Nightlife on Old Street: Clubs and Pubs of Ashton-under-Lyne

Swinging Ashton from the 1960s to the 2000s

Prince of Orange, Ashton
The venerable Prince of Orange. Photographed by Ian Roberts, 2008 (Creative Commons Attribution License)

In recent times, I have been to many a brass band concert or theatrical production in Oldham or Saddleworth, and in most cases, my journey back meant boarding the penultimate 409 bus of the day into Ashton-under-Lyne. Till recent years, Ashton had a vibrant night time economy, most of which killed off by a sequence of events in early 2002 which saw the town’s attractiveness as a night time destination evaporate drastically. Another issue was the attractiveness of Stalybridge as a clubbers’ and drinkers’ paradise, till that too evaporated by the end of the noughties.

Some may claim that the smoking ban and price of drinks was another factor in the town’s fall from grace. Therefore, Ashton on a Friday night is a more ghostly affair than it was over a decade ago. The pubs which have stood the test of time in the centre either carved out a niche (for example, tribute bands and local acts with The Witchwood or heavy rock with The Guzzling Goose), changed their opening hours to better accommodate clientele (The Beau Geste has with gigs at more pensioner friendly times), or remained a quiet watering hole for locals (such as The Caledonia and the Foresters’ Call).

With falling disposable incomes, public house or night club beer prices have now gone beyond the reach of most lower middle class and working class people in the borough. Pubs becoming off licences have also reflected the shift towards ‘preloading’ before a night out or staying at home to watch The X Factor or a DVD in some neighbourhoods. Suffice to say, Ashton is no exception and of the major towns in the United Kingdom, probably among the worst hit from the Beer Tax Escalator – hence The Wellington becoming a TESCO Express – and The Burlington being closed for more than two years, still empty.

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Back Towards Happier Times

Till the continuous wilderness period, Ashton was a great place for young and old drinkers to let their hair down. There was – and still is, though to a lesser extent today – a diverse number of night spots and traditional pubs. In its heyday, most of the town’s nightly activity was focused on Stamford Street with Old Street a good second.

For our journey, we leave our taxi at St. Michael’s Square and wander down Stamford Street.

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Stamford Street

The Underground: a live rock music venue.

The Loose Moose: previously The Stamford, a Whitbread/Chesters pub, before becoming a fun pub aimed at young adults in 1993. Now a wedding shop.

The Beach: formerly Ashton’s branch of Lloyd’s Bank prior to Lloyds TSB merger in 1998.

Club Denial: above a motorcycle shop, it was formerly a billiard hall and social club, its original purpose since the 1930s when the whole ground floor unit was occupied by Montague Burton’s shop till 1967.

Yates’ Wine Lodge/Doctor Browns/Legends: before becoming part of the Yates’ Wine Lodge chain, it was known as The Wheatsheaf. It was a Yates’ till 1998 when it became Doctor Browns, a moniker it bore till around 2006 when it became Legends. By 2008, it was destroyed by fire.

The Feathers: till this year, in the care of the same landlord since 1971 as a quiet locals boozer. Under new ownership, now a LGBT friendly pub.

Gig’s Bar: on the corner of Booth Street, possibly short lived as premises is now a charity shop. Former bank building.

Yuppies/Sparx/Universal: former Conservative Club converted into Yuppies night club, around the late 1980s. Popular with 20 – 30 somethings as Yuppies, later attracted a younger crowd as Sparx. Now vacant.

Hudson Bay: opened in late 1980s to cater for upmarket clientele. Closed around mid 1990s, based in former Oddfellows Hall, whose other claim to fame was holding Ashton’s first cinematographic exhibition prior to the opening of the Ideal Picture Palace and Star Cinema nearby. Partially vacant.

Blues Nightclub: at one time, Ashton’s main LGBT friendly night spot. Often catered for homosexual and lesbian thirty somethings though popular among most Ashtonians in the late 1980s. Refurbished and renovated in the early noughties, though now vacant.

Spread Eagle: Whitbread/Chesters house once popular with bikers. Demolished in spite of public protest to make way for Lidl store.

King William IV: John Smiths house which offered Bed and Breakfast accommodation, close to Park Parade. Opposite the…

Red Lion, one time Bass house briefly known as the Toad and Tulip, they were both demolished to make way for the St. Petersfield development.

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Old Street

The Friendship: vacant at present, the Robinson’s house was also home to Schofield’s Brewery till the 1920s. It was a popular locals pub which, if reopened today, would have potential to do food and real ale.

