Poco a Poco – Stockport

There was a field – Ash Farm, farmhouse and field, at the junction of Manchester Road and Denby Lane, owned by one Harry Hitchen.

Harry Hitchen’s ambitious grandson reckoned that it was time that Heaton Chapel had a picture house, so on 6th May 1939 – where once there was a fertile farmer’s field, the seven hundred seat Empress Cinema opened.



Opening with a screening of Alexander Korda’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.


It continued to trade as a cinema until 18th April 1959, whereafter it transformed at the end of that year, into a dance house opening as the Empress Club on the 9th December, run by Manchester City footballer, Keith Marsden.

Other parts of building were used for Flamingo Coffee Jive Club, from 1961 Empress Bingo club used the none-cabaret portion of the building.


Empress Ballroom


Keith Marsden

In many northern towns and cities at this time a thriving beat scene emerged, literally hundreds of local bands, playing a circuit of clubs large and small.

Further details can be found here at Manchester Beat and Lanky Beat.

One such band played at the Empress on 14th November 1964, formerly The Matadors, then becoming The Swinging Hangmen, later known as The Hangmen. With a now sound, slick suits, a business card and a swinging, dead, novelty teddy bear mascot, they had everything going for them.

The Hangmen [1024x768]

The Hangmen card 4

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I too played in such bands during the late 60’s and early 70’s, piling in and out of assorted vans, cars and buses to arrive at a packed venue, sandwiched between the bingo and a top flight comedian.

December 1968, in a flurry of flags, the Poco a Poco Club and Casino is born, international cabaret and entertainment abounds from here on in, beginning a fashion for the American style supper club, boil in the bag dining, for the discerning chicken in a basket cases.


As beat becomes mod, psych, prog and glam a new generation of bands adapt and mutate to suit the ever changing moods and modes of modern music.

One such were Toby Twirl.

They hailed from Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. Formed in the 60’s and originally called ‘The Shades of Blue’. After being signed to Decca Records by Wayne Bickerton, a name change was called for, as there was a US group of the same name. The group released three singles on Decca – Back In Time, Toffee Apple Sunday and Movin In. Although critically acclaimed in later years, none of the singles charted due to lack of major radio play. The group concentrated on live work during the late 60’s and early 70’s and were a top draw around the North of England. The line up was Dave ‘Holly’ Holland vocals, Barrie Sewell keyboards, Stuart Somerville bass, Nick Thorburn guitar and John Reed drums. Stuart was replaced by Dave Robson after he was tragically drowned in Tynemouth and Holly was replaced by Steve Pickering.

Interest in 60’s psych has seen the recent release of a Toby Twirl LP, a long overdue compilation of their admirable singles – including Romeo and Juliet 1968.

Other Poco regulars included Wishful Thinking:

Prior to 1969, they were recording with ex-Shadows drummer and record producer TonyMeehan. Between 1965 and 1969 the group released 9 singles and a live album. There were some changes in personnel and some successes, most notably Step by Step, Count To ten, Cherry Cherry, It’s So Easy and Peanuts, the latter remaining in the Danish charts for 3 months and also reaching No 8 in Japan.

My personal choice would be their version of Clear White Light.

Famously  Mr David Laughing Gnome Bowie played there on the 27th April 1970, just a few days before receiving his Ivor Novello award at The Talk Of The Town in London, for Space Oddity, which had been voted the best original song of 1969.

The club traded on through the 70’s and 80’s, continuing to ride the trends in popular music, the emergence of the discotheque and the almost superstar local DJ. As interest in the live cabaret music scene waned, the club began hosting boxing matches in the 80’s. Changing its name to Chester’s in 1983 and finally closing in May 1987.

It had lasted almost 50 years as a rich source of entertainments for thousands of Stopfordians, from a flickering film to a flaming beat, sadly it all ended in demolition.


The beat goes on.

Many thanks to Stephen for the essential facts and copyright images from his website.

Hill Street to Ashton Brothers

mam map

This a journey to work, my mam’s first day at work, cycling from her family home in Hill Street Ashton-under-lyne, to Ashton Brothers Mill Hyde.

Clara Jones was born in 1924, daughter to Nelly and Sam. She grew up in the west end of Ashton, tough and bright – an eldest sister who stood up for her own and looked after herself. On passing her entrance exam to grammar school, she was then denied entry, the family having little or no money for the expenses of uniform and books.

So in 1938 aged fourteen, she found a job and a second hand bike, found herself on the way to work. So in 2017 aged sixty two I followed her, the three miles along the very same roads, the very same roads that had not remained the same.

