A Manchester Metro Expedition: The Ashton Line


Ashton

There’s a change of procedure today, to comply with a change of priorities.

As some of you will remember, today is the Anniversary of my Dad’s death, fifty-two years ago, when I was fourteen. With the exception of the two years I lived in Nottingham, and was unavailable, I have visited Dukinfield Crematorium every year since. Today will mark my 50th visit.

Today’s Expedition will see me travelling on the Ashton Line, officially the East Manchester Line. Dukinfield is a townlet up the hill from Ashton-under-Lyne, on the way to Hyde. It’s not out of the question to do my usual there-and-back routine, with a there-and-back on the bus in between, but I have more important things on which to focus today and no patience for that kind of faffing around.

So I will get to the Crematorium the way I usually go, by bus (the 330) from Stockport, crossing beneath Werneth Low and enjoying the wide views, throiugh Hyde and getting off at Dukinfield Town Hall for the uphill walk that gets steeper and longer every year. Then down again for the bus into Ashton and, in due course, the East Manchester Line into Manchester for a wide, wide loop home.

It’s a milder day than of late, enough for me to put on a jacket, but there’s still a heaviness in the air that’s playing its part in my low-energy state. Just the walk to the bus stop has me wishing there was a seat there. On the way down Lancashire Hill, the electric noticeboard that usually alerts to roadworks and traffic jams is warning of thunderstorms today. Yes please, but not now.

It’s a long journey on the 330, with some widespread views along the way so this is one of the services on which I head upstairs. It’s even more stuffy, so I slip my jacket off, and carry it around all the rest of the day. It was an uneventful journey apart from the suicide pigeon we clumped over before leaving Stockport, so uneventful that we passed nine stops before we had to let a passenger off and twelve before one got on, by which time we were in Woodley.

Beyond that we started to climb, along the fringes of Werneth Low Country Park, lovely open countryside. Views start to open up on the left, across Hyde to the hills beyond Ashton, marking the Saddleworth Valley, that I will see at much closer range from the Crematorium.

When I got off outside Dukinfield Town Hall, I was just as slow-moving as before and wishing the road up the hill wasn’t so long or so high, but once through the gates I forget such things. Though the inscription Mam chose for Dad for the Book of Remembrance celebrates him as the devoted family man he was, I cannot come here without thinking of the one chosen for Dad’s elder brother: I shall lift up mine eyes to the hills. So simple yet so perfect for both. I lift up mine eyes to the hills as I walk to the Plot.

Occasions such as this develop their own rituals. Mine is to clear my head of all thoughts about the day and what it means until I reach Dad’s plot. There I just say whatever comes into my head. Afterwards, I enter the Chapel of Remembrance but can’t stay more than a few minutes before my eyes start to fill. I am now older than my mother and more than half as old again as my father. It feels so wrong that I have had so much and he so little.

I was so dry by now that, walking back down the hill, I bought not only a diet coke but a water to refill my water bottle. Thankfully, there was a seat at the stop for the bus down into Ashton because I had to wait nearly ten minutes for a ride.

I let the bus take me all the way into the Bus Station where there was a Sandwich Pound, like the one I used to get lunch from in Stockport when working at Sky. Refreshed and surprisingly re-energised, if not for all that long, I headed for the Town Centre through the Arcades Mall. There was an impressive YMCA charity shop just inside, and another within two hundred yards, with a stunning offer to mix DVDs, CDs and Books at six for £1. It was too good not to take advantage of but I could only find two I wanted, and none I was interested in trying out. It turned out the offer was ‘up to 6 items’ so I bought them.

Once I emerged into the open it had started raining. One young woman from an outdoor cafe was dancing and singing about it but it was only the fine, powdery rain that takes ten minutes to get you wet. Then I spotted yet another CEX, where I was able to find the Borgen Trilogy boxset for only £3. And I highly recommended the Person of Interest box set to the pair behind the counter.

Of all the destinations on the Metrolink Network, Ashton is by far the one with which I am most familiar. I have been coming here, on and off for sixty years or so. As often as Mam would take me out shopping in Manchester, we would catch the 218 or 219 the other way, up the Old Road to Ashton. It was standing at a bus stop on Stamford Street to come home that she first realised I was short-sighted’ “This one is our bus,” she said, and I looked at her in surprise and said, “You mean you can see the number that far away?” She was shocked that I couldn’t, and within a week I was having my eyes tested.

And Dad used to work here too. He’d started out as a draughtsman but I’m not sure of his then-role at a company called Industrial Models Ltd, whose premises were on a narrow street parallel to Stamford Street, the main road through Ashton, but what I remember as being fifty feet or more lower. After he’d got his first car, if we were late enough leaving, Mam would take me down there and I’d look around in wonder at what my Dad did, and the cheerful, noisy men he worked with, and he’d drive us home if it wasn’t one of the nights he did overtime and got home so late that I was already in bed and didn’t get to see him.

I remember Mam saying once, after his death, that he’d built up a division within the firm, called Industrial Mimics & Electronics, very successfully, and then they’d taken it off him, devastatingly.

Not long after we moved from East Manchester to South Manchester, the firm moved premises, to Oldham, a longer drive for him and a more stressful one, having tp drive across the moors: one extra-snowy day he was back home about 10.00am, the moors impassable, cars getting stuck and he’d eventually managed to get the car turned round and come back. He hadn’t agreed with the decision, which was apparently made on the basis that the Oldham premises had great offices when, as far as Dad was concerned, offices were secondary to the factory facilities.

