And so to Rochdale (virtually) as reality precludes our planned visit

Rochdale town centre in 2016 after the River Roch was opened up following many years of it being underground.

Rochdale is famous for Gracie Fields, Lisa Stansfield and of course the Rochdale Pioneers who founded the first viable Co-Op. But there are others too who you may not know originated from or lived in the town such as:-

Colin Baker – actor known for playing Doctor Who on television
John Bright – radical; Liberal statesman
Don Estelle – Crumpsall-born actor and singer who lived for much of his life in Rochdale
Anna Friel – stage and screen actress
Sajid Javid – Politician and former Minister for the present Conservative Government
Bill Oddie – naturalist, comedian, musician and actor
Nigel Collison – my childhood chum – his Dad (Alan) was a Police Inspector

The Town is also famous for it’s wonderful cathedral-like Town Hall, which I have blogged about before – see link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/06/07/bootle-town-hallrochdale-town-hall-buildings-of-victorian-civic-pride/

And a previous posting about the Rochdale Pioneers:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/09/19/rochdale-pioneers-museum/

So if you’re still with me and have clicked on the links above you’ll be up to speed.

Having lived in the Town 1964 to 1968 (between the ages of 6 and 10) and been back on the odd occasion since I thought that like Bill Bryson (In his book Notes from a Small Island – he didn’t visit Rochdale I might add) I would like to do a proper valedictory tour of Rochdale as it is now or at least to compare the bits of it that I remember with the Town of today.

Here’s a video, which is kinder to the Town than many commentaries about it these days often are:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxhybuU604A

So I planned to set off for Rochdale with daughter Jen in tow as she is both interested in my childhood and, because she’s a museum curator, she wanted to see Dippy the dinosaur which is presently spending a few months on display in Number One Riverside as a visitor from London’s Natural History Museum. So you could and probably would say, if you were were my daughter or one of my so called mates, one old dinosaur was going to see another.

But then our health crisis intervened so the rest of this posting relies on my memory:-

We arrived in Rochdale to find it raining. It rains a lot in Rochdale as the clouds empty out as they pass over the Pennine Range that the Town nestles below. Oddly though my childhood memories are of many sunny school holiday days playing out with my childhood chum Nigel Collison. My bad weather memories are of early morning smogs walking to school with a fluorescent bib over my coat so that I and all the other kids weren’t run over by the few cars around in the mid 1960’s. If memory serves the 1956 Clean Air Act (amended by the 1968 Act) was being implemented in the Town whilst we lived there so smogs, I guess, are now a thing of the past. I recall some real pea-soupers when you could hardly see your hand in front of your face but off I toddled to Lower Place Primary School each day on my own or with other kids.

Anyway what were Jen and I to look at? Where I lived, my old school, where my Dad worked, where my Mum was a rent collector, nearby Hollingworth Lake (where Nigel, my childhood friend, and I disappeared to one day whilst the Moors Murders were still far too fresh in the memory [of adults] and the Police were out looking for us!) and of course Dippy the dinosaur. Another visit (for me) to the Rochdale Pioneers Museum and a ride on a Metrolink Tram would mean a full day in my former stamping ground.

We lived on Weston Avenue and here’s a couple of photos of me with Dad & Mum outside the house:-

The house was and indeed still is on a junction with Buersil Avenue and back in the day there was a corner shop opposite our house run by the wonderfully named Mr. Bracegirdle, a rotund chap if memory serves. On the diagonal corner was a butchers shop, both are now long gone and have been converted into housing.

Dad worked at Thomas Cooks in the Town’s Drake Street where he was the manager. Mum at some point got a job collecting rent for Rochdale Council on the Kirkholt Estate with her friend Joyce Collison. They had leather satchels which held the rent books and the money and they went door to door collecting in cash. I think they then got the bus to Rochdale Town Hall to pay in the cash they’d collected. Can you imagine that form of rent/money collection today!

I, as mentioned above, was attending Lower Place Primary School which still stands on Kingsway. I have few memories of it although I did get my one and only gold star of my schooling days there for drawing a picture of Cutty Sark. I also went on a trip to London, by train from Manchester, with a couple of teachers and another child to pick up a prize for the School associated with something called Feed The or Their Minds. I wonder what that was all about?

I don’t recall knowing much if anything about the Moors Murders as a child but inadvertently Nigel and I created a big panic on a sunny school holiday outing when we took off for much of the day on our bikes to nearby Hollingworth Lake. I guess we were gone for some hours and the police were called to look for us because of parental concerns for our safety. By gum we were for it when we returned without a care in the world!

