Swinging Ashton from the 1960s to the 2000s
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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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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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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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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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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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.