An alternative way to explore the Lancashire town
A lot of bad press has been made about Rochdale’s lack of shops, particularly how the closure of its McDonalds was played upon as part of its town’s failings. It is true that the Wheatsheaf Centre and its market has lost trade to Bury. The big picture lies within the prosperity of the town itself, which along with nearby Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham, has been dealt a bad rack by present company in Westminster.
For the purpose of this post, I shall put the politicking over to one side and dare to defend the indefensible about Rochdale. You might be surprised.
Rochdale for Beginners
For the uninitiated, Rochdale is the birthplace of the modern Cooperative Movement. From its modest beginnings on Toad Lane, it became a global phenomenon. In the UK, The Cooperative has become a leading name in funeral arrangements and banking, as well as its convenience stores. Though amazing today – and still accountable to its members – still smaller than a century ago when the Cooperative Movement had a TESCO-style saturation market share in most parts of Britain.
As well as being the birthplace of Gracie Fields and Lisa Stansfield, other famous Rochdalians include Bill Oddie, DJs Liz and Andy Kershaw, plus former That’s Life co-presenter Kieran Prendiville. Musically, it was home to Cargo Studios, where many acts on Tony Wilson’s Factory label would record their works.
It is also home to the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum. The town is twinned with the German city of Bielefeld, whose bus stop is seen in the lobby of Rochdale bus station. Recently, it has seen the opening of its Metrolink route up to Rochdale railway station. The town centre section is due for completion next year.
As a shopping centre, it seems to have lost ground within the town centre itself. If you look a little further, you may be surprised. There is also a wide variety of Asian shops on Broadfield and Hamer (on the southern and eastern edges of the town centre). The former is within tripping over distance from the Rochdale Rail/Tram Interchange. The latter begins east of John Street.
The bulk of Broadfield’s centre is around Tweedale Street and Milkstone Street. For Halal food, Haji’s Cash and Carry, and the nearby Worldwide Supermarket is a must. In both shops, there is a wide variety of fresh produce. One thing for sure is you’ll never go hungry: Milkstone Street has ample takeaways and cafés from Cuckoo’s to Chunky Chicken. The sweet-toothed among you shouldn’t miss Delilicious – tempting cakes and ice cream at good prices. If you prefer something a little stronger, Corporation Inn – a Samuel Smith house – may be to your liking.
Today, the main town centre’s a veritable mecca for bargain lovers, alas also punctuated by Cheque Cashing and Payday Loan shops. B&M Bargains, situated in Rochdale’s former Woolworth’s store is worth a visit. The lower part of Yorkshire Street has a lot of charity shops – great for bibliophiles on a budget, as well as cheaper clothes. Greggs, Subway and Greenhalgh’s are also on Yorkshire Street too. The liveliest precinct in Rochdale is the Rochdale Shopping Centre, which has most of the national chain stores. Its second precinct, the Wheatsheaf Shopping Centre, is quieter and offers a decent thoroughfare to the bus station. Among its shops is a Wilkinson store and a large British Heart Foundation charity shop.
The former precinct also has a semi-open market and an indoor market. The indoor market has seen a substantial loss of stalls, though the semi-open market remains lively. Accessed from the semi-open market is a first floor café.
Rochdale Shopping Centre was also home to the town’s Co-op Store. After being modernised for the precinct’s opening in 1978, it became a Pioneer Department Store, then Pioneer House, and Sunwin, before becoming a Beales Department Store.
Food and Drink
Who needs McDonalds? Broadfield and Hamer has a wealth of takeaways and cafés to suit all tastes. The town centre has the usual Greggs/Greenhalgh’s/Subway South East Lancashire Town Troika, but there are two places in the centre which stand out. One of them is the Balcony Café overlooking the semi-open market. Their potato pie is an absolute must – and affordably priced it is too.
The second place is not only renowned for its food, but also its cask conditioned ales. The Baum (Toad Lane) has been voted CAMRA’s UK Pub of the Year. Converted from a hardware shop in 1993, it became a rustic real ale pub with a beer garden and split level seating. It looks like a Victorian throwback, though the pub is 20 years old. As well as locally brewed cask conditioned ales, there is also a wide range of foreign bottled beers.
The Cask and Feather (Drake Street) and the Flying Horse (opposite the Town Hall on Nelson Street) are worth a visit. Wetherspoons Tickers shouldn’t pass Rochdale without calling in The Regal Moon. Handy for the bus station, its Art Deco ambience is influenced by its previous occupants, the Regal cinema (latterly the ABC).
Museums and Parks
No visit to Rochdale is complete without visiting the Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum. Recently extended, everything you wanted to know about the Cooperative Movement, the Rochdale Principles, or Divi Stamps, is detailed there. It is open seven days a week (Monday to Saturday, 1000 – 1700; Sundays, 1200 – 1600) with free admission available.
The Touchstones Museum and Local Studies Centre on The Esplanade is a must. In an accessible way, it offers a good history of how Rochdale came to being. Unique to Greater Manchester, and to a lot of other towns equivalent size to Rochdale, is the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum. Open every Friday and on the first Sunday in the month (1000 – 1600), it is situated behind Rochdale fire station (Maclure Street, near the tram station) and includes a small collection of preserved vehicles. There is a Victorian street scene, an archive library (appointment only), gift shop and a tea bar. The home made cakes are worth trying – and a snip at 75p a slice!
Instead of trying to walk past the temporary fences Crufts’ agility round style, you can approach the centre of Rochdale a greener way, via Broadfield Park. Access is gained from The Esplanade gardens via Sparrow Hill at the northern side. Its southern side is towards Vicar’s Drive and Drake Street. The Esplanade gardens affords good views of the town centre and its immediate surroundings.
- From Manchester: 17, 24 (Limited Stop), 181, 182;
- From Oldham: 58, 409;
- From Shaw and Chadderton: 181, 182;
- From Ashton-under-Lyne: 409;
- From Halifax: 528, 590;
- From Todmorden: 589 (SuX), 590;
- From Littleborough: 528, 589 (SuX), 590;
- From Burnley: 589 (SuX: catch 592 then 590 from Todmorden).
- All stations from Littleborough to Sowerby Bridge and Leeds: two trains per hour (one per hour, Sundays);
- From Manchester Victoria: four trains per hour;
- From Wigan Wallgate, Moston, Mills Hill and Castleton: two trains per hour.
- From Oldham, Manchester City Centre and St. Werburgh’s Road: every 12 minutes (every 15 minutes during the evening and after 1700 on Sundays and Bank Holidays).
S.V., 11 March 2013.