GPO Tower – London

Well of course we’ve all been here before, haven’t we?

Well I have – I even wrote all about it right here.

The tower was designed by the architects of the Ministry of Public Building and Works: the chief architects were Eric Bedford and G. R. Yeats. Typical for its time, the building is concrete clad in glass. The narrow cylindrical shape was chosen because of the requirements of the communications aerials: the building will shift no more than 25 centimetres in wind speeds of up to 95 mph. Initially, the first 16 floors were for technical equipment and power. Above that was a 35-metre section for the microwave aerials, and above that were six floors of suites, kitchens, technical equipment and finally a cantilevered steel lattice tower. To prevent heat build-up, the glass cladding was of a special tint. The construction cost was £2.5 million.

The tower was topped out on 15 July 1964, and officially opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 8 October 1965. The main contractor was Peter Lind & Co Ltd.

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I’ve always wished to be granted entry, walk its corridors and ante rooms, sit in the revolving restaurant – take in the views.

Alas so far – no!

So I simply walk around and around, looking up – hoping.

Church of The Latter Day Saints – Stockport

Bramhall Lane Stockport SK3 8SA

Built 1961-1963 – architects Ivan Johnston & Partners of Liverpool.

The proposed modernistic architecture of the building, caused some qualms among members of Stockport’s Planning and Development Committee, which was still discussing the plans early in 1962, but in the end it was built much as the architect had intended.

A 70ft. spire on Bramhall-lane Davenport, will be a new landmark in Stockport next year when the no-labour-cost £41,000 chapel of the Mormons – The Church of Latter-Day Saints, from America – is expected to be complete. The Stockport branch of 150 members will fund over £8000 of the cost and will provide food, shelter and pocket money for volunteer builders from all over the country. 

Text and archive image Davenport Station

A striking A Line addition to the Stockport skyline – its steeply pitched roof punctuated by prominent triangular bays, and partnered with a prominent remote tower of wood and steel.

The front elevation is of concrete, constructed with panels of a rough grey aggregate.

Take a walk around, there have been some additions of single storey ante rooms.

This remains a simple, confident and assured building.

I had gone along today as a blood donor – so granted access to the splendid, elevating well-lit interior.

The front portion of the main body is given over to worship, furnished with light wood pews, altar and panelling.

The suspended lighting groups are of particular note.

Sandown Court – Southport

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Where better to lay your weary head than Southport’s Sandown Court?

Longing for languorous days, gazing out at the distant sea, from the window of your fourteenth floor flat.

What’s Good for the Goose – is worth a gander.

My extensive research shows the flats were a location for the Norman Wisdom film, a saucy serving of seaside slap and tickle.

Conveniently situated twixt shore and traffic island – offering extensive accommodation for the discerning tenant.

Balconies clad with cast concrete abstracted panels, attractive dolphin-based water feature.

What more could you ask for?

St Stephen RC – Droylsden

Chappell Road Droylsden Manchester M43

One fine sunny Monday morning I set out cycling to Ashton-under-Lyne to buy an enamel pie dish. Almost inevitably I was pushed and pulled in a variety of unforeseen directions, incautiously distracted and diverted serendipitously – towards Droylsden.

Idly pedalling down Greenside Lane looking this way and that I was drawn magnetically to a pitched roof tower, towering over the red brick semis. Rounding the corner I discovered the delightful St Stephen’s RC church, stood high and proud on a grassy corner, glowing golden in the March sunlight.

I leaned my bike against the presbytery wall and with the kindly bidding of a passing parishioner, I went inside. 

Thanks to Father Tierney for his time and permission to snap the interior. It was a calm space, the large open volume side lit by high octagonal honeycomb modular windows. The elegant plain pitched concrete gambrel roof beams a simple engineered solution.

The church and attached presbytery were built from designs by Greenhalgh & Williams in 1958-9, the church being consecrated on 12 May 1960. A reordering took place, probably in the 1960s or 70s, when the altar rails were removed and the altar moved forward. Probably at the same time, the font was brought into the church from the baptistery.

Taking Stock

The altar and apse beautifully restrained in colour form and choice of materials. The design and detailing on the pews so warm and understated.

I was loathe to leave.

The exterior does not disappoint, the repetition of modular window shapes, the integration of doors, brick and mixed stone facing.This is a building of elegant grandeur, well proportioned, happily at home in its setting.

I suggest you set out there soon.

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.

Lowry House – Manchester

17 Marble St, Manchester M2 3AW

Situated in a prime location between King Street and Market Street, Lowry House is convenient for Manchester’s main financial district as well as being adjacent to the city’s main retail core. Well-positioned for a range of quality eateries and public transport connections at Piccadilly Gardens, the building is a great choice for businesses looking to create a quality impression.

Part of Bruntwood’s extensive property portfolio across the city.

Painfully modern and anonymous interiors for the modern business – this could be your dream location.

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This area has been at the vortex of power and wealth for over a hundred years.

1866

Manchester and Salford Bank 1866

 

1909

Marble Street 1909

 

1970

Marble Street 1970

Narrow winds enclosing light and space.

Controlling pounds, shillings and pence.

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The final withdrawal has been made.

The ATM encased in oxidised steel.

The Nat West has gone west.

Rust we are told never sleeps.

Built in 1973 by architects Robert Swift and Partners, renovated in 2006 by Bruntwood, adding cladding and a certain je ne sais pas.

I do admire its precast modular lift and mass almost towering over its surroundings.

The late afternoon sun adds a certain beguiling warmth to the pale pinkish concrete.

Take a swerve off of the hustle and seemingly unnecessary bustle of Market Street and marvel at this Marble Street structure.

Let’s follow in the imaginary footsteps of Manchester man Thomas de Quincey.

No huge Babylonian centres of commerce towered into the clouds on these sweet sylvan routes: no hurricanes of haste, or fever-stricken armies of horses and flying chariots, tormented the echoes in these mountain recesses.

 

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Brambell Building – Bangor University

Sited on Deiniol Road Bangor, the 1970’s laboratory building of the University is often cited as the ugliest building in Britain.

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Erchyllbeth y flwyddyn posits Mr Madge.

It was never going to win that many friends in a city of Victorian brick and stone.

The University along with the GPO have dragged Bangor kicking and screaming into the Twentieth Century, dotting the landscape with post war architecture – though try as a I might no record can be found of the Brambell Building’s history or authorship.

Suffice to say that it has survived the slings and arrows of cultural and local vocal criticism and continues to function as a scientific research centre of some standing.

Still standing.

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And as an addendum the adjacent and equally surviving Chemistry Tower seems to have weathered the winters of discontent.

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