A trip to a forgotten corner of East Manchester
A few miles east of central Manchester on the Ashton Old Road is Higher Openshaw. Prior to the 1970s, it was in the midst of an industrial powerhouse. Only a short distance away in neighbouring Gorton was the Beyer Peacock Locomotive Works. Just off Grey Mare Lane in Openshaw proper was Crossley’s engineering works. Few people would know that Higher Openshaw is the birthplace of Atora Suet, always great with beef stew and dumplings.
Atora Suet was originally made by Hugon, and its factory was on Ogden Lane, also the same street as Openshaw Market.
Back in the early 20th century, the area around Ashton Old Road was a hive of activity, running more or less parallel with the Woodhead line and a buoyant engineering industry. Its wealth was reflected by palatial terraced houses from Fairfield to Higher Openshaw, and similar housing stock on Old Lane. There was great buildings like the Alhambra Theatre and it was a bustling local centre with shops lining Ashton Old Road from Higher Openshaw up to Ardwick. Interrupted only by a few terraced houses and the railway lines from Ashburys to Park and Miles Platting.
By the 1980s, Manchester lost a lot of skilled jobs with unemployment doubling from May 1979 to October 1980. This, needless to say had an affect on its communities and local bus routes. However, some Openshavians, Beswickians and Ardwickians moved to the new overspill estates in Langley, Carrbrook, Hattersley and Haughton Green. Some would return to their familiar haunts, such as the Half Way House, the Domino Club, Locomotive, or the Prince of Wales.
Today, most of the post-industrial Openshaw and Higher Openshaw is symbolised by the newly refurbished Manchester College, a wider Grey Mare Lane, and the Lime Square retail development. All very good, all rather plastic, all a mere sticking plaster compared with long term job losses in the last 35 years. Parts of the old Higher Openshaw have gone, but if you look carefully, you could well be amazed.
This was what I found on my visit to what is probably Manchester’s forgotten market.
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There has been a market on Ogden Lane since the Victorian times, with its outdoor stalls behind the Half Way House public house. Its stalls stretched towards Vine Street prior to the opening of a supermarket on the corner of Vine Street and Ashton Old Road. This in the mid-1980s would be Higher Openshaw’s branch of Kwik Save. On the corner of Stanley Street, it is dominated by a red brick building which, prior to the early 1990s had more than one storey.
It is a world away from the farmers’ markets on Piccadilly Gardens, or the popular market halls in Bury and Ashton-under-Lyne. I first knew of its existence back in the mid-1980s when the Dukinfield and Stalybridge Reporter used to print a money-off coupon (20p), redeemable at Grey Mare Lane Market as well as Openshaw. Owing to changes in retail trends, including edge of town retail parks and the pulling power of Manchester city centre, it has suffered terribly. A recent leaflet stated it had at least 60 stalls. There was a few stalls on, mostly semi covered brick units and a handful of wooden stalls.
Most of the wooden stalls that were occupied sell secondhand goods, plus DVDs and CDs (a fair amount of which actually copies and freebie ones from The Mid-2000s Freebie CD Circulation Battle orchestrated by the mid-market newspapers). I was amazed to find a Commodore 64 1530 Datasette on one! One of the brick built stalls, Gilly’s, occupies a corner unit, next to Pat’s Card Stall, where I made a purchase. Towards the Ogden Lane main entrance is Tazo’s Bits and Bobs, a stall which sells a mishmash of items, often seen on flea markets. My hopes of finding an elusive film camera came to naught.
The brick built unit on the corner of Stanley Street and Ogden Lane is D & J Meats, a butchers established since 1993. On the odd occasions I used to go via Ogden Lane, on my way back from the Ewing School, it was a two storey building (and still a butchers). Entrance to the butchers as I found is via the market itself on market days, though I assume the corner entrance is used outside then.
On taking a few pictures, one of the traders approached me, and he was pretty friendly whilst blunt at the same time. After seeing some of my pictures and showing them to the other traders, they were impressed. I asked them if the market was ever busier than on my visit. They said they would be quite lucky to get somebody making a purchase, and hoped one or two would walk around to make the market seem busier. One trader was amazed to hear how I remembered seeing the discount coupons in the Reporter.
Sadly, there was no café within the market, so my chances of a bacon butty and a brew with further conversation was missed. Only recently, the market’s sole eatery was Harriet’s Café on the Stanley Street side of the market. Inside what is probably one of the bleakest markets I have ever visited was some pleasant and amenable people, probably more akin to the Old Manchester my father remembers from the late 1960s. Also present if you call in some of the more working class pubs in central Manchester like The Wheatsheaf behind Gullivers, the Hare and Hounds opposite Shudehill Interchange, or The Millstone on Thomas Street.
After bidding farewell to the traders, I went to see if the Salvation Army shop (formerly a branch of the NatWest bank) had any rare cameras. None available, so it was up to The Village Café for a jacket potato and similarly polite company. Real people, who also deserve better.
I was nearly going to go to the Lime Square development, but decided to leave that for another time when the second phase has been completed. Not least the fact I have had my fill of Morrisons stores and Big Mac meals in the last month or so. Plus I fancied a trip into Manchester city centre to catch up on the latest bus scene. And I would have missed a sublime Chicken Tikka jacket potato by opting for an alternative available near my doorstep.
Openshaw Market is open from 9am to 5pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The 7, 168, 169, 171, 172, 188 and 219 bus services stop nearby. Please note that the 220 and 221 service run outside of the market’s opening hours. Therefore, passengers from Stalybridge and Dukinfield will need to change for a 219 bus at Ashton-under-Lyne bus station. From Audenshaw (Old Pack Horse), catch a 347 to Guide Bridge and change for the 219 service there (or walk to Audenshaw Road towards the Hanging Gate Inn).
S.V., 07 June 2014.
Bus details updated on the 14 August 2016 owing to the 408 service’s withdrawal between Droylsden and Stalybridge on April 2015.