Unity Hall – Wakefield

Wool, wool, wool I do declare – Westgate Wakefield the worse for wear, warehousing, banks and halls in a state of transition. The enormous wealth created by the local textile trade and associated industries, has left an architectural legacy that permeates the wide street, with a more than somewhat faded grandeur.

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Laying the Foundation Stone

The Co-operative Unity Hall has seen better days – opened in 1902 and offering extensive retail space, along with a concert and dance hall, echoing to the sound of silent films, all-in wrestling and a fine array of music.

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Sadly, as the post-war boom becomes an ever distant, sonic shadow of its former self, the hall closes. Listed yet unused, it stood aloof and alone, unloved. The Beat were on, sadly the beat no longer went on.

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Derelict Places 

Happily a corner has been turned and under new management:

Unity Works is a stunning grade II listed multi-use space, where modern meets state-of-the-art. Unity Works is a great space for work and play, from 1:1 meeting areas, to large conferences, office & work space, to live events, comedy, music, theatre and film screenings.

There’s something for everyone!

More than 400 people invested in a community share scheme to help fund the refurbishment, which began in January. Continuing the tradition of a movement in this architectural gem, which was established as the Wakefield Co-operative headquarters in 1867, a building alive with rich detailing, signage, architectural type and mosaic.

Get gone take a look, listen and dance.

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Richard Peacock – Gorton Manchester

My journey begins here, at the Brookfield Unitarian Church, Hyde Road, Gorton, in search of the mausoleum of a man, who helped to shape the history of engineering, locomotion and Manchester.

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Richard Peacock 9 April 1820 – 3 March 1889 was an English engineer, one of the founders of locomotive manufacturerBeyer-Peacock. Born in Swaledale, Richard Peacock was educated at Leeds Grammar School, but at 14 left to be apprenticed at Fenton, Murray and Jackson in Leeds. 

At 18 Peacock was a precocious locomotive superintendent on the Leeds and Selby Railway. When the line was acquired by the York and North Midland Railway in 1840 he worked under Daniel Gooch at Swindon, but reputedly fled to escape Gooch’s wrath. In 1841, he became the Locomotive Superintendent of the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway, subsequently the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway from 1847. In this role he was responsible for founding the Gorton locomotive works for this railway, although he had left the firm shortly before they were completed in 1848.

In 1847 Peacock was present with Charles Beyer at a meeting at Lickey Incline which it is generally acknowledged gave birth to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. George Stephenson was elected as first president and Charles Beyer as a vice president. Peacock became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1849.

In 1853, he joined Charles Beyer to found the celebrated locomotive company Beyer-Peacock. Peacock had originally met Beyer through the acquisition of locomotives from Sharp Brothers, and as mentioned earlier through both being among the founders of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1847.

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The locomotives designed and built in Gorton in their thousands were exported to the four corners of the globe, Manchester a confluence of capital and ingenuity, harnessing a workforce of millions, to produce a treasure trove of things and stuff

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Shipping to Buenos Aires 1929

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2 10 0 Locomotives bound for Turkey 1949

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Last Diesels in the Paint Shop

By 1966 it was all over, the politically motivated, managed decline of manufacturing industry, a failure to adapt and compete, the loss of Empire, an increase in competition from other nations, all contributing to the almost inevitable, closing of the door.

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Archive photographs copyright Manchester Local Image Collection

The clang, hiss and controlled chaos of the boiler shop, just a faint, empty echo – listen.

There remains a legacy, the memories of all those men and women who laboured under those aching skylit eaves, millions of weary travellers world wide.

Not forgetting the church that Richard Peacock benevolently built, the mix of non-conformist worship, Liberal politics and philanthropy that informed Victorian Manchester, which still stands extant in stone, around our city.

Designed by Thomas Worthington in 1869-71, it has a six bay nave with north and south aisles. Arcade columns are of polished granite and wall faces are plaster lined with a large painting over the chancel arch. The roofs have been repaired but the interior has suffered from consequential water damage to the plasterwork which, at the time of visiting, was drying out. The church has been a victim of heritage crime.

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Listed and left to the pressures of time tide, wind, rain and unwanted ingress.

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Inset into the north wall of the church, facing onto Hyde Road – sculptor John Cassidy.

The Peacock Mausoleum is also the work of the church’s architect Thomas Worthington.

This sumptuous mausoleum takes the form of a Gothic shrine with a steeply pitched roof and arched openings filled with tracery and surmounted by gablets. The statues standing on slender pedestals at the four corners of the monument represent a Blacksmith, a Draughtsman, an Engineer and the architect himself. Further carved embellishments include head-stops, bats and twining ivy.

Condition – still sound, though the bronze angels that used to stand on the gables at either end were stolen some years ago in 1997.

