Who remembers the joys of shopping in Ashton town centre during the 1980s?
Walking around the centre of Ashton-under-Lyne recently, I have often noticed how a Saturday in the Ashton of 2010 was a more sedate affair than the Ashton I knew of the 1980s. The greatest impact on this has been the shift of white goods retailers to the Snipe Retail Park, and of similar shops available in Ashton being attracted to the Crown Point North development in Denton. Another has been the dispersal of supermarkets to similar locations in borough. Most notably, this has included the opening of TESCO’s Stalybridge store (which has also have a grave effect on the nearby town centre itself), Morrisons’ first Tameside store in Dukinfield, and ASDA’s relocation from the northern to the southern side of Ashton in April 1989.
The 1980s Ashton was very much a part of my formative years. Prior to the opening of the Morrisons store in June 1986, most Dukinfield residents did their main shopping in Ashton, Hyde or Stalybridge. With Hyde, there was the massive Fine Fare store (now a Morrisons) which attracted cost-conscious car users. Likewise, the ASDA store on Langham Street in Ashton, which had a Kwik-Fit style outlet on the left hand side of the store. All three towns had thriving indoor markets whereas Hyde also had a privately owned market known as Super Market, in the former Hippodrome cinema.
My family were no exception, choosing either Stalybridge or Ashton for the ‘big shop’. Even after the opening of Morrisons we still bought some items in Ashton well in to the mid-1990s. Donoghue’s stall was our favoured butcher, our cheap frozen food came from Snow City, and The Egg Box was our favoured port of call for… guess?
So, stand in line, wait for an orange, brown and white double decker and hope your 346 arrives on time.
Ashton Bus Station
During this decade, there were three versions of Ashton bus station. One was the original 1963 structure with the stands pointing north to south. Then came the second version with stands pointing west to east from 1981. This was a transitional design, soon to be replaced with purpose built stands, reopening in March 1985. By 1985, the GMPTE owned/leased Metro Kiosk was sold to Martin Newsagents. Timetable information came from a separate office to that of ticket sales. Your SaverSeven pass or Wayfarer ticket would be bought from the SaverSales office a few yards away, separated by Bakers’ television shop.
The SaverSales office had a funky orange sign with the recognisable white Helvetica text and M-Blem. Bakers’ shop was the place to call in for anything of a Panasonic or Technics nature. As well as the latest audio visual gadgetry, it was close to the back entrance for Woolworths (handy for the pick and mix, though more so the records and tapes section) and the Wooden Spoon chippy – reputed to be the best in Ashton along with The Gold Medal. Further down from the SaverSales and Wooden Spoon units was the Enville Social Club, which was handy for the 400 Trans-Lancs Express route (the Airport or Stockport journeys used C stand).
Since 1985, the most marked change has been the inclusion of the Arcades Shopping Centre. Opening in autumn 1995, it occupied the site of the 1963 – 1994 bus stations, forcing GMPTE to move the 1994 version of the bus station closer to Wellington Road. Both tickets and timetable information are dealt with under one roof [the TfGM Travelshop]. As of January 2019, Ashton Bus Station is in the midst of change itself. The new-fangled Ashton-under-Lyne Interchange – due to open in 2020 – will be located nearer to the tram stop.
The Shopping Centre
During the 1980s, Ashton only had one shopping centre, the one known today as the Ladysmith Centre. In common with most UK towns, a lot of the white goods retailers had town centre units. On Staveleigh Way, you had Radio Rentals (the now vacant Cash Generator store), Rumbelows (now Holland and Barrett), Visionhire (now Greenhalgh’s bakery), Currys (now CeX) and Granada.
At one point, Granada had (for a brief period) a second shop on Mercian Way taking over the former Rediffusion showroom. Both North West Gas and NORWEB had their own showrooms. Bright House (appallingly high interest charging non-food retailer) occupies the former. Au Naturelle/Internacionale occupied the latter unit from 1998 before being split into two units (Cardzone and Meek’s Shoes are today’s tenants).
In 1985, you weren’t stuck for food options either. The Koffee Pot occupied a first floor unit, as did the Lancastrian Tandoori (entered from ground level between the Granada showrooms). The Koffee Pot had subdued lighting with low rise lamps sporting different shades, beaming towards each table. On the ground floor of Staveleigh Way, you had Wimpy. Prior to 1984, it was the sole fast food chain outlet in Ashton, and ideal for the Majestic/Gaumont/Odeon/Metro (delete as appropriate according to your age). The October of 1984 saw McDonalds take over the former Shoppers’ Paradise/Fine Fare unit on Warrington Street.
