Could You Spend a Week in Oldham?

Does Oldham and surrounding area have enough attractions for a week’s holiday?

This week, Northwest Tonight and its predecessor Look North West have celebrated its fiftieth birthday. Via social media channels, the BBC Archive has scoured the library for weird and wonderful regional clips.

There was one clip that stood out: a clip that featured Saddleworth’s very own John Stapleton from 1976. In a specially filmed insert for Nationwide he looked at how the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham chose to publicise its town. Tourism they thought was the answer.

Here’s how John Stapleton looked at Oldham MBC’s plans to turn Oldham into a holiday resort.

The cost for promoting Oldham was a staggering (for 1976), £14,000. Which included spin-off key rings, beer mats, and car stickers. All in the once ubiquitous apple green of late-1970s to early-1980s Oldham.

Though a tourism drive for Oldham was the source of ridicule in 1976, a similar campaign in 2018 may be better received. The last 42 years have seen the opening of an iconic library and art gallery. Trams operate every six to twelve minutes on what was the Rochdale/Oldham Loop Line. Saddleworth is recognised for its nightlife as well as picturesque scenery. Plus you no longer need a brolly to visit its main shopping centre.

Costa Del Mumps, Anyone…?

With the republishing of BBC’s clip, East of the M60 looks at whether (a) it was possible in 1976, or (b) possible in 2018 to spend a week in Oldham. Instead of Tenerife, what about Tandle Hill? Does Scouthead instead of Scarborough float your boat? Would you choose Coldhurst over the Canary Islands? You might be surprised.

In this piece we look at which attractions may have enticed 1976 holidaymakers alongside today’s attractions. So for a while, let’s forget about Blackpool, Bournemouth, Bermuda, or the Maldives. Mine’s a mild at The Ashton Arms, and we best not be late for the chara.

Climate

For many holidaymakers, the difference between carrying sunscreen or a big coat is a deal breaker. One thing for sure is Oldham has never been known for its Mediterranean climate. It is a place which was referred to as “Ice Station Zebra” by former Latics manager Joe Royle.

1976

1976 could have been a good year for Oldham-bound holidaymakers. Though St. Peter’s Precinct would still have been windy, many people remember that year for its summer. A red hot summer which ran for three months, leading to droughts and stand pipes in our streets. The hottest summer of the 20th century was brought to an end by heavy rainfall. For once, St. Peter’s Precinct may have been bearable.

2018

From what we have seen so far, The Beast From The East has given Oldham a neo-Siberian climate. This winter has seen Saddleworth at its most picturesque due to snow. How we wish Ski Counthill was still open!

The great outdoors

With the exception of Westhulme Park, all of Oldham’s parks and gardens from 1976 are still open. Due to spending cuts and changing trends, some facilities have changed or have been discontinued.

1976

In the Summer of 1976, the closest thing that Oldham had to a beach was Werneth Park paddling pool. Back then you could still see a concert in the hall off Frederick Street. Alexandra Park was also known for the Oldham Summer Show as well as the carnival side shows.

Since 1967, it has been possible to venture into Saddleworth via The Pennine Way. Walkers can deviate from the long distance footpath towards Greenfield (the Isle of Skye Road), Diggle (Manchester Road), and Denshaw (Ripponden Road).

For ramblers, the ‘must visit shop’ in Oldham was Paul Braithwaite Outdoor Sports on Rhodes Bank. Opening in 1975, the mountaineer’s shop had one unique selling point: he had climbed Mount Everest. On Henshaw Street there was also the Famous Army Stores.

2018

42 years on, you can no longer see concerts at Werneth Park. As in 1976, Alexandra Park is the borough’s main park. It is also a popular haunt for boating and, enhanced by recent restoration projects, joggers and walkers.

Between the two years we have looked at, we have seen the rise in popularity of linear parks like Daisy Nook Country Park. We have also seen restoration work at Tandle Hill Park and greater awareness of green spaces in and around the borough.

