The Middleton Golden Cluster looks to boost tourism to the town
PUBLISHED: 00:08 11 September 2014
You might not find it on the tourist map but Middleton's fame is spreading, as Catherine Smyth reports
When you are looking for an historic place to visit in Lancashire, Middleton is unlikely to be uppermost in your thoughts. But did you know it has its own Golden Cluster? Or that one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts movement came from this north Manchester community?
When Tim Nuttall took up his post as tourism officer with Rochdale Council seven years ago, Middleton was part of the remit. ‘I didn’t know Middleton that well so I went on a fact-finding tour and I discovered four buildings that were absolutely not what I had expected,’ he said.
‘There were medieval buildings dating back to 1412 and I didn’t know that one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts movement, Edgar Wood, came from Middleton. All of the buildings were open, but at different times and on different days. I thought they needed to get together.’
Thanks to the involvement of conservation officer David Morris that seed was able to blossom into what is now known as the Middleton Golden Cluster - a collection of Grade I and Grade II Listed buildings of architectural and historical interest. This is the month to visit as they co-ordinate opening times during September.
Historic St Leonard’s Parish Church, built in 1412, was open only on Friday afternoons and was not widely publicised. Being a business, Ye Olde Boar’s Head pub, dating back to 1632, was open for customers, but the licensees had not thought about running tours to explain its heritage. The oldest surviving grammar school, built in 1586 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, was only open occasionally or for special functions. Meanwhile, artist Edgar Wood’s Arts and Crafts Church, on Long Street, was open by appointment or when the church was in use.
‘It was a missed opportunity,’ said Tim. ‘I realised people would be unlikely to visit Middleton just to see one building, but they might be interested in coming if they could see several.’
Fortunately, Rochdale Council was able to secure nearly £2 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund that enabled not only buildings in the town centre to get a facelift, but the Middleton Golden Cluster to really take off.
Heritage Open Days had already been established across the country on the second weekend in September and volunteer guides, who conducted tours of the buildings, agreed to open on Tuesday and Friday afternoons throughout the month.
Grants also paid for publicity material and professional training for the tour guides who were secretly checked by a mystery shopper from Visit England who awarded them the national accreditation ‘Places of Interest’ Quality Rose Marques.
Chris Vere, from Visit England, said: ‘This is a great credit to Middleton and I congratulate all the volunteers who made my visit so memorable. There was a real enthusiasm shown and some remarkable material on display. There is no other town in England to have four of these Quality Rose Marque awards so close together.’
In 2012, to mark the 600th anniversary of the church, the Townscape Heritage Initiative funded a medieval pageant telling the town’s history. The Flodden Window restoration was funded by St Leonard’s Church and was completed in 2013 to mark 500 years since the battle.
To attract more visitors last year, local brewer Wilson Potter brewed and sold a pale ale ‘Nod to Nowell’. This was to commemorate the founder of Queen Elizabeth I Grammar School Alexander Nowell, who was attributed with inventing bottled beer.
Work has also been carried out to renovate a memorial to Middleton poet, orator and radical Sam Bamford. He led 6,000 men and women to a peaceful rally against the Corn Laws in Peterloo in 1819. The rally turned into a massacre.
This year a special trail has been created so visitors can walk in his footsteps and learn more about the social reformer. As part of Heritage Open Days – on Saturday September 13 – a guided tour of the trail is being offered.
Families have also not been left out as a special treasure hunt has been introduced around the buildings. A film by architectural photographer Andy Marshall entitled ‘Middleton Symphonia’ will also be shown at the Arts and Crafts Centre.
Although Tim and David are no longer employed by Rochdale Council, they are still enthusiastic about the golden cluster and hope the month of open days will become self-funding once the THI money has finished.
Take a bow
The Flodden Window in St Leonard’s Church in Middleton commemorates the 17 captains of the archers, depicting and naming them each in stained glass. It is one of the oldest war memorials in England, marking the biggest battle on English soil. The invading Scots army was defeated at Flodden in Northumberland in 1513 and a large contingent of the English troops were archers from Lancashire.
Leaflets about the buildings and the trails are available at tourist information centres in Lancashire and in many shops around the town and the library or by contacting Rochdale Visitor Information Centre on 01706 924 928.