[Crowther Street, Stockport - rebuilt since Lowry painted it]
I must have known that Stockport is full of steps when I was growing up there, but I'd never fully realised what a multi-level town it is.
[split level town]
There are steep steps, wide steps, narrow steps, stone steps, cobbled steps. Steps with specific names, steps with handrails, pavements that become steps, vast steps up the to art gallery, magnificent steps up to the town hall, tall steps up to the market, winding steps down to pubs and fish and chips shops, and red brick steps with a plaque down to the bus station. Even the hospital is called Stepping Hill.
[Town Hall steps]
Many parts of Stockport were wrecked in the 1960s, but thankfully the steps in the centre remained. They are vital links between the old bits - the market, the shops, the churches, the pubs - and create a sense of connection. Unfortunately though these links and connections no longer extend beyond small area that covers the old centre perched on a hill and the newer shopping areas below.
[Art Gallery/War Memorial steps]
So unless you make a real effort to get to them, you'd never know that Stockport has some wonderfully interesting and historically significant buildings not so far form the epicentre of the market and Merseyway, just a short walk up more hills and slopes to the parts that were mostly demolished and erased, then either filled with busy roads and anonymous buildings or simply left to rot.
There's an amazing Grade I listed Waterloo/Commissioners' church which was designed by the architect responsible for the Fitzwilliam Museum. There's an immensely forbidding, soot-covered late C19/Arts and Crafts church with a tremendously tall, dark spire which always gave me the shivers but which is actually far more pink and far less sombre close up. There's a 1925 Art Gallery and War Memorial (with not a single painting from the council-owned collection on display), many vast and beautiful red-brick mills dotted about as reminders of the town's cotton and hat-making heritage, and a madly ornate town hall that was admired by John Betjeman and contrasts wildly with the severely classical 1830s infirmary opposite. Then there are pink brick mill-owners' houses, fiery red brick schools, several pubs with important interiors, and even two listed tram shelters.
I spent a couple of hours on Friday wandering around Stockport with a map and my list of things to look for and at, and in retracing my own earlier footsteps (and those of Lowry who painted various Stockport steps) I discovered much more in the hills, mills, steps and brows than I'd ever seen before.