Today’s ramblers no longer have the joy of Paul Braithwaite’s shop. Trespass in the Spindles Shopping Centre is its modern day equivalent. The Famous Army Stores forms part of Gamestation.

Sport

In sport, Oldham has always been noted for football and rugby league teams. For participants instead of spectators, it does pretty well today.

1976

During the winter months, spectators had the joy of seeing Oldham Rugby League Football Club at Watersheddings, or Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park. At the former venue in 1976 there was also a greyhound racing track.

Back then, Oldham Athletic consolidated themselves as a Second Division club under Jimmy Frizzell. Further down Broadway, Chadderton were a Manchester League side. ’76 holidaymakers could have seen the Latics in comfort in a private box behind the main stand terrace. They could have sat in the stand or the then new Ford Stand opposite. As for terracing, the Rochdale Road and Chaddy ends.

Recent developments for more sporty types included a new sports centre opposite Tommyfield Market. A dry ski slope known as Ski Counthill opened at the back of Counthill School in 1974. Other facilities included the Victorian splendour of Hathershaw Baths, Crompton Baths, and the Art Deco pool in Chadderton. Glodwick also had a modern pool on Nugget Street.

2018

42 years on, today’s holidaymakers are treated to a new sports centre in Oldham. This time on the corner of Manchester Street and King Street. Chadderton has seen the transfer of its pool to a new facility which is closer to the main shopping centre.

Though The Beast From The East could have given you that joy in Saddleworth, there’s no way you can ski in Oldham no more. Ski Counthill closed in the late 1990s, which also saw the sale of Watersheddings to Roland Bardsley Builders Ltd. Houses stand on the site of both the dog track and the rugby ground. Today’s rugby league loving holidaymakers will have good reason to be disappointed with Oldham Roughyeds’ more basic venue.

As for Boundary Park, all seated and covered on four sides these days. The club which has lurched from calamity to calamity in the last two decades has held its own in what is Skybet League One. Which in old money is Football League Division Three.

Nightlife

Like many Lancastrian towns, Oldham has suffered a lot from pub closures. Some, such as The Regent, have stood in the way of urban development. Others due to changing trends and other counter attractions.

1976

If you frequent the Oldham Past and Present Facebook page, you may have come across each poster’s reminiscences of Oldham pubs. Plus the town’s iconic nightclubs. On Union Street alone, Baileys and The Cat’s Whiskers were a must with cabaret acts and disco. There was also Cooperative Halls in Hollinwood and Greenacres (the Hill Stores off Ripponden Road).

Before the internet there was only one thing you needed prior to planning your night out in Oldham. A Thursday or Friday edition of the Oldham Evening Chronicle. The newspaper’s classified section was noted for the comprehensive listing of the borough’s live acts. From Summit to Daisy Nook, and Broadway to the Great Western Hotel it covered several pubs, night clubs, and restaurants. Knowing Red Cars’ telephone number was another plus.

2018

The Lionel Bart song Things Ain’t What They Used To Be springs to mind. With recent events, potential holidaymakers might pass on the option of calling into Liquid/Envy. For a quiet pint of real ale, holidaymakers shouldn’t miss The Ashton Arms. Whittles is a must for lovers of heavy rock music. If cheap and cheerful appeals to you, The Up Steps Inn (yes, it’s a Wetherspoons) may be a good shout. As for unique pubs with character, The Royal Oak on Mumps Bridge is unmissable.

Lately it seems that Saddleworth has eaten into Oldham town centre’s nightlife. On a Friday or Saturday night, Uppermill is a different beast to the vibrant and affable village we see on a wet Wednesday. It is brazen with an atmosphere the equal of small to medium sized towns. Its pubs on High Street are standing room only by 9pm. Java, the coffee shop adjacent to The Hare and Hounds maintains steady custom well into the evenings.

