1.Who was James Watkins?
In Westhoughton, in which Watkins gave a public lecture, a row of four carved heads have been incorporated into the front of a building above what is now a toy shop, this building formerly belonged to the Westhoughton Industrial Co-operative Society. The heads depict a white man with ‘mutton-chop’ whiskers, a woman wearing a small trilby hat, a young person (possibly female) painted a dark colour to represent black skin and a man also with dark skin who is reported to be James Watkins.
Watkins lived for some time with the Abbatts in Bolton, before settling in Manchester. In 1860 he published a second book entitled ‘Struggles for Freedom; or The Life of James Watkins, Formerly a Slave in Maryland US’, printed by A Heywood of Oldham Street, Manchester. An entry in the 1861 census shows Watkins to be living at 74/73 Piccadilly, Manchester, boarding with a basket manufacturer, James Skinner & family. The census shows his stated profession as ‘lecturer on slavery’ and states that he was born in the America in 1831.
By the 1880s, Watkins had returned to America and is documented in the 1880 census for Baltimore, Maryland aged 51, his occupation given as ‘keeping house’.
always been friends of the slave, received me with their usual kindness: amongst whom I must mention that benevolent gentleman Joseph Sturge, Esq.”.
Yet- besides the newspaper advert Watkins appears to have placed in the Birmingham Gazette- further sources of evidence of Watkins’s life in Birmingham are scarce. Did Watkins exaggerate the story of his relationship with Birmingham in order to sell more copies of his narrative in the town? Adding further uncertainty to the story, we know that Watkins also published two other editions of his narrative, that show he could change his message in order to appeal to different local communities. It is quite possible that Watkins returned to America after the civil war. Nevertheless, Watkins narrative widens the debate about the role that black abolitionists played in Birmingham:
“in closing my account of Birmingham” he tells us, “I must again say that I have found more heartiness in their sympathy- more earnestness in their desire to forward my interests, and more friendliness at their firesides than in any town I have seen.”
Note: This image is used by kind permission of the Worcester Record Office where it is stored.
Watkins, on the cruelties of American Slavery, at Rose Place Chapel, Liverpool, on the 18th October, 1859, Mr. David Lewis in the chair, the following resolution was unanimously adopted:–“That this meeting expresses its sympathy with Mr. Watkins, and greatly rejoices that, through the kind providence of God, he has been brought to Great Britain, the land of liberty; but further declares, that it is the duty of every British subject on the other side of the Atlantic,–aye, and on this side of the Atlantic too,–to do all in their power to hasten the time when slavery shall be banished from the face of the earth; and not to relax in their exertions until the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea. And this meeting further indulges a hope that the time is not far distant when those states where slavery now exists, will be induced, as Great Britain has done, to adopt means for washing away this great stain on their national humanity and national honour.
“Haste, happy day,–that time we long to see,
When every son of Adam shall be free.”
DAVID LEWIS, Chairman.
2.What is the oldest currently standing building in Westhoughton?
The answer has to be qualified but probably St Bartholomew’s church because a chapel/church has been on the site, built by the monks of Cockersand Abbey who were the land owners, since about 1200. A church dedicated to St. Bartholomew existed in 1557. It was rebuilt in 1731 and replaced by a larger building in 1869 and burned down apart from the Tower in 1990. It could be argued that the administrative headquarters of the Cockersand monks, namely Brinsop Hall/Farm must have been older than the chapel and the farm still exists. Also the properties of the landowners who donated land to the monks would have predated the chapel but these farms no longer exist.
3. What is the oldest building in Market Street?
The answer is the White Lion built about 1723 and originally used as a post also as a post office. The Red Lion was older being part of a farm built in 1604 and served as a stabling and staging post but was demolished in 2014.
4. When was the Bethel built?
The answer is 1853 but originally services were held at the cottages 26-28 Leigh Road. The Sunday School building was added in 1873.
5. What is the oldest school in Westhoughton?
The answer has to be qualified as the Parochial Primary School/ St Bartholomew’s Primary School, in School Street built in 1860 but the original version of this school was located in the church grounds. The Dame School, located on Manchester Road, was built by the Hulton family in 1835 for the education of the children of coal miners.
6. Which was the first cotton mill in Westhoughton?
The answer is the Westhoughton Old Mill, located on the factory nook opposite the White Lion, built in 1804 and burned down by Luddites in 1812.