The Globe/The Witchwood: lovers of rock music or tribute bands, this place needs little introduction. The Witchwood remains a popular pub for lovers of the above musical genres, and real ale. One of my favourite haunts.

Foresters’ Call: popular locals’ pub with character, real ale and televised sports coverage.

Star Inn: former Boddingtons pub once a popular watering hole for Tameside Theatre, ABC Empire and the Birdcage. Still open, though spent the last two years with the ‘For Sale’ or ‘Own This Pub’ sign.

Ashton Palais/Birdcage/Wheels: just off rather than on Old Street itself, the Ashton Palais was a popular haunt for live bands in the 1960s. Some scenes from the film version of Billy Liar were shot there. By the mid to late 1970s, it became a roller skating rink with roller disco and was demolished in 1985.

Majestic/Gaumont/ODEON/Metro Cinema: though not a night club nor pub, the Odeon and Metro had a stage for live acts. As the Metro, the early 1980s saw Fat Larry’s Band and Bryan Adams hold a gig there. Today, it lies empty, having ceased as a cinema in 2003, with the Slotworld amusement arcade closing late last year.

Shepherd’s Call: now subdivided into two shop units.

The Britannia: after closing in the 1970s, along with the Shepherd’s Call, it became an amusement arcade. Now vacant.

The Pitt and Nelson/The Bedroom: once a sprawling two floor Tetley pub, its corner position was popular with daytime and night time drinkers alike. In 2001, an ill thought out conversion to The Bedroom (as an attempt to pitch the pub to late teens and twenty somethings) failed. It has been subdivided into shop units.

Ye Olde Vaults: latterly known as Chambers and at one time, one of Ashton’s oldest pubs. Closed since 2008.

The Highland Laddie/Camel: former Boddingtons pub converted, as Camel, into soulless vertical drinking bar. Now closed.

The Old Dog/Chester Moonshines/The Player: formerly The Old Dog, it became The Player in 2002 after being known as Chester Moonshines. Further space was gained after extension into the Revolution Vodka Bar.

Boogie Wonderland/Mint: as Boogie Wonderland in the mid 1990s, it was a 1970s theme pub.

The Angel: one of Ashton’s oldest pubs. The mosaic sign dates from previous ownership as a Shaws [Dukinfield] brewery house. It has been a John Smiths house since its takeover of the Park Road brewery in 1941.

The Clarence/Time Zone: one time Bass house, popular with older drinkers.

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George Street:

Queen’s Arms/Bar 15: as former name, its mosaic Queen’s Arms sign on the ground floor windows were prominent.

Molly Malone’s: Irish theme pub popular in the 1990s for having a single admission price and enabling customers to have as many drinks as they desired. Also the birthplace of PG Tips before Brooke Bond went on to bigger and better things.

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Warrington Street:

The Station: now a punk rock pub after being known for its real ale and acoustic nights. Formerly owned by John Hesketh and Sylvia Wood who restored the pub in 1984, before taking control of and refurbishing Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar.

The Caledonia: pleasing quiet locals pub with well served Robinson’s ales and good food. Excellent for a quiet drink whilst not being too far from the shopping centre.

George and Dragon: once a popular pub which took up the corner of Bow Street and part of Old Street. Demolished in the late 1960s and replaced by shops and a subterranean successor known as The Cavern. Still open in subterranean guise though geared towards cost conscious drinkers.

The Prince of Orange: believe me, no trip to Ashton is complete without a pint in this multi-roomed hostelry, thanks to their karaoke nights and live acts. I have found it handy for the bus station between connections. Prior to the arrival of The Ash Tree in 1995, its back room was a dining room where the house speciality was Rabbit Pie.

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Wellington Road:

Irish National Institute: opposite the Prince of Orange, a 1960s building noted for live entertainment. Been under threat of closure in the last year.

The Ladysmith: in the last half decade, The Ladysmith has had more pub managers and reinventions than anyone cares to mention. After a flirtation as a LGBT friendly pub, it has become a bog standard pub near the station with karaoke and live televised sport. In the last half decade, it has also tried doing food.

Barcentro/The Old Fire Station/The Engine Room: a Smith and Jones managed pub which has ‘matured’ to attract a more family friendly clientele with real ales as well as food. Once popular with young people whilst Barcentro. Fire station till 1963, hence name. Was prior to Barcentro era Ferguson’s Restaurant.

The Ash Tree: Tameside’s first Wetherspoons house, opening in 1995. Formerly the Main Street Shopping Centre (1988 – 1994) which was prior to then, Harbenware pan shop and the Queen’s Cinema.

