IT'S EASY sometimes to let your psychogeographical sense take over. On a cold, wet and windy winter's afternoon Cheadle, on initial inspection, offers little in the way of joy.
Cheadle feels… well… real. Proper. It even has a waterfall. Sort of.
But later in early March on a fine and very busy Saturday it appears a different place. The secret it seems is to get there early as some people start to shut up shop – literally – by four on Saturdays.
Cheadle - the parish church and the White Hart pub
Watermeads to the northNot that the attractions of Cheadle are exclusively confined to the shopping area. North and south there is pleasant green space. These are a short walk from the car parks which are so cheap they feel as though they’re mocking city centre prices.
Instead of £7 for two hours in the King Street West car park in Manchester, here it’s 40p in Massie Street East; for four hours in the same city centre car park it’s £15, in Cheadle it’s 80p.
True, there’s a bit more to do in Manchester city centre.
Smart villas, Charity Take-Over and an Astonishing Interior
A short walk from the car park on Massie Street East is a gorgeous conservation area called Brooklyn Crescent with Victorian villas set round a central gardens. It’s ‘leafy’ defined. Maybe Posh and Becks were inspired to name their first born by places closer to their ex-Alderley Edge home than was previously thought.
Puns and jokes are all over Cheadle. Just up from the dog shop is the Royal Oak pub, the A-board outside reads ‘Warning!!! This pub may contain nuts.’ The fish shop is called Sea, It Fresh. Genius.
Brooklyn Crescent reveals how Cheadle developed in Victorian times as a well-to-do rail commute from the warehouses and counting houses of Manchester city centre. It also shows how Cheadle is still very much a desirable place to purchase property.
Given this, the disparity between the house prices and the high street is strange.
Lovely Brooklyn Crescent - the kids in the picture aren't that small, they're just far away
The high street, called engagingly High Street, is not a handsome thoroughfare. It can feel jaded. Unlike Rochdale say, where the recession left a shanty of empty premises, here the units have been body-snatched by charity shops. Every single name in that world is in evidence – or at least nine of them. Or was it ten?
These are seemingly full of old dears tinkering with the china, a few bearded young dudes kneeling before the vinyl trying to find a 50p win that's worth a thousand and those long wax-coated, bush-hatted Terry Pratchett types hanging about in the non-fiction.
High Street - the charity shops are massing
The Oxfams and Minds, together with a heartily proper old school barm selling butchers, an authentic ancient tobacconist and a few sprouts in the way of a post greasy spoon cafe culture suggest fresh possibilities in the central areas of this suburb of almost 15,000 inhabitants.
A wedding chimes out at St Mary's where the tower clock spells out warnings where the numbers should be. ‘God Forget Not’ is fine but ‘Time Is Flying’ is a scary slogan hanging as it does over the memento mori of the packed graveyard.
The clock of doom
An excellent bag of steaming chips outside Mac's Plaice sees me strike up conversation with James Regan and his wife Joan, who are local residents. I think he really just wanted a chip. "Sometimes it feels like we've been forgotten by Stockport and Manchester", he muses. "And sometimes, that's a good thing!'.
One of the interiors of one of the shops in Cheadle is not easily forgotten however.
It’s a wonder.
The best intact Art Deco cafe interior in Greater Manchester? Probably
Best Art Deco chrome?The St Ann’s Hospice charity shop used to be a patisserie and café bar created by the Weinholt family who still have a shop in Alderley Edge. Downstairs it looks much like any typical charity shop but the stairs give the game away.
There’s a chrome niche and chrome tiles and a chrome handrail that leads upstairs between jade glass walls to two artful rooms. Here is the best Art Deco shop or cafe survival from door handles to domed ceiling in the region.
Ok there might be a second-hand and sweet bridal area in one room and books, togs and bric-a-brac in another, but the perfect movie-set appeal of a genuine 80-year-old Art Deco is everywhere. Remarkable. Where's Gatsby?
Esther, the shop manager, said, “We’re very proud of the interior. It makes the shop special. Cheadle is still a proper village with a lot of people who’ve lived here a long time and some of them remember the place when it was a patisserie. It’s nice to welcome them back for a browse around in 2014.”
