Piccadilly Plaza And Gardens

Here we are, right at the heart of Manchester.

Anything worth looking at?

Well not a great deal, it’s 1772 and the Gardens and Plaza, are as yet undreamt of – the area was occupied by water-filled clay pits called the Daub Holes, eventually the pits were replaced by a fine ornamental pond.

In 1755 the Infirmary was built here; on what was then called Lever’s Row, in 1763 the Manchester Royal Lunatic Asylum was added.

There were grander unrealised plans.

Including an aerial asylum.

The Manchester Royal Infirmary moved to its current site on Oxford Road in 1908. The hospital buildings were completely demolished by April 1910 apart from the outpatient department, which continued to deal with minor injuries and dispense medication until the 1930s.

After several years in which the Manchester Corporation tried to decide how to develop the site, it was left and made into the largest open green space in the city centre. The Manchester Public Free Library Reference Department was housed on the site for a number of years before the move to Manchester Central Library.

The sunken garden was a remnant of the hospital’s basement.

Wikipedia

During World War II the gardens were home to air raid shelters.

The Gardens became a festival of floral abundance – in folk memory twinned with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but with slightly less hanging.

The area has also acted as a public transport hub.

And following post war bomb damage.

A delightful car park.

But this simply can’t carry on, keep calm and demand a Plaza!

Drawings are drawn, models are modelled.

1965 Architects: Covell Matthews + Partners

Work is commenced, post haste.

Towering cranes tower over the town, deep holes are dug with both skill and alacrity.

A Plaza begins to take shape, take a look.

Nearly done.

All we need now are tenants.

Piccadilly Plaza now contains the renovated Mercure Hotel it was formerly known as the Ramada Manchester Piccadilly and Jarvis Piccadilly Hotel; the refurbishment was completed in 2008.

The retail units famously contained Brentford Nylons.

The company was eventually sold at a knock-down price and the new owner did not think the name worth having.

The noisy upstairs neighbours were Piccadilly Radio.

The first broadcast was at 5am on April 2nd 1974, it was undertaken by Roger Day, with his first words to the Manchester audience: “It gives me great pleasure for the very first time to say a good Tuesday morning to you… Hit music for the North West…we are Piccadilly Radio” before spinning Good Vibrations.

It was the first commercial radio station to broadcast in the city, and went on to launch the careers of a host of star DJs, the likes of Gary Davies, Chris Evans, Andy Peebles, Timmy Mallett, Mike Sweeney, Pete Mitchell, James Stannage, Steve Penk and James H Reeve.

Manchester Evening News

And of course my good friend Mr Phil Griffin.

Just around the corner the Portland Bars.

Waiting for a mate who worked at Piccadilly Radio we ventured down the stairs next door to get a drink and because of our clothes/leather jackets we were chucked back up the steps. We should of stood our ground like one of my mates who was told he could stay if he turned his jacket inside out, thinking he wouldnt do it, but he did and had a drink with his red quilted lining on the outside.

MDMA

Oh and not forgetting the Golden Egg.

Bata Shoes and a Wimpy Bar.

“Food served at the table within ten minutes of ordering and with atomic age efficiency. No cutlery needed or given. Drinks served in a bottle with a straw. Condiments in pre-packaged single serving packets.”

In addition to familiar Wimpy burgers and milkshakes, the British franchise had served ham or sardine rolls called torpedoes and a cold frankfurter with pickled cucumber sandwiches called Freddies.

Even on the greyest days the Plaza was a beacon of Modernity.

Though sadly we eventually lost Bernard House.

However, City Tower still prevails as a mixed use office block, adorned east and west with big bold William Mitchell panels.

Which were to be illuminated by ever changing images, produced by photo electric cells – sadly unrealised.

So goodbye Piccadilly – farewell Leicester Square? – it’s a long, long way to the future, and we’re barely half way there.

While we’re in the vicinity take a quick trip up and down the car park ramp.

Notably the entrance to the Hotel Piccadilly was on the first floor, accessed by non-existent highways in the sky – sweet dreams.

Black and white archive photographs – Local Image Collection

Woodford Garden Village

We begin at the beginning of the end – fields full of fields

Dotted with farm buildings – then, along comes an Aerodrome.

A serious problem arose in 1924 when Avro was notified that the current airfield used by the company at Alexandra Park would be closing. After a hurried search to find an alternative location, Avro settled on New Hall Farm at Woodford and completed the move later that year.

In 1999, Woodford became part of BAE Systems as a result of the merging of British Aerospace with Marconi Electronic Systems. Plans to build the Avro RJX airliner at Woodford were shelved in 2001 which left production of the Nimrod MRA4 as the only active project at the site. Woodford Aerodrome finally closed in 2011 when the Nimrod MRA4 project was cancelled, ending almost 80 years of almost continual aircraft manufacture at the site.