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Katherine Street and Penny Meadow

The Buck and Hawthorn: once a solid Robinson’s house which four different rooms, including an intimate committee room. Closed around 2006, now offices.

The Queen Inn: former Marston’s house, recently reopened. Also had a brief spell in 2010 as a LGBT friendly pub.

The Theatre and Concert Tavern: closed 1973, the Tetley house was originally going to be Ashton’s town hall. Ashton’s Swimming Baths, opened by then Sports Minister (and Minister for Drought) Denis Howell in 1976, stands on the site.

The Beau Geste: fine example of modernist pub design in Ashton, opened in 1967 by Bents Gartside brewery and included separate off-licence unit. Popular with over 50s with regular live entertainment. Now closes earlier with bulk of live music on in afternoons.

The Ashton: moved from previous site to accommodate today’s Ladysmith Shopping Centre in 1967. Closed in 1993 with The Arcades Shopping Centre in its place.

The Bowling Green: Ashton’s oldest pub in continuous licence. Popular with smokers and fans of equine sports.

The Tontine: closed for the last eighteen months, popular house once offered Vaux ales.

The Albion: former Robinson’s house, demolished to make way for the Albion Way (Ashton Northern Bypass).

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Old Cross Street

Ye Olde Barn: for our last entry, the Ye Olde Barn was located behind The Clarence/Time Zone. It was renamed Bex in 2001 before closing a year after. It is now a Chinese restaurant.

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Any More Honourable Mentions?

Did you spend many a Friday or Saturday night at the venues stated herein? Any memories of the joys of a night out in Ashton? Feel free to mention them here. Other pubs or clubs? Why not add to the list.

S.V., 23 September 2012.

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39 thoughts on “Nightlife on Old Street: Clubs and Pubs of Ashton-under-Lyne

  1. Remember frequenting both King William and Buck & Hawthorn – at least one (or possibly both) had a good pool table. Latterly it was The Player (when a big football match was on) or Molly Malone at nights. Then it just sort of stopped being enjoyable….sad really.

    1. Hi Paul,

      I used to like the Buck and Hawthorn. Though the real ale quality was below par, I found its multi-room layout most charming. There was a small Snug which was a committee room/card table next to a slightly bigger one of similar layout. Next to the slightly bigger one was the Lounge. The remainder of the pub comprised of a spacious Public Bar/Vault with a semicircular bar backing on to the Katherine Street end of the pub.

      I never got to go in the King William IV, though I went to the Friendship quite a lot in 1995 – 96 when the landlord (whom at the time was David Williams) used to do chips. He also had two Border Collies and a jukebox which was seldom changed since the mid-1980s. It was very much an old drinkers’ pub then.

      Following the many stories I heard about the place, I never went to Molly Malones. By the time Revolution became The Player, I had started doing more of my drinking in Saddleworth and Mossley. The only exceptions in Ashton were – and remain to date – The Ash Tree and the Prince of Orange.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

  2. God, blasts from the past or what! Whilst aged 17, getting in to any of the mythical bars/clubs in Ashton was the stuff of legend. Upon reaching the legal drinking age the reality was quite different to what I’d imagined. My first real experiences were Tuesday ‘student’ night trips to (the?) Loose Moose drinking cheap (£1) bottles of pils from an ice filled bin. It was really,really rough at chucking out time. I remember clearly being shot with an air-rifle whilst standing outside Beach Bar, waiting for a friend to wobble out of the kebab shop opposite, still have the scar for that matter! My memories of The Queens were from it’s spell as ‘Liberty’s’, the logo was the Statue of Liberty, it was pretty bad. Directly across and adjacent/below Molly Malone’s was a club called ‘Georgie’s Bar’, I definitely remember going in that place, upon entry the bar was along the right hand side with the gents at the back. The Angel was called Chaplain’s for a time I think before reverting back to ‘pubdom’. Boogie Wonderland was ‘Route 66′ if I remember correctly too… Another pub that was popular with older friends of mine was called ‘The Asheton Arms’ and was located on Booth St. around the corner from ‘Hudson Bay’ (…’Ashton’s moxt exclusive nightspot’ haha). I’m not sure when this closed but my 48yr old brother remembers drinking in there. I’m not sure if the Lord Napier on Crickets Lane is still standing but I’ve definitely had a few pints in there, the decor hadn’t changed since the mirror-clad heyday of the 80′s! There was a small bar next to the luggage shop on Bow St. called ‘Sloans’ which was always busy because of it’s tiny size, it had a door at both ends, it later became ‘Chute’. I also think there is/was a pub called ‘K’s’ opposite the Town Hall Tavern which looks like a rough-as-toast Glasgow drinking hole, very unappealing… I think that about sums it up, thanks for the kebab-stained, fat-lipped, shot-skirted, fake ID’d memories! As an aside, your description of the Bowling Green was masterful!

