An Ashton Review of Shops Extra Not So Perfect Ten
Back when the creator of East of the M60 was born, this entrance seen above was between two iconic stores: Marks and Spencer, and Woolworths. It was also the last weekend before VAT almost doubled from 8% to 15%. Warrington Street wouldn’t be pedestrianised till 1985, and the market ground had three roundabouts. A gigantic yellow-bricked hulk was under construction.
From the mid-1960s through to the late-1970s, there was two projects that changed the face of Ashton-under-Lyne forever. Both of which had a great effect on Stamford Street, whom Lord Stamford had as Northern England’s answer to Oxford Street in London. One was the opening of Park Parade bypass in the early 1970s. Another was the opening of (what is known as today) the Ladysmith Shopping Centre. 2017 sees the shopping centre’s fiftieth birthday.
Before 1995, it was Ashton-under-Lyne’s only shopping precinct. Perhaps its second, once you add Clarence Arcade to the mix. At a pinch, three if you regard Market Avenue as another example.
The Ladysmith Shopping Centre was contemporary for any small to medium sized town shopping centre in 1967. By the early 1970s, a new generation of covered shopping precincts made Ashton’s design seemed tired. Middleton’s Arndale Centre, with air conditioning and covered arcades opened in 1971 and showed us the way forward. As did Stretford Arndale, which opened two years after Ashton’s precinct in 1969. Shortcomings aside, it was, and remains to this day, a popular precinct.
With the precinct in its fiftieth year, it has had a fair number of comings and goings. It has seen refurbishment, cladding, repainting, and the addition of free WiFi. This has inspired our latest Not So Perfect Ten, in no particular chronological order.
- Marks and Spencer;
- The Gold Medal;
- Spencers Bookshop;
- John’s Super Store;
- Koffee Pot;
- The Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter office;
- Poundworld Plus;
- Anytime Fitness.
1. Marks and Spencer
Well before the phrase Anchor Store was coined, you could say Marks and Spencer was a classic example. Emerging on the site of the former Reporter office, Marks and Spencer’s return to Ashton was well received. Till the 1920s, they had a stall in the indoor market opposite. Shoppers could enter the store from two levels. There was ground floor entrances on Warrington Street and on Mercian Way (within the precinct). The first floor entrance was accessed from a walkway by Timpson’s shoe shop.
In January 2013, M&S left Ashton-under-Lyne in favour of an edge of town unit in Ashton Moss. Though a short tram or bus ride from the centre, its departure is rued by many Ashtonians to this day. Some even saying it has had a great effect on the market’s footfall.
2. The Gold Medal
For many shoppers, The Gold Medal is usually the first place Ashtonians think of for fish and chips. It has been part of the shopping precinct for most of the precinct’s life. Its position in the town centre is well placed for taxi drivers and any pedestrian traffic from the library, Job Centre Plus, or the shops around Warrington Street.
3. Spencer’s Bookshop
It is sad that Ashton-under-Lyne no longer has an independent bookshop. With the exception of secondhand book stalls or section in charity shops, it is no place for bibliophiles. Till the late-1990s, the Ladysmith Shopping Centre had one in Spencer’s Bookshop. If you wanted any title in print, they would happily order it for you. Art materials and stationery items were sold on the first floor.
Shortly before the Ashton shop closed, Spencer’s had a branch on Grosvenor Street, Stalybridge. This occupied part of the former Co-op department store. A restaurant occupies their former unit.
There has been a Timpson shop in the Ladysmith Shopping Centre since its opening in 1967. That is the key cutting shop on Mercian Way. Before the early noughties, Timpson also had a fully fledged shoe shop on two floors. The children’s section was on the first floor, which had superb views of the Computer Base unit and the non-functioning lift. Timpson’s shoe shop moved to the precinct from Stamford Street.
As Timpson pulled out of the shoe retailing market to concentrate on key cutting, it became Shoe Zone. After they moved to concentrate on their premises on Warrington Street, it became the Pao Pao and Wright’s Café Central coffee shop. It is now Bake + Take. Wrights occupy one of the new enclosed stalls on Ashton open market. Both businesses are thriving on their respective premises.
5. John’s Super Store
Cast your mind back to 1983: the likes of Fat Larry’s Band and Bryan Adams played at the Metro cinema. Whilst Ashton Bus Station Mark II was under construction, there was a cluster of temporary stands on Old Street. With the recession biting, discount stores began to make their presence in Ashton. Occupying the former International Stores unit was John’s Super Store, one of a number of independently owned discount stores.
There was little to write home about in their own unit. Of note were their overzealous security guards. They would give any customer without a basket, or browser, a thousand-yard-stare for daring to look at Sure roll-on deodorants for longer than a minute. Yes, every bargain basement item was guarded as closely as any fancy watch at Harrington and Hallworth.
6. Koffee Pot
If there was one café that defined the life and soul of the precinct in its early years, it was this one. The Koffee Pot had two units in the precinct. The first (and favourite) of the two was above Fred Dawes, later Rumbelows. This had soft lighting with cigar shaped lamps in different coloured shades, Rexine benches, and a multicoloured strip curtain from the kitchen entrance to the tables. In the late 1980s, their toast went well with a brew – rivalling Chris’ Café.
