You’ve probably not noticed most of the things around you where you live. I know I certainly haven’t. The whole lockdown experience has opened up a whole new world for me. With limitations on outdoor exercise and the distance we can travel, I spent much of my time discovering Newton Heath.
Newton Heath has been my home for the past thirteen years. It is a pretty large district 2.4 miles to the North East of the city centre. You would think that in all that time that I would know the place pretty well. And I thought I did, until these past few weeks during the lockdown from the pandemic. A blessing in disguise in my book, as it has enabled me to get out and start really discovering Newton Heath and the surrounding districts I can walk to. I am aware that I can walk a long way, but we are lucky to have plenty of districts surrounding our area, making each adventure an exciting expedition on foot.
From the outset, Newton Heath looks pretty much like any other mill town. Rows of terrace houses, avenues of 1930s semi-detached and old mills now repurposed into fashion distribution centres and warehousing. A long main road running through the middle from town to the church and life, shops and schools spattered in the streets branching out from it. If you do a google search on the place, you are likely to find some pretty damning commentary (from someone I suspect never really spent any time here). Yes, it has it’s issues. Much like any inner city district, but it has a huge heart and some amazing people. And that, to me, along with the overlooked heritage is what makes a place.
In the thirteen years I have been in the area, there have certainly been ups and downs. People come and go, buildings once vibrant and used are left to rack and ruin and spaces change. But all in all, it is a great place to live. Somewhere which has gone up in my estimation after six weeks of roaming the streets and noticing more than I ever anticipated seeing.
The lockdown situation came as a bit of a change to things, as I am sure you found too. It was strange to think we could only get out for a wander once every day. As someone who walks all the time, for leisure, for travel and for shopping, I thought it would take quite a heafty adjustment. Surprisingly, though, I slipped into things far more easily than I thought. On the first weekend of our lockdown experience, I put on the kind of head I take with me when I visit a new city or country. I just follow my feet and let my curiosity guide me. Something my general life doesn’t seem to allow when I am at home. (something I will be fixing after this experince though)
The church at the top of the main road into Newton Heath is something I see every time I come home. Whether from the Oldham side or the Manchester side, there is no avoiding it. I have seen it through spring, summer, autumn and winter and admired that it stands so proud at the top of Newton Heath. Like a beacon to welcome us home. Never, though, have I thought about how old it was. Why it was there? Or what materials it was made from. Which seems quite bizarre considering my interest in all things urban and built enviornment. That was when I started searching for answers.
To give you a brief overview (I will be sharing more about my discoveries in separate posts so as not to overload you in one go!) about All Saint’s Church at the top of Briscoe Lane in Newton Heath Manchester. The original church was built in 1571, but fell down in 1808. The Rector at the time continued to preach in the ruins so that he could receive income from the Tithens. The current church was built in 1814 and stands strong to this day, still delivering services and holding some very good table top sales!
Woodland Walks and Hilly Views
In the years I have lived in the district, I have taken many a walk around. I have seen the things I discovered recently, but never took note of them. This is inclusive of the fact that we have woodland walks and hilly views literally around the corner. For an urban district within easy walking distance from the city centre of a large metropolitan area, it is a surprise. As you might guess from the name, Newton Heath was once farming land. An area which changed dramatically during the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of the canal system and the many mills lining the way up to Oldham.
The area benefited from some of the rich mill owners providing greenspace for recreation. In fact, Philips Park at the end of Briscoe Lane was one of the first (if not the first) municipal parks in the world. Opened in 1886, the 31 acre park has woodland, allotments and the remains of what was a stuning tulip garden.
But there is something closer to my house. Clayton Vale, which links up to Philip’s Park on the other side of ‘the Heath’.
Although Clayon Vale is technically in Clayton, it is in the borders of Newton Heath and a short walk from the main district centre. Since rediscovering it, we have been taking our morning reverse commute (yes, Jit is doing it with me as he is now working from home too) here. We can easily clock up four miles and get to enjoy some urban spaces, woodland, park and river pre-breakfast. Had we not bee able to get out and about discovering Newton Heath, we might not have made that discovery.
If there is one thing I recommend you do, whenever you are in an area where the shops might look a bit rough or forgotten, is to look up. My experience of doing this, is that you discover history right there in plain sight. Crossing the road can also be a fantastic way of gaining a new perspective on something which you might simply overlook. Take the surveillance company building in Newton Heath. Nothing much to see from the white render and 90s entrance canopy. But on further inspection, this is actually a pretty amazing building.
Settled at the top of the redbrick with narrow mortar joints is a piece of hisroty from the indurtial era of the area. This was the Failsworth (another nearby district with once blurred boundaries) Industrial Society building from 1907.
Seeing more than a town
This is simply a snippet of the things I have found while discovering Newton Heath on my lockdown walks. Not only have I been able to learn more about the history of the area, I have been able to start falling in love with the place. I am seeing an area, which was seeminly invisible to me for most of the time I have lived here. I need to give it more of a chance (a nice reminder for us all to look past the flaking paint or pot holed roads of an area) to see it for what it is. A player in the Industrial Revolution. The home of Avro, leading the way in airoplane manufacture and part of the moon landing experience. The material for the space suits was created here at P. Frankenstein and Sons. The list goes on. But for many, they see a bit of a run down town. It is more than that, it is Newton upon the Heath. And I hope that you will stick around to learn more as I discover the hidden history of this special place in Manchester.