Over the last 12 months or so I’ve posted a similar number of times about the great buildings in Manchester, singing the praises of the planning authorities for their ability to preserve the ancient whilst embracing the modern, but like the waters of the Ashton Canal, or the traffic on the ring road that crosses those waters, life moves on. The council seems to be changing, and so do my views of it.
The cause of this revision is a small patch of land lying between the narrow lanes of Bootle Street and Jacksons Row; land that is currently planned for redevelopment. There’s not much here; an old brick synagogue, an even older pub, and next to both a complex of rectangular buildings with an imposing frontage that might once have been white, but is now rendered grey by layers of grime. Buildings in need of replacement with something new and shiny, or so former Manchester footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville would have us believe.
Their proposal is to replace them with a pair of 30 storey rectangular tower blocks, and before anyone points out that the city skyline is already punctured by the Bentham Tower, or that 1 Spinningfields is progressing apace, their skyscrapers will be different. Those buildings are green and blue boxes. The proposed St Michael’s development will be bronze (and given a religious name to soften the fact that this development is financially motivated for the two soccer paupers). That they city council is behind the scheme seems incredible, especially when you consider where this development will take place; right next to the historic heart of the city. Overlooked by the mythical beasts of gothic gems and the classical rotunda of the city library, the development will shadow Albert Square, the great open space before the Town Hall itself. Does that view need any more rectangles congregating amongst the clouds?
Old building have stories to tell, and I’m afraid glass and steel rarely do. They are devoid of the details that reveal something of the builder or previous occupants of a structure. What tales have these openings witnessed?
The last of those images is a case in point – what did the writing in the doorway refer to? I’d never heard of Kardomah, but a quick investigation took me to stories including Brief Enounter, Dylan Thomas and The Beatles.
So back to the three buildings at the heart of this controversy. The largest of the three was built in the 1930’s and many may be glad to see it go; for this was the city’s police station. The synagogue is a different matter. Built in 1950 to replace a predecessor destroyed by bombing it houses figurative stained glass which was unusual to find in a Jewish house of worship. The windows here are some of the earliest examples in the UK, so Giggs and co have promised to build a new synagogue as part of their plans and incorporate those windows into it.
Those who think this is an acceptable proposal should walk St Vincent Street in Glasgow, where another featureless office block has a spotlit piece of masonry mounted on the wall of its reception area, presumably a fragment of the building that preceded it, but lost and out-of-place here.
Presumably the nearby Quaker meeting house is safe, since it has not been referred to in the reports of protests that I’ve read. It isn’t the greatest piece of neo-classicism but it certainly jars with the new neighbours that are expected to join it.
Manchester Free Trade Hall abuts this area and is a reminder of a tradition in the city of making buildings that were not only functional but also beautiful. The street name is a reminder of a critical moment in the city’s history.
Nearly 200 years ago a large crowd (60-80,000) gathered in St Peter’s Field (an open space being cleared for the construction of Peter Street) to protest against the Corn Laws, legislation which benefited wealthy landowners. The government response to the protest was to send in cavalry armed with sabres, resulting in several deaths and hundreds of injuries. The event has become known as The Peterloo Massacre (after Waterloo which took place a few years previously). *Massacre then (8,4).
Only nearby building remains from that day, and one where the protestors doubtless gathered. A small unassuming pub now scheduled for demolition. It that’s not enough reason to value its survival then perhaps a more low brow reason might appeal. It also provided the inspiration for the pub in TV Series Life on Mars. Now that might be a place that the former Red Devils might think about building… it is the red planet.