Culture

From William Walton to The Gramotones, the borough of Oldham is a creative one. It is noted for its prowess in music, theatre, and fine art. This is not only represented by The Lyceum and Gallery Oldham. Its brass bands form an important part in the locality’s cultural offerings.

1976

In 1976, Oldham’s main theatre was the Oldham Coliseum. There was also the Lyceum (Union Street/Clegg Street). Cinemagoers had a choice of either the single screen ABC or the triple screen ODEON. Both of which on Union Street and yards apart. If neither the ABC nor the ODEON had anything to offer, a 98 or 180 to Hollinwood for the Roxy was another option.

Back in 1976 the Whit Friday Brass Band Contests were years away from their post-Brassed Off rise in popularity. Slowly but surely, bands returned to the traditional contests before 1995 thanks to motorways.

The borough’s central library was situated in a stone building. Upstairs was the art gallery whereas a basement floor once held a lecture theatre. The ground floor (a misnomer as it was accessed by stairs) was the lending library.

2018

42 years on we find the Oldham Coliseum in rude health. In addition to recent refurbishment works, it is set to move to a new ‘glass box’ next to the library. With Gallery Oldham and the library below, its public library has become the envy of many town centres of a similar size to Oldham.

After a 30-year gap without a full time cinema, the ODEON’s return to Oldham makes the town centre a more attractive place for filmgoers. In a move that would have seemed improbable in 1976, it is situated inside the old town hall. If you use the bus or tram it is more convenient than the out of town cinemas (yours truly prefers the ODEON to Cineworld Ashton for those reasons).

This year should see another popular Whit Friday. In the Saddleworth area alone, the villages’ Whit Friday Brass Band Contests have gone from strength to strength. As victims of their own success, some brass bands have opted for similar contests in the Tameside area. This due to traffic and trying to register before each contest’s curfew times.

Food and drink

You will never go hungry in Oldham. No, seriously.

1976

In the BBC clip, traditional Lancashire grub seemed to have been the order of the day. Towards the end we see a piece of honeycomb tripe. If you wanted fish and chips, Butterworth’s on Union Street was a popular spot. Fast food meant the Wimpy Bar next to Barclays Bank (McDonalds had yet to open in the former Yates’ Wine Lodge).

By 1976, Chinese takeaways were a familiar feature of most streets. Oldham, of course, was no exception. Egg and chips meant cafés like Diana’s Coffee House surrounding Tommyfield Market.

Back in 1976, Oldham still had its own brewery: Oldham Brewery in Coldhurst. They had a few pubs in and around the town centre with The Waterloo Tavern in Ashton-under-Lyne a southern outpost. They were later taken over by Boddington’s Brewery whom in turn was purchased by Whitbread plc.

2018

You could say that over the 42 years we’ve covered, Oldham’s food offerings have increased substantially. In addition to franchised coffee outlets and traditional cafés (The Gallery Grill for instance), you can have anything from a meat pie to a meat feast pizza. If you like fried chicken or Indian food, sensory overload on Union Street. Below the ODEON you also have Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Nandos.

As well as adding variety for the diner, it is a reflection of how our economy has changed. Besides the eatery chains, Oldham has a good number of independently owned eateries. Not only inside Tommyfield Market, also places like The Old Bill (inside a former police station).

Once you leave Oldham town centre, the variety is greater still. Especially in Shaw, Royton, and the Saddleworth villages. Uppermill has Java (a great coffee shop) plus independently owned cafés like Wilberrys.

Compared with 1976, the choice of real ales is more immense. Oldham’s pubs were mainly owned by Grand Metropolitan (Wilsons), Oldham Brewery, Robinson’s Brewery, and JW Lees. In Saddleworth, Bass Yorkshire was a main player. Today, The Albion pub in Uppermill alone has countless beers in cask, keg, and bottle forms – many of which unheard of in ’76. Then there’s microbreweries in Saddleworth: The Church Inn brewery (Uppermill), Greenfield Brewery, and Donkeystone Brewery (Greenfield). As well as the venerable John Willie Lees ales.