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So we arrive at the end of another journey through time and space and Gorton, the lives of so many long lone souls, bundled up in the graveyard of a now closed church, the fortunes won and lost eroded by the vagaries of the climate – economic and meteorological.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, 
         The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, 
The plowman homeward plods his weary way, 
         And leaves the world to darkness and to me. 
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Holy Rosary – Fitton Hill

The first mission in the Fitton Hill, a post-war housing estate, was due to the work of Fr Buckley, an assistant priest at St Patrick’s Oldham. He arranged for the purchase of land in the Fitton Hill area in 1940, before the new housing was built. Once the estate had begun to be developed, Fr Buckley said Mass in an upper room in Maple Mill. The foundation stone of Holy Rosary was laid by Bishop Marshall on 2 October 1954 and the church was officially opened by Mgr Cunningham in July 1955.  The presbytery was built in about 1970. The first campanile blew down and had to be rebuilt.  In 2009, the parishes of Holy Family and Holy Rosary were merged.

Taking Stock told me so and will tell you even more.

Architect: W and JB Ellis who were also responsible for Our Lady of The Assumption in Langley.

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I first passed by one sunny day in April 2016 – happily snapping the exterior of this ever so pleasingly prosaic Italianate brick building.

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Following a cue from pal Tim Rushton, I was alerted to the significant decorative work within.

The mosaic and fresco work of Georg Mayer-Marton – born in Hungary 1897, died in Liverpool 1960 was one of Britain’s very few experts in the art of face or facetted mosaic.

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Sadly the fresco is no longer visible – painted over with emulsion when thought to be too tatty – a tiny fragment has been revealed by conservators.

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There is currently a campaign to restore and preserve these important works.

The church is now closed, but we were ever so fortunate to have Bernard Madden on hand to open up and show us around, a warm welcoming space once full to overflowing.

Now sadly silent.

We all deserve better.

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Chesterfield – Magistrates Courts

Mysteriously lacking much evidence of its past, save for this Historic England listing.

Chesterfield Courthouse – II Magistrates Court house. 1963-65. Designed by Prof S Allen and Roy Keenlyside for Chesterfield Borough Council, altered in 1975. Reinforced concrete, with decorative stone cladding, and timber roofs clad with copper sheeting. Double fan shaped plan, three storeys. Original east entrance front has recessed ground floor with central double glazed doors now blocked with glazed side lights. Either side four windows with concrete louvres to the offices. Above eleven bays topped with gables, the three central bays have recessed windows to both floors. Either side the two storey courts have grey slate panels with side lights and set back grey! green slate cladding. West front has recessed ground floor with eleven windows each with concrete louvres. Above eleven gabled bays, the central three and outer tow with grey slate cladding and side lights with set back grey green slate cladding. The four remaining bays on either side have recessed windows. The north and south sides have recessed angled facades with slightly recessed ground floor with glazed entrance at centre of east section with large glazed windows above. Flanking wings have concrete louvres set in grey slate cladding. Interior has original Y-shaped entrance hall way which rises up through all three floors. East entrance now blocked and converted to offices. Entrances from north and south into hallway with marled floor and marble clad columns with wooden ceilings and recessed lights. Central imperial type staircase marble clad with metal and wood balustrade. Upper floors have wooden clad walls and movable glazed screen for dividing access from juvenile court when in session. Two storey courts on upper floor retain original wooden cladding, ceilings and courtroom fittings, including magistrates bench, dock, seating for lawyers and the public. 

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And self evidently facing a very uncertain future:

2015 – The Grade II listed building, which is located between Rose Hill and West Bars, has received planning consent allowing it to be used for a range of purposes including office, retail and leisure facilities. Stuart Waite, associate director at Innes England in Derby, who is handling lettings on behalf of a private client, said: “We have been in serious discussions with a number of occupiers regarding this building for a variety of uses. “Occupier confidence is growing and with the economic forecast for 2015 looking positive we are confident that will see early interest converted into deals. “We are working closely with Chesterfield Borough Council which has identified the Rose Hill and West Bars area of the town as a key strategic location for growth.”

It has stood empty for the last few years and been a hotspot for vandalism.

Last July, arsonists set a wheelie bin on fire and pushed it up against the building, causing the flames to spread.

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2017 – Chesterfield’s former magistrates’ court is being used as a drugs den, shock pictures reveal – and a council chief has warned that the building poses a danger to public health. Extremely concerning images obtained by the Derbyshire Times today show hypodermic needles and what appears to be heroin inside the historic property – as well as extensive damage in rooms and excrement smeared up walls.

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It remains on the market for £450,000 a steal if you ask me.

Thread Architects have proposed redevelopment as an Arts Centre

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On the day of my visit there was little evidence of arts activity, save for a short performance piece by a heavily intoxicated mini-mosher and her partner – funding sources having proved to be at best illusory and subject to market forces.

Talk is cheap.

Take a walk on the wild green sward side of town, it remains a marvel, open and accessible, just requires a tender touch, of cash.

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Post Box – Chesterfield

Time’s definitely running out:

But the post office has been stolen and the mailbox is locked.

The age of elegant modernist street furniture, has been and almost gone, the previous centuries are under threat.

But does anyone want this neglected postal self-service technology?

Stamp dispensing is being dispensed with, insert 5p and wait forever.

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We have our own disabused facility in Stockport, I pass it almost every day.

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And have posted two previous postal posts – here and there.

This new discovery, with thanks to Sean Madner, is situated on the wall of the sorting office in Chesterfield. A faded Festival of Britain charm along with a delightful terrazzo surround, has done little to arrest its slow decline into redundancy and subsequent neglect.

