Poco a Poco – Stockport

There was a field – Ash Farm, farmhouse and field, at the junction of Manchester Road and Denby Lane, owned by one Harry Hitchen.

Harry Hitchen’s ambitious grandson reckoned that it was time that Heaton Chapel had a picture house, so on 6th May 1939 – where once there was a fertile farmer’s field, the seven hundred seat Empress Cinema opened.

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Opening with a screening of Alexander Korda’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

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It continued to trade as a cinema until 18th April 1959, whereafter it transformed at the end of that year, into a dance house opening as the Empress Club on the 9th December, run by Manchester City footballer, Keith Marsden.

Other parts of building were used for Flamingo Coffee Jive Club, from 1961 Empress Bingo club used the none-cabaret portion of the building.

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Empress Ballroom

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Keith Marsden

In many northern towns and cities at this time a thriving beat scene emerged, literally hundreds of local bands, playing a circuit of clubs large and small.

Further details can be found here at Manchester Beat and Lanky Beat.

One such band played at the Empress on 14th November 1964, formerly The Matadors, then becoming The Swinging Hangmen, later known as The Hangmen. With a now sound, slick suits, a business card and a swinging, dead, novelty teddy bear mascot, they had everything going for them.

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I too played in such bands during the late 60’s and early 70’s, piling in and out of assorted vans, cars and buses to arrive at a packed venue, sandwiched between the bingo and a top flight comedian.

December 1968, in a flurry of flags, the Poco a Poco Club and Casino is born, international cabaret and entertainment abounds from here on in, beginning a fashion for the American style supper club, boil in the bag dining, for the discerning chicken in a basket cases.

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As beat becomes mod, psych, prog and glam a new generation of bands adapt and mutate to suit the ever changing moods and modes of modern music.

One such were Toby Twirl.

They hailed from Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. Formed in the 60’s and originally called ‘The Shades of Blue’. After being signed to Decca Records by Wayne Bickerton, a name change was called for, as there was a US group of the same name. The group released three singles on Decca – Back In Time, Toffee Apple Sunday and Movin In. Although critically acclaimed in later years, none of the singles charted due to lack of major radio play. The group concentrated on live work during the late 60’s and early 70’s and were a top draw around the North of England. The line up was Dave ‘Holly’ Holland vocals, Barrie Sewell keyboards, Stuart Somerville bass, Nick Thorburn guitar and John Reed drums. Stuart was replaced by Dave Robson after he was tragically drowned in Tynemouth and Holly was replaced by Steve Pickering.

Interest in 60’s psych has seen the recent release of a Toby Twirl LP, a long overdue compilation of their admirable singles – including Romeo and Juliet 1968.

Other Poco regulars included Wishful Thinking:

Prior to 1969, they were recording with ex-Shadows drummer and record producer TonyMeehan. Between 1965 and 1969 the group released 9 singles and a live album. There were some changes in personnel and some successes, most notably Step by Step, Count To ten, Cherry Cherry, It’s So Easy and Peanuts, the latter remaining in the Danish charts for 3 months and also reaching No 8 in Japan.

My personal choice would be their version of Clear White Light.

Famously  Mr David Laughing Gnome Bowie played there on the 27th April 1970, just a few days before receiving his Ivor Novello award at The Talk Of The Town in London, for Space Oddity, which had been voted the best original song of 1969.

The club traded on through the 70’s and 80’s, continuing to ride the trends in popular music, the emergence of the discotheque and the almost superstar local DJ. As interest in the live cabaret music scene waned, the club began hosting boxing matches in the 80’s. Changing its name to Chester’s in 1983 and finally closing in May 1987.

It had lasted almost 50 years as a rich source of entertainments for thousands of Stopfordians, from a flickering film to a flaming beat, sadly it all ended in demolition.

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The beat goes on.

Many thanks to Stephen for the essential facts and copyright images from his website.

Mottram Street Flats – Stockport

A post-war northern town, facing the problems of bomb damage, poor quality housing, and the pressing need for new homes.

In 1963 there seemed to be space and the will to build, the site at the centre of the image flanked by ageing Victorian terraces and industry.

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Soon to become the Mottram Street Development.

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Back in 1965 these were the highest housing tower blocks in Greater Manchester.

The work of borough architects John Rank and Clifford Fernley.

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1960’s Photographs from the Stockport Image Archive

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1980’s photographs from The Tower Block

Typically they incorporated concrete street furniture, sculptural and decorative detail, in keeping with the age.

Like many other developments of the period they have subsequently been clad, fenced, painted and secured beyond recognition.

There was a raised concrete play area, of which nothing has survived.

A little of their original character however has prevailed – a William Mitchellesque fallen obelisk, along with some panelling and planters.

Curious to see public art behind bars

– would that they were removed.

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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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Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts – Liverpool

And so castles made of sand, 
Fall in the sea, eventually.

