Growing Up, Down Sparth 1960s

Growing up in this area of Rochdale in the 1960's and 1970's probably wasn't much different than any other area of the town, but here are a few nostalgic reminiscences from Sparth .

This little known area is around the gasworks . Bordered by Sparthbottoms Road at the back , Mellor St at the other side, and encasing Albion Rd , Norman Rd , Dane St and the now demolished Saxon St ,Heath St, Beech St, Maple St, Fern St and Briar St , not forgetting Bridgefield St, Corporation Rd and the former Church St .

The upper area of Sparthbottoms Rd featuring St Albans Terrace, Castle Avenue and Castle Hill Crescent will only be briefly featured, for reasons stated at the end of the paragraph. I remember a church in this area, called St Albans, demolished in the 1970's. This could be accessed from a road behind Castle Hill Crescent, or, far more spookily up some bush covered steps from Sparthbottoms Rd. Only the brave went that way, or to the vicarage (the site of the old Rochdale Castle) because " the mad vicar lives there ". Behind the church was a very steep grassy incline where you could risk injury by sliding down on pieces of cardboard. This area was known as the domain of the " Chaddies " (don't know why they were called that), sworn enemies of the Sparth kids due to many a mutual raid of bommy wood for November 5th fires. Always a great time for us, with a communal bonfire, lit by a dad, parkin and black peas etc served up by the mums.

The gasworks area as it was has been immortalised in the 1966 film "The Family Way" Starring Hayley Mills, John Mills and Hywel Bennett to name a few Sparth visiting stars. The Fitton household was a house on St Albans Terrace and a wonderful panoramic view of the area is shown early in the film. Marjorie Rhodes as Mrs Fitton comes out with some lovely Northern remarks, and John Mills works at the gasworks with some great shots of what we weren't allowed to enter as kids.

Apart from street games , we played in the "quarry" or "koz" which has now been grassed over and housed the Sparth community centre. This was a dump, and contained many resources for games, but met with parental disdain " you'll get nails in yer feet , you'll ruin yer shoes ", and you always had to hope you'd get away with lying about having played there.

We also had the " cricket field " for ball games when dry, on Sparthbottoms Rd. Sunday morning pub football was always worth watching. Probably because they were the friendliest (and good too ).

I spent many a morning in the 60's watching the regular as clockwork workers head down to the Standard and Sparth mills, the Norman Rd laundry, and other works on Corporation Rd, and watching the coalmen bag up and load the wagons for David Anders coal merchants on Albion Rd. Before moving supplies to the depot at the bottom of Fern St / Church St, the coal was kept in the yard in piles that could have been easily stolen, but it rarely was.

There were plenty of shops in the area - two at the top of Albion Rd ( Mrs White's and Mrs Hilton's ), a bakers on Heath St- home of Mr Bellengers wonderful pies and later run by the Purdy's, the ice-cream people, a chippy at the bottom of Albion Rd , two shops on Norman Rd (Florrie's and Mrs Jolly's), one on Corporation Rd (Jessie's) providing a useful calling point for sweets on the way to & from Oakenrod School and selling some gorgeous smelling bacon butties for the local workforce. And most famously Harold Roberts butchers on Bridgefield St. Upto the 1970's, Mr Roberts made regular deliveries around the town in his horse drawn butchers wagon. Popular for its convenience, his horse also kept the backyard gardeners keen for its arrival in hope that it would deposit fertilizing materials on their road. Another well known travelling trader was "The Black Pea Man" who had a moped with a cart attached on the back containing some delicious fayre. I don't remember his visits being as regular as Mr Roberts, but being sent out by your Mum with a bowl on a Friday night as he rang his bell was a treat.

The big event of the time was when Sparth Mill burst into flames - I missed the real action because I was on holiday, but such was its scale, I was able to see it on the national news. Another major event was an annual bicycle race which took place around a circuit of Sparth attracting riders from far and wide.

Steve Ashworth