Walk 78: Rochdale Heritage Trail: Wot you skennin’ at & stop mithering’…

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2 miles (3.22km)

Time to walk: Only about 1 hour with a few stops, including one for a ‘Butter Pie’

Difficulty: Easy all on hard surfaces. Some steps down from St Chad’s Church, but nothing difficult

Parking: We parked in the Asda Supermarket car park

Public toilets: Cafes, pubs etc on the way

Map of the route:


We were working in Rochdale &, as we’d never visited before, were pleased to see they had a town centre Heritage Trail. So what can we tell you about the town…

Rochdale is a market town in Greater Manchester at the foothills of the South Pennines on the River Roch 10 miles northeast of Manchester. Rochdale flourished into a centre of northern England’s woollen trade due to it being at the middle of a number of packhorse tracks linking surrounding towns. By the early 18th century it was described as being “remarkable for many wealthy merchants” – if only that was the case today

Rochdale rose to prominence during the 19th century as a major mill town & centre for textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution. It was a boom town of the time & amongst the first ever industrialised towns. The Rochdale Canal, one of the major navigable broad canals of the UK, was a highway of commerce & used for the transport of cotton, wool & coal

In the 1800’s a group of men who became known as the Rochdale Pioneers established a co-operative store which was the start of the Co-op movement

However, during the 20th century Rochdale’s spinning capacity declined towards an eventual halt

Is that wealth still evidenced today? We’d better go & see…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts at Rochdale’s Tourist information Centre which is housed in the impressive Touchstones Arts & Heritage Centre


The building was originally built as a public library in 1884 & subsequently extended to provide a museum & art gallery & cafe. They’re a very friendly bunch & extremely proud to welcome you to their town

2. With your back to the centre cross the road & turn right to the crossroads & the Rochdale ‘Spire’, one of a pair at the junction


The pair of spires were constructed from glass tiles, metal & stone & positioned diagonal to each other at road junction. The one nearest the esplanade has a seat around its base.
The spires were commissioned as a central component of the Council’s Public Art Strategy, part of which involved a scheme for a “cultural corridor” into Rochdale’s civic quarter. The design was intended to reflect the existing architectural spires in Rochdale town centre on the Town Hall, Arts & Heritage Centre & on St. Chad’s Church

According to the council, the words “inspire” & “aspire” inscribed on the base of each spire “have resonances with Rochdale’s radical & influential history.” Others were less impressed, & murmurings of discontent came from the press with the Rochdale Observer leading the catcalls, calling the new additions to the town “awful” & “monstrosities.” A poll conducted by the Observer found that 73% of callers agreed with editor Martyn Green’s view that they were “pathetic, & a complete & utter waste of money.” Another correspondent thought the spires were foreign to Rochdale, & would have been more at home in Bagdhad that Rochdale. We’ll leave you to make your own minds up…

3. Turn left up Broadfield Park slope & into the park itself…


There’s been quite a lot of bad publicity surrounding the park recently & the people we discussed the walk with tut tutted that we’d ventured in there (even in the daylight!)

Follow the path up the hill to the statue of John Bright who stands proudly looking over the city


4. John Bright was a British Radical & Liberal statesman, one of the greatest orators of his generation & a promoter of free trade policies. He’s most famous for battling the Corn Laws, & in partnership with Richard Cobden, founded the Anti Corn Law League, aimed at abolishing the Corn Laws, which raised food prices & protected landowners’ interests by levying taxes on imported wheat. Bright also worked with Cobden in another free trade initiative, the Cobden / Chevalier Treaty of 1860, promoting closer relationships between Britain & France. This campaign was conducted in collaboration with French economist Michel Chevalier & succeeded despite Parliament’s endemic mistrust of the French


Bright sat in the House of Commons from 1843 to 1889, promoting free trade, electoral reform & religious freedom. He was almost a lone voice in opposing the Crimean War & also opposed Gladstone’s proposed Home Rule for Ireland. He was a spokesman for the middle class & strongly opposed to the privileges of the landed aristocracy

5. Continue past the statue keeping the hotel on the right to arrive at another monument, this time to the Lancashire Dialect Poets


Following the deaths in 1895 of dialect writers John Trafford Clegg & Margaret Rebecca Lahee, a public meeting was held in Rochdale Town Hall in April 1896 & the local architect Edward Sykes was commissioned to design a monument incorporate portraits in bronze by John Cassidy


The chosen writers for the four sides of the monument were Oliver Ormerod, Margaret Rebecca Lahee, John Trafford Clegg, & Edwin Waugh

Click on this link for a guide to the “lanky'” dialect

6. Walk back towards John Bright’s statue & then turn left keeping the hotel on your left to exit the park onto Sparrow Hill Road


