Wythenshawe Civic Centre

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.

Along with Fine Fare and Mercury Market.

Cantors

Shaw’s

Fred Dawes Whitworth Park Gas Showrooms

New Day furnishing the local HQ was at Hilton House Stockport

The flats were demolished in 2007

Edwards Court and Birch Tree Court 1987 – Tower Block

First there was a bowling alley.

Which became the Golden Garter

Closed 3rd January 1983

Then there was a theatre The Forum

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.

A land of 24 hour petrol stations and quadruple Green Shield Stamps.

Some where along the way we lost our way – taxi!

Photographs Manchester Local Image Collection

Holy Family Church – Hollinwood

Roman Road Limeside Oldham OL8 3BY

A typical example of a post-war church built to serve a growing residential suburb; it retains some attractive ‘Festival of Britain’ features and fittings.

The church was built to seat 360, with room for fifty people in the Lady Chapel. The architect was Geoffrey Williams of Greenhalgh & Williams, the builder Whitworth, Whittaker & Co Ltd of Oldham, and the cost £27,140. Bishop Beck blessed the foundation stone on 7 December 1957, and the church was formally opened in 1958.

Taking Stock

It’s a long straight uphill Roman road to Holy Family.

Well worth the effort to visit a well kept suburban church, constructed with load bearing walls faced in brown and buff bricks and steel roof trusses. The shallow-pitched roof was originally clad in copper but is now felted, flat roof areas are concrete. 

Let’s take a look.

Mitzi Cunliffe – Owen’s Park Manchester

Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe January 1st 1918  December 30th 2006

American born, resident of Didsbury Manchester, sculptor and designer, responsible for, amongst other things, the BAFTA mask.

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Her first large scale commission was two pieces for the Festival of Britain in 1951. One, known as Root Bodied Forth, shows figures emerging from a tree, and was displayed at the entrance of the Festival. The second, a pair of bronze handles in the form of hands, adorned the Regatta Restaurant. She created a similar piece, in the form of knots, in 1952 which remains at the School of Civic Design at Liverpool University, along with The Quickening in the rear courtyard.

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Cunliffe developed a technique for mass-producing abstract designs in relief in concrete, as architectural decoration, which she described as sculpture by the yard. She used the technique to decorate buildings throughout the UK, but particularly in and around Manchester.

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Particularly this example of four modular panels named Cosmos, set in the wall of the student halls of residence in Owens Park, Fallowfield, Manchester.

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Pleasure Gardens – Battersea

So suddenly the war ended and all of a sudden the fun began, followed with indecent haste by a wholesale national lack of fun, no fun anywhere no how.

Well why not have a festival, a Festival of Britain!

The south bank of the Thames had once been home to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

Why not put it there or thereabouts.

‘This was always a raucous place, but a temple of the muses too. Under the management of its gifted, quixotic master of ceremonies, Jonathan Tyers, it was perhaps the first public art gallery, hung with paintings by Hogarth and Hayman. The buildings – first Palladian then Gothic and exotic – were splendid and the music inspired. The Vauxhall season was unmissable. Royalty came regularly. Canaletto painted it, Casanova loitered under the trees, Leopold Mozart was astonished by the dazzling lights. The poor could manage an occasional treat. For everyone it was a fantasyland of wonder and pride.’

It was decided there and then, the government would enforce state funded fun!

Programmes were printed and works undertaken.

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Posters were pasted, let the fun begin in Battersea – and all the rest is history.

16 Poster for the Festival Pleasure Gardens in Battersea Park

Then just as suddenly the fun was all but blown away, by the chill wind of the incoming Tory Government.

Much to my surprise there are still remnants and  reminders to be found on the site, planting, fountains furniture and sculptural structures abound, restored in 2011 by Wandsworth Council – a timely reminder of a time when we were encouraged to have fun on the rates.

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Lansbury Tower – London

Neither wrought from purest ivory, nor containing some woe begotten, long gone, misplaced Rapunzel, but conceived as a democratic symbol of a new age of concrete, brick and steel.

Frederick Gibberd’s almost triumphal tower interlocks zig-zag diamonds of cast concrete upwards towards a silently clicking clock, at the head of the Chrisp Street Market.

Lewis Mumford wrote of the adjoining Lansbury Estate:  

Its design has been based not solely on abstract aesthetic principles, or on the economics of commercial construction, or on the techniques of mass production, but on the social constitution of the community itself, with its diversity of human interests and human needs.

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I was privileged to ascend the internal staircase, once open to the public – now reserved for high days, holidays and nosey northern interlopers. Having mildly vertiginous inclinations when so inclined, I gingerly went up in the world and leaned out to take the air and the view.

And this is what I saw.

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