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Mystery Men In 1899 Oldham Photograph

Any idea who these chaps are? (picture: GMP)

A photograph showing a group of mystery Victorian men has been discovered in the archives of Greater Manchester Police. The picture was taken in 1899, during the jubilee celebrations of the incorporation of the borough of Oldham.

The image was found in the collection of the Greater Manchester Police Museum, which is based at the old Newton Street police station in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Archivists are asking for help in identifying the gentlemen in the picture.

According to a spokesman for the museum, most of the slides found along with this image featured local police officers and firefighters, and were clearly labelled. But this one was blank. Because they’re not in uniform, one theory is that the men are Oldham detectives, although their poses seem a little informal for that.

If you’ve got any ideas about who the men might be, please get in touch. You can either leave a comment below this article, or send an e-mail by clicking Contact at the top of the page.

More archive images of the police in Oldham can be viewed at GMP’s Flickr page here.

The museum is well worth a visit. It’s open on Tuesdays, and more information is available here.


  • Tamara says:

    Ok, so they are in uniform –
    The two on the left have the same uniform.
    Two sitting in front looking to the left, one standing behind with crossed arms, one standing on the right, one half way up stairs, all have the same coat, three visible pairs of boots are the same and all have tough trousers like a manual labourer, although this is at odds with the coat so perhaps they are supervisors, inspectors or surveyors somewhere where other people work in tough conditions.
    Two at top of stairs have same coat
    Chap in spats has the wonderful self satisfied propritorial look of the Victorian industrialist so I suggest this is “his team” whatever they do.
    If I just saw the guys on the left I’d think railway porters or much earlier policemen so since the dating is probably pretty accurate I wonder if they are not police at all but the staff of a railway, or a special unit working on the railway?
    Hope this helps and would love to hear if anyone works it out

  • Mic Norbury says:

    I don’t have a clue who they are, but they look a right mean and shifty lot, and I wouldn’t wish to get on the wrong side of any of them.

    ….especially the chap seated second from left who looks suspiciously like Alan Sugar.

  • We were appraising some Victorian photographs from our collection with a view to using them in our 150th celebration in 2017. We also came across this photograph above. The man immediately to the right and above the second uniformed policeman and wearing a grey three piece suit…and looking away from the camera is almost certainly James Hall, who was a member of Oldham Photographic Society…from our history page on our website “The first amateur member of the Society, also the first amateur photographer in Oldham, was James Hall, who was a member from 1868 until his death in 1909”. We have two photographs of him in our collection.
    The man sitting on the railing second from the right, with fair hair, was also a member of Oldham Photographic Society and appears in one of our group photographs but we don’t know his name.

  • Since last year we did a lot of research on the Oldham Photographic Society for the book that I have written “A Victorian Society” (available at Amazon) and were able to identify several other men in the photo as being members of the Oldham Photographic Society’s council, because they appear on other photographs in our archive collection, where they are named. The man with fair hair sitting on the railing is Tom Heywood, Oldham artist, one of our society’s presidents. His work is in Gallery Oldham and changes hands for four figure sums. He did exquisite paintings of animals. Second from the right at the bottom is Thomas Widdop, the society’s secretary, who was a surveyor. The man with his arms folded by the railings is Wallace Thompson, a sales manager and secretary. I have already identified James Hall, who was a master plasterer and early amateur member. Moses Piper, the manager at a gas works, is second from the left at the top. The man sitting looking away near the bottom left is, I think, Spencer Ashton, who worked as a clerk.

    The photograph is now believed to be members of Oldham PS council…who frequently were photographed together in such a pose.

    None of our members were policemen at that time (we have membership lists giving the members’ occupations). We believe it is nothing to do with the police at all. Also if you look at the two men on the left, they are not actually wearing uniforms as was first suggested…but high buttoned suit jackets which were fashionable in Victorian times…there may be a family resemblance between them and we did have several brothers who were members at the time.

    Also, one of our existing members, who joined as a boy in the 1950s had a copy of that photo, which he says he had been told was the society’s council. QED.

    @Mic Norbury – I don’t think they look like a mean and shifty lot – it turns out that these men were from good and honourable professions. Victorians often has grim expressions because the camera could not capture a fleeting expression – so serious poses were frequently caught. First impressions can be deceptive!

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