Oldham’s library service has asked the public for help solving a ‘mystery’ from its archives.

A postcard, sent by John Taylor of the North and North-East Lancashire Cotton Spinners’ & Manufacturers’ Association, was said to have ‘come adrift from its collection’.

The mail, addressed to Mr S Andrews, the secretary of the Spinners’ Society on Yorkshire Street, has a message that archival staff are struggling to decipher.

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On Facebook and Instagram, the team wrote: “Our archivist, despite 30 years spent honing her palaeography skills, is stumped by the message.

“Looking at the t in Octo 15th 04, the 'ar' in Dear and the S in Sir, it seems to say "Dear Sir, The Stare List does not apply to 4 stare mills and no addition should be made. Yours Truly, John Taylor"

“What on earth is a Stare List or a stare mill? Any cotton historians out there with knowledge, please reply in the comments.”

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Some commenters theorised the hard-to-decipher word could, in fact, be ‘slave’.

Oldham’s cotton industry directly benefited from the labour of enslaved Black Americans, often living in appalling conditions and subject to cruel and vicious treatment. One such enslaved American even came to live in the town.

However, the slave trade was abolished before 1904, when the letter is dated.

Other commenters thought it may be ‘slave’, but in a different meaning – instead meaning a smaller mill which serves a larger mill.

Others thought the word may be ‘stave’ or ‘star’. Instagram user @inclusivebytes used ChatGPT to see if the chatbot had any suggestions, and pointed out that there was a ‘Star Mill’ in Royton.

However, Oldham Library was less sure, responding: “Hmm, that doesn't explain why there's a 'Star List' or why there's a reference to 4 star mills. Did ChatGPT have any suggestions about that? Thanks for asking it, though!”

Those with any theories are asked to get in touch with Oldham Library on social media.

Oldham Library was contacted for additional comment. 

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