Fred Aldous interview Skyliner for their Creative Manchester series.
Lauren Velvick of Fred Aldous talks to me about the origins of Skyliner, redevelopment of the city and how I quit my job to pursue my dreams. Photographer Elle Brotherhood joins me on the rooftops.
"…it was a combination of feeling trapped in my job and feeling lost in my life that pushed me from the precipice and I quit work. Skyliner was the one thing that remained. Now I’m poor but I sure am happy."
Read the interview here.
Above image by Skyliner.
Back in 2012 I acted as a guest curator for Northern Spirit and their Wondrous Place project. Over the course of a week I wrote about Manchester Hippodrome, Sunlight House and the Picc-Vic underground transport system that never materialised, and tied these visions and memories together by imagining them all occurring at one time, under the fictional remit of architect Joseph Sunlight as head of the city (now Cottonopolis) planning department. I’ve republished these articles, as one, below.
Cottonopolis: A Skyline Reimagined
Sunlight House, image thanks to Stephen Richards
My family are predominantly from Liverpool, and so it’s safe to assume I’m the black sheep of the family in my adoration of Manchester. I love it because I feel like I’ve made it my own. It’s a city where it’s very easy to do that and to carve yourself a place where you slot in and feel at home regardless of your roots. It’s also a challenging city to love because you have to work at it. There’s nothing immediate about it, it’s small yet spread out, it’s unremarkable in many ways, and you certainly don’t get that breath-taking moment of flinging open your hotel window and gazing down on an urban paradise – its not an easy city for a visitor to love.
Manchester was my blank canvas when I first came here and it remained that way for several years, just a corner of the canvas was filled in and it was rudimentary and pencil drawn. Then I realised that I hadn’t approached the city like I do all other cities; as a tourist – always asking questions about its history, its art, exploring the streets and getting lost in its dead-ends. I did this and my canvas became florid in its detail. I still explore like this everyday because there’s no reason, in any city, for that curiosity to ever wane.
I’ve adopted Manchester as a home and so it saddens me when a building I love is at threat, with that in mind I’ve looked at what Manchester could have been had these threats never reared their heads. What we’ve lost and what we almost had.
Over the years there has always been a kind of marvellous futuristic machinery at work behind the scenes of some of the major buildings. In the late 19th century Manchester Hydraulics Systems supplied this brand new source of power to the air conditioning of John Rylands Library (in itself a ground breaking concept at the time), the safety curtains of the Opera House, the organ of the Cathedral, and the clock of the Town Hall.
The Palace Hotel, image by Skyliner.
The Palace Hotel on Oxford Road used this hydraulic power in a fashion not dissimilar to something you’d expect to see in the Coen Brothers’ ‘Hudsucker Proxy’. They installed a series of tubes in what was then the Refuge Assurance Building, and inside of leather-bound capsules they would seal notes before dropping them into the suction system and transporting them to another part of the building.
Sunlight House on Quay Street is perhaps something of a silent star in amongst all of these landmarks and ground-breakers. It’s a grand building on an otherwise bland street, it’s not a building whose name is instantly recognised nor is the purpose of it clear to the everyday passer-by, but it’s this building that’s inspired me to look at Manchester as it could have been.
…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 there, precariously, 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…
The Black Lion pub, on the corner of Chapel Street neighbours Blackfriars Bridge and has been in business since 1776.
The site is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of the The Showmen’s Guild.
The Guild began life as the Van Dweller’s Protection Association in 1889 and protects the interests of travelling showmen who gain their livelihoods by attending funfairs. The incentive to set up the guild was in reaction to an evangelist by the name of George Smith. Smith believed his mission was to reform all members of the itinerant community in the United Kingdom, labelling them:
"Dregs of society that will one day put a stop to the work of civilisation, and bring to an end the advance in arts, law and commerce."
Of all the travelling showmen one of the most famous is Buffalo Bill and he and his ‘Congress of Rough Riders of the World Show’ once came to Salford.
