St Christopher RC – Ashton under Lyne

Lees Road Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 8BA

Architect: Francis A. Kerr 1955

A post-war design consisting of an upper church over a lower hall, the prominent campanile making it something of a local landmark. The portal frame construction, materials and design are standard for the time. The interior has been reordered but retains some original furnishings. 

A new post-war parish was created to serve the growing residential area in Hurst Cross, previously served from St Anne’s, Ashton. Fr Kelly built the new church, whose foundation stone was blessed by Bishop Marshall on 5 June 1954.  The first Mass was held on Easter Monday, 1955. 

The church is conventionally orientated with the sanctuary to the east. Less conventionally, it is a two-storey building, with a ground floor parish hall and a first floor church. The church is reached from Lees Road by a reinforced concrete bridge and steps. A brick campanile marks the southwest corner. The structure of the portal-framed building is expressed externally by raking brick buttresses to side elevations.  The west gable end is faced in aggregate panels with a concrete relief depicting St Christopher over a plain three-bay flat-roofed portico.  The aisles are faced in ceramic tiled panels to the upper level with render to the parish hall level. The nave is lit by three-light clerestory windows with smaller windows to the aisles. The shallow-pitched roof is laid with mineral felt.  A two-storey block containing a large sacristy connects to the contemporary presbytery.

Inside, the six-bay upper church has a plain west gallery above a narthex with glazed screen. The aisles have arcades of square brick piers and plain plastered walls. The clerestory windows are leaded with coloured glass margins. The ceiling is lined with acoustic panels and the concrete floor is laid with carpet or linoleum tiles. The reordered sanctuary retains the original polished concrete altar in a forward position; the 1950s altar rails and pulpit have been removed. The east wall is now hung with wallpaper, but was originally fair-faced brick; the Crucifix and painted timber high altar canopy are part of the original arrangement.  The side chapels also retain original 1950s polished concrete altars. The octagonal font with oak cover dates from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, of unknown provenance. The hardwood pews were designed for the church.

Taking Stock

I have known this church for some fifty years – living just up the road.

It was probably along with St Mary’s Denton my first experiences of Modern Architecture.

I went to the youth club in the social area beneath the church.

St Mary

It is typical of the Italianate styling of the time, a functional mix of glass brick and concrete, far from ostentatious – and sitting comfortably in its setting.

On the day of my visit the country is in lockdown, Mass suspended and the body of the church used as a homeless shelter, prior to rehousing – signs of the times.

Beanland House No 2 – Ashton under Lyne

Gambrel Bank Road Ashton under Lyne

I have been here before in 2015 en passant, snapped the homes chatted to a resident and off, she had informed me that they had been post-war experimental concrete homes.

I thought no more about it – but subsequently I did, returning to the road to take another look.

Here’s one I didn’t make earlier.

There are four semi detached homes constructed from concrete, rendered painted and clad over the years, windows replaced, additions and amendments made.

Though the basic design characteristics have been retained.

There are no local archival images or histories, I assume that they were post-war, an addition to the inter-war Smallshaw council estate.

In an area which in 1848 was given over to mining and agriculture.

I have subsequently learnt from an online contact Mr Sid Cat, that the homes are Beanland No 2.

They are listed on the BISF site – 102 were built.

More than this I cannot say – further searches for Beanland proving largely fruitless.

In addition there are also several semi detached houses of identical shape and proportion faced in brick – why?

Suffice to say here we are now and here they all are.

Clayton Aniline CIBA Offices

Charles Dreyfus was a French emigrant chemist and entrepreneur, who founded the Clayton Aniline Company on 29 May 1876. The company obtained a lease on a parcel of land in Clayton, Manchester, sandwiched between the Manchester and Ashton Canal and Chatham Street – later known as Clipstone Street.

1904

At its peak in the 1970s, the site occupied over 57 acres and employed over 2,000 people. However, due to the gradual demise of the British textile industry, most textile production shifted to countries such as China and India with the textile dye industry following.

1960

In 2002, the company made 70 members of staff redundant and in 2004 the announcement was made that the site would be closing with the loss of over 300 jobs. A small number of staff were retained to assist in the decommissioning of the plant. The last workers left the site in 2007 and the remainder of the buildings were demolished shortly afterwards.

Wikipedia

Like much of the industry of east Manchester its tenure was relatively short – money was made and the owners departed, without wiping their dirty feet.

The site remained derelict until demolition, followed by extensive site cleansing – to remove the dangerous detritus of 200 years of hazardous chemical production.

It is now occupied by the Manchester City FC training academy.

Vincent Kompany had just completed his £6million move from Hamburg when he realised that Mark Hughes’ sales pitch about the direction the club was going was not entirely accurate.

They took me for a look around the training ground at Carrington – it wasn’t fit for purpose, it was a dump.

I remember there was a punch bag in the gym – and only one boxing glove. And even that had a big split in it!

Then in 2008 the corrupt boss Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra is bought out by Sheik Mansour – the rest is history/mystery.

Mr Peter Swales makes no comment.

My interest lies in the company’s Ashton New Road offices – seen here in 1960.

Demolished and replaced by a distinctly Modernist block by 1964.

A flank was added on Bank Street along with a bank.

Archive photographs Manchester Local Image Collection

The office complex is still standing, now home to Manchester Police, I risked arrest and incarceration, in order to record the distinctive tile work, rectilinear grid and concrete facades.

Attracting several suspicious stares from the open glazed stairwells.

Let’s take a look.

Mitzi Cunliffe – Owen’s Park #2

293 Wilmslow Rd Fallowfield Manchester M14 6HD

We have of course been here before visiting Mitzi Cunliffe and her work – Cosmos

Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe January 1st 1918  December 30th 2006

This time we are taking a peek around the back.

