After a visit to the historic Market Town of Altrincham, our next stop was in Sale, on the way back towards Manchester, at the edges of Historic Cheshire…
Status: Trafford District, Greater Manchester (Historically Cheshire), Town, England
Travel: Metrolink (Altrincham – Stretford, via Sale)
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Town Hall, Manchester Metrolink, War Memorial, Bridgewater Canal, St Paul’s Church, Lloyds Bank Building, Waterfront, Waterside Arts Centre, Robert Ball Theatre, Ashton New Hall etc
Leaving the Metrolink Station, we found ourselves next to the Bridgewater Canal, which runs parallel with the tram tracks most of the way through Sale. If you look at a map it’s incredible how straight the Canal runs all the way through the town, with only a slight curve taking it in to the next town along, Stretford.
The Canal has its origins back in 1761, when it opened between Worsley and Manchester, by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater (1736 – 1803) so that he could transport coal from his coal mines into Manchester itself. By the end of 1761, ideas were put forwards to extend the canal through to the town of Runcorn, which sits beside the River Mersey, close to the Irish Sea. This would enable access to the Sea Port of Liverpool, and international trade. Parliament granted an act of extension in 1762, and was completed by 1776, bringing the Canal through Sale in 1765 as construction progressed.
The Canal is widely considered to be the first true Canal in England, and its route required the building of a large aqueduct to cross the River Irwell, one of the first built such aqueducts ever attempted. It is also one of the few canals that has been entirely navigable since it was created, whereas many others have fallen into decay once they were no longer needed for their original purposes, and have been restored by volunteers in the last few decades. Another fact about the Bridgewater is that it is one of only a few canals in Britain that is actually privately owned, and it was never nationalised with the rest of the Canal network. Manchester and the North was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, with Manchester being the first proper industrial city by 1835, spearheading the industries that would bring prosperity to the North of England.
Crossing the bridge over the Canal, Sale town centre greeted us, with the impressive Red Brick front of Sale Town Hall being the first building we encountered, just over the road from the station.
As the brickwork suggests, it’s an old Victorian building from 1915, with extensions added between 1939 and 1940. This was where the Town Halls fortunes ended, as 1939 marked the outbreak of World War II, and during the Blitz the Nazi’s started a widespread campaign of bombing important British Cities, with the North taking major hits in Liverpool (with the Liverpool Urban Area around Bootle and the Docks being the most bombed area outside of London) and Manchester, one of the most important industrial cities in the world. Sales proximity to Manchester meant that it too fell victim to the bombings, with six hundred incendiary bombs falling within three hours on the 23rd of December 1940. This was the worst out of various bombings throughout the previous months. It was on that fateful night of 23rd December that the Town Hall was severely damaged by the bombs, and it wasn’t until 1952 that it was rebuilt completely. Thankfully it’s been fully restored to it’s former glory, and to me it is the most impressive building in the town.
Moving down left from the Town Hall, you will enter the pedestrianised shopping streets, whose major feature is the modern “The Square” Shopping Centre, from the 1960’s.
To get into the pedestrianised area you need to cross Springfield Road, on the corner of which stands the above building. The stone front of the former Lloyds Banks greets you as you set shopping, and along with the Town Hall forms a rather attractive area of the town.
Just before we entered the actual pedestrianed streets, we happened to look up Springfield Road, in the direction of Altrincham. Further down the street we spotted the Church of St Paul’s, a Grade II* Listed Building, and one of only three in the whole town. Elsewhere in the town are 18 buildings at the slightly lower status of Grade II.
St Paul’s has been the Parish Church since it was completed in 1883, following the foundation stone being laid in 1882. The congregation itself was created a year earlier in 1881, when services were being held in St Ann’s Mission Hall, on Cambridge Street. Ideas for a permanent church were afoot and subscriptions were taken from the congregation. The most striking feature of the Church is of course the Tower, which was only added in 1903, 20 years after the rest of the Church opened.
