by Andrew Wastling
I remember well that gangs of kids from Spotland and elsewhere used to regularly , and in those seemingly endless summer holidays almost daily, play on much of the land around the old Turner Brothers factory site. It was I must be honest a brilliant space to 'doss around' on. We could refight world war two in the old concrete bunkers near the old Ammunition factory further along in Healy Dell, become a tribe of lost Apaches still evading Custer, the Reservations & small pox blankets , or map out & explore the woods & abandoned railway lines of the 'Dell' at our leisure. All we needed was a couple of butties and a bottle of pop in a cheap canvas army surplus shoulder bag. Some readers may remember the amazing well constructed 'Tree House' and swing set back from the road?
Many local kids played there. This was the days of three channels on TV and eking out a miserable existence on the proceeds of an exploitative daily paper round from cheerful but slightly tight fisted proprietor of the long gone Spotland Bridge paper shop. Though I did try unsuccessfully to sign the other paper lads & lasses up into the Labour Party Young Socialists & unionise then for higher pay! We remained locked in perpetual industrial conflict for much of 74-75 , like much of the rest of the country at the time. The 'Bosses' sought to divide and rule with additional perks of Curly Wurly's and Mars Bars to the most compliant so although I still maintain we held the high moral ground we lacked the necessary resolve, strike fund reserves & industrial militancy to decisively win that particular battle in the class war.
Our second private enterprise venture of recycling 'Ben Shaws' bottles collected from miles around with home made go-carts at 'Alice's' on Willbutts Lane failed utterly to raise us from our humble working class origins. Although Thatcher would have been proud of our aspirational private business venture I'm sure ?
The 'Tree House' swing was the best for miles around easily far superior to the lesser facility at Cop trod. The 'Crag' near to Shaw field School too held its attractions - especially when playing 'hooky' from school - although the then stinking blue-grey river with its snake like threads of grey fabric washing out of a locked concrete drain into the stream & river direct from the Turners site was I have to admit an acquired taste.
Away from the 'Tree House', along a stretch of the same river besides the well stocked vegetable allotments. We found leaping into the refreshing depths of the 'Spod' from the concrete bridge crossing the river on the footpath leading uphill to Rooley Moor Road was by far and away the best free entertainment for council estate kids available for miles around in summer - especially the glorious summer of '76 !
If my memory serves me correctly I remember a slightly decrepit dumper truck regularly lumbering along through the newly planted saplings to dump skip loads of rubble and general junk into a pit that from time to time had soil bulldozed over it by way of landscaping. Occasionally we'd spy men in white overalls conducting weird & wonderful tasks beyond our understanding with clipboards and with sticks and bits of white tape. We christened them ' Martians' at the time and thought no more of it. Although one of the more excitable younger kids did think it was a prelude to an alien invasion but he was a compulsive Doctor Who fan so nobody paid him any mind.
Security was never a strong point at Turners, even then . Though we did get an official letter from Turners formally threatening our gang to keep off the river bank- my first officially recorded brush with authority - where we'd catch the odd small fish or newt, which perhaps with the benefit of hindsight thankfully we let go rather than keep!
It would be interesting for some research to be conducted with the participation those 70's street kids to see if any of them have any long term health issues that could be attributed to our toxic playground? I know at least three of our gang have moved onto bigger and better things in Poland, Australia and the USA, but others remain contactable. One of my close friends father worked for many years at Turners and passed away of an asbestos related disease. His blue overalls and flat cap as well as his incredibly wide ranging intellect meant he was a fascinating and well known Rochdale character who could talk knowledgeably for hours at a time on a huge range of subjects from Edwin Waugh to John Pilger & Deeply Vale.
He's still much missed & unique individual. A truly wonderful mentor & friend .He always treated me and his son as adults and had more books lining the walls of their terraced house on Rooley Moor road than you could find in the entirety of Spotland Branch library. Their Manchester brick terraced house had the added bonuses of having not only a brilliant & voluminous vinyl collection but a well stocked fall-out shelter in the cellar , with copies of both Protect & Survive but Protest & Survive along with hand written signs saying: 'Zdravstvuyte tovarishch!' or 'Hello Comrade!' in Russian Cyrillic text. A wise post apocalyptic survival tool we all agreed at the time given the dire state of local civil defence contingency plans which had recently been vilified in the Ob for having immovable metal filing cabinets wedged in front of the door leading to Civil Defence Regional HQ then located in the Town Hall cellar !
My mate's dad Norman, always resolutely maintained that the 'truth would one day come out about what had gone on at Turners over the years', but it wouldn't be 'for many years when those responsible were long dead and buried'. Such was extent of the cover up by local politicians & businessmen who had royally screwed up with the site and feared that truth and the real extent of the problem would finally out one day be dragged out into the cold light of day.
Lets all hope Norman was right ?