The Life, The Universe, Katherine Street, The Beau Geste and Everything
Prior to 1963, Ashton-under-Lyne’s buses and trolleybuses stopped at a variety of termini throughout the town centre. Manchester Corporation services called at Bow Street and Old Square (by Yates’ Wine Lodge); Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation’s buses opted for Market Street and Wellington Road by the town hall. SHMD’s stopped at St. Michael’s Square.
In the early 1960s, Ashton-under-Lyne was in the midst of redevelopment. West End and Richmond Park saw slum clearance and the construction of tower blocks (built using the BISON prefabricated building system) and maisonettes. The Charlestown area saw slum clearance with the emergence of low rise flats along Wellington Road and a tower block off Oldham Road. This left a yawning gap for a new bus station, perfectly placed for interchange with rail services and the shops. The site would also be flanked by gardens and two new public houses. With a new shopping precinct on the horizon, the new bus station would be blessed with excellent footfall.
The Bus Station Opens
Work began in the early part of 1963 with vehicular access available from Katherine Street and Warrington Street. It was officially opened on the 6 November 1963 with the Mayor of Ashton-under-Lyne driving the first bus. Facilities included a staff canteen, toilets for staff and passenger use, a waiting room, hot drinks machine and a kiosk selling cigarettes, ice cream and sweets. This was also flanked by the Enville Social Club. The 10 November saw its first passengers alighting and boarding.
Ashton bus station costed £80,000, the equivalent of £1.7 million in 2011 prices. There were six loading bays, all 170 feet each with two services loading from each side of the shelter. The whole area of the bus station took up 86,661 square feet, the equivalent of today’s superstores exclusive of car parking. Each shelter had miniature fluorescent lights, a must for passengers boarding after dark. All shelters were prefabricated to Queensbury Shelters’ standard designs, which would later be seen throughout Greater Manchester.
The new bus station wasn’t without its critics; objections from Manchester City Transport and SHMD over boarding charges led to a public inquiry at Ashton town hall. It was deemed too lavish by some councillors; instead of long continuous stands, some favoured 30 feet long shelters for each stand. Shortly after its opening, SHMD remained faithful to St Michael’s Square whereas Manchester City Transport’s trolleybuses stuck with Bow Street and Stamford Street till the end of trolleybus operations in December 1966. The tide was turning towards the ‘lavish bus station’ as the bus terminus and information bureau by the indoor market was demolished a year on.
Contrary to its detractors, the bus station became a popular facility for shoppers, being close to the market and (from 1967) the new shopping precinct. The Ashton Arms and a second pub, The Beau Geste, would compensate for premises lost by the new development. By 1969, most routes apart from Manchester City Transport’s 216, SHMD’s 11 and 154/154A routes used the state of the art facility. By the summer of 1969, both the 11 and 154/154A moved to Ashton bus station, signalling the end of St. Michael’s Square as a main bus termini. Part of the square would be swallowed up by a new roundabout by the Memorial Gardens circling the GPO Exchange.
Into the SELNEC and Greater Manchester Transport eras
Part of SELNEC’s Lifeline 2000 report saw a greater role for Ashton-under-Lyne bus station as a regional interchange. The report suggested some improvements to the bus station by means of additional shop units. Recently added to the new precinct was a Woolworth store. A TV and radio dealer (Bakers) was added, along with The Wooden Spoon fish and chip restaurant.
A coach shelter was constructed for excursion coaches, taxis and the 400 Trans-Lancs Express route. Further cover was added along the Katherine Street end of the bus station. Extra stands opened along that side.
The replacement of SELNEC by Greater Manchester Transport saw the addition of a SaverSales shop, a MetroKiosk and a florist by the name of MetroFlora. The latter was a short lived venture which lasted till 1980. The MetroKiosk was taken over by Martin Newsagents in 1986.
Towards the Second Phase
The ‘lavish bus station’ was starting to show its age by the dawn of the 1980s. New bus stations in Altrincham, Rochdale, Stockport and Bury (opened 1976, 1978 and 1980) made Ashton’s facility seem dated. By 1982, preparatory works for Phase 2 began with the stands being rotated 90 degrees. A new control tower was added to the Katherine Street end with the cover re-clad and glazed.
Temporary Queensbury shelters were put in place prior to the addition of GMPTE’s standard shelters, seen in Stockport and Oldham (Town Square) bus stations. By the close of 1983, the recognisable GMPTE ones emerged. The cover at the precinct end was later glazed and became stands A to C.
The second version of Ashton-under-Lyne’s bus station opened on the 18 March 1985. After two and a half years refurbishment work, it was opened at 1130 by Councillor Geoffrey Brierley. The opening also coincided with the pedestrianisation of Warrington Street. Wider stands allowed for better passenger comfort with ample seating. Each platform included a totem featuring the M-Blem, an ‘Ashton’ sign and a red LED digital clock. Five to six services were served from each bay.