Proceeding into the Pedestrianised Streets, we found a hub of activity, busy shoppers and high street shopping chains. Trees line either side of the streets, and the main entrance to the Shopping Centre is down on left. In amongst the busy shops and customers, we did find one architectural gem, at the far end of the street.
The “Bank at Sale” is a local pub, located inside a fine Victorian Building, with stone doorways and window dressings. It could easily have been a small mansion, and at present I am unable to find any details from when it was originally constructed, but I am sure it’s character has changed little in the last 100 years, giving it a nice original feel.
As we passed the Town Hall earlier, you may have spotted the above Memorial outside the main entrance. This is the town’s Cenotaph, designed by a sculptor called Arthur Sherwood Edwards, from Ashton-upon-Mersey, a suburb of Sale. Unveiled in 1925, it is topped by a granite figure of the English Patron Saint, St George (c 275 – 303), and stands in memory of the 400 Sale men who died in World War I, as well as the 300 who died in World War II 20 years later.
Sale’s Town Hall now forms part of the new award winning waterfront, based around the Canal. As we had to cross back over the Canal to get to the station, we decided to have a walk down the Canal itself first, and descended down to water level.
There are a number of new modern buildings around the waterfront, including the quite fancy looking Ravenstone House, shown above with the Clock Tower behind the Canal Boat. These types of development give the town a feel of regeneration, and whilst it has a lot of history around it, towns benefit from these beautiful water locations, and here it is no exception.
There are two major buildings in the area of the waterfront, one is the the Robert Ball Theatre (to the right out of shot) a new modern complex, and the second is the Sale Waterside Arts Centre, which is joined onto this side of the Town Hall. These are the major parts of the redevelopment here and you can catch a show and then head out to enjoy he calm canal side walks.
We didn’t really have time to explore the two buildings so we just walked off down the Canal for a bit, to see what we would discover. There were various boats on moored on either side, and off the left is a restaurant called “The Kings Ransom” which offers a spectacular open decking over looking the Canal, where you can enjoy your meal and watch the boats go by.
An old bridge crosses the Canal here, and there is evidence when walking underneath that it has been extended at least one, possibly twice, as the materials used seem to change partway across. The original section of the bridge seems to be the end I was stood at when taking this picture, and it was a sort of stone, which then blended into metal beams half way across, so it must have been widened to allow for more traffic.
Some of the old Canal equipment is still visible, and whilst I can’t find any mention of major docks in Sale, presumably cargo was still loaded and unloaded here. The Crane pictured is a Stop Plank Crane, and would have lifted the large wooden planks shown on the left. The planks would have been inserted into special slots in the towpath to help prevent flooding.
This was the end of our trip to Sale, a small but vibrant town. We returned to the Metrolink Station, which actually opened as Sale train station in 1849, when it was run by the Manchester, South Junction & Altrincham Railway. In 1856 the station was renamed Sale Moor, and then Sale & Ashton in 1883. It was finally renamed Sale in 1931, before closing in 1991. The new Metrolink line to Altrincham through Sale opened in 1992 using the old route of the original train line. This line has 10 stations, running 7.6 miles from Manchester City Centre to Altrincham, where the other lines radiating out to Rochdale via Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne, Bury, Eccles via Salford, MediaCityUK and East Didsbury all meet.
There was one major attraction in Sale we didn’t get to see, Ashton New Hall, on the other side of the town. This large hall was built in 1804 and is currently a Grade II Listed Building, and is on the list should we return to the area sometime.
Sale is a pleasant little town, and walks down the Canal are very peaceful and quiet. With three separate Metrolink stops in the town, with one in the centre (which we used) and two in the suburbs, it is well connected to Manchester, where mainline services are available to the rest of the country. Sale is at the very edge of Historic Cheshire, as the River Mersey just outside the town forms the border between Cheshire and Historic Lancashire.
Our next stop was the next town along towards Manchester, called Stretford, the home of two of the most famous stadiums in the world, the two Old Traffords (Cricket and Football)…