A wry look at the joys of East of the M60‘s other immediate locality
Before local government reorganisation in 1974, Oldham was large enough to warrant its own County Borough. On the 01 April 1974, this was superseded by Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, taking in part of the West Riding of Yorkshire and a few Urban District Councils. This included municipalities in Royton, Chadderton and Failsworth.
With its government-sanctioned expansion, they toyed with the idea of calling the borough Newham. A new version of Oldham, though a tad confusing for Londoners (there is a London Borough of Newham). Thankfully that idea was put to bed, but Oldham’s future was assured for the foreseeable future in the apple green paint of its council house doors, and the yellow of its signage.
I could claim to be a honorary Oldhamer through accident of birth; my mother hails from there. I still have friends and family within the borough’s boundaries. More when you add Saddleworth to the mix.
That’s me done for now. Enjoy the ride.
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You Know You’ve Spent Too Long in Oldham If…
- Your holiday started at Mumps Bridge: long demolished and replaced by a car park, the Yelloway Coach Station was a starting point for many holidays and excursions. At one time, you could have caught direct buses and coaches to Bradford, Leeds and (summer only) Scarborough. Oldham Central Bus Station lacks that dinginess which made you more ready for the trip ahead.
- The Grotto means a collection of bus stands: behind the former NatWest Bank off Wallshaw Street, The Grotto was a collection of bus stands for eastbound journeys on the 10, 16, and its successors. Today, after being reduced to a single shelter, it is no longer in use, thanks to upgraded tram/bus interchange facilities on the site of B&Q Supercentre.
- You prefer Lever’s or Mr Chippy to McDonalds: Oldham may have a popular McDonalds on High Street but Lever’s or Mr Chippy on Tommyfield Market remains a place of pilgrimage for nutritionally incorrect potato-based comfort food.
- Broadway conjures up images of a club in Failsworth: forget the arterial road, New York, or Genesis’ seminal 1974 double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, it is the club on Oldham Road that has a place in your heart. The Failsworth club used to play host to the likes of Tommy Cooper and other great cabaret acts. It was part of the First House chain owned by Dougie Flood (who also gave us the Quaffers and Bredbury Hall venues).
- You knew someone who worked in a cotton mill, or a former cotton mill: I know this is a lazy addition but, if you have lived in Oldham for quite a while, that is highly likely. Cairo Mill also meant Ferranti’s works in Waterhead. Bell, Raven, Earl, and Hartford mills also meant mail order catalogues as well as cotton.
- You rate Whit Friday in your holiday pecking order as highly as Christmas and Easter: this is true among many readers in Tameside as well as Oldham (and Saddleworth in particular). The Greatest Free Show on Earth, if you live in Saddleworth is a joyous occasion for the spectator. For brass banders, quite a slog. Especially if you’re doing the Whit Walks in Saddleworth then a few Whit Friday contests.
- OB means Oldham Brewery instead of Outside Broadcast: could this be why Granada Television referred to its outside broadcasting unit as the Travelling Eye? We think not, though we wish this was the reason. For many Oldhamers, the joys of the Coldhurst Brewery’s finest tipples were seen in many pubs and clubs from Summit to Hathershaw, and Failsworth to Denshaw.
- The greatest day of your life was Oldham Athletic lifting the Second Division title in 1991: 11 May 1991 was one of the greatest days in Latics history. After being 2-0 down at half time against Sheffield Wednesday, Joe Royle’s team defied the odds by beating the Owls 3-2. Their prize was promotion to the top flight (the old Football League First Division). We hope Paul Scholes could work wonders in getting the Latics out of today’s League Two – in an upward trajectory of course.
- The words “All you see” has you saying “50p”. Who remembers the 50p stall on Tommyfield Market in the mid to late 1980s? The 50p Stall was always placed near the roundabouts on the open market ground. Shoppers literally stood around the store trying to find bargains in cardboard boxes. There was also a 50p shop on Henshaw Street but it was nothing on the baritone voice of the stall holder who shouted “Don’t be shy/All you see 50p…”
- You had your ears pierced in King’s Hall: throughout the 1980s, having your ears pierced with the staple at King’s Hall was either a right of passage or an act of rebellion. The ear piercing stall was at the back of the ground floor stairs. In the modern-day King’s Hall, the King’s Treats milk shake shop occupies a similar position, as a separate unit which permits opening after 5pm.
