Three ages of shopping, one town
Just off the M60 is a medium sized town which seems to detail – at least on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays – three ages of shopping. Outside on Fountain Street is its open market. Close by is the town’s early 1970s shopping precinct. Directly opposite its market ground is the ubiquitous TESCO Extra superstore.
It is fair to say that Middleton has something for everyone. Especially so if your idea of shopping is down to earth, unpretentious with a good balance of chain stores and independent retailers. You are none too fussed about having a posh coffee in a non-Costabucks outlet. You have an eye for a bargain, either through the thrill of the chase or necessity.
A Rough Guide to Middleton
Situated between Rochdale, Oldham, Heywood, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester, Middleton prospered after the industrial revolution. Before cotton ruled, it was known for its clock making industry. By the 1960s, some of its mills were converted to other industrial uses. It expanded when Manchester Corporation built two overspill estates on the northern and south-eastern parts of the town in Langley and Alkrington (known as Alkrington Garden Village). It had two railway stations from the Calder Valley line: Middleton Junction and, via a short branch, Middleton.
By the early 1970s, the town centre changed dramatically with the opening of Middleton Arndale Centre. It broke new ground for the town centre, anchored by TESCO and Woolco stores. Included was a bingo hall, off-street car parking and a bus station. Significant improvements were made to its roads by means of a bypass with a dual carriageway. A swimming pool and civic hall was built nearby. Its council offices, now a listed building, a little out of town on Manchester Road.
Today, the cotton industry has since left Middleton, with Robert McBride’s detergent works and the Sarsons vinegar plant based in the town. Another famous export, from Greengate, is John Willie Lees’ bitter. The JW Lees brewery has been based in Middleton since 1828. Stakehill, north east of the town centre, is a main distribution centre for superstore chains just off the A627(M) motorway at Slattocks.
Its nearest railway station is Mills Hill, a short distance south of Middleton Junction. Both the precinct and bus station have been refurbished and rebuilt with the TESCO store moving to a much bigger site opposite. The TESCO Extra development necessitated the movement of its open market to Middleton Gardens. Another knock-on effect was the opening of Middleton Arena, a multi-purpose live performance and indoor sports venue with swimming baths.
Famous Middletonians include former Manchester United favourite Paul Scholes, and comedic genius Steve Coogan. Popular music groups associated with Middleton include The Chameleons and Puressence.
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Where to shop
Middleton Open Market: held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays on Middleton Gardens, the open market has a good range of stalls selling non-food and food items. Bric-a-brac stalls are also available. Its present position is most affable for browsing around the shops on Manchester New Road and Long Street.
Middleton Shopping Centre: the Middleton Arndale Centre, as I still refer to this place, has a fair number of chain stores and a few independent retailers. Its Wilkinson store is situated on two floors with Home Bargains taking the former TESCO unit. The second floor includes Argos, Iceland and the Bazaar. The Bazaar is like an indoor market, though in dire need of new tenants. There is two coffee shops on the ground and first floors. The latter partially obscures the public art which can be seen from the first floor balcony.
Charity Shops: The Shaw Trust and YMCA have charity shops in the Middleton Shopping Centre, whereas most of the town’s charity shops are located on Manchester New Road and Long Street.
Discount Stores: Greg’s Discount Food for short coded groceries on Long Street is worth a call. There is also Home Bargains, Pound Empire and Wilkinson in the Middleton Shopping Centre.
Clothing: Simon One for sportswear and Jon Migael (for formal clothing) are worth a visit in the Middleton Shopping Centre.
TESCO Extra: wherever you go in Middleton, you cannot miss it. It also has free cashpoints as well as in-store café on first floor mezzanine.
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Food and Drink
The Olde Boars Head: you cannot visit Middleton without a pint of John Willie Lees’ Bitter, or any of its other ales. The timber framed public house, a short distance on foot, has often featured in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
The Harbord Harbord: J.D. Wetherspoon public house with usual menus and range of real ales. Formerly a discount store which, prior to 1971, was the town’s F.W. Woolworth store.
Café Zinho: busy coffee shop in Middleton Shopping Centre with Costabucks style beverages at much more reasonable prices.
Appleby’s Specialities: popular sandwich bar with hot barbecue chicken counter. Also sells fresh oven bottom muffins, pork pies and fruit.
Comple@ Internet Café: not the easiest places to find, but once found, a cinch. It is behind the NatWest bank on Long Street with access via an arcade. Part of MIND, it is well worth calling in for reasons besides their keenly priced tea, coffee and scones.
McDonalds: on Middleton Gardens close to Middleton Shopping Centre and well placed for its open market.
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Getting There By Bus
By bus, Middleton is a fantastic place to get to from the eastern part of Greater Manchester. The bus station’s position is helpful enough for shoppers, whether they’ve nipped to TESCO, Home Bargains, or the market trader selling good value meat packs.
From Manchester and Rochdale: without a doubt, the 17 service operated by First Greater Manchester and JPT Travel. Middleton’s very own JPT Travel compete with FirstGroup from the town centre to Manchester. There is also the 18 from Rusholme and Langley (again First Greater Manchester).
From Rochdale, there is also the 58 service (First Greater Manchester), which takes a less direct route via Shaw and Oldham.
Also from Manchester, via Moston, is the 112 service, operated by Stagecoach Manchester and JPT Travel.
From Bury and Heywood: First Greater Manchester’s 163 offers a direct link to Middleton via Darn Hill estate.
From Oldham and Manchester: the 58 and 59 services offer the most direct way to Middleton via Chadderton or Blackley. The least direct service is the 415, which also takes in Alkrington Garden Village and Foxdenton Hall. There is also the 64 which goes via Royton. All services stated are operated by First Greater Manchester.
From Shaw: First Greater Manchester’s 58 and 59 services.
From Ashton-under-Lyne: First Greater Manchester’s 419 service via Chadderton and Werneth. (Sorry, no evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday service but some superb electric hybrid Optare Solo minibuses though).
Mills Hill is the nearest railway station. Complete the rest of your journey by boarding the 58, 59 and 419 bus services into Middleton town centre.
The nearest tram station is Freehold. Change there for the 415 or 419 service and board your bus outside The Dog Inn stop.
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The best bargain of all will be First Greater Manchester’s FirstDay ticket. Priced £4.00, it covers most of the bus routes in and out of Middleton. If you wish to board more than operator’s buses, System One’s Any Bus DaySaver is your best bet at £5.00 (or £5.60 before 0930 hours on weekdays).
Any other additions, errors or comments?
As always, feel free to elaborate on the suggested shops or food and drink outlets. Is Tommy’s Chippy the best for miles? Are there any other public houses you wish to recommend? Feel free to comment away.
S.V., 12 December 2013.