Almost opposite the entrance to the museum, now set in shrubbery, are the foundations, laid in September 1860, of what was to be a forty metre high Observatory Tower. Despite a series of attempts, funds for the tower could not be raised and the ‘Amalgamated Friendly Societies of Stockport’ eventually had to abandon the idea.
Out east and passing alongside the running track.
Lush meadows now occupy the former football field, twixt inter-war semis and the woodland beyond.
Out into the savage streets of Offerton where we find a Buick Skylark, incongruously ensconced in a front garden.
The only too human imperative to laugh in the face of naturalism.
We have crossed over Marple Road and are deep in the suburban jungle of mutually exclusive modified bungalows.
Off now into the wide open spaces of the Offerton Estate – the right to buy refuge of the socially mobile, former social housing owning public.
People living on Offerton Estate have been filmed for a programme entitled ‘Mean Streets’ which aims to highlight anti-social behaviour in local communities.
The Wall, along with the low rise dwellings built to its south, replaced Victorian slum terraced housing. There were nearly 1200 houses on the site at Byker. They had been condemned as unfit for human habitation in 1953, and demolition began in 1966.
The new housing block was designed by Ralph Erskine assisted by Vernon Gracie. Design began in 1968 and construction took place between 1969 and 1982. The architects opened an office on site to develop communication and trust between the existing residents. Existing buildings were to be demolished as the new accommodation was built.
The new high-rise block was designed to shield the site from an intended motorway, which eventually was never built. Construction materials for Byker Wall were relatively cheap, concrete, brick and timber. Surfaces were treated with bright colours, while brick bandings were used on the ‘Wall’ to indicate floor levels.
Its Functionalist Romantic styling with textured, complex facades, colourful brick, wood and plastic panels, attention to context, and relatively low-rise construction represented a major break with the Brutalist high-rise architectural orthodoxy of the time.
When Historic England awarded Byker its Grade II* listing in 2007, they praised both its ‘groundbreaking design, influential across Europe and pioneering model of public participation’. The estate’s main element, the Byker Wall, is – like it or loathe it – an outstanding piece of modern architecture. The conception and design of the estate as a whole was shaped by unprecedented community consultation.
I went for a walk around one morning in May 2017, the photographs are in sequence as I explored the estate. It’s hard to do justice to the richness and variety of architecture in such a short time, but I only had a short time.
A Grade II listed country house, now divided into two dwellings. c1812. Ashlar gritstone. Hipped slate roof with leaded ridges. Various ashlar triple stacks with moulded tops. Moulded cornice and low parapet. Two storeys, central block with recessed long wing to east, orangery to west.
This Grade II listed manor house is set within 14 acres of natural grounds, together with the occupied adjoining servants’ wing, and has been sympathetically converted, retaining many original features to provide comfortable accommodation for families wishing to meet up for that special family occasion, and wi-fi is available in the living room.
Then came a pool:
Previously a private pool belonging to a country club in the 1930’s it later opened to members around 1938 who paid a small fee for its use. The pool is fed by a mountain stream and the water is reported to remain cool throughout the year. In the 1940’s/50’s locals recall the pool being open to the public where it cost a ‘shilling for children and half a crown for adults’ entry. During storms in 1947 the pool was badly damaged and reportedly ‘never the same again’ but postcards in circulation in the 1960’s provide evidence that the pool remained open at least until then.
Now it sits abandoned and hidden in the woods.
I went there in my early teens late 60’s the pool was still intact, well used and well cold. I remember chilly changing rooms with duckboards on concrete floors, a small café with pop and crisp if you had the pennies.
Most of all the simple joy of emersion in clear moorland water, on long hot summer days long gone.
Revisiting in April 2014, following a misguided scramble through brambles, it was a poignant reunion. The concrete shells of the pillars and statuary crumbling and moss covered, the waters still and occluded.
It sure it has subsequently been the scene of impromptu fashion shoots and pop promo videos, possibly a little guerrilla swimming. Though sadly it largely sits unused and unloved – let’s take a look around:
Pebbledashed over white brick. Roofs part concrete slab, part glazed behind parapet. Irregular plan, Modern Movement style. Group of blocks of varying height round tall central tower with rounded, glazed stair turret. Walls mainly sheer, with plinth and slight roof projection.
Long block on east of tower has central south projection with glazed, banded steel double door under high strip of windows beneath eaves overhang. Taller storeroom to west has similar doors in 2 recessed banded glazed bays; and abuts on south-east corner of tower. Similar double doors in base of tower. Large lower south-western canteen wing abuts on west side of tower and has banded glazing around two sides above a projecting sill. Slightly-projecting 3-bay office section to north has steel cross casements; on its return another casement and a door with hollow-chamfered jambs and flat hood. Taller bath block behind. Wave pattern on rainwater heads.
This is the youngest colliery in the neighbourhood, having commenced operations for the Ashington Coal Co Lt. in 1934. The shafts, which are situated comparatively near to the coast, are two in number, and both were sunk to the High Main seam level, which is 486 ft from the surface. The downcast No. 1 is 18 ft in diameter and is used for coal-raising on two shifts per day, and the upcast, which has a diameter of 15 ft, is used for ventilation and emergency man riding only.
The seams being worked are the High Main, the Diamond, the Main, and the Yard. Each of these seams shows practically the same nature of roof and floor as throughout the two neighbouring collieries and the distance between the seams is also comparable. They are, of course, found at slightly greater depths at Lynemouth, the Yard seam, for example, being 660 ft. below the surface near to the shafts, as compared with some 300 ft. at Ellington.
