…and the extraordinary man who uncovered it.
The bombed out church, St Luke’s, stands at the top of Bold Street in Liverpool. The official name is St Luke’s in the City and was nicknamed the Doctor’s Church because of neighbouring Rodney Street which houses all the consultants and doctors in the area. St Luke is the patron saint of surgeons, physicians, and artists - fitting even more now that Ambrose Reynolds, original member of Urban Strawberry Lunch, is artist in residence at the church building and runs regular events in the venue including art installations and film screenings.
“We see ourselves as kind of guardians of this church; protecting it, stopping it from falling down, we try and make it a little bit better every day. We do out best with the garden. Even the rain water we’ve collected in the crypt that goes into here - every problem is turned into a solution. That’s very much the way we work.”
St Luke’s was bombed on 5th May during the 1941 May Blitz in Liverpool in an attempt to shut the port city down; shutting down the ports effectively shuts down the country. Ambrose tells me that churches were targeted to demoralise the residents. Twelve other churches were bombed; six were demolished, six were rebuilt and St Luke’s was abandoned and left as it was - a roofless cavern with grass in place of tiles and trees growing where supporting pillars would be.
The beams, burned to a cinder, can still be spotted in parts of the structure blackened and torn apart. It was the burning beams that caused the roof to cave in, not the impact of a bomb itself, which is why so much of the rest of the church remains standing.
In the original bell tower, right above our heads, a beam juts out from one wall and has hung precariously there for seventy-two years. Ambrose, with an insouciant attitude to health and safety laughs and eventually suggests we stand somewhere else just in case.
St Luke’s was famous for its bells, especially how they were framed - the first metal bell frame in the world. The bells were named Peace and Good Neighbour and they first rang out on 23rd April 1831 (shortly thereafter the neighbours lodged a complaint for disturbance of the peace).
Today, the bells are replaced by recovered alloy wheels (which you can hear chime at the end of the recording at the beginning of the article).
There are parts lying around in the bell tower that are largely unrecognisable, relics propped up against a crumbling wall.
AR: “These are original beams and bits that we’ve found. I think this is a part of a chair. That’s part, I think, of the original clock mechanism. The clock stopped at three thirty in the morning, which is when it was bombed. The bells came tumbling down and cracked and they were taken away to Manchester and stored until the 50s/60s and then they were sold as scrap. Makes you sick, doesn’t it.”
As we walk back into the centre of the building Ambrose points out the art displayed in the long grass and as we come along a pathway to a pond decorated with flowers and painted tyres he explains how it was made in the 1970s by a job creation project, a project that he himself was involved in; his first encounter with the building he became so fascinated with.
AR: “This was put in the 1970s…they did the pathwork as well and we think it was the consecration stone that was originally here. We didn’t know there was a pond there for ages and realised it rained a lot and left a soggy mess there, we got young offenders in and they cleaned it out and it was full of human waste, junky needles, dead rats and clothes. It’s our reservoir as well because there’s no water - when the church was bombed the water main was bombed at the same time, it burned for seven days and nights. So we have no water right now and we haven’t had water for seventy-two years.”
Scattered around the building are very minute elements which have defied the odds to survive - in the very corners of the windows two angels painted on the glass remain despite the bomb, the fire, and the onslaught of stones children have thrown at them.
AR: “These windows in the middle, some of these were still intact when I was a boy in the 60s and 70s and one of my earliest memories is these lads who were throwing rocks through them - my mum would box their ears. And that’s kind of when I got a bit obsessed with the building.”
So the windows were intact even after the bomb?
AR: “There were actual figures intact in the middle. I know the elderly gentleman who was the one who put in the last set of windows in the cathedral in the 80s; he was ‘Mr Stained Glass’ and he came in and it took him about an hour to get from the door to here and he said ‘decommission these windows’ and he wrapped them up in brown paper and string and took them off to Manchester where all things Scouse end up. So those windows are still somewhere. On some Russian millionaire’s yacht by now but they still exist. But he missed those two angels.”
Exploring the structure is fascinating, as it Ambrose’s dedication and struggle to keep the light of life burning there but today I’m here with the sole intention of exploring underneath the church, in the newly uncovered crypt, and to meet the man who unearthed it…
A small article originally published in Manchester Art Gallery’s Dreams Without Frontiers publication, curated by Dave Haslam. The theme is Sixties Utopia and my article is about the Piccadilly Hotel (now the Mercure)
What does Piccadilly Hotel mean to you? To George Best it’s hiding in a cleaner’s cupboard from Matt Busby. To the ears of the city its cantilevered form straddles the headquarters of Piccadilly Radio. It’s a hotel built only for cars. It’s the future suspended in the 60s.
Piccadilly Hotel (to eventually become the Mercure) has no ground floor pedestrian entrance - because this is the future and why walk when you have a car. A vast William Mitchell mural made of broken pianos spans four whole floors of the stairwell because art and architecture go hand-in-hand in the future.
William Mitchell constructing the mural
One face of the decade’s utopia is Simon Dee who filmed the end credits of his talk show Dee Time on the concrete car ramp of the hotel. In his convertible Jaguar, with a model on his arm, Dee spins down the concentrically-looping concrete ramp with the insouciance of a man with no troubles. And in the 60s he had none. Dee’s 60s were his dreams; no frontiers. From his beginnings in pirate radio his career spiralled ever onwards and his lifestyle became one of a playboy. His 60s are forever captured in a bell jar of parody by way of the film Austin Powers, based on Dee himself.