    Alex

    1. Hi Alex,

      I had heard a few nightmare stories about nights out in Ashton and the shenanigans at chucking out/up chucking time. Yes, I too remember the Loose Moose being a ‘must visit’ place on Student Nights, and of course the previous names of The Old Dog, Boogie Wonderland and The Angel (before it dropped Chaplins).

      There was also – though I forgot to mention it on my Pevsner-esque wander around the streets of Ashton – Love Shack, and I forgot about Sloans. It is now a Pound Shop after being Chute bar. I tried to go in once for a glass of Coca Cola, when it was Sloans, and didn’t fancy it then (this was a Thursday afternoon in 1995 whilst on study leave for my GCSEs).

      The Assheton Arms, if I remember rightly was popular with older drinkers. I would say Hudson Bay closed around 1993-94.

      You will also be surprised to find that The Napier Arms is still trading! Though it seems to have short opening hours, it has survived the Arlington Way/Crickets Lane North and Albion Way redevelopment. It would probably survive a nuclear attack along with The Bowling Green! K’s is still going and – as of now – has the ambience of your stereotypical Glaswegian boozer in a rough part of the city. The Theatre Tavern (late The Robin Hood, after adopting its present moniker in the early 1990s) remains adjacent and still sports the green Gartside’s Brewery tile work.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

  3. i cannot understand The Burlington on Oldham road ever closed. in the sevenyies it was a tremendous pud catering for all ages.had one of the best football teams ever to grace a pitch.entertainment in abundance and if you never got to dance behind the flue ( a t parties only)you never lived.Sunday lunch brought the best sing along in town with Vic banging out all time favourites on the piano. weekly renditions of war songs does anyone remember Sailor Sam always pleased the guests until the rum got the better of him and he slept in the corner.Great days in a lovely pud .

    1. Hi Peter,

      Me neither, given the fact it hasn’t been open for years, nor suffered the same fate as numerous others by becoming a convenience store. It is long due a reopening or even a change of use to stop the building falling into further dereliction. I know for sure that its last owners were Pubmaster, who took over one of The Burlington’s previous breweries’ houses [Vaux].

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

  4. Anyone remember Boogie Wonderland being called Daks bar and Daks nightclub upstairs? think i had my 1st (of many) Ashton pint in there circa 1990

  5. Daks nightclub used to have mirrors all down one side of the wall, later changed to Loveshack they used to do ladies night on a Thursday £10 in free drinks til 2am. Another old one is Pointers and Molly Malone’s used to be George’s Bar. Mintz was a nightclub we used to go to around 1989/1990 on Stanford Street opposite Speak Easy and then Hudson Bay, funny times down Ash
    :)

  6. No mention of Camel bar previously Sams bar- a rock music bar.

    Boogie Wonderland was previously Route 66.
    I worked in both.

    No mention of one of the best bars where everyone met before a decision of a club was made…. HEROES!!

    Loose Moose was turned into Bar One

    1. Hi Victoria,

      If you look under the Old Street section of the article, look for ‘Highland Laddie’. You will also find the HL followed by a forward slash and ‘Camel’.

      I too remember when Camel was Sams Bar. In fact I went once as part of a college Christmas booze-up in 1998. We started at Major Wilds, then Doctor Browns and finished at Sams.

      Thanks also for mentioning what became of the Loose Moose before its recent de-pubbing.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

  7. The moon in dukinfield in the late 60s early 70s I can remember, then Sunday nights at the birdcage, park the SX200 lambretta up outside.

  8. I remember falling out of all these ashton pubs 1980 -1990 , happy days , no night life anymore , its so sad :-(

  9. Don’t forget that old nutmeg ….. The Memory inn, on old street opposite the old dog !
    Super place with melamine tables,half of palace road and smallshaw lane had residencies in that place !
    Happy days !

  10. Nags head near market. Burlington oldham rd, happy shepherd bentick st , dog + partridge one on cavendish st carnt think of name now a mosque i think

  11. There was also the trades club which is now the age concern building facing the beau gest and also the Enville club in the bus station my dad took me in both at the weekends ,then in the late 80s I started going to Ashton ,always started in the cavern.great times lost forever I’m afraid.

