By John Kirkbride
The old days
LIKE the rest of Saddleworth, Grotton was part of the West Riding of Yorkshire until 1972 when the Government decided it would be better administered by the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham.
The village began life as a small rural hamlet, with a few millstone grit farmhouses are still in evidence in the area.
Back in the mists of time, the community was centred more uphill from the current village, with Grotton Hall in Lydgate at its heart. Now a Grade II Listed building, the structure started life as a working farm connected to a monastery, and the oldest stone on the farm dates from 1645. The earliest date on the house itself is 1686, which presumably means the hall was built a little later.
The Grotton Hall Estate was owned by the Buckley family for many years and was treated to a significant restoration by Edmond Buckley in 1844. The estate was sold at auction in 1921 and the building remains an impressive private residence. Hopefully they’ll be putting the Christmas lights up in the trees again this year.
Grotton even had its own station at one time, at the bottom of the appropriately named Station Road. It served the old Delph Donkey line that linked Saddleworth with Oldham, and it first opened in July 1856.
In April 1900 it was renamed Grotton and Springhead, but the station closed in 1955 when the Delph Donkey service was withdrawn. The station house still stands and is now a private residence.
The introduction of the railway involved one of the largest construction projects to have taken place in Grotton: the Lydgate Tunnel.
We love a tunnel in Saddleworth, and in order for the railway to breach the steep ridge at Lydgate, it was decided that another one was needed. A 1332-yard double track one.
When it was first constructed in the mid 1800s it was the longest rail tunnel in Oldham. One description suggests the average cost of the tunnel was around £26 per yard, which would have added up to quite a substantial amount back in the day.
Though passenger services ended in 1955 the railway line remained open for goods trains, until they too ceased in 1964.With the tunnel out of use and the track lifted, a decision had to be made on the tunnel’s fate. It may have seemed logical to fill it in, but this would have been costly (though not as costly as building it, I suspect). There were also a lot more structures above the tunnel than there were when it was built, including houses, and you can see how that might have been a problem. So, the decision was made to block it off and leave it where it was.
In the 1980s some minor work was carried out to fill in the centre air vent to prevent any subsidence. In 2008 a routine inspection revealed some issues with the brickwork and lining, and more work was undertaken to make the structure safe. Not surprisingly there was some concern from residents, but to my knowledge, so far no one has found themselves sliding out of bed in the middle of the night.
In April this year, the locked outer gates of the tunnel were prised open, allowing a group of youths to congregate, once more bringing into question the tunnel’s future.
It would be great if it could be restored and opened up as part of a rural footpath, but sadly I think the safety aspect would make that a non-starter. In the long term, I suspect the bullet will have to be bitten and the tunnel filled in.
In the years between the two world wars, Grotton began to develop as a desirable place to live. It was close enough to Oldham for people to commute to, but far enough away from the factory chimneys to allow a taste of the rural life, particularly as there were fewer houses in the village back then.
As part of this migration to fresher pastures, work on the rather grand looking Grotton Hotel began in 1938.
The decision to erect such an imposing hostelry was clearly influenced by the growing number of residents in the area, along with visitors to the popular Grotton Lido.
Although the lido is long gone, the pub remained a popular venue with locals for over 70 years. Indeed, in my youth I spent many a pleasant evening in ‘The Grotton’, where I seem to recall they had a fine selection of bourbon whiskies. I even performed there with the band I used to sing with.
Sadly in 2011 the final pint was pulled, and the pub was put up for sale. Given the size of the building and its central location in the community, there was much interest, and it could easily have become a takeaway or petrol station.
In the end it was acquired by the Co-op and opened to customers in February 2012.
I think it’s fair to say a lot of people in the area have heard of Grotton Lido, and in its day it was certainly a popular tourist attraction.
What a lot of people don’t know is that its ‘day’ was surprisingly short-lived. (Or maybe not that surprising, given the opportunities to enjoy an outdoor pool in Saddleworth are limited, to say the least).
Constructed on the site of an old mill lodge on the opposite side of the road to the Grotton Hotel, the lido opened in May 1935.
It was built by a firm called Whitehouse and Stubbs, who also built a number of the new houses in Grotton in the 1930s. (At the time it would’ve cost you around 395 quid for a decent property there).
When completed, the lido was believed to be the largest open-air pool in the country. The pool was 180ft long and featured a water slide and a high diving board. I’d always imagined it more as a large, shallow splash pool, but clearly it was quite deep where the diving board was. Either that, or they had harder heads in those days.
The pool also featured the latest technology in filtration, which meant it could be cleaned without having to be closed and drained.
Along with the pool there was a bandstand and dance floor, and every Tuesday and Saturday evening the White Star Dance Band would belt out the popular tunes of the time. So people would go for a swim and then round off the evening with a slow romantic waltz, (though whether they wore the same outfits for both activities is not recorded).
It would cost you 3d (old pence) to sit and watch the fun, or 6d to use the pool. On Saturdays you could enjoy both the pool and a dance for just a shilling, which in modern money is the equivalent of 5p. That’s what I call a cheap date, and I can’t help wondering how many marriages in the area can be traced back to Grotton Lido.
Regular activities were held at the lido such as beauty contests and swimming tournaments, and in its heyday the facility was attracting visitors from a wide area.
Sadly it wasn’t to last. Although the lido was popular, it clearly wasn’t a money-spinner, and a combination of poor weather and the outbreak of World War II saw it close in 1939 – just four years after it had opened.
The only remaining clue to its existence is the sheltered housing accommodation opposite the Co-op, which is fittingly known as Lido House.
Although there are slightly fewer green areas now, Grotton is still a desirable place to live, for many of the reasons that existed in the 30s. The ex-Grotton Hotel is still a focal point for the community, (although it may not have as many bourbons now), and a range of other business have flourished in the area. So here’s to Grotton, and long may it prosper.