What the locals really think of Whitefield
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 August 2015 | UPDATED: 17:12 24 October 2015
It may not be as well known as Manchester's other suburbs, but Whitefield is certainly emerging from their shawdows with plenty to see and do. Words by Rebekka O'Grady
An up and coming suburb of Manchester, Whitefield is making a name for itself much like its leafy neighbour, Prestwich. The town benefits from its connection with the Metrolink, and is also a key part of the popular Irwell sculpture trail which runs from Ordsall up to Bacup. We visited to discover what Whitefield’s other star attractions are, and to find out more about one of its key players, Slattery.
Since the age of 14, John Slattery had been involved in baking: ‘My dad has always been a baker, working for others. At home he always baked too, so it was natural that I wanted to do it and follow on.’ He would help out at the original Slattery bakery that his parents, Margaret and Bernard, opened in 1967 in Crumpsall, before going on to train in bakery and confectionary at Salford College. After gaining further experience abroad in Europe, John along with his sister Ann Barnes began working in Slattery alongside their parents until their retirement in 1991.
‘Over the years we expanded, keeping the Crumpsall bakery and opening one in Salford which then relocated to Prestwich,’ said John, whose daughters Kate and Laura also work at the third-generation family business. ‘Now we are just based in Whitefield and have been here for 24 years.’
Three sites in Whitefield later, their current site located on Bury New Road is a three-storey emporium of treats. From cakes, chocolate, patisserie and savoury goods, Slattery make all the delectable products on site. They also have a training school and dining room, which is booked up on a Saturday up to eight weeks in advance. ‘We just kept running out of space and even here we have built on three times,’ said John. ‘We won’t open elsewhere, we are happy with one shop as it’s become a bit of a destination.’
However, no matter how popular the business gets, one thing remains at the core of Slattery; family. ‘It’s a family business and that’s a big influence throughout everything we do. The team is so strong and we all have our own little areas so it is organised. Even our 90 staff members we consider as extended family!’
A moment in time
It’s every girl’s dream, to walk down the aisle in something bespoke, elegant and timeless. Visit Antique Lace Heirlooms in Whitefield, and Rosalin Blackman can give you just that. The dressmaker and collector has over 25 years experience working with antique dresses and lace, something that started with a fixation for weddings 30 years ago.
‘Since I was a little girl I have loved the idea of weddings,’ said Rosalin, who studied fashion design at Salford College. ‘However, what people call vintage nowadays isn’t, they’re just reproductions.’ Rosalin can vouch for this, as she works with pieces that date back to the 19th century, recreating Victorian items with a contemporary twist.
The dressmaker began with a stall on Butter Lane in Manchester, before moving into Afflecks Palace and then the Royal Exchange. ‘I was in the antiques centre at the Royal Exchange for 12 years designing and reproducing wedding dresses. That was during the Lady Diana era. I then gave it up as I had three boys.’
Although Rosalin may have given up her day job to look after her children, she didn’t stop collecting. She had kept all of her patterns, and anything that caught her eye at antique fairs, Christies and auctions, Rosalin bought as she knew one day she would start again.
‘I would always walk past this building and I loved the Edwardian bay windows. I thought if I don’t do it now I never will.’ The shop opened in 2014, and Rosalin has had a lot of interest in the work she does. ‘It is a very niche market. Girls who come here don’t want the meringue shapes or chiffon fabrics, often seen in designer dresses that are mass produced. Why choose that when handmade and original dresses are available?’
Rosalin says that reproducing a dress from antique laces can take around four to six months as the laces are like jigsaws that need to be put back together. So much work is involved has it is mainly done by hand, and that’s not forgetting the restoration of some pieces as well as working out what compliments what. If it’s only a snippet of vintage you require, she also sells and rents antique veils. ‘My favourite is a handmade 1880 Brussels lace veil, it’s quite rare. I only come across veils like this once every few years so I must have it!’
It’s not only the ladies of Lancashire that have fallen in love with Rosalin’s pieces; she has received orders from all over the world through her website, including a few famous faces. ‘Courtney Love bought some antique veils and a beaded headpiece from me. She said she was going to trash them as this new form of art! She does collect a lot, especially boudoir pieces. A Dutch princess also found me from my website and bought a veil.’
Whitefield is full of surprises. One of the oldest UK musical organisations resides here, and has done for nearly 200 years. Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, known affectionately as Besses, was founded in 1818 in a small hamlet of the same name, which is now in Whitefield. The name originated from a small country inn on a toll road, which had a strange barn-like appearance. The landlady of the establishment was a Lancashire lass called Bess or Bessie, who came to be known as ‘Bessie at the Barn’.
