Twentieth Century Buildings 1914-1980

The twentieth century architecture of the region is broadly covered by the Pevsner county series and also by a plethora of monographs, specialist journals, national thematic studies and regional studies.  The built environment of the century is characterised by increasing specialisation, larger scale, the use of mass-produced building materials, technological innovation and theoretical approaches to design and urban planning.  

For the inter-war period, key sources for buildings in the North West include the journal of the Twentieth Century Society and numerous articles in the contemporary architectural press. The Liverpool architect and academic C H Reilly provided a contemporary overview of recent architecture of the period in Liverpool and Manchester (Reilly 1924), and has been the subject of published research into his own career and buildings (Crinson 1996; Sharples 1996). The Twentieth Century Society publishes thematic journals on a wide range of building types, including housing, private houses, and industrial, commercial, civic and religious buildings; articles provide a national context and some cover North West buildings; the 1998 journal on churches includes a gazetteer of churches built from 1914 onwards, arranged by architect (Harwood and Foster 1998) and an article on Merseyside churches designed by Verlade and Miller (Ward 1998).  The 1994 journal on industrial buildings includes a paper on the buildings of the glass manufacturer Pilkingtons, in St Helen’s (Holder 1994).

Although international modernism transformed the materials, form, functionality  and design of many twentieth century buildings (Powers 2007), other traditions of architecture continued to be fashionable, particularly neo-Georgian; this style remained popular for town halls such as Stretford Town Hall of 1931-3, by Bradshaw Gass and Hope, and schools such as Manchester Grammar School of 1929-31, by Percy Scot Worthington. Neo-Georgian was an under-valued architectural style until recently, and has been the subject of research that includes examples in the North West (Holder 2015).

Recent and earlier publications cover specific building types such as inter-war public houses (Cole 2015 and Oliver 1947), 1930s multi-storey housing (Whitfield 2008), flats in Liverpool (Newbury 1980), churches designed by Cachemaille-Day in Greater Manchester (Bullen 1997), swimming pools (Gordon 2009) and cinemas (Harwood 1999). The influence of American design was explored by Jolley in her article on Lee House in Manchester, built 1928-31 as a warehouse for Tootal Broadhurst Lee and designed by H.S.Fairhurst and Son with input from Henry  Sellers (Jolley 2013); the depression curtailed the height of what would have been the city’s tallest steel-framed building.  Fairhurst Architects are the subject of a monograph by Whittam (Whittam 1986). Key examples of inter-war modernist architecture in the region include the Midland Hotel, Morecambe (designed by Oliver Hill, 1932-3) and the former Daily Express building in Manchester (Owen Williams, 1930s), the latter constructed with steel frame and glass curtain walling, an approach that transformed commercial building construction (Foot, 2007, pp.86-87)

The twentieth century saw numerous infrastructure projects across the region, to meet the demands of an expanding population, technological advances, defence needs and the economy. Liverpool’s Speke airport (now John Lennon Airport) was found to be the most intact of a significant group of European airports built in the 1930s, in a study that included Tempelhof, Berlin and le Touquet, Paris (Ayrault P et al, 2000). At Barton Aerodrome, structures built in 1928 and 1930 also survive from this phase of aviation (Hartwell, Hyde and Pevsner, 2004, p85).  Defence installations in the region include the remains of first and second world war training camps, airfields and munitions factories. Three aircraft hangars at Hootton were built in 1917, with timber Belfast roofs. The First World War national factories at Gretna, straddling the Scottish border, are covered by a recent national study (Kenyon 2015) as are the cold war defence installations and missile testing range at RAF Spadeadam (Cocroft 2004), also the subject of an English Heritage archaeological investigation report (Tuck and Cocroft 2004), but much has been lost including the vast former ROF ammunition factory at Buckshaw near Chorley (Nevell, Roberts and Smith, 1999). The world-class university research facility and observatory at Jodrell Bank includes the Lovell Telescope of 1957, Grade I listed and the subject of research and assessment to support a nomination for World Heritage Site status (Chris Blandford Associates 2016).  

Lovell Telescope, Jodrell Bank, Cheshire
Former Liverpool Speke Airport, now a Crown Plaza hotel, Liverpool, Merseyside (permission?)

The region contains several innovative ‘firsts’ in twentieth century transport infrastructure; the Mersey Queensway Tunnel, opened in 1934, was the longest underwater tunnel in the world at the time; the country’s first multi-storey car park was built in Blackpool, in 1939 (Rennison 1986, 214-217) and Preston by-pass of 1958 was the country’s first stretch of motorway.  The distinctive hexagonal Pennine Tower Restaurant at Forton service station on the M6, built in 1965 and designed by architects T P Bennett & Sons is now listed. The increasing impact of post-war traffic on urban areas led to new theoretical approaches, set out in the Traffic in Towns government report (Buchanan 1963) that advocated separating people from traffic; elevated urban roads such as the Mancunian Way and traffic-free shopping precincts such as the Merseyway shopping centre on the edge of Stockport were built in this context. Research on the national legacy of architecture associated with the motor car includes examples in the North West from the early years of the century as well as the post-war period (Holder and Parissien 2005). The adaptation of country house stables to garaging for the motor car has been researched by Smith, including references to changes made at Dunham Massey and Tatton Park whose owners were early users of motor cars (Smith 2010).