Pass the main entrance to the Broadfield Park Hotel. The large property was built as a residence for District Nurses in 1904 & stands on the site of the former Grammar School


7. Pass the new school to arrive at the impressive St Chad’s Vicarage…


The Vicarage was built during the reign of George I in a Queen Anne style. The house was built by Samuel Dunster who was vicar here between 1722 & 1754. It was actually modelled on the vicar’s London home & replaced an earlier property

8. Next door is St Chad’s so walk through the stone porch into the churchyard


Turn round to see the old stocks. The last person to be put in here was Bill Pod in 1822


There’s been a church on the hill overlooking Rochdale for well over 1000 years. Part of the present church tower have been dated back to Saxon times, but the majority dates from the 15th century. There’s a fabulous legend that the church was originally supposed to be built on the bank of the river Roch, but each night under cover of darkness Goblins moved it stone by stone up the hill…


9. Walk round to the right side of the church to the railed grave of John Collier, an English caricaturist & satirical poet known by the pseudonym of Tim Bobbin, or Timothy Bobbin. Collier styled himself as the Lancashire Hogarth

Born in Urmston the son of an impoverished curate, he moved to Milnrow at the age of 17 to work as a schoolmaster. Marriage & nine children meant he needed to supplement his income & he began producing illustrated satirical poetry in Lancashire dialect & a book of dialect terms. His first & most famous work, “A View of the Lancashire Dialect”, or, “Tummus & Mary”, appeared in 1746 & is the earliest significant piece of Lancashire dialect to be published


He regularly travelled to Rochdale to sell his work in the local pubs & people would ask him to draw portraits of them & their friends & he would charge on the basis of the number of heads in the picture. He died in 1786 & wrote his own epitaph 20 minutes before he died, “Jack of all trades…left to lie i’th dark” which is inscribed upon his gravestone


In 1792 Sir Walter Scott visited the grave & suggested that a public subscription be raised to refurbish it. One thousand people donated a £1 each & the tombstone was raised & a fence erected around the grave

10. Continue round the churchyard to arrive at one of Rochdale’s most famous landmarks…the Packer Steps


Possibly dating back to the 12th century, these steps have been the key route linking the town centre to the Church of St Chad for hundreds of years. Mourning relatives would climb these steps & scatter rue & rosemary in ‘Gods Acre’ (St Chad’s Churchyard) as an offering, to ease the spirits of their loved ones


11. The area to the left of the steps as you descend was once slums & the red light area of the town…


Packer Spout Gardens were built in 1934. The spring that feeds the ornamental pond was known as Packer Spout & fed Rochdale’s first reservoir, built by Samuel & Ralph Taylor in 1760


The water was piped to houses in the low lying area around the town centre. It’s believed that packhorses were watered at Packer Spout in the past, hence the name. The fountain was restored in 2007 as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project

12. Walk back down the steps towards Rochdale Town Square…


Before we head to the town hall let’s have a look at the buildings on the right. First’s the rather ornate Flying Horse Hotel…


The Flying Horse was built in the late 18th century & had the largest assembly room in the town before the Town Hall was built. It was also home to the weekly court proceedings. The first building was replaced in 1926 with the current hotel


13. Next door’s the former Empire Hall which opened as a Music Hall in 1904. When the cinema came along the building became known as Pringle’s Picture Palace


Almost next door & standing on the corner of Parker Street & Fleece Street’s the old Post Office, now a Yate’s Wine Bar. It was also the offices of the County Court. A lovely building it, like much of the town, it’s seen better days


The final building of note along this stretch known as the Esplanade is the Town Hall Chambers which was also home to the Post Office for a time…


14. Turn round & walk across the road onto the vast town hall square which was once a densely built up area. Today it’s a huge open area dominated by the impressive Town Hall


Rochdale Town Hall was built in a gothic style at a cost of £160,000 (£13.4 million in today’s money). In 1871 William Henry Crossland, won a competition to design a new Town Hall. It had a 240-foot clock tower topped by a wooden spire with a gilded statue of Saint George & the Dragon, both of which were destroyed by fire on 10 April 1883, leaving the building without a spire for four years

A new 190 foot stone clock tower & spire in the style of Manchester Town Hall was designed by Alfred Waterhouse & erected in 1888- in fact we have it on “local” authority that it was meant to have been for Manchester

Legend has it that the building came to the attention of Adolf Hitler, who was said to have admired it so much that he wished to ship it, brick by brick, to Nazi Germany had Britain been defeated in the Second World War

15. In the front of the square’s a new statue to Rochdale’s most famous star…Gracie Fields


Dame Gracie Fields was an actress, singer, comedian & star of both cinema & music hall. She spent the later part of her life on the Isle of Capri, Italy. Fields was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for “services to entertainment” in 1938 & in 1979, seven months before her death, was invested a Dame


