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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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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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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St Marks Broomhill – Sheffield

The church was originally built in 1868–1871 to a standard neo-Gothic design by William Henry Crossland. This building was destroyed by an incendiary bomb during the “Sheffield Blitz” of 12 December 1940, only the spire and a porch survived (they are now Grade II listed structures). The remnants of the bombed church were used as the basis for a new church designed by George Pace and constructed 1958–1963. This new building is of a Modernist design but is also sympathetic to the Gothic spire and porch. It is a rubble-faced concrete building with striking slit windows of varying numbers and locations around the building. There are also two notable stained glass windows: the Te Deum window by Harry Stammers and the west window by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens.

Wikipedia told me so.

Welcome to St Mark’s – an open, welcoming church for people from all walks of life who wish to learn more about Jesus and Christian faith and seek the freedom to ask the big questions. We have strong engagement with Christian communities and other faith traditions. People come from all over the country to participate in our Centre for Radical Christianity, where a lively climate of debate and learning can be found.
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Their website told me so.
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This a remarkable building staffed by remarkably welcoming people, it’s exterior betraying little of the wonders within. Divine stained glass, brut concrete structures, pale limed wood, sculptural forms – full of light and warmth.
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Pleasure Gardens – Battersea

So suddenly the war ended and all of a sudden the fun began, followed with indecent haste by a wholesale national lack of fun, no fun anywhere no how.

Well why not have a festival, a Festival of Britain!

The south bank of the Thames had once been home to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

Why not put it there or thereabouts.

‘This was always a raucous place, but a temple of the muses too. Under the management of its gifted, quixotic master of ceremonies, Jonathan Tyers, it was perhaps the first public art gallery, hung with paintings by Hogarth and Hayman. The buildings – first Palladian then Gothic and exotic – were splendid and the music inspired. The Vauxhall season was unmissable. Royalty came regularly. Canaletto painted it, Casanova loitered under the trees, Leopold Mozart was astonished by the dazzling lights. The poor could manage an occasional treat. For everyone it was a fantasyland of wonder and pride.’

It was decided there and then, the government would enforce state funded fun!

Programmes were printed and works undertaken.

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Posters were pasted, let the fun begin in Battersea – and all the rest is history.

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Then just as suddenly the fun was all but blown away, by the chill wind of the incoming Tory Government.

Much to my surprise there are still remnants and  reminders to be found on the site, planting, fountains furniture and sculptural structures abound, restored in 2011 by Wandsworth Council – a timely reminder of a time when we were encouraged to have fun on the rates.

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Chesterfield – Magistrates Courts

Mysteriously lacking much evidence of its past, save for this Historic England listing.

Chesterfield Courthouse – II Magistrates Court house. 1963-65. Designed by Prof S Allen and Roy Keenlyside for Chesterfield Borough Council, altered in 1975. Reinforced concrete, with decorative stone cladding, and timber roofs clad with copper sheeting. Double fan shaped plan, three storeys. Original east entrance front has recessed ground floor with central double glazed doors now blocked with glazed side lights. Either side four windows with concrete louvres to the offices. Above eleven bays topped with gables, the three central bays have recessed windows to both floors. Either side the two storey courts have grey slate panels with side lights and set back grey! green slate cladding. West front has recessed ground floor with eleven windows each with concrete louvres. Above eleven gabled bays, the central three and outer tow with grey slate cladding and side lights with set back grey green slate cladding. The four remaining bays on either side have recessed windows. The north and south sides have recessed angled facades with slightly recessed ground floor with glazed entrance at centre of east section with large glazed windows above. Flanking wings have concrete louvres set in grey slate cladding. Interior has original Y-shaped entrance hall way which rises up through all three floors. East entrance now blocked and converted to offices. Entrances from north and south into hallway with marled floor and marble clad columns with wooden ceilings and recessed lights. Central imperial type staircase marble clad with metal and wood balustrade. Upper floors have wooden clad walls and movable glazed screen for dividing access from juvenile court when in session. Two storey courts on upper floor retain original wooden cladding, ceilings and courtroom fittings, including magistrates bench, dock, seating for lawyers and the public. 

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And self evidently facing a very uncertain future:

2015 – The Grade II listed building, which is located between Rose Hill and West Bars, has received planning consent allowing it to be used for a range of purposes including office, retail and leisure facilities. Stuart Waite, associate director at Innes England in Derby, who is handling lettings on behalf of a private client, said: “We have been in serious discussions with a number of occupiers regarding this building for a variety of uses. “Occupier confidence is growing and with the economic forecast for 2015 looking positive we are confident that will see early interest converted into deals. “We are working closely with Chesterfield Borough Council which has identified the Rose Hill and West Bars area of the town as a key strategic location for growth.”

It has stood empty for the last few years and been a hotspot for vandalism.

Last July, arsonists set a wheelie bin on fire and pushed it up against the building, causing the flames to spread.

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2017 – Chesterfield’s former magistrates’ court is being used as a drugs den, shock pictures reveal – and a council chief has warned that the building poses a danger to public health. Extremely concerning images obtained by the Derbyshire Times today show hypodermic needles and what appears to be heroin inside the historic property – as well as extensive damage in rooms and excrement smeared up walls.

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It remains on the market for £450,000 a steal if you ask me.

Thread Architects have proposed redevelopment as an Arts Centre

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On the day of my visit there was little evidence of arts activity, save for a short performance piece by a heavily intoxicated mini-mosher and her partner – funding sources having proved to be at best illusory and subject to market forces.

Talk is cheap.

Take a walk on the wild green sward side of town, it remains a marvel, open and accessible, just requires a tender touch, of cash.

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