Besses’ gained huge popularity in late Victorian times, and in 1892, under the baton of Alexander Owen it became the proud owner of every major challenge cup competed for in Great Britain. Success reined in the early twentieth century and the band embarking on two ‘world tours’ around British Empire territories in five years.
Fast forward to the present day, and the band has continued to perform and tour regularly throughout the UK and overseas, and have had the distinction of winning seven British Open Brass Band Championship titles. Though with anything, there are highs and lows and the band have had to reinvent themselves numerous times.
Now under the new musical directorship of Simon Cowen, principal trombone of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, 2015 has seen a resurgence for Besses: ‘I’ve been playing in brass bands since the age of 12, that’s where my heart lies,’ said Simon, who got in touch with the Besses a year ago after hearing that they were going through a tough time. ‘I said I would come down and play with them whenever. That’s when they asked me do I conduct, which I don’t, but I said I would give it a go!’
Since Simon, who has been playing with the Liverpool Philharmonic for seven years, joined the Besses, they’ve entered a few competitions and won one in Buxton earlier this spring. ‘That was a real high for us. The numbers have grown and now we nearly have a full band. In September we will be playing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at the Classic FM concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London which will be great. My aim is to really raise the profile of one of the world’s oldest bands and get more youngsters involved.’
Rev Alison Hardy, Rector of All Saints Church, Stand
Musical Director of Besses o' th' Barn Brass Band, Simon Cowen
Besses o' th' Barn Brass Band
The Parish Church of All Saints. Stand
Bury New Road
Bury New Road
John Slattery and Ann Barnes at Slattery
Besses o' th' Barn Brass Band rehearsal
Rosalin Blackman at Antique Lace Heirlooms
‘All Saints’ is very much seen as a centre of Whitefield,’ said Alison Hardy, Rector of the Grade I listed church. ‘Not only is it a landmark, but the people of the community feel quite attached to it.’ Consecrated in 1826, the building was entirely funded by a £14,000 grant taken out of a £1,000,000 budget set aside by the government to built ‘Waterloo’ churches throughout the country.
‘It was seen as a kind of national thanksgiving in celebration of the victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815,’ said Alison, who has been ordained for 20 years and will be celebrating her tenth anniversary of Rector at All Saints in July. ‘Charles Barry, who went on to design the Houses of Parliament, was the architect.’
However, although this incredible church was built using funding from the government, All Saints’ receives no further financial support. ‘People may not be aware that we have to raise funds ourselves or apply for grants. Without the support of English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund we couldn’t do the restoration works needed. The graveyards are looked after by a great team of volunteers at the Whitefield Community Graveyard Group.’
In 2001, the first phase of restoring the roof took place and since then the church has received well over £1,000,000 in support from the organisations. ‘We have just received £250,000 to restore the tower in 2016 which has significant cracks. Once the tower has been fixed we can ring the bells again - that’s something that hasn’t happened for 18 months.’
Hear the tigers roar!
Named this season County Senior Club of the Year in Lancashire, the Sedgley Park Tigers certainly have something to roar about. The rugby team, founded in 1932, is based at Park Lane in Whitefield and is a real community club. ‘From under 7’s up to over 30’s, we have every age group here,’ said Geoff Roberts, CEO of the club. ‘My own son went right the way through.’
Geoff himself started at the club as a player, and has been linked to the Tigers for 45 years. ‘It’s my home from home. I live in Ramsbottom, I have a farm up there. I stopped playing and didn’t have much involvement for around ten years, but when my lad was six I got roped back into running the side and it went on from there. I now run the 1st team.’
The Tigers finished third place in National League Two North this season, and Geoff says that they would all like to find their way up to the next league soon as its semi-professional. ‘In the team we have everyone from doctors to dustbin men. It’s a good cross section and a really great group of lads.’
Where is it?
Whitefield is located five miles to the north of Manchester, along the south side of the River Irwell. It is easily accessed by the M60 or the Metrolink.
Where can I park?
Bury Council provides two free car parks in the town (satnav: M45 7BY or M45 7GZ), and many side streets are free to park.
Did you know?
Whitefield is home to one conservation area (All Saints), 14 listed buildings and two nature reserves: Philips Park and Hollins Vale. There are also several public open green spaces including Whitefield, Hamilton Road and Victoria Parks.