Greater Manchester Towns: Pt 1 – Ashton-under-Lyne

Our next adventure took place around Greater Manchester, where we visited three towns in one day. This involved a rather early start, and we got up at 5:20am to get an early bus, and were on the train by 8:00am from Southport. It was going to be an interesting day…

Ashton-under-Lyne:

Status: Tameside District, Greater Manchester (Historically Lancashire), Town, England

Date: 16/05/2014

Travel: Stagecoach (Banks – Southport), Northern Rail (Southport – Ashton-under-Lyne), Northern Rail (Ashton-under-Lyne – Rochdale, via Manchester Victoria), Northern Rail (Manchester Victoria – Southport)

Eating & Sleeping: Bake&Take

Attractions: Town Hall, Market Hall, Market Clock Tower, Market Square, Memorial Gardens, War Memorial, Town Hall Cannons Albion Church, St Michaels Church, Portland Basin, River Tame etc

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We were quite lucky for this trip, as it turns out there is a direct train from Southport all the way to Ashton-under-Lyne which is on the far side of the Manchester. The station itself is also just over the road from the main points of interest in the town, so we soon got exploring.

We arrived in the Market Square, and looking round we soon spotted the impressive Town Hall, shown above. This ornate building was completed in 1840 (the first purpose built Town Hall in the area) with the tall Corinthian columns marking the entrance. It was later enlarged in 1878 when a large hall was added. Ashton-under-Lyne was a borough until 1974, however when it became part of Greater Manchester that year it lost this status and the Town Hall became defunct. It now houses the Museum of the Manchester Regiment. Ashton is the administrative centre of the borough of Tameside and new council offices adjoin the Town Hall so it is still the head of the area.

Standing outside the Hall is one of a number of Crown Posts in the Tameside District. Erected in 2002 in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, instead of pointing to attractions in the town it points to the Tameside towns and areas of:

Audenshaw, Denton, Droylsden, Dukinfield, Hyde, Longdendale, Mossley, Stalybridge

The bottom sign of each pole seems to point towards London, as the one in Hyde points South, and the Ashton one points East. It’s a nice little celebration for the Jubilee, and its great to see the district as a whole got involved.

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The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed there are two large cannons at the top of the steps into the Town Hall. These are quite special, and an identical plaque on each one explains why:

“Turkish Gun. Taken by the 2nd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers at Candia during the occupation of the Island of Crete by the Allied Forces 1897 – 1898 and presented to the depot. Subsequently presented to the trustees of the Manchester Regiment 2002.”

It refers to the Greco-Turkish War mainly fought in 1897, between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, who were arguing over which country was in control of Crete as it was already a province of Ottoman, but claimed by Greece. With the help of the European Powers Crete became an autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire and Greece was repelled, although they still succeeded in getting greater powers for Crete. This lasted until 1908 when Crete became part of Greece through a union between Crete and Greece.

These cannons actually replaced a set of Russian cannons captured during the Crimean War (1854 – 1856) and given to Ashton in 1858, which were taken away and melted down for materials during World War II.

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The left hand cannon appears to be pointing at the Market Hall, but luckily it’s not loaded! The Market Hall is an enormous building from 1867, and one of the largest in the UK. Ashton has always been a Market Town, dating back to 1414 when a Royal Charter was granted to allow a market to be held every Monday. A number of mills were built in the 19th century and focus shifted to making Ashton a Mill Town however the Market is still an important part of the town.

Aside from the main building itself, stalls fill up the square outside it and there are lots of traders selling fresh produce and many other things throughout the day. It is quite unusual as the Market is actually held 7 days a week, as opposed to on specific days in other towns.

I really like the Clock Tower, which rises above many of the buildings in the area. It was badly damaged by a fire in 2004 but it has been fully restored and there is no evidence of the terrible fire.

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Here you can see the many stalls laid out in the square, and it was a beautiful day to browse the many stalls. You can’t quite see them on the picture, however around the top of the Market Hall are some finely carved stone lions, looking out across the square.

We moved out of the Market Square, and in the general direction of the Memorial Gardens, just a few minutes walk away. On our little walk we passed a number of interesting things, staring with the statue of John Harrison, known locally as “Uncle John the Pieman”. He gave a lot of help to the poor in the 1800’s and in recognition of this a statue was unveiled here in 2005, by the Mayor of Tameside, Jacqueline Lane. The statue is located around the back of the Market Hall, along with our second stop of interest, the small Clock Tower.

It was enclosed by fences when the Market Halls Clock was being rebuilt following the 2004 fire, and when the fences were taken away supposedly each Clock face had a different time on it! It has been put to rights now however.

Our third stop of interest is a piece of public artwork called “The Family”. Standing 3.5 metres tall, this large steel sculpture is treated with Zinc to protect it against the weather, and was installed in 1995.

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Ashton is an easy town to navigate, and the Memorial Garden was soon in our sights. Just across from it we stumbled on this charming little cul-de-sac called St Michael’s Square, with trees in the centre, cars parks around the outside and shops on one side. It’s a nice little area, and the trees were great shade from the beating hot sun.

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There is a main road to cross from the cul-de-sac over to the Memorial Gardens, and as we waited to cross we spotted this, a replica of the Old Cross. It was put here in 1723, and is a replica of the original which is in Stamford Park.

