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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Stopford House Again – Stockport

Do you come here often?

Well actually I do!

Here’s my account of my previous visits to Stopford House.

The large open public space that has almost everything except the public.

On the many occasions I have walked its concrete piazza, not once have I encountered another purposed soul – save the odd passing civic employee.

Unusually unchallenged by the diffident G4S or like as I snap away.

So come/go here, take a look – municipal concrete in the raw, softened by the controlled ingress of flowers and greenery.

Oh and not forgetting the recent addition of some curious coloured lines.

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Galt Toys – An Exhibition

Cheadle, Stockport, Greater Manchester 1962 – and the grey post-war fug of austerity is blown away, almost forever. Though very much a local enterprise their toys, games and puzzles display a strong European influence and were distributed globally.

Educational in nature, non-gender specific, simple, bold, well constructed, collaborative not competitive – employing sound modernist principles and design, they were at that time almost unique in the UK toy industry.

James Galt & Co Ltd. were established in Manchester in 1836 as a manufacturer and publisher of educational books and toys, relocating to Cheadle in 1956.

Ken Garland had worked for the influential Abbatt Toys, formed in 1931 by Paul and Marjorie Abbatt. Paul and Marjorie had collaborated with Modernist architects Oliver Hill and Ernő Goldfinger – committed to designing and producing educational childrens’ toys influenced by the new European movements in art and design.

Paul emphasised the importance of play, described as:

‘A force which can be used for development and valuable experience, a force which, if it is not thwarted by the wrong choice of playthings, develops into the power behind the successful architect or engineer.’ 

In 1955 Edward Newmark, who had established the Astu Studios toy company, was taken on as a junior partner by Paul and Marjorie. He remained only five years, leaving in 1960 to go to James Galt and Co. Ltd. He was joined the designer Ken Garland, who, between 1958 and 1961 had designed the Abbatts’ catalogues and advertisements, creating their distinctive house style.  His practice Ken Garland & Associates, formed in 1962, employed a small rotating group of designers over its 47-year period. Prior to forming the studio, Garland worked with editor Michael Farr at Design magazine, where he held the position of art editor from 1956 to 1962.

Ken set about smartening up the Cheadle based company, hauling it into the heart of the Modernist Sixties, the company name shortened to GALT TOYS and a sharp new Swiss style typography was adopted. Together they created flexible corporate identity, which as Ken says: they were determined not to let the Galt Toys logo become a sacred cow, not to be mucked about with.

It would, indeed, be mucked around with, but only by us.’

The style was maintained consistently for 20 years. The letterforms chosen for GALT TOYS were from a very recently issued typeface, Folio Medium Extended. The Folio type family was the creation of the Bauer Type Foundry, Frankfurt, then a close rival to the Helvetica and Univers type families.

The product line which encompassed a whole range of educational toys, games, school fixtures and fittings henceforth embraced a Scandinavian ethic of clean functionality and truth to materials. Though central to the reshaping of the brand, Ken is keen to emphasise that this was a collaborative process, involving several other designers within a flexible team.

The toys and games were modern in very sense, child-centred, none gender-specific, simple bright and colourful – employing simple graphic shapes, illustration and type, attractive and durable. The newly designed shop in Carnaby Street, with Verity & Beverley as architects, and a retail/factory/café in Cheadle were equally forward thinking in design and layout, purposely encouraging children to play with the stock, prior to possibly purchasing.

His ancillary work on the design of packaging, catalogues and in-store graphics was similarly ground-breaking, mixing image and text, very much in the mid European manner, pioneered by the likes of Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse.

Connect exemplifies the best of Garland and Galt, twelve squares of card each with a simple linear motif, which can then be combined in a succession of seemingly infinite permutations – following a simple set of rules, the players can then produce a carpet covered in exciting abstraction. The connection to Harry Beck’s London Underground map is clear, Ken wrote and published Mr. Beck’s Underground Map in 1994, a tribute to the clarity, functionality and modernity of good design. This imaginative use of a single unit  which continually unfolds from limited graphic means to limitless possibilities, was further developed in Ken’s Trap Snap and Anymals.

Bob Chapman and I spent a lot of time developing Connect, based very loosely on dominoes, which turned out to be a best-seller, and still is, in a modified form now produced by Ravensburger Spieleverlag of Germany.  Another associate, Daria Gan, found a most satisfying outlet for her drawing skills in the card games Anymals and Upside-Down Jigsaws.’

Octons was designed by William Edward David Ryan, he was educated at Preston Grammar School and Harris Technical College/School of Art pursuing architecture. He became a member of Royal Institute of British Architects in 1965 and a partner in Derby Fazackerley Wood & Ryan Architects, Preston from 1965-1993. It is an eight sided modular construction toy manufactured in clear, coloured plastic, a slot cut into each face, permitting their interconnection in a mind boggling array of three dimensional forms. Further exemplifying the principles of simplicity and inherent stimulation of the child’s fertile imagination and explorative creativity. It is one of the few Galt games which has remained in production until the present day.

