Greater Manchester Towns: Pt 3 – Rochdale

Our last stop of the day was to the town of Rochdale, somewhere I have been looking forwards to visiting for a while. It’s a reasonably large town, on the edges of Greater Manchester, with one of the most beautiful buildings outside Manchester itself…


Status: Rochdale 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: Greggs

Attractions: Rochdale Town Hall, War Memorial, River Roch, Old Post Office, Pioneers Museum, Post Office, Fire Station, Manchester Metrolink, Tourist Information, Heritage Centre, Touchstone Gate Posts, St Chad’s Church & Steps etc


When we first looked at going to Rochdale, I had a quick look at what Rochdale had to offer, without trying to spoil everything for myself. One thing instantly grabbed me and I was very excited to get an up close look at it, and you can see this truly stunning building on the left of the above picture.

Rochdale Town Hall is a marvel of Engineering, style and architecture. It is second to only Manchester Town Hall in the whole of Lancashire, and the top of the iconic Clock Tower is visible from all over the town.

The history of this incredible building began in 1864 when a competition was held to design a new Town Hall. The winner was a man called William Henry Crossland (1835 – 1908, Architect from Huddersfield), and John Bright (1811 – 1889, British Radical from Rochdale) laid the foundation stone in 1866. Five years later, in 1871, the building was completed, and was one of the grandest buildings in the north of England. There has been on major change over the years however, as the original wooden spire on top of the tower was destroyed by a fire in 1883, and the whole Clock Tower was rebuilt. The original stood at 240 feet tall whilst the new one was slightly shorter at 190 feet. You can see a picture of the original here.

The designer for the new Clock Tower also designed that of Manchester Town Hall, which explains the similarities between the two. He was called Alfred Waterhouse and the new Clock Tower was built between 1885 and 1887, opening the following year in 1888. It is my favourite building in the town, and has attracted the attention of many famous people throughout history, with one of the most notorious being Adolf Hitler, who greatly admired it, and was rumoured to have a plan to ship it brick by brick to Germany if the UK was defeated.

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Directly across the road from the Town Hall, is the Rochdale Cenotaph, the centre piece of the towns Memorial Gardens. It was built not long after World War I, and was unveiled by the 17th Early of Derby, Edward Stanely (1865 – 1948, British Solider and Ambassador to France) on November 26th 1922.

The flags on the side of the monument are actually made out of stone, which is incredible as they look so life like and we thought they were actual flags until we got up close. This is a credit to the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869 – 1944, also designed the Cenotaph in London in 1920).

The shear scale of this area of the town is incredible, and there is a small park surrounding the Cenotaph, with a further little garden behind it. We stopped here later on for lunch, and just enjoyed the view, and the dazzling sunshine.

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Rochdale town centre is a very open place, and located adjacent to the Town Hall. The centre is made up of a variety of old buildings, including Victorian Brick, as well as stone ones. There has been a lot of development here in recent years, and new modern buildings are springing up. A major part of the town centre is the new Metrolink Station, as Rochdale Town Centre is the terminus of the newest line of the Manchester Metrolink, which runs from East Didsbury to Rochdale via Manchester City Centre and the town of Oldham. The new station opened in March 2014, and previously trams stopped at the stop opposite Rochdale Railway Station from February 2013.

Rochdale is built up around the river Roch, we came across later. It was the river that gave the town it’s name, and it appears in the Domesday book as a place called Recedham, a manor that was part of the hundred of Salford, which was later gifted to Roger de Lacy (1170 – 1211, 6th Baron of Pontefract) by King Henry II (1133 – 1189) and then through various owners including the Dukes of Lancaster. At that time, Lancashire was split into 6 hundreds, with Salford covering the whole area including Manchester. As it grew, the towns name later changed to Rachedale, and then through to Rochdale today. There was no physical Manor House, however one was built in 1702, called “The Orchard”.

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On this view you can see how open the town centre is. Like I said before, Rochdale Town Hall is visible from most places in the town, and it towers over all of the town centre.

