Civic Centre Postcards – Newcastle and Plymouth

I’m more than partial to a picture postcard – I have penchant for the picaresque.

And in these troubled times there’s no safer way to travel.

I have some previous experience, exploring the precincts of our fair land – here and there.

Prompted by a post from Natalie Bradbury – I became intrigued by Newcastle Civic Centre cards, I have visited the site, but in this instance, we are taken there thus:

Let’s have a look inside:

The Council Chamber

Grand Entrance Hall

Its extensive rooms.

Which then led me to Plymouth – which I had visited some time ago, on my coastal cycle tour, another fine example of post-war Municipal Modernism.

Empty for some time it now seems that a change is going to come:

A long-awaited scheme to convert the empty Civic Centre tower block in Plymouth into flats is set to be given the go-ahead.

Planning applications to create 144 homes in the 14-floor landmark building in Armada Way are being recommended for approval. 

The scheme also proposes a mix of uses for the ground and first floors including shops, offices, cafes and restaurants, bars, hot food takeaway, art gallery, gym, creche and day nursery.

Plymouth Herald

Many of our fine Modernist civic buildings are under threat – as councils seek new premises for a new age.

Only the strong survive.

Tony Holloway Sculptural Wall – Manchester

Sculptural wall and sound buffer – 1968 by Antony Holloway in collaboration with architect Harry M Fairhurst.

Concrete approximately 68 metres long and between 4.5 and 6 metres high – Brutalist style.

Grade II Listed June 10th 2011 – Historic England

The only structure on the former UMIST site, now part of the extensive University of Manchester estate.

Regularly visited on our Manchester Modernist walks, along with his nearby architectural panels.

I have even ventured as far afield as Huyton in search of other exemplars.

This is work of the highest order and importance.

It sits by a busy London Road, behind an intrusive green steel fence, slowly acquiring a green patina – as moss and lichen attach themselves to the well weathered concrete.

Receiving occasional visits from the errant urban tagger.

It deserves much better – a lush grassed apron, discrete public seating, regular tree maintenance – respect.

We do not suffer from a surfeit of significant mid-century public art – its guardians should straighten up and fly right.

Right?

Shopping Precincts – UK Again

This time of year, with limited light and an inclement climate, it’s far easier to travel by picture postcard. Researching and searching eBay to bring you the finest four colour repro pictures of our retail realm.

We have of course been here before – via a previous post.

It is however important to keep abreast of current coming and goings, developments are ever so often overwritten by further developments.

Precincts my appear and disappear at will – so let’s take a look.

What the CMYK is going on?

Abingdon

Aylesbury

Blackburn

Bradford

Chandlers Ford

Coventry

Cwmbran

Derby

Eastbourne

Exeter

Gloucester

Grimsby

Hailsham

Irvine

Jarrow

Middlesborough

Portsmouth

Scarborough

Solihull

Southampton

Stockport

Torquay

Wakefield

Civic Centre – Wigan Again

I’ve been here before, no not in some strange déjà vu sense.

I’ve been here before – look!

Three years on, now in the shadow of the newly built Life Centre, you stand alone unloved – empty.

But the future of the Modernist landmark, which was first put in service by the borough in the early 70s, remains unclear. There is speculation that the Millgate building, first unveiled by Wigan Mayor John Farrimond, could become a hotel.

Last October the Wigan Observer revealed how the council had enjoyed mixed fortunes when it came to marketing elements of its existing property portfolio.

But the council has been successful in offloading some venues, with Ince Town Hall now home to Little Giggles nursery.

So who knows what fate awaits you – the town I am told is on the up.

Let’s hope that the Civic Centre is not coming down

Castle House Co-op Store – Sheffield

So here we are outside, you and I in 2015 – it seems like yesterday.

Whereas yesterday I was inside not outside, but more of that in a moment.

It seems that you were listed in 2009 and deservedly so.

1964 by George S Hay, Chief Architect for CWS, with interior design by Stanley Layland, interior designer for CWS. Reinforced concrete with Blue Pearl granite tiles and veneers, grey granite tiles and veneers, buff granite blocks, glass, and brick.

There’s just so much to stand and stare and marvel at.

Vulcan by Boris Tietze commisioned by Horne Brothers 1961 for their head office building No. 1 King Street. Glass fibre on a metal armature the 8 foot high figure holding a bundle of metal rods.

You were just about still open then, then you weren’t, then you were again – but a Co-op no more alas.

Fast forward to 2018

Work is underway on plans for a tech hub in Sheffield after a funding package was agreed.

Followed by a casual stroll towards 2019 where we are talking a peep inside courtesy of owners Kollider and book shop La Biblioteka.

I’d never ever seen the interior, save through the photographs of Sean Madner who captured the key features in 2014, prior to refurbishment.

So the Modernists and I pitched up this Sunday afternoon, the conclusion of our Sheffield Walk.

Lets take a look at the end stairwells, two very distinct designs one dotty one linear, both using Carter’s Tiles.

Configured from combinations and rotations of these nine modular units and two plain tiles.

Configured from combinations and rotations of these twelve modular units and two plain tiles.

The site has retained some of its original architectural typography.

The former top floor restaurant has a suspended geometric ceiling with recently fitted custom made lighting.

The timber-lined boardroom has a distinctive horseshoe of lighting, augmenting the board room table – which is currently away for repair, oh yes and a delightful door.

High atop the intoxicating vertiginous swirl of the central spiral stairway is the relief mural representing a cockerel and fish made of aluminium, copper and metal rod, with red French glass for the fish’s eye and cockerel’s comb.

Illuminated from above by this pierced concrete and glass skylight.

Many of the internal spaces have been ready for their new tenants.

This is a fine example of Modernist retail architecture saved from decay and degradation by the timely intervention of a sympathetic tenant.

Long may they and Castle House prosper – Sheffield we salute you!

St Mary’s RC Church – Denton

Duke Street Denton Manchester M34 2AN

I remember you being built.

I remember our visit with the Manchester Modernists in 2015 – arranged by Angela Connelly and Matthew Steele of Sacred Suburbs

I popped by to see you yesterday – a truly remarkable structure set amongst the terraced housing of an unremarkable street.

The foundation stone for the present building laid by Bishop Beck in August 1962. He returned to bless and open the church on 25 June 1963. The new church was built from designs by Walter Stirrup & Sons – job architect Kevin Houghton, at a cost of about £60,000. The church is notable for its dalle de verre glass, by Carl Edwards of Whitefriars.

The church is a very striking and characterful building with a hyperbolic paraboloid roof rising in peaks on four sides, with clerestory lighting in the angles, that on the west side jutting out to form a canopy over the entrance. It was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘wildly expressionist’.

Taking Stock

I suggest that you do the same and pop by to see St Mary – Our Lady of Sorrows soon.

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.