St Vincent de Paul – Rochdale

Caldershaw Road Norden Rochdale OL12

Well it’s almost a mighty long way to cycle from Stockport to here, but well worth it.

A clear functional design of the 1970s, designed to place all the internal focus on the top-lit altar, which beneath its modern cladding incorporates a pre-Reformation altar stone. The external appearance of the church is slightly forbidding but the interior is enhanced by vibrant slab glass.

More than somewhat bunker like in its recessed situation, well below street level, yet interesting and engaging nonetheless – I’m rather fond of grey.

Working around the comings and goings of the adjacent school, I half circumnavigated the site, capturing something of the detail and exterior views of the stained glass. The interior will have to wait until another day.

Planned and newly constructed housing developments in Norden and Bamford made it apparent that a new church was needed nearer the geographical centre of the parish. In June 1975 the present church of St Vincent de Paul was opened, nearly a mile away from the old church. The architect was Bernard Ashton of the Cassidy & Ashton Partnership, Preston.

Internally the church is simply fitted with plain white plastered or boarded walls. The low level of daylighting enhances the effect of the four corner windows, which are filled with rainbow glass, and of the top-lit altar. The dalle de verre glass was designed by Eddie Blackwell and made in Dom. Charles Norris’s workshop at Buckfast Abbey. The figure of the risen Christ on the roof over the entrance porch were also designed by Blackwell.

Taking Stock

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.

Doncaster – Modernism

The railway station was built in 1849 replacing a temporary structure constructed a year earlier. It was rebuilt in its present form in 1933 and has had several slight modifications since that date, most notably in 2006, when the new interchange and connection to Frenchgate Centre opened.

The front elevation is realised in a typical inter-war brick functionalist style.

Of particular note are the lobby lighting fixtures and clock, the booking hall and offices are listed Grade II.

There are plans to redevelop the station approach replacing the current car parking with a pedestrianised piazza.

The High Street boast a former branch of Burton’s with its logo intact.

An intriguing Art Deco shop frontage – combining a menswear outlet with a pub.

Further along an enormous Danum Co-operative Store in the grandest Deco manner – 1938-40. Designed by T H Johnson & Son for the Doncaster Co-operative Society Ltd.

Currently partially occupied with no access to the glass stairways.

Following the development of the Frenchgate Centre the Waterdale Centre sunk into a slow decline.

And the Staff of Life has lost a little of its estate pub period charm, following successive typographic makeovers and paint jobs.

There are plans to improve the centre.

A naked couple sculpture which caused complaints went back on display in 2015.

The Lovers statue, depicting the couple embracing, attracted criticism after being installed in the Arndale Shopping Centre in Doncaster in the 1960s.

It was removed in the late 1980s and put into storage before being restored with the help of a local art group.

The designer was architect Eckehart Selke

Moving through to the shiny new Civic Area note the older library and demolished college.

There are further plans to redevelop the Library, Museum and Art Gallery.

Passing through we reach the Magistrates’ Courts and Police Station.

From 1949 onwards plans were afoot to develop the Waterdale area of Doncaster – civic buildings, courts, educational provision and the like, WH Price the Borough Surveyor at the helm. In 1955 Frederick Gibberd was appointed to oversee the site, though many of his designs were unrealised, his Police Station and Law Courts opened in 1969.

The Police Station it seems is to be redeveloped.

Moments away a delightful clinic with a decorative fascia.

Whilst next door is the Museum and Art Gallery.

And finally next door St Peter in Chains Church.

Birley Street Tower Blocks – Blackburn

One fine day – whilst walking back to and/or from happiness, in the general direction of Blackburn town centre, I happened to chance upon three towers.

Whilst not in any sense Tolkienesque – for me they held a certain mystique, wandering unclad amongst swathes of trees and grass.

Trinity, St Alban and St Michaels Courts – three thirteen storey towers each containing sixty one dwellings.

Three thirteen-storey slab blocks built as public housing using the Sectra industrialised building system. The blocks contain 183 dwellings in total, consisting of 72 one-bedroom flats and 111 two-bedroom flats. The blocks are of storiform construction clad with precast concrete panels. The panels are faced with exposed white Cornish aggregate. Spandrel panels set with black Shap granite aggregate are used under the gable kitchen windows. The blocks were designed by the Borough architect in association with Sydney Greenwood. Construction was approved by committee in 1966.

Pastscape

Built on Birley Street following extensive 1960’s slum clearance.

Providing an excellent backdrop for the passing parade.

Each entrance porch with a delightful concrete relief on the outer face.

On the reverse a tiled relief – sadly painted over.