Throughout its years in the precinct, the Full Monty Breakfast was its signature dish. Served with a milky tea, probably a good hangover tonic after a few in Yuppies. In 1998, they moved to the former Lancastrian Tandoori unit. The customers followed with a fresh look but it just didn’t seem like the Koffee Pot of 1967. On the 24 March 2007, it served its last Full Monty Breakfast. It is now part of the first floor of Costa Coffee.
On opening, the variety of retailers was more diverse. You could have bought a week’s groceries, rented a television, or put a downpayment on a washing machine, and get the 11A bus back home. Tesco on Staveleigh Way was the precinct’s main supermarket and, for the first ten years of the precinct’s life, a dependable source for Green Shield stamps. As was the norm of 1970s supermarkets, wines and spirits were sold from a separate counter. Cigarettes were sold in a kiosk.
In 1974, Tesco expanded within Ashton, opening its Home and Wear unit on Bow Street (today’s Iceland store since 1985). By 1985, the Staveleigh Way became Victor Value, a chain that Tesco purchased in the late 1960s. In 1989, it became Ashton’s second branch of Kwik Save. It is now Home Bargains which, from our observations, is one of the busiest units in the Ladysmith Shopping Centre.
8. The Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter Office
The history of Ladysmith Shopping Centre isn’t complete without the Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter’s humble abode. Their bigger offices were demolished with Marks and Spencer taking its place. Afterwards, they moved their Ashton office to a smaller unit on the corner of Old Street and Gas Street.
The Reporter Group of Newspapers used to have local offices within its circulation area. The North Cheshire Herald had one on the top end of Market Street in Hyde. The Glossop Chronicle had a unit on High Street West. At one time, Whitelands Mill was its main office and printing works. Thanks to new technology, this changed with the Reporter moving to offices on Acres Lane, Stalybridge. In 1998, after being sold to its management team (from previous owners United News and Media), the smaller offices closed. Ashton’s office is now The School Shop. Its undertaking is self explanatory, selling school uniforms for local schools.
9. Poundworld Plus
Since Marks and Spencer left for Ashton Moss, there had for most of 2013, been curiosity over its future occupants. Some had hoped it was a Primark or another department store chain. By Summer 2013, the news of its present occupants were met with disappointment. Then known as Bargain Buys, Poundworld Plus opened in December 2013. Its arrival and mutterings meant a new reality: Ashton-under-Lyne, it seemed, was the preserve of bargain shops.
The reality was that department stores had moved to out of town locations or stuck with city centre units. Rents on edge of town sites are often cheaper and this gives the retailer more flexibility. Not to mention increased spending power and the lure of free parking for drivers. This has happened in several towns of similar size to Ashton-under-Lyne. In 1969, Marks and Spencer’s unit would have been comfortable; as would Tesco’s on Staveleigh Way. Today’s Tesco in ’69 would be akin to today’s Tesco Express.
10. Anytime Fitness
Opening close to Ladysmith Shopping Centre’s fiftieth year of business, you would be wondering why Anytime Fitness has made our final entry. Its addition could herald the future direction of Ladysmith Shopping Centre: the greater use of retail units for non-retail use in central shopping centres. The company was formed in 2002 by Chuck Runyon, Dave Mortensen, and Jeff Klinger, in Woodbury, Minnesota. Like McDonalds and Subway, they use a franchising based business model.
Their first UK gym opened in 2012. Like Active Tameside’s iTrain facility in Dukinfield, their model is similar: that of a 24 hour gymnasium. Though with branded health drinks and foods enabling subscribers to buy into their ‘eco-system’. With the multi storey car park now closed, could the higher levels be used for office space? Serviced office space for business startups with separate entrances to permit opening outside shopping hours? This could complement existing offices on the Old Street end of the precinct.
- The outdoor stalls: before assuming its present shape, the Ladysmith Shopping Centre had two double storey courtyards, linked by stairs and a travelator. In the middle of each one were pagoda shaped outdoor stalls. One stall, nearest to Old Street, sold clothes.
- Woolworths: their Warrington Street store opened on April 1972, five years after the precinct’s opening. A late addition, and the second anchor store till their move to the Arcades in late October 1994.
- Granada TV Rentals: till the early noughties, television rental shops were the mainstay of most town centres. Granada Television had at least three units in the Ladysmith Shopping Centre, counting the Rediffusion shop from 1984 to 1986 on Mercian Way. The biggest one was on the Katherine Street end of the precinct, before they took over Visionhire and focused on that unit. As Box Clever, they left the TV rental business for good.
- NORWEB showrooms: shortly after the precinct’s opening, NORWEB’s Ashton-under-Lyne showroom moved from the market hall (previously the Fish Market). This enabled the creation of its food hall with a new entrance from inside the market hall.
- Greggs: throughout most of this fellow’s life, the precinct’s Greggs unit remains a popular haunt. The Jesmond-based bakery chain came to Greater Manchester in 1976, following their takeover of Price’s bakery in Clayton (presumably the previous occupants).
- Wimpy: before McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King stitched up the cost-conscious fast food market, Wimpy was quite a big player on our High Streets. Ashton’s branch was no exception, staying open till 1997. Shortly after, the precinct’s refurbishment work began.
Do you have any more suggestions? Do you agree with the ten we have suggested already? Feel free to comment.
S.V., 13 August 2017.