Urmston: wish you were here

Historian Andrew Simpson enjoys a stroll through old Urmston.

Now, long before I had visited Urmston, I had come across the firm of Simpson Ready Foods Ltd, but as important as Simpson’s were to the economy of the area, they were only a part of its history.

“URMSTON, Population 645. A township in the parish of Flixton and hundred of Salford. Ten poor children are taught by means of a small bequest. John Collier, commonly called Tim Bobbin, the author of the ‘Lancashire Dialect,’ was born here in 1708.” This extract from John Gorton’s Topographical Dictionary of Great Britain and Ireland, (1833) isn’t much for a busy and popular town, which in 2011 had a population of 41,825. Urmston can trace its origins back to the middle ages, with perhaps a hint that the Romans also liked the place enough to leave pottery buried there.

Like most of the land south and west of Manchester, Urmston was for centuries an agricultural area, and supported a cottage industry of handloom weaving, eventually finally finished off by the mechanisation of textile production during the Industrial Revolution.

That said, in 1851, James and Adam Stott opened a weaving mill in Flixton employing ‘upwards of 200 hands’. The venture prospered and the numbers employed steadily increased, reaching 400 at one point before the mill closed in 1935.

And that brings me back to Simpson’s, which was, for over 100 years, Urmston’s largest employer. Founded by William Simpson in 1910, it produced a range of products, including lemon curd, mincemeat, jelly crystals and their famous Christmas pudding, which was a winner of the 1919 Milan prize.

Sadly, the factory closed its doors in 2016 and while the business name and the Goblin brand have survived (having been bought by a Dutch company) the factory was demolished and the site turned over to an estate of 58 houses and apartments.

This demand for homes is nothing new. During the late 19th century Urmston’s population started to rise. The most dramatic increase came between 1931 and 1939, when numbers more than trebled, from 9,000 to 33,000.

I must admit I’m indebted to my old friend Michael Billington, whose book The Story of Urmston, Flixton and Davyhulme (History Press) has been a constant companion over the last few months. Drawing on a host of original material and conversations with local historians and residents, it features previously unpublished photographs and is peppered with case studies.

If you want to learn more about Urmston, there’s no better place to start.

Picture courtesy of Tuck DB