16. Walk round to the front entrance of the Town Hall to get a different perspective – they also do tours, but we didn’t have time today…


…but instead we turn & walk back past the Chambers & cross the bridge over the river Roch


17. Ahead’s the decorative Royal Bank of Scotland building. The red building to the left became part of Rawson’s Bank in 1819. The bank was sold to the Royds family in 1827. Since then it went through many hands until 1914 until it was demolished to make way for the white building


To the right of that’s the art deco Regal Moon pub, now part of the Wetherspoon’s chain. The name of this pub recalls its original use as the Regal cinema built in 1938


Almost next door one of the tram stops that connects the town to the centre of Manchester


18. Walk back towards the bridge, turning right up the narrow ‘The Walk’…


This was described as an ancient common way in 1702, when it led to Lower Yates, New House & orchards. Walter Vavasour built the block of buildings forming the Walk in the early 1800s, partly on the site of the yard of Eagle Inn. The Vavasours, who were woollen merchants, built it to lead from their house, now Lloyds Bank, to the river

19. Turn right at the end & head up Yorkshire Street, passing the shopping centre…


There’s a few local shops still along here, namely a good butchers & an excellent small bakery which we’ll visit on the way back. In the meantime keep straight on looking for an alley on the left called The Baum


There’s a signpost pointing the way to Toad Lane Museum which is our next stop

20. At the end of the Baum, turn left & you’ll see the large church on the right…


This is the church of St Mary in the Baum. The church was founded in 1740 as a chapel of ease to minister to the people living north of the River Roch. Today’s church, designed by eminent church architect Sir Ninian Comper, was opened in 1911

Baum (Rochdale dialet for ‘balm’) refers to the wild flowers which grew in the meadows where the church was built, various thought to be Lemon Balm. Legend has it that the legendary Baum Rabbit, a ghostly creature, is said to haunt the churchyard

21. The Grade II listed postbox is only one of two in existence. It’s been here since the 1980’s but dates back to 1866



Toad Lane Museum was the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers first shop & is recognised as the birthplace of the Co-operative Movement with the values & principles established by the Pioneers forming the basis of co-ops throughout the world today

The museum is a recreation of the original shop, containing its rudimentary furniture, scales & items that were sold at the store. It’s owned by the Co-operative Heritage Trust & managed by the Co-operative College


22. Next door’s The Baum which hasn’t always been a pub as it used to be a hardware store…


Over the road’s the old vicarage which reminds us a bit of Hitchcock’s house on the hill


23. Walk back the way we came & turn right up Reed Hill to return to Yorkshire Street…


Turn right & walk back down towards the shopping centre. Time now for a local delicacy. On the left the smells coming out of Greenhalgh’s Bakery are very tempting so go inside & see what’s cooking


If you’re feeling ‘messy’ then the only thing that will do is a ‘Butter Pie’. Made from potatoes & onions, Butter Pie was created for workers from Lancashire’s Catholic community to eat mainly on Fridays when meat could not be eaten


It’s also sometimes served on a savoury barm cake & is also mentioned in the Paul McCartney song “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” which contains the lyric, “I had another look & I had a cup of tea & butter pie”

We sat on a bench to eat & watch the world go by. It was a sad sight & it’s a long time since we’ve seen so many beggars & general ‘unsavoury’ characters in a town. Speaking to the locals they were also concerned at how much their town had gone downhill

24. The large grand building on the right’s the former Lloyds Bank & was built in 1708 as a house for the Vavasour family. Later it became the Union Flag Hotel & in 1745 was occupied by Jacobite rebels as their headquarters


Almost next door’s the former site of the Bluebell Inn…


It’s name comes from the medieval church bell which was traditionally painted blue

25. At the bottom of the street turn right past the Town Hall once again


On the right the large white building is Rochdale’s Post Office which was designed by the Post Office’s own architect, Charles Wilkinson. It was initially planned around 1911, but due to the outbreak of World War I, wasn’t completed until 1927


26. Almost next door is the extremely impressive War Memorial & it’s no coincidence it looks like the Cenotaph in Whitehall


That’s no coincidence as it was designed by the same architect, Sir Edward Lutyens. The whole area is very tastefully designed including the gardens & beautiful benches…



27. Continue back towards the Heritage Centre where we started this walk. The monument on the right celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Rochdale Pioneers


So that’s it…we’re back at the start &, despite some concerns, we’ve managed to survive & get back alive!

Rochdale, like many old industrial towns, has seen much better days, but this doesn’t mean that we should ignore it. There’s much history to be unearthed in these places & the local people are still proud of what the town once used to be & hope that one day it can recover its former glories

There’s a considerable way to go though…

Go Walk!