WALKS IN MANCHESTER - ASHTON UNDER LYNE
Ashton is the heart of Tameside, Manchester. I walked there a few weks ago andthis sumarises themain places I found of interest, some of which I already knew of from earlier visits.
From the bus station, head into and through the shopping precinct which looks like shopping precincts anywhere), and through to the rather unimaginitive street market, where many stalls sell cheap tatt and others are empty.
To one side of the market is the Town Hall, with two magnificant gleaming cannons outside. Head in and you quickly see the two terrific museums which are free to explore – The first one is that of The Manchester Regiment, one of the best military museums in Britain. It covers the history of the regiment from its 18th century origins, through the Napoleonic, Crimean, Boer, Zulu and World Wars, with many touching tributes and memorial pieces about the men who died in the field.
Seeing me writing notes about the displays, a curator told me that there was a guide book available for just £1.00, so I got one, only to find later that it was a guide to only one small portion of the overall display – not the whole museum.
There are quite a few interactive displays, including audio recordings of well known war poetry,and a chance to stand in a realistic World War One Trench, seeing life sized models of men just ahead of you as they climb over the top. You can try on helmets and gasmasks too.
Downstairs from this is the newly opened Sentantii Museum.
The unusual name is that of a stone age tribe who were settled on Ashton Moss in the Bronze Age. The museum charts the history of how the town developed from their age to the present day, taking in the medieval era, the English Civil War (When Tameside men fought for Parliament), through the industrial revolution, to the present day.
Again, there are many interactive displays, and a fascinating ghosts and legends display including a real human skeleton in a broken crypt coffin used to illustrate how grave robbing was rife in the area in the 18th century.
The Town Hall also has fabulous displays of silver-ware and mayoral chains through the ages. You can, with prior permission, take photograpohs in the Hall, except of the silver-ware. One of my friends had to sign consent forms for permission to take pictures but staff were very helpful to us.
This was quite a walk from the Town Hall museums, and very disappointing. The main gallery was closed to the public as it had been hired for yoga classes. Now I’m all for yoga classes wanting to hire rooms, but giving them an art gallery for the day is a ludicrous way of excluding the general public from seeing the art, while a yoga group could hire any old church hallor meeting room, (of which amajor town like Ashton has plenty) and won’t really be taking in their aesthetic surroundings much anyway.
The one display on public show was a series of sculptures made from corrugated cardboard, including a large round tube that you could stand inside. Novel, but overall, I’d rather have let the yogis use that room than the one they were given.
After a brief visit to the legendary Witchwood Pub (see my pub Guide to Manchester) it was time to visit the last museum of the day – The Portland Canal Basin Museum.
A real highlight for any visit to the town. You reach it by following the canal towpath to the large wide basin, where canal long-boats can easily turn and moor up. There is a large stone arched tow-path bridge here that has sadly proved to be a popular place to commit suicide from, by leaping straight into the dark waters weighed down with stones. It has also featured on the cover of an album by folk musicians The Fivepenny Piece.
The Mseum itself offers a free history of the Industrial Revolution, from Jethro Tull’s Seed Drill, to the rise of the railways. Canal navvies receive strong attention, with reminders that men died for every mile of canal dug out, often with nothing but picks and shovels. There are some teriffic working models, including one that shows how canal locks operate.
The museum has a lovely gift and book shop and a very nice little cafeteria. Our visit was briefly interrupted by a fire alarm caused by visitors unwittingly opening a fire door, but no harm was caused and everyone took the incident in good humour.
There is much to see and do in Ashton, which is a town I’ll certainly be visiting again as soon as possible.
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