On Saturday I went by train to a little town called Mossley which, being on the Easterly side of Greater Manchester and on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, is almost in Yorkshire. Nestled into the Tame valley at the base of the Pennines, it’s a scenic little place that feels a world away from Manchester city’s urbanity. Well, almost. The sense of English industrial history is vivid, with a handful of “dark Satanic mills” prominent in the immediate landscape and suggesting a somehow ever-encroaching modernity; as well as Mossley’s centrality to the region’s development. Externally, many of the factories (once used for wool and cotton production) appear to be in decent condition. With the passage of time, and with the inevitable evolution of social contexts, meanings, and values, they have even taken on a certain soulfulness. For me, the juxtapositions and the looming brick chimneys make a canal side walk more evocative; for the Romantics and Radicals of the Industrial Revolution, they signified something immediately alarming.
One mill – Woodend – has been redeveloped, serving as an increasingly popular combined space for community groups and artists, who can rent studios there. Nonetheless, it’s easy to imagine ghosts. The locals of a hundred and fifty years ago hurry out through a misty dawn, ready (or not) to play essential parts in the transition to a new English (British, global) economy; with all of its social discontent and its “astronomical prospects“. A few Weavers’ Cottages remain in Mossley, many high up on the town’s steep hills. Higher still sit the remains of a 12th century Norman castle, recently excavated by students from Manchester University.
As with anywhere, there is no doubt a rough edge to Mossley if you hang around long enough – but on a daytrip, it feels like it’s earned its place as a green and pleasant space for commuters, retirees, and the holidaymakers who pass through by boat, stopping next to the locks to enjoy some good food, some lovely beer gardens, and a friendly atmosphere. Many thanks to my friend Anne, Mossley born and bred, who happily acted as my local tour (and pub) guide! 🙂