They are well proportioned slabs set in ample open landscape dotted with mature trees – maintained to a high standard.

Pennine Hotel – Derby

Macklin Street Derby DE1 1LF

You’re a big man but you’re out of shape.

Conceived and wrought from concrete, glass and steel in the Swinging Sixties, the passageDr of time and Trip Advisor reviews have been far from kind.

They put you in a Quarter renamed you St Peter’s – but that’s only half the battle.

Once busy concourse and conference suites no longer ring to the satisfying clink of glass on glass, cash in till.

Nobody lays their tired head to take their well earned rest in your well made beds.

A hotel branded “utterly terrible” by reviewers on a travel website has been forced to close.

One visitor advised travellers to “run away from this hotel as far as possible” and others said they were “filled with dread” while staying there and spoke of towels smelling “rather odd”.

BBC

So so long to The Pink Coconut, Syns and the Mint Casino.

Derby Council has bought you all – awaiting redevelopment as part of the Masterplan to regenerate the whole area.

So here we are one more tinned-up inner city site awaits its fate – meet me at the wrecking ball.


Shelters Rhos to Colwyn

I have previously sought succour in your shady shelters, as unrelenting sheets of steel grey rain peppered the wind whipped Irish sea.

A concrete cornucopia of Californian screen block, glass, pebbledash, mosaic and crazy paving.

Municipal modernism under threat as the unstoppable force of coastal improvement lumbers on, a pantechnicon of shiny surfaces, sensitive planting, contemporary seating and laser-cut, contextually appropriate historical panels.

As Hardscape introduces a wholesome dose of CGI style medicine to the promenade

I for one will miss you all when you’re gone.

Next time I pass all this will seem as a dream, a tale told by a fool full of storm and fury signify nothing.

Salford University

So here we are hard by the River Irwell, Peel Park and the A6.

The Royal Technical Institute, Salford, which opened in 1896, became a College of Advanced Technology in 1956 and gained university status, following the Robbins Report into higher education, in 1967.

A new dawn – fired by the white hot heat of British Technology – including the unrealised demolition of the Victorian College, Art Gallery and Museum buildings.

B&W images courtesy USIR Archives

The Maxwell Building and Hall forms the older portal to the campus site.

They were built between 1959 and 1960 to a design by the architect C. H. Simmons of the Lancashire County Architects Department.

In back of the Maxwell complex is the Cockcroft Building.

Sir John Douglas Cockcroft OM KCB CBE FRS 27 May 1897 – 18 September 1967 was a British physicist who shared with Ernest Walton the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951 for splitting the atomic nucleus, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power.

The concrete relief to the east fascia of the northern block of the building is now sadly obscured by the addition of intrusive infrastructure.

This incised block of limestone tiles laden with fossilised remains is a curious delight.

Just around the corner the Chapman Building.

This latter day piece of brutalism is buried within the campus of the University of Salford. It was designed by W.F. Johnson and Partners of Leamington Spa, as a lecture theatre block and gallery. It sits with its long axis running parallel to the railway behind. The series of grey volumes, occasionally punctuated by colourful floods of red and green trailing ivy, hang together in a less than convincing composition. The orientation and access to the building seem confused and detached from any cohesive relationship to the rest of the campus, but there is something perversely attractive about the right essay in the wrong language. The reinforced concrete building contained five lecture theatres, communal spaces, an art gallery, AV support areas and basement plant rooms. Following a major refurbishment in 2012, several additions were made to the exterior and its total concrete presence somewhat diminished. It still houses lecture theatres and a number of other learning and social spaces.

Mainstream Modern

Across the wide and wider A6 are Crescent House and Faraday House – formerly home to the AUEW Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, ceded to the University in the 1970s

Let’s shimmy along to the former Salford Technical College site.

Now the part of the University of Salford, this grouping is probably the most significant work by Halliday Meecham during this period. The blocks wrap to almost enclose a courtyard and they step up in height towards the rear of the site. To the front is a lecture theatre block in dark brick. The multi-storey elements are straightforward in their construction and appearance and have had their glazing replaced. Perhaps the richest elements here are the three totemic structures by artist William Mitchell, which were listed at Grade II in 2011. Mitchell was actively engaged with the experiments of the Cement and Concrete Associations during the 1960s and produced a wide variety of works for public and private clients; other works regionally include the majority of the external art and friezes at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and the Humanities Building at Manchester University. These textured concrete monoliths appear to have an abstract representation of Mayan patterns and carry applied mosaic. They were made on site using polyurethane moulds. There is another Mitchell work hidden behind plasterboard in the inside of the building.

Mainstream Modern

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