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.

Minerva Café – Doncaster

A Doncaster town centre cafe, once used by former pop star Louis Tomlinson to film a pop video, has closed after trading for more nearly 50 years near the market. The Minerva Cafe has closed down after trading sine the 1970s offering breakfasts and lunches to shoppers.

The shutters are now down on the shop, which has not now been used for two weeks, say neighbouring businesses. Minerva was well known for its big breakfasts which often earned rave reviews on the internet. It also had a celebrity link, having been used by the former One Direction star Louis Tomlinson for the shooting of his Back to You video, last year. Doncaster Council town center bosses confirmed they understood the cafe had closed down, but did not know the reason. Long serving Doncaster market trader Nigel Berrysaid he had seen no sign of activity at the cafe for two weeks. He said: It has been here in the market for such a long time. It’s been there since I first started on the market in 1971. People have commented to me it feels like it has been there forever. 

“It is a shame to see it closed. It has been a bit of an institution round here.”

Doncaster Free Press

I came here on the 8th of February 2016, hungry but no alone – unaware of the Minerva’s popular cultural significance.

I just wanted a pie.

It came with chips peas and gravy – proper chips, proper tinned peas and an authentic plate pie pastry top and bottom, meaty minced meat filling.

My partner in crime had the full breakfast

We drank hot tea, chatted sporadically and ate the lot.

Table 16 aka table 22 – was more than satisfied.

The table was more than satisfactory a pale leatherette seated booth, with erratic homespun wood grain effects.

This was a place with hidden depths receding back from the entrance into deeper and deeper space.

And a proper regard for tea service etiquette – with no room for poor pouring stainless steel pragmatism.

But where are we now?

I returned on February 9th 2019 and the M was missing the Minerva was missing the shutters were down – ain’t nobody home.

No more pie, peas, chips and gravy no more full up upon full breakfasts.

No more Minerva, no more.

High Street Estate – Pendleton

High Street Pendleton 1930s – the cast of Love on the Dole walk down High Street Pendleton, passing Hill’s Pawnbroker, author Walter Greenwood is ninth from the right.

This was a dense area of back to back terraces adjacent to pubs, schools, churches, mills, docks and cattle markets. Communities formed from shared patterns of employment, education, leisure and worship.

These communities survived into the 1960s and the coming of slum clearance, followed by an intense period of rebuilding in the modern manner.

Archival photographs Digital Salford

Patterns of employment, economic boom and bust, the exponential expansion in higher education, all contribute to the change in character of the area, along with slow and sudden demise in social housing.

2014 and the area begins to be reshaped yet again – this time by former resident Mr Peter Hook, who grew up in the area, the low slung former New Order bass meister described it in a book as – rotten and horrible, like a concrete wasteland

The Orchards tower block, the first of three, is removed piece by piece, each of the 14-storey blocks took around six weeks to be demolished.

The citizens of High Street Estate await the ‘dozers with apprehension and a sense of grim inevitability.

Clearance begins with the promise of new homes, tenants and homeowners are relocated, houses are tinned up or demolished wholesale. – a few remain in situ dissatisfied and afraid.

Altogether, 885 houses in Pendleton are being bulldozed and, to date, 584 have already been demolished, including houses on Athole Street and Amersham Street. Over the Pendleton Together project’s £650million thirty year life, only around one third of new houses being built will be affordable.

Meanwhile, after years of anguish and uncertainty, Fitzwarren Court and Rosehill Close, previously down for demolition, are being saved. Salix Homes will now bring flats in Fitzwarren Court and houses in its ownership on Rosehill Close up to the Decent Homes Standard

Salford Star

So welcome to Limboland – as financial arrangements shift, shimmy and evaporate – government policy, local authority pragmatists, private partnerships and funding perform a merry dance of expediency, around an ever diminishing circle of demolition, development, stasis and deceit.

Burton’s Moderne – Ashton and Beyond

In almost every town or city worth its salt stood a modern white tiled tailor’s shop, almost every man or boy wore a Burton’s suit.

Harry Wilson had become the company architect by the early 1920s, and was responsible for developing Burton’s house style. Montague Burton, however, maintained a close personal interest. The company’s in-house Architects Department was set up around 1932 under Wilson. He was followed as chief architect around 1937 by Nathaniel Martin, who was still in post in the early 1950s. The architects worked hand-in-hand with Burton’s Shopfitting and Building Departments, who coordinated the work of selected contractors. Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s they were kept phenomenally busy: by 1939 many of Burton’s 595 stores were purpose-built.

The very first made to measure gear I owned came from Burton’s in Ashton under Lyne – mini-mod aged fourteen in a three button, waisted, light woollen dark brown jacket, four slanted and flapped side pockets and an eighteen inch centre vent.