- The 409 is ‘The 9 Bus’: we said that before in our sister article You Know You’ve Spent Too Long in Tameside If…, but it is true among many Oldhamers of bus pass wielding age. The popular bus service was known as the ‘9 bus prior to SELNEC’s renumbering in 1973 – 74 as a service within the 400 series. It was jointly operated by Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham and Rochdale Corporations till the 01 November 1969. Today, at this time of writing, it is one of First Greater Manchester’s trunk routes.
- Ski Counthill inspired your inner Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards: did you know that Oldham had its own artificial ski slope? From 1971 to 1994 or thereabouts, Counthill School’s artificial slope, known as Ski Counthill, was a Sholver bus ride away to Moorside.
- A trip to Uppermill included a brew in Alexandra Craft Centre: before its conversion to flats, Alexandra Mill’s craft centre had a selection of crafty type shops, a sweet shop, and a fantastic secondhand bookshop. The annexe opposite sold more fancy goods with a personalised gifts shop on the first floor (Namedroppers). The piece de resistance was its café in the centre of the annexe which did great drinking chocolate and currant teacakes.
- Alexandra Park on carnival day was like Disneyland: in the middle of July, Oldham Carnival used to attract crowds from far and wide. During its 1970s pomp, celebrities were seen on carnival floats alongside the usual May Queens and company floats. For some, the most exciting part was the fair at Alexandra Park.
- You remember dancing in Hill Stores: the ballroom at Greenacres’ Huddersfield Road Co-op department store (the ‘Hill Stores’) was a with-it dancing venue. Sadly, this part of the former Co-op store is neglected.
- Going to Oldham means ‘going up town’: that, my friends, is non-negotiable. I refer to a visit to Oldham as “going up town” (thanks Mum) to distinguish it from Ashton, Shaw, Royton, Rochdale or Stalybridge. Or Manchester (which is plain old “Town”). If you are travelling from Werneth, Hathershaw, Abbey Hills Estate or Chadderton, you are literally going up hill to Oldham, hence ‘up town’. If you live in Grains Bar or Denshaw it is physically ‘down town’ though you may still refer to Oldham as ‘going up town’.
- Candlelight was a club, as well as a means of illumination during the three-day week: just off Oldham Central bus station, it is still there. In its heyday, Ken Naylor’s club attracted the likes of Bob Monkhouse.
- You claimed to have thrown a meat pie at a passing greyhound: before 1997, Watersheddings was home to Oldham RLFC and its neighbouring greyhound stadium. It has been claimed that meat pies were thrown on the track to nobble the greyhounds. If anyone can confirm this, please tell us.
- You remember St Peter’s Shopping Precinct for reasons other than being a brave new world in retail provision: how could we not forget St. Peter’s Shopping Precinct? Its layout was great for skateboarders but its wind tunnel subways and steps made it inferior to the air-conditioned Arndale centres in Middleton, Stretford and Bolton. In November 1981, its covered neighbour, Town Square Shopping Centre showed us the way with decent shops and a big roof suspended digital clock between Boots, Peter Lord, Burton, and DER. The rest, as they say…
- You remember when yellow and apple green were Oldham MBC’s colours of choice: if you were an Oldham child of the 1980s, you may have associated apple green with council house doors. One of the fibre glass animals on the Tommyfield Market was decked in OMBC’s shade of green. Back then, its vans were decked in yellow with the ‘Oldham’ in Helvetica Bold. The logo comprised of square brick outlines, roughly reflecting the shape of the Oldham MBC boundaries.
Any More Honourable Mentions?
Could you add to the list? Do you remember riding in the fibre glass mouse on the roundabout at Tommyfield Market? Feel free to comment.
S.V., 15 February 2019.