St Stephen RC – Droylsden

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One fine sunny Monday morning I set out cycling to Ashton-under-Lyne to buy an enamel pie dish. Almost inevitably I was pushed and pulled in a variety of unforeseen directions, incautiously distracted and diverted serendipitously – towards Droylsden.

Idly pedalling down Greenside Lane looking this way and that I was drawn magnetically to a pitched roof tower, towering over the red brick semis. Rounding the corner I discovered the delightful St Stephen’s RC church, stood high and proud on a grassy corner, glowing golden in the March sunlight.

I leaned my bike against the presbytery wall and with the kindly bidding of a passing parishioner, I went inside. 

Thanks to Father Tierney for his time and permission to snap the interior. It was a calm space, the large open volume side lit by high octagonal honeycomb modular windows. The elegant plain pitched concrete gambrel roof beams a simple engineered solution.

The church and attached presbytery were built from designs by Greenhalgh & Williams in 1958-9, the church being consecrated on 12 May 1960. A reordering took place, probably in the 1960s or 70s, when the altar rails were removed and the altar moved forward. Probably at the same time, the font was brought into the church from the baptistery.

Taking Stock

The altar and apse beautifully restrained in colour form and choice of materials. The design and detailing on the pews so warm and understated.

I was loathe to leave.

The exterior does not disappoint, the repetition of modular window shapes, the integration of doors, brick and mixed stone facing.This is a building of elegant grandeur, well proportioned, happily at home in its setting.

I suggest you set out there soon.

Concord Suite – Droylsden

There is little or no reference to this fine building on the whole world wide web – the wise people of Wikipedia tell us –

The Concord Suite was built in the early 1970’s to house Droylsden Council. The word Concord comes from the town’s motto Concordia, meaning harmony

I’ve passed by for almost all of its life, marvelling at its white modular space age panels. The wide paved piazza frontage affords the lucky viewer a full appreciation of its futuristic whole, a giddy mix of brick, glass and concrete optimism. Civic architecture has never seemed so sunny.

The interior lighting is straight out of 2001, white organic and fully functioning – the upstairs function room is available for functions at the junction of Market Street and Ashton New Road.

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I saw The Fall there for the first time in 1978, suitably shambolic and suitably feisty.

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Renamed the Droylsden Centre on one side, it houses the regulation issue of charity shops and empty units. The main building is home to the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, soon to relocate to a new build across the road. The Concord will then provide a home for the workers leaving the now demolished Tameside Council Offices in Ashton.

The tram stops here.

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Ashton Moss – The Past

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To the east of Manchester and the west of Ashton sits The Moss.

This area of low lying, deep peaty bog, just outside Ashton-under Lyne, was drained in the mid 1800’s to grow some of the best crops – It was world famous for its celery but also grew good cabbage, cauliflowers and lettuce, with cucumbers and tomatoes grown in glasshouses.

This map of 1861 shows an area criss-crossed with lanes, ditches and field boundaries.

A world that survived into the 1980s, captured here so beautifully by Brian Lomas, prior to the building of the M60.

Photographs from – Tameside Image Archive

Then came the railways:

Map Cobb Guide Bridge area

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With an attendant ghost:

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And telecommunications installation

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Its location on the south east corner of the Lancashire Coalfield, and the burgeoning demands of the Industrial Revolution saw the further development of mining in the area.

As the demand for coal outstripped the output, a deeper mine was opened in 1875, at Ashton Moss. This new pit had its own railway branch and canal arm for efficient transportation of the coal. In 1882 a second shaft was sunk – at 2,850 feet, the deepest in the world at that time.

The New Rocher pit closed in 1887 and Broadoak pit closed in 1904, after which time Ashton Moss pit was the only coal mine still in operation in Ashton. Although it produced 150,000 tons of coal a year in the early 1950s and employed over 500 men, Ashton Moss colliery closed in 1959 and part of its site is now the Snipe Retail Park on the boundary with Audenshaw.

Seen here in this painting by local artist David Vaughan.

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Colliery lamp token.

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This tight little island of land was a contrasting mix of the agricultural and industrial, home also to the urgent demands of a leisured and growing working class.

The area boasted two motorcycle speedway tracks.

One located on the Audenshaw side, just behind The Snipe pub.

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And one in Droylsden at the Moorside Stadium – home to local legend Riskit Riley:

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The stadium later to become a horse trotting track, known locally as Doddy’s Trot

The Moss has also provided a home for Curzon Ashton football club

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And Ashton Cricket and Bowling Club.

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The cricket and the football have both survived the building of the Orbital Ring Road, and the development of the site as a light industrial, retail and leisure park.

The roar of Riskit Riley is heard no more.