Superlative WalksUrban and rural trails, each with something very special
Directions with Added Information
Stalybridge, at the eastern end of the Borough of Tameside, itself at the eastern fringe of Greater Manchester grew from a scattering of villages to become one of the first centres of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution, when a water-powered cotton mill was constructed on the river Tame in 1776. Due to the decline of the cotton industry in the first quarter of the 20th century and the development of modern low-density housing in the post-war period, the town is now semi-rural in character, with a population of just 23,731 (2011 census).
Stalybridge hosts a number of close superlatives, all rejected, and several unambiguous ones, including the longest and shortest pub names, perhaps the world’s oldest brass band and the country’s first female Justice of the Peace.
1. Start at Stalybridge Railway Station.
Stalybridge station was built by the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway and opened on 23 December 1845. There was a Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway station adjacent, which acted as the terminus of that company’s line from Manchester Victoria but this closed in 1917. The main function of the station was as a junction for the Stockport-Stalybridge Line, which allowed passengers from London and the South to transfer to the Huddersfield Line. This role has been lost since it is now possible for passengers to change at Manchester Piccadilly. The Micklehurst Loop also diverged from the original 1849 Huddersfield & Manchester main line here – it was closed in October 1966, but the disused tunnel it used to pass below the town’s northern suburbs can be seen alongside the original one that is still used today by trains heading to and from Yorkshire.
The station is one of very few to retain its original buffet dating from 1885. The 1998 refurbishment of it won awards from CAMRA and English Heritage. At the 2008 Tameside food and drink festival it was voted best bar. Following further refurbishment in 2012 Lord Pendry of Stalybridge, who often uses the buffet bar and contributed over half of the £6,000 costs, unveiled a plaque to mark the works. In 2018 the buffet was selected by the Guardian to feature in a list of top ten railway refreshment stops in the world.
2. Leave from the main entrance to the station and turn left up Rassbottom Street to the traffic lights at the junction with Stamford St. Cross Stamford St at the junction and turn left past West Hill School and proceed left to the entrance to Stamford Park.
The park is situated on the historic boundary between Ashton under Lyne and Stalybridge, that also being the historic boundary between Lancashire and Cheshire. The park was opened in 1873, and was smaller than it is today but featured a range of attractions including a bowling green, flower garden (including the star shapes we still see today), Highfield House (which opened as a museum in 1875) and various curving paths around shrubberies.
3. Turn right into the park and head uphill and leftwards to the John Neild Conservatory
The conservatory was built in 1907 from a legacy left to Stamford Park from John Nield a local Justice of the Peace. The building has a cast iron frame and the panes of glass have wooden frames. The conservatory was rebuilt in 1985. There is a cafe in the park open 7 days a week.
4. Head up hill through the park, and take the exit onto Darnton Rd, with the boating lake across the road. Turn left along Darnton Rd and continue, with the Tameside Hospital on the right, to a five-way junction.
5. Take the second left, Mossley Rd. And descend to Penny Meadow. At the green space take the path through the middle and and return right to re-join Penny Meadow.
The eastern part of Katherine Street was re-named Penny Meadow in 1962. The name comes from the Reverend John Penny, parish priest of St Michaels in the 18th century. The land was known as Penny Meadow before Katherine Street was built.
6. Bear slightly right and follow Penny Meadow (the main road) into the centre of Ashton, where it terminates at the indoor market.
Ashton Market charter dates back to 1284, and for more than 500 years the market was a focus for the rural communities around. The original market was held in the square around the old market cross (now St Michael’s Square at the bottom of Old Cross Street).
As industries developed in Ashton during the nineteenth century, the market expanded to serve the growing population. The present Market Hall was started in 1829 and was extended several times to its present size.
In May 2004, the historic Market Hall was destroyed by fire. A new, temporary “Phoenix” Market Hall was opened at the other end of Fletcher Street from the old hall. This operated while the historic hall was being restored. The old hall was finally re-opened in November 2008 with an up-to-date interior that still retains some of the quirkiness of the past, but with much-improved facilities.
7. Turn left beside the market building towards the statue of Uncle John, and then take the second right, past Boots and follow Old St to the junction with Oldham Rd.
At the junction with Oldham Rd. look right at the Tameside Hippodrome: Ashton-under-Lyne’s only Grade II listed, purpose-built theatre. Its architectural significance illustrates the inter-war fashion of adaption to cinema. It is a rare survival, retaining a wealth of Art Deco features from the 1930s re-fit, including the coving and plasterwork detail in the café and ground floor foyer.
8. Cross Oldham Rd and continue left down the right hands side to the complex junction with Park Parade. Cross the dual carriageway the lights, Continue down the hill to the the first turning on the right, Hill St.
Ahead of you is Cavendish Mill. Cavendish Mill is a Grade II* listed former cotton spinning mill in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, in the United Kingdom. It was built between 1884 and 1885 for the Cavendish Spinning Company by Potts, Pickup & Dixon of Oldham. Cavendish Mill was next to the Ashton Canal Warehouse at Portland Basin. It ceased spinning cotton in 1934 and was then used for a variety of purposes before it was converted into housing in 1994. It is a fireproof design and was the first mill in Ashton to have concrete floors and a flat roof. It is instantly recognisable by the octagonal staircase that surrounds the lower part of the chimney.
