Civic Centre – Wigan Again

I’ve been here before, no not in some strange déjà vu sense.

I’ve been here before – look!

Three years on, now in the shadow of the newly built Life Centre, you stand alone unloved – empty.

But the future of the Modernist landmark, which was first put in service by the borough in the early 70s, remains unclear. There is speculation that the Millgate building, first unveiled by Wigan Mayor John Farrimond, could become a hotel.

Last October the Wigan Observer revealed how the council had enjoyed mixed fortunes when it came to marketing elements of its existing property portfolio.

But the council has been successful in offloading some venues, with Ince Town Hall now home to Little Giggles nursery.

So who knows what fate awaits you – the town I am told is on the up.

Let’s hope that the Civic Centre is not coming down

Churchill Way Flyovers and Walkways – Liverpool

It’s too late she’s gone.

Opened in 1972 as an almost belated response to George Buchanan’s 1963 Traffic in Towns which had informed the Liverpool City Centre Plan of 1965.

The report warned of the potential damage caused by the motor car, while offering ways to mitigate it. It gave planners a set of policy blueprints to deal with its effects on the urban environment, including traffic containment and segregation, which could be balanced against urban redevelopment, new corridor and distribution roads and precincts.

These policies shaped the development of the urban landscape in the UK and some other countries for two or three decades. Unusually for a technical policy report, it was so much in demand that Penguin abridged it and republished it as a book in 1964.

The majority of the planned Walkways in the Sky remained unrealised.

The Churchill Way was realised and remained in use until September 2nd 2019 – closed and facing a £10 million demolition programme, following a maintenance report which found them to be unsafe – and presumably beyond economic repair.

And so I took one last look around taking snaps, an epitaph to the end of an era, and the end of an idea that was once once rendered concrete.

Take a closer walk with me.

Blank Street – Ancoats

As with all things material and corporeal there was time when you simply didn’t exist.

1860 adjacent to Woodward Street and the Rochdale Canal, a simple agglomeration of loose limbed industrial buildings and such – yet to be christened Blank.

adjective

  1.  Unrelieved by decorative or other features; bare, empty, or plain a blank wall.
  2. Showing a lack of comprehension or reaction – we were met by blank looks – synonyms: expressionless, empty, vacant, deadpan, wooden, stony, impassive, inanimate, vacuous, glazed, fixed, lifeless, uninterested, emotionless, unresponsive, inscrutable.

noun

  1. A space left to be filled in a document – leave blanks to type in the appropriate names – synonyms: space, gap, blank space, empty space.
  2. A cartridge containing gunpowder but no bullet, used for training or as a signal.

verb

  1. Make (something) blank or empty – electronic countermeasures blanked out the radar signals.
  2.  Informal North American defeat (a sports team) without allowing them to score – Baltimore blanked Toronto in a 7–0 victory.

Though contradictorily I have found reference to a bankrupt foundry in the London Gazette 1857.

You appear again during the Manchester Blitz.

By 1960 you are on the map and the area is on the up and up.

Though I have to ask the question of the namers of streets – why so Blank, an off day at the office – we have whole blocks named for poets, painters, and far flung places, so why so Blank?

Hadn’t they heard of nominative determinism – born to be Blank.

Whilst in search of a Brown Cow I found a photograph on the Local Image Collection of 60’s maisonettes in the area alongside Woodward Street.

This Municipal Modernist development seems to have been short-lived and subject to yet more demolition in the area, to be replaced by late 70’s terraced housing.

Blank Street inexplicably became Fulmer Drive.

Which in turn had been tinned up and demolished around 2008.

How did that happen – seemingly viable homes previously changing hands for £100,000 deemed surplus to requirements – land banking, ahead of an as yet unseen masterplan?

Your life was short and sharp – shaped by economic shifts, world war and the local authorities ephemeral housing policies. There is little evidence of your existence, photographic or otherwise, so I want to set the record straight – draw a blank.

Here you are as of July 2019 – tarmac intact, drains fully functioning, pavements paved, awaiting orders. A circuitous run of grassy ridges resembling the remains of some Roman or Iron Age fortification.

Where do we go from here?

Odeon – Guide Bridge

285 Stockport Road Guide Bridge Ashton-under-Lyne

This was planned to be the Verona Cinema, a project of local builders – P Hamer Verona Cinema Ltd. The construction of the cinema was almost completed when Hamer sold the building to Oscar Deutsch and it opened as one of his Odeon theatres.

Hamer then used the proceeds of the sale to build the Roxy Cinema Holinwood, which was designed by Drury & Gomersall.

