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Prestwich: Modern And Re-Gentrified


Asks Norman Warwick

Prestwich (left) is one of those places forever described as ‘up-and-coming’. So proclaimed a recent editorial in the I love Mnchester newsletter, and yet my memories of the place did not seem to belong to the place they were celebrating.

Even as a child growing up there from six years old until the age of seventeen, it was a phrase I regularly heard from the grown ups around me. Dad loved the fact that he was in easy driving distance of his work place, where he was Head Brewer at Boddingtons´ Brewery, a place he was so proud of you would think his surname must have begun with a B and ended with an N. In fact, for a long time we lived at 29 Nursery Road in what was a Brewery House until dad bought it from them at a favourable rate and then, only a few years later sold it at a good profit; after all houses in up and coming locations were always in high demand. We moved up the road to Bamford in Rochdale, a place with countryside, a bit further out than the Manchester overspill, that had green fields and farms.

But since the Prestwich high street received a £2million makeover in 2018, most proud locals will tell you that Prestwich has a lot to offer and has established itself as one of the best places to live in Greater Manchester.

In 2022, The Sunday Times named it in its list of the best places to live in the country.

“This is Manchester’s funkiest family suburb – just don’t call it the new Didsbury,” says the paper about Prestwich.

It was also named on the Best Places to Live in the North West by the Sunday Times in 2024.

“This cool and well-connected suburb is where you come if you want to enjoy Manchester’s buzz and have an affordable redbrick house with a garden. There’s a lively restaurant scene, a choice of parks and plenty going on, and the tram makes getting to the city centre a doddle.”

Prestwich people are fiercely protective about their town’s independent image and do not like to be compared to anywhere else.

“The pub scene is companionable, the dining scene lively, and the scenery is life-enhancing,” continues The Times.

“Walk along Prestwich Clough, a pretty valley that will take you all the way to Bolton without crossing a road, or stay closer to home in Heaton Park where on Saturdays 400 runners gather for a park-run.

Hmmm. Let me tell you about Prestwich Clough. It was a world of gnarled trunks and roots, with sandy little ´paths´ weaving around them. My younger brother  Graham and I  used to walk for an hour or two almost every night in the summer, with the evening sun pouring between the tree top branches and leaves. Prestwich Clough was where my cub pack dib dib dobbed once a week. I was a sixer with a band stitched into a sleeve and in those days I could even put on my own woggle.

Heaton Park also carries heady memories for me. Its eighteen hole golf course seemed mountainous as we walked round its perimeters and at least one in four of all the hundreds of drives we watched from the highest tee at the twelfth hole would plop like a white egret into the lake a 100 feet below.  The little lad I was then would dream that one day I would learn to play golf and drive the green on what was about a 250 yards or so carry to the green, but with the first hundred yards being across the damned lake. In my teens a few years later I managed to avoid a watery grave on most occasions, if only through brute strength and ignorance. I cannot claim to have ever learned how to play golf. Nevertheless, I´m pretty sure that there must be a blue plaque nailed into a tree surrounding the green that proclaims that Norman Warwick once scored a par four on this hole. Those evening strolls round the golf course with dad were always wonderful, as we passed the herd of Highland Cattle in the field that was just out of bounds to the golfers. I was never sure which was more dangerous to us, charging cattle or errant golf balls.

In those days, there was a a zoo in Heaton Park, down near the huge boating lake and disused viaduct. After some good finishes in my school cross country runs through The Clough, (because I was one of the few kids who didn´t stop for a fag half way round) I was eventually selected to run for the town and subsequently made my debut at sixteen for the Lancashire County Schools team, and I immediately realised I had hit the big time, when I learned the race would be through Heaton Park rather through Prestwich Clough. At the foot of the quarter of a mile finish up one of the steepest hills in Heaton Park I was in fifth place and could see the group of four leaders retreating towards me. The trouble was that about thirty five runners overtook me as I went running up that hill long before Kate Bush and I finished almost in last place and still just behind those four early leaders. I could only walk the last few yards to the finishing line, and I´ve heard there´s a plaque there somewhere that defined that stretch of road as being where Norman Warwick ran two races in one day. He ran his first race for Lancashire Schoolboys and his last race for Lancashire Schoolboys on the same day…and at the same time!

These days Heaton Park is home to less sweaty and muddy pursuits, as the editorial waxed lyrical about how

“On Thursday evenings, amateur astronomers scour the dark skies, proving that this really is the North West’s starriest address.”