I suppose with hindsight my memories of Rochdale are actually of a small part of it i.e the area where we lived and I went to school, walking or taking the bus along Oldham Road into the town centre and endless hours playing on a big field behind Nigel’s house off Buersil Avenue. The field was owned by a Mrs Kay who in 1960’s parlance was an invalid. She lived next door to Nigel’s family and I recall we did some shopping for her at times and she gave us a sixpence each. The field now has a housing estate on it.

The challenge for Jen and I now is to make the planned valedictory tour when lock-down has safely ended and Dad and Jen can go back to having a day out 2 or 3 times each year. Here’s hoping…… although dear readers I must warn you as you’ll end up with a further Rochdale blog posting to follow up this one!

Sefton Council’s Stress Reliever/Stress Ball – A nerd’s way of coping:-)

The other day I uncovered a stress ball that I had long forgotten about and had it not had ‘Sefton Travel Team’ stamped on it I would have struggled to know where it had come from.

I’m guessing that it came from my time as a Sefton Councillor, or even as Council Leader. It was probably given to me as I’m a train nut and maybe by someone who thought I was exhibiting stress at the time! Yes, it’s in the shape of a metro/transit type carriage of a generic type:-

But being a train nut I was tempted, having found it, to see if I could work out which real metro/transit train it compared to. You have to understand my level of nerdiness here of course! My conclusion? A Chicago ‘L’ train 2600-series unless anyone can be more nerdy than me and suggest an alternative. Now there’s a challenge which only a train nut would be tempted to take up……..

In the tough times we are presently facing a stress ball or two may come in handy and I actually now have 4! Here are the other 3:-`

A CWU trade union post box styled stress ball – part of their ‘keep the post public’ campaign

The trade union I worked for in a lay officer capacity for over 30 years

Well I had to have a cricket stress ball. From the 2008 Ashes Series. These were sold by M&S.

Oh and what do you think gets me stressed out? The usually poor performances of Mansfield Town FC & Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club

Sefton Council – Control of dogs via PSPO’s

You’ve a chance to have your say as Sefton Council reviews its Public Space Protection Orders:-

You can have your say on-line via the link below:-

yourseftonyoursay.sefton.gov.uk/corporate-resources/public-space-protection-order-for-dog-control/

Comments close on 14 April 2020

Stop Press: I’ve just heard (3rd March) that Sefton Council has ceased this consultation due to the health crisis.

Libraries – Lost at an alarming rate but will we ever get them back?

This is former Aintree Ratepayer Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting to try to save his local library in 2013.

Libraries have been lost at an alarming rate across the UK because of austerity which, I might add, was backed by all 3 major political parties in the 2010 General Election. So whichever party had won back then the consequences would have been as they turned out to be or even worse across most public services. Indeed, it has been argued that under Labour in the 2010 – 2015 Parliament the cuts would have been greater as they planned to make £1b more than the Coalition Government actually made. The Treasury/Institute of Fiscal Studies chart below illustrates my point:-

But for me one of the greatest losses in our communities has been the demise of libraries, indeed I put a great deal of effort into trying to save Sefton’s closing libraries along with many other community campaigners. The loss of Aintree Library caused me the most concern as until 2011 I had been a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Others of course will have felt just as keenly the loss of their local library be it in Churchtown, Ainsdale, Crosby (College Road), Birkdale, Litherland or Orrell as Sefton Borough lost 7 of its libraries to cost cutting by the Council.

All that, as they say, is history. However, my question is will we get any of the lost libraries (in a suitably modern form) back? Well we won’t be getting Birkdale or Aintree Libraries back in Sefton Borough as the sites both now have housing on them. Here are before and after shots of Aintree:-

Me outside the former Aintree Library

The same site in 2017 when the houses, now completed, were being erected.

Libraries are far more than places where books are kept and borrowed from and I say that as a hoarder of books. A library is a community meeting place, a hub for the community, a place where lonely and isolated people can meet others. Yes they provide IT access and they should all have coffee shops within them too, like at Liverpool Central Library. Their foundation was all about the joy of reading together with gaining knowledge and such worthy aims are still quite valid to my mind.

Readers of this blog-site will probably know that I found Sefton Council’s unwillingness to run libraries, that it could not afford to run, in innovative ways using volunteers most perplexing (and that’s being polite about it!); it was a though the Council saw volunteers as more trouble than they were worth. But other models of running libraries have been successfully established across the UK where councils did not use their dead hand to stop such innovation.

Such innovations have regularly gone though my mind as I’ve come across them and then recently on a visit to the north east I saw this in Tynemouth:-

What’s more it was directly opposite a flat we had rented for a week’s holiday. Wow I thought, that’s great a library to visit and explore. And then the cold light of reality struck me, it was a closed library although not obviously so until you got right up to it. As you can imagine my heart sank when I realised I’d witnessed another gone library. Then this appeared a couple of days later:-

North Tyneside Council mobile library

Well a mobile library is far better then no library at all but whilst any kind of library will make me smile there is a part of me which looks upon them in a similar way to a rail replacement bus, if you get my drift. And so I thought, well at least Tynemouth has a mobile library as some council’s have withdrawn them too and my mind, such as it is, wandered elsewhere.

