Sunday, 10 August 2014

Stalybridge, Greater Manchester

I'd been meaning to go to Stalybridge for quite some time.  My Dad had told me tales about Stalybridge having a very lively night life and that it was nicknamed Stalyvegas.  Not that we were going in the evening, but I thought it would be interesting to see the place anyway.

Getting to Stalybridge means taking the M60 and getting off at junction 23 at Ashton-Under-Lyne and then following the A635 until you hit the town.  We stupidly ended up in a pay and display car park next to the Amber Lounge.  We should have travelled further up the road and parked outside Tesco for free.

It was a Tuesday so we did expect the town to be quiet and to be honest it was.  
The weather was a bit touch and go too with drizzle as we wandered through the town. 

Stalybridge architecturally is firmly in the 19th century with plenty of nice Victorian red brick buildings. At its height, Stalybridge’s money came through cotton mills.  The cotton mills are long gone now and many of the large civic buildings have been turned into flats or otherwise remain empty.  As for the feel of Stalybridge, it remains somewhere in the 20th century, maybe the 60s or 70s.  I would quite understand if this place was used in period TV dramas as it’s fairly untouched by modern architecture.  However there has been some regeneration going on.  Stalybridge train station looks as if it has had a makeover with a modern entrance.  The bus station seemed rather new too.  The Huddersfield Canal which runs through Stalybridge has also had a makeover, which is nice to see when many canals across the north need a little TLC.

In the distance I spotted a rather swish looking apartment block that would not look out of place in some of the trendier parts of central Manchester.  They looked like they were designed by Urban Splash and sure enough when I checked they were.  Urban Splash had also converted a mill into loft style apartments.  They were selling it on the basis you're only a 12 minute train ride from Manchester - I'm not entirely convinced myself.  Maybe it's the attraction of city style living on the edge of the Pennines - I'm still not sure.

Obviously the main reason we came here were the charity shops.  According to Yell there were four, but we could only find three.  Anyway that was enough to keep us occupied.  The charity shops were quite busy and there was quite a bit of banter in the shops between staff and regulars. Sadly we didn't find anything to buy.  We did spot a house clearance shop and they did do a good line in old electronics and stereo equipment.
The rest of Stalybridge is an interesting mix of cheap shops, pubs and independent shops.  There is a small precinct in the centre of the town dating back to the 60s.  There was one shop called Findlay's, which was rocking old school 70s signage.  We thought it had closed down until we spotted people coming out of the shop.

We were surprised to find a few shops that sold art in the town.  I guess this is part of the town's regeneration, although the town retains a civic art gallery, which is part of the town's library.  Sadly we didn’t have chance to see it as I stupidly parked in a pay and display car park and we needed to get back to the car. 

There are plenty of independent shops in Stalybridge.  There is one little cafĂ© that caught our eye as its name was a pun on serendipity – Sara Dip and Tea.  I also found a sewing shop called "All Fabrics" that sold nice fabrics and did sewing workshops.  I adore seeing places like this in towns like these as I do think it’s a shame we are fast losing these skills.  When I was a teenager my school used to have needlework classes.  It turned out I was really quite good at needlework, although the teacher eventually retired and wasn’t replaced.  So I lost one of the few things I liked at school and given that I hated school it was a big loss.

One thing is for sure, Stalybridge has plenty of pubs, bars and venues.  As we walked through, we noticed many shops had shutters pulled down, although I realised some of these places opened up at night either serving beer or food.  I can quite understand why this place is often referred to as Stalyvegas as there are so many places to drink and have a dance.  However many had closed down too, like many places across the country.  The few pubs that were open during the day all had people sitting outside drinking beer and smoking fags.  Part of me almost wants to experience a Stalyvegas night out as an academic exercise for the blog, but part of me is a little intimidated too at the thought of it. 

Stalybridge has an old school charm and is languishing somewhere in the 20th century, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Many of these outlying towns march to the beat of their own drum.  When you live in the city you often see younger people trying to keep in with the trends and scoff at those people who don’t.  However as you get older you realise it’s healthier and happier to follow your own passions, regardless of how uncool they are.  Stalybridge is rocking that uncool vibe and lots of people appear to love its night life, which is fair enough.  We may not be back in a hurry, but good luck to the place.  We live in tough times, but you do need a place that’s not shy to let its hair down and be itself and Stalybridge is that place.