Avro Heritage Museum

Which in due course became a museum.

The site was subsequently acquired by Redrow.

Redrow has started construction on the first phase of 950 homes at the 500-acre former Woodford Aerodrome site near Stockport, nearly two years after planning consent was granted.

Preparatory works are underway and sales of the houses are expected to launch in June with the opening of show homes on the site.

The redevelopment of the 500-acre site, which is being brought forward by a joint venture between Harrow Estates, part of Redrow, and Avro Heritage, will also feature a primary school, employment area, pub, shops, community facilities, and areas of open and recreational space.

Place Northwest

A 21st century development was on its way.

James Fisher 1954

However, the architectural style owes more to Baron Hardup, than Flash Gordon.

The Tudor-Bethan style of Metro-Land, that oh so very, very English pantomime tradition of the village green, merry boys and girls dancing around Maypoles clutching wicker baskets, full of plastic daffodils.

For every raw obscenity
Must have its small ‘amenity,’
Its patch of shaven green,
And hoardings look a wonder
In banks of floribunda
With floodlights in between.

John Betjeman Inexpensive Progress

This is progress realised as regression, a pastiche of a pastiche, of a pastiche, of a pastiche.

Finding some small comfort in the imitation game, hurtling along radial roads, encased in the biggest, live now pay later motors, which borrowed money can buy.

Seeking succour in the certainty of an illusory past, whilst peering through the nets and blinds, at a seriously uncertain future.

You’re as pretty as a picture, a picture torn from a yellowing scrapbook, scanned and enhanced, to remove any unseemly rough edges and/or ruffians.

This was tomorrow calling, wishing you weren’t here.

Work is still underway and the surrounding landscape feels raw, windswept and wounded.

All of the plots on this phase are now reserved, but don’t miss out on the available homes on our other phases! 

Just minutes from Wilmslow, Poynton and Bramhall, and within easy reach of Manchester for both work and leisure, Woodford is perfectly placed to offer the best of both the thriving city and the glorious Cheshire countryside. This makes it the perfect location for our high-quality Heritage Collection homes, which combine the very best of classic Arts & Crafts architecture with modern, family friendly interiors of the very highest specification.

Redrow

The Oxford, Richmond, Leamington, Lincoln and Canterbury – reassuringly reassuring you, that you are in fact – nowhere.

This is it you have arrived – a gold-star, cast iron, paper thin investment for a certain aspirational section of society.

Goodbye Woodford Garden Village.

Now if the harvest is over, and the world cold, give me the bonus of laughter, as I lose hold.

Pedestrian In A Car Park

One of the great glories of cinema is that it has the power to take the mundane and make it magical. To most of us, car parks signify a world of pain, where fearsome red-and-white crash barriers dictate our fate and where finding a space is often like finding meaning in the collective works of Martin Lawrence. To others, they meant lost Saturday afternoons spent waiting for your mum to finally come out of Woolworths so you could rush home to catch Terrahawks.

Either way, car parks are grey and dull. In the movies, however, they are fantastic places, filled with high-level espionage, and high-octane chases. 

According to The Guardian

I beg to differ, the cinema and TV has helped to define our perception and misconception of the car park.

The modern day pedestrian may reclaim, redefine and realise, that far from mundane each actual exemplar is different, in so many ways. The time of day, weather, light, usage, abusage, condition, personal demeanour and mood all shape our experience of this particular, modern urban space.

To walk the wide open spaces of the upper tier, almost touching the sky.

Is a far cry from the constrained space of the lower levels.

To walk the ramps with a degree of trepidation, visceral and fun.

This is an inversion of the car-centric culture, walking the concrete kingdom with a carbon-free footprint.

I was inspired by a recent viewing of All The Presidents Men to revisit my local multi-storey on Heaton Lane Stockport.

Cinematographer Gordon Hugh Willis Jr constructs a shadow world where informer and informed meet to exchange deep secrets, ever watchful, moving in and out of artificial light, tense and alert.

Look over your shoulder- there’s nobody there, and they’re watching you.

But they have been here.

To party.

To tag.

To live.

Pay here, your time is time limited, your presence measured.

Let’s explore this demimonde together, wet underfoot, lit laterally by limited daylight, walking through the interspersed pools of glacial artificial glow.

Time’s up, check out and move on – tomorrow is another day, another car park; in a different town.

Cinema and car parks wedded forever in the collective popular cultural unconscious.

Bollards

As I was out walking on the corner one day, I spied an old bollard in the alley he lay.

To paraphrase popular protest troubadour Bob Dylan.