  12. What about the cavern? Started all my boozy Thursday fri sat and sun night in there and was the last stop before my bus home on a Sunday, was great to pop into on a Saturday afternoon for a bit of karaoke too ;) oh yes bring back the eighties. My mum and dad drank there in the sixties too. Was a very sad day when I saw it had closed down :(

    1. Hi Karen,

      Good call on The Cavern, though I made reference to The Cavern via the George and Dragon’s entry. The reason being was The Cavern continued the licence of the George and Dragon.

      For the benefit of everyone else, it was also known as ‘The Underground’ and now known as ‘Oliver’s Bar’. Of late, they have dabbled with real ale, and have recently advertised Robinson’s ‘Trooper’ along with cheap sausage sandwiches.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

  13. I used to go in the spread eagle and the king bill. Happy days. In some ways its a shame things have to move on. :( I had my 18th birthday party in the highland laddie and had my wedding reception in the conservative club. 33 years ago. We recently went out and went to the station and it was so sad to walk up Stamford st, I remembered how lively it was back in the 70s -90s now its like a ghost town all that is missing is the tumble weed. :(

  14. Somebody didn’t do their research for this. The Station hosts the occasional Punks Picnic, but also a full range of live music, from rock to folk.

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for mentioning the Punx Picnic at The Station. I’ve had the joy of calling in The Station a few times myself, though I’ve not been for a good while.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

  15. You can’t explain Ashton’s nightlife unless you were there crazy mental busy dangerous funny absolutely brilliant every Friday sat Sunday night best nights of my life down Ashton I miss it pity my kids won’t have the same experience .

  16. The Clarence/Time Zone was known as Razzles during the time I most frequented Ashton. It wasn’t a must-do on our circuit but came in handy as a time filler for a quick half if we were ahead of schedule.
    It was £2 a pint in all Ashton’s fun pub type establishments then, which I remember my Dad telling me I was mad for paying, and equated to not far off 10% of my weekly income. Still managed to go down there at least twice a week. Wish I could manage my money that well now!
    Winding back another 7 years or so before that, the Ladysmith used to do an excellent Steak Canadian, always accompanied by war time songs on a Thursday lunch time during school holidays.

    Chris

  17. I spent my teenage years in ashton from 1967 to1990,wehad great times in the britania and George and dragon.As I got older I would frequent the globe and spread eagle oh such happy days.but as usual they shut them all down to build shops.ashton was never the same after they shut all the best pubs.The only one that is left is the witchwood,who have rock bands on now,i used to go when they had the Dakota’s on a sunday afternoon what a good laugh we used to have,and all for free.

  18. I was the manager at the Pitt and Nelson from 91 to 95
    Amazing Ashton was amazing
    Don’t know what happened but was the happiest time of managing a pub
    Vibrant fun exciting and sometimes a bit unknown but busy yes

  19. Yes closing was a bit daunting so many bars were they had fallen out with another group and met them at the end of the night police vans waiting to pick them up
    Yes daks had a reputation but I live in London and still am a manager and the same applies young people drinking getting arrested nothing changes
    Except so sad about Ashton
    It was memorable and the best pub years of my life
    And if all of you young people that were students in the 90′s never had it so good

    1. Hi rose I remember you , you always used to talk to me and tony (the 60s couple ) we are 19years married with two boys . I miss Ashton we had some great nights in the Pitt ,we did a fashion show there do u remember xx

  20. Anyone remember the White Bear on Warrington Street, regularly frequented by the local Biggles Wartime Band(see youtube). Also the Golden Door nightclub behind Ashton old baths.

  21. How about The Black Vaults on Stamford St. I think its original name was the Stamford Arms. Run by Nora for many many years.

  22. I grew up in Ashton in the late 60′s early 70′s. We used to go to the Wagon on Margaret St as well as the Spread. There was also the Birdcage (used to be Ashton Palais) and does anyone remember the Go-Jo a club that used to be on Stamford St. Only a small place but it had a fab atmosphere!! Had some brilliant nights in Ashton during those times.

  23. Used to love going into the Globe (Witchwood) my brothers band used to play there then onto the Cavern then maybe Gates of India for a curry quality!
    Anyone remember what the name of that club was in the 80s where Molly Malones is think it was in the premises next door and you used to go downstairs to it ?

  24. I used to manage Yates’s Wine Lodge, from early 92 til end of 94, great times, what an amazing atmosphere at that time… You could have been abroad!!

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