Something of an iconic, totemic, pin-up poster boy/girl for the Modernists, I bumped into you one rainy day, on the way from here to there. Initially attracted by an unexpectedly bright slab of primrose yellow and white.
Golden Lane was developed in the early 1950s to create local housing for essential workers in the City of London, following the devastation of the Blitz. At the time only around 500 people actually lived in the City of London so the estate was deliberately designed with small units to house single people and couples comprised of the broad social and professional mix needed to support the local community. 554 units were built of which 359 were studios and one bedroomed flats; the remainder were maisonettes and early tenants included caretakers, clergymen, doctors, police offices, cleaners and secretaries. Today there are approximately 1,500 people living on the estate in 559 flats and maisonettes.
Golden Lane was commissioned from architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon by the City of London Corporation (which still manages it) and built on bombed sites previously occupied by small businesses and industries. Some of the basement areas of the former buildings were retained as sunken areas of landscaping. Building took place over a 10-year period between 1952 and 1962 when Crescent House on Goswell Road was completed. Golden Lane was listed Grade II in 1997 (Crescent House is Grade II*). When built, Great Arthur House was the tallest residential building in London and its Le Corbusier inspired design included a resident’s roof garden. The estate also included a leisure centre with a swimming pool and tennis courts. It is now run by a private operator and is open to both residents and the general public.
I stuck around too take a look, struck by the variety of scale, detail and space within a relatively tight integrated development. Mature greenery abounds along with a delightful water feature.
It would appear that following the 70s right to buy the estate is a 50/50 mix of social and private ownership, relatively trouble free and well maintained, something of an anomaly in our go-ahead, left behind land.
As with all things material and corporeal there was time when you simply didn’t exist.
1860 adjacent to Woodward Street and the Rochdale Canal, a simple agglomeration of loose limbed industrial buildings and such – yet to be christened Blank.
Unrelieved by decorative or other features; bare, empty, or plain a blank wall.
Showing a lack of comprehension or reaction – we were met by blank looks – synonyms: expressionless, empty, vacant, deadpan, wooden, stony, impassive, inanimate, vacuous, glazed, fixed, lifeless, uninterested, emotionless, unresponsive, inscrutable.
A space left to be filled in a document – leave blanks to type in the appropriate names – synonyms: space, gap, blank space, empty space.
A cartridge containing gunpowder but no bullet, used for training or as a signal.
Make (something) blank or empty – electronic countermeasures blanked out the radar signals.
Informal North American defeat (a sports team) without allowing them to score – Baltimore blanked Toronto in a 7–0 victory.
Though contradictorily I have found reference to a bankrupt foundry in the London Gazette 1857.
You appear again during the Manchester Blitz.
By 1960 you are on the map and the area is on the up and up.
Though I have to ask the question of the namers of streets – why so Blank, an off day at the office – we have whole blocks named for poets, painters, and far flung places, so why so Blank?
Hadn’t they heard of nominative determinism – born to be Blank.
This Municipal Modernist development seems to have been short-lived and subject to yet more demolition in the area, to be replaced by late 70’s terraced housing.
Blank Street inexplicably became Fulmer Drive.
Which in turn had been tinned up and demolished around 2008.
How did that happen – seemingly viable homes previously changing hands for £100,000 deemed surplus to requirements – land banking, ahead of an as yet unseen masterplan?
Your life was short and sharp – shaped by economic shifts, world war and the local authorities ephemeral housing policies. There is little evidence of your existence, photographic or otherwise, so I want to set the record straight – draw a blank.
Here you are as of July 2019 – tarmac intact, drains fully functioning, pavements paved, awaiting orders. A circuitous run of grassy ridges resembling the remains of some Roman or Iron Age fortification.
Why is there just one remaining tower block dancing unclad around Ancoats?
Let’s go back in time and see if we can find out – it seems that back in 1807 there wasn’t a Woodward Street to be found, the ever expanding industrial might of Manchester had not yet reached these particular green fields of Ancoats.
By 1824 it shows a fresh face to the world christened Woodworth Street, sparsely dotted with new development.
Almost fully formed in 1836 and renamed as Woodward Street, the area begins to accumulate the familiar domestic and industrial clutter of a burgeoning Victorian City.
By 1860 the street is fully formed and open for business.
Workers finding homes in austere and functional brick back to backs, typical of the period’s housing.
