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Train over Dinting arches
Liam Barker

Glossop is the first destination in a new series exploring the satellite towns of Greater Manchester and beyond.

Do you know the filthy village of Glossop? It is inhabited entirely by savages. I tried every inn in the place and found each inn worse than the last. It stinks for miles. Rather than sleep in such a den I started walking back to Manchester with a huge bag…

Hilaire Belloc, 1909

When I think about Manchester, I’m usually on a hill overlooking Glossop. Should they dwell in them, towns are supposed to neatly nestle in valleys—this is how most daytime TV presenters describe the posture of our small valley communities, anyway. They can bustle, or be sleepy, but must always nestle.

To me, nestling suggests there’s a willing respect for the imposing topography of the surrounding hills or, at any rate, a simple acceptance that the undulations of the land are mightier than even the most assertive town planning ambition.

In the last ten years or so, Glossop’s become noticeably busier. It bustles, for certain, and is in the middle of a growth spurt adolescent in scale, which dispenses with nestling for hormone-fuelled outbreaks of house-building, plus frequent convulsions of heavy traffic.

The traffic, particularly at rush hour, comes thick and congested along the A57 from the Snake Pass to Mottram Moor and vice versa, rumbling through the middle of town like two lines of determined, if slow-moving, metallic ants.

Elsewhere, a great many of the derelict Victorian mills, factories, and their sites—for years seen by some as curious relics, ludicrous eyesores, or brownfield goldmines—have been converted or demolished to create immaculate affordable homes made of sandstone. However, these sites are nearly used up, which means nearby green fields are fast becoming the pristine cul-de-sacs of tomorrow.

This ongoing construction, the peopled pavements, and the rich range of high street shops all feel physical proof of a growing reality: for the worker bee, Manchester contains the nectar of job opportunities, but Glossop—with its city centre rail link and next-door proximity to the Peak District—is an increasingly popular place to settle down and, as it were, make honey.

The local accent is evolving, too. In fact, it’s long since lost its curiously Lancastrian timbre for something approximating to Mancunian—which is forged far inside the nasal cavity and produces vowel sounds able to consume, like phonetic blackholes, any nearby consonants serving as glottal stops. This, if nothing else, indicates that Manchester’s gravitational pull is patently strong here.

Hawkshead Grange under construction

Hawkshead Grange under construction

Liam Barker

It’s a Saturday. From the weather-battered trig point on Cock Hill, situated to the northeast of the town, I stand against the iron-grey clouds that typically congregate over Glossopdale valley during autumn time.

Despite the gloom, I observe the town with ease. Roofs gleam from the on-off rain. When I turn my head to the west, I skip across 15 miles to the dark façades of the Deansgate Square skyscrapers and the Beetham tower, which I hold between my thumb and forefinger as if they're pieces of Lego. When I turn to the east, a motorbike’s starting its twisting ascent of the Snake Pass towards Sheffield, like an agitated flame following an intricately laid gunpowder trail.

I return my gaze ahead to Glossop. Although it looks, in some ways, like a West Yorkshire town—with its steep roads, dark stone, and remnants of industry—it’s plugged into the Mancunian mainframe. It’s situated within the boundary of Derbyshire, but thrums at a suburban frequency evermore akin to neighbouring Tameside.

Spring Street Glossop

Spring Street, Glossop

Liam Barker

On my way back down from the hill, the wind carries the clattering sound of an incoming or outgoing train. Glossop has the third busiest railway station in Derbyshire—over one million passengers used it last year. It’s the final stop for a popular commuter service that winds its way through Tameside from Piccadilly, along the surviving section of the old Woodhead line.

At dusk, I’m still walking. I notice a train thumping across Dinting Viaduct, which isn’t a pretty landmark: unromantically right angled, constructed as if from a flat pack kit, and every inch the product of a late 19th Century architectural attitude—form follows function. This train is one of many that act as electrical messages buzzing along a nerve, carrying commuters and their communication of culture to and from the town.

Partly rural, partly suburban—Glossop is what comes out of the ground when the edges of two sociological tectonic plates rub together. At the very least, if Monsieur/Mister Belloc were to visit the town today, he’d be able to save his legs the trouble of fleeing the stink—there are trains to Piccadilly every half an hour ‘til midnight.

Glossop Station

Glossop Station

Liam Barker
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