A social history of Wythenshawe and its Civic Centre can be found here at Archives +.
A general history of the garden city’s development can be found here at Municipal Dreams.
Lest we forget, the story begins with a level of overcrowding and human misery that is – thankfully – almost unimaginable in Britain today. In 1935, Manchester’s Medical Officer of Health condemned 30,000 (of a total of 80,000) inner-city homes as unfit for human habitation; 7000 families were living in single rooms.
The estate was always considered to be, in some sense, the realisation of an ambitious vision.
The world of the future – a world where men and women workers shall be decently housed and served, where the health and safety of little children are of paramount importance, and where work and leisure may be enjoyed to the full.
Cooperative Women’s Guild
Work began in the interwar years, and continued following the hiatus of 1939-45. The shopping centre named the Civic Centre was open in 1963, the actual Civic Centre containing a swimming pool, theatre, public hall and library in 1971.
A triumph for Municipal Modernism conceived by the City Architects and realised by Direct Works. This post war development owed more to the spirit of Festival of Britain optimism, new construction methods and materials, rather than the grandiose functionalist classicism of the original scheme.
The Co-operative Superstore was a key element in the provision of provisions.
There still is – The Forum is a bright and modern hub for co-located services used by community and business.
The original Forum opened in 1971. One of Manchester’s largest public buildings, it had a leisure centre, library, theatre, main hall and meeting rooms. By the mid 1990’s it was under used, had deteriorated internally and externally and needed substantial investment.
The new Forum, along with a new police sub-divisional headquarters and improved transport link was designed to help strengthen the town centre, and provide a landmark project to raise Wythenshawe’s profile within Manchester and beyond.
In the 1980’s they put on a superb array of shows including Roll on 4 O’Clock which starred John Jardine, Jack Smethurst and Glynn Owen. Oh What a lovely War; What the Butler Saw and Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett. Bury’s own Victoria Wood starred in Talent which she wrote. Another Manchester icon Frank Foo Foo Lammar, famous as the top drag queen of the North-West whose club was re-known for its great party nights appeared in The Rocky horror Show.
A land of elegant covered walkways and raised beds.
Renold Chains were once a huge firm employing thousands in south Manchester, their main factory at Burnage, now demolished to make way for a supermarket. This grouping was designed as the administrative headquarters for the company and was in receipt of an RIBA Architecture Bronze Medal in 1955. The scheme, of two parallel wings connected by a central hub running perpendicular, now seems fairly pedestrian, though still exudes some presence by virtue of the evident control in the design and construction of relief within the main façade. This building, though, actually points toward the moment where Cruickshank & Seward were turning, with the rest of the profession, toward new engineered, curtain walling solutions. The three storey glazed stair towers are made of a relatively fine steel section glazing bar and are clearly expressed at the ends of the blocks; these perhaps pre-empt the altogether more refined towers at the Renold Building and Roscoe Building of the Universities. The third floor boardroom was also positively expressed as a curved solid, cantilevered above the entrance canopy. That the building was developed in such close proximity to the airport has ensured its continued viability as office and conferencing space. The firm also delivered the adjacent building for the same client in the 1970s.
Manchester International Office Centre (MIOC) is a prominent landmark office building extending to some 100,000 sq ft which provides occupiers with high quality space ranging from suites of 450 to 8,000 sq ft.
The building has undergone a complete internal transformation with a total refurbishment of the reception and common areas. The office suites provide a superb working environment in line with the demands of todays occupier.
On arriving home I hungrily rustled up a few RIBA Archive images from 1954.
Much remains intact – though gone is the concrete grid and glass brick insertions of the 1954 central section – replaced with a slick glass and steel skin.
And there are unpleasant intrusions made by the fitting of contemporary security and lighting – using intrusive exterior conduit.
It’s a sunny day with a southwest light – there’s nobody about, let’s take a look around.
The Anglican Church of William Temple was opened in 1965 on the corner of Robinswood Road and Simonsway as the church of the Civic Centre. The mission was already well-established, having begun many years previously in Shadow Moss School Room, latterly operating in a dual-purpose building on Simonsway. The architect, George Pace, agreed with the proviso that he should not design a ‘pseudo’ building, but that it should be modern in concept. This he did and particular attention was paid to the acoustics with a view to music and drama being performed there. One of Pace’s stipulations was that, as with all the churches he designed, there must be no plaques attached to the walls commemorating the dedication of the church or in memory of anyone, for he said he built his churches to the Glory of God. The only lettered stone is on the back wall of the church and it has on it the date of the consecration and a symbol, which is Pace’s original sign for William Temple Church.
The internal supports of the church are black-painted steel girders, not romantically symbolising the industry of the area, as it is sometimes said, but because when it was discovered that the church had been built on swampy ground an extra £2,000 was needed for foundations; the wooden beams of the original design had to be changed for cheaper steel ones. There is symbolism, however, in the placing of the font between and beneath the three main weight-bearing supports of the church.