Esther finds her niche
Astute Observers, Victoria Wood and John Lewis
There are other astute observers of village life too. "Cheadle is old money still shuffling on and new money that's worked hard and is just getting to the point where it can begin to spend on non-essentials,” says a particularly articulate 'just' Anthony on the table next to me at Costa.
He sees me scribbling in a notebook and can't help himself, asking what I'm up to, bored by his Guardian. “I don't want it to be vibrant so I have to wait twenty minutes for my coffee or pay four quid for an artisan loaf. If I want that kind of entertainment, I'll drive into Didsbury.”
I recall the Costa we're sat in was the first one I ever visited and the first one I'd seen outside a city centre many years back. That was likely in the late 80s when Victoria Wood's Kitty character, played as a sniffily assured and secretly cynical middle-class middle-aged well-to-do tea shop habitué, would frequently mention Cheadle as her home town.
Cheadle is good for funny pub signs and shop names
It was clear that Wood saw the place as a signifier of a certain kind of unchanging probably Mail-reading genteel England. Traipsing past the poverty barometer that is Iceland, shows that while a lot of that still exists, the picture isn’t quite so clear cut anymore.
I suspect the ghost of Kitty drifts through Lakeland Plastics not too far up the road in Handforth, where modern ladies who loaf get all their trinkety kitchen gadgets and cupcake ephemera, or finds herself cooing over the headscarves in John Lewis, a high street and High Street killing mile or so away from the old centre.
The 1,600 car parking spaces at John Lewis priced at zero pence are even cheaper than the 40p per hour parking in Cheadle. Is it any wonder that high streets sometimes seem abandoned by all but the public transport using classes? Is it surprising that shopping in the UK has retreated into separate silos?
St Mary's, the lovely old church
Bombers, Locked Churches and Agatha Christie
Fortunately Cheadle's history suggests it might thrive again.
Hitler's bombers, targeting local plane wing manufacturers, made several attempts to rid the North West of that lovely Art Deco interior and much else - on one occasion killing the residents of a single house in February 1941.
The names of the unfortunate victims are hewn into the distinctive local war memorial alongside those of fallen soldiers, such was the shock at the incident.
The place has been an important centre since pre-history and occupied by the Romans and the Celts. The name itself is a combination of Chad Hill referring to the fact that St. Chad apparently preached here. The Domesday Book refers to the area as Cedde - a corruption of a Celtic word for wood. Modern day Cheadle was a wooded area at the time, fenced off as a hunting ground.
The most tangible link with the past is St Mary’s Church. What still stands was mostly built in the reign of Henry VIII but there had been other less permanent wooden structures on the site going back to the 12th century. Inside there are some beautiful details on the inside including that old favourite the tombs of dead knights.
You have to take the guidebooks' word for it being ‘beautiful’ behind the big oak door because Cheadle’s oldest and most important monument lies locked three ways on a Saturday - see picture below.
So if you believe this is the House of God, he’s not taking callers on the busiest day of Cheadle’s week. How odd. How wrong given the church's pivotal position, given the reason for Cheadle becoming Cheadle is because of this church.
God's not taking callers on Saturdays
Abney Hall just to the north is an impressive Victorian house that looks older. Its interiors were designed by Pugin and Crace responsible for much of the Houses of Parliament, indeed for almost creating the Gothic house style of nineteenth century Britain. Once the local town hall it now provides office space but is still surrounded by expansive wooded park land, part of it wetland - the River Mersey is just across the M60 from Cheadle.
Agatha Christie’s sister married into the Watts family, who lived in the hall, in 1902. The Watts family had built their famous warehouse in Manchester – now the Britannia Hotel – in the 1850s. Christie visited on many occasions and Abney Hall in various guises appears in her books accompanied by the grand evocations of the kind of country life now only seen on Sunday evening telly.
The wetland walks are beautiful as the winter season breaks and are home to all kinds of rare and wonderful plants and flowers.
Abney Hall Park gets the daffs
Tobacco, Madeira and Problem Pubs
But enough of this Ray Mears stuff.
Back on High Street I fancied a good old smoke. Not one of those daft looking pens you see people furtively sucking on, but the real stuff - baccy that's resolutely unwhacky and smoked by real men.
Leader Services Ltd has been in Cheadle for at least 70 years. Outside, it looks mostly as it might always have been - a tobacconist selling pipes, adventurous blends and all the bits and pieces of paraphernalia to keep you alight.