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So this is the Memorial Gardens, and it’s main feature is the stunning War Memorial, standing an incredible 35 feet tall. The main body of it is made out of 50 tons of Portland Stone, and there are a number of bronze statues located around it. The most prominent of these are the two lions who guard the names of the dead, and if you look closely, the lion on the left is fighting a large serpent, and the one on the right is stood over the dead serpent, having emerged triumphant.

On top of the central column are two more statues, one of a soldier holding laurels of gratitude in his left hand and one of a figure of peace with wings who is taking the sword from the soldier, the symbol of justice. It’s a beautiful construction, and some new concrete walls behind where I am standing commemorate soldiers from more recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.

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From the Memorial Gardens you get a great view out at one of the many churches in the town, that of Albion Church, the Congregational Church. It is the second largest Congregation Church i the whole of England, and was completed in 1895.

Numerous buildings have preceded it, each larger than the last, from the original house in 1780 on Church Street, to the Albion Chapel on Penny Meadow in 1834, that was too small by 1889. The architect for the project to build a new, larger church was called Mr. John Brooke, and was an instant success when it was finished.

It’s a marvellous building, and I like the second spire in the middle of the roof, which gives it an interesting dynamic.

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Directly opposite Albion is yet another Church, which is sat at the edge of the cul-de-sac, and also gives its name to it, as it is called the Church of St Michael & All Angels. It is far older than its neighbour, as the current building was completed in 1840 after a major restoration.

The history here goes back much further however, as the original Church was built around 1413 and enlarged around 1513. It was at this point that the Church was given a large tower, however in 1791 the tower was struck by lightning and had to be repaired, and was eventually replaced with a new one in 1818. During these works a fire broke out and damaged a large portion of the church and it lay in ruins until 1840 when it was restored.

Typically the tower was covered in scaffolding when we visited, but you get a good idea of how it would look. The tower itself is almost 140 feet tall, and a small area at the back of the church looks newer than the rest, and could be the result of subsequent restorations. It’s a grand looking building overall, and looks almost brand new.

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Coming back in a circle near the town centre, we found what is possibly the grandest building in the town, the Heginbottom Technical School & Free Library, which is emblazoned on the side in large gold lettering.

It was built in 1890 and named after George Heginbottom, a local miller who gave much to the town. The original library resided in the Town Hall from 1880, and was moved in to the new building in 1893. The library still resides here, and the rest of the building contains the Tameside Art Gallery, the school having long since moved out.

It’s a stunning building, and the detail that has gone into it is very impressive. Ashton is full of a wide variety of architecture and it has been great fun to explore it all.

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After exploring the town centre, the Churches and more, we headed off away from the town, towards the border with the neighbouring town of Dukinfield. (Pronounced Duck-in-field), marked by the River Tame. Interestingly, the border between Historic Cheshire and Historic Lancashire, long before Greater Manchester was created, was located here, so we are at the very edge of home county, Lancashire.

The Tame itself gives it’s name to the local borough of Tameside, and it’s source is located in a small village called Denshaw near the town of Oldham, also Greater Manchester. It then flows through Ashton and it joins with the River Goyt in the town of Stockport. Together the two rivers form the River Mersey which flows out into the Irish Sea at Liverpool and also marks the Lancashire/Cheshire border in Stockport, Runcorn and between the Wirral and Liverpool (now part of Merseyside).

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I knew the historic county border was located here, but I wasn’t sure if it would be marked in anyway. Sure enough, there was an engraving on either side of the bridge, pointing to Dukinfield in Cheshire, and Ashton in Lancashire. This was our second historic county border, following on from our visit to Todmorden, where Lancashire and Yorkshire once met. The bridge itself is called Alma Bridge, which was built in 1855. It was named after the Battle of Alma, which is regarded as the first battle of the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) and a blue plaque is also located on the bridge, dedicated to the men of Ashton killed in the war.

We crossed over the border, and into the unknown, as we began the 2nd stage of our adventure, in our next Greater Manchester town, historically part of Cheshire…

Ashton-under-Lyne is a fascinating place, there is plenty of history to be found around the town, and of course it’s in a great location with easy access into the Pennines, Yorkshire and Manchester. The Market Place is a masterpiece and as you explore the area there are a number of interesting sculptures, gardens and churches. There are a few other things to see in the town, including the Dukinfield Junction/Portland Basin where the Ashton Canal and Peak Forest Canal meet up, very close to Alma Bridge. Here you can see some of the old equipment and boats. There is also the Ashton Hippodrome, which in 2004 celebrated 100 years of entertainment, with a blue plaque on the side unveiled by Ken Dodd (Famous comedian) that same year. Sadly it closed in 2008, but a threat of demolition was halted in 2009. It remains empty however a lot of the buildings exterior still shows off what an impressive building it was in its prime.

From the station you can get a direct train into Central Manchester, as well as to the towns of Huddersfield, Stalybridge, Southport and Wigan. The Manchester Metrolink tram system has a branch to Ashton and you can use it to connect to the other branches to Eccles, Rochdale and Oldham amongst others. Manchester International Airport is only a stones throw away and can get you anywhere in the UK or the world, so what better place to be transport wise.

We enjoyed our time in Ashton, it was a beautiful day, and we spent a good few hours exploring the town, and it’s a worthy addition to our travel map.

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