Humber Bridge

The  Humber Ferry was a ferry service on the Humber between Kingston upon Hull and New Holland in Lincolnshire which operated until 1984, after the completion of the Humber Bridge in 1981.

I walked from Hull to Hessle – but you were always on my mind.

Glimpsed once or twice from a train, I’d never been up close and personal.

The Humber Bridge was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1981.

It is one of the marvels of modern engineering and was, until 1998, the longest single span suspension bridge in the world but there are now five other longer bridges of this type. However it is still the longest that can be used by pedestrians.

The bridge is 2,220 metres long and the towers, which are farther apart at the top than the bottom to compensate for the curvature of the earth, are 155 metres high.  It was built at the narrowest point of the estuary known as the ‘Hessle Whelps’ and when completed it was admired for its design and elegance, but reviled by others as a bridge from nowhere to nowhere, the crossing comprises a dual carriageway with walkways for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides.

Although approval to build the bridge was granted in 1959 work did not begin until 1972 due to difficulties in financing the project. In 1966 Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister of the day, allowed Barbara Castle, the Minister for Transport, to give permission for the bridge to be built, hoping that the announcement would be a vote winner in the forthcoming Hull North by-election.

Construction Team

The consulting engineers for the project were Freeman Fox & Partners . Sir Ralph Freeman had produced the first ideas in 1927 and in the early 1930s the cost of the project was estimated at £1.725 million and that the bridge would be unlikely to recoup the construction or maintenance costs. In 1935 he had an idea for a 4,500-foot suspension bridge for the Humber Tunnel Executive Committee. Sir Gilbert Roberts produced more ideas in 1955 for a bridge with a 4,500-foot central span, costing £15 million, to be paid for by East Riding County Council and Lindsey County Council. Once it was likely that a bridge would be constructed,  Bernard Wex  produced the design in 1964 that was actually built. The bridge was built to last 120 years. 

The architect was R. E. Slater ARIBA. The administration building for the tolls, was designed by Parker & Rosner. The landscaping was designed by Prof Arnold Weddle. Wind tunnel testing took place at the National Maritime Institute at Teddington and the road deck is designed for wind speeds up to 105 miles per hour (170 km/h).

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Even on the calmest of days the power and sway, push and pull of wind and tide is an uplifting, hair-raising and visceral experience.

The elegantly engineered giant towers above as you gaze from the shore.

An elegy to human endeavour in concrete and steel.

The bridge is of necessity firmly anchored to the ground.

The walkway wide and high astride the estuary.

The tall towers towering above.

The whole structure tied down, anchored and suspended securely.

The mid brown waters of the Humber flowing gently below.

I walked back and to in the company of a handful of fellow travellers, on foot and bike, one of life’s best ever free rides, and reluctantly bade farewell as I headed home to Hull.

But just like just like General MacArthur I came through and I shall return.

Hull to Hessle – Humber Estuary Walk

Overcast and grey – heading headlong into the prevailing westerly.

This is just the day to walk from Hull to Hessle.

From the recently renovated early morning, empty piazzas of Hull Marina to the foot of the Humber bridge.

To the left the interminable rippling brown surface of the river, relentlessly heading out to sea.

To the right a modern melange of working docks – shipping aggregates and timber, hither and thither.

The vacant haunts of fisher folk no longer casting nets, forever and a day.

Disused and decayed warehousing, betrayed by the coming of the container, home now to the Urbex snapper and itinerate tagger.

Out of town retail parks fuelled by debt.

Dried up reed beds swaying beneath the weight of the wind.

The suspended bed of the bridge, floating high above the waters, far below.

Take a walk with me now.

The Mancunian Way – A57(M)

I’m walking, yes indeed I’m walking – I’m walking the Mancunian Way.

Previously posted as historical journey – this, as they say, is the real deal, one foot after another, one sunny afternoon in September.

From east to west and back again – in or on, under and around our very own Highway in the Sky.

Part of the ever changing patchwork of demolition and development which defines the modern city. The carriageway prevails, whilst the pervasive rise and fall continues apace, its forlorn pedestrian underpasses may soon be superseded by wider walkways.

Manchester City Council is spending around £10million to make major changes to the junction where Princess Road meets the Mancunian Way and Medlock Street.

Much to the chagrin of local residents, who value the solace of their sole soulful green space and the frequent users, passing under the constant waves of sooty traffic.

