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

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.

Leyland – St Mary’s Church

It never fails to surprise, turning the corner of a somewhat anonymous suburban street to find:

A building of outstanding importance for its architectural design, advanced liturgical planning and artistic quality of the fixtures and fittings.

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The Benedictines came to Leyland in 1845 and the first Church of St. Mary’s was built on Worden Lane in 1854. The Catholic population was small at this time, but had grown to around 500 by 1900. Growth was assisted by the industrial development of Leyland and after the Second World War the town was earmarked as the centre of a new town planned in central Lancashire. By the early 1960’s, the Catholic population was 5,000. Fr Edmund Fitzsimmons, parish priest from 1952, was a guiding force in the decision to build a large new church of advanced liturgical design, inspired by progressive continental church architecture of the mid 20th century.  The church was designed by Jerzy Faczynski of Weightman and Bullen. Cardinal Heenan blessed the foundation  stone  in  1962  and  the  new  church  was  completed  ready  for  its consecration and dedication by Archbishop Beck in April 1964.

Stained glass by Patrick Reyntiens.

Pink brick, reinforced concrete, copper covered roofs, zig-zag to main space and flat to aisle. Circular, aisled plan with projecting entrance and five projecting chapels.

Central altar. Entrance in large projecting porch with roof rising outwards and the roof slab cantilevered above the doors, its underside curving upward.

Large polychrome ceramic mural representing the Last Judgment by Adam Kossowski occupies the width of the porch above the two double- doored entrances.

Brick rotunda with projecting painted reinforced concrete chapels to left and right, of organic round-cornered form.

Folded radial roof above main space, leaning outwards to shelter triangular clerestory windows. Circular glazed light to centre of roof, its sides leaning outwards, culminating in a sculpted finial of copper or bronze.

Internally, sanctuary is floored in white marble, raised by a step, and the white marble altar is raised by three further steps.

Fixed curved timber benches are placed on slightly raked floor.

`Y’ shaped concrete aisle posts, designed to incorporate the Stations of the Cross, sculpted by Arthur Dooley.

Above these the exposed brick drum rises to the exposed, board-marked concrete folded roof. The aisle walls comprise thirty-six panels of abstract dalle-de-verre stained glass, totalling 233 feet in length, by Patrick Reyntiens, mostly in blues and greens. The theme is the first day of Creation. Suspended above the altar is the original ring-shaped light fixture, and also Adam Kossowski’s ceramic of Christ the King.

Further original light fittings are suspended above the congregation.

The font is placed in the narthex, in a shallow, marble-lined depression in the floor. It comprises a concrete cylinder with an inscribed bronze lid.

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel, with its rising roof slab, contains a green marble altar with in-built raking supports.

Behind it is a tapestry representing the Trinity, designed by the architect J. Faczynski.

Text from Taking Stock

Many thanks to Father John and the members of the congregation for the warm welcome that they extended to us on the day of our visit to their exceptional Grade II Listed 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.

St Gabriel’s Church – Blackburn

Brownhill Dr Blackburn BB1 9BA

The original design of Liverpool architect F.X. Velarde attracted so much attention when St Gabriel’s opened in 1933.

“The new building… marks a new departure from the accepted ecclesiastical style and is unique in this district,” said the old Blackburn Times when it was consecrated on April 8, 1933, by the Bishop of Blackburn, Dr P.M. Herbert.

But this is a church which throughout its life has been fraught with settlement cracks, repairs and redesign – it’s original towers truncated and clad, flat roofs pitched and timbers replaced.

For 34 years ago, the landmark building was facing possible demolition — with the parish confronted with a then-immense bill of £15,000 for repairs. The crisis was due to serious damage to the roof timbers caused by water penetration.

Eventually, it took £40,000-worth of refurbishment inside and out lasting until 1975 to save St Gabriel’s — at considerable expense to its original appearance. The main tower was shortened by six feet and later clad at the top with glass-fibre sheathing while the east tower was removed altogether and its flat roofs were made into pitched ones to deal with the rotting roof timbers and problems of settlement.

In fact, the difficulties that its design and construction posed were recognised much earlier in 1956 when the church, which had cost £20,000 to build, was found to be in urgent need of repairs that would cost more than £1,500. For an inspection by the Diocesan Architect found that major defects in the flat roof could have serious consequences unless they were given early attention and portions of the parapet wall were found to have large cracks due to settlement while half the building’s brickwork needed pointing.

Lancashire Telegraph

And so it now stands forlorn and unused – services are now held in the adjacent church hall. A series of interlocking monumental interwar functionalist brick clad slabs, once thought to resemble a brewery or cinema, now awaits its fate. Though it remains a thing of wonder in both scale and detailing, well worth a wander around if you’re passing.

