Tony Bugby, Stalybridge Correspondent editor, writes about an emotional return to the town where his journalistic career began.
The Stalybridge of today is far removed to the one I left in 1985 to work for a daily newspaper.
The biggest change without question has been restoration of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal that has reinvigorated the town.
In the four years I was district news editor of the Stalybridge Reporter between 1981/85, I reported how Stalybridge Civic Society and the Huddersfield Canal Society had a vision to re-open the abandoned canal through the town centre.
It appeared fanciful at that time and a logistical nightmare as it had been infilled and built over. The canal, that opened in 1811, was mostly abandoned in 1944 with only a short stretch surviving until 1963.
As industrial and other premises had been built on the route of the canal, the most viable option at that time would have been to create a diversion through the town using the River Tame.
But the decline of heavy industry – a number of big firms closed – suddenly made it feasible to open the canal through the town. That became a reality as it was re-opened by Lord Tom Pendry in 2001.
I was sad the Civic Society’s Ernst Brummer, who pursued a dream to reopen the canal, was not alive to witness the historic moment the canal was once again part of the South Pennine Ring.
I remember from those days how community orientated the town was, no more than when Tameside Council proposed to implement pay and display on the Armentieres Square car park.
Stalybridge Chamber of Trade were vehemently opposed and local insurance broker Keith Bennison, something of a maverick figure, co-ordinated the protest.
He organised a petition and to create publicity unfurled it down the Melbourne Street pedestrian precinct – I seem to recollect it stretched for more than 100 yards.
I have lasting memories of the people from that era: the Hobson family who almost single handedly kept alive Stalybridge Carnival; the poet ‘Lancastrian’ who would visit the Reporter office on Melbourne Street with his dialect verse to be published; and Peter Bartlett, manager of Copley Recreation Centre, and a man with a Midas touch when it came to bringing top sporting events to the town including National League basketball.
One lasting memory was the actor Michael Crawford, of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em fame, visiting Copley for a gymnastics competition that featured disabled children. He was in Manchester at the time starring in the musical Barnum.
In the era before emails, social media and even mobile phones, a typed letter personally addressed to me at the paper arrived from Michael asking for a photo of a disabled girl who had formed a special bond with him during the visit.
In the early 1980s the iconic mills, a part of our heritage, were beginning to disappear. It was sad to see history being bulldozed and I recall taking personal photos so I could remember the landscape as it once was.
The mills were replaced by other industries such as Delta Enfield Cables – I could see their factory from my office window – were major employers.
The biggest story on my watch at the Reporter was the massive explosion at Chemstar in Carrbook which left part of the village resembling a war zone. Barrels of chemical were found a quarter of a mile from the site such was the force of the blast.
And no sooner had the town recovered from the shock than there was a second blast at a chemical factory, this time Manro though, thankfully, it was not on the same scale as Chemstar.
In the four years as a local reporter, I became a part of the community, effectively capturing and chronicling the life of the town.
In the days before I drove, I would arrive daily on the train from Stockport – that service no longer exists except for a once a week train that enables the line to stay open – and would pop in to the fire station each morning to find out what emergencies they had dealt with.
Similarly there would be visits to the police station that is no longer in use and boarded up to discover what crimes had been committed. Today’s reporters are, unfortunately, unable to do this as they are directed to press offices.
Sadly 32 years after leaving the town to pursue my career, many of those I dealt with are no longer alive, but their memories will remain with me forever.
What has struck me on my return is the spirit of Stalybridge remains alive and the welcome I have received has been uplifting.
There has been genuine good wishes for the Correspondent that aims, like the Stalybridge Reporter once did, to be the heartbeat of the town.
So don’t be afraid to contact us with any issues about life in the town or the exploits of residents.