I have other memories of Ashton, of things and places and streets long since vanished, demolished and destroyed. If we came into Ashton for a couple of hours from a Saturday afternoon in Droylsden, we would always go round the Market, up and down and side to side between the stalls. There was a record stall that consisted on 7″ singles scattered higgledy-piggeldy in heaps, with no thought for scratches. Late one Saturday afternoon, my mother let me linger there despite being eager to get back for a warming cup of tea. She asked me if there was any record in particular that I was after, so I mentioned my then favourite song, a complete flop the previous year, Thunderclap Newman’s ‘The Reason’ (which I thought was titled ‘There’s a Reason’, from its lyrics.) So she went up the other end of the stall and came back about three minutes later, holding a single in the wrong record label’s sleeve and asked, “Is this the one?” and bloody hell it was! It’s the only copy of the single I’ve ever seen and I have it still.

But Ashton Market has other connotations of which I wasn’t aware but which I’m sure my parents knew, because this had been a favourite place of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s, from where they had taken at least two of their child victims. The age I was meant that I was a couple of years younger than their youngest abductees, but I doubt that my parents made that kind of distinction and, by the time they were tried and convicted I would have been very much in the frame.

What Ashton reminds me of most strongly is long gone, like my football boots. I used to get football boots for school here, insisting stubbornly on proper old-fashioned toecaps. Two pair lasted me two years each, the third one year, and we’d had to try every sports shop in the town, not to mention a lot of my mother’s patience, never infinite, to get toecapped boots that time. A year later they were consigned to the sportsbag of history and bloody good riddance to them. I was very uncertain of my new boots, at first. But where, in five years of my previous boots, I had scored a grand total of four goals, two of them flukes, with my modern pair I scored 33 goals in 32 games.

All of which means that the old Ashton is still much more familiar to me than the new one, despite forty years of coming here since those days. The new Outdoor Market mayb be better built but it’s only a quarter occupied and it was far too stuffy inside the Indoor Market for more than a cursory walk round.

Before I gave up and headed for the Metro, I strolled across to Stamford Street, to see what it looks like today. This took me past silent side streets that used to be thronged with shops but which now offer only closed shutters. The story of Tory England. There used to be a decent comics shop here, but the Arcade of which it was part is now for private businesses only.

I arrived at the Metrolink terminus as a MetroCity tram was sliding in and secured my favourite seat. I’ve ridden this service ponce before, from the first station stop, Ashton West, when FC United of Manchester were sharing Curzon Ashton’s ground and I came out of an evening game in the run-up to promotion at risk of missing the last 330 back to Stockport, and played it safe by going the long way round I’m doing today.

After leaving the streets and the cars, the tram picks up speed alongside sprawling trading Estates with acres of car parking space. Ahead lies Ashton Moss. Once this was a long buffer between Ashton and East Manchester, and even now there’s still lots of space, but you can see which way development is trending, insofar as there is still any development in the current economic climate. We can make good time all along here until The Snipe, where the Manchester-bound road did and does divide into Ashton Old Road and Ashton New Road. The Mtero goes with the latter, and has to slow down a fair bit because its tracks run down the centre of the road, dividing the traffic.

That’s as far as Droylsden, which was where Phase 1 of this line initially terminated, and after that we pull over into the left hand lane which we share with the road traffic. This is very much old home country for me, with my grandparents living here until 1982 and all my visits to play Squash at Carriages disco and squash club, and to watch Droylsden play. The names of the stations resonate: Cemetery Road, Edge Lane, the latter with its little parade of shops and my vivid memory the comics I bought in the newsagents, fifty two years and two days ago.

At Clayton Hall, reminding me of the infamous Clayton Anilene that had you hilding your breath driving down this section, tyhe tram swings away from the main road preparatory to crossing it and passing beside the Bitters’ stadium. I would prefer not to look at it, but even with my head turned, my peripheral vision still worked too well. But then the line descends, thrugh a tunnel, and then along deep channels where little can be seen and all sense of place on the surface was lost. Holt Town and New Islington mean mothing to me, just stops on the way into Piccadilly Station from the back.

From nowhere another memory jumped out. Early in our marriage we had some documents to sign which meant a joint trip to offices somewhere out along the Altrincham line. I had to take half a day off work to make it. The plan was to meet there. I got into Piccadilly on the train from Bolrton, she and her kids would catch the train from the local station. I came down the stairs to the Metro platform to find a tram boarding. The people boarding it at that very moment were my wife and her kids. These were the days when even an unexpected extra ten minutes in each other’s company was sheer delight.

The rest of it was the bus back down Hyde Road, which ran smoothly because I was ahead of the rush hour. I was stuck at the back, in a corner opposite a three year old girl and someone who I first thought must be her fourteen year old sister but, given just how big a tattoo she had on her right arm, was clearly her mother instead. Certainly she was concerned that the little girl, who was wearing a dress, kept half sitting on her seat, legs akimbo, and exposing her knickers, continually telling her to sit straight or pull her dress down, whilst I had to focus my eyeline at a level high enough not to see anything.

That’s now five lines explored, even if this week’s was only one-way. I’ll be doing the samev next Monday, though for a different reason.

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