Treat Me Nice

An A-Z Journey Around Britain

33 New Mills

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New Mills is not fashionable. The Indian restaurant occupies as much space as any of the other shops. Before it was destroyed by flood the Sycamore was a fine pub but now you have to climb a hill to the out of town but nearby Pack Horse for decent beer and food. The Arizona pale bitter there is special.

When my father was made redundant and left Merseyside to work in Stockport, he wanted to buy a house in New Mills. The countryside of the Peak District tempted but pragmatism made him settle for Bredbury outside Stockport. Like my father, Thomas Handford liked a pint. When he drank, he was troublesome to the town, Handford not my father. But after being teetotal for ten years, Handford bought and converted the local prison into what was described as a ‘comfortable dwelling house’. The area has a strong Methodist tradition and some religious sites, so perhaps redemption always beckoned Handford.

New Mills has a population of 10,000. It prevails as a problem free community thanks to the presence of Swizzles Matlow. The company makes sweets and is famous for Love Hearts. These heart shaped temptations have encouraged more than a few fantasies in British children. Of course, what they did to British teeth may have condemned those fantasies to be just that. The children of New Mills were supposed to have been used to test the products and they may have fantasised or suffered more than most. Now that Cadburys is owned by Americans, Swizzles is the largest British owned confectionery company in Britain. Every day several tankers arrive at Swizzles. Each tanker holds twenty tons of sugar. Eighty years ago Swizzles bought a redundant cotton mill.

The presence of water and coal gave the town potential for industry. Agriculture, mining and the cotton mills obliged the hamlets of New Mills to become a town and to be regarded as significant. New Mills is linked to the A6 trunk road, three railways and the Peak Forest Canal because the businessmen of the 19th Century needed what the people of the small town produced. These transport links continue to exist but the last of its cotton mills closed at the beginning of this century. It lasted 200 years, which is more than most. The forty pits are all closed.

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New Mills is located above a gorge called the Torrs. Someone decided to build a millennium bridge through the gorge. This happened because the Torrs is on the E2, which is a premier walking route across Europe from Stranraer to Nice. The walk around and below the town is spectacular.

New Mills has an annual bonfire. In 2013 this attracted 3000 people, which must be as many people as those who attend contrived firework displays in cities. Every year a two week festival celebrates the community. Folk in Manchester fifteen miles away may not think the mix of music, talks and exhibitions worth the journey but the lantern procession through the gorge, and the sight of the millennium bridge lit at night, will remain in the memory of those who visit.

Next week, the roots of Elvis, Newport, South Wales

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.

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New Blog Series 2015 – An A-Z Journey Around Britain.

1 Accrington

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Accrington is on the western edge of the Pennines. The hills look good under snow. The Coppice is the hill that overlooks the town. I have climbed the Coppice many times. Most of those I knew in Accrington had climbed the hill at some point in their lives.

Accrington has the usual neo-classical buildings that enhance Northern towns. The 72 stall market appears three days a week. But the town lacks charm. The history of Accrington has been squandered for a shopping centre and transport.

Still, Accrington has a library, a town hall and art gallery. All appeal. The Haworth Gallery is world-famous for its Tiffany glass collection. The Town Hall is the grandest building in Accrington, and its neo-classicism is worth a prolonged stare of admiration. But the Town Hall is at the back of Accrington and ignored by many.

The more attractive and lyrical spelling, Akarinton, appeared in the 12th Century. The textile, cotton and mining industries of the Industrial Revolution helped create the present population of 35,000. Non-conformism had the urban appeal that the Catholic Church lacked. Think Tamla and hip-hop.

In 1842, 1000 men walked from Accrington to other towns, pulling plugs from the factory boilers. Even then zero hour contracts appealed to employers. In a town of 9,000 people, 100 people had full time work. The Plug Riots followed a meeting in Clayton Le Moor but the violence began in Accrington. Four rioters were killed, and 41 sentenced to death although those sentences were commuted. Riots led to reform. A starving population was not quite what the local economy needed.

In 1860 the cotton market contracted after over-production. Cotton had made fortunes quicker than the Internet. There were nearly as many cotton mills as there are Apple applications. Again the working people of Accrington suffered.

Walk around the town centre, and it is easy to suppose that the locals have gloomy prospects. Someone joked that the council is the biggest employer. But unemployment and home ownership compare favourably with the national average.   The town has fewer very rich people than most but they are not missed. 30% of the households in Accrington, though, are working poor and exist on the edge of official poverty. These families are surviving because of debt. Without savings, they are unable to maintain properties. The terraced houses on the main approach to the Coppice provide an attractive border to a wide road. Elsewhere the terraced houses are in poor shape.  Vanished industries left engineering skills but none of the existing firms are global corporations. The wag that said the council is the biggest employer is correct.

Jeannete Winterson is an Accrington author. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit reveals her rejection of the puritanism of the Elim Pentecostal Church to explore her gay sexuality. Winterson said that life in Accrington was awful. A local councillor responded, ‘Considering it was so dull, she had an awful lot of lesbian sex in this town. She can’t have it both ways. It was Accrington sex what sold her book.’

Wait till we get to Barnsley.

Next week – Not Barnsley but Anfield, Liverpool.

Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015

If you want to read more about his travels click here