Stockport, Greater Manchester: mad hatters, grumpy old ladies and reconsidering my least favourite band

On Saturday I toured Stockport in the county of Cheshire, an interesting town 7 miles south-east of Manchester. Stockport is most famous for its historic hat making industry and offers up the country’s only hat museum.

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The town started hat production in the 17th century and mad hatters abounded since the mercuric nitrate used for felting animal furs was continually inhaled. This toxin affected the central nervous system and caused violent mood swings and would not have existed as an occupational hazard if the planet was vegan.

Alice in Wonderland’s friend the Mad Hatter was not actually based on a hatter, rather a crazy top hat wearing cabinet maker Lewis Caroll knew called Theophilus Carter. Theo invented items of eccentricity such as the Alarm Clock Bed, a bed which tipped up and delivered its occupant into an early vat of cold water.

Here is the personalised hat block of Kylie Minogue for her bespoke service. Hopefully Stockport was not responsible for that dreadful topless head design she wore for her first album cover.

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A clown’s hat with a surprise pop up mean-faced skeleton. Hardly suitable for a tots party.

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Opened in 1840 the Stockport viaduct is the largest brickwork structure in the UK and carries the West Coast Main Line choo choo over the River Mersey. 

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I walked into St Mary’s in the Marketplace, the town’s parish church established in 1190, where a café immediately greets you in the knave (thankfully only on non service days I learnt). Within the church there is a small Heritage Centre. “CAN I ‘ELP YA?!” barked the old lady seated behind the desk before my second foot had met the threshold. Surely a friendly “Hello” would have been far less alarming?

As I uneasily wandered about the area I saw a photo of said customer service lady pinned to a wall with a handwritten note likening her to Hitler with a bubble to her mouth bellowing “GET OUT” to tourists. At least Agnes the Mannequin was a more serene lady in the vicinity, somewhat diminishing the formidable energy. Constructed in the late 1940s she spent her life displaying frocks in the town’s market place until her owner passed away.

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I was pleased to see “All or Nothing” was currently showing at 1930s Plaza. This is a fabulous musical telling the story of the Small Faces which I saw last month in Birmingham. According to The Plaza’s website its frontage is neon lit in the evenings, a geographic blessing for those short sighted theatre goers.

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The Town Hall opened in 1908. It is a grade II listed building and houses one of only the 16 American created Wurlitzers called the “Publix 1” used to accompany silent movies. The building, nick-named The Wedding Cake, is way too wide to capture in a regular photograph so here is its centre point.

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St Petersgate bridge opened in 1868 at a cost of £6,000. It is unusual to have such a structure in a town centre and was my favourite landmark of the day. It was nice to have sunny weather to appreciate standing in the middle and perusing all angles of the town.

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From the bridge one can view The Frederic Robinson Brewery established in 1838 and one of Britain’s oldest brewers. It is proud to own the largest hopnik in the world, a straining device which extracts flavour from whole hops. With the help of this machinery an extra strong bitter was developed with the input of Iron Maiden and christened “Trooper” after one of their tracks.

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The market is still perched on its same high spot as in its medieval days, however there is now a lift in the shopping centre for the infirm or lazy who want to easily ascend to bargain hunt.

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Tutor fronted Underbank Hall was originally a 15th century town house but was sold by a baron who needed to pay off his debts. It became a bank and still is. Today Natwest reside here.

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The White Lion pub was established 1904 and is a blend of late medieval and baroque features.

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One of the best highlights of my visit was the Strawberry Studio exhibition currently held in the town’s regular museum. The recording studio was founded in 1967 and was one the first studios outside of London until its closure in 1993. It was best known for creating 10cc’s albums but name any northern band and it is likely they recorded here. Overseas musicians caught wind of such British coolness and came over to hire it too including my favourites, The Ramones.

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The early studio mixing desks were created by Eric Stewart and Peter Tattershall. Peter recounts “People didn’t believe that sound was coming out of a studio in Stockport. People thought we were American. We’re Stockport. STOCKPORT!”.

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Now I have never enjoyed Godley & Crème’s music and have always had them pinned as the worst band I have ever had the misfortune to hear. Their track “Wedding Bells” actually makes me feel queasy. However this musical exhibition had me gazing upon the two 10cc renegades in a brand new light of admiration. It transpired they invented “The Gizmo” which Manchester University put into technical motion.

“The Gizmo” was a small box that clamped onto the bridge of a guitar. It contained small plastic wheels which would vibrate the guitar strings with a violin type bowing effect to create bizarre sounds. An American company took it on and marketed it as “The Gizmotron”. Sadly the device failed a lot and so despite attracting high end fans such as Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and Roxy Music, mass production was forced to cease. Lol and Kevin never changed the future of music but at least they gave it an awesomely good go.

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I ate lunch at Tiamo, a Greek establishment listed by Happy Cow as the town’s vegan friendliest café . I had a perfectly adequate meal of salad, bread, hummus, aubergine dip and spring rolls but this was really every one of their available vegan options on one plate.

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As I finished my meal a old lady who had been sat side on to me rose up and wordlessly arm gesticulated in a very agitated manner towards her four wheeled walking aid. An inch of my bag was blocking it. When I apologised she snapped “I do need this to walk you know!” before shuffling off to engage in unrelated grumbles to a member of staff. They were obviously well acquainted with her cantankerousness and managed to swifty wrap up the social interaction as they assisted her out of the door.

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