The pews have an interesting history, having been brought from derelict churches in and around Manchester. The present lady churchwarden said:
“whenever we heard of a church being demolished we borrowed Mr. Owen’s coal cart and went off to see if we could buy any of the pews. Many times I’ve sat on the back of the wagon, in the pouring rain, with the pews, bringing them back to Wythenshawe to be stored until our church building was completed!”
Some time after the building was opened a fire damaged some of the pews. With the insurance money all the pews were stripped and bleached, giving an element of uniformity and a bright welcoming atmosphere in the church generally. An interesting thought was voiced that as many people living in Wythenshawe now had their origins near to the centre of Manchester they may be sitting in the same pews in which their ancestors once sat.
This a tale of a lane, a shady lane in south Manchester.
This is a tale of several Manchesters, layer upon layer of history.
Ford Bank House occupied much of what is now the Ford Bank Estate and prior to that it was believed to be farm land. Ford Bank House, probably the largest house erected in Didsbury was built in about 1823 by Joseph Birley a cotton manufacturer. The extended Birley family had a widespread influence on Manchester history even going back to the Peterloo massacre where one of the Birley ancestors led a contingent of the mounted soldiers who attacked what was a peaceful protest gathering.
A tale of emergent capital and political control, rendered corporeal in brick, stone, wood, glass and slate. A cotton-rich mercantile class seeking to suppress the democratic demands of a burgeoning proletariat.
Ford Bank House was sold to Thomas Ashton in 1858, when he died in 1898. In 1919 the remaining estate was sold to Dr Herbert Levinstien who worked on mustard gas research during the first world war. In 1934 the estate was sold to Ford Bank Estates Limited who developed and built what is now the Ford Bank Estate.
A tale of a growing and aspirational professional middle class, seeking inter-war semis in a leafy Didsbury glade – and the timely response of speculative builders.
Looking cheekily over the hedge in search of a monkey puzzle.
The ford of Ford Lane crosses the nearby River Mersey – thought to be the route of retreating Royalists following the siege of Wythenshawe Hall in 1644.
In 1901 a bridge was opened at the behest of local emigres engineer and social benefactor Henry Simon – a German born engineer who revolutionised Great Britain’s flour milling industry and in 1878 founded the engineering companies Henry Simon Ltd and Simon Carves.
He and his family were a serious reforming political force in the area – instrumental in the founding and development of the Halle Orchestra, Wythenshawe Park and housing estate.
For many years this was my route to work – cycling from Stockport to Northenden, each and every day forever. Witnessing the rise and fall of the river and the vacillating fortunes of Manchester’s economic regeneration.
This is south Manchester where the years of austerity, central government fiscal prudence and free-market economics, have had a far from adverse effect.
In stark contrast to the malaise of the north and east of the city, here we see a constant parade of skips and scaffold, free from the fickle trick of trickle down. As extensions and mortgages are extended at an alarming rate.
The round windowed gaze of the asymmetric homes, seem endlessly surprised at the good fortune that has befallen the residents of Ford Lane.
Church. 1937, by N.F.Cachemaille-Day. Red brick in English bond with some stone dressings (roof concealed). Star-shaped plan formed by the diagonal intersection of two unequal squares, plus a wide rectangular narthex enclosing the west end. The main vessel is a lofty structure with plain walls, sill-band carried round, and plain parapet, except for the upper part of each side of the cardinal projections, which have windows in tall intersecting Romanesque arcading with Y-tracery, all in brick, with a central pilaster strip rising to a moulded cornice. Large plain cross rising from roof. The single-storey flat-roofed narthex has coupled plain rectangular doorways in the centre and 3 narrow rectangular lancets to each side. Interior (as reported 16.01.81): ingenious plan with lofty columns supporting flat ribbed roof. Forms group with Rectory attached to south side.
The Corporation of Manchester acquired the Wythenshawe Estate in 1926 and began laying out the garden suburb in 1930. It was eventually to have 25,000 houses and a population of 100,000. The garden suburb was designated part of the parish of Church of St Wilfrid, Northenden, but that small parish church proved insufficient to accommodate the rising congregation. A mission church was therefore opened in 1934, and in 1935 the diocese approved plans for the construction of a new parish church at Orton Road. The budget was £10,000.Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day was appointed as architect for both the church and the adjoining parsonage. The foundation stone for the church was laid on 8 May 1937, by the Bishop of Manchester. The builder was J. Clayton and Sons of Denton.
So has the redoubtable Nikolaus Pevsner:
A sensational church for its country and its day. The material is brick, bare in four of the corners, with large brick windows in the other four. The intersecting arches of the windows are the only period allusion.The interior has very thin exposed concrete piers and a flat ceiling. The church make sit clear that the architect had studied Continental experiments, the parsonage points to Germany and Mendelssohn. Stained glass by Geoffrey Webb.
