Altrincham, back from the brink

PUBLISHED: 11:17 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:55 20 February 2013

In action at Silver Blades Ice Rink are Katie Jeffers, Samantha Kemp, Laura Clarke, Kate Martin and Lindsay Clarke

In action at Silver Blades Ice Rink are Katie Jeffers, Samantha Kemp, Laura Clarke, Kate Martin and Lindsay Clarke

Patrick O'Neill discovers how Altrincham is battling against the recession with the ferocity and agility of a Cheshire Cat

In this month of Halloween, you might expect the odd skeleton in the cupboard. But a morgue in the cellar, now that is macabre. Wander past Altrincham Market and down Greenwood Street and that is what you will find, beneath your feet. With gallows humour they have had the good grace to rename it the Mort Subite (Belgian for sudden death) but a mortuary it was. With 250 European beers on sale however it remains the perfect place for a stiff drink and the ideal starting point for a tour of Altrincham.
With the international recession, threat from the Trafford Centre and general urban decline, Altrincham has had to fight like a Cheshire Cat to maintain its place as one of the two great market towns of this region - the other is Bury at the other end of the Metro.
And on my recent visit, there were much more than green shoots of recovery. The town was positively buzzing with optimism. And theres nowhere better to see that than in The Fat Loaf, which sits above The Mort Subite, where Tim Wood has opened his third eaterie. The first Fat Loaf was in Reddish, the second in Ashton on Mersey and the next could be in Didsbury.
Expansion at a time of recession is either a sign of incipient madness, or clear foresight. After spending half an hour with Tim I was sure it was the latter.
The trick with the Altrincham regeneration plan is to go back to the future to rediscover the towns original assets - all those lovely Edwardian and Victorian buildings for example - and give them a new lease of life. You then add 21st century innovation like the 40 million investment in the Stamford Quarter and a 10 million development of Denmark Street with a multi-screen cinema and you have a recipe for regeneration.
Down in the market things move on apace. At the beginning of this year, and to assist in celebrating its 720th year, a programme of events was put in place to help boost the markets attraction and support the traders who have become an integral part of the towns heritage. A new website,, was launched to provide information about the market, its history, events and facts about the stalls. Highlights of the year so far have included a Continental Market, the Altrincham Beer and Cask Festival and the popular annual Taste Sensation Food and Drink Festival held in September. Planning continues on Christmas activities to round off 2010.
The wider heritage of the town has also been given a boost. Earlier this year, Altrincham and Bowdon Civic Society was awarded 50,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a series of projects, covering Altrincham, nearby Bowdon and Dunham Massey that will be completed over the next two years. A new website,, is being developed to let people know what is happening and how they can get involved.
Project coordinator Sue Nichols, who brought the bid together, said: We are extremely pleased that the significance of the heritage and history of the Altrincham area has been recognised. With the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are aiming to reach a wide audience.
These include ten Picture the Past Heritage Trail panels for Altrincham town centre and one for Bowdon. There will also be an associated booklet and a new website featuring two finely detailed 19th century plans, all due for completion in 2011. An Historic Pathways map and booklet for Bowdon and Dunham Massey will come later.
Guided walks, illustrated talks and oral history interviews are also being organised. The newly formed Altrincham Area Image Archive is digitising old postcards and photos loaned by local residents, the Rotary Club of Altrincham will create a treasure hunt based on the history and architectural features of the area while Queenie Mumbles Caf, in Goose Green, has already hosted an exhibition by young artists from the G-Force community group, inspired by images of the past.
The Picture the Past Heritage Trail panels will feature the significant historic buildings in the Altrincham area, several of which are due for restoration over the next two years.
One such development is Station Buildings (known as Stamford House), which was built adjacent to Altrincham Station in 1904-05, to the design of Manchester architect Charles Heathcote for commercial use. The Edwardian Baroque Grade Two listed building is made of red brick with elaborate glazed buff terracotta dressings.
The current owners have put forward plans to refurbish the site in order to ensure its future survival while retaining its historic charm and character.
Alongside Station Buildings, the Altrincham Interchange will undergo a 19 million refurbishment. Parts of the original 1881 station and the Grade Two Listed Station Clock will be restored and showcased, to create a welcoming gateway to Altrincham.
Further into Bowdon, at walking distance from Altrincham town centre, lies Grade Two Listed Denzell House and its splendid formal Victorian gardens. Built in stone in 1874, to an exuberant, eclectic design, the mansion became the residence of cotton shipping agent Samuel Lamb in 1904, who developed the gardens. In 1938 Denzell House was given to Bowdon Urban District Council by his children. It became a hospital, before being restored and converted to privately-owned prestigious offices.
The grounds, along with the adjacent expansive green space and local nature conservation site called The Devisdale, remain open to the public. The Friends of Denzell Gardens and The Devisdale have over 150 members and are very active in protecting and improving these contrasting green spaces. Recently, with the aid of an Awards for All Lottery Fund grant, plus donations from their own funds, the Friends have undertaken the restoration of the neglected elliptical Sunken Garden at Denzell. It was entered into the 2010 North West in Bloom competition.
So there you go. If you want to sip one of 250 different beers and contemplate a town that has come back from the dead, visit Altrincham on Halloween. Youll find new spirits abound everywhere.

Altrincham attractions
County Galleries, an established family business in a former bank building, will feature in the heritage trail with some fantastic local paintings.
The Apollo Cinema has extended its programming to bring internationally acclaimed opera and ballet productions to Altrincham which have proved very popular. The programme includes one act ballets: The Firebird, The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps) and The Wedding (Les Noces) that will take place on Sunday 24th October at 2.30pm and Monday 25th October (7pm)
A campaign has been launched to erect a bronze statue of Frank Sidebottom in Timperley. Frank was the comic creation of Chris Sievey, who died earlier this year
Open Golf champion Louis Oosthuizen is an Altrincham resident
Altrincham Garrick's Christmas show is Dick Whittington and his Wonderful Cat.

Where is it? Altrincham is located to the south west of Manchester between Warrington and Stockport. Type WA14 1PG in your sat nav to get you there.
Where to park? There are plenty of places to park including in the Stamford Quarter, Regent Road, Balmoral Road and Goose Green car park.
What to do? Plenty of options in Altrincham. Pull on your ice skates and spend an afternoon at Silver Blades Ice Rink; get out your walking shoes and shop until you drop, watch a game at Altrincham Football Club or catch a show at Altrincham Garrick Playhouse.

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