Byker Estate – Newcastle upon Tyne

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.

Wikipedia

There area has been well documented over time, notably by photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen.

It’s reputation has had its ups and downs but most recently:

It’s been named the UK and Ireland’s best neighbourhood – it’s got top schools, friendly neighbours and community art classes – alongside high levels of poverty.

Chronicle

It has been lauded by Municipal Dreams

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.

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.

Mellands Playing Fields – Mount Road

Does it all begin here with Frederick Melland?

His zeal for play-grounds and open spaces was always great, and only a few years ago he took part in an agitation for the acquisition of a new park.

Seen here at the centre of the contemporary map – an empty space with no indication of its current use, or past status – drawn a blank.

It’s here in an aerial photograph of 1931.

Photograph – Britain From The Air

Surrounded by newly built social housing.

Melland Road 1965

Levyboy’s website informs us of the fields’ wartime uses:

As a Military Police and POW Camp
The 48th Battalion Manchester Home Guard used the facilities 

Photograph Brian Wood

I remember from the 60’s onwards the fields in use for amateur football – pubs, clubs, schools and works all supplying teams to the plethora of leagues across the city.

Auster Aircraft of Airliners forced to land at Melland Playing Fields whilst towing banner 1961
1963

Archive photographs – Local Image Collection

The pitches and the sports centre built in 1978 are now closed.

On my previous visit in 2015 the facilities were still open.

New housing has been built on the northern edge.

Gorton has received significant regeneration and investment over recent years as have nearby areas including Levenshulme. This is an aspirational, exciting new development and Arkwright Place has something for everyone – from first time buyers to growing families and downsizers – with a huge range of beautiful homes on offer.

A local campaign was organised to preserve the open space:

At present the fields are fenced and secured – though gaps have been made to allow access for strollers.

The goalposts still stand though currently without crossbars.

Which are stored by the Sports Hall.

The buildings are mothballed – awaiting what?

For me the concrete and brick functionalist changing rooms are a thing of beauty and seem to have been a part of my life for quite some time, as I cycled back and to – on my way to work.

William Mitchell – Collyhurst

It’s April 2020 and I’m here again.

Having been before and before and before.

It’s lockdown so we can’t go far, so from home in Stockport to Collyhurst is within my daily exercise allowance.

There is talk of relocation for the diminutive Mitchell totem, but as of today no sign of any action – all is in abeyance.

What we do see is the encroachment of flora, cleaner air, low or no level human activity encourages growth between the cracks.

And at the base of the plinth

I took the opportunity to get in close.

Move around in a merry dance.

Quite something to spend time in an ever changing urban space – devoid of company, save for the calming sound of birdsong and the distant rumble of a distant train.

Stopford House – Again and Again

Third time around – on a late lockdown April evening.

I’ve been here before and before, yet I come back again and again.

It’s different every time, deserted at the best of times, during the worst of times it seems even more so – not a soul in sight. The low warm sun affords the bare concrete a pale pink and orange glow.

The mix contained coarse aggregate from the Scottish Granite Company of Creetown, a fine Leemoor sand from the Fordamin Company, together with white cement.

So here we are again, again:

Civic Centre – Plymouth

Council House former Civic CentreArmada Way Plymouth PL1 2AA

Former Civic Centre 1958-62 by Jellicoe, Ballantyne and Coleridge with city architect HJW Stirling. In-situ concrete structure with pre-cast aggregate panels. It comprises a fourteen storey slab block on a raised raft foundation which straddles a two storey block to the north and a bridge link to the two storey Council House to the south. The bridge link is elevated on pilotis to create an open courtyard with a reflecting pond, part of the designed landscape of the civic square. 

Current listing June 10th 2007 Historic England

I rode into town on my bicycle en route from Weston super Mare to Hastings one sunny afternoon in 2015. The pictures I took that day were largely left untouched, until today. I was prompted by an online postcard search to finally put them to some good use.

On the day of my visit the building was well and truly closed, and its future uncertain.

I took my time and explored the site, here is what I saw:

I subsequently found archival image of the interior – including examples of applied decorative arts.

The building has suffered of late, from poor maintenance and general neglect.

Love it or hate it, it’s one of Plymouth’s most iconic post-war buildings – and it towers over the city centre. But the Civic Centre has been empty since 2015, with sad images revealing parts of the outside literally crumbling.

Today is the day Plymouth will finally discover what developer Urban Splash plans to do with the landmark 14-storey tower block it bought for £1.

Plymouth Herald

Urban Splash are in the house – plans are to go ahead.

The proposal, by Gillespie Yunnie Architects, will see the 14-storey former council headquarters converted into 144 one and two-bedroom flats with the ground floors of the lower blocks providing about 4,600m² of office, retail and leisure space.

Unanimously approved last week, the scheme will open up the ground floor, making it ‘an active public space filled with outside seating for cafés, bars and restaurants’ and reuse the existing landscaped pools, while creating new pedestrian connections through the scheme from the Theatre Royal and Civic Square.

Architects Journal

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.