Opening date of the Odeon Theatre was 29th June 1936, when the first programme was Bing Crosby in “Anything Goes” and Harold Lloyd in “The Milky Way”. Designed by the noted cinema architectural firm of Drury & Gomersall, the frontage had a neat entrance in brick, with white stone facings on the window surrounds. There was a parade of shop units on each side of the entrance which had matching brickwork and a white stone trim.

Inside the auditorium the seating was arranged for 834 in the stalls and 330 in the circle. The side splay walls on each side of the proscenium was decorated in wide horizontal bands, and topped with a backlit illuminated grille.

The Odeon was closed by the Rank Organisation on 11th March 1961 with Kenneth More in “Man in the Moon”.

It was converted into St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church. Former cinemas have made good conversions to churches and the fabric of the buildings are generally respected. In this case though, the sad story is that the front entrance has been rendered over and inside all details of it cinematic past have been erased. You would never know you were inside what had been been an Art Deco styled building.

Contributed by Ken Roe Cinema Treasures

I passed by nearly every day for years travelling to and from school, I played there at a wedding reception in the church social club. I sadly have no recollection of the building in use as a cinema.

It has been closed since 2010 – currently it has no purpose or seemingly any future use, there are no For Sale signs in evidence.

Fallen so quickly and absolutely from grace.

The Odeon née Gaumont – Ashton Under Lyne

Opened 22 April 1920 with “The Forbidden City” and designed by Arnold England, the Majestic Picture House was part of the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres circuit. With 1,233 seats in stalls and balcony and a splendid facade faced in white faience tiles on two sides of the building on its prominent town centre corner site of Old Street and Delamere Street, the cinema was a great success.

It had an oak panelled foyers which had beautiful coloured tapestry’s on the walls. The interior was in a Georgian style and it was equipped with a pipe organ and a seperate tea room and cafe which were located on the upper floor.

It passed, with all the other PCT houses to Gaumont British Theatres in 1929, but it was not until 12th July 1946 that it was renamed Gaumont. The Majestic Picture House was renovated in July 1936, with new seating installed and a re-recoration of the foyer and auditorium. A new Compton 3Manual/6Rank organ was installed that was opened by organist Con Docherty.

Later being merged into the Rank Organisation, the Gaumont was re-named Odeon on 11th November 1962. It was eventually sold to an independent operator who renamed it the Metro Cinema from 6th November 1981.

With capacity now down to 946 seats, the Metro Cinema continued as a single screen operation until the middle of 2003, sometime after a multi-plex had opened in the town. In 2008 (with seats and screen intact) the building was unused except for the long foyer area, linking the front and back elevations of the Metro, which was a Slotworld Amusement Arcade. By 2011, the entire building had been stripped out and stood empty and unused.

Cinema Treasures

The cinema was used as a location for the film East is East.

Archive images Metro Majestic

It was my local cinema as a lad – attending Saturday morning matinees as a member of the Odeon Boy’s and Girls club. Hundreds of the nosiest kids. regularly warned by the manager that the film would be stopped if the raucous behaviour continued.

Now it’s just an empty shell, superseded by multiplex and latterly a lost Slotworld.

Unlisted unloved sitting at the heart of the town – too late for the last picture show.

Capel y Rhiw – Rhiwdywyll

Digressing for once from the modern to the near modern in an ancient landscape. Having cycled to Tregaron I took a walk along the Mountain Road with chapel hat peg expert Tim Rushton.

Afore very long we came upon a chapel, set slightly back from the track, tucked snugly into the trees.

Deserted yet maintained, grass trimmed the low structure sealed soundly against the weather.

Calvinistic Methodist small chapel/schoolroom of 1866, a branch of Bwlchgwynt Chapel, Tregaron. Simple plastered interior with cast-iron and timber combined pews and desks. Small plain pulpit. Listed as the best preserved of the small branch chapels in the region. Historically important as illustrating the spread of non-conformity during the mid to later C19 in sparsely populated upland districts.

British Listed Buildings

We took a look inside – there the bare wooden benches remained, touched only falling dust and time.

An anachronism within an anachronism surrounded by wood and fern.

Forton Services – M6 Lancaster

Possibly the most famous modern motorway services in the entire land.

Though I’ve never been to see you – I’ve seen your picture reproduced a thousand times or more, particularly your Pennine Tower.

Your even found your way onto a Manchester Modernist’s shirt.

I ride a bicycle, which seriously restricts my access to the world of the M – one and six or otherwise. Having a more than somewhat ambivalent outlook on motor cars and their ways I have nevertheless written a short history.