What you see is what you get today, tomorrow is another kettle of concrete, trees, traffic and steel.

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.

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.

Macclesfield Railway Station

Where the Victorians modelled their stations on cathedrals, temples and palaces.

Modern Man models his on shopping centre and office blocks.

Richards and MacKenzie – The Railway Station

Though it seems to me that Macclesfield Station, in its earlier and current states, refuses to dovetail neatly into either of these sloppy binary paradigms.

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The former – single storey buildings, fitting unostentatiously into the topographic and practical constraints of the site. A neat, tightly packed rhythm of brick arches with a compact and bijou porch welcoming the expectant traveller.

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The latter a functionalist block, fully utilitarian crossings with lift access columns, embodying a particularly industrial demeanour.

From the golden age of steam to the moribund years of diesel, Macclesfield sits comfortably somewhere, betwixt and between ugly duckling and fully fledged swan.

Nestled in the lea of the East Cheshire Highlands, offering practical everyday transport solutions to the beleaguered commuter.

No frills, no thrills.

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The London and North Western Railway opened the line between Manchester and Macclesfield on 19 June 1849 – Macclesfield Central was born. Later it would become a key station on the Stafford branch of the West Coast Main Line, remodelled in 1960 and rebranded as the much snappier Macclesfield Station.

Which it proudly announces topically and typographically to the world.

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Welcome to Macclesfield a town that is clearly going places, and so are you.

The station won the Best Kept Station in Cheshire Award for 2007, but was reported in summer 2011 to be distinctly shabby, with peeling paintwork.

And yet there is something in the constituent Platonic steel, glass and concrete forms that never ceases to amuse and amaze me, this is Brutalism on a human and provincial scale.

The raw concrete softened with three or four shades of grey, as a concession to the delicate suburban sensibilities of this once silk-fuelled town.

Take a trip with me – join the Cheshire train set.

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Ford Lane Didsbury – Manchester

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This a tale of a lane, a shady lane in south Manchester.

This is a tale of several Manchesters, layer upon layer of history.

Shady history.

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Ford Bank House occupied much of what is now the Ford Bank Estate and prior to that it was believed to be farm land. Ford Bank House, probably the largest house erected in Didsbury was built in about 1823 by Joseph Birley a cotton manufacturer. The extended Birley family had a widespread influence on Manchester history even going back to the Peterloo massacre where one of the Birley ancestors led a contingent of the mounted soldiers who attacked what was a peaceful protest gathering. 

Ford Bank Residents

A tale of emergent capital and political control, rendered corporeal in brick, stone, wood, glass and slate. A cotton-rich mercantile class seeking to suppress the democratic demands of a burgeoning proletariat.

Ford Bank House was sold to Thomas Ashton in 1858, when he died in 1898. In 1919 the remaining estate was sold to Dr Herbert Levinstien who worked on mustard gas research during the first world war. In 1934 the estate was sold to Ford Bank Estates Limited who developed and built what is now the Ford Bank Estate.

A tale of a growing and aspirational professional middle class, seeking inter-war semis in a leafy Didsbury glade – and the timely response of speculative builders.

Looking cheekily over the hedge in search of a monkey puzzle.

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The ford of Ford Lane crosses the nearby River Mersey – thought to be the route of retreating Royalists following the siege of Wythenshawe Hall in 1644.

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In 1901 a bridge was opened at the behest of local emigres engineer and social benefactor Henry Simon – a German born engineer who revolutionised Great Britain’s flour milling industry and in 1878 founded the engineering companies Henry Simon Ltd and Simon Carves.

He and his family were a serious reforming political force in the area – instrumental in the founding and development of the Halle Orchestra, Wythenshawe Park and housing estate.

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For many years this was my route to work – cycling from Stockport to Northenden, each and every day forever. Witnessing the rise and fall of the river and the vacillating  fortunes of Manchester’s economic regeneration.

This is south Manchester where the years of austerity, central government fiscal prudence and free-market economics, have had a far from adverse effect.

In stark contrast to the malaise of the north and east of the city, here we see a constant parade of skips and scaffold, free from the fickle trick of trickle down. As extensions and mortgages are extended at an alarming rate.

The round windowed gaze of the asymmetric homes, seem endlessly surprised at the good fortune that has befallen the residents of Ford Lane.

Owner occupiers preoccupied with owning.

Semi-detached.

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