Shopping

Like many town centres, Oldham has seen a dramatic change in its retail offerings. Many of which due to the rise of out-of-town shopping and the internet.

1976

Two years earlier, Oldham was reeling from the loss of its Victorian market hall. The much-loved building was as intertwined with the town as much as the industry which gave Oldham its wealth. Seen in the clip (well, only just) is the temporary market hall, decked in the OMBC shade of apple green. The open market stalls, weather beaten, had a certain charm that is missed in today’s market grounds.

Besides Tommyfield Market, there was outdoor markets in Chadderton, Shaw, Royton, Hollinwood, and Uppermill. You also had department stores in the form of Hardcastles (High Street), Littlewoods, C&A, and the Co-op’s department stores on King Street.

Back in ’76 it was possible to put a downpayment on your colour television on the same trip as your food shopping. You could have caught a 421 home with a coat from C&A and a bag of honeycomb tripe. You could have nipped to Tesco on St. Peter’s Precinct after buying your TV Licence stamps in the nearby Post Office.

Though Going Up Town in 1976 meant a wider range of shops than at present, St. Peter’s Precinct wasn’t the success it aimed to be. Firstly, the open air precinct wasn’t suited to the Oldham weather (it wasn’t called Windy City for nothing). Secondly, it was never full in its short lifetime.

2018

Today’s shoppers no longer have the joys of gusty winds and skateboard friendly approaches. Both the Spindles and Town Square shopping centres cosset their customers under cover. With air conditioning, heating, and natural light.

Despite the creature comforts, Oldham’s retail offerings are less diverse than those enjoyed by shoppers in 1976. Tommyfield Market still has a good number of indoor stalls. Today, many of its open stalls straddle Curzon Street and Albion Street, making for a vibrant street scene. As for electrical retailers, many of which have moved out of town.

For holidaymakers looking for a cheap and cheerful walk-around shop, Poundland and B&M might fit the bill. As for cheapo clobber, Primark, Pep and Co., and TJ Hughes. Primark occupies the former Littlewoods unit. C&A’s unit is occupied by Home Bargains, which expands the Cheap and Cheerful Walk Around Shop option.

Besides Tommyfield Market, there are outdoor markets in Chadderton, Shaw, Royton, and Uppermill. All of which have moved from their previous sites – Shaw’s market holds court on Market Street. Hollinwood’s open market ground has been consumed by the M60 motorway.

Once you enter Lees from the west, the borough’s independent shops come to the fore. This is most marked in Saddleworth.

Transport

Over the 42-year period, getting to Oldham and its surrounding area has changed dramatically.

1976

Driving into Oldham meant the newly opened M62 and a boost for Oldham Way. The town’s main bus station was Mumps Bridge. This was augmented by on-street stands on George Street, High Street, Yorkshire Street, and King Street. For express coach services, the Yelloway Coach Station was close to the Mumps Bridge stands. Since the closure of Clegg Street Bus Station, National Bus Company routes moved to the Yelloway terminus.

By train, Oldham Mumps was the main railway station. Trains to Rochdale or Manchester Victoria ran every half hour. The line was also shared with parcels traffic due to a parcel concentration depot which closed in 1981.

2018

Today’s holidaymakers/travellers have Metrolink trams every six to twelve minutes between Oldham and Manchester. Though a marked improvement on BR’s frequencies, some passengers yearn for the previous service which had an ‘express’ option.

National Express coaches use the bus station by Oldham Civic Centre. The little bus station on Mumps Bridge lives on a bus/tram interchange. Yelloway, after the original company’s demise in 1988, has been reborn by Courtesy Coaches. As for the local bus scene, mainly First Greater Manchester instead of Greater Manchester Transport.

Today’s drivers using the M62 no longer have the joy of 70 mph speeds (enjoyed by those on the A627(M)). Besides increased traffic volumes, the speed restrictions have been set to 50 mph for over five years.

