John Lewis Mosaics – Milton Keynes

I was lured here, siren like, by an un-purchased eBay postcard – which precipitated a virtual four colour process printed journey around the shopping precincts of the UK.

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It only seemed appropriate to finally arrive at MK Central in real life, by train from Stockport – walking at last wide-eyed and expectant, along the whole length and width of Midsummer Boulevard to centre:mk

The Milton Keynes Development Corporation began work on the Shopping Building in 1973. It was to be the largest building of Central Milton Keynes. It had a total length of over one kilometre and a maximum width of one hundred and sixteen metres . It was built at the highest point in the New City. The architects were Derek Walker, Stuart Mosscrop, and Christopher Woodward, who had been significant architects at the MK Development Corporation; and the engineers were Felix Samuely and Partners. The shopping area was opened on 25th September 1979 by Margaret Thatcher. The building’s sleek envelope accommodated one hundred and thirty shops and six department stores, arranged along two parallel day-lit arcades, each eight hundred meters long and planted with sub-tropical and temperate trees.

A big bad Miesian box of glass and steel that goes on forever and forever.

At the very far end of forever is the John Lewis store, to the right of the entrance there are a series of tiled panels – these are possibly the work of Lucienne and Robin Day

Way back when, when brown was the new brown, brown still is the new brown.

Fresh and crisp and even.

Bobbing up and down precipitously on low marble walls, from amongst the sub-tropical and temperate trees, I bring you these thirteen tiled panels.

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Working so close up and personal at altitude, photographing such large pieces in confined spaces, it’s not until you arrive home that you discover that together they spell:

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What a delightful surprise!

The Happy Prospect – Reading

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The Happy Prospect, 50 Coronation Square, Reading RG30 3QN

I came here by chance researching Manchester’s Estate Pubs for my blog when up pops The Happy Prospect – what a pleasant surprise!

Having never really visited Reading, this is very much a virtual cut and paste journey through time and space – so apologies in advance for any unforeseen errors.

So let’s see how we got here:

The area was sparsely populated until after the Second World War, though excavations have revealed evidence of Paleolithic and Iron Age activity in Southcote, as well as Roman and Saxon habitation. By the time William the Conqueror undertook the Domesday Survey in 1086, Southcote was sufficiently established to warrant a Lord of the Manor, who at that time was William de Braose. From the 16th century onwards, Southcote Manor was owned by the Blagrave family, who sold the manor house in the 1920s. The area was subsequently developed into housing: much of the land changed from agricultural to residential.

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Bucolic scenes of small intimate streets and agrarian activity.

By the advent of World War II, Southcote had begun to experience urban sprawl from Reading and the land bordering the Great Western Railway had begun to be used for housing. Following the war, Denton’s Field on the Bath Road in Southcote was used for celebratory events; Battle of Britain commemorative fêtes were held in September 1949 and 1950, and featured a performance by three Alsatians – Rocky, Lindy and Irma to recognise their work in the war.

Dragged into the ferment of Mid-Century Modernism with the development of new housing, churches and schools.

In the 1950s, a huge building project centred around Coronation Square, named for the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II – with hundreds of council houses built to satisfy post-war demand. The residents of many of these had moved from houses in central and East Reading that fell short of sanitation requirements of the Public Health Act 1875, these were compulsorily purchased and later demolished.

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All that was missing was a pub – and so happily the local brewery Simonds built The Happy Prospect.

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Architecturally very much in the à la mode manner of the Modernist estate pub, plain well-lit brick, tile and concrete volumes, replete with a low perimeter wall and ample car parking space.

Thanks to Boak&Bailey for the background info.

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Opening in October 1958 – this photograph was taken for the Berkshire Chronicle but was not published.

Archival material from Reading Museums.

And so for many years the pub prospered – sadly along with so many others of its ilk, the pressures and constraints of social change and economic decline forced closure and demolition despite the protestations of the local community, who fought for its life.

Beverley Doyle, who lives in Southcote, said: “We don’t see the old people anymore because there’s nowhere for them to meet up.They used to be able to come here and play cribbage and cards.There was also Christmas parties and kids’ parties so people could get together and we need something like that again. It was a good pub and we want it back to how it was.”

Campaigner Bobbie Richardson said: “Once you get this place boarded up you wonder what’s going to be next in the community. It starts to look run down and we want to let the owners know Southcote is not a ghetto.”

Inevitably a once fine social asset is no more, even the somewhat ill-advised reinvention as the Happy Pea failed to save this once Happy Prospect.

