Back when Oldham was the place to visit
Elsewhere within this hallowed soupçon of server space, this insignificant spec of cyberspace is an article on the joys of shopping in Ashton-under-Lyne during the 1980s. This time, East of the M60 has followed this up with a similar article on Oldham.
For some time in the 1980s, I was equally au fait with Oldham town centre as much as Ashton’s town centre. On a fortnightly basis, during that decade, I used to visit my late Grandma and Granddad’s house in Chadderton. Prior to 1988, our journey involved three buses. As well as catching the usual suspects up to Oldham (346 or 340 then 409), we would change at Shopping Giant for a 421 to Block Lane (Chadderton Broadway/Moston, Gardeners’ Arms). After 1988, we started getting the 419, then operated by Citibus Tours.
Shortly after arriving and eating our dinner, we would get the 421 to Oldham, alighting at the Civic Centre stand for C&A. For us, and many Oldhamers each Saturday afternoon, this would be where our great consumerist adventure would begin.
Bus and coach termini
Oldham, like now, had two main bus termini during the 1980s (and at one point, three). Stops on St. Mary’s Way and Yorkshire Street were well used as of now. Towards Mumps Bridge was the imaginatively named Mumps Bridge bus station. Back then, westbound buses stopped on the side nearest the B&Q Supercentre and Oldham Way. Eastbound buses stopped at Wallshaw Place on the same side of First Manchester’s Oldham depot and offices. At present, only the westbound section of Mumps Bridge bus station remains in use.
Opening the same year as the new Town Square shopping precinct (1981) was Oldham’s main bus station. With eight stands it was built to GMPTE’s prefabricated design used at Stockport’s before then, Ashton’s shortly after, and at several others till 1994. With two platforms of four stands, it had toilets, an information kiosk, and a SaverSales shop, backing on to the shopping precinct next to Toy and Hobby. One platform accommodated a control tower. Today, the original GMPTE stands have been razed with car parking in place of the stands E -H. Four stands remain, albeit with standard cantilever bus shelters.
Further up was the turning circle on Manchester Road. Prior to 1989, a handful of services used the more rudimentary facilities. A further stand was built along Cheapside. These existed as a stopgap solution whilst Spindles replaced St Peter’s Precinct. Today, the Turning Circle and Cheapside form part of the most recent Oldham bus station. The first part opened on Cheapside in 2001, with the second part arriving in 2007 on the Turning Circle.
Other termini in Oldham included the Yelloway Coach Station, opposite GMPTE’s Mumps Bridge station. This was shared with National Bus Company’s long distance services as well as Yelloway’s excursions. The station closed following Yelloway’s demise in 1989, though the travel centre continued for a few years as a National Express agent. For several years, St Mary’s Way and the Sports Centre stops have been popular with shoppers alighting for Tommyfield Market. They remain so now. Likewise the nearby High Street and Yorkshire Street stands.
George Street and King Street were popular stops for the Shopping Giant, King’s Hall and St Peter’s Precinct.
The shopping centre
Elsewhere within this blog is detailed reference to St Peter’s Precinct. In a nutshell, it was a brutalist precinct designed by the same architect as the Civic Centre. It was windy, had few shops open, and was great for skateboarders. Or hyperactive 4 year olds like myself in 1983.
Upstaging the older precinct years before its topping out ceremony, the neighbouring Town Square was Oldham’s most popular of the two. For a start, it was warmer. It had shops and cover. It was the first such precinct to be operated and funded by its owners which were at the time Scottish Amicable.
The anchor store, as of now was Boots, with at the opposite end, Toy and Hobby on street level, and Presto at precinct level. From the High Street entrance was a giant digital clock seen at the junction of Boots, Burton, Peter Lord and the North West Gas showrooms. This was (and still is) used for sales pitches and temporary stalls. In the mid 1980s, Santa’s sleigh would assume temporary residence there in the run up to Christmas.
With Chelsea Girl/Etam on the left and Dorothy Perkins on the right, the High Street corridor came to a T-junction with Dixons and Rumbelows in full view. Turning right would take you towards WHSmith, the toilets, St Peter’s Precinct and a third Boots entrance.
Turning left led you towards HMV, Mothercare, Superdrug, Argos, Presto and the centre’s sole café, the Country Larder. Today, the Argos store has moved into the former Index store in the Spindles shopping centre, as did Superdrug. HMV doubled in size taking over the former Superdrug unit.
No visit to Oldham was ever complete without a visit to the famed Tommyfield Market. Back in the 1980s, the indoor market was a dull green structure akin to a supermarket. This was built as a stopgap prior to the current indoor market (built in two phases), following the fire of its more majestic market hall in October 1974.
