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Articles By: hayley flynn

Hayley is the creator of Skyliner, a Manchester-born blog that is dedicated to the pursuit of rare and fascinating art, architecture and histories. A lover of opening closed doors, microfilm, and architectural drawings. She fled the confines of an office job to work in the arts and spend more time exploring the secrets of cities, Hayley is now a tour guide, location scout and researcher but above all things - a professional dilettante.

On Peter Street in Manchester sits the abandoned Albert Hall and Aston Institute, built in 1910 by W J Morley. Albert Hall was once home to the Manchester and Salford Wesleyan Mission, though today it stands eerily empty awaiting renovation.  In more recent times the ground floor had been occupied as Brannigan’s Bar–did the patrons know that just one floor up sits an organ big enough for a dozen people to climb inside?

The building is vast, spread over four huge floors with the basement originally set aside for social work (including separate club rooms for girls and boys, a reading room, Sisters’ Office, kitchens and a scullery). The Ground Floor was the Lecture Hall with adjoining library and classrooms but today it is the now empty Brannigan’s lounge occupies this floor.

Brannigan’s Bar as it was left

Brannigan’s Bar as it was left

Above, on the first floor is the where the real grandeur can be found. The main hall, with a capacity of 2,000, is lined with wooden seating in a horseshoe shape. With an epic vault, stained glass windows and ornate ceiling, it is nothing short of grand.

Rooms to the rear of the hall include a few office spaces and one tiny area – a tucked away space that was possibly a projection room, lined with heavy metal panels which slide to reveal letter-box sized peep holes. It’s quite sinister back there, with the intention of the holes not really clear–none are seemingly large enough for a projection. A pitch black room adjoins it in which there are a dozen chairs arranged in a circle facing inwards like a  séance.

Still, that’s probably not as dramatic as it sounds given that the venue has been used as a filming location for shows like Most Haunted; the scribbled childlike crucifix left on a pad of paper resting on a chair isn’t as foreboding once you imagine it was at the hands of TV crew.

The century old organ in the hall was maintained (and possibly built) by  Rushworth & Dreaper. To give you a sense of the immense scale of the organ, a door below the pipes leads to a ladder upwards and during our visit, three of us scaled the organ together . There was room for more of us as we balanced ourselves inside the mechanics and peeked out into the main hall that’s been out of use for 60 years.

From inside the organ

From inside the organ

There’s evidence of the former residents everywhere throughout the building. A dusty wig for instance, is less haunting when you realize that it’s the legacy of a dress competition rather than a century-old personal item of the Reverend Collier.

There’s another floor to explore above the hall, and many of the rooms along the way are stuffed with Christmas decorations, bunny ears, and promotional posters for beer and football screenings. As you ascend the staircase to the top of the building there’s an old coat sign still etched on to crumbling paintwork.

Once you climb the ladder you emerge in a loft space, right behind the stained glass Albert Hall sign in the corner tower that’s visible from Deansgate and Peter Street.

At the rear of the tower is a long, dark gallery, like an underground tunnel and another bolted ladder leads  further  upwards to a white panel about the size of a manhole cover that screams to be pushed at – a few shoves later and you’re on the roof, and what a view”¦

The building was inspired by  Santa Maria della Spina  in Pisa, Italy, though it’s by no means evident on the face of things. The  exterior is of polished granite and brown Bermantofts terracotta tiles, similar to that on the facade of London Road Fire Station. There seem to be six main staircases in all, all grand and vast in size. Still, the building, in the decay and dim light is maze-like.

Through the ages: now, during use as the Methodist Hall, and the architectural imagining

Through the ages: now, during use as the Methodist Hall, and the architectural imagining

Around the time of the Hall was constructed, there were up to 100 Methodist halls across the United Kingdom. Today just 16 remain in use.  The location in Manchester was chosen during a time of encouraged temperance, something the Methodist church supported, strategically placed in the part of town most in need of “saving.” In one article Reverend Collier stated:

There are ten places of amusement, nine of which are theatres and music-halls, seating nearly 25,000 people, and bringing great crowds – perhaps the largest in the city.

There are 22 licensed places in the immediate vicinity.

In no crowd in Manchester is there to be found more men, women and young people to whom an appeal ought to be made in the name of Christ.

Twenty-five years later the hall was going strong and the number of licensed premises had dropped, the church was confident that this trend would continue, with no inkling that in fact it would do quite the opposite. The temperance centres and even the hall itself would become nightclubs and bars.

The building managed to survive the Blitz unscathed and services were continued in war time. As a church member recalled, “At times we could hear the roar of guns and the thud of bombs from the nightmare world above, but we sang on until we were too tired to produce another note.”

Interestingly, the church adapted the architecture of the halls to attract attendees. Knowing that their  entertainment  facilities would be key to their success, the missions made sure their premises didn’t  resemble  churches, but instead mirrored their competitors in design.

