A Vision of Post-War Chadderton, 1946 Style

Did you know that plans were made to shift Chadderton town centre to Broadway?

Answer me this question: where do you think the real centre of Chadderton is or was? Near Chadderton Hall Park? Foxdenton Hall and Gardens? Off Middleton Road? Broadway, even?

Chadderton itself has a polycentric nature. Its town centre is off Middleton Road, where ASDA, Home Bargains and Greggs are situated. It is dominated by the empty yet charming Art Deco style former swimming baths and its red brick town hall. The town hall is used as a registrar office for Oldham Council, and a reminder of the town’s civic pride when it had its own Urban District Council.

As well as its centre, the town’s main districts are Coalshaw Green (which backs onto Werneth and Hollinwood), Butler Green, Nimble Nook, and Foxdenton. To its west, it is framed by the Rochdale Canal and the Calder Valley line via Middleton Junction. To the east, it is bounded by Werneth and Freehold.

On the 28 February 1925, a new arterial road opened on the western side of the town. Known as Broadway, it would eventually be the main A road between the M60 and A627 (M) motorways. There were plans to link it up with another ring road via Newton Heath, Clayton and Gorton. Part of these plans include two sections of the Eastern Bypass, off the northern and southern sides of Ashton New Road.

Some of this post-war optimism can be seen in Manchester Corporation’s City of Manchester Plan. As we have mentioned before on East of the M60, there was no shortage of ideas to revolutionise our town centres. Oldham could have seen the movement of Tommyfield Market to a new site on Mumps Bridge. The Town Hall would have moved to the site of Tommyfield Market.

In 1946, Chadderton was no exception to this rule. A contemporary account from the Oldham Evening Chronicle showed us how Chadderton town centre could have moved from Middleton Road to Broadway.

“Thirty, forty, or even fifty years before it could be fully developed.”

How Chadderton could have looked in 1956. Or 1976.

Chadderton Urban District Council’s plans would have seen the loss of many cotton mills and terraced housing. Denton Lane would have been rerouted with the demolition of terraced houses making way for public buildings. On the northern side, there would have been a Technical School, right opposite what was then the existing Grammar School. North of the Technical School would have been playing fields, up to the Werneth Incline route from Oldham Werneth to Middleton Junction stations.

As we head towards Fields New Road, terraced housing would have been demolished to make way for a Police Station and a Market Hall with open market ground. Further up to our right, there would have been a new boulevard. On one side would have been the main shopping centre, leading to a boomerang shaped town square. On the other side of the boulevard, public gardens and a theatre.

Fields New Road would have been covered by the southern part of the boulevard, which would have led to a remodelled Eaves Lane. Again, this would have been lined by shops on one side, opposite public gardens and a cinema. The remodelled Eaves Lane would have seen the street straightened, with the new road finishing at a roundabout. That would have served the southern section of a spine road leading to the town square, Block Lane, Coalshaw Green Road and Stanley Road.

The new look Chadderton would have meant the demolition of Mona, Ramsey, Nile, Raven, Gem, and Chadderton mills. Houses would have been built on the eastern side of Fields New Road. The shopping arcade and town square (well, focal piazza in 21st century language) would have been on the site of Nile, Gem, and Raven mills. Its covered arcade would take in Cotswold Avenue.

Road and rail transport

According to the article in the Oldham Evening Chronicle, it stated that “Broadway is likely in the future to become one of the main traffic links between Lancashire and Yorkshire.” The article foresaw the arrival of the Trans-Pennine Motorway, which we know as today’s M62 between Merseyside and East Yorkshire.

Today, getting from one end of Chadderton to another by public transport can be a bit iffy. From Whitegate Lane to Burnley Lane, you still have the 182 route, though its effectiveness has been stymied by recent service cuts. From Whitegate Lane to Werneth, you have the 81. Yet from Coalshaw Green or Butler Green to Middleton Road, you might need to change buses, or walk for a greater part of the journey. Just to get to ASDA.

A close up of the semi-circular bus station. The lay-by opposite could have been used by drivers laying over. Separate buildings would have been made available for drivers and passengers (presumably with toilets beside the end of the arcade’s pedestrianised way).

