Stalybridge on track to become a destination worth stopping off at

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 April 2013

Lock gate at the  Huddersfield Narrow Canal in Stalybridge centre with Holy Trinity Church and the Civic Hall beyond

Lock gate at the Huddersfield Narrow Canal in Stalybridge centre with Holy Trinity Church and the Civic Hall beyond

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Stalybridge will become a destination worth stopping off at, say civic leaders who are excited about the opening of two new platforms at the station. WORDS BY GEOFF WOOD PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

The sign ‘Stalybridge as glimpsed through the window of a railway carriage has often brought puzzled stares.

But today Stalybridge looks set to become more for than just a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else.

And curiously if boom times are ahead, much of it goes back to where it started with the expansion of the railway facilities to give the town a bigger footprint on the north Cheshire scene.

Two new platforms which have recently opened, will give better access to Manchester, nine miles away, and other North West centres.

Electrification of the trans-Pennine main line which runs through and connects Liverpool with Newcastle upon Tyne is currently underway and should be completed soon.

The changes are welcomed by Stalybridge and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds and other leaders - who believe they could greatly improve the town’s fortunes. Mr Reynolds who recently opened the two new platforms at Stalybridge,said: ‘The rail options from Stalybridge have now been extended. Good transport links -by road and by rail - can make an area a more attractive place to live and to do business. It will be easier to travel to Manchester, but also to Salford, Wigan,Kirkby and Southport. And I have recently suggested that the link between Stalybridge and Stockport is brought back into regular use.’

Business leaders agree that good times could well roll in Stalybridge and they have been busy driving forward and improving the town centre. Ray Harrison, vice chairman of the Stalybridge Business Forum, said: ‘We have been doing things like installing 35 hanging baskets around the town centre and paving the way for the demolition of derelict buildings.

‘We have already made a start but we feel sure that the expansion of the rail facilities will bring greater opportunities for business and residential development.’

It’s fair to say that the town centre of Stalybridge is not obviously attractive but it does reward exploration. There is a great deal of history in the streets. Now home for 22,000 people, the town was in the late 18th century, one of the UK’s first textile manufacturing centres.

But if the visitor cherry picks his or her way through there is interest in the old Market Hall, now a Civic Hall housing major conferences and the like, in Holy Trinity Church.

Towards the bridge over the River Tame, the Library also houses Cheetham’s art gallery, often containing interesting exhibitions.

And over in Armentieres Square with its huge wartime sculpture, seats provide time to pause a little and perhaps watch the odd narrowboat cruise past on the restored Huddersfield Narrow Canal, now a central feature of the town centre.

As is sometimes the case, more interest lies on the fringe of the town itself. A short walk away is Cheetham Park, a tranquil green oasis with quiet walks, a bird sanctuary and privately run tennis and archery clubs on the Mottram Road side.

Mottram Road itself sweeps up with handsome Victorian villas on one side and high class modern housing towards the top of the hill.

Beyond are the hills which fringe the Cheshire-Derbyshire border and the great bulk of the Pennines. And all of it can be reached within a short distance of Stalybridge town centre. For football fans there is Stalybridge Celtic Football Club which has recently been enjoying greater success.

Canals are an area of interest for many. And as well as the stretch of the restored Huddersfield Narrow Canal that runs right through the town centre,the Portland Basin canal junction lies only a couple of miles away in Ashton-under-Lyne.Sited at the junction of the Ashton, Peak Forest and Huddersfield Narrow Canals, It is also the home of a museum with an extensive collection of local history.

Ashton also has the Museum of the Manchester Regiment which tells the story of generations of soldiers through two hundred years of service.

But rail and Stalybridge station could well be the starting point for many a tour of the area. The station is home to the famous Stalybridge buffet bar, built in 1885 and still retaining many of its original features. For those with a particular love of real ale, the bar is also now known as the starting point for the Trans Pennine Real Ale Trail which takes in eight stations all the way to Batley in West Yorkshire.

Incidentally, the 1979 film Yanks which starred Richard Gere and featured the adventures of American soldiers in Britain during World War Two was partly filmed in Stalybridge and particularly at Stalybridge Railway Station.

Today the station is centre stage once more it looks as if it could hold the key to the town’s future success.

Cllr Jan Jackson, who represents Stalybridge North ward, said: ‘This £20 million upgrade, which follows on closely from the refurbishment of the station entrance and ticket offices, was badly needed. In many ways Stalybridge Station hadn’t changed for virtually 100 years.

‘The new track and signalling, and the extra two platforms, will provide us with a station fit for the 21st century. The benefits will become even more apparent when the Manchester to Leeds line is electrified in 2016.’

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