an 18-month-old toddler.

It was 100 years ago on August 7, 1909, that the Garden Suburb, off Hollins Road, was officially opened with the first gala ceremony.

The Suburbs, as they are known, grew out of the garden suburb movement of the south.

The oasis of winding streets with a deliberate country lane feel, gardens, trees and verges, was intended as an alternative to terrace houses.

Garden Suburb was the idea of Mary Higgs, founder of the Beautiful Oldham Society, who was impressed by Hampstead Garden Suburb in London.

Dame Sarah Lees, the philanthropist and first woman Oldham councillor, sold land at Hollins cheaply and the idea was to build 700 houses as a co-operative limited company, with rents and rates set low, to encourage working men to take them on. But by 1914, only 183 houses were let, and the tenure gradually changed from rents to ownership of around 400 homes.

They were described as light and airy, well built, of artistic appearance, with a kitchen and good range, and a pantry.

A major improvement was hot water, and although there was no bathroom, baths were sometimes sunk in front of the fireplace, sometimes lowered from a kitchen cupboard.

And the village feel was reinforced by the tenants’ association, now called the Garden Suburb Association, which started an amateur dramatic society, dances and whist drives, in a wooden community centre.

In 1929 the centre was replaced by the current brick building. Barbara Fell, the association’s honorary secretary for 15 years, said: “In the past there were heralds, page boys and sword carriers in powdered wigs accompanying the rose queen, who was the best behaved girl on the estate.

“We still use the same sword and a red velvet and turquoise blue train for the queen and retiring queen, and there is still a sword carrier, and one page who carries the tiara and another who carries the badge awarded to the rose queens.

“The shield which carries details of every rose queen is the oldest surviving artefact connected with the first ceremony.”

Barbara said: “The spirit of Garden Suburb is still going strong 100 years after it was founded and that is the achievement of everyone over the last 100 years.”

Regular social events are held. Barbara added: “This year’s executive committee has 22 members and is of different ages. Everything is done by volunteers and always has been.”