If you wanted to treat yourself, there was a clothes stall in a quadrangle overlooking Wimpy. Baggage offered as one would expect; cheap luggage and handbags. Close by was Dorothy Perkins, Burton’s the Tailors, Figaro’s hairdressers, Cameo Cosmetics, Precinct Jewellers and Manprice. If the Hit Parade tickled your fancy, Boots and Woolworths used to have good records and tapes sections. For more discerning tastes, there was the short lived yet hip B Records on the first floor, and The Sound House on the ground floor. Computer Base was one of Ashton’s first computer software retailers offering any game for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Oric-1 and the Atari 800.
Compared with the present day Ladysmith Centre, the Ashton Shopping Centre had a more diverse range of units. It was still very much in its late 1960s guise apart from the long-broken lift and escalator (the latter in a semi covered section between Victor Value and Rumbelows). There was by the late 1980s a fair few empty units on the first floor deck nearest the office block and dominant equally stairway. Today, the electrical retailers have since left and have been replaced by Pound Empire (gone), Poundworld (now empty), Perfect Home (a now closed another bad credit non-food store) and Home Bargains. Some smaller units have been added to Mercian Way.
In the 1960s, Coopers’ store on Warrington Street offered the self-service shopping experience to most Ashtonians. By the end of that decade, it became a Fine Fare, then Shoppers’ Paradise (the latter a cheaper version of Fine Fare, would you believe?) and of course today’s McDonalds. The first purpose built supermarket in the centre was Pricerite, which became a Kwik Save by the 1980s. With my parents impoverished by the Second Dole Age, the Kwik Save store on Bow Street was a regular haunt. It seemed colossal to me compared with the smaller Stalybridge branch. There was a separate clothes shop at the bottom of the store, and a butchers’ counter, again independent of Kwik Save. Milk was kept in a walk-through refrigerator with airtight (to waist level) plastic blinds!
Further down Bow Street was Iceland. Built on the site of the George and Dragon pub, it was originally TESCO’s Home and Wear store with the pub being shifted underground. It became an Iceland store in 1985, after TESCO changed the food only store on Staveleigh Way into Victor Value. Revived in 1985 as a hard discounter, TESCO revived the dormant name of a London based store chain acquired in 1972. By 1989, some Victor Value stores were sold to Kwik Save, with the Ashton store its second outlet in September of that year.
At the opposite side of the open market to Kwik Save and Iceland was Presto. The store opened in 1981, offering Ashton a higher quality alternative supermarket to TESCO and Shoppers’ Paradise. It was underneath Tameside MBC’s then new council offices and offered such delights including a bakery counter and an instore café.
By 2010, all the supermarkets left Ashton town centre, with the exception of an ALDI on Oldham Road/Wellington Road junction and a LIDL on Stamford Street/Cavendish Road. The Kwik Save stores became B&M Bargains and Home Bargains. Presto was renamed Safeway by its parent company Argyle Foods in 1989, and the Ashton store no longer assumed that role in 1992, when it became a Wilkinson store. Prior to the opening of Tameside One – TMBC’s replacement for TAC – Wilko moved to the former upstairs unit of Woolworths (in the Arcades Shopping Centre).
With the lure of Manchester being a short bus ride away, Ashton had few department stores in the 1980s. The main two were Marks and Spencer and the Arcadia Department Store on Stamford Street. The former opened as an anchor store to the town’s shopping centre in 1968. It had in its early years a stall on Ashton Market, as a penny bazaar. Opposite, and subscribing to a similar business model in its early years, was the Woolworths store. With four entrances, it must have been a shoplifters’ paradise, so long as they liked stealing pick and mix, Smiths albums or Commodore 64 games.
Most of the department stores moved over to the precinct from Stamford Street in and around 1967. The Burton store moved to a smaller unit away from its more elegant one on Old Square. Woolworths followed suit moving from its smaller store off Warrington Street and Stamford Street. Littlewoods closed and became a Hitchens store, offering catalogue returns stock at lower prices. Comet on the other hand stayed on Stamford Street till the mid-1990s.