Its outdoor stalls were shambolic yet had character. The chaotic layout made for a most interesting visit prior to the arrival of today’s more sanitised aluminium equivalents. Some stallholders had wooden kiosks, such as Stewarts’ carpets, or brick built units which backed onto St Mary’s Way and Lord Street. The indoor market looked as nondescript inside as it did on the inside.
Using premises vacated by the Co-op in the late 1970s, King’s Hall offered market style shopping. The ground floor included fancy goods stalls and a pick and mix counter. Most of the first floor was allocated to Shoemarket.
The entire second floor was taken up by King John’s café. Within its three floors, you could have your ears pierced, buy a new pair of shoes and have a burger, without even touching the main centre. Today, the whole of the King’s Hall complex belongs to Shoemarket. How I wish it became Oldham’s answer to Affleck’s Palace.
Food and drink
In 1980s Oldham, the Country Larder was the place to visit. The café was a firm favourite among Oldhamers for its tasty treats, cooked meats and ground coffee. I can recall it being quite exotic for recession-hit Northern England with its faux oak beams, seating booths and equally exotic prices. Even so, it made for a good occasional treat and was a dependable source for posh milk shakes and coffees.
Further down from the Town Square shopping centre was the Theatre Tea Shop. On Waterloo Street, it was close to the Oldham Coliseum and even closer to the site of the Empire Theatre, demolished in 1981. It was a small place with few tables downstairs and twice as many upstairs. The hot chocolate was always impressive there.
For anyone who hadn’t had their fill of hills (natural and wooden ones included), King John’s restaurant in King’s Hall was worth a visit.
Like most town centres throughout the late 1970s – early 1980s, Oldham wasn’t immune to the joys of fast food. The mid-1980s saw McDonalds take over the former Yates’ Wine Lodge unit. Wimpy moved from a smaller unit next to the Royal Bank of Scotland to a more prominent corner unit, formerly used by Burton and latterly Boardmans.
This unit remained a Wimpy bar throughout the whole of the 1980s till seeing in a new decade as Burger King. Catering for the Butterfly’s crowd since the late 1980s was the Kansas (Southern Fried Chicken) takeaway. Even the Co-op offered fast food by means of its Big Bite burger bar beside the escalators of Shopping Giant.
Not a million miles away from Oldham is the oft-disputed birthplace of fish and chips which is the small town of Mossley. Oldham itself wasn’t short on chippies either. On Union Street was Butterworth’s. Tommyfield Market had Mr Chippy on one of the indoor market’s units. Just outside of the town centre on Manchester Road was Mother Hubbard’s. This was Oldham’s answer to Harry Ramsdens, albeit with a nice view of Zenith mill with orange and white buses passing by.
Dominating Oldham for most part of the decade was Co-op’s Shopping Giant. It was a great place where you could stock up on your groceries and buy non-food items. It boasted its own Handybank, had a separate chemist opposite the main store and a fast food restaurant (q.v Food and Drink section). Cars parked on the roof and at ground level with access via trolley-friendly escalators.
Other delights included Mario’s salon (on Manchester Street underneath the main store) and an ice cream stand by the entrance nearest the Bank Top Tavern. Today, it is now a Mecca Bingo Hall with a neighbouring Indian buffet restaurant.
Another ‘must visit’ department store was Littlewoods, with entrances on High Street and Albion Street. The latter entrance had the record section between its stairways. Its upstairs café was popular and remained part of the store till its closure and replacement with a Primark store.
Other noted shops of 1980s Oldham:
- Hardcastles (High Street): next to Salter’s Shoes, it was a desirable women’s outfitters;
- The 50p Shop (Henshaw Street): opposite Tommyfield Market, it sold all sorts of unnecessary and necessary items you would love to buy at an impulse. For 50p;
- Trilby Fashions (Curzon Street/Albion Street): another independently owned outfitters, handy for Tommyfield Market, Littlewoods and the glass box also known as the Halifax Building Society;
- Bottomley’s (Yorkshire Street): a loveable little art shop, sadly missed;
- Blasters (George Street): a pre-Do It All era hardware store, part of a chain which at its height had two other shops in Ashton-under-Lyne and Rochdale;
- The Golden Disc (Hilton Arcade): an independent record shop offering more esoteric sounds than the usual mainstream tat.
Now it’s your turn:
Feel free to add your comments and memories of Going Up Town, 1980s or any other decade you wish to recall. Were you fascinated by the big digital clock in the Town Square centre? Did you ever experience the joys of ‘Duck a Muffin’? Or did you buy your first single from The Golden Disc? Feel free also to add to the list of forgotten Oldham shops from the 1980s.
S.V, 14 December 2010.