Had the centre moved closer to Broadway, some of these problems could have been eased with the addition of a bus station. The 1946 plan showed a semi-circular bus station, presumably off what is now Raven Avenue. The routes of that era (and some of today’s routes had the plan come to fruition) would have seen improved interchange facilities with long distance routes. Using our present-day routes, passengers could have changed from a 415 to a National Express coach for Leeds.

As this would have benefited today’s 415 and 419 routes, Chadderton passengers would have been less reliant on the 59 for journeys to Middleton. Chances are that both the 415 and 419 routes could have had better frequencies if the 1946 plan went ahead.

Whereas Chadderton is served by two Metrolink stations (South Chadderton and Freehold respectively), the 1946 plan suggested a new railway station for Chadderton. Back then, the Oldham – Rochdale Loop Line was a mixed traffic line with passengers and parcels its mainstay. Had the plans been acted upon, this could have been a good move in 1956, when the arrival of Diesel Multiple Units boosted passenger numbers. On the other hand, the suggested site could have been useful for passengers boarding from Freehold.

Culture and recreation

Chadderton’s leisure offerings could have been boosted with the inclusion of a new theatre at the Cowhill end of the centre. This would have been perfectly placed for The Dog Inn or Freehold tram stop. At the opposite end of the town centre, closer to Nimble Nook, there would have been an Assembly Hall and a Public Library off Whitegate Lane.

The public baths would have occupied a site between Raven Avenue and Eaves Lane – close to where the present-day clinic and pharmacy is situated. It would have been near the bus station and the shopping centre, making for a five minute walk for rail passengers or a short amble away from the 24’s bus stand.

The Butler Green end of Chadderton could have been home to a new cinema. This could have been met with the ire of owners of the Gem Cinema on Suffolk Street, Werneth. If the cinema came to fruition, its could well have seen out the 1960s to 1980s as a bingo hall before demolition, with a branch of ALDI or LIDL, or a Co-op in its place.

Local government, health and law

The centrepiece of 1946’s plans would have been an imposing town hall. This would have been seen by many passing lorries, motor cars, and pedestrians. As the plans suggested at the time, this would have been of semi-circular construction, complementing the bus station opposite. This could assume a design of neo-classical nature, as seen with Le Mans Crescent in Bolton.

Opposite the town hall’s northern wing would have been the police station. Its likely site would have been between Pennine Avenue and Marfield Avenue, both off Denton Lane.

Southwards, along Eaves Lane would have been the health centre. In Chadderton, today’s main health centre is off Middleton Road next to the shopping centre. The proposed site is close to the current site of Butler Green Pharmacy and a housing development on the site of Gem mill.

Retail and commercial space

The industrial heart of Chadderton is Broadgate. Its business park is ideal for the M60 motorway and is close to the site of the former power station. Much of the town’s industrial sites have their roots in the cotton industry – particularly off Middleton Road near Stockfield mill and the Kent and Manor mills.

It is safe to say this may have been true with the 1946 plan. The most marked difference would have been the demolition of cotton mills on Fields New Road. What is now the main district shopping centre in Butler Green was allocated for banks, building societies and other financial services. Maybe solicitors’ and accountants’ offices, estate agencies and insurance companies. These would have formed a strip along Eaves Lane, with the steady flow of units interrupted by the Post Office, which would face Fields New Road.

Fields New Road could have been Chadderton’s answer to Lord Street in Southport. A shopping street with good shops, a tree lined boulevard with pleasant gardens, and a straight walk to the railway station. The covered arcade would have provided rainproof access to the bus station.

The Market Hall and Open Market would have offered more fresh food choice for Chaddertonians. It was proposed that the market hall would face Denton Lane with stalls backing onto the service area of the shopping precinct.

Off Broadway, close to the junction adjacent to the planned town hall could have been a motel. Quaintly known as a Motor House in the 1946 diagram, it is to all intents a precursor to today’s Travelodges, Holiday Inns and Premier Inns. Whether there was scope for a neighbouring petrol station remains to be seen. Interestingly, on part of its suggested site is a BP filling station. In later years, a fast food chain may have opened a branch – one that ironically could be close to today’s drive-thru McDonalds.

In the main centre (as per the 1946 plans), it was proposed that Ramsey Street would have been flanked by two hotels facing the town square.

Architecturally speaking

If Chadderton’s 1946 plans went ahead, what would its new-look town centre looked like?