Whereas Manchester had Debenhams, Kendal Milne and Co, and Lewis’s in the 1980s, Ashton’s ‘must visit’ store was Arcadia. The Arcadia store was the centrepiece of the Ashton-under-Lyne Cooperative Society. Its plate glass windows wowed passersby into purchasing a new suite or colour TV at reasonable rates. The store had a car park at the front (thanks to space made available from the construction of Park Parade bypass) and behind the 1926 facade at first floor level. Cars were parked on top of the soft furnishings section with access via a steep ramp. There was also a café on the first floor.
Even now, the Arcadia store is missed by many Ashtonians with the beginning of the end being the replacement of the glass frontage by brick. The store closed in 1993, left empty and demolished in 1998 – 99, only to be replaced by the architecturally inferior Lidl (which has since been rebuilt). By then, Co-op department stores were becoming a dying breed which I think is a real shame, as I prefer the more easy-going shopping environment alien to today’s stores where loud music and harsh lighting reigns supreme.
Prior to Metrolands’ shopping precinct, Stamford Street was the main shopping street in Ashton-under-Lyne. All the multiple store chains had a unit there with the Co-op at one time having more than one. Stretching from Stalybridge to Chester Square, it was hailed as the Earl of Stamford’s answer to Oxford Street and had the potential to rival London’s main street.
By the 1980s, Stamford Street was disfigured by the Park Parade bypass. From the east, it was split by the BT roundabout, leaving Ashton Parochial School out on a traffic fuelled limb. At the west, it was split by a realigned Oldham Road and a dead end on the Cavendish Street side. The main part of the street was dominated more by banks (Lloyds’, NatWest, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and the Midland Bank), pubs and independent retailers. Most of the multiples apart from the Co-op and Comet had left. Nighttime saw the Stamford Street of the 1980s come alive with pubs, restaurants and clubs open till the early hours. The most famous one was Blues, which was a popular club with LGBT and heterosexual groups alike.
Unlike the 1980s, let alone its zenith, Stamford Street in 2010 is far removed from the Earl of Stamford’s dream. Today, the pubs close early and its independent shops solder on.
No shopping trip to Ashton-under-Lyne is ever complete without a visit to its famed market. The 1980s Ashton Market had smaller stalls compared with the present purpose-built ones, facing the indoor market’s clock tower. Some ran along the perimeter of the market hall frontage, interrupted only by a hot food unit.
No child of the 1980s in Tameside could forget the joys of Nadin’s stall. At the lower end of the market hall towards Market Street and Fletcher Street, this tightly positioned stall served what I thought was the Best Chocolate Milkshake in Ashton. There was only enough room for 20 standees, yet the stall was always popular. Other specialities included a Lucozade Float (yes, Lucozade topped with Vanilla Ice Cream!), Horlicks and hot Vimto. They also offered the usual crisps and Wagon Wheels, but there weren’t enough room for making sandwiches.
Close by was Redmans who had two stalls, the Co-op tobacconist stall, Cassons Shoes, and Galaxy Records. The latter was next to the heel bar on the left and a cosmetics stall on the right. Not far from there was Gleaves’ two stalls, offering biscuits from their works 5 minutes walk away, and traditional sweets.
In the food hall was Here’s Health, a little herbalist which my mother used to frequent before catching the 409 to Oldham (on D stand for your information back then!), The Pantry cake stall, RG Fish, and Donoghue’s butchers stall. Opposite was a frozen food stall which previously belonged to Snow City, prior to moving to a unit within the council offices block of shops near the bus station.
Another feature of the outdoor market was a wooden food stall which offered snacks nearest to McDonalds and The Cavern pub. On Tuesdays, there was (and still is of now) the Flea Market.
In contrast to Stamford Street, Ashton Market has had substantial refurbishment work and investment over the last two decades. The refit of the indoor market was caused by a fire in May 2004, which saw the stalls reconfigured and retaining walls from previous extensions demolished. The outdoor market has since seen the launch of a weekly Sunday secondhand market and a monthly Farmers’ Market (last Sunday in the month). Much as I like the refurbishment and investment, I still hanker for the Ashton Market of 1985 any day. It had character, mazy gangways and a wider variety of stalls. I especially miss Nadin’s milk shake stand.
Over to you
If you have any memories of Ashton Market or shopping in Ashton during the 1980s, feel free to share them.
S.V., 17 August 2010.
Updated on the 30 January 2019 to reflect present-day retail movements in Ashton-under-Lyne town centre.