Just the job for a night out at the Birdcage, Moon or Bower Club

The story of the stores begins in the province of Kovno in modern Lithuania – Meshe David Osinsky (1885-1952), came to England where he initially took the name Maurice Burton. 

The distinctive architecture stood out on the high street, Art Deco motifs and details abound – elephants chevrons and fans.

Topped off with the company’s distinctive logotype.

This example in Doncaster is one of the few remaining examples many having been removed – as the stores have changed ownership and usage.

This Neo-Classical Burnley branch is a rare example of a Burton’s which hasn’t gone for a Burton.

The group maintained a distinctive graphic style in labelling signage and advertisements.

Often including ornate mosaic entrances, ventilation covers and obligatory dated foundation stones – as seen in this Ashton under Lyne branch.

Stores often housed dance halls or other social spaces.

In 1937 Burton’s architect, Nathaniel Martin, collaborated with the architects Wallis Gilbert & Partners on a subsidiary clothing works on the Great Lancashire Road at Worsley, near Manchester. Conceived as a Garden Factory and built in a modern style, this was dubbed ‘Burtonville Clothing Works’. It opened in October 1938 .

Where machinists worked on Ashton built Jones equipment.

Time changes everything and the inception of off the wall unisex disco clothing saw the made to measure suit fall into a chasm of loon pants and skinny rib grandad vests.

The Ashton branch becomes a motorcycle then fitted kitchen showroom, topped off with a succession of clubs and various other modern day leisure facilities.

Currently home to the Warsaw Delicatessen and Good News Gospel Church

Formerly Club Denial.

This is the tale of the modern high street grand ideas, architectural grandeur, entrepreneurial immigrants, style and fashion – disappearing in a cloud of vinyl signage and fly by night operations. Though if you look carefully the pale white shadows of Burton’s are still there in one form or another, however ghostly.

Ash Hotel – Stockport

232 Manchester Road Heaton Chapel Stockport SK4 1NN

So once there was a pleasure gardens, and then in 1901 a pub.

Wilson’s Brewery built The Ash Hotel, a grand boozer in a Jacobean manor manner, complete with bowling green and billiard room.

It lasted through to the 70’s and 90’s but gradually it became harder and harder to manage and fill a pub of such size and stature.

Closed – standing unloved and unused until it was finally converted into the Ash Tea Rooms in 2011.

Only to be closed again in May 2018.

Once ringing with the chink of glass on glass, songs and laughter it awaits its latest fate – conversion to flats.

One can only hope that much of its architectural detail will be preserved – particularly the architectural type fascia sign.

And the mosaic flooring.

Only time will tell – if you’re passing tip your hat take a look and celebrate a grand old building which somehow will prevail.

Crazy Golf – Postcards From Blackpool

This in so many senses is where it all began – my first encounter with the visual arts was through my Aunty Alice’s postcard album. Predating visits to Manchester City Art Gallery in my mid-teens, I was lost in a world of post WW1 printed ephemera, rendered less ephemeral by careful collection and collation. Sitting entranced for hours and hours absorbing the photography, text and illustration of hundreds of unseen hands.

This is North Shore Blackpool – behind the Metropole in the early 60s.

The colour is muted by the then state of the art colour reproduction, the holiday dress is constrained by the codes of the day. Light cotton frocks and wide brimmed sun hats, shirts tucked in belted slacks, sandals and shorts – purely for the pre-teens.

The focus and locus of fun is located on the prom and what better way to squander a moment or eighteen, than with a pleasurable round of crazy golf. Municipal Modernist frivolity rendered corporeal in corporation concrete, repainted annually ahead of the coming vacationers.

Domesticated Brutalism to soften the soul.

And there can be no better away to inform the awaiting world of your capricious coastal antics than a picture postcard, so playfully displayed on the corner shop carousel – 10p a pop.

Stopping to chuckle at the Bamforth’s mild mannered filth, yet finally purer of heart, opting for the purely pictorial.

Man and boy and beyond I have visited Blackpool – a day, week or fortnight here and there, the worker’s working week temporarily suspended with a week away.

Times have now changed and the new nexus is cash, all too incautiously squandered – Pleasure Beach and pub replacing the beach as the giddy stags and hens collide in an intoxicating miasma of flaming Sambuca, Carling, Carlsberg and cheap cocktails – for those too cash strapped for Ibiza.

The numbers are up – 18 times nothing is nothing – each year as I revisit, the primarily primary colour paint wears a little thinner in the thin salt air and the whining westerly wind, of the all too adjacent Irish Sea.

Overgrown and underused awaiting the kids and grown ups that forever fail to show. On one visit the sunken course had become the home of the daytime hard drinkers, they suggested we refurbish and run the course as a going concern. I declined lacking the time, will and capital for such a crazy enterprise.

The starting has finally stopped.