William Mitchell – Newton Heath

On meeting an old friend in Manchester – following previous encounters in Coventry, Salford and Liverpool

Following a lead from Neil Simpson I cycled along Clayton Vale and emerged on Amos Avenue where the flats came into view.

I was in search of an an averaged sized totemic concrete municipal public art pillar – similar to the example to be found in Eastford Square.

It belongs to a time when Municipal Modernism was very much in vogue – the provision of social housing along with the commissioning of murals, sculptures, mosaics and tiled reliefs.

There has been some discussion regarding its authorship – it may or may not be the work of William Mitchell – both Skyliner and The Shrieking Violets have tried to find an answer.

Inevitably my only concern is art over authenticity – does it move you?

Let’s just take a little look.



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.

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

More about the:

Minut Men

Shopping City

High Street Estate

Flemish Weaver

Woolpack

Doncaster – Police Station and Law Courts

I’ll try anything twice or more – including a trip to Doncaster.

Once in the rain two years ago, more recently in broken cloud and sunshine.

In search of the work of Frederick Gibberd .

Son of Coventry – architect, author and leading post-war planner.

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 Gibberd was appointed to oversee the site, though many of his designs were unrealised, his Police Station and Law Courts opened in 1969.

The area was also home to the Technical College and Coal – later Council House, both now demolished.

Information Doncaster Civic Trust.

The Courts and Police Station now nestle behind the much newer civic developments, part of much wider regeneration scheme.

So let’s go back in time to a wet day in 2016 – when first I chanced upon these municipal concrete bunkers of law and order – where Brutalism is embodied in the buildings content and purpose, as well as its style.

This is an architecture that instructs you to avoid wrongdoing at all costs – or suffer the inevitable consequences.

Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

2019 and I’m back again – architecturally little or nothing has changed, still standing – stolid solid pillars of justice. The day is brighter ever so slightly softening the harsh precast panels against a bluer spring sky.