Fizzog remains a firm favourite, a fabulous name, a fabulous game of many faces. Pairing pairs of halved fizzogs, the better to produce ever more inventive and laughter inducing visages.

Kenneth Townsend was based in Hastings and worked as a freelance designer for Galt along with Hornsea Pottery, Chance Brothers, Cuckoo Bird Productions and Merit. His lively and stylised illustrative style enlivens both Super Snap and Remember Remember – these were produced, alongside several other matching games in the golden age of Galt. Employing yet again the use of strong graphic shapes, bold colour and a happy go lucky playfulness that were central to the company’s output. Developing shape recognition, numeracy, colour identification and a simple love of the visual world through play and fun.

So for some twenty years Galt and Garland et al injected some much needed life into an otherwise moribund world of play, their catalogues and products finding a way into the majority of Britain’s schools and homes, from Bauhaus to your house.

Many thanks for the loan and/or sourcing of exhibits to Wayne Astbury, Dawn Bunnell, Gemma Burgess, Paul Burnett, Sue Cook, Gail Eagle, Alison Heffernan, Sarah Moss and Alex Stone.

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Tiviot Dale to Norris Bank – Stockport

This is a journey I made as a BR Guide Bridge goods guard in the late 1970s, often with driver Eric Clough, into the George’s Road scrap yard. It was also at one time the Cheshire Lines passenger route out of Stockport Tiviot Dale Station to Liverpool, Southport, St Pancras and beyond.

This is a journey I made on foot through bramble, puddle and scrub on a now disused line, cheek by jowl with a motorway and the passing crowd, blissfully unaware of its existence.

 

 

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Merseyway – Stockport

Once there was a river there, formed by the thunder of Irish Sea ice gouging a great glacial valley, bowling along boulders and millstone grit through phyllosilicate clays and sedimentary sandstone.

Then there wasn’t.

The Mersey, formed in Stockport as the Tame and Goyt conjoined, inconveniently filled with industrial grime and mire, then conveniently covered over in 1936.

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Creating the thoroughly modern thoroughfare Merseyway.

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The giant concrete culvert and bridge leaving the river cowering cautiously below.

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Of time and a river – little stands still and the town is whisked briskly into the late Twentieth Century with plans for a pedestrianised precinct.

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Completed and opened in 1965 the shopping precinct was concrete poetry in motion, incorporating the surrounding topography and extant architecture with grace and aplomb. Combining retail, restaurants and car parking facilities in a manner that critic Iain Nairn considered to be amongst the finest in the land.

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We had travelators, integrated paving, street furniture, and lighting across several levels. A carefully considered whole, combining all that was best in modern design with style, élan and panache – along with Freeman, Hardy and Willis.

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A clock tower, an Alan Boyson concrete car park screen and public art.

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Would that it was still so, a variety of additions and subtractions have left Merseyway in architectural limbo, concrete legs akimbo across the river below, striding towards the future in a more than somewhat bewildered manner.

Yet we still continue cast our eyes upwards towards a clock that isn’t there, ride a non-existent walkway to the sky, try on an imaginary crop-top in C&A’s Clockhouse.

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Photographs Stockport Image Archive

 

 

 

Longfield Open Air School – Stockport

Happy days!

I was a delicate child with bronchitis, must have done me good as I went on to serve 39 years in the army!

We lay on camp beds for an hour in the afternoons, on bad days on blankets on the floor in the main building.  

Michael Dooley  10/03/2013

Tithe Barn school stands on land which was originally a house called Longfield, the house sign is on the wall near the side entrance to TBS, which was built around 1871 for John Brown who owned Afleck and Brown’s department store in the centre of Manchester. The gardener for the house lived at what is now known as Tithe Barn Cottage.

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John later sold the house to his brother William whose wife sold it very cheaply to Stockport Education committee in 1929 to be used as an open air school for children who suffered ill health in the town, mainly through smoke pollution. This was called Longfield Open Air School. Pupils travelled there by bus before breakfast, from Portwood and other parts of the town. Most of them had a sleep outside in the afternoon so that they could take advantage of the clean air of Heaton Mersey. As the town became healthier and the chimneys stopped belching out black smoke, the need for an open air school lessened and it closed in 1968.

The original house was demolished and some of the beautiful wooden interior offered to museums in York where the original bath with its enameled sides and copper shower canopy is now on display in the Castle Museum. The only part kept and used by the architect  was the Venetian glass bathroom window which Mrs Brown had made to remind her of the beautiful water scenes in Venice. This glass panel was installed outside the Headteacher’s office and is still there today.

Penluchtschool – Open Air School

An idea that found its way from continental Europe to the British Isles.

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Longfield School in the 1930s

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I was lead here on finding this print for sale in Stockport Local Studies Library.

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Here are the pupils seen in detail.

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The school in 1968

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