Cooperative Sunlight – Manchester Walk

This is a tale of two tales and one city – the collective philosophy of the CWS and the individualism of Joe Sunlight, all within the welcoming arms of Manchester free trade liberalism.

Born Novogrudok, Belarus, then part of Russia, his Jewish family were named Schimschlavitch, his father a cotton merchant. The family emigrated to England in 1890 to avoid conscription and settled in Manchester, probably choosing their new name from Port Sunlight.

Sunlight was apprenticed to an architect in Manchester in 1904 and by 1907 had his own practice in St Ann’s Square. Reputedly, by 1910, he had designed and built more than 1000 houses in Prestwich and claimed that by 1921 he had created more than one million pounds’ worth of property.

He also designed and built factories and warehouses, but his greatest memorial is Sunlight House – 1932. In 1949, he proposed a 40-storey extension, but it was rejected by the city council.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was a group of 28 that was formed in 1844. Around half were weavers in Rochdale . As the mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more skilled workers into poverty, these tradesmen decided to band together to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. With lessons from prior failed attempts at co-operation in mind, they designed the now famous Rochdale Principles, and over a period of four months they struggled to pool one pound per person for a total of twenty eight pounds of capital. On 21 December 1844, they opened their store with a very meagre selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco, and they were soon known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods. By 1900, the British co-operative movement had grown to 1,439 co-operatives covering virtually every area of the UK.

The Cooperative Wholesale Society dominated a whole swathe across the east of the city and beyond, encompassing manufacturing, banking and insurance.

Fruit and veg distribution.

The icing on the empire’s cake being the 1960s CIS Tower.

The Co-Operative Insurance Society (CIS) Chief Office was built between 1959-62. Its aim was to provide the company with a headquarters in the north comparable to anything in London. Operating from ten different sites in Manchester following the war, the company wished to consolidate their activities within a landmark building, and took advantage of a bomb-cleared site on Miller Street. The architect was Gordon Tait, of Sir John Burnet, Tait and Partners, who was brought in to collaborate with the already appointed Chief Architect in Manchester, G S Hay.

CIS Tower was the largest office block to be built since the war, reaching 25 floors in height. The design was heavily influenced by a trip to the United States, which resulted in a taller, more centralised building that made use of curtain walling. The brief was for an open plan office building, to house 2,500 staff.

CWS Redfern Building 1928 WA Johnson & JW Cropper – a delightfully functionalist brick moderne building in the northern European manner.

I do how however have a personal preference for the tower’s relatively diminutive neighbour New Century House and Hall 

Particularly note must be made John McCarthy’s concrete screen wall water feature.

New Century House was designed by G. S. Hay and Gordon Tait and constructed by John Laing & Son for the Co-operative Insurance Society in 1962. The attached New Century Hall has a capacity of 1,000 people. New Century House and Hall were listed in 1995 as Grade II as a good example of a high-quality post-war office building. It is considered one of the finest modernist towers in the United Kingdom alongside the sister building CIS Tower – It is described in its listing as: 

A design of discipline and consistency which forms part of a group with the Co-operative Insurance Society.

I am told that the current work will see the building used as a music school and venue.

Over the road and we are in the heart of the former CWS realm – Cooperative cigs, matchless, currently home to new homes.

Crossing the Irk to our right this impressive utilitarian infrastructure.

Up and over the river heading for Strangeways.

The Strangeways family themselves are certainly recorded in antiquity at the site, although the name appears differently over time; Strongways in 1306, Strangewayes in 1349 and Strangwishe in 1473. In the late 1500s in records at Manchester Cathedral the surname is spelt Strangwaies.

In modern times home to the city’s Jewish community, followed by subsequent layers of immigrant groups from the Indian subcontinent and East Asia.

Amongst the Victorian development are Joe Sunlight’s industrial buildings.

Manufacture gives way to retail distribution, the post-war Cheetwood Estate, remade and remodelled as Miami Modes, or simply left to gently decay.

Nothing stands still in this ever changing landscape.

Tucked cosily in the middle is Manchester Ice Palace.

Opened by Lord Lytton on October 25 1910, clad in white marble, it hosted the National Ice Skating Championships a year later and the World Championships in 1922.

A plant across the road provided the ice. At the end of each day, the churned ice from the rink was pumped through an underground pipe to iceworks. Fresh iced water was then pumped back to refresh the rink’s surface overnight.

The Ice Palace was the only ice hockey rink in Britain during the early 1920s. A game between The Army and The Rest was played at the Ice Palace in November 1923 to select the British team for the 1924 Winter Olympics.

It was closed in 1915 and used to manufacture observation balloons for the war effort. It reopened on November 21, 1919. It was requisitioned by the Ministry of Aircraft Production in 1941 and later reopened as an ice rink on March 21, 1947.

Manchester Evening News

It closed as an ice rink in 1967 – adapted for use as a LHD bottling plant Adelphi Social Club and Mecca Bingo.

I leave you with Cheetham Hill Road’s brightest daytime neon star.

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