The Concord Suite – Droylsden

Let loose with a Metrolink ticket, this week our supersonic Steve sped up to Droylsden to  check out the “harmonious” Concord Suite…

There is little or no reference to this fine building on the whole world wide web – the wise people of Wikipedia tell us – “The Concord Suite was built in the early 1970’s to house Droylsden Council. The word Concord comes from the town’s motto Concordia, meaning harmony”

I’ve passed by for almost all of its life, marvelling at its white modular space age panels. The wide paved piazza frontage affords the lucky viewer a full appreciation of its futuristic whole, a giddy mix of brick, glass and concrete optimism. Civic architecture has never seemed so sunny.

The interior lighting is straight out of 2001, white organic and fully functioning – the upstairs function room is available for functions at the junction of Market Street and Ashton New Road. I saw The Fall there for the first time shambolic and suitably feisty.

Renamed the Droylsden Centre on one side, it houses the regulation issue of charity shops and empty units. The main building is home to the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, soon to relocate to a new build across the road. The Concord will then provide a home for the workers leaving the soon to be demolished Tameside Council Offices in Ashton.

The tram stops here.


St Stephen’s RC

Droylsden’s Delights

This week we find Steve temporarily diverted from a bicycling quest to purchase cullinary containers, after spying a humble local marvel…

One fine sunny Monday morning I set out cycling to Ashton-under-Lyne to buy an enamel pie dish. Almost inevitably I was pushed and pulled in a variety of unforeseen directions, incautiously distracted and diverted serendipitously – towards Droylsden.

Idly pedaling down Greenside Lane looking this way and that I was drawn magnetically to a pitched roof tower, towering over the red brick semis. Rounding the corner I discovered the delightful St Stephen’s RC church, stood high and proud on a grassy corner, glowing golden in the March sunlight.

I leaned my bike against the presbytery wall and with the kindly bidding of a passing parishioner, I went inside.

Thanks to Father Tierney for his time and permission to snap the interior. It was a calm space, the large open volume side lit by high octagonal honeycomb modular windows. The elegant plain pitched concrete gambrel roof beams a simple engineered solution.

The altar and apse beautifully restrained in colour form and choice of materials. The design and detailing on the pews, so warm and understated.

I was loathe to leave.

The exterior does not disappoint, the repetition of modular window shapes, the integration of doors, brick and mixed stone facing. This is a building of elegant grandeur, well proportioned, happily at home in its setting.

I suggest you set out there soon.


Simon’s Way

Steve’s off down the back roads of industrial estates on his bike this week, getting up close and personal with bug zappers, amongst other things…

Bird Hall Lane, Cheadle Heath Stockport was once home to the mighty industrial giants Simon and Simon Carves Engineering. Research, manufacturing and administrative buildings lined both sides of the road for almost its entire length. A mix of brick moderne, with light deco detailing and more functionalist mid century industrial constructions. Once bustling with a work force of thousands, the site is now home to mixed use businesses, local authority services and an influx of anonymous office barns covered in coloured glass and steel. Sitting in their manicured landscapes like half sucked boiled sweets.

What remains of the past is still worth a look, down the backs around the corners, up close and personal.

The Simon family has been central to the development of modern Manchester. Shena Simon was active as a feminist, in local politics, the women’s suffrage movement and education. Her grandfather Henry Simon emigrated from Germany in1860 and began his business installing the country’s first roller flour mill in McDougalls, Manchester in 1878. He established two successful companies, Henry Simon, which specialised in flour mill construction, and Simon Carves Limited which made ovens and blast furnaces. His son Ernest Darwin continued the success of the company through most of the twentieth century, with its two factories in Bird Hall Lane – he is also remembered as social reformer and politician. Their gift of 250acres of land after purchasing Wythenshawe Hall allowed the development of the Wythenshawe Estate. A contribution to the cost of building Jodrell Bank was made by Simon Engineering and the Simon family.

They also made insect-o-cutors.

Further information:

Simon Carves Company

Lady Simon


Merseyway Shopping Precinct

Beneath the Precinct, the Precinct

The tireless Steve Marland revists a childhood haunt, his latest mooch see’s him rediscovering the precinct below the precinct…

Opened in 1965 as one of the country’s first pedestrianised shopping developments, Merseyway was for me as child, a thing of great wonder. Combining the varied features of the surrounding Victorian architecture with something new, exciting and vibrant. Its covered walkways had feature lighting, display cabinets and public sculptures. Split levels linked by open stairways and escalators. Following several redevelopments it has lost much of its integrity and even shamefacedly whitewashes its concrete facade with a thin veneer of cream render.