Then almost by chance I saw a local newspaper in our flat called the News Guardian and in flicking through it and smiling at some of the local articles of the kind you only find in local newspapers:-

‘Man bites dog – dog to sue’
‘Council leader thinks new traffic island is fantastic’
‘MP has a cup of tea and a cake with with potholing club members’

(and yes I did make these headlines up for the avoidance of doubt)

my eyes fell upon this article:-

Well that’s innovation and a future for Tynemouth Library I thought and my spirits lifted until that is I thought back to the lack of library innovation back home in Sefton Borough of course!

Libraries are still worth saving and personally I’d like to see a new modern network of them being re-established….

Click on the photos and newspaper article to enlarge them

Maghull – That pond/grotto on the former Ashworth South Site

Not so long ago I had a good look around the Poppy Fields new housing site adjacent Maghull North Station.

I was particularly looking to see what had happened to the pond/grotto that had long been within the grounds of the former Moss Side Hospital/Ashworth South Hospital. I found it and took this shot through a building contractor’s fencing:-

I recall my old former Maghull Town Councillor colleagues John Sharman and Bill Chambers talking about it, as at the time they both worked at Ashworth Hospital. I refer of course to before the Ashworth South Site closed.

I then went searching for some background information about it and came across this in a Ecological Impact Assessment of the Ashworth South Site conducted by Atkins in May 2014 as part of the planning application process for the house building*.

‘Pond 3.4.5 A large pond is located within the woodland and is approximately 400 m2 in size and considered to have poor suitability to support great crested newts (HSI score 0.47, rated poor). At the time of the survey mallards were present in the pond as well as wrapped straw bales located within the pond which are understood to be a method of controlling pond algae. A stone built grotto approximately 10 metres long is connected to the pond (TN 29). The grotto has high bat roost potential and is a known bat roost (see 3.5.2 for more details). Peacock butterfly and moth species were recorded in the grotto at the time of the survey. No evidence of bats was recorded.’

* There had been a previous planning application process as the original intended use for the site was to have been for a new prison. Indeed, the access road into the site and the traffic island on School Lane were both constructed for the new prison. However, government changed its mind and decided to stop the prison construction with the site being sold off for the housing, which is presently being built.

Click on the photo to enlarge it

A cycle ride of contrasts – Spurriers Lane – Outlet Lane – Melling & Simonswood

I’m still cycling during our health crisis although always on my own and not stopping at cafes etc. anymore….

A lane I cycle now and again is Spurriers Lane/Outlet Lane which joins Prescot Road at the Animal Sanctuary in Melling (Merseyside) and then goes through to Simonswood Civil Parish (Lancashire) to join Simonswood Lane. It’s single track lane for its whole length but traffic is light to non-existent virtually all the time.

Sadly, and probably because of the remote nature of the lane it is often a site for fly-tipping. Sights such as this are far from unusual sadly:-

What is it about fly-tippers using their junk to block steams at the side of such lanes? They love tipping in water for some bizarre reason! As you can see this is basically domestic rubbish that simply needed taking to the nearby Sefton Meadows Recycling Centre. I despair I really do.

The lane also has what is turning out to be a near permanent flood (close to Hesketh Farm) which I have nick-named ‘Simonswood Swimming Pool’:-

I’ll give Lancashire County Council a nudge as it’s been like this for quite some time now and is clearly an obstacle for pedestrians and cyclists.

Only yards away from this flooded part of Outlet Lane there’s a sharp left turn and in the distance there are quite a few old brick built buildings which are well spaced out. I’ve often wondered what purpose they serve or used to serve:-

They clearly have flat roofs and a gander at an Ordnance Survey map shows them to geometrically spaced with connecting tracks – around 8 of them and the nearest noted building to them is Basford Farm. Just out of curiosity does anyone know what the buildings were erected for?

When I reach Simonswood Lane I usually turn left and head towards Royal Oak where there’s a crossroads with Cunscough Lane. Royal Oak is part of Bickerstaffe Civil Parish. To reach Royal Oak you have to cycle over the M58 Motorway:-

From single track road to motorway within a few yards. In fact Spurriers Lane/Outlet lane effectively parallels the Motorway. the photo is looking towards Skelmersdale.

This was just a part of my circular route from my Lydiate home through Maghull, Melling, Simonswood, Bickerstaffe & Aughton Civil Parishes – around 10+ miles to keep the old legs turning and to get a bit of fresh air in these troubled times.

Click on the photos to enlarge them although the first one is probably frightening enough without enlargement!