Ellen Wilkinson Humanities Building – The University of Manchester

I don’t usually walk this way – so I walked this way.

I discovered the rear of building, a building formerly only known from the others side, when seen from Oxford Road.

Whilst making my way from The Gamecock to elsewhere, I serendipitously discovered the other other side.

The Humanities Building now named the Ellen Wilkinson Building.

This Building Design Partnership scheme pre-dates Wilson Womersley’s appointment as master planners for the Education Precinct but exists harmoniously with the later series of buildings. This is most likely due to the method of development before any ‘grand concept’. The incremental expansion of the University, following WWII, was largely dictated by the progress of compulsory purchase orders; this group was no exception. At the planning stages, the lack of a masterplan led to organising the wings of the buildings in an open, orthogonal arrangement. This would allow expansion in a number of directions, according to the next available site in ‘the dynamic situation’. The result was the creation of a small courtyard flanked by two five-storey blocks and a two-storey structure. All three buildings use the same pink-grey concrete. The plastic qualities of concrete were explored in both cladding and structural panels and the textural qualities exposed in the bush hammered columns, to reveal the Derbyshire gravel aggregate. The sculpted and moulded panels on the two-storey block and on the gable ends of the larger blocks were designed in collaboration with William Mitchell. The only other materials in the external envelope were the windows of variously clear and tinted glass. The window modules were set out against a basic geometry in three standard patterns and applied across the façade. This resulted in a clever interplay of vertical and horizontal expression. 

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Ellen Wilkinson was born into a poor though ambitious Manchester family and she embraced socialism at an early age. After graduating from the University of Manchester, she worked for a women’s suffrage organisation and later as a trade union officer. Inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917, Wilkinson joined the British Communist Party, and preached revolutionary socialism while seeking constitutional routes to political power through the Labour Party. She was elected Labour MP for Middlesbrough East in 1924, and supported the 1926 General Strike. In the 1929–31 Labour government, she served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the junior Health Minister. She made a connection with a young female member and activist Jennie Lee. Following her defeat at Middlesbrough in 1931, Wilkinson became a prolific journalist and writer, before returning to parliament as Jarrow’s MP in 1935. She was a strong advocate for the Republican government in the Spanish Civil War, and made several visits to the battle zones.

During the Second World War, Wilkinson served in Churchill’s wartime coalition as a junior minister, mainly at the Ministry of Home Security where she worked under Herbert Morrison. She supported Morrison’s attempts to replace Clement Attlee as the Labour Party’s leader; nevertheless, when he formed his postwar government, Attlee appointed Wilkinson as Minister of Education. By this time, her health was poor, a legacy of years of overwork. She saw her main task in office as the implementation of the wartime coalition’s 1944 Education Act, rather than the more radical introduction of comprehensive schools favoured by many in the Labour Party. Much of her energy was applied to organising the raising of the school-leaving age from 14 to 15. During the exceptionally cold weather of early 1947, she succumbed to a bronchial disease, and died after an overdose of medication, which the coroner at her inquest declared was accidental.

Wikipedia

So here we are now – a significant building, named for a significant figure.

I wandered around, pale painted rectangular reliefs abutting darker rectangular reliefs. Strict window grids at a variety of heights. Warmer rounder rounded reliefs to the east, contrasting with their orthogonal cousins. A surprising courtyard contains a diminutive but charming concrete sculpture and an almost hidden exterior spiral stairway.

Sometimes it pays to get almost lost.

Antony Holloway – Huyton Wall

Antony Holloway – artist born March 8th 1928 he died on August 9th 2000.

Dorset was where he was born and grew up and the Dorset landscape was always there deep within him. He was educated at Poole grammar school between 1939 and 1945. After national service in the Royal Air Force in Dorset and Germany from 1948 to 1953 he studied at Bournemouth College of Art. Then came the RCA.

Tony began work as a stained glass and mural designer and jumped, with astonishing confidence, into working as a consultant designer with the architects’ division of the London County Council. He learned how to deal with architects and builders, and became adept at getting as much out of the money available – never enough – for his projects.

In 1963 he was introduced to the Manchester architect, Harry Fairhurst. Eight years later, after they had worked together on commissions in Cheshire and Liverpool, Fairhurst sought Tony’s advice about a plan for five large stained-glass windows in Manchester Cathedral.

Tony asked to design and make the first window, the St George in the inner south-west aisle. It was completed in 1973. Further windows followed in 1976 and 1980 and the final window, Revelation was installed in 1995.

The Guardian

His Sculptural Wall on London Road Manchester – an integral part of Fairhurst’s UMIST scheme, is Grade II listed.

His concrete panels clad two opposing sides of the Faraday Tower which can also be seen on the UMIST site.

I discovered further reference to his work in an old copy of Studio International – serendipitously purchased from a local charity shop.

So I bided my time, awaiting the day I could take the train to Huyton, walk along Bluebell Lane, across the busy dual carriageway to Primrose Drive.

My patience was rewarded – 7,000 square feet of cast concrete retaining wall, surrounding the tower blocks, built on a site raised above the roads.

In 1987 the wall was open to public access – one of the three tower blocks has been subsequently demolished.