Once there was a battle here, several actually, and battles mean castles, possibly.

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Erected in the between 1232 and 1235, inevitably through the passage of time, blows were exchanged, the Banastre Rebellion of 1315, and later in 1689 Prince Rupert was battered by King Billy, and so on until it was eventually demolished in 1726. A series of churches ensued, finally to be supplanted by the arrival of an amusingly statuesque Queen Victoria, replete with plaque.

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In 1976 excavation of the south side of Castle Street was conducted before the construction of the Crown Courts building, which was built in the style of a castle.

What goes around comes around, ending up largely square in Derby Square.

And lo and so it came to pass, new law courts were erected upon the site begun in 1973, opened in 1984. Architects were Farmer and Dark, who were also responsible for the Fawley Power Station.

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And the Cornwallis Building at the University of Kent.

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I passed by there yet again last Saturday, still maintaining a restrained ambivalence regarding this monolithic concrete and sand pseudo-castle. Less than, and larger than the sum of its parts. The quirky detailing and awkward geometry, producing a somewhat confused, yet imposing scheme, an ossified pinkish ribbed construct from another age.

Mass – possibly without redemption.

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Coat of arms by Richard Kindersley

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Gore Brook – A History

To begin at the beginning, well actually to begin in the middle and walk to the current beginning. The Gore Brook flows from the Lower Gorton Reservoir and from there onwards to meet the Chorlton Brook in the west, though I should imagine that prior to the construction of the waterworks, it was fed by more distant moorland waters.

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Manchester being on the eastern edge of the Lancashire Plain and the western edge of the Pennines is riddled with rivers, rivers which now wriggle in an under and overground web, across heavily developed urban areas. Following the Industrial Revolution former meadow, common and farmland was overwritten by factories, housing and roads, the rural character of the rivers and brooks soon becoming darkened and polluted by the surrounding industries.

I was lead here by my search for a lost pub The Garratt on Pink Bank Lane, then drawn in further by this site The Red Path of Longsight.

The Red Path is a pedestrian link between Pink Bank Lane and the Gorton boundary at Buckley Road. It roughly follows the course of Gore Brook. The original footpath, running from Buckley Road to the bank of the brook, was made using black cinders. It was probably made in the 1940s to provide access to the allotments located on either side. In the early 1950s , a concrete bridge was laid across Gore Brook and the footpath extended to Pink Bank Lane. This section used red bricks in it’s construction, probably supplied by Jacksons brickworks . Crushed bricks were then used as a topping to make the path smoother and fill in any cracks. The thoroughfare soon became known as the Red Path.

So wide eyed and mapless I bowled up at Brook Terrace, just off Stockport Road Longsight, in search of The Gore and its source.

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In the early 1900’s the river was still open and bridged, here at Stockport Road, later culverted and covered – anticipating the arrival of Tesco’s and Granada TV Rentals.

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From there we pass under the railway along Brook Terrace and into Parry Road.

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The underpass is still there and very much in use, as is Stanley Grove School – the Manchester Central Schools’ Kitchens are long gone, along with the food filled, insulated aluminium cases, that fed the hungry mouths of many, with semolina, pink custard, meat pies and lumpy mash.

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Onwards to Elgar Street and still no sign of the river, hidden beneath our feet, the corner of Northmoor Road, can be seen on the corner, no longer distributing dividends, but now providing social housing.

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We arrive at Pink Bank Lane, a rich mix of terraced homes, flats and factories – and the long lost Garratt, and the long lost Gore.

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Though the lazy, lazy river has been confined in a brick lined wind, to meet the ever pressing needs of the Gorton Sewage Works.

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The river then hugs the edge of Annie Lea Playing fields on Buckley Road, until it disappears again as it meets Mount Road, the playing fields are still open ground – the Manchester Cleansing Department, seen on the left – is no more.

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Here on Knutsford Road we see the construction of the tunnels and culverts, the footbridge to the left spanning the railway, is still there.

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Finally we see The Gore reemerging clear, clean, wide, proud and resplendent in Sunny Brow Park, where it is still maintained as a decorative, duck-filled lake.

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Briefly underground again and into the back of Far Lane, skirting the Brookfield Church graveyard.

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Then tunnelling under Hyde Road at the back of the church lodge, appearing once again alongside Tan Yard Brow.

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The manmade waterfall continues to cascade, the Fairfield to Old Trafford railway is now the Fallowfield Loop, Manchester Cycleway, young lads no longer mess about in wellies and torn Tek Sac jeans on the bank, the Tannery no longer tans.

Then we end our journey by the broad expanse of the Lower Gorton Reservoir, implausibly dotted with jolly yachts, and home to a now absent stepped outflow stream. Look up to the east, and there you’ll see the moors, you could go further.

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All archive photographs from Manchester Local Image Collection.

 

 

 

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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