The Roger Stevens Building 1970 – by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon for Leeds University South Campus is designated at Grade II
The building represents the high point of their Leeds University work.
Architecture: the building is an outstanding and individual design with bold external shapes and carefully designed interiors
Planning: the internal spaces are the result of extensive research on the requirements of the university and introduce innovative and influential features such as individual doors into the lecture theatres, and external links intimately with other buildings on the campus by means of multi-level walkways
Intactness: despite the changing requirements of universities, the building has remained largely unchanged, proving the success of its design
Group Value: the building provides a fitting centrepiece to the group of university buildings on the South Campus at Leeds, also recommended for designation.
On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices.
The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Richard Howard, which led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred. This has led to the cathedral’s Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation, which has provided spiritual and practical support, in areas of conflict throughout the world.
Her Majesty the Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956 and the building was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in her presence. The ruins remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living Cathedral.
Ralph Beyer carving the foundation stone for Coventry Cathedral.
The new Cathedral was itself an inspiration to many fine artists of the post-war era. The architect, Sir Basil Spence, commissioned work from Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ralph Beyer, John Hutton, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink and others – most still to reach the peak of their artistic careers.
St. Michael and the Devil on the southern end of the east wall. It was sculpted by Sir Jacob Epstein, who, sadly, died in 1959, and therefore didn’t live to see his masterpiece mounted on the cathedral wall a year later.
Entrance to the cathedral is through the Screen of Saints and Angels – it is seventy feet high and forty five feet wide and is supported by a bronze framework hung by wires from the roof for added strength.
This unique screen formed part of Sir Basil Spence’s first vision for the new cathedral. As he stared out from the ruins of the bombed cathedral, he saw the shape for the new church through a screen of saints. This transparent wall would link the old and new – making each mutually visible from within each other. Provost Howard set out to draw up a scheme consisting of all the saints who were responsible for the bringing of Christianity to Britain. As John Hutton began to make initial designs, he soon realised that row upon row of saints would need to be broken up in some way, and suggested that angels be inserted between the saints.
The eighty one foot high Baptistery Window containing a total of one hundred and ninety five lights of stained glass in bright primary colours designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, with the Stone of Bethlehem for a font just in front. Each individual window contains an abstract design, but the overall effect is breathtaking. Basil Spence himself designed the stone containing the glass.
The great tapestry was another example of a re-think in design. Basil Spence’s original intention was to depict the Crucifixion but Provost Howard suggested that the subject be Christ in Majesty and from there on, this idea prevailed
The Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane is approached by following the aisle from the Baptistery window towards the altar which is at the north end. The mosaic depicts the Angel of Agony by Steven Sykes and becomes more impressive when seen from a distance through the wrought iron crown of thorns designed by Basil Spence.
A short passageway takes you through to the Chapel of Christ the Servant – also known as the Chapel of Industry due to the view of Coventry workplaces from its narrow windows.
Monumental inscriptions to walls and floor by Ralph Beyer
At the far end of the aisle, opposite the Baptistery Window is the Chapel of Unity, with its detailed mosaic floor, donated by the people of Sweden, representing the nations of the world and lit by shafts of light from the narrow stained glass windows around the circumference of the star shaped chapel.
This design was Basil Spence’s vision of a chapel representing the star which began the story of Christ – from the outside it appears shaped similarly to a Crusader’s tent.
The chapel is intended for prayer by all denominations, not just Anglican, and for this reason was purposely built with no view of the great altar.
But the boozer is now up and running serving cask ale to throngs of first class thirsty customers.
The Yorkshire Brewhouse 1904 ended mid week when we’re normally closed but we were asked to open for a group of very thirsty sailors. We moved on to Reet, another Yorkshire Brewhouse beer and thanks to the football that one has gone too. It’s back to the YBH Faithful Stout once again. I’d come quick and get it while you can.
Once two pubs the Hessle Road Inn was subsumed by the Alexandra. The area was once home to the city’s Jewish Community – the cemetery survives next door.
There are Star of David motifs incorporated into the windows, sympathetic to this local heritage.
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.
Commercial premises or showroom. Dated 1889. Red brick with stone dressings and terracotta decorative details, tiled roof. Rectangular building of 4 x 3 bays with canted corner entrance. Jacobean style. Single storey articulated by pilasters supporting a sculptured frieze. Doorway with arched head and fanlight. One, two and three-light mullion and transom windows to the Parsonage Street front. The Wellington Road front has two large plateglass windows divided by paired pilasters. The windows have removed two pilasters. Cornice, panelled parapet, aedicule with console supporters, swan – neck pediment and date over the doorway. Tall hipped roof. Very prominently sited and under restoration at the time of inspection.
This is a building of some substance, decorated with terracotta work of the highest order, a striking yet diminutive landmark to the north of the town. Situated on a once busy commercial site, where it would have been surrounded by a plethora of retail, industrial and residential property.
My research has shown that its earliest recorded use was under the ownership of JE Jones manufacturing agent for ropes and cords, allied to the local hatting and cotton trades in 1907. Subsequently the base of John Roberts in 1910 – leather merchant, manufacturing belts, strapping and laces – the company also had premises nearby at 138 Heaton Lane.
It has latterly been in use as Topp’s Tiles, Gordon Ford and Little Amigos Discount Nursery Store – it is currently empty, shuttered and unloved on off at a rent of £1,833 per calendar month from Rightmove.
As Stockport continues to invest in and develop its town centre, it remains a more than somewhat sorry beacon of decline, an indicator that all too often architecture of local and historic importance, seems to have little or no place, in this thrusting modern milieu.
If passing, pause and reflect on the sense of permanence that imbues this building, in an all too impermanent world.
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.