Stephen Leader manned the shop for many years, having grown up there while his father built the business. He's now retired and sold to Lynn Cawthorn, a former Civil Servant who went south but had enough and came home to something a bit less stressful.
Leader Services is one of those hubs of village life with people, clearly regulars, popping in by the second for papers and long forgotten sweets from big jars, as well as Sir Walter Raleigh's finest.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it
Lynn tells me Stephen still pops in for a tinker. Well, you might not be able to leave it alone had you been hanging around here since the age of four. She has never smoked but he has taught her the secrets of the loose tobacco blends and handed down the instructions for the unique Cheadle No. 1 and 3. No one knows what happened to Cheadle No. 2.
With a quarter of mint humbugs in my pocket (I don't smoke either, dirty habit) I head for the mysterious Collector's Yard through an arch that suggests it may once have been some historic coaching destination.
Behind there’s a sort of odd, slightly scruffy courtyard, with some very temporary looking sheds at one end. These are treasure sheds.
Joao R. Da Silva, from Madeira, is in control of these madly adorable places. He presides over a kingdom of china collectables, books, records, chintz, crazy old toys, bottles, snuff-boxes, statuettes and so on. Look at the main picture at the top of this page for a true image of the gleeful chaos.
Joao R. Da Silva and his treasure sheds
Joao as a young man“Sometimes people come here for props for TV and films you know?” says Joao. He’s proud of his treasure troves, he smiles all the time once you start talking to him and has a nice patter when in salesman mode. He even has a period postcard from Madeira showing him as a young man. Bit frightening that. What does that clockface say on the church? 'Time is flying' wasn't it?
Joao was worried about the main drag in Cheadle, saying the charity shops had made it difficult for him and that place, "needs some love. I love the people here. They have been very kind to me. I hope things change."
Words that make sense surveying the boarded up George and Dragon pub - which has been closed and unloved for several years. If St Mary’s brackets one end of High Street, then the George and Dragon brackets the other.
This is a grand old coaching inn filled to the brim like a full pint of cracking ale with the history and heritage of Cheadle. It would make a great boutique hotel, it would make a decent restaurant for a mid-range restaurant group, but best of all it would make a great pub. Sadly as it’s owned by one of those Pubco monsters that are cannibalising UK pubs that looks the least likely of outcomes.
Cheadle centre's main building with the church is now an eyesore
Drinkeries, Eateries, Benny Hill and Faggots
The Star still shinesAt least the Star, not too far away has an open door and the dark air of a place to hide from all that charity. At the other end of the High Street is the White Hart, on one of the Confidential visits, this was host to a few bridesmaids enjoying a stiffener before the main event next door at the church. It has a pleasingly authentic feel - like someone from the brewery turned up one day with a load of banjos and coal scuttles to hang from the ceiling and got laughed back to head office.
Meanwhile Pizza Express does battle with the vast Istanbul Grill and the large Turquoise Restaurant for your sit down dollar, plus smaller competitors such as Bellinis Italian, the Lebanese cafe Jas Jas Jas and the tiny but intriguing Rio Brazil giving the impression that Cheadle's night time economy may well have life in it – if not enough to save the George and Dragon.
Across the way, the Raja of Cheadle looks new. A real historical figure? Who can say? I do know there is a Cheadle Don. Or Don Cheadle, to be precise, an American actor and political activist who was Academy Award nominated for Hotel Rwanda. Peering through the window at Bellinis, I consider popping in and asking if the Don of Cheadle had ever arrived and demanded the corner table. They look far too busy with early lunch covers to be bothered with my nonsense.
Istanbul Grill goes round the bend
There's a fair chance Lauren Drummond has had the kid's special there though. She's a bit famous and was born in Cheadle only twenty odd years ago. You see her in that peculiar strain of medical/educational drama - Holby, Casualty, Waterloo Road, Heartbeat. Noted football person Gareth Owen (Stoke, Oldham, Stockport, Port Vale) grew up here too.
Apart from Victoria Wood's Kitty, Cheadle's campest claim to fame is saucy singer and dancer Diana Darvey - a distinctly recognisable face from the Benny Hill show. She got to slap little Jackie Wright on the head in Michael Jackson's favourite comedy - for which the suburb should be very proud. They have funded statues on less elsewhere. The next time I watch Carry On Behind (and I do, at least twice a year) I'm going to look out for her.