So to satisfy my idle curiosity, and fill the damp wasteland of a Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon, let’s go on a little trip back in time by means of archival images.

What of your history?

Tendering documents were sent out in 1962 describing it as a 17.7 acre site, requiring at least a £250,000 investment, including an eastern corner reserved for a picnic area, and an emphasis that the views to the west must be considered in the design, and facilities must be provided on both sides. Replies were received – from Telefusion Ltd, J Lyons, Banquets Catering Ltd, Granada and Rank

Top Rank’s plan came consistently highly rated by all the experts it was passed between. It showed a restaurant and a self-service café on the west side, the restaurant being at the top of a 96ft (29m) tower. At the top of the tower was a sun terrace – a roof with glass walls, which they had described but hadn’t included any suggestions for how it could be used, adding that maybe it could form an observation platform, serve teas, or be reserved for an additional storey to the restaurant.

Including a transport café on each site, seating was provided for 700 people, with 101 toilets and 403 parking spaces. A kiosk and toilets were provided in the picnic area.

“The winning design looks first class. Congratulations.”

Architects T P Bennett & Sons had been commissioned to design the services, along with the similar Hilton Park. At £885,000, it was the most expensive service station Rank built, and was considerably more than what had been asked of them. They won the contract, but on a condition imposed by the Landscape Advisory Committee that the height of the tower was reduced to something less striking.

Lancaster was opened in 1965 by Rank under the name ‘Forton’. The petrol station opened early in January, with some additional southbound facilities opening that Spring.

The southbound amenity building had a lowered section with a Quick Snacks machine and the toilets. Above it was the transport café which had only an Autosnacks machine, where staff loaded hot meals into the back and customers paid to release them. These were the motorway network’s first catering vending machines, and the Ministry of Transport were won round by the idea, but Rank weren’t – they removed them due to low demand.

In 1977, Egon Ronay rated the services as appalling. The steak and kidney pie was an insult to one’s taste buds while the apple pie was an absolute disgrace. He said everywhere needed maintenance and a coat of paint, the toilets were smelly and dirty, and the food on display was most unattractive.

A 1978 government review described the services as a soulless fairground.

The Forton Services and the typology generally have had a chequered career, rising and falling in public favour and perception. Purveying food and facilities of varying quality, changing style and vendors with depressing regularity – knowing the value of nothing yet, the Costas of everything.

Ironically the prematurely diminished tower has taken on iconic status in the Modernist canon – listed in 2012 yet closed to the public, admired from afar – in a car.

The Pennine Tower was designed to make the services clearly visible – the ban on advertising had always been an issue, and the previous technique of having a restaurant on a bridge, like down the road at Charnock Richard, was proving expensive and impractical. Rank commissioned architects T P Bennett & Sons to capitalise on the benefits of exciting design while trialling something different. The tower resembles that used by air traffic control, summarising the dreams of the ’60s.

The central shaft consists of two lifts, which were originally a pentagonal design until they were replaced in 2017. They’re still in use to access the first floor, but with the buttons to higher floors disabled. There are then three service lifts, and one spiral staircase – satisfying typical health and safety regulations.

At the top of the tower stood a fine-dining waitress service restaurant, offering views over the road below and across Lancashire. Above the restaurant the lift extended to roof-level, to allow the roof to serve as a sun terrace – although Rank admitted they weren’t sure what this could be used for, suggesting serving tea or eventually building another level.

In reality social changes and cost-cutting limited the desirability of a sit-down meal, and this coupled with high maintenance costs made the tower fall out of favour. The ‘fine dining’ restaurant became the trucking lounge that had been on the first floor, before closing to the public in 1989. It then soldiered on for another 15 years, partially re-fitted, as a head office, then staff training and storage, but even this became too impractical, and the tower is now not used at all.

Although the tower is unique to these services, the concept of large high-level floors can be seen in many Rank services of the era, the idea of each one being to have a visible landmark and a good view of the surrounding area, such as at Hilton Park. The lower-level restaurant at Forton sticks out over the first floor, and partially in to the road, to give an optimum view. Toilets and offices were in the ground floor buildings below.

There are lots of myths flying around that the tower was forced to close by safety regulations, and that it is about to fall down. Like any building which hasn’t been used for 30 years it would take a lot of investment to get it open again, and with roadside restaurants across the country closing due to a lack of trade, nobody has come up with an convincing plan to justify investing in the Pennine Tower.

Many thanks to Motorway Services Online

Take a look at you now.

No more postcards home – y’all come back now, set a spell.