Still in situ, take a walk, take a look – wait for the coin to drop.

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Bromley Street Manchester

Bromley Street – its northern tip joining with Dantzic Street in the valley of the River Irk, so far so very bucolic, so very, very nice, the street that was going places, tucked cosily beneath the shade of the old L&Y bridge.

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The south bank of the Irk is here very steep and between fifteen and thirty feet high. On this declivitous hillside there are planted three rows of houses, of which the lowest rise directly out of the river, while the front walls of the highest stand on the crest of the hill in Long Millgate. Among them are mills on the river, in short, the method of construction is as crowded and disorderly here as in the lower part of Long Millgate. Right and left a multitude of covered passages lead from the main street into numerous courts, and he who turns in thither gets into a filth and disgusting grime, the equal of which is not to be found – especially in the courts which lead down to the Irk, and which contain unqualifiedly the most horrible dwellings which I have yet beheld. Below it on the river there are several tanneries which fill the whole neighbourhood with the stench of animal putrefaction. The view from Ducie Bridge, mercifully concealed from mortals of small stature by a parapet as high as a man, is characteristic for the whole district. At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse, which it deposits on the shallower right bank.

So said Mr Friedrich Engels.

“Not only the blackest but the most sluggish of all rivers” – was surrounded by road, rail, dwelling and factory, high density industrialisation through most of the last century.

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Then all of sudden along came a series of events, that saw a shift away from inner-city manufacturing, the outsourcing of all sorts and the demolition of homes. The area and the city became a pale shadow of its former self. Help however was at hand, the boom in buy to let, overseas investment and an ever expanding professional middle class, eagerly  paddled up the murky Irk, emulating the massed forces of 7th Cavalry and the Lone Ranger combined – hurrah!

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If you earn a minimum of £300,000 a year, have a net worth in excess of £3m and want an exceptional mortgage service that is designed to suit your individual needs, get in touch.

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What have you got to lose?

It’s the gravy train as thick, dark and rewarding as the very inky Irk itself!

The stylishly designed living areas and carefully considered external finishes within the new buildings, have been designed to compliment the rich industrial architectural style of the area.

A development that even Mr Friedrich Engels himself would be proud of.

But wait, all is not rosy in the digitally constructed flower box garden, that you may see before you, in our online presentation and brochures.

Pinnacle Alliance plans to build 344 luxury apartments on a site near Dantzic Street, as part of the ‘Northern Gateway’. Dozens of investors have paid up to £350,000 for the off-plan apartments in the proposed scheme. But two years since many first paid out for their home, no work has actually begun on the £30m scheme.

The dispute has led to a demonstration in Hong Kong, where around 50 buyers took to the streets over Christmas urging local authorities to take up their concerns. And in an unusual twist, protestors even recorded their own campaign song – to the tune of Jingle Bells – criticising Pinnacle.

On the day of my visit the site was home to several jackdaws, the charred husk of a burnt out car, hastily discarded childrens’ toys, the most curious of plywood constructs and a sense of anything and everything, ceasing to make any sense whatsoever.

This stunning development will be an original and inspiring place to live.

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Trafford Park Hotel

It takes a whole corporation to raise a village:

The first American company to arrive was Westinghouse Electric, in 1899, and purchased 130 acres on two sites. Building work started in 1900, and the factory began production of turbines and electric generators in 1902. By the following year, British Westinghouse was employing about half of the 12,000 workers in Trafford Park. Its main machine shop was 899 feet long and 440 feet wide; for almost 100 years Westinghouse’s Trafford Park works was the most important engineering facility in Britain.

In addition to the factory Westinghouse built a village for his workers on the American style grid system of avenues and streets.  The community had shops, eating rooms, a dance hall, schools, a church, and a cinema.

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And where there is people there is almost inevitably pubs, as sure as night shifts follow day shifts.

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Built in 1902 to keep the Trafford Park industrial dust down, quenching the thirst of the workers employed in the world’s first and largest industrial estate – get in and get outside a pint or two.

Speed headlong through the years and by 1984, a mix of industrial and economic decline and the general move away from the urban mix of housing and factories, the end is in sight for most of the Village’s homes.

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Photograph Nigel Richards

Move a little further along the line and by 2009 and the pub is closed, temporarily home first to a marijuana farm, and subsequently squatters.

Paul, 46, originally from Chew Moor, Bolton, was left homeless in May when his house was repossessed after he lost his job as a mechanical engineer. He found The Freedom Project through its Facebook group and was invited to move in to the Trafford Park Hotel. He said: “The group is apolitical – it’s about freedom of expression, activity and thought.” Enterprise Inns have taken members of The Freedom Project to Salford County Court where a judge gave the brewery an order for possession of the building. 

Enterprise Inns declined to comment.

It takes a whole judicial system and corporate clout to deny a man home.

In February 2017 pub was sold for £900,000, though on the day of my August visit there were few signs of the planned conversion to flats or hotel.

One day time will be called on time itself, in the meantime take a walk down the Avenue and feast your eyes on a Grade II  listed terracotta and brick behemoth.

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