Taking its name from the Old English for a “priest’s retreat”, Prestwich was mostly rural and sparsely populated before it became a centre for silk weaving. According to Prestwich & Whitefield Heritage Society, transport links were poor, and narrow lanes and farm tracks surrounded the area. It wasn’t until the turnpike road from Manchester to Bury, which cuts through the middle of Prestwich, opened that it transformed from a quiet rural village into a busy town.

Prestwich was now on the map – it became a halfway enclave between Manchester and Bury – whereas before, it was just in the middle of nowhere that Dusty Springfield brought to fame. Wealthy people from Manchester and Salford bought land and built large Victorian villas on or near the new road.

Prestwich became an integral part of the Greater Manchester conurbation.

Its history is still of great interest, though, and there is much research to be done. For more information on the history and heritage of Prestwich (and Whitefield), visit prestwichheritage.co.uk.

By the early sixties, the population had reached over 30,000, and Prestwich officially became a suburb of Manchester.

Until fairly recently, Prestwich was something of a cultural and culinary desert. There were a few greasy spoons, a couple of half-decent pubs and a 1960s precinct.

Two of those ´half-decent pubs´ were The Coach And Horses, run by Bob Bentley, father of John Bentley who was a team mate of mine in the Prestwich under-eighteen cricket team, pioneers of the 20-20 format long before that fad was even born

The Welcome Inn had a huge cinder-coverd car park, (devoid of cars) where twenty or so boys and men aged between fourteen and forty would play first-team-to-ten football matches. In those days, just before either Adidas or Nike invented the trainer, we lads would play in our school shoes or the plimsoles from our PE kit, and try to kick the nuts and bolts off the older apprentice mechanics playing in their steel toe-capped working boots.

It is not for those football kickabouts that there should be a blue plaque on the edifices of the two pubs. Rather, these two public houses (neither was a Boddy´s house !), that stood like sentinels only twenty yards apart at the junction of Nursery Road and Bury Old Road should have Blue Plaques proclaiming that Ralph Dent Warwick and Sid Anderson, my step-grandfather, used to sing,  to a piano  accompaniment, songs from the Great American Songbook. They would often come wobbling home carrying fish and chips for all, paid for out of the pennies thrown into the hat at the end of a ´show´ which apparently always culminated in a delivery of Only A Shanty In Old Shanty Town.

Graham and I would eat our fish and chips in the kitchen before going into the living room where two slightly slurring men were regaling Mum and our Nana Andy with a complete reprisal of the whole concert. Dad and Sid had sung  for their supper…and ours too.

But thanks to an abundance of new bars, flourishing cafe culture and new businesses – such as The Goods In and Osma – it looks like Prestwich may have finally arrived – despite the grim 1960s precinct.

Here are the top reasons why this Manchester suburb is the place to be right now.

The high street is an interesting mix of old and new, with everything you need from a Greggs’ sausage roll to sourdough and organic veg at the Village Greens co-operative.

Prestwich is fast becoming the place to socialise with so many new bars opening – and not just on a Friday and Saturday night.

From cool cocktails and stand-up comedy shows to craft beer and open mic nights, it boasts a bar culture to show most Manchester suburbs how it’s done, not least thanks to Cuckoo.

This indie bar, which opened in 2013, is responsible for introducing city centre standard cocktails to the local area with the bonus of regular culinary evenings featuring local chefs and producers. It’s a home from home and a valued part of the Prestwich community.

Just a few doors up, you’ll find Grape to Grain. This is a specialist wine, beer and spirits merchant which stocks top quality wines from all over the world and offers a handpicked selection to try by the glass from the in-store wine dispenser.  Everything is available to take away and enjoy at home, but it can also be enjoyed in-store in exchange for a small corkage fee. Try before you buy has never been so revolutionary. 

If you walk down Church Lane, you’ll find Prestwich’s oldest pub, The Church Inn, serving real ales and traditional pub lunches as well hosting a regular pub quiz and live music. Rumour has it – as reported by patrons, proprietors and ghost hunters alike – this 1600s historic boozer is properly haunted. According to  The Bury Times, a ghost nicknamed “Old Tom” is said to haunt the pub cellar, turn off the gas for the lager and move barrels about.

Spread over two floors with a cutesy garden to relax in, All the Shapes is a dog-friendly cafe bar serving up some wholesome but healthy dishes and pretty great coffee. A perfect spot for brunch, particularly the Shapes Green Eggs (avocado, crispy fried eggs and spinach). Please give it a stab.

The people behind All The Shapes have recently transformed a rundown former warehouse into a trendy new cafe bar. The Goods In opened in July and up until fairly recently was still in a staggered soft-opening phase. It’s a large dog-friendly venue opposite the Bury New Road entrance to Heaton Park, serving Bloody Marys and brunch.