Fast forward to the early Sixties and the street is showing signs of age – the century old industries are already in decline, steady jobs, mills and factories gone west and east, well-worn housing looking terminally tired and in need of a little care and attention.
But wait what’s this coming around the bend?
The first wave of urban regeneration, post war optimism incarnate, a bright new shiny future – out with the old and in with the new, as Municipal Modernism stamps its big broad architectural feet all over Woodward Street.
Our story is far from over, this optimism is short-lived the homes, houses and industry are swept away yet again, replaced with two story modern terraced housing and an all too obvious absence of regular employment – yet the tower blocks prevailed.
Former streets were over written and remain as poignant vestigial marks in the landscape.
Though their future was built on more than somewhat shifting and uncertain sands.
A tower block has been left lying empty for a whopping 18 years. The 13-storey building at Saltford Court in Ancoats has been unoccupied since Manchester council closed it in the 1990s. It was bought by top developers Urban Splash six years ago but residents have now hit out about it still being empty. Neighbours of Saltford Court say it has become an ‘eyesore’ and magnet for vermin since the firm bought it.
A large group of blocks stood tinned up and unloved, yet owned, for a number of years, victims one supposes of land-bankers, developers speculating on an even better return, as the warm waves of gentrification washed slowly over them, from nearby New Islington.
All but one was refurbished, clad and re-let.
Woodward Court was spared – set aside for the homeless.
A period piece surrounded by Post Modern and Revivalist pretenders.
Opened 22 April 1920 with “The Forbidden City” and designed by Arnold England, the Majestic Picture House was part of the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres circuit. With 1,233 seats in stalls and balcony and a splendid facade faced in white faience tiles on two sides of the building on its prominent town centre corner site of Old Street and Delamere Street, the cinema was a great success.
It had an oak panelled foyers which had beautiful coloured tapestry’s on the walls. The interior was in a Georgian style and it was equipped with a pipe organ and a seperate tea room and cafe which were located on the upper floor.
It passed, with all the other PCT houses to Gaumont British Theatres in 1929, but it was not until 12th July 1946 that it was renamed Gaumont. The Majestic Picture House was renovated in July 1936, with new seating installed and a re-recoration of the foyer and auditorium. A new Compton 3Manual/6Rank organ was installed that was opened by organist Con Docherty.
Later being merged into the Rank Organisation, the Gaumont was re-named Odeon on 11th November 1962. It was eventually sold to an independent operator who renamed it the Metro Cinema from 6th November 1981.
With capacity now down to 946 seats, the Metro Cinema continued as a single screen operation until the middle of 2003, sometime after a multi-plex had opened in the town. In 2008 (with seats and screen intact) the building was unused except for the long foyer area, linking the front and back elevations of the Metro, which was a Slotworld Amusement Arcade. By 2011, the entire building had been stripped out and stood empty and unused.
It was my local cinema as a lad – attending Saturday morning matinees as a member of the Odeon Boy’s and Girls club. Hundreds of the nosiest kids. regularly warned by the manager that the film would be stopped if the raucous behaviour continued.
Now it’s just an empty shell, superseded by multiplex and latterly a lost Slotworld.
Unlisted unloved sitting at the heart of the town – too late for the last picture show.
Well it’s almost a mighty long way to cycle from Stockport to here, but well worth it.
A clear functional design of the 1970s, designed to place all the internal focus on the top-lit altar, which beneath its modern cladding incorporates a pre-Reformation altar stone. The external appearance of the church is slightly forbidding but the interior is enhanced by vibrant slab glass.
More than somewhat bunker like in its recessed situation, well below street level, yet interesting and engaging nonetheless – I’m rather fond of grey.
Working around the comings and goings of the adjacent school, I half circumnavigated the site, capturing something of the detail and exterior views of the stained glass. The interior will have to wait until another day.
Planned and newly constructed housing developments in Norden and Bamford made it apparent that a new church was needed nearer the geographical centre of the parish. In June 1975 the present church of St Vincent de Paul was opened, nearly a mile away from the old church. The architect was Bernard Ashton of the Cassidy & Ashton Partnership, Preston.
Internally the church is simply fitted with plain white plastered or boarded walls. The low level of daylighting enhances the effect of the four corner windows, which are filled with rainbow glass, and of the top-lit altar. The dalle de verre glass was designed by Eddie Blackwell and made in Dom. Charles Norris’s workshop at Buckfast Abbey. The figure of the risen Christ on the roof over the entrance porch were also designed by Blackwell.
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.