Firstly, the old (and present-day) town centre could have been relegated to District Centre status. Possibly named North Chadderton, Millbrow or Stockfield. Coalshaw Green would retain a district centre whereas Whitegate could have been consumed by the main town. Likewise with Nimble Nook and Cowhill. The main town centre would take in most of Butler Green.

As for architecture (given the age of the plans), its public buildings could have been designed by G. Noel Hill. The Scottish architect, besides being paid by Manchester Corporation, also worked for Lancashire County Council. A lot of his works were seen in the North West of England, with the Jackson Row Synagogue and Northenden Bus Depot being notable examples.

Its covered arcade and shopping centre, and shops on Eaves Lane could have been similar to Crawley’s pioneering pedestrian precinct. The bus station at the foot of the precinct could have been another G. Noel Hill creation. Then again, its semi-circular leanings could have suggested a similar style to Charles Herbert Aslin’s Art Deco style Derby bus station (1936).

The town’s cinemas and theatres could have had similar architectural leanings to T. Cecil Howitt’s and Harry Weedon’s ODEON cinemas. As at the time, the cinema may have had a single screen and room for 1,500 or so patrons. The theatre could have been the town’s focus for first class live entertainment. On the other hand, local community groups could have used the assembly rooms for smaller audiences.

Though the plans were conceived two years before the creation of British Railways and the National Health Service, they anticipated the great social change that lay ahead. Chadderton’s station could have been designed by architects of British Railways’ London Midland Region. Aesthetically, it could have been an older brother to the short lived modern station building at Oldham Mumps. The Health Centre’s scale would have suited the newly-created NHS’ surgical and dental needs.

As for housing, there was no reference as to what kind of housing would have been built on the site of Ramsey and Mona mills. Given the era, this could have been more low rise flats, as seen on Middleton Road. Or semi-detached houses with cul-de-sacs radiating from Fields New Road and the spine road from Block Lane. Then again, some of the terraced houses could have been saved from possible demolition.

The reality

It is fair to say that a shortage of building materials and, possibly, local opposition may have scuppered the plans. Though dwindling, the cotton industry was still a significant employer in Chadderton back in 1946. We could have lost Nile mill (the last cotton mill to have been built with a beam engine) and Chadderton mill – which are both Listed Buildings today.

What was rightly foreseen in 1946 was the importance and dominance of motor traffic. Incidentally, Chadderton did get a ‘Motor House’ on Broadway. Nearly sixty years on, in the form of a Travelodge next to the newly rebuilt Boat and Horses off the M60 motorway. This complements its sibling just off the end of the A627 (M) motorway.

Of the plans, Chadderton did get a new library off Broadway. It was opened in 1953 and faced The Sportsman. The library was closed in 2009 with its books transferred to the Chadderton Library and Wellbeing Centre off Middleton Road. A fair trek for anyone living in the southern part of the town.

Some shops were added to the northern end of Denton Lane – in the form of a district centre as part of a local authority housing scheme. These have been demolished and replaced by further housing and the Crossley Centre.

Chadderton never got its passenger connection with British Railways, nor its privatised successors. At one point, it was suggested that the Oldham section of the Loop Line would finish at Oldham Mumps, leaving Royton, Shaw, Newhey and Milnrow cut off the rail network. In the end, Chadderton did get a rail based transport solution in Metrolink – with the town served by South Chadderton and Freehold tram stations.

Had the plans went ahead, we would have lost some fine buildings in the centre of Chadderton. Especially along Middleton Road from the former public baths to the town hall. If anyone proposed the demolition of the town’s three graces (ex-baths, learning centre and town hall), we would be rightly annoyed in 2020. I wonder if we would have been equally annoyed in 1946.

One more thing…

What difference do you think Chadderton Urban District Council’s plans would have made if they came to fruition? Would one of the two proposed hotels be one of J.D. Wetherspoon’s pubs? Would the cinema be a branch of ALDI, LIDL or Co-op? Are you happy with Chadderton’s town centre being based along Middleton Road instead of Broadway, Eaves Lane and Denton Lane?

As always, feel free to comment. We would especially like to hear from anybody who remembers seeing these plans the first time around (anyone who does would be in their 80s or 90s).

S.V., 28 May 2020.

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