Inevitably, it is in the region’s cities and largest towns that the most significant examples of twentieth century architecture were built and have been studied, with buildings for worship, education, leisure, industrial, commercial, retail and municipal functions particularly well-represented. Development at the region’s universities included major new buildings at Manchester and Liverpool and a purpose-built campus on a green-field site for the University of Lancaster in the 1960s, designed by Bridgwater, Shepheard and Epstein; the spinal plan with pedestrianised area similar to Epstein’s 1945 plan for Stevenage town centre (Hartwell and Pevsner 2009, 413-418). In suburbs and new towns, twentieth century residential estates deserve more study; in some cases good examples from early in the century have been designated conservation areas, such as the Raikes area in Blackpool, the subject of a townscape characterisation study by AHP in 2008, but post-war estates merit further study. Wythenshawe, laid out from 1931 by Barry Parker, was the largest residential estate in Europe at the time (Deakin 1989).  Suburban estates were the location for many new churches built in the inter-war and post-war years by all denominations, with Roman Catholic churches a notable group (assessed by AHP for the Taking Stock Surveys of Catholic Dioceses). In the North West, some regional architects such as Reynolds and Scott specialised in Catholic churches, which were described in contemporary design and construction journals such as Church Building Review. The context for Catholic churches built between 1955 and 1975 is provided by Proctor’s national study (Proctor 2014).

Large-scale post-war redevelopment had destructive consequences for the existing historic environment, but the sweeping changes envisaged by post-war master-plans were usually not realised, as in Manchester where the 1945 City of Manchester Plan proposed a new city centre and university area as well as large new housing estates. This post-war phase has been researched by Harwood and others and is well-documented in contemporary sources (Harwood, 2002 pp63-66 and Perkins and Dodge 2013 pp248-250). Large-scale retail, office, leisure and public sector development left a legacy of large footprint buildings and tall structures, some built over the existing street pattern in Manchester (Arndale and Piccadilly Plaza, 1963-5) and in Liverpool (St John’s shopping centre and Beacon restaurant, 1966).  In Preston the vast 1969 bus station by BDP (architects Ingham and Wilson) and engineers Ove Arup was eventually listed in 2013, after a long campaign, and is being refurbished  after the Tithebarn redevelopment scheme failed. 

Post-war architecture has been the focus of detailed research by Historic England since the late twentieth century, to inform a programme of post-war listing initiated in the 1990s.  Key sources are Harwood’s gazetteer of post-war listed buildings and her overview of architecture in the context of post-war aspirations, published by Historic England (Harwood 2000; 2016).  The Twentieth Century Society’s 2000 journal on post-war houses contains a gazetteer by Hardy (Hardy 2000); although the gazetteer is dominated by south of England examples, there is a notable collection of post-war houses in the North West, including nine by Wigan architect Anthony Grimshaw. The work of specific architects is the subject of articles researched for the Twentieth Century Society such as Keith Ingham’s Lancashire houses (Holder 2015) and Jo Parker’s houses in Merseyside (Whitfield 2015). Other notable post-war houses are referred to in the Buildings of England series, including Long Dales on Windermere, designed in 1961 by Basil Ward for Peter Scott, chairman of Provincial Insurance. Buildings designed by the innovative Lancashire Architects Department include schools, leisure facilities and the Record office in Preston and are the subject of a recent Twentieth Century Society journal paper (Brooks 2018).  National themes researched by others include Lionel Esher on post-war housing development, with a good section on Liverpool (Esher 1981, 217-45).

In Manchester, the Modernist Society publishes short articles and booklets on the city’s post-war architecture to raise awareness of buildings and design from this period (Thorp and Marshall 2016). At Manchester Metropolitan University, Richard Brook contributes to the study of modernism and post-war architecture in the region, with recent study into the work of the prolific Manchester firm Cruickshank and Seward, the subject of an exhibition held in 2018 (Brooks, 2018).  As yet, twentieth century buildings have not been the focus of more than a few unpublished grey literature reports generated through the planning process; one example is a recording of the 1976-78 Blackpool National Savings and Investments Building with landscaping by the Derek Lovejoy Partnership (Morris December 2013). Buildings from this period are increasingly threatened by demolition and redevelopment, and further studies are needed to understand the significance of often specialised and undervalued buildings before they are lost.


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