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Shopping Precincts – UK

I was brought up with Sixties’ shopping precincts and centres, they are so very dear to my heart, I spent my teenage years here in AshtonStalybridge, and latterly in Stockport’s Merseyway.

I’ve visited Hanley, Preston, Salford, and Coventry in search of a certain something – that exciting sweeping swoop of concrete, brick, glass and steel. Underpasses with overarching designs and luxurious layouts of leisurely interlocking levels. Each one different in a different way yet essentially similar – embodying a sense of civic pride, a sense of the future realised.

1571 – The Royal Exchange, a trading market in the City of London, is officially opened by Elizabeth I. Above the open-air piazza where dealers buy and sell commodities, there is a two-storey shopping mall, with 100 different kiosks – making it Britain’s first shopping centre.

1964 – It was a monument to provincial pride in reinforced concrete and glass. When the Duke of Edinburgh opened the Birmingham Bull Ring in May 1964, it was the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe, with a total floor area of 23 acres. Inspired by American suburban malls, the Bull Ring promised coatless shopping in an air-conditioned, temperature-controlled hall maintained at late-spring level.

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2017 – Many are now no more, or redeveloped beyond recognition. The integrity of the architecture, street furniture, public art, space and usage a thing of folk memory.

So come with me now on a whirlwind picture postcard tour of this Nation’s saving grace – it’s modernist shopping spaces.

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Aberdeen

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Barlaston

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Bedford

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Bracknell

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Brentwood

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Brighton

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Burton on Trent

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Butts – Reading

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Chelmsford

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Corby

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Coventry

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Cowplain

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Crawley

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Crewe

croydon

Croydon

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Cwmbran

dudley

Dudley

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Elephant and Castle

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Great Yarmouth

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Hanley

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Harlow

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Hartlepool

Hebburn

Hebburn

immingham

Immingham

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Irvine

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Leamore

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Letchworth

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Leyland

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Liverpool

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Mexborough

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Milton Keynes

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Nantwich

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Norris Green

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Plymouth

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Runcorn

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Sleaford

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Southampton

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Stockport

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Swanley

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Telford

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Wakefield

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Walton on Thames

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Westway – Frome

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Wolverhampton

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Worksop

 

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.

 

Salford Shopping City

The construction of the shopping centre and surrounding areas continued and on 21 May 1970 the new Salford Market officially opened. From 1971 onwards new shops inside the precinct itself began to open.

However, due to a lack of funds and a political scandal which saw chairman Albert Jones jailed for eight months construction of Salford Precinct was halted. The site had only 95 shop units compared to the proposed 260, the hotel and two storey car park were never built.

In 1991 the building was refurbished at a cost of £4 million, this included the installation of roofs across various walkways, making large swathes of the centre undercover. The shopping centre which at the time was known as Salford Precinct was renamed Salford Shopping City.

On 9 August 1994 the Manchester Evening News reported that Salford City Council was planning on selling off Salford Shopping City to raise money for local housing repairs, these plans split the ruling Labour Party council, one councillor telling the press that it would be like selling off the family silver.

In 2000 Salford Shopping City was eventually sold to a private company for £10 million in an effort to cut the council’s deficit. It was then later sold in March 2010 to Praxis Holdings for £40 million, the company stated that it wanted to invest in the precinct and link it to the new food superstore.

This is a tale of our times – 60s and 70s redevelopment designed and built in the rampant spirit of free enterprise and uber-buoyant consumerism, falling foul of an economic downturn, subsequent unemployment and shrinking retail spending. Property is ping-ponged between local authority and speculative developers.

Following the riots of 2011 pledges were made regarding the future of the site, plans are still afoot, as yet to be rendered corporeal. Although the area has benefitted from an influx of students and a refurbishment of housing stock, there is pressure on the prosperity of the precinct from thriving retail developments in nearby Manchester and the Trafford Centre.

The architectural core of the site has been retained, including the 23 storey Briar Court residential tower, though diluted by more recent additions, misguided post modern detailing that threatens the integrity of full many a post war development.

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Merseyway – Stockport

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.

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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.

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Creating the thoroughly modern thoroughfare Merseyway.

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The giant concrete culvert and bridge leaving the river cowering cautiously below.

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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.

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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 Iain Nairn considered to be amongst the finest in the land.

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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.

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A clock tower, an Alan Boyson concrete car park screen and public art.

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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.

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Photographs Stockport Image Archive