When Rochdale was little more than a collection of a few buildings, St. Chad's Parish Church stood on Sparrow Hilll beside the River Roch. There was almost certainly a church here prior to the Norman Conquest and the stonework in the tower of the present building dates from the 1190s. The granting of a market charter to the town of Rochdale in 1251 was the first step to a role it has continued to play as a focal point for surrounding towns and villages.

The face of the growing town, with its foundation in the woolen industry, changed forever when water power was replaced by steam power. The first mill chimney went up in 1791, but before long the area was dotted with red brick mills and the air was polluted by a forest of mill chimneys.

The industrialization of the town accelerated with the arrival of the Rochdale Canal in 1804 and the railway in 1841. In 1844 a small shop opened up on Toad Lane (see above) that was a tangible result of years of political and labour turmoil in Rochdale. Conflict had spawned Co-operation and a group of 28 of Rochdale's citizens started a movement which began humbly as a shop and spread around the world.

The sign on the railway bridge that spans Edinburgh Way today welcomes visitors to the "birthplace of co-operation".

Co-operation bridge © Les Cotton
The image above is shown with the permission of Les Cotton

Never a pretty town, unlikely to ever compete with York or Oxford for tourist traffic, Rochdale does have a number of historic buildings. In 1871 the town's fine Victorian Town Hall was opened with appropriate pomp and ceremony on September 7th. Designed by William Crossland, it came in slightly over budget. When proposed in 1864 it was recommended the £20,000 be spent on a suitable building. When it was completed, the remarkable building with its 240 foot high wooden spire topped by a gilded statue of St. George, cost £155,000.

Twelve years after it was opened a fire, visible 10 miles away, destroyed the tower. The building remained spireless for 4 years before Alfred Waterhouse, the architect responsible for Manchester Town Hall, completed a fine stone replacement.

Rochdale Town Hall is still highly regarded for its outstanding stained glass window, grand staircase and the hammer beam roof in the Great Hall.

Rochdale Town Hall © Aidan O'Rourke
The image above is shown with the permission of Aidan O'Rourke

The city fathers, proud of their fine new town hall, were less than impressed by the state of the River Roch flowing past its doors. So polluted was the river that it was decided that if it couldn't be cleaned it had to be covered. The result was a 22 year project between 1904 and 1926 that built a ferro-concrete structure along the length of the river as it passed through the town centre. It was to all intents and purposes a bridge crossing the river from the south to north and some 1460 feet wide, making it at one time the world's widest bridge.

These images above, shown with the permission of Judith Bucknell, show repairs to the deck covering the River Roch

The road, which runs along the section of the bridge in front of the town hall, is known as the Esplanade. At the end of the Esplanada is the building which housed Rochdale's first purpose built library. Designed by the architect Sidney Platt, it opened on October 30th, 1884. (The original building is marked as #1 in the photograph below.) Later an extension was added to the library to house an art gallery and museum which opened in April of 1903. (Marked as #2 in the photograph.) Then in 1913 a second extension was added which took the building along the Esplanade to the junction with Manchester Road. In April 2001 this Library, Art Gallery, Heritage Centre was undergoing extensive restoration work. A closer view of the carving on the face of the building can be seen below.

The decorative panel above the window was designed by J. C. Allen of University College, Liverpool. It was carved by J. J. Millson of Manchester. It shows 3 groups of figures representing Science, Arts and Literature.

Across the Esplanade from the town hall are the Memorial Gardens which contain the town's war memorial. The memorial was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, who designed London's Cenotaph. The memorial stands on a piece of land that was once home to the Dearden family. In 1747 Simon Dearden purchased a house called "The Orchard", a name derived from the fact that it was built on the site of an orchard next to the River Roch. The Deardens became Lords of the Manor of Rochdale in 1823 when they purchased that title from the poet Lord Byron. The house was later abandoned, fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1922. The memorial was erected soon after.

Next to the Memorial Gardens stands a building designed by C. P. Wilkinson, which was built in 1927 as Rochdale's Post Office . Several years ago the Post Office moved to a different location, but concern expressed by local citizens has resulted in its return to this building on the corner of Newgate and the Esplanade.