Hill Street was a mix of poor quality two up two down terraces, industry and pubs. There are no archive photographs to be found, an area thought too unremarkable to record. There remains traces of that industry and newer dwellings.




Above is the site of her former home.






The view at Hill Street’s junction with Cavendish Street would have taken in the Brougham Inn, where her father drank and I would later play in 1970 with our band, along with Clive Gregson.

Once a Gartsides Ales pub, my father Eddie Marland had worked at the nearby brewery as a drayman, and told tales of deliveries, where Neddy had much more horse sense, than the drunken drivers.

It closed in 1972 under the auspices of its last landlord Arthur Davies.

All archival photographs from the Tameside Image Archive


Today all thoughts of horse drawn drays, bands and draught bitter have been washed away by progress, pampas grass, by-passes and ASDA.


From here we turn right towards Dukinfield, moving from Lancashire into Cheshire, under the railway and over the Alma Bridge – named for the Battle of Alma in Crimea and the local men who served.




Ahead on the left is the site of Greens Cycle Shop, I bought my first touring bike from Laurie Green, a Dawes Galaxy – he and his partner Eileen were and possibly still are members of one of the oldest cycling clubs in the country, the Dukinfield CC. The shop was once announced by a sign written gable end, now all that remains is this sad fragment.


Up the hill along King Street she would have passed shop after shop, long established businesses, serving a local community that neither drove or travelled too far, in order to sustain their everyday needs. Broad open-eyed windows displaying varied wares, unhindered by intrusive steel shutters.


On her left was the Princess Cinema, which can be seen to the right of the photograph below. Opened as the Princess Picture Theatre with 700 seats, the proprietor was W.B. Holt. Later it was operated by Ashton New Theatre Ltd and became part of the H.D.Moorehouse circuit. Its final years were under the operation of Orr Enterprises Ltd of Coventry. Dukinfield was once home to two other cinemas the Palladium and the Oxford – both long gone, swamped by the unstoppable stampede of bingo and telly.


It currently trades as the Pyramid Snooker Club, there are small remnants of its former self visible to the right and left of the building, unhidden by the tastefully intrusive red and green cladding.



Today’s fascias exhibit the final, vital, vinyl abandon that characterises the contemporary visual environment of the high street, along with a kaleidoscopic array of international  fast food outlets.



The Town Hall still stands tall, its clock chimes, boinging down on the diminutive figure of Sir Robert Dukinfield – conqueror of the Isle of Man, the tiny fellow also defended Stockport Bridge against Prince Rupert and conducted the Siege of Wythenshawe.

The constituent parts of the almost recently created Tameside, were once independent UDCs, all with their individual civic pride and unique identity, before that the fiefdoms’ of local dignitaries, afore that just there.


What were once mighty boozers overflowing with customers and kindness, are now dwellings, overflowing with cold comfort and UPVC windows. When cotton was king, her route would have been peppered with pubs, slaking the thirsts of thirsty workers, hot footing it from the surrounding places of industry and commerce.




There were once well appointed post offices their architectural type formed in the kilns from local clay, the wholesome white-hot, fired earth technology of the nineteenth century.


The road now crosses rail at the White Bridge, to the right is the site of the former Dewsnap Yard, where my grandfather Sam and I found work as plate layer and freight guard respectively.





A view down Victoria Street opens up on the way to Hyde, everywhere, in industry, street and pub names we find evidence of queen and empire – an age of empire, industry and deference that did not survive intact.


On the right stands the refurbished Newton Hall:

This cruck-framed buildings, stands on the corner of Dukinfield Road and Dunkirk Lane in Hyde, Cheshire. Carbon dating placed the construction of this building to c.1370 and it survived because much later it was encased in a brick building having a blue slate roof. By the 1960s it was in a ruinous condition and in 1968 Sir George Kenyon, the Chairman of William Kenyon & Sons Ltd of Dukinfield, Cheshire, rescued it. Browns of Wilmslow undertook the restoration work and this was completed in 1970.

During the Roman era, a track connecting the Roman garrison town of Mamucium (Manchester) and the fort of Ardotalia (long known as Melandra at Gamesley near Glossop) crossed the river Tame hereabouts and passed close by the site of the future Newton Hall. To cross the Pennines, the Romans then made use of an ancient British ridgeway from Ardotalia. This track was in use until medieval times as a packhorse road.


An finally here we are at the Ashton Brothers‘ factory gates mam, you along with hundreds of others, would walk on through. She doubtless, with no small sense of trepidation, entering into the whirring world of cotton spinning.


But it’s all gone, long gone – all that remains is a rusty A and the dusty footings.



But I remember,

I remember you Clara Jones,

Your bike, your journey to work,

Your kind  smile.