Having passed by on the top deck deck of the 42 on my way home to Stockport, I espied an extension of the sculpture to the rear of the tower.

I vowed to return!

Fighting through extraction units, wheelie bins, hoppers, plus a disused and disabused vacuum cleaner, I found myself in the narrow service area, where I did my best to get back from the wall, hard against the chain link fence.

The things you do.

For some much needed light relief, air and open space I revisited the front face of the tower.

All Saints Church – Hale Barns

Hale Rd Hale Barns Altrincham WA15 8SP

As Hale Barns grew in the 1950s and 1960s it was clear that the small daughter church was less than adequate in terms of size and facilities, and under the leadership of the Rev Fred Cox, the then Vicar, a new church was planned for the site. Designed by Brian Brunskill, All Saints Church was consecrated in 1967.

Outside it can seem a rather stark building, of brown brick, set back from the busy Hale Road but inside it is full of light and space.  The influence has clearly been that of the French architect Le Corbusier, and there is a wonderful interplay of curved and straight walling.  At first there was no stained glass, but in the early 1980s glass by the Japanese artist Sumiko was installed in the north windows.  This includes a stylised tree-of-life design. In the baptistry there is some Victorian glass brought from St Mary’s Church.

In 2009 a radical and daring re-ordering of the building was completed. The church was carpeted and new furniture of high quality, designed and made by Treske, woodcarvers  of Thirsk, North Yorkshire, was installed.  The tree-of-life design in the 1980s glass has been echoed in the glass inserts to the Lectern and High Altar and also in the metal uprights of the Altar Rail.  All the fittings are moveable, giving a flexible space.  This flexibility give opportunities to explore how the building itself can enrich worship at different seasons of the Church’s year. 

All Saints

My first time in Hale Barns – hence my first visit to All Saints.

Small in scale, but large in ambition – a wonderful exercise in the calm controlled use of brick, rich in small details, along with an expressive mix of warm curves within a rigid grid.

Of particular note is the sculptural concrete bell tower, the exterior use of pebbles in the porch which flow into the interior space, along with a discrete palette of grey tiling.

It demands to be circumnavigated – fresh surprises await around each turn, simple hard landscaping of flags, softer restrained planting and open areas of lawn, so very well tended.

Let’s take a look around.

Here are some images of the reworked interior taken from the All Saints gallery.

Renold House

Manchester International Office Centre
11 Styal Rd Wythenshawe Manchester M22 5WB

Renold Chains were once a huge firm employing thousands in south Manchester, their main factory at Burnage, now demolished to make way for a supermarket. This grouping was designed as the administrative headquarters for the company and was in receipt of an RIBA Architecture Bronze Medal in 1955. The scheme, of two parallel wings connected by a central hub running perpendicular, now seems fairly pedestrian, though still exudes some presence by virtue of the evident control in the design and construction of relief within the main façade. This building, though, actually points toward the moment where Cruickshank & Seward were turning, with the rest of the profession, toward new engineered, curtain walling solutions. The three storey glazed stair towers are made of a relatively fine steel section glazing bar and are clearly expressed at the ends of the blocks; these perhaps pre-empt the altogether more refined towers at the Renold Building and Roscoe Building of the Universities. The third floor boardroom was also positively expressed as a curved solid, cantilevered above the entrance canopy. That the building was developed in such close proximity to the airport has ensured its continued viability as office and conferencing space. The firm also delivered the adjacent building for the same client in the 1970s.

Mainstream Modern

Four weeks into a pandemic – cycling somewhere else. I turned off and into the grounds of the former Renold House, currently trading as Manchester International Office Ccentre.

Manchester International Office Centre (MIOC) is a prominent landmark office building extending to some 100,000 sq ft which provides occupiers with high quality space ranging from suites of 450 to 8,000 sq ft.

The building has undergone a complete internal transformation with a total refurbishment of the reception and common areas. The office suites provide a superb working environment in line with the demands of todays occupier.

On arriving home I hungrily rustled up a few RIBA Archive images from 1954.

Much remains intact – though gone is the concrete grid and glass brick insertions of the 1954 central section – replaced with a slick glass and steel skin.

And there are unpleasant intrusions made by the fitting of contemporary security and lighting – using intrusive exterior conduit.

It’s a sunny day with a southwest light – there’s nobody about, let’s take a look around.

Concrete Island – Stockport

He reached the foot of the embankment, and waved with one arm, shouting at the few cars moving along the westbound carriageway. None of the drivers could see him, let alone hear his dry-throated croak, and Maitland stopped, conserving his strength. He tried to climb the embankment, but within a few steps collapsed in a heap on the muddy slope.

Deliberately, he turned his back to the motorway and for the first time began to inspect the island.

Maitland, poor man, you’re marooned here like Crusoe – If you don’t look out you’ll be beached here for ever. He had spoken no more than the truth. This patch of abandoned ground left over at the junction of three motorway routes was literally a deserted island.

JG Ballard Concrete Island

I’m in a different place – the same but different, whilst out walking I went through an open gate, following a well worn path, for the very first time.

Leading who knows where.

The confluence of three rivers, the meeting of motorway and main road.

I ventured further – where if anywhere are we going?

This tight tree lined and paint daubed triangle offers no answers.

Tamed thirty years or so ago, with concrete and steel.

Further and further.

Into an underground world.

Through the railings and into a void – a void that had become home to the otherwise engaged, seeking solace somewhere, finding shelter from the storm. A storm of Twenty First Century austerity, man made – moving money around until those without are out, out in the open, nowhere else to go but here.

How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home. 

William C. Faulkner