Dee Time closing credits
And as he hits the road and waves goodbye to the crowd at the foot of the ramp, upstairs Albert Finney (Charlie Bubbles, 1967) lays supine on a bed, outside Julie Christie strolls across the concrete mega-structure (Billy Liar, 1963), and everybody else? They turn a blind eye to the fact that the ceiling collapsed twice during the opening ceremony because this place, this hotel, is promised to be the greatest hotel in all of Europe.
Julie Christie, Billy Liar. City Tower in the background.
Manchester Art Gallery and Dave Haslam present Dreams Without Frontiers; a publication to accompany the current exhibition.
Skyliner contributed an article under the themes Sixties Utopia, focussing on Piccadilly Hotel. There are contributions from a range of wonderful people including Maureen Ward, Julie Campbell, Dan Russell, and Greg Thorpe. Greg is responsible for one of my favourite regular columns: Manchester in Residents, over on his blog Manhattanchester.
Make sure to pick up a copy from the gallery.
In 2012 the CIS tower celebrated it’s 50th year (as well as it being the international year of the Co-Op) and this year the new headquarters at Angel Place will open. In tribute and celebration Skyliner presents an exclusive look at the 1962 commemorative brochure.
Thank you to S.L. Scott for the beautiful artwork in the image above and to the Co-Operative for allowing reproduction of the brochure.
“The Directors of the C.I.S have pleasure in enclosing Commemorative Booklet of that great occasion on 22nd October, 1962, when H.R.H. The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., K.T., so graciously opened the new building in the presence of a large number of guests from Home and Overseas.
It is hoped much pleasure will be derived from the contents of this souvenir booklet and that the typescript of what was said on that notable occasion will recall many happy memories.”
“New Head Office premises of the Co-operative Insurance Society Ltd, Miller Street, Manchester, England”
“To the applause of a large crowd that had gathered in Miller Street, Prince Philip, accompanied by Rt. Hon. The Earl of Derby, M.C., Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, walks to entrance where he was greeted by Messrs. Wild and Dinnage, who accompanied him on his tour of the building.”
“(Top right) The first visit is 60 feet below ground to the Control Room
It’s hard to place City Tower, formerly Sunley Tower, in the brutalist pigeonhole these days. It’s a white beacon of modernism guiding you across China Town, a siren of the 60s beckoning you towards it from its podium behind the classical architecture of King Street. It’s the third tallest building in the city, and remains the highest commercial office space.
And set within its facade is a concrete tribute to the scientific achievements of the city, because look closely - those gable walls are a giant circuit board.
Completed in 1964 it was originally named Sunley
My latest article for the wonderful Now Then - the layout and naming convention of streets. Featuring a housing estate in Chorlton and a series of American grid-style streets in Trafford Park…
There’s a long-vacated wine shop in Chorlton, the exterior of which is flanked by two huge bay windows and the blue frames are that kind of salt-eroded, windswept pastel found only on British waterfronts and in polaroids. Traversing the suburban landscape that surrounds the wine shop the houses begin to take on the same seaside form, it’s subtle and difficult to pinpoint the exact similarities but they’re definitely there and that’s when you notice the street signs: Fairhaven, St Annes, Lytham, Cleveleys, and it’s quite serendipitous but there’s long winding road that wraps around this estate and it goes by the name of Sandy Lane - a tarmac beach. Were these houses designed to mirror the architecture of our seaside resorts or have the streets, like dogs that resemble their owners, taken on the characteristics of the towns they’re named after?
Le Corbusier famously outlined his plans for a new Paris in his manifesto The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning. The streets that had grown from the paths of least resistance, those traced by meandering pack-donkeys during medieval times, were not efficient for modern man. To Le Corbusier the city was a mechanism and neither character nor exploration were necessary components of his well-oiled machine. The streets in his vision were laid out in meticulous order, exact geometry that suited and served the way of man, and not the way of the donkey. Manchester, like much of the UK, is part man and a whole lot of donkey. But not entirely. Some of the order found within the grid layout of new transatlantic cities, their blocks and their numerical naming convention, made it to Manchester.
The water tower of the Westinghouse factory, Trafford Village. Image care of Metropolitan Vickers
In 1886 American owned Westinghouse Electrical Company built besides the Bridgewater Canal on what had been meadows up until the completion of the Manchester Ship Canal. Westinghouse pulled out all the stops to have his enormous factory built in record time along with a model village for his workers. He based his Trafford Park Village on the regimented blocks of America and provided four avenues and twelve streets of housing, small businesses and community centres. Today the streets have been altered somewhat but this grid layout still exists to some degree
New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road was the location of the BBC headquarters for the North-West of England from inauguration on 18 June 1976 until it was demolished during the final months of 2012. Today a small part of the entrance wall still remains, and the road it once straddled is lined with bollards bearing the BBC logo in place of the standard Manchester bee.
The art galleries of a city are larger in number than you first perceive if you look not only to the official institutions but to the galleries that are formed in the corridors of hotels and the stairwells of office blocks.
One particularly exhaustive collection in the city is that of The Midland Hotel’s Wyverne Restaurant. Here in the Wyverne (every Midland hotel has a Wyverne restaurant) is the work of photographer Eadweard Muybridge.
The totems of Salford University’s Allerton Building, and other works by William Mitchell.
“I don’t give a hoot if you don’t like them, just as long as you look at them”
Whilst on The Crescent in Salford, continue towards Salford University’s Allerton Building and there you will find the striking Minut Men by William Mitchell.
Perhaps the first critique of this concrete trio was by Prince Philip, in 1967 when he opened what was then the Technical College, and exclaimed ‘What the hell is that?”.