Dig a little deeper though, and you will discover the precinct beneath the precinct. The mosaic and relief of WH Smiths upper entrance, striking articulations of skillfully mixed surface and materials, possibly the most exciting pierced, modular, cast concrete car park screen in the world, and the BHS side wall featuring a history of the town. Above us the sky. Take a walk, hike, and look – access all areas. For further information click here: Archive images click here:



‘Something Different’  Sark Road

Steve Marland has cycled over to Chorlton-cum-Hardy this week, to have a little look at ‘something different’.

“With Furniture, furnishings and decoration planned by experts there will be plenty to interest everyone – house hunter or not – at the Hampson and Kemp show house which opens at Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester tomorrow.” Manchester Evening Chronicle Wed 29th March 1961

A precursor to the Stockport development at Norris Hill, these Panorama Homes in Sark Road were opened for viewing by the stars of Rose Marie – David Whitfield, Sally Ford, Elisabeth Henry and George Moon.

But what makes the Panorama Show House, as the builders have named it – so special? Could it be the settee and chairs in olive green nylon fur and the carpet in bottle green with a black and white leaf design, perhaps the kitchen floor of bold black and white squares and a ceiling of golden sand? Or simply the sense of space and vitality!

This mixed development has survived in a knockabout fashion, glazed areas bricked up, flat porch roofs pitched and blocked with uPVC doors, cladding and window frames replaced. Front gardens become freestyle display areas for an exciting array of wheelie bins, debris and motor vehicles.

Go see for y’self.


The concrete of St Raphael the Archangel

This week went sent Steve Marland back to one of our favourite haunts, for a slightly different take.

Returning along Huddersfield Road from a cycle tour in search of the source of the River Tame, I paused to record the exterior decorative order of St Raphael the Archangel‘s church in Millbrook, Staybridge. I have passed by here many a time, even enjoyed rockin’ nights in the nearby St Raph’s Catholic Club.

The building sits imperiously above the Tame Valley, somewhat incongruously in its suburban moorland setting, gazing across to top Mossley. Happily the church was saved from demolition, by the timely intervention of the Manchester Modernists in 2012. Sadly it lacks a congregation and a purpose, other than delighting the eye of the casual wanderer. So, take some time to walk, cycle, bus or drift to the outskirts of Town and stumble on a listed building or two.

The source of the Tame is at the New Year’s Bridge Reservoir and a particularly attractive concrete culvert.


Strangeways & Cheetham Hill

In the shadow of Strangeways Prison, lies Cheetham Hill’s garment district, approximate to Victoria Station, the rivers Irwell and Irk, central to the development of transport and resources for the developing industrial city. Architecturally its tightly packed streets span the early Victorian to the shockingly new. Nestled in between are small pockets of twentieth century industrial buildings. Workmanlike stolid and solid, low rise brick built intended for manufacture and storage, essential to the input output of the textiles trade. There are little flourishes of decorative embellishment on pediments, towers and window details, which uplift and excite the eye and heart amidst acres of grey tarmac, crooked flags and discoloured stock brick. Why there’s even the tiled fascia of the former Manchester Ice Palace, insinuating the thrills and spills of high days and holidays into the handbags and glad rags of the daily grind.

Long existing as an industrial district, Cheetham Hill is the home of a multi-ethnic community, a result of several waves of immigration. In the mid twentieth century, the area attracted Irish people fleeing the Great famine. Jews settled during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, fleeing the pogroms of continental Europe. Migrants from the Indian Subcontinent and Caribbean arrived in the locality during the fifties and sixties. Since that time, it has attracted people from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Far East.

Word on the street has it that Chinese businesses are buying into the area, there are already signs ofburgeoning development, demolition and rebuild. Steel frames, gaudily clad, brazenly heralding the dawn of a brave new age of fancy dress distribution.

Tattered and flapping vinyl banners are toyed with by a cold wind that has failed to make any lasting impression on centuries old architectural type and types. Once classic cotton and wool fashion is replaced by anything that may be woven, vacuum formed or mould injected from a dizzying array of oil derivatives. If you want it, it’s here.

