Manchester 2011 – Day 4

At first the sky was a uniform grey with no gaps or features. Later the cloud cover became more dramatic with storm clouds gathering – not exactly what you want on a holiday, especially when you have travel in mind. We caught the bus into town and there boarded the 182 for Rochdale. We subsequently discovered that this bus followed Oldham Road and passed our hotel, so we could have caught in there.

Toad Lane Conservation Area
Toad Lane Conservation Area
But there is more to it than trees and plants

Rochdale is a ancient town, appearing in Domesday Book as Recedham Manor. The modern name drives from the river Roch which, in the central area, has been paved over. Known for woollen cloth and later for the manufacture of textiles by steam power, Rochdale is nevertheless not an obvious place to visit but for one thing.

Toad Lane
Toad Lane
A very short road

This one thing was what we had come to see and our information was that it was to be found in the picturesquely named Toad Lane. Thither we went to find a very short road, occupied by a pub (one end of which seems to be disguised as an antiques shop) and a building covered by scaffolding. Where was our goal?

It looks like an antiques shop
It looks like an antiques shop…
…but is really part of the pub

Rochdale is famous for the Rochdale Pioneers and has set up a museum in their honour. It was the Rochdale Pioneers Museum that we had come to see but, unfortunately, it was closed and undergoing refurbishment. We had had a wasted journey, it seemed.

The Market
The Market
We had a look at Rochdale’s market

Returning to the town centre, we discovered the Town Hall. This, and a few of the surrounding buildings together constitute what seems to be the best part of Rochdale. The rest of it is, to be frank, pretty dreary, a modern urban wasteland. It has to be admitted, though, that disappointment and the dull weather had a depressive effect on my mood.

Rochdale Town Hall
Rochdale Town Hall
The tower has been rebuilt

Rochdale Town Hall is impressive. It’s also difficult to photograph because of its size and because the dark stonework is not shown to best advantage on a dull day like today. Designed by William Henry Crossland in Gothic Revival style, it was opened in 1871. It is today a Grade I listed building and generally considered an architectural treasure.

The Clock Tower
The Clock Tower
The original was destroyed by fire

In 1883, the original clock tower, 240 ft high and including a wooden spire with a statue of St George and the Dragon, was destroyed by fire. Alfred Waterhouse was commissioned to design a replacement which, built in stone, was erected in 1888. It is “only” 191 ft high but that is dizzying enough when you try to photograph it from near the base.

Portico with heraldic lions Heraldic lion
Portico with heraldic lions
I liked these bold golden lions with their heraldic shields

There were many details to interest us on the outside and this encouraged us to go inside to ask whether we could take a look.

A piece of top quality design

We were received kindly and asked if we would like to take a tour. We naturally said yes and waited while the receptionist phoned to arrange it.

A magnificent staircase

This provided the opportunity to take a couple of photographs (see above) while our informant was on the phone. The upshot was that we were asked to come back later as the guide was not available just then.

The Roch
The Roch
Just before it is driven underground (not “bridged” as a nearby plaque claims)

Nearby is Touchstones, which combines the roles of art gallery, museum, tourist information centre and local studies centre. We thought we would go there while waiting for a guide to the town hall to be available. (In the event we became so engrossed that we did not return to the town hall.)

Touchstones Frieze detail
A multi-purpose facility

The museum contains sections on the history and life of Rochdale including of course, the Rochdale Pioneers. The textile industry is remembered and recalled by a power loom.

Power loom Mill hands
Power loom and textile workers
Beside the loom, a period photo offers an intriguing look into past lives

As you would expect, space is devoted to local girl Gracie Fields who, from humble origins in Rochdale, took the world by storm as singer, actress and comedienne.

Some of the items of memorabilia

Upstairs, past a pair of fetchingly painted sheep…

An illustrated sheep
An illustrated sheep
One of a pair, right there, on the stair…

…and some rather pretty windows…

Stained glass widows
Stained glass widows
reflecting themes of arts and sciences

…we reached the art gallery.

The art gallery
The art gallery
This contains a broad selection of works

This contains a broad selection of genres and works, mostly modern, some bought and others commissioned.

Water colour on paper by Abdus Shakoor

The art gallery also has a rather fine stained glass dome.

Stained glass dome
Stained glass dome
Touchstones art gallery

As we were on the point of leaving, Tigger spotted that there was a film about to start so we went to see it. A certain amount of time was wasted while the presenters, members of the Pioneers Museum, tried to get the equipment working. Once they had succeeded, there were two films – archive footage – one about the co-operative movement in Scotland and one specifically about the Rochdale Pioneers. After the showing, there was also a kind of lecture and discussion session which lengthened the proceedings so that by the time we emerged we had spent two hours there. I would happily have done with less for though the films were perhaps "interesting" from a historical and social point of view, they were not very good films and I am not convinced they gave a particularly accurate account of the events they claimed to portray.

