Saturday, May 9th 2015
As the caption indicates, this handsome building is the home of the Salford Museum and Art Gallery. This Grade II listed building first opened its doors in 1857 when it also housed a library. The English Heritage listing calls it the Royal Art Gallery, Museum and Library. I don’t know whether the ‘Royal’ is a mistake or whether that title was applied originally and removed later. The museum is built on the site of a mansion, part of which was retained and incorporated into its structure.
The mansion was known as Lark Hill and that name has been attached to one of the museum’s major exhibitions, a recreated Victorian street called Lark Hill Place. It was this that we had come to see.
You may have heard of Salford and even know that it is somewhere in the neighbourhood of the city of Manchester but be unsure, as I was, of its exact relationship with that grand metropolis. Above you will see a map showing the two cities and you will also notice the blue ribbon that is the River Irwell. It is this navigable waterway that divides Salford and Manchester from one another. However, there is a further complication. Manchester is the name both of a city and, as Greater Manchester, of a metropolitan county, comprising ten metropolitan boroughs, which include the cities of Salford and Manchester. If that’s still not clear, try reading the Wikipedia article on Greater Manchester!
The name of Salford, incidentally, derives from Old English, being originally found as Sealhford, from the words meaning ‘willow’ and ‘ford’, respectively. The ford in question offered the only practicable crossing of the river for miles around, thus enhancing the importance of the town that grew up around it. Where once was the ford is now a bridge, built in 1839 and named after the then young queen. (Look for Victoria Bridge Street on the map.)
It turned out that in our enthusiasm to arrive early in order to have time to see everything we had arrived too early: the museum was not yet open. We therefore filled in the time looking around the area. This large and elaborate building could not be missed, of course. It is called the Peel Building and is part of the University of Salford, as is most of the real estate around here. It was originally Salford Royal Technical Institute and was opened in 1896 by the Duke and Duchess of York. The institute evolved into a university and the institute building was renamed the Peel Building.
The harmonious form of the building is enhanced with decorative elements including reliefs, of which the above is an example. These were by Henry Lord, architect of the whole building.
In the garden in front of the Peel Building, there stands a gazebo in the same architectural style. I was intrigued by this as its purpose was not obvious, especially as in its remote position it seemed unrelated to other buildings. I later discovered that it was built to protect and disguise the outlet of a ventilation duct for the laboratories that were originally situated in the basement of the Peel Building. Both the latter and the Gazebo are Grade II listed.
The museum still not being open, we widened the field of our explorations and crossed the main road. Here we found Jubilee House, a former nurses’ home, built in 1897 to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria (Grade II listed). The nurses are long gone and the building had lost its purpose until 2007 when it became home to the Working Class Movement Library (see also the Wikipedia article). The design was by Henry Lord, architect also of the Peel Building.
Nearby, we found the beautiful former fire station. Opened in 1903, it was designed by H. Kirkly. No longer required for its original purpose, it has been restored and converted for use by the university as a site for its Council Chamber and meeting rooms. The space in front of it, which would no doubt have been used for marshalling the fire appliances, has been turned into a public square with trees and benches. (See also this article on the site Our Manchester.)
This side of the road also provides a good vantage point from which to view some of the modern buildings of Salford University and the word ambition spelt out in large red letters.
The museum opened at last and we went straight to the cafe for tea. While we were partaking, there came an announcement over the public address system: owing to staff sickness, Lark Hill Place would not be open today. So, the one thing we had come to see was not available! We toured the museum and looked at the other exhibits. Then we moved on.
We walked east along the main road which here is called the Crescent, exploring and photographing whatever caught our attention. One of these objects is shown above. It is Hemsley Lodge and was built in the 1920s as the Salford Masonic Lodge. Consistent with this are the decorations which include Masonic symbols. These days, though, the building seems mainly to be used as a ‘venue’, hired out to groups for conferences, weddings, etc.
There has been a huge shake-out of pubs and hundreds, perhaps thousands, have closed and many more are finding it hard to keep going. I am not entirely sure of the reasons for this decline though cheap alcohol available from shops and supermarkets probably has something to do with it. I no longer drink alcohol but the sight of an abandoned pub still makes me feel sad, especially a fine example like the above Victorian hostelry built in 1875. Pubs often include the word ‘hotel’ in their names without actually having rooms to let so I do not know whether this pub ever was a hotel, though its position on a main road suggests that it might have been. It has been shut up for some time and although it is locally listed, which in theory gives it some protection, its future must be uncertain. For more details and pictures, see this page.
Here, the Irwell makes a great loop and passes close to the road, giving pleasant views. We do not actually cross the river so we remain in Salford for a while longer.