The rest of the centre is made up of more ornate buildings, and there are very little of those new tacky shops that seem to dominate many towns. The area is very unspoilt and it’s a joy to explore. On the right you can see the smooth white exterior of the Old Post Office building, but I will come to that in a moment.

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Nestled behind many of the buildings is the one main modern construction,  the Rochdale Exchange Shopping Centre, which opened in 1976. Just up the road is another one, the Wheatsheaf Shopping Centre, giving a wide variety of different shops.

In a small square outside the main entrance to the shopping centre is a sculpture made up of three sheep. Designed by an artist called Judith Bluck, they were unveiled by Gracie Fields (1898 – 1979, famous actress, singer and comedienne from Rochdale) in 1977. They have been moved numerous times for so called Health and Safety Reasons, the most notable being in 1995, however thanks to a local outcry it has been moved back to it’s original position.

It’s a great little sculpture, and the sheep look quite content basking in the sunshine.

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Looking back at the Town Hall, we soon spotted the square tower of the local Church, up on a small hill behind it. We decided this would be our next stop, so we started heading in the churches direction, via a set of stone steps we could see over to the left out of shot.

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At first glance the steps up to the Church looked quite normal, like any other set of steps, however a plaque on the wall at the bottom told us differently. It stated that:

“CHURCH STEPS. Pre-1660, repaired 19th century. Possibly dating back to the 12th century, these steps have been the key route linking the town centre to the Church of St Chad for hundreds of years. Mourning relatives would climb these steps and scatter rue & rosemary in ‘God’s Acre’ (St Chad’s Churchyard) as an offering, to ease the spirits of their loved ones.”

It’s incredible how old they are, and it makes them the oldest surviving feature in the town. A record was made in 1876, by William Robertson that there are 124 steps to the top, so I assume that is still the same to this day.

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So this is St Chad’s, an impressive stone Church, which commands a great view over the town. Sadly the trees were in the way to prevent us seeing for ourselves, however from the top of the tower the whole town is visible.

The Church appears quite modern, but in keeping with the ancient steps, the Church itself dates back to around 1100, on land owned by Adam de Spotland. The basic framework of the Church still exists, although there have been many alterations, renovations and extensions over the centuries. This is visible at the back of the church, as on the picture the church was originally much shorter with greyer stone, which blends into an extension in a different shade of stone.

My original thought on Rochdale was a more modern town, based around the usual shopping streets. I was happily proved wrong, as a there is a great mixture of culture, history and incredible architecture throughout the town.

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I mentioned before about the Old Post Office Building, which is one of my favourite buildings in the town. It’s more a palace than a Post Office, and this fine Georgian Building was opened as Rochdale Post Office back in 1927. The Post Office temporarily relocated from the building to an old Woolworths store on nearby Yorkshire Street, but returned to their historic home in 2005.

There are new plans from 2013 for the building to be converted into a bar and restaurant, moving the offices and Post Office out. It’s a shame, as its rare to find a building like this that is still being used for its original purpose, but hopefully the great character of the building won’t be harmed in any way.

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After exploring the Town Centre, we moved off back past the Town Hall towards the Museum. On the way we stopped again to marvel at the Town Hall, and to gaze at the stonework.

There are stone ribs above the main entrance making a kind of canopy. At the top of each rib is a Gold Lion, four in total. They each hold shields with the Coats of Arms of Rochdale Council and the Hundred of Salford. The amount of detail on every part of the building is mind boggling, and I think the above picture is my favourite from Rochdale, as it makes London come to mind, a British Flag next to a beautiful Clock Tower. It’s not often you get such an iconic view recreated, especially in my beloved county of Lancashire.

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On the way to the Museum, we spotted the river Roch, which runs through the centre of the town. It runs underneath most of the town centre, on one of the world’s widest bridges, created out of seven separate bridges joined together. This bridge runs under the Memorial Gardens and the Shopping Centres, with the river re-emerging uncovered just past Rochdale Town Centre Metrolink Stop.

