One fine sunny Monday morning I set out cycling to Ashton-under-Lyne to buy an enamel pie dish. Almost inevitably I was pushed and pulled in a variety of unforeseen directions, incautiously distracted and diverted serendipitously – towards Droylsden.
Idly pedalling down Greenside Lane looking this way and that I was drawn magnetically to a pitched roof tower, towering over the red brick semis. Rounding the corner I discovered the delightful St Stephen’s RC church, stood high and proud on a grassy corner, glowing golden in the March sunlight.
I leaned my bike against the presbytery wall and with the kindly bidding of a passing parishioner, I went inside.
Thanks to Father Tierney for his time and permission to snap the interior. It was a calm space, the large open volume side lit by high octagonal honeycomb modular windows. The elegant plain pitched concrete gambrel roof beams a simple engineered solution.
The church and attached presbytery were built from designs by Greenhalgh & Williams in 1958-9, the church being consecrated on 12 May 1960. A reordering took place, probably in the 1960s or 70s, when the altar rails were removed and the altar moved forward. Probably at the same time, the font was brought into the church from the baptistery.
The altar and apse beautifully restrained in colour form and choice of materials. The design and detailing on the pews so warm and understated.
I was loathe to leave.
The exterior does not disappoint, the repetition of modular window shapes, the integration of doors, brick and mixed stone facing.This is a building of elegant grandeur, well proportioned, happily at home in its setting.
1964 by George S Hay, Chief Architect for CWS, with interior design by Stanley Layland, interior designer for CWS. Reinforced concrete with Blue Pearl granite tiles and veneers, grey granite tiles and veneers, buff granite blocks, glass, and brick.
There’s just so much to stand and stare and marvel at.
Vulcan by Boris Tietze commisioned by Horne Brothers 1961 for their head office building No. 1 King Street. Glass fibre on a metal armature the 8 foot high figure holding a bundle of metal rods.
You were just about still open then, then you weren’t, then you were again – but a Co-op no more alas.
Work is underway on plans for a tech hub in Sheffield after a funding package was agreed.
Followed by a casual stroll towards 2019 where we are talking a peep inside courtesy of owners Kollider and book shop La Biblioteka.
I’d never ever seen the interior, save through the photographs of Sean Madner who captured the key features in 2014, prior to refurbishment.
So the Modernists and I pitched up this Sunday afternoon, the conclusion of our Sheffield Walk.
Lets take a look at the end stairwells, two very distinct designs one dotty one linear, both using Carter’s Tiles.
Configured from combinations and rotations of these nine modular units and two plain tiles.
Configured from combinations and rotations of these twelve modular units and two plain tiles.
The site has retained some of its original architectural typography.
The former top floor restaurant has a suspended geometric ceiling with recently fitted custom made lighting.
The timber-lined boardroom has a distinctive horseshoe of lighting, augmenting the board room table – which is currently away for repair, oh yes and a delightful door.
High atop the intoxicating vertiginous swirl of the central spiral stairway is the relief mural representing a cockerel and fish made of aluminium, copper and metal rod, with red French glass for the fish’s eye and cockerel’s comb.
Illuminated from above by this pierced concrete and glass skylight.
Many of the internal spaces have been ready for their new tenants.
This is a fine example of Modernist retail architecture saved from decay and degradation by the timely intervention of a sympathetic tenant.
Long may they and Castle House prosper – Sheffield we salute you!
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.
I popped by to see you yesterday – a truly remarkable structure set amongst the terraced housing of an unremarkable street.
The foundation stone for the present building laid by Bishop Beck in August 1962. He returned to bless and open the church on 25 June 1963. The new church was built from designs by Walter Stirrup & Sons – job architect Kevin Houghton, at a cost of about £60,000. The church is notable for its dalle de verre glass, by Carl Edwards of Whitefriars.
The church is a very striking and characterful building with a hyperbolic paraboloid roof rising in peaks on four sides, with clerestory lighting in the angles, that on the west side jutting out to form a canopy over the entrance. It was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘wildly expressionist’.
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.
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.