I was struck by the elegant symmetry and rough patinated grey aggregate.

To look up on the world from a hole in the ground,
To wait for your future like a horse that’s gone lame,
To lie in the gutter and die with no name?

I mused briefly on the very word bollards, suitable perhaps for a provincial wine bar, Regency period drama, or family run drapers – but mostly.

bollard is a sturdy, short, vertical post. The term originally referred to a post on a ship or quay used principally for mooring boats, but is now also used to refer to posts installed to control road traffic and posts designed to prevent ram-raiding and vehicle-ramming attacks.

The term is probably related to bole, meaning a tree trunk.

Wikipedia

Having so mused I began to wander a tight little island of alleys and homes, discovering three of the little fellas, each linked by typology and common ancestry, steadfastly impeding the ingress of the motor car.

Yet also presenting themselves as mini works of utilitarian art – if that’s not a contradiction in terms.

Having returned home I began another short journey into the world of bollards, where do they come from?

Townscape Products

Hostile Vehicle Mitigation

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My new pals seem to be closely related to the Reigate.

Available in a mind boggling range of finishes.

Bollards can be our friends, an expression of personal freedom and security.

A pensioner says he will go to court if necessary after putting up concrete bollards in a last-ditch attempt to protect his home.

Owen Allan, 74, of Beaufort Gardens, Braintree, claims motorists treat the housing estate like a race track, driving well in excess of the 20mph speed limit, and that the railings in front of his home have regularly been damaged by vehicles leaving the road.

He was worried it would only be a matter of time before a car came careering off Marlborough Road and flying through the wall of his bungalow.

Braintree and Witham Times

Though on occasion may be perceived as an enemy of personal liberty, precipitating a head on collision with the local authority.

A furious family have been stopped from parking on their own driveway after bullyboy council officials installed concrete bollards outside their home.

We’re stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea here what the with yellow lines and the bollards.

Daily Express

I have cause to thank the humble concrete bollard, having suffered an assault on our front wall from a passing pantechnicon, I subsequently petitioned the council, requiring them to erect a substantial bollard barrier.

Which was subsequently hit by a passing pantechnicon.

They are our modernist friends, little gems of public art and should treated with due respect – think on.

You hostile vehicles.

Modernist Model Village

I’ve always dreamt of a Modernist Model Village.

So much so I bought a book.

Drew up a list of buildings, made plans – dream on.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.

However, whilst on my 2015 cycle tour of the south west coast I arrived almost accidentally yet serendipitously outside Babbacombe Model Village.

A good place to visit as dogs are welcome and this is important to us. The models were very cleverly designed and each one is recognisable and very funny anecdotes and labels. It was much bigger than it looked but flowed easily and was fun and charming to walk around. There is also a free mini crazy golf room which makes a change to not charge for something like this and a joy to see. I really enjoyed myself and it is all so well maintained you can feel the passion of the people creating it.

I went in – how could I have done otherwise?

Many of the buildings reflect the areas’ Seaside Moderne styles, from the holiday chalets to the substantial Modernist Villa, plus all the up to the minute services and infrastructure one would expect in a modern model village.

Let’s take a look:

Other model villages are available – Bondville Bridlington and virtually in Hastings

Car Park Ramp – Stockport

We recently took a look around Redrock, today we visit the next door neighbour – the car park ramp.

Replacing the old Debenham’s ramp.

Linking the old world of Merseyway with the shiny new NCP.

I don’t drive no car so I have to make do with the ecologically sound and ever so affordable means of pedestrian trespass, proceeding incautiously I recorded my journey into the unknown.

Returning safely to Basecamp I investigated further, circumnavigating the drainage area.

I have to admit that I am over fond of this small sacred space, a modern impenetrable temple of Brutalism. My ambition is to stage an art/music event within, just wait and see/hear if I don’t!

Crown Point Shopping Park – Denton

From fashion to homeware, find everything you need at Crown Point Shopping Park.

The court heard the accused had agreed to detonate a bomb at Crown Point North as a diversion before driving to their school, murdering teachers and pupils and then killing themselves.

BBC

We live in strange and troubled times, the urban landscapes we have created are often far from convivial.

Deserts possess a particular magic, since they have exhausted their own futures, and are thus free of time. Anything erected there, a city, a pyramid, a motel, stands outside time. It’s no coincidence that religious leaders emerge from the desert. Modern shopping malls have much the same function. A future Rimbaud, Van Gogh or Adolf Hitler will emerge from their timeless wastes.

JG Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition

This condition is further exacerbated during the current State controls, constraints and closures.

The myriad opportunities for social alienation are replaced by compulsory isolation.

The vacuous amoral urban retail experience becomes desert again, the domain of singular dog walkers and itinerant snappers.