Tower Block

Partially covered with greenery and now securely contained within spiked railings, I circumnavigated the site catching and snapping the structure where I could – here are those very snaps.

Immaculate Conception – Failsworth

Clive Road Failsworth Manchester M35

A church of the early 1960s, built before the Second Vatican Council on a traditional basilican plan. The design is striking and unusual, with an interesting combination of Gothic, classical and modern architectural motifs. The architect, Tadeusz Lesisz of Greenhalgh & Williams, is a little known figure but a designer of some interest. The church exhibits a scheme of sculpture, stained glass and mosaic on Marian themes, mainly by local designers, and retains almost all of the original furnishings and fittings in little altered state. It also retains furnishings from the late-nineteenth-century predecessor church. 

Taking Stock

The church is Grade II Listed

The west front is very striking, the broad entrance arch enclosing a suspended aluminium figure of the Virgin by E.J. Blackwell of Manchester, who also executed the moulded artificial stone friezes. 

The stained glass is by Charles Lightfoot, much of it to the designs of the architect, some incorporating glass from the previous church.

Mitzi Cunliffe – Owen’s Park Manchester

Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe January 1st 1918  December 30th 2006

American born, resident of Didsbury Manchester, sculptor and designer, responsible for, amongst other things, the BAFTA mask.

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Her first large scale commission was two pieces for the Festival of Britain in 1951. One, known as Root Bodied Forth, shows figures emerging from a tree, and was displayed at the entrance of the Festival. The second, a pair of bronze handles in the form of hands, adorned the Regatta Restaurant. She created a similar piece, in the form of knots, in 1952 which remains at the School of Civic Design at Liverpool University, along with The Quickening in the rear courtyard.

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Cunliffe developed a technique for mass-producing abstract designs in relief in concrete, as architectural decoration, which she described as sculpture by the yard. She used the technique to decorate buildings throughout the UK, but particularly in and around Manchester.

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Particularly this example of four modular panels named Cosmos, set in the wall of the student halls of residence in Owens Park, Fallowfield, Manchester.

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St George’s Shopping Centre – Preston

Once upon a time the future was shop-shaped and utopian, the Modernist reliefs a welcome relief from post-war doom and gloom, public decorative art was off the ration for good, or so it seemed. Small retail units, housed small local operators, their shiny well-washed fascias, glowing with graphic pride and diversity, slab serif and decorative script the order of the day.

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Architects J Seymour Harris and Partners envisaged a brave new water-coloured open-aired world for the grey austerity-tinted folk of Preston.

And lo it came to pass and underpass – the future was here yesterday.

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Get off the bus on Fishergate and walk right on in.

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The shopping centre opened on 22 March 1966 as St George’s Shopping Centre.

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It was originally an open air centre, and was roofed over during refurbishment in 1981. It was further refurbished in 1999.

In May 2004, when The Mall Company took over the centre, they were greeted with an ageing shopping centre. The shopping centre was rebranded as The Mall, and a massive development scheme was planned. Small stalls, main shops, cafes, restaurants, toilets, and escalators were overhauled.

In March 2010, the shopping centre was acquired by Aviva Investors for £87 million. In September 2010, The Mall was rebranded under its original name St George’s Shopping Centre.

Wikipedia

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So welcome back to today – stripped of distinctive decoration, covered in and given the international sheen of absolutely nowhere at all.

In intemperate template for the future.

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Archival images from the Preston Digital Archive and Peter Reed.

 

Mottram Street Flats – Stockport

A post-war northern town, facing the problems of bomb damage, poor quality housing, and the pressing need for new homes.

In 1963 there seemed to be space and the will to build, the site at the centre of the image flanked by ageing Victorian terraces and industry.

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Soon to become the Mottram Street Development.

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Back in 1965 these were the highest housing tower blocks in Greater Manchester.

The work of borough architects John Rank and Clifford Fernley.

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1960’s Photographs from the Stockport Image Archive

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1980’s photographs from The Tower Block

Typically they incorporated concrete street furniture, sculptural and decorative detail, in keeping with the age.

Like many other developments of the period they have subsequently been clad, fenced, painted and secured beyond recognition.

There was a raised concrete play area, of which nothing has survived.

A little of their original character however has prevailed – a William Mitchellesque fallen obelisk, along with some panelling and planters.

Curious to see public art behind bars

– would that they were removed.

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Pallot and Collins Murals – Bexhill on Sea

Could there be a more moderne town?

Bexhill on Sea, blessed with the delightful De La Warr Pavillion.

Plus the Pallot and Collins murals inset into the wall of their local branch of Sainsbury’s.

The third such public sculpture I have had the pleasure to visit following trips to Newcastle and the now defunct BHS in my hometown of Stockport.

Henry William Collins and Joyce Millicent Pallot have a very special place in my heart, their lives’ work together gracing the Festival of Britain, GPO Tower and Expo 70, along with other retail outlets in Southampton, Gloucester, and Colchester. A distinctive style of bas relief in impressed concrete, ceramic terrazzo and simple modern motifs, drawn from local history and imagery.

Take a look around.

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