The hall was closed in July 1969, 9 years after the sudden death of Reverend Collier.  Albert Hall on Peter Street is due to reopen in 2013, as a restaurant and bar, as part of the ever growing Trof empire.

Floor plan of all four floors

Floor plan of all four floors

The deaconesses of Albert Hall

The deaconesses of Albert Hall

If Reverend Collier doesn’t haunt the building, perhaps this guy does.

If Reverend Collier doesn’t haunt the building, perhaps this guy does.

Andrew Brooks  is a photographer, a digital artist and a film maker living in  Manchester; his previous works include the Secret Cities exhibitions with  Curated Place. Please  visit his site  to see these  images and more in high resolution and in all their glory – exactly as they should be viewed.

Thanks to Trof  and Manchester Wire  for facilitating this visit. The lovely people at  Curated Place  also joined us and you can see some behind the scenes images on their site.

This article originally appeared on The Skyliner. Get in touch with the author @custardlove.  Photos by  Andrew Brooks.

In Zhuzhou, China a group of villas have just been completed on the roof of a shopping mall. This concept has been labelled the future of urban planning, but this future had already been realised over thirty years ago at Cromford Court, Manchester.

A view from above, 1981.

Cromford Court, known to tenants as ‘the podium’, was a housing association venture by Manchester City Council and it could be found on top of The Arndale Centre – a shopping centre that stands to this day. In all 60 dwellings could be found on the rooftops of the Arndale and they were inhabited from 1981 until 2003, when they were demolished as part of a lengthy redevelopment brought on by the devastating IRA bomb in 1996.

Prince Philip opening Cromford Court housing, 1981.

Cromford Court took its name from the area that was levelled prior to the shopping centre itself being built. A city surveyor in 1962 said that Manchester was “crystallized in its Victorian setting“ by these dense, dirty collection of Victorian buildings that housed beat clubs and cafés and gained a reputation as a maze of inequity.

The beat clubs that saturated the area were the cause of much concern for the authorities – they were unlicensed members only venues, as such they didn’t have to abide by the same legislations as licensed public venues. This led to uncontrollable opening hours,  undesirables   and the prevalence of  amphetamines (Purple Hearts) and marijuana.

The view from the street, 2002.

One of the most notable of the clubs in the area was The Magic Village, the owner of which would later himself live on the eponymous rooftop houses of 80s Manchester. The club was a leaky venue with a rope swing on the dancefloor, it saw the likes of Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Jethro Tull grace the stage.

“Who needed beer all you had to do was breathe” 

Andrew Gibbons, Manchester Beat

In 1965 the Manchester Corporation Act was passed meaning that the clubs could be closed at will. At the time Manchester had 250 beat clubs, just over a year later it had 3.

An archive image from Manchester Libraries showing the surrounding area before the Arndale Centre.

Today the Arndale Centre that now occupies the area is the third largest city centre shopping mall in Europe and after the IRA bomb the insurance payouts made it the most expensive man-made disaster ever. The redevelopment that followed in the wake of the attack gave Manchester a chance to rebuild, but despite this the Arndale still regularly makes the lists of most ugly and least loved buildings in the UK.

Although the houses on the roof weren’t directly affected by the bomb, when the tenants returned to the rooftops there was a general feeling of uncertainty; they knew their tenancy wasn’t finite and that the Arndale wanted to move them on and modernise and rejuvenate itself in the wake of the devastation. The houses had no place in the city’s vision for the future. Eventually, in April 2003, the last residents moved out and the houses demolished.

The podium, clad in ‘bile coloured ceramics’ is the reason the Arndale is referred to as the world’s largest urinal.

For all the ideals the rooftop location presented it did have its downfalls   – the financial handing of the company was peculiar and often unfair, and the area was a go-to venue for parties which, although not a problem in itself, left the area open to crime much like the Cromford Court that came before.

It’s a bitter irony that the very things that continued to support Manchester as the Original Modern City over the years were swept under the carpet in moves to modernise the city. Cromford Court isn’t the only rooftop housing in Manchester: in 1940 the caretaker of Ship Canal House lived on the roof with his wife, up among the chimneys.

This article originally appeared on The Skyliner. Get in touch with the author @custardlove.

The Stretford Arndale, a shopping centre located in the suburbs of Manchester, was renamed Stretford Mall in 2003 and the ’60s interior was modernised throughout, only it seems that they may have missed a spot.

A whole floor, hidden in  plain sight.

There’s something dated about the centre that’s hard to pin down. Even after refurbishment it feels like a loophole to a previous decade, but find yourself in the forgotten indoor market and that decade you’ve just lost becomes more like four. Set within Stretford Mall is a separate market square that’s just tucked out of view from the main walkways; here the calendar spins backwards to a gloriously sixties set-up. A few stalls are occupied, a butchers, a hairdressers, some clothing units here and there but there’s more to the market than the tenants who are struggling on; there’s a mezzanine level above them and it’s here that the real time warp exists.

