In 1969 the Archies pop group had a hit record called Sugar, Sugar. An album followed. Rolling Stone gave the album a one line review that said something like ‘This album has twelve arguments against capitalism.’ In 1844 Friedrich Engels wrote that Stockport was ‘renowned as one of the duskiest, smokiest holes in the whole industrial area.’ But, without the smoke, cotton mills can be a legacy to connect modern Northern life to the past. Stockport has splendid mills and a magnificent 1840 viaduct of twenty-seven arches. The town had the potential to be something special. Instead the appetite for money condemned by Rolling Stone created an urban mess. The heritage was not destroyed but disfigured. Splendid effects are now eyesores. The nearby M62 motorway may have meant that an unhappy ending was inevitable. But local politicians fostered a shopping centre of dull blocks and indistinguishable concrete and re-mapped the town to accommodate superstores.
Yet the town has different aspects, and even today there are odd spots that evoke a complicated history. On a sunny day the market provides relief from oppressive modern retail, as does Huffys Restaurant, which is in a 16th Century building called the Three Shires. The unique Second World War underground air raid shelters and the National Hatting Museum attract visitors. In the 18th Century Stockport was the centre of the hatting and silk industry.
Stockport has some fine buildings. All were built when the town grew in response to prosperity and not when it was designed to generate wealth. St Thomas’ Church is confident and classical. The Town Hall is ignored by shoppers but it has an impressive Italian marble entrance and the admired Edwardian ballroom and Wurlitzer organ. The Plaza Theatre and Cinema has a supremacist facade that would have appealed to Stalin and Hitler. Its light repertory is not inspired but from 1967 to 1999 the Plaza was a Mecca bingo hall. There has been progress. Now vintage films are sometimes shown, and every year the Stockport Film Festival invites films from local and independent filmmakers. The Sundance Festival may exist amidst Utah scenery but Sundance is now a media extravaganza dominated by large film studios. Robert Redford should note that the Plaza Cinema has the first Compton Theatre organ to have sunburst decorative panels.
Stockport is seven miles from Manchester. It began as a settlement on the south bank of the River Mersey. The River begins in the hills of the Peak District and travels seventy miles to Liverpool. In the 60s Gerry Marsden recorded a song called Ferry Cross The Mersey. Parochial pride in Liverpool means many think that the River Mersey begins in the Runcorn estuary. Left wing Scousers would approve of Stockport man Richard Bradshaw. He was President of the Commission that tried Charles 1. Bradshaw missed the early days of the trial but recovered well. He declared the monarch ‘a Tyrant, Traitor, Murderer and a public enemy.’ The over-use of capitals in the English language is deplorable but there are moments when it can be justified.
Next week, violent anarchists and Joseph Conrad, Stoke Newington
Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.
If you want to read more about his travels click here.