Geoffrey Webb lived and worked in the centre of East Grinstead at the height of his career and is noted among enthusiasts of fine glass for his use of brilliant blues. In his early career he worked with Charles Eamer Kempe, the most prolific and best-known stained glass artist of his generation. Webb’s work can also be found in many other places around the UK including Manchester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey, and in Daresbury parish church in Cheshire where he designed a memorial window in honour of Lewis Carroll.
So I cycled by one almost sunny Sunday morning, engaged in the porch by an elderly joke telling gent, awaiting his more devout partner.
I love the bible, they all rode on motor bikes – “the roar of Moses’ Triumph is heard in the hills, Joshua’s Triumph was heard throughout the land.”
The Apostles were in one Accord. – Acts 5:12
We waited out the end of the morning service, exchanging gags, eventually I entered. Met by cheery parishioners and priest, welcomed with open arms, happy to chat and allow me to go about the business of snapping this enchanting building. Take yourself down there and bathe in the stained glass light from the sun drenched east windows, feel the warmth of the open elevating space, everything’s looking up:
A sensational church for its country and its day – today.
Here we are again – having previously travelled back to the inception of the estate in the 1970s.
Structurally little has changed, politically and economically things have shifted.
The Conservative Party had committed itself to introducing a Right to Buy before Margaret Thatcher became Party leader. After the election of May 1979 a new Conservative government drafted legislation to provide a Right to Buy but, because this would not become law until October 1980, also revised the general consent to enable sales with higher discounts matching those proposed in the new legislation. The numbers of sales completed under this general consent exceeded previous levels. Between 1952 and 1980 over 370,000 public sector dwellings were sold in England and Wales. Almost a third of these were in 1979 and 1980 and it is evident that higher discounts generated and would have continued to generate higher sales without the Right to Buy being in place. 200,000 council houses were sold to their tenants in 1982, and by 1987, more than 1,000,000 council houses in Britain had been sold to their tenants.
The post war policy of building and renting local authority housing was swamped by the phrase property owning democracy, on which the popular conservatism of the 20th century rested, and with it a vision of the good society, was coined by the Scottish Unionist Noel Skelton in a quartet of articles for the Spectator entitled Constructive Conservatism, written in the spring of 1923. The appeal of Popular Capitalism proved compelling, however the periods of de-industrialisation, and the subsequent lull in the building of new affordable homes, has created a myriad of obstacles for those simply seeking somewhere to live and work.
The estate illustrates this historic shift, replete with homeowners decorative amendments and addenda, managing agents and trusts and an end to the architectural integrity of the development.
One could become all Ian Nairn about this, swathed in Outrage.
I myself feel that despite the cosmetic surgery, this remains a homely enclave, residents going about their business in a relatively orderly and happy manner.
Baguley is derived from the Old English words Bagca, badger, and Leah, wood.
Historically in Cheshire, Baguley is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, it was incorporated into Manchester in 1931.
It has a Brook though babble heard I none, it had a Station now long gone.
I idled by on my bike to snap the homes around Bideford Drive, which I dutifully did. My curiosity suitably aroused I perused the Manchester Local Image Archive, in search of clues. Planned in 1969 complete in 1971 main contractor Laing architects the City Office.
A rich mix of scale and typology, two differentiated blocks, tower and slab, short rows of compact terraces, open spaces, shops, car parking and limited planting. The interlocking geometries, paths and walkways make it an intriguing and entertaining estate, full of small surprises and ideas – these pictures are of 1971.
There is a sharply attenuated and clean feel in the air, optimism on a largely overcast day, a totality – planned integration – homes and architecture of distinction.
Cycling around Wythenshawe one sunny day yesterday, in search of friends old and new, I found myself beside myself, beside St Luke’s.
1938-9 by Taylor and Young. Light brown brick in English garden wall bond (roof concealed). Modern functionalist style. Nave with west tower, north and south aisles with porches and side offices, short chancel. Rectangular tower to same width as nave, with short triangular buttresses flanking a square-headed doorway, plain wall except for very large geometrical-floral clock, parapet and very low set-back louvre stage with steeply-pitched hipped roof. Flat-roofed aisles have projected triangular west ends flanking tower, a projected porch at each end of north aisle and corresponding projected offices to south aisle, and very small star-shaped windows with pentagonal surrounds. Nave has 7 pairs of tall square-headed lancets. Short one-bay chancel has concrete cross in place of east window. Interior: basilican character, with low passage-aisles, chamfered piers terminating with lights, flat concrete-beamed ceiling; side-lit chancel with relief figures of angels.
Those are the facts – the fabulous thing is the clock, a playful lesson in geometry, surface and colour, and it keeps time as well.
Wythenshawe is awash with modern churches and this pale brick giant is hard to miss dominating the Brownley Road junction, built to serve the then ever expanding housing estate to the south west of Manchester.