Now, I did know I had been to Middleton before, in the 1970s. I believe a Lena Zavaroni album may have been purchased there, along with some dodgy country and western records for my dad. Nearly 40 years later I’m back and the shopping precinct, where those records were bought, is still there.
Getting to Middleton is easy – turn off at junction 19 from the M60 and take the A576 to the town centre. We parked up near the Middleton Arena by the roundabout – parking is free on a Saturday which is good to know.
At first we headed towards Middleton Arena as it looked like a shopping centre, until we got there and I spotted the swimming goggles being sold at reception. I then realised it was a sports and arts centre. It’s a nice, modern building which looks completely out of place in Middleton, although that’s not a bad thing considering it provides a public service and brightens up the place. Middleton is a predominantly Victorian redbrick sort of town, with some ill-judged rebuilding in the 20th century.
We then headed across to the shops on the other side of the roundabout. The 1970s shopping precinct really dominates this small town, although there are some shops surrounding it and an outdoor market. There weren’t that many people about, but then again I think the large Tesco nearby draws away most of the people from the other shops. The outdoor market wasn’t that exciting – the usual cheap stuff. There appeared to be a table top sale going on for the locals, but sadly there was nothing for us. The main thing that struck me was the piece of random street art in the centre, which looked like a giant had balanced his gardening equipment into a tent-like structure.
Obviously we did the charity shops, but there wasn’t too much to be found. We did spot a load of dodgy albums from the 70s which reminded me of my first trip to Middleton – no doubt these records originated from the precinct. Sadly, Oxfam had closed for the day at 1.45pm precisely, but there were two RSPCA shops doing good business. In a hospice charity shop, an old man was donating a big bag of plastic bags. He’d been in earlier and they were running short of plastic bags so he thought he’d help them out. He also donated £20 too, which was utterly sweet, thoughtful and unexpected in a poor working class town like Middleton.
Finally we made it into the precinct and, to be truthful, it wasn’t the most inspiring place in the world with its dated décor and cheap shops. Finding the toilets in this place is a complete mystery tour and it took about 10 minutes to find them. I noticed on one of the walls they had built a Bayeux tapestry-like depiction of the history of Middleton out of brick. Only in the 1970s would this have been thought a good idea.
We did get a nice ice cream from the coffee stall which was served by a lady who looked just like Cilla from Coronation Street. She seemed to know most of the people in the place.
A friend of mine used to do temp work on a stall for a no-win-no-fee solicitors in the precinct and got to know all the local nutters. I can appreciate how he found working here was soul destroying. Having worked in deprived areas myself, you are faced on a daily basis with people who have lived hard lives and it takes its toll on people, both physically and mentally. It’s so hard to see people ground down by life and it is no different here. It is a surprise to learn that Steve Coogan is from here, along with band members who have been in Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, InspiralCarpets, The Chameleons, Mock Turtles and most recently The Courteeners. There must be something musical in the water here.
If you are looking for a great photo opportunity, just out of town on Long Street is an amazing looking black and white 17th century pub called The Olde Boar’s Head Inn. It looks so wobbly that it might fall into the street. I really wish I’d stopped to take some photos and go in to see what it’s like inside. I’m sure the psychic who had posters plastered across Middleton would be able to commune with the ghosts in this place.
Middleton isn’t that exciting to be honest with you and there wasn’t much to keep us hanging round any longer. I can’t say I’ll be back in a hurry, but it’s interesting to revisit old haunts to see how they have changed.
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