It was whilst I stood admiring the textured frieze surrounding the market square, a leftover of the 1969 decor that once covered the entire centre, that the mezzanine level above became apparent. It was like staring through a tear in the fabric of time; it wasn’t altered, it wasn’t hidden yet it wasn’t paid attention to either. Totally isolated and hidden in plain sight.

Looking at an archive image of that old interior still present here in the square there’s that tinge of rose-tinted glamour, the same tinge evident when looking back at Manchester airport back when the departure lounge was framed by enormous Italian chandeliers.

The three units up here on the second floor are the wood-panelled John Andrew Ladies and Gents Hairdressing; a decoratively-tiled Tiles and Tiling of Stretford; and the seemingly quaint brick and net-curtained inn that was O’Brien’s Cafe Bar. The latter is the back-room of the existing O’Brien’s pub that can be accessed from the street-side of the mall, but the room, despite opening out quite brazenly onto more modern parts of the pub, seems to be more or less out of use.

Inside the hairdressing unit there are headshots of all the latest styles at the time and posters that herald the arrival of mousse and all its “magic”. The dates that these units were last in use are vague but it certainly doesn’t look like the place was around to welcome in the ’90s. Next-door, the tile shop is clad with a decorative tiled display in yellow and black, the colours of the symbol of the city – the bee.

Interior of the hairdressers, the posted reads “mousse magic!”

The Arndale, as it was known at the time, was opened in several phases and was one of seven centres that already existed in the UK by the developers Arndale Property Trust. The trust was started in the early ’50s by Arnold Hagenbach and Sam Chippindale, “Arndale” itself being a composite of their names, and Mr Chippindale was present for the opening ceremony. Stretford Arndale was opened six years ahead of the Manchester city-centre Arndale , and was the sixth biggest shopping mall in the country at the time.

The market has caught the eye of others in recent times, with people realising the potential of a space preserved in time as a real-life  film-set. Last year Theatre of Dreams was filmed in much of the market area including the absolutely wonderful Kingfisher Cafe that is still very much in business downstairs. The cafe has wood panel interior with orange furniture and solid corner booths made of plastic; a nostalgist’s dream come true.

The style of the time.

Besides Kingfisher, next to a strange little indoor patio area, in what is effectively a small tunnel (with a bizarre convex ceiling), lies another old unit but it’s hidden behind shutters and locked away to even the operations manager of the building. If you could get in there and pass through this unit into the next you’d find yourself in El Patio. One story about this closed down pub, and indeed the shopping centre, is that it’s the backdrop to The Smiths song Reel Around The Fountain. The fountain in question refers to a central water feature no longer installed in the mall (they also had fish tanks dotted around the centre) and the line “slap me on the patio” harks to the rough and ready nature of the customers who frequented El Patio.

Reel around the fountain

Slap me on the patio

I’ll take it now

Captions read: “one of the most attractive features of the decor of the shopping centre is this indoor pool and fountain” and “this seemingly tangled web of steel is in reality part of the attractive light fitting inside the precinct.”

Over the years the story that Muhammad Ali opened the centre has been ingrained into the fabric of the community, even the centre themselves thought that he had visited three months after the opening to cut the ribbon on the American-owned Safeway store, and there’s very little information freely available to suggest otherwise, unless you do a little digging.

In the office, operations manager (and former Guardian Exchange employee) Mike Russell, shows us a scrapbook of archive images relating to the mall over the years. Press cuttings and photographs of car shows, belly dancers, live camels, beauty queen parades and an elusive press clipping of Muhammad Ali’s visit showing him backing away from a 1,000-strong crowd.

Both The Guardian online archive and the press clipping uncovered in the office from The Journal confirm that Ali did indeed go to the centre but he didn’t open it. Ali was at the centre two years after it opened on October 12 1971, as part of an Ovaltine promotion.

Ali, in a much more timorous fashion than we associate him with, declared

“I am the greatest…and so is Ovaltine”.

Clearly uncomfortable with the sales pitch he added,

“Of course, I’m being paid to say that. But it’s true.”

After an hour of minor hysteria and injuries, Ali called an end to his visit stating that if the crowd, who had smashed the doorway to the shop, didn’t back away then he would have to go.

“I was scared of that crowd. I had no idea it would be as big as that.”

Both images of Ali’s visit are from The Journal, 12 Oct 1971. Words Howard Booth, Picture Alfred Markey.

Part of the archives in the Mall’s collection include photographs of a 1973 beauty contest. The winner of ‘Miss Stretford’ that year was June Pickering and, intrigued to know where she is now, the centre released images of the contest to local press in October 2011 in the hope to trace the winner. A few weeks later they did so. The former beauty queen now lives in New Zealand with her family and bears the apposite married name of Mrs. Perfect.

Replications of archive images are with thanks to the management at Stretford Mall. Photos by Shirley Bainbridge.

Stretford Mall [MAP]

Stretford Arndale Centre

Stretford, Manchester M32 9BD, UK

+44 161 865 1243

This article originally appeared on The Skyliner.  Get in touch with the author @custardlove