We’d been to Stalybridge and were retracing our steps back to the M60, and we were passing through Ashton-Under-Lyne so decided to stop. However, first thing to note is that Ashton-Under-Lyne is the Sunday name for the town which is more commonly known as Ashton.
I’d been to Ashton twice, first time to Tameside FM (community radio station) and the second time to IKEA (missed junction 23 on the M60, so had to take the next junction and spin around). A quick note about IKEA, it can be a nuisance to get to as you have to pass through the town to get to it. My only advice is to look for the big blue building and travel in that direction. Fingers crossed you will get there, but this is a rare circumstance where I’d advise a SAT NAV would be useful.
We parked in the Henrietta Street car park on the edge of Ashton town centre. It’s was cheap enough, although I hate having to type in my registration number into ticket machines which have non-qwerty keyboards.
Ashton is a very down to earth place and is resolutely working class. A bit rough around the edges, it’s an old mill town with many of the buildings from its Victorian heyday. However in the centre of the town there are two more modern shopping precincts that house most of the high street shops – Ladysmith and the Arcade. The real draw to Ashton is the huge market located in the town square outside of the Town Hall. It kind of reminded me of those large squares you find in European cities as it was flanked by the Town Hall and Victorian Indoor Market Hall. It’s a huge space and I was surprised to find out this is one of the largest in the UK. When we walked around it, it was the end of the day and shutting up shop, but clearly you will find all forms of life here. The indoor market was pretty smart too, as in recent times it’s had a makeover after a fire. I remember Neil’s auntie saying she used to go to Ashton market with Morrissey, when he was just Steven, to find 60s girl group records. Yes - I do mean Morrissey of The Smiths fame. How cool is Neil’s auntie? Wow, that’s as cool as aunties get in my world. It was over 30 years ago when that happened, yet the market remains. I hate to admit this but I always thought Bury was the biggest draw when it came to markets in Greater Manchester, but Ashton’s market probably is a close second.
For us the most interesting part of Ashton wasn’t the town centre, but the charity shops on the edge of the town. Stamford Street is the main street to check out for charity shops, although there are others dotted around the side streets of Ashton.
Stamford Street is quite interesting as it’s a mix of cheap shops and interesting independent shops that don’t fit into the town centre. Some were surprisingly classy, many were not. However in my world it’s always good to have a diverse range of shops.
The best charity shop we found was the Wooden Canal Boat Society shop. It is a large charity shop, which had the added benefit of being both organised and reasonably priced with reasonable stock. It also sold some canal boat paraphernalia too, if you’re into that sort of thing. Once in a blue moon Neil stumbles upon a small clutch of interesting records and this place was the annual blue moon moment. It’s exciting when this happens, as after several years of doing this I know it’s the exception and not the rule. In many respects it was appropriate a couple of the records Neil found were by Morrissey. I think Neil will be asking to come back here again.
Further down the road there were three branches of “Amazing Charity Shop”. They were of the ‘mad old lady, crammed to the rafters’ kind of charity shop where you could half empty the shop and it still would still look overcrowded. I can’t say we found much, but it was more for the fact we were overwhelmed by stock. Some parts of the shop were completely inaccessible due to the stock mountain. It’s a shame as there was probably stuff in there worth getting.
As ever, we found as we went from charity shop to charity shop we were bumping into the same people. It was summer holiday time and I spotted a young kid with her dad doing the rounds. I hope her dad treated her to a toy to take home.
I didn’t expect Ashton to be as big as it is and we were quite overwhelmed by the area it covers. To be honest I don’t think we explored over half of it in the time we had. There are so many little side streets to explore and unless you have a good sense of direction you could easily get lost here.
We did have a bit of local interaction when a strange bloke asked me for directions to Molly’s. I had to ask him to repeat what he said, probably more for the fact I am slightly deaf than he was a bit worse for wear. I had no idea what Molly’s was, let alone where it was. Neil pointed out to me it was a pub we had passed with the misspelt signage.
We only had a couple or so hours to explore the place but it’s definitely a place to come back to again. Yes, it’s a bit rough around the edges and needs a lot of TLC, but some efforts had been made with the random street art of bronze characters looking around corners or in the middle of the streets. It may not have all the high street names, but it’s the independents and charity shops on the side streets that are the draw for us. If you like markets then this is definitely the place for you. Okay, Ashton isn’t the most glamorous place in the world, it’s not beautiful, it’s not cool nor trendy, however it’s different and speaks of a different age which reminds us of how our forefathers lived. Above all Ashton has character and that is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in this day and age.