When John Charles Oldham finished his 7 year apprenticeship to William Wilkes of Stratford-on-Avon, he settled in Southam to live and work as a clockmaker.  Perhaps he was related to the Coventry watchmakers Thomas and Samuel Oldham of that period, or maybe he knew the other Oldham family in Southam who were quarry owners.

On April 19th 1774, John Charles Oldham married Mary Wood, the daughter of a well-respected Southam tanner.  It was about this time Charles dropped the John from his name and was thereafter known only as Charles Oldham, and such will be found on his clocks.  In 1818, Charles Oldham made the Ladbroke Church clock for Rev Charles Palmer and in 1824 he made a clock for Barford Church.

Charles and Mary had four children and both boys, John and Charles Jnr, joined their father in the watch and clock making industry.  As Charles Oldham is known to have had apprentices working for him, no doubt he trained his own sons. Daughter Mary sadly died of consumption aged only 16. Charles Oldham Snr died in June 1828.

The Oldham’s youngest daughter Rebecca became her bachelor brother John’s housekeeper.  Late in life she married Southam Policeman George Smallbones, 17 years her junior. He was an ex-army gentleman who had spent time abroad in Gibraltar and Spain and after John Oldham died the Smallbones moved to Rugby, where George was a Police Inspector.  When George died, Rebecca returned to Southam where she died aged 85.

The older brother, Charles Oldham Jnr, was baptised in January 1779 at Southam.  He became a churchwarden at St James’ Church and fell in love with the Rev Samuel Sandys ward and housekeeper, Margaret Caseley.  However Rev Sandys did not want them to marry and eventually only agreed providing Margaret remained his housekeeper.  With the Rector still reluctant to marry them, they were married at Daventry in 1804 and settled at the Rectory afterwards.  Their five children were born there, and it must have been a hard life for Margaret with a husband and five children under 10 years to manage, as well as the Rectory housekeeping and the Rev Sandys’ other commitments. 

When Fanny was born in 1814, they decided to leave the Rectory.  The Rev Sandys was an elderly gentleman by now and it can be seen by the poorly kept parish registers that he was not coping mentally in his later years.  It appears that when Charles and Margaret left the Rectory in 1814 it was a step too far for him, because in April 1815, the 71 year old Rector committed suicide in one of the Rectory attics.

By 1841, Charles and Margaret Oldham were living in Coventry Street Southam with their eldest son John, also a watch and clock maker.  Their son William had died as an infant and two of their three daughters, Mary and Caroline, had died in their teens.  The youngest daughter Fanny, married Alfred Hart at Christmas 1839. Margaret died in 1842, Charles died in 1852 and the Oldham Watch and Clock making business in Southam died with their bachelor son John in November 1866.

By Linda Doyle


The photograph shows a clock from Southam Heritage Collection.  Our current exhibition is called ‘Southam Bobbies’ and is all about the history of policing in Southam.  If you would like to find out more about local history, please visit us in Tithe Place on Tuesday, Friday or Saturday mornings, see our website www.southamheritage.org Contact: 01926 613503 email southamheritage@hotmail.com  and find us on Facebook