The project was jointly funded by the doomed Greater Manchester Council, Tameside MBC and GMPTE, costing £1.3 million, with 21 stands. Stand C was the preserve of the 216 to Manchester and Stockport bound 400s; the 346 to Hyde used K stand, whereas Ashton’s local service monopolised stands T to W.
In 1980, there was reference in The Advertiser to an earlier plan for the bus station which involved an Arndale Centre/Chorlton Street style cover each stand. Whilst Tameside MBC’s TAC Building was in the midst of construction, it was suggested that a car park deck would cover the bus station with entrance to TAC at car park level. This would also serve the International Stores supermarket at ground level (which became a Presto instead). Thankfully, common sense prevailed leading to a ground level car park opening north of Wellington Road.
Deregulation and the Third Phase
Though Ashton Bus Station Mark II was getting along nicely with its regular users, plans announced in The Advertiser and Ashton Reporter newspapers around March 1986 saw news of a future shopping centre. By the middle of the 1980s, the popular shopping precinct was starting to look its age. Tameside MBC feared that its administrative capital could be left behind Stockport, Oldham and Manchester following retail investment in covered shopping centres. An artist’s impression on the front page of The Advertiser saw a post-modern covered shopping centre with a Times Furnishing shop overlooking the open market.
Nine years on, that centre would become The Arcades, opened by Su Pollard and Stuart Hall in the autumn of 1995. With the need for extra retail space, something had to give, and that something was Ashton Bus Station Mark II. Also engulfed by The Arcades would be the Radcliffe Freedom Gardens and The Ashton public house.
To minimise disruption, the centre would be built in phases, starting with the Radcliffe Freedom Gardens. Low rise flats overlooking Wellington Road were demolished to make way for Ashton Bus Station Mark III. Temporary stands along Warrington Road (by the council offices) and Gas Street were created.
Ashton-under-Lyne bus station Mark III was opened in the summer of 1994. Unlike its predecessor, there are six fewer stands with 15 stands on five platforms. Stands A and B are on the same side as TfGM’s Travelshop, a small WHSmith concession (previously John Menzies) and a Tote Bookmakers. Two Superloos were added.
In its first two years, some operators used the stop at Gas Street and the lay-by on Wellington Road. Sometimes, Gas Street has been used a temporary location whilst Ashton bus station is being refurbished internally. The bus station offers no significant creature comforts over its 1985 and 1963 predecessors. Too lavish? Not this time.
Ashton Bus Station Mark IV or Tameside Interchange?
With Metrolink’s arrival in 2013, there has long been speculation of a possible fourth Ashton bus station. Since Bus Station Mark III opened, GMPTE and TfGM’s bus stations have come into leaps and bound in terms of facilities. Oldham’s set the precedent in 2001 with the Cheapside bus station boasting automatic doors and improved natural light. This was repeated with new bus stations in Middleton, Eccles, Hyde and Shudehill. The former introduced a single terminal layout with some services pulling in and reversing out.
Since 2007, HARK, previous owners of The Arcades Shopping Centre have considered the idea of extending the centre up to Wellington Road. Artists’ impressions have shown the extension placed above Ashton bus station, making for a dull ambience akin to Chorlton Street Coach Station or the late Arndale Bus Station. There was assurances in May 2010 that their plans would go ahead. By 2018, plans to extend the Arcades Shopping Centre have fallen silent.
Other rumours have included the movement of Ashton bus station to the northern side of Wellington Road, along the side of the Ashton Retail Park. This according to the rumour mill would improve interchange with heavy rail services.
In 2011, when we originally wrote the article, we felt that Ashton’s bus station was in need of upgrading. Instead of the current five platform and 15 stand layout, we said that Ashton Bus Station Mark IV should opt for a single terminal layout which would sit comfortably besides her trams. The single terminal layout (where buses pull in and reverse out) would make for a warmer and more secure environment.
By 2014, £32.7 million of funding was granted for Ashton Bus Station Mark IV by Central Government. This formed part of a £115 million Growth Deal for Transport for Greater Manchester. Since the first plans were revealed, some detractors thought Mark IV was too lavish, saying that the funding should have gone elsewhere.
In spite of the same arguments being echoed 51 years on, construction is under way. Our previous article said that Ashton-under-Lyne Bus Station Mark IV would open in 2018. At this time of writing, Tameside (Ashton-under-Lyne) Transport Interchange is set to open in 2020; construction was delayed by The Probation Office’s move to Guide Bridge which delayed demolition. In line with Middleton and Rochdale bus stations, a single terminal layout instead of five parallel platforms.
There will also be smaller shelters surrounding the tram line to Manchester and Eccles, presumably for arrivals, school buses, and bus replacement services. Space has also been left for any possible extensions of the Metrolink system towards Stalybridge. Stands J to R have already been demolished with Manchester buses using temporary stands on Gas Street.
On opening, the new facility will offer a marked improvement on present facilities. This leaves one question unanswered: will Watergrove, present owners of the Arcades Shopping Centre be extending the precinct? Given the continued rise of internet shopping, this seems less likelier now than in 2007.
S.V., 22 July 2011.
Updated on the 06 December 2018.