Set in a renovated Victorian building on Fairfax Road, The Crooked Man serves a range of keg and cask ales and features in the 2020 Good Beer Guide. But what makes this belting little bar so popular is their passion for music, hosting a resident DJ, live music and the occasional comedy event. There is also a weekly quiz which is a big hit with locals.

There are many popular places to eat in Prestwich village, including Panama Hatty’s, Croma, and Istanbul. But you can thank Michelin-trained Manchester chef Mary-Ellen McTague for putting Prestwich on the culinary map with her critically acclaimed restaurant, Aumbry. Unfortunately, the fine-dining restaurant closed in 2014 due to complications with the premises, but Mary-Ellen positively primed Prestwich for welcoming brave and experimental new concepts to the area.

OSMA, which also opened in September 2020, is an upmarket Scandi restaurant serving a relaxed, healthy lunchtime menu of open Scandinavian sandwiches and hearty salads alongside fresh juices and great coffee. The head chef and proprietor Danielle Heron has worked in some of the top kitchens in the UK, and abroad including numerous Michelin Star awarded restaurants. No wonder it’s recommended in the Michelin Guide and serves the best Sunday roast around.

Everyone should have a decent local Italian restaurant. Prestwich has got Babbo on Scholes Lane – round the corner from Osma – serving affordable Italian classic dishes. They weathered the pandemic by adapting as an Italian deli shop but have since reopened to full capacity.

As for nightlife, Icons (right)  opened on Bury New Road in December 2023 specialising in tribute acts with the tagline, “A World of Entertainment”.

Icons will host a wide range of entertainment including classic tribute acts, themed nights such Magic Mike, sportsman dinners, celebrity guests appearances and indulgent bottomless brunches that cater to all. The venue also offers function bookings and the doors will be open daily for residents to watch live sport.

For further updates and information on which acts will be available to book, follow Icons Prestwich on Instagram: @icons_restaurant.

One of Prestwich’s greatest strengths is its sense of community.

There’s a whole host of clubs and social events for people to get together and keep that unique spirit alive and kicking. 

Volunteer-run Prestwich Community Cinema holds monthly screenings at The Carlton Club on Bury Old Road.

Another business that leads the way when it comes to community spirit is Village Greens, a co-op on Prestwich Precinct which serves fresh, local, organic produce and whole foods. It’s also a sustainable zero-waste shop where you can fill up your own containers.

Prestwich Arts Festival is a creative community festival established and run completely by volunteers. The first event was held in 2018, bringing people together in the joy of arts and celebrating the talents and creativity of the diverse local community.

Commissioned by Prestwich Arts Festival in a display of the community’s affection for music, a huge mural of late singer Mark E. Smith (right) was painted on the side of Chips@No.8 chippy, giving the nod to the legendary Fall singer who spent most of his life in these parts. The fish and chips here are a work of art too.

As shown on our cover picture, A giant mural of comedy legend Victoria Wood appeared on the side of the Sword and Sparrow Tattoo Company on Bury Old Road late last year, not far from where she was born.

Born in Prestwich and raised in Bury, Victoria Wood started her career whilst still an undergrad with an appearance on breakthrough showbiz tv show New Faces in 1974. But she is probably best known for her BBC sketch Acorn Antiques with Julie Walters, the comedy series Dinnerladies and Victoria Wood as Seen On TV.

Although live events are a bit of a sore point at present, not many suburbs can say they host some of the best festivals in Manchester. Prestwich can. 

The ever-popular Parklife Festival takes place on the grounds of Heaton Park and brings more than 140,000 revellers to the area for a music-packed weekend every June, pandemics permitting.

Festwich Tribute Festival, “the UK’s biggest tribute festival”, manage to create an affordable and accessible experience in a safe family environment, and attracts revellers from all over the country. This year’s event will take place at Heaton Park and be bigger and better than ever before with three stages, over 30 live acts across two days, funfair, bars and street food. Tickets are around £15 for an adult, £9.50 for 6-17 year olds and free for kids and babies up to five years old.

Last but not least, on the second Sunday of every month the precinct is buzzing when the Makers Market comes to town with some of the north west’s finest makers and bakers flogging their wares.

You get a lot of natural beauty for your money in this leafy suburb, with lots of picturesque parks and green spaces putting it ahead of most Manchester suburbs. Perfect not just for families but anyone trying to keep in shape.

The biggest and best known is Heaton Park, the largest municipal park in Europe, where there are 600 acres of green space to keep fit enthusiasts and dog walkers happy.