The Rochs journey begins on Chelburn Moor near the town of Todmorden, and flows through Rochdale towards the town of Bury. From there it drains into the River Irwell which runs through Manchester and Salford. Just up the river, on the left is the Touchstones Centre, the local Arts and Heritage Centre.

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It contains various exhibitions about the town, as well as  the Tourist Information Centre and the Library. One great little exhibit is electronic and by pressing different buttons you can see how long it would take to cross the Pennines via either Horse, Car, Train or Canal Boat, using lights that run up a board at different speeds depending on the method chosen.

The building itself is the town’s original Library, and opened in 1884, as the fire at Rochdale Town Hall destroyed the Library inside the Clock Tower. The building was extended twice, first in 1903 and then in 1913.

Inside the museum is one of the strangest things we have seen in a while, one of Rochdale’s most famous exhibits…

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The above stones are called Celtic Stone Heads, and these particular ones were discovered in the nearby village of Wardle, and donated to the Centre. They were originally used as gate posts, and followed an old tradition, which believed that persons spirit lives in the head, so removing the head denies them anywhere to rest. The gate posts were possibly built to show that the traditions were still alive. The smaller of the two was supported by a fixed post to make it more secure.

They are quite creepy, yet fascinating at the same time. Models of both figures are available in the gift shop, and now sit on my shelf at home.

There is one other museum in Rochdale, called the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. It is built around the original Co-Operative Shop, with a modern extension on the left side. Inside are many artefacts related to the Co-Op and much more. The Co-Operative was formed by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers back in 1844, hence the name of the museum. The Co-Op now have their head office in Manchester, in a large office building called One Angel Square, not far from Victoria Station. The Pioneers Museum is located behind the Wheatsheaf Shopping Centre near the A58 main road.

It was time to start heading back to the station, so we passed through Broadfield Park on our way. This large open space is located up some steps off to the right of the Town Hall, and overlooks the Memorial Gardens.

The Park is the oldest in the whole district, opening in the 1870’s, with numerous expansions since. The main features of the Park are shown above, with the first being a general view out over the Park, with the Clock Tower of the Town Hall visible at the back.

Next is the Jubilee Fountain, which gives out drinking water. It was given to the town by the Provident Society in 1907. In the main green shown in the original picture is a statue, of John Bright, who I mentioned earlier.

The park is a very pleasant area, and only around a 5-10 minute walk from the main train station.

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Getting close to the station, which is at the end of this road, with the Tram Tracks on the right along with Rochdale Railway Station Metrolink Stop, we passed the Fire Station. It has two functions, one as the town’s main fire station, and one as the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum, which is free to visit.

The HQ of the movement is in Swinton, near Salford. New stations were built in 1977, with the first in the town of Stalybridge near Ashton-under-Lyne. The Museum opened in 1983, with the conversion of an old Fire Station Workshop. Sadly we didn’t have time to go inside but there is a lot of history in there, with some very challenging situations developing for the department over the years, including the detonation of the IRA Bomb in Manchester City Centre in 1996 which damaged a third of the retail space in the city centre. 12 buildings were severely damaged and some parts of the area were only fully restored in 2005.

That was the end of our visit to Rochdale, and we returned to the train station and got the train back into Manchester Victoria, and changed for Southport. The station is on the Manchester – Huddersfield line with regular trains coming through.

Rochdale is well located transport wise, as it is sat at the end of the A627(M) an off shoot of the M62 which runs West towards Manchester and eventually Liverpool, and via Bradford and Leeds going East. Manchester Airport is only half an hour away by car, and trains from Manchester run all over the country from the North of Scotland to South Wales to the South of England.

Rochdale is an amazing town, there is so much history hidden in plain sight, and I love the Town Hall, which now occupies a spot on my list as my 2nd favourite building in England. Rochdale is great, and if you ever get to visit the area around Manchester, take a day to discover this most interesting of towns.

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