Real name William Cody, Buffalo Bill toured his show in the United Kingdom to celebrate the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria, putting on shows in London; Birmingham; and finally in Salford - choosing to remain here, on the banks of the River Irwell, for five months.
In honour of visit many of the roads of Salford were renamed, such as Cody Court, Sundance Court, Dakota Avenue, and Kansas Avenue.
During their stay a member of the show gave birth to a daughter, christened in Ordsall as Francis but her Indian name was Over the Sea. She was the first Native American born in Europe.
When the show returned to America at least two of the original cast did not. A man named Surrounded died in Hope Hospital and his body was said to have disappeared, the BBC had hoped to uncover it whilst digging the foundations for MediaCity but it’s most likely the body was transported to London and buried.
The other member who never left went by the name of Charging Thunder - he married a local girl and changed his name to George Edward Williams.
Williams worked as a cinema usher on Clewes Street for a spell before going on to work at Belle Vue Zoo taking care of the elephants. Apparently, when drunk Charging Thunder would head to the circus to sleep it off in the elephant enclosure.
His body is buried in West Gorton cemetery and he has two surviving grandchildren who still live in the area.
The Black Lion reopened in 2011 and Future Artists run regular film nights in the newly fitted cinema upstairs.
This article is taken from Skyliner From the Other City. An alternative guide to Sounds From the Other City.
Photo by Jennifer Brookes.
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
The Crescent occupies part of a row of houses and opened as a licensed dining room in the 1860s.
The first pub in Greater Manchester to be granted a 24 hour drinking license, home of free chip barms and the pub in which Marx and Engels are said to have met and certainly considered it their favourite back when the pub was named The Red Dragon.
When developers tried to turn the venue into student accommodation a few years back, the regular customers campaigned against it and successfully sol the building was granted listed status and is now protected.
The surrounding of the pub are interesting also. Cross Lane to the rear is home to the The Buck Hotel where Buffalo Bill spent an evening drinking before punching his taxi driver in the face and thus revoking his freedom of the city award before it was even granted.
If you wander a little further past the pub you’ll find yourself in Fire Station Square. This site was home to Salford Fire Station and the firemen’s houses that surround it.
Aside from the striking architecture here it’s also the location of Salford’s smallest listed building in the form of the red telephone box. There are two left in Salford, the other being in Worsley.
The red telephone box is the most successful K6 model and was home to an art installation during 2013 titled 'Conversations We Wish We'd Had'.
The K6 was designed by architect Giles Gilbert Scott who completed Battersea Power Station; the redesign of Tate Modern; and, at the age of 21 (with no experience), he won a competition to design Liverpool Cathedral as part of a larger team of five.
Scott died in 1960 and the cathedral was finished some 18 years later. He is now buried with his wife at the entrance to the cathedral and in his honour a K6 red telephone box stands at the site.
In the centre of Fire Station Square is a monument of a sphinx, unveiled in 1922 this is a war memorial in honour of The Lancashire Fusiliers.
The Working Class Movement Library is also situated close by at Jubilee House. The original library was at the home of founders Edmund and Ruth Frow, on Kings Road in Old Trafford.
Expecting an imminent change in our social system “that the country will be governed by those who produce the wealth, that there will be a need and a longing to know what preceded these changes”, the couple merged their book collection in 1953 and it continued to grow until it took over their home, lining the walls of every room except the kitchen and bathroom and spilling out into the garage.
Further along The Crescent is the site of Salford Art School where local artist Ken Reid studied.
Named Best Writer and Best Artist by The British Society of Strip Illustrators in 1978, he created the character of Rodger the Dodger for The Beano (for a time, The Beano and Dandy were actually printed just off Chapel Street by printing firm DC Thomson).
Ken was in the middle of illustrating a cartoon character by the name of Faceache when he suffered a fatal stroke. He is buried at Agecroft Cemetery where a plaque emblazoned with an image of his creation Fudge the Elf adorns the gravestone.
This article is taken from Skyliner From the Other City. An alternative guide to Sounds From the Other City.
Photo by Jennifer Brookes.
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.