The car, cash and credit are no longer king – space is the place.

George Street Car Park – Hull

My previous Hull walk was was linear, along the Humber Estuary open and expansive.

This was a very different kettle of fish – spiralling out of control, rising and falling, walking the ramp, a journey into one’s inner self.

Possibly the worst multi storey I have been in for years.

Spooky, filthy, bays too small, machines remote, access tortuous.

Avoid.

So says Nick Shields

Dark, Gloomy and Rotting .

Looks a good candidate for a location for a crime watch reconstruction.

Quoth Peter Campbell

It’s a multi story multi Storey and no mistake

I couldn’t possibly pass comment, I walk can’t drive, won’t drive – though simply can’t resist exploring car parks.

Though the local paper has identified an issue of fitness to fit.

Heard the one about a city centre car park where you can’t easily park your car? It might sound like a joke but it’s no laughing matter for drivers trying to squeeze into vacant spaces at Hull City Council’s multi-storey car park in George Street. For motorists are finding it increasingly difficult to manoeuvre into its tight parking bays.

I myself navigated the bays with ease, though not without that unique sense of foreboding and unease, generated by an empty concrete carapace where car space, decay and ingress are issues.

It was designed and developed by Maurice Weston in the 1960s. He had two companies, Multidek and Dekotel, and built circular continuous ramp car parks in Hull, Nottingham, Leicester, Bristol and Bournemouth, some of them also involving circular hotels on the upper floors. In its day, the bays were easily wide enough for most cars. When I used George Street myself, it felt great to use, because you could easily reverse into the pitches and there were no tight corners to negotiate. But car widths have probably got the better of it, these days, and you can’t widen the pitches because of the position of the pillars.

The plans were very complicated to get approved because the George pub was a listed building and the car park had to be built around it. Incidentally, Maurice Weston also had an option to develop the wasteland on Ferensway in the 60s, but his hotel and entertainment centre project didn’t get past the council.

Thanks to David Sugarman

Let’s take a look.

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.

Buxton Raceway – High Edge

About 340 million years ago, the area which is now the Peak District was covered by a warm, clear, shallow sea. The sea was full of microscopic shell-creatures, and on the sea bed there were several coral reefs and beds of shellfish. Over a long period, millions of years, these creatures lived and died in this area, gradually laying down a thick bed of calcium deposits from their shells up to a depth of 600m in places. This is now the rock which is known as Carboniferous Limestone and this rock lies under the whole of the Peak District. 

Then suddenly in 1972 the Buxton Rock Festival relocated from the nearby Pavilion Gardens to an area high atop the moors, on High Edge.

buxton-72-poster-2

Don’t recall rain but it was very cold at night. The beer tent was selling Party Seven cans of beer, with seven pints in them. The queues for them were so long you had to make an important decision one can or two? Unfortunately I chose the latter, while one wasn’t enough, two was too much for a sixteen year old. Part way through the second can, I got up to dance to Easy Livin’ by Uriah Heep and fell flat on my face – Tim Hardman

Then suddenly in 1974.

I raced at the first meeting at High Edge Raceway and competed in that first year when the track was just a bulldozed dirt oval with earth banks and tyres for protection. I remember going to the Quiet Woman pub in Earl Sterndale for the first drivers meeting to see if there would be enough support for racing to take place. The people who went included a group of disillusioned hot rodders seeking to get away from the Belle Vue promoter, others ranged from truckers and farmers to car-nuts who just wanted to race anything. The first meeting I well remember those earth banks because I spent most of my first race sat on one, I couldn’t get the car off the top where I had been shunted by another racer. I wasn’t a successful banger racer and I didn’t continue after that first year but I am glad that racing has kept going at the venue – Alan Inwood

2017 and the track continues to grow and thrive currently trading as Buxton Raceway.

Offering a wide range of motor sports, racing anything with wheels and an engine, including bangers, buses and speedway bikes, being home to the Buxton Hitmen.

I often cycle or walk by and was privileged on this occasion to be given a guide tour by track worker, keen racer and self confessed car-nut Shane.

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Pop in if your passing, you won’t be disappointed.

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Concrete Toon

Everything is up in the air.

Tyneside is self evidently enamoured of elevation – they simply adore bridges, having five and another one as well.  Walking driving, running trains across the mighty Tyne Valley, why they even write songs about them.

In the Swinging Sixties T Dan Smith vowed to create a Brasilia of the North, which as good as his word he did, though sadly lacking the requisite regard for the law of the land.

What remains is a complex interwoven structure of urban motorways, walkways, multi-storey car parks and tower blocks. To explore is to enter a world of the sublime, exhilarating and still yet mildly confusing.

Can you get there from here?

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