Joseph Howarth by Squire Knott



Joseph’s father worked as a hatter and the family had little money. The young Joseph was sent to the recently opened School for the Indigent Blind which was based in Liverpool.  Although the school aimed to provide skills for blind people Joseph did not enjoy the strict regime and he returned to his parents after a relatively short time.
Joseph found work on the newly established Tommyfield market in Oldham. He sold pies and muffins and his regular cry of “fresh penny and twopenny pies” became a recognised feature of the market


Joseph Howarth's Statuettes
As Oldham grew Joseph also took on the role of bell man and towncrier. In the 1841 and 1851 census he uses the term bell man but by 1861 described himself as a town crier. The ringing of Joseph’s bell signalled the start and end of market trading each day. His excellent memory and booming voice enabled him to announce
messages across town.  He also put his talents to work as a lay preacher. It was said that he could commit any verse of the bible to memory after hearing it just once. 
His religious faith and dislike of some of the murkier areas of town life meant that he refused to make official announcements from the stage of any of Oldham’s theatres. He also refused to lend his bell to others saying that "What work I won't do, my bell won't do." Joseph Howarth was never a rich man and the various censuses taken during his lifetime show him living in the households of other market traders. But as a blind man in the early 1800s he lived a successful and independent life. His role as town crier, coupled with the sheer force of his personality, made him a recognisable and popular figure in Oldham.  This popularity is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that soon after Joseph’s death a subscription was begun to raise a statue in his memory.


Joseph Howarth Statue in Alexandra Park, Oldham
The statue was based on a photograph taken by local photographer Squire Knott.  Supposedly Joseph arrived at the photography studio dressed for chapel and carrying a prayer book. Squire Knott agreed to take this picture for free as long as Joseph also posed in his official town crier’s outfit and holding his bell. On the 9th May 1868, the ceremony to unveil Oldham's first outdoor statue was opened by the ringing of Joseph Howarth's own bell. It was a day of celebration, where 'Blind Joe' was remembered with pride as an honest and religious man. 
For the dignitaries who attended the ceremony Joseph’s life of struggle and perseverance was a fine example of Victorian ideals of working-class self-improvement. This was a man who might serve as an example to others. In his speech the mayor said that "Some towns did not do these things till they had got or reared a statesman, but the Oldham people were not waiting so long as that, seeing they could erect a statue even for a bellman." The mayor also compared Joseph’s statue to the goddess Hebe who was also on display in Alexandra Park. 'While Joseph handed mutton pies to the people of Oldham; the other handed nectar to the gods.' The statue quickly became a landmark.
Postcard of Oldham featuring Joseph Howarth Statue
A series of souvenir statuettes were produced by a local brickworks and the statue appeared on other items such as Victorian crockery or Edwardian postcards. Today the statue is reputed to be the only one in Britain where the subject is wearing a top hat.  Joseph’s gravestone can still be seen in Chadderton Cemetery. The inscription gives a brief summary of his life and also a real sense of how he was regarded by his fellow Oldhamers.                                                       
"Blind from childhood, but other senses exquisitely acute, and mental powers remarkable. He held the office of town crier in this borough for 43 years with singular credit. He was a good man - a Wesleyan Methodist and sustained the offices of local preacher and class leader for nearly half a century. He was extensively known and greatly esteemed through life and died trusting in the merits of his redeemer"
Joseph's Bell

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