Its tall slim arched windows reaching towards the heavens, Deco detailed doors firmly closed.

St James Coffee House – Burnley

124 St James’s Street Burnley Lancashire BB11 1NL

Having never ever been, I thought it time to go.

To Burnley.

Several trains from Stockport later, along the length of the East Lancs Line, I arrived at Burnley Manchester Road Station via the reinstated Todmorden Curve.

Having wandered aimlessly awhile, it was time for a spot to eat – and there it was a vision to behold before my very eyes.

St James Coffee House

We’re situated in the town centre on St James’ Street, just a little bit further down from DW Sports – the old JJB store and next to the entrance to the old Empire Theatre, when you get to the art gallery you’ve gone too far!

The menu had caught my eye – pie!

To get in and get some grub was my sole and urgent imperative.

A warm welcome awaited, and even warmer food, served with alacrity and aplomb – tasty homemade meat and potato pie, chips, peas and gravy. A soft light crust and mushiest mushy peas – a real delight, seen off in no time and all washed down with a piping hot mug of tea.

£4.40 all in – service with a smile, in cosy, comfortable, traditional café surroundings.

I’ll be back – go and treat y’self soon.

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Church of St Mark – Chadderton

Life is full of little surprises, to turn from Middleton Road into Milne Street in downtown Chadderton and discover a triangular, blue-grey brick tower soaring into the September sky.

So solid geometries pierced by rectangular, triangular and angular gridded windows, deservedly Grade II Listed in 1998, made all the more extraordinary by its seemingly ordinary surroundings.

The interior mixes tradition with modernity, reusing pews and fragments of stained glass. Restrained natural lighting, complemented by slatted wooden, almost oriental boxed light shades. The furniture, fixtures and fittings bringing together a coherent decorative order.

The whole an uplifting and embracing space, punctuated by the curved y-shaped wooden supports, rising to the timber framed roof structure.

It was a pleasure to meet the current incumbent Father Stephen and a privilege to spend some time exploring this altogether delightful and impressive church.

Thank you.

I suggest that you do the same.

Contact details and location.

G.G. Pace 1960-63 – Blue engineering brick; graduated slate to pitched roofs – low pitched to church and entrance and steeply pitched to tower. Concrete dressings around windows. Five sided aisled space, three walls being orthoganal and the liturgical north side being canted outwards to provide room for the choir. Entrance with narthex to west and west also is a small rectangular chapel. Corner site, the corner itself dominated by a low rectangular brick tower with a high gabled roof. Four bay nave, the bays separated by buttresses and with rectangular windows set in varying groups high in the wall. West wall of nave is visible, and secondary glazing has been sensitively installed over the west window between the western buttresses. Thick exposed board-marked concrete beam at eaves. On return elevation, tower is flush with small chapel, with irregular groups of rectangular windows to both. Rectangular leaded lights. Recessed entrance with two doors of timber and leaded-glazing in vertical strips. Liturgical north and south faces of the tower each has a stack of 14 small pointed louvres. Jutting gutter spouts in exposed board-marked concrete.

Internally the bays are divided by three pairs of varnished laminated timber `y’ shaped supports and trusses, supporting timber trussed purlins (with prominent bolts) and timber rafters. Walls are white-painted brick with exposed board-marked concrete bands, which act as bonding strips between brick piers and as lintels for windows. Original altar of limed timber with four pairs of legs, is in original position, set forward from the east wall. Sanctuary raised by two steps. Limed timber pulpit, also chunky and so is altar rail with thick black metal supports and thick limed timber handrail. Priest’s chair to match, against east wall. Black metal crucifix also in characteristic Pace manner. Stone sedilia built into the north and south walls of the sanctuary. East window with stained glass which comprises broken and reset fragments of nineteenth-century glass. Font sited in central aisle towards the west end; this is of tooled cream stone, the bowl comprising a monolithic cylinder, flanked by a smaller cylinder which rises higher and has a prominent spout. Elaborate font cover in roughly textured cast aluminium, rising to flame-like pinnacles. Reused nineteenth-century benches, painted semi-matt black. Narthex and west chapel with limed timber doors, which have decorative nail-heads in rows. West chapel has open truss timber roof, painted white. Sanctuary light and cross are characteristic of Pace’s style.

A fine example of Pace’s idiosyncratic manner, this church shows the influence of the Liturgical Movement, especially in the forward placement of the altar.

British Listed Buildings

A fine companion to Pace’s William Temple Church in Wythenshawe.

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Lady Chapel

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