9. Continue along Hill Street and take the second left turning, Portland St South and follow it down to the Portland Basin.
The Portland Basin Museum and Heritage Centre sits at the junction of the Peak Forest Canal, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Ashton Canal. There are cafe and toilet facilities here.
The Ashton Canal Warehouse was built at the Portland Basin in 1834 by the canal company replacing the early warehouse to the east. It is a three storey warehouse 200 feet (61 m) by 72 feet (22 m), brick built in English garden wall bond. The wooden floors are supported by cast iron columns. The southern elevation which opened to the canal was 3 storeys high and it had three shipping holes. The northern elevation which opens to the road is two storeys high, trap doors allowed split loading and unloading between the road and the 3 canal arms. The roof was flat allowing increased storage.
Portland Basin contains “Wallsall Queen” the oldest surviving wooden motor narrow boat.
The Portland Basin water wheel is located in the Portland Basin Museum, housed within the Warehouse, covering the area’s industrial heritage.
10. Cross the Huddersfield Canal on the metal footbridge, turning right across the stone footbridge turning left to cross the River Tame to reach the right bank of the Peak Forest Canal.
The Peak Forest Canal was authorised two years after the Ashton Canal, to access limestone reserves at Doveholes, near Whaley Bridge. The Ashton Canal built a short section of canal southwards from the junction, which included an aqueduct over the River Tame, and the Peak Forest Canal officially started at the southern end of the aqueduct.
11. Follow the canal for a spell to enjoy the area and then return to the Portland Basin. Cross the stone bridge and continue along the Huddersfield Canal to the right. With Cavendish Mill on the left, The towpath rises to a main road opposite ASDA, cross the road and enter the ASDA car park.
12. Follow the right hand side of the supermarket to rejoin the towpath through a narrow gap at the rear of the building. The towpath passes through a short tunnel and a narrow section with brick walls on both sides.
The Huddersfield Narrow Canal runs just under 20 miles from Aspley Basin in Huddersfield, to the junction with the Ashton Canal at Portland Basin in Ashton-under-Lyne. It crosses the Pennines by means of 74 locks and the Standedge Tunnel. Construction began in 1794 and the canal was finally completed in 1811. The canal was restored to navigation in 2001.
13. Follow the towpath for 1.5 miles through Stalybridge’s industrial area, crossing the River Tame at an aqueduct, leaving the canal towpath just after the Aldi Car Park.
14. Cross Back Melbourne Street to arrive at an open space by the canal, with Tesco’s ahead. Pass the canal gate sculpture, turn left along Back Grosvenor St and the left into Trinity Street to Stalybridge Market Hall. Find the statue of Jack Judge in the square.
The song It’s a Long Way to Tipperary was created in the Newmarket Tavern, by the composer Jack Judge, in 1912, after being challenged to write, compose, and produce a song in just one night;. It was first sung in public by him in the Grand Theatre on Corporation Street on 31 January 1912. Jack Judge is commemorated by a statue in Lord Pendry Square outside the Old Victoria Market Hall.
15. Turn Right up Dean St and at the rear of the Market Hall find the plaque to Ada Summers
Ada Summers was elected as a Liberal Party councillor in Stalybridge in 1912. She was then elected mayor in November 1919, and served until 1921. As Mayor of Stalybridge, she was ex officio a Justice of the Peace, and was sworn in as the first female Justice of the Peace in England on 31 December 1919, one week after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 came into force. In October 1920 she was appointed a Justice of the Peace in the borough in her own right, again the first woman in Britain to do so. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1918, and became an honorary Freeman of the borough in 1939.
Summers used the wealth inherited from her husband to pursue philanthropic aims, including funding a maternity and child welfare centre, and an employment centre in Stalybridge, the Ladies Work Society. She set up a nurses’ home in 1926. At Christmas she would give presents to local children, and she paid for a Christmas tree. After her death in 1944, she was described (without irony) as “Lady Bountiful“.
16. Return along Dean St and turn right along Trinity Street, crossing Victoria Bridge.
Just beyond the bridge note the large gateway, with blue plaques relating to the first General Strike in 1842 and the Chartist leader Joseph Rayner Stephens.
17. Turn left into Market St, past the Old Post Office and Astley Cheetham Art Gallery. Continue along Market Street to the Railway Station where the walk started.
The Astley Cheetham Art Gallery in Stalybridge was built as a gift to the town by John Frederick Cheetham and his wife Beatrice Astley in 1901. The gallery originally opened as a lecture theatre and then the space was turned into a gallery to house the Astley Cheetham Art Collection, bequeathed in 1932. This collection has grown with gifts and donations throughout the twentieth century and is one of the most interesting small regional collections.
We should also mention here Stalybridge Old Band which was formed in 1809, perhaps the first civilian brass band in the world. The band also claims that in the 1840’s the band became the first Brass Band in Britain to have all brass piston valved instruments. The band performed at the meeting in Manchester in 1819 that became the Peterloo Massacre.
On the left before the railway bridge is the pub with the shortest name in Britain : Q.
Stalybridge also had the public house with the longest name in Britain – The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn, This pub is off our route and closed permanently in 2016.