Heavily urbanised following the Industrial Revolution, the district today is bisected by Cheetham Hill Road, which is lined with churches, mosques, synagogues and temples, as well as housing in a grand and not so grand manner, several pieces in a hybridised modern style. Joseph Holt’s Brewery is on Empire Street, close by the imposing Derby Arms Hotel.

Markets, shops, cafés along the road trade in thingamajigs, home essentials and foodstuffs from all over the world and beyond. The Museum of Transport in Manchester is located in Boyle Street, Manchester Jewish Museum on Cheetham Hill Road, The Irish World Heritage Museum on Queens Road – a fabulous day out for all the Modernist family.


Lower Broughton

Steve Marland, reporting back from the western fringes – spots a little C of E gem, on Lower Broughton Lane.

I hope that this is not too far under the wire, off the radar, out of the loop, or over the rainbow for alone on Lower Broughton Lane stands a small church that has won a place in my heart.

Part mid-western ranch house, part fortress, wholly itself – serving its community the best that it can. Built in 1959, consecrated and opened in 1960, it still speaks of an optimism and modernity, that is not reflected in its architectural surroundings – a forsaken and now derelict business park, a half demolished mill, acres of waste ground, a thriving mixed economy of emergent and disappearing wholesale and distribution businesses.

St Clement with St Matthias punches above its weight, small in stature and ambition, yet rich in understated detail – the pierced stone clad bell tower, cellular concrete facade, window details and simple interlocking plains. A humble but expressive survivor. The Architects were Paterson and Macaulay. Go take a look.

St Clement with St Matthias : Broughton Lane, on an industrial estate – opposite TheWinner’s Chapel., Lower Broughton, Greater Manchester, M7 1UF

The population of St. Clement with St. Matthias Lower Broughton is 8430 and ranks 12498 out of 12660 – where 1 is the least deprived parish. The most significant poverty-related issue in this parish is the relatively low female life expectancy.  The next most significant issue is the relatively low male life expectancy. Child poverty, pensioner poverty, working age poverty and lone parenthood in this parish are among the highest in the country.  Male life expectancy, female life expectancy and qualification levels in this parish are among the lowest nationally.

This is a poor area, one of the poorest.


Deneway Estate

The first in a series of photographic essays by our roving reporter Steve Marland. Steve will be cycling the byways of Greater Manchester to bring you feast of housing estates, civic centres and maybe the occasional bus stop.

High above the Mersey Valley and 70 metres above sea level, Deneway Estate stands proud, affording views of the Pennine White Peak to the south east and nothing but houses in all other directions. Built in 1964, by architects Mortimer & Partners it was an award winner from the word go – coming first in an Ideal Homes sponsored competition as well as a Civic Trust Award in 1966.

Very much in the tradition of the Span Estates, it consists of small groups of two and three storey terraced homes, with communal open, well tended front gardens. At the entrance to the estate stands a single low tower block of flats. The architecture sits quietly and confidently in the landscape, well behaved, prim and proper. Interiors are open plan and afford ample daylight by generous windows. Detailing is tiled and wood panelled, with low pitched roofs.

Jump the train, walk, cycle, bus or tram, but arrive with wide open eyes and heart to enjoy this suburban gem. It’s right up my street.


Norris Hill

Here is the second of Steve Marland’s photographic meanders through the twentieth century architectural landscape of Greater Manchester and this time Steve takes us to Norris Hill.

Just to the north of Deneway Estate, subject of my previous post, lies another small, charming and perfectly formed sixties housing development at Norris Hill, similarly, built in the Span style. Designed by BDP and constructed by Hampson and Kemp Ltd in 1964, it won a Good Housing Design competition –

“A competition promoted by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in collaboration with the RIBA to encourage ‘a high standard of design, layout and landscaping in housing schemes’. Winning schemes had to satisfy an exacting examination.” The Architects Journal 10 September 1964 – many thanks to Saffron Wynn-Jones for confirming this.

At 148 dwellings with 20 dwellings per acre, there are a mix of terraces, mews terraces low rise blocks and quasi-semis, some grouped around greens and squares. Very few survive intact, the ubiquity of UPC, replacement cladding, historically inappropriate front doors and addenda proliferate widely. They do I feel, however still present a polite and convivial plan for suburban living.