Accommodation

Due to the service industry’s ascent, potential tourists have more choice than ever for hotel and self catering options.

1976

The last word in luxury for potential holidaymakers was the Belgrade Hotel. Opening in 1972 it afforded its residents good views of Oldham Way bypass and (on a clear day) Manchester city centre. Just out of town, off the Tameside/Oldham boundary, Smokies continued its ascent from nightclub to swanky hotel.

2018

Today’s holidaymaker has a wider choice of hotels to choose from. 42 years on, we not only see Smokies on the list. Saddleworth has a number of hotels in picturesque settings including traditional inns. One example is The Saddleworth Hotel, at the higher end of the price scale.

If the hotel option is too expensive or prosaic for your tastes, The Moorlands in Denshaw is a caravan park with glamping options. Another option is the Well’i’hole Farm Caravan Site in Friezland.

Could I spend a week in Oldham?

If you wish to spend a week in Oldham, you need to explore the borough in full to get the best out of your break. In less than half an hour you could be in Saddleworth or Manchester – by bus or car. Away from the centre of Oldham there are some gorgeous places – some in unlikely settings. Besides Saddleworth, Tandle Hill Country Park, High Crompton, and Foxdenton Hall and Park are lovely places for a walk.

Whether you fancy taking in a film or a brass band concert, there’s something for everyone. A typical self-drive itinerary could be as follows (based on arriving in Oldham on the 24 March 2018):

  • Saturday afternoon: arrive at your chosen hotel, campsite, or caravan site;
  • Saturday evening: go to Uppermill Civic Hall to see Mass Brass II;
  • Sunday morning: drive to Dovestones Reservoir for a walk and enjoy a picnic;
  • Sunday afternoon: go shopping in Uppermill, enjoy a coffee from Java, then drive to The Kingfisher (Greenfield) or The White Lion (Delph) for Sunday Lunch;
  • Sunday evening: see Middleton Band at the Boarshurst Band Club;
  • Monday morning and afternoon: drive to Tandle Hill Country Park and take in the views, have a picnic or call in the café;
  • Monday evening: rest;
  • Tuesday morning: go antiques hunting in Failsworth;
  • Tuesday afternoon: leisurely drive through Daisy Nook via Hollinwood, Crime Lake, Waterloo, and Park Bridge. Then a trip to Hartshead Pike;
  • Tuesday evening: go to the ODEON cinema on Parliament Square/Yorkshire Street, Oldham;
  • Wednesday morning: go swimming in the new Oldham Leisure Centre;
  • Wednesday afternoon: short drive to Chadderton Hall Park and Foxdenton Hall;
  • Wednesday evening: see Whisky Galore at the Oldham Coliseum theatre;
  • Thursday morning: visit Royton and Shaw open markets;
  • Thursday afternoon: have lunch in Shaw then visit High Crompton Park and drive from there via Grains Bar to Delph.
  • Thursday evening: dinner at The White Lion, then drive to Boarshurst Band Club for the Road End Fair concert (featuring the Saddleworth Morris Men and Greenfield Band);
  • Friday morning: leisurely drive around Saddleworth, via Grains Bar, Denshaw, Delph, Diggle, and Uppermill;
  • Friday afternoon: lunch at The Church Inn and/or The Cross Keys, Uppermill. As this Friday is Good Friday you might bump into the Saddleworth Morris Men;
  • Friday evening: Oldham pub crawl: our suggested pubs are The Royal Oak, The Ashton Arms, and Whittles. Oh, and The Up Steps Inn if you must. Saving Village Cars’ number to your mobile phone could be handy;
  • Saturday morning: leave your hotel, campsite or caravan site – you may be more enlightened by the joys of Oldham in springtime.

Sounds good? More to the point, it is possible to spend a week in Oldham Council boundaries. Who’s up for the challenge? It has to lot to offer in 2018 as a potential holiday hot spot.

S.V., 28 March 2018.

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