A sunny evening
A sunny evening…
…but with threatening clouds on the horizon

Out in the street once more, we found that by watching the film, we had at least sat out the rain and that it was now a sunny evening, albeit with threatening clouds on the horizon.

Packer Spout
Packer Spout
No ordinary fountain

Nearby, in a pleasantly landscaped public garden we saw what could have been thought was just a common or garden decorative fountain. In fact, it is a little more interesting than that. I think I can do no better than reproduce the explanation given on a board close by.

   Before the Industrial Revolution, water for industrial and domestic use was taken from the River Roch, wells and springs.
   A new idea came about when a small reservoir (little more than a pond) was constructed by Messrs Ralph and Samuel Taylor and John Clegg in 1760 near the bottom of the Parish Church steps. It was the towns [sic] first organised water supply and named Packer Spout.
– ‘Packer’ because it was a watering supply for pack horses and ‘Spout’ being the Anglo Saxon for ‘to pour forth and spew’.

The Entertainer
The Entertainer
The (silent) entertainer at the Regal Moon

As we had not had lunch, now seemed as good a time as any to combine lunch and dinner in one. On the advice of a local inhabitant, we went to a Wetherspoons pub, called The Regal Moon, which was once the Regal Cinema, and had a reasonable meal. Around 7 pm we walked to the bus station where after a few minutes we were lucky enough to find a number 24 going back to Manchester and we climbed gratefully aboard.

When trams ran in Rochdale
When trams ran in Rochdale
Pictured in tiles in an underpass

We did find a few treasures in Rochdale, such as the town hall and a few other quality buildings in the same area, while the Touchstones Museum and Gallery was certainly worth a visit. Had we had time to explore more widely, for all I know we might have found others. Perhaps once the Pioneers Museum is up and running again we will be tempted back but I think it unlikely.

A kingly face
A kingly face…
…looks down from his corner on the Town Hall

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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7 Responses to Manchester 2011 – Day 4

  1. WOL says:

    I like the town hall doorway. Very gothic. The shot of the stairway looks almost like an abstract design. Those William Morris looking stained glass windows are lovely. An illustrated sheep is not something one sees every day. . .

    • SilverTiger says:

      The town hall is certainly a fascinating building and I regret that we did not go inside to see whatever treasures lie within.

      With regard to painted animals, there has been quite a vogue for those in recent times, usually in connection with some campaign or other. In recent memory we had painted cows all over London (each painted to a different scheme by individual artists), then elephants (idem). There have been other animals in other towns. Like cows and elephants, sheep present a large canvas to work with (assuming they are unshorn).

  2. JustJ says:

    I do admire your decision to holiday and tour the Manchester area, it’s not a place everyone would choose.. of course I don’t mean me I love the place. Rochdale Town Hall was one of the buildings on Hitler’s list, so rumour has it…buildings he was going to transfer to Germany because they were so grand!

    • SilverTiger says:

      It wasn’t a hard or controversial decision for us because we have been to Manchester on a number of occasions and know what it has to offer. Also it sits plumb in the middle of a very interesting area which can also be explored as indeed we did explore it.

      There was a similar rumour about the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, where I grew up. Hitler was supposed to have said that he would make it his palace when in that area. People caught outside when an air raid started would run into the Pavilion grounds believing that it would never be bombed. In fact it never was bombed though whether this was by luck or by judgement is a matter of opinion.

  3. JustJ says:

    Ha Ha! I wonder if folk did the same during the air-raids in Rochdale then. 🙂

  4. jackie kershaw says:

    The Germans dropped a bomb on Betty Nuppie’s house in Rochdale. The house and Betty where crushed. The little lane where her cottage stood was named Betty Nuppies after that. Hitler sent an apology to the people of Rochdale as he had promised he would not bomb Rochdale. He like the people of Rochdale and of course he wanted our town Hall…! You should pay another visit to Rochdale in the near future because the river through the town center is being re-opened with the help of the Lottery Fund. There are also several new prominent buildings and a brand new, state of the Art Bus station opening soon. Rochdale will soon be the talk of the north and for all the right reasons 😎

    • SilverTiger says:

      It’s sad about Betty but there were so many deaths and tragedies resulting from that war (as from all wars). I believe Betty’s lane has now been absorbed into the larger Sir Isaac Newton Way.

      I’m not sure that an apology from Hitler or his liking of the people of Rochdale is in any way a recommendation. Fortunately, Rochdale has its own reasons for civic pride.

      I am sure we shall return to Rochdale one of these days and perhaps this time we shall manage to see inside the famous town hall.

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