This is Adelphi House. In its first incarnation, it was built as a private residence in 1808. It then had only two stories. Time has wreaked many transformations and all that is left of the Georgian house is the façade but even that is not true to its original as a third story was added, though I don’t know at what date. Ceasing to be a home, it was taken over by nuns of the Order of the Faithful Companions of Jesus in 1853. Since then it has been, first a training college for Catholic teachers and, later, a school for Catholic children, a role that continued until about 1977. Today, it is part of the campus of Salford University.
We deviated left (north) off the main road and discovered a sculpture in a quiet open space called St Phillip’s Square. The bronze sculpture, representing a pair of sycamore seeds 100 times natural size, is by Andrew Mckeown and was completed on a commission by Salford City Council in 2002.
We walked through to Trinity Court and here found what I thought was ‘just a church’. However, it turned out to be a little bit more important than that for this is, in fact, the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist or, if you prefer the Catholic Cathedral of Salford. As cathedrals go, this one is quite young, being completed in 1848, though with later additions. In Victorian Gothic style, it was been given a Grade II* listing.
A little further along is Bexley Square and here stands a beautiful Georgian building (Grade II) that was once Salford Town Hall and the Magistrates’ Court. Neo-classical in style, it was built in 1825-7, a decade before the onset of the Victorian age. Salford, now a city, outgrew this town hall and has its main residence in the Salford Civic Centre. When we photographed it, the building was occupied by an estate agent but I understand there are plans to convert in into apartments.
I was very struck by the old Salford Education Offices. The council certainly spared no expense in producing this French Renaissance style building with faience facings and carved decorations. Built in 1895, it has a deserved Grade II listing and stands out among council buildings in general as an unusually beautiful and unique example.
To all intents and purposes, this is an early 20th-century cinema that has been converted into a church but the reality is a little more complicated. The building came into being in 1846 as a Scottish Presbyterian church with a design that included a spire. The spire is no longer present but other traces remain of the building’s origins. It ceased to be a church and was converted into a cinema with a purpose-built front end in the year emblazoned on the façade, 1912. The name incorporated into the Baroque-style front is ‘Salford Cinema’ but I believe it was known as the Rex from 1938 until 1958 when, as with many cinemas, dwindling audiences forced it to close. For about a couple of decades, the old church-cinema survived as a bingo hall but has now regained something of its former ecclesiastical personality as the church of a group called New Harvest Christian Fellowship. In awarding it a Grade II listing, English Heritage declares it ‘a significant example of early cinema architecture’.
We made the transition from Salford into Manchester where New Quay Road crosses the river as the New Quay Road Bridge which I have also seen referred as the Irwell Bridge. Beyond that, I have no information about this small but important structure, stoutly built of iron girders, some of which frame the view of the river in the above photo.
At either end of the bridge is an iron plaque bearing the coat of arms and motto of the City of Manchester. The heraldic lion and unicorn support a shield crossed with three stripes and each animal bears a red rose, the symbol of Lancaster – before becoming part of the metropolitan borough, Manchester belonged to the county of Lancashire. The three stripes symbolize the three rivers of Manchester, the Irwell, the Medlock and the Irk. The top part of the shield bears an image of a fully rigged ship, a reference to Manchester’s standing as a city of international trade. Above the shield is a helmet and above that, a world globe covered with bees, symbolizing industriousness. The motto, in Latin, taken from the book of Ecclesiaticus, reads ‘CONCILIO ET LABORE’. I have seen this translated in several ways, because concilium has a range of meanings. Manchester council’s Web page in the crest sees it as ‘[by] wisdom and effort’ and a BBC history article as ‘by counsel and work’. Whatever exact translation you give it, the meaning is pretty clear and, I think, fitting to this great city.
We rounded off our trip with a visit to the Manchester Art Gallery. Here we concentrated on a current exhibition entitled Cotton Couture. In the 1950s, cotton garment manufacture was an important industry in the city and much of the output was exported. The Manchester Cotton Board wanted to promote cotton garments not only as light casual wear but also as haute couture. Its Colour, Design and Style Centre commissioned a collection of designer dresses to enhance the reputation of the material and Manchester’s fashion industry. On show is a remarkable collection of designs from day dresses through evening gowns to wedding dresses. Below are some examples of the items on show.
Many of the garments were very beautiful and if some of them showed their 1950s styling, others could, I think, honourably appear in today’s fashion catalogues.
This pair of pictures also caught my attention. Both show Albert Square, Manchester, but the differences are also clear. The top one, by Adolphe Valette is an oil painting done in 1910, and the bottom one is a posed photograph by Emily Allchurch taken in 2015. (There is some unavoidable light reflection spoiling the top image.) It is fascinating to compare the similarities and differences between the two pictures and the result is an eloquent statement about the passing of time and its effects on the shared environment.
The day included a disappointment – not being able to see Lark Hill Place – but perhaps we can repair that with a visit on another occasion. We saw plenty of other sights to make our visit to Salford and Manchester worthwhile.