Diana Darvey keeps some old men abreast of the news - oooh cheeky
The lads in the decidedly unpretentious farm produce shop W Hulme look like they might have heard of her. But they haven't. Too busy creating massive Desperate Dan-sized products in the back.
They do immense hearty looking pies, only missing a couple of horns, that probably need a man and a van to get home. Plus huge chunks of savoury duck - like something that might come out of a cannon - apparently popular with long term regulars.
Steve has had the shop for two years and has maintained it the way it was, apparently, 70 years back.
It strikes me that no one really cares about the history of these things. Churches and monuments, yes, stately homes and toffee-nosed Town Halls too, but what about these little places? Places where generation on generation of kids have shifted unhappily and thought, “My mum's getting savoury duck for tea. I'm not eating that!”
(For the uninitiated a ‘savoury duck’ is a faggot. For any US readers that's a type of food.)
Create It! A shop for crafty kids
Figuring Out Cheadle, Indian Tiffin Rooms and Waterfalls
It’s outside that wittily monikered Sea, It Fresh, that a lady who looks just like Victoria Wood’s Kitty, a passenger in a 4x4, asks me the way to John Lewis. I make some vague recommendation that she, "keep straight". How is it proper language deserts us when giving directions?
This brings me back to the John Lewis point above, wondering just how these little places can take big blows such as 'name' department stores moving in, doling out free car parking and offering an 'exclusive' experience.
Altrincham has been battered too - but there are new shoots there now - tiny interesting independents in the back streets, creating a fresh new appeal.
It’s hard to tell if the same can happen with Cheadle, but then look more closely and those charity shops aren’t as similar as they look with some specialising in books and records and vintage clothing as a draw.
Rise like Superman Cheadle, John Lewis will not be your kyptonite (mad toys in Collector's Yard)
It seems to be working out for them. You can't get near the stuff in these places for the Pratchett's and those young men who look like Captain Haddock from Tin Tin. Of course a few cool book and vintage shops are not going to sustain a town centre. But these places attract other businesses, feeding Captain Haddock with cake and giving the cool indie chicks hoping to chance on some Mary Quant the chance to do a food shop on the way home.
It's not a long-term future but a bridge to somewhere brighter.
Look more closely again and you see how charity shops mask other businesses such as the music systems specialist, the trendy women's shoeshop, the parents and kids craftmaking outlet, the flooring specialists, the carpet shop.
Cheadle and child's play in the graveyard
What is clear is that Cheadle might be on the ropes, but it’s not out. And unlike many similar sized places in Greater Manchester looks like it might have the legs to stage a fight-back despite the big boys on the A34. Something as simple as a tenant for the poor old George and Dragon would signal a mighty turnaround.
After all, John Lewis can never feel ‘right’ in the same way this ancient place with Abney Hall, that glorious parish church, all those genuine pubs, that range of restaurants, Joao R. Do Silva, ‘savoury duck’, curious charity shops, that Art Deco interior, the hairdressers, the post office and all the other retailers above, can feel ‘right’.
Cheadle feels… well… real. Proper. It even has a waterfall. Sort of. In Abney Hall Park.
A grotto waterfall in Abney Hall Park
Nor does John Lewis, or any of the A34 car park retailers, have the Indian Tiffin Room. This restaurant on Chapel Street, close to Massie Street East car park, is breaking new ground in what we might expect of Indian food in the UK. Confidential writer Deanna Thomas fell in love with the place in this article – click here. And she knows a thing or two.
Indian Tiffin Room - this is absolutely topnotch food
As the Saturday afternooners left and Cheadle centre poised itself for a different type of customer – somebody has to fill all the food and drink places - Confidential popped into La Petite Bijou, a curious cafe meets wine-bar establishment.
The tea was excellent, the walnut and coffee cake was exquisite. Bob, the owner, proudly talked about the resident tarot reader upstairs and the regular live music here majoring in jazz.
Perhaps Cheadle might become West Didsbury over the river given time.
I tell the owner about Confidential writing this feature and ask if I can take his picture. Out comes that sense of humour shown by all the daft shop names and pub boards in Cheadle.
“That’s a good camera if it can take pictures of cartoons,” says Bob with a smile.
The Manchester Beat Part One: West Didsbury
The Manchester Beat Part Two: Prestwich
Bob, more than a cartoon