Once widely admired, Ian Nairn esteemed architectural writer, thought it an exemplary exposition of modern integrated shopping and parking, sitting perfectly in its particular topography – way back in 1972.
This German magazine dedicated several pages to coverage of Merseyway back in 1971.
Note the long lost decorative panels of Adlington Walk.
Many thanks to Sean Madner for these archive images.
Mainstream Modern has recorded its conception and inception, as part of a wider appreciation of Greater Manchester’s architecture.
The architects were Bernard Engle and Partners in conjunction with officers of Stockport Corporation and the centre opened in 1965. The separation of pedestrians and cars, the service areas, the multi level street, the city block that negotiates difficult topography to its advantage, are all planning moves that are of the new, ordered and systemised, second wave modernism in the UK. The aggregate of the highways engineering, the urban planning and the shifting demands of retailers frequently arrived at a form and order such as this. In this way Merseyway is unremarkable, it’s like many other centres in many other towns – consider the rooftop landscape of Blackburn. It is, however, typical and has been typically added to and adjusted during its life and presents perhaps the face of the last retail metamorphosis before the out-of-town really made the grade.
Each successive remaking and remodelling has seriously compromised the integrity of the development. We are left with dog’s dinner of poorly realised Post Modern and Hi-Tech additions, along with a failure to maintain the best of the original scheme.
Once there was a river there, formed by the thunder of Irish Sea ice gouging a great glacial valley, bowling along boulders and millstone grit through phyllosilicate clays and sedimentary sandstone.
Then there wasn’t.
The Mersey, formed in Stockport as the Tame and Goyt conjoined, inconveniently filled with industrial grime and mire, then conveniently covered over in 1936.
Creating the thoroughly modern thoroughfare Merseyway.
The giant concrete culvert and bridge leaving the river cowering cautiously below.
Of time and a river – little stands still and the town is whisked briskly into the late Twentieth Century with plans for a pedestrianised precinct.
Completed and opened in 1965 the shopping precinct was concrete poetry in motion, incorporating the surrounding topography and extant architecture with grace and aplomb. Combining retail, restaurants and car parking facilities in a manner that critic Ian Nairn considered to be amongst the finest in the land.
We had travelators, integrated paving, street furniture, and lighting across several levels. A carefully considered whole, combining all that was best in modern design with style, élan and panache – along with Freeman, Hardy and Willis.
A clock tower, an Alan Boyson concrete car park screen and public art.
Would that it was still so, a variety of additions and subtractions have left Merseyway in architectural limbo, concrete legs akimbo across the river below, striding towards the future in a more than somewhat bewildered manner.
Yet we still continue cast our eyes upwards towards a clock that isn’t there, ride a non-existent walkway to the sky, try on an imaginary crop-top in C&A’s Clockhouse.