There’s a beautiful boating lake, kids playgrounds, and a treetop adventure to satisfy your inner Tarzan. The animal centre (currently closed) has chickens, goats and pigs, as well as more exotic species such as alpacas and peacocks.

Or take a walk on the wild side and enjoy the wildlife, flora and tranquillity of an ancient wooded valley at Prestwich Clough, a favourite retreat of ramblers and dog walkers.

It’s part of Prestwich Forest Park, 200 hectares of woodland and open space with plenty of places to explore and discover, regular activities and events, children’s play areas and, in Philips Park, a mountain bike trail. 

And we can’t not mention St Mary’s Park on Bury New Road. With its own flower park adjacent, this pretty park has tennis courts, a playground, and an outdoor gym. Locals can be seen taking yoga classes outdoors, Manchester weather permitting, of course.

Prestwich Carnival´s procession of highly decorated and over-populated trucks would end its journey each year, and provide all sorts of fairground  and community events in St. Mary´s Park. I have fond memories of riding on the vehicle wearing the Prestwich Round Table badge. Dad was a member of Round Table, and Mum of The Ladies Circle and I always felt pretty proud that coins thrown at me…sorry, to me, by ´mates´ lining the street, were going toward buying food for the elderly and vulnerable in the community and I enjoyed delivering these to the recipients with other Round Tablers and their kids at Christmas time.

Prestwich now has its own Metrolink tram station and it runs from Prestwich and Heaton Park into the centre of Manchester in 20 minutes with the delights of Bury and its World Famous Market just 15 minutes away in the other direction.

For anyone willing to endure the Manchester weather, cycling is an option too. It’s downhill all the way and takes less than 20 minutes to get to town. Getting home is another matter.

As well as having bus routes that can take you almost anywhere in the north west, Prestwich couldn’t be much closer to the M60, making it perfect for commuters.

After fifty years of living in Rochdale, fifteen miles or so up the road from Prestwich,  before moving here to Lanzarote to retire eight years ago, my memories may be blurred now, but it was the childhood home that produced songs I wrote in later life such as Cup Finals Every Night, (about those kick abouts behind The Welcome Inn) and Mr. Cole The Haircut Man, about the eponymous barber and the ´things of mystery´ in his salon. Throughout my schooldays whenever I visited he would give me a short back and sides so severe as to have left bloodied nicks on my neck as if to draw the approval of Mum and Dad and my schoolmasters.

Heys Road Secondary Modern Schools For Boys was actually an incredible educational environment that made relative light of our ´failing´ the eleven plus. My English teacher Mr. Drury was the first to recognise my ´good reading and loud voice, as he called it and so invited / ordered  me to read Bible passages in the morning assemblies. That gave me a love of being centre stage and so was instrumental in my eventual music career as a lyricist, poet and performer. It was a tough school, certainly, and being the boy Bible reader, attracted the bullies. Where was David when I needed him as Goliath and his gang beat me up?

The captain from first year to sixth of our school football team was a really decent lad called Stewart Jump. He was also my captain in the Prestwich Junior Cricket team. He was faster than I was at cross-country, always beat me at tennis and table tennis and eventually signed for Stoke City. He subsequently made his debut for Stoke at Old Trafford, marking Denis Law!

Just across the road from the school was a sports area that included the four tennis courts of the local club, two crown green bowling arenas and a football ground (Grimshaws) that was the home of our school´s Old Boys´team, known then as Heys Old Boys with ´stars´ like Peter Gilmour who went on to play for Lancaster City in higher leagues, and Tommy Kaye, who worked at the local butcher´s shop and made mincemeat of opposition defenders. Later, as the re-named Prestwich Heys, the team even had a good run into the FA Cup proper.

Our football kickabouts as young kids at Willow Road on the Our Lady Of Grace school pitch were eventually interrupted by some of my mates being so interested by the new electric trains that had replaced the steam trains that ran along our touchlines on the railway from Bury to Manchester. All of a sudden half a team would scoot off to catch the number of the latest train racing past.

Transport played a huge part in our next ´craze´ as we all seemed to receive a mountain bike one Christmas and for the next three or four years held races around the contours and undulations, etched in stone, around the Willow Road pitch, with some pretty spectacular collisions throughout that time.

So, after reading this glowing editorial of Prestwich now I found myself more fondly remembering Prestwich then, with its Mayfair Cinema on its border with Whitefield. If the ´picture house´ is still standing there should be a blue plaque, saying ´in this seat sat Norman Warwick, who watched four showings of The Graduate in one day, paying the film and its music so much attention that his girlfriend walked home and left him in there. !´

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