Endangered 20th Century Buildings and Structures of Northern England: The Not So Perfect Ten

Architectural treasures under threat or once under threat of demolition, or insensitive development in Northern England

Awaiting demolition? The Clarence Flour Mills has lay in waiting for the demolition men since its closure in December 2005.

The Economist, often an esteemed journal contained an article which echoed Policy Exchange’s plans for the development of Northern England. To be precise, we should mean non-development, controlled demolition, managed decline or a second Harrying Of The North. In other words, turning Kingston-upon-Hull, Burnley, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough into smaller versions of Detroit.

Like Detroit, though far from being in the U.S. city’s state of distress, there are some fine buildings in Northern England which are ripe for renovation instead of demolition. The problem is, central government lacks the imagination nor the inclination to expand the UK economy beyond the City of London. As a consequence, this stymies our Northern councils’ ability to expand their local economies. Our present company in Westminster doesn’t give a flying Scammell as to whether Morpeth is full of payday loan shops, or if Ashton-under-Lyne is A Land of a Thousand Discount Stores. This is reflected in forthcoming changes to the planning laws which would give councils less powers to boot out the bookies or call time on the Pound Shops.

In the firing line could be some of our fine buildings. The North of England has a good few 20th Century buildings which are under threat of demolition or lying empty, or have been in such a state yet have a more assured future. This is the subject of our Not So Perfect Ten.

  1. Warrington Transporter Bridge, off Eastford Road, Warrington;
  2. Department of Employment Labour Exchange, Aytoun Street, Manchester;
  3. Hartford Mill, Edward Street, Freehold, Oldham;
  4. Majestic Cinema, Old Street, Ashton-under-Lyne;
  5. St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church, Huddersfield Road, Millbrook, Stalybridge;
  6. Cooperative Store, New Street, Huddersfield;
  7. ODEON Cinema, Godwin Street, Bradford;
  8. Edwin Davis Department Store, Bond Street, Kingston-upon-Hull;
  9. Rank Hovis Flour Mill, Clarence Street, Kingston-upon-Hull;
  10. The Futurist Theatre, Foreshore Road, Scarborough.

1. Warrington Transporter Bridge: there’s a great chance of you being able to appreciate this hidden gem from a train window en route to Manchester or Llandudno. Though seemingly nondescript, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s of recent construction and resembles a signal gantry. In fact, the Warrington Transporter Bridge dates from 1913 and opened in 1916 to carry rail traffic and pedestrians between parts of the Joseph Crosfield and Son chemical works over the River Mersey. In 1940, it was converted for road vehicles. 24 years on, it closed. Today, it is owned by Warrington Borough Council, Grade II* Listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

A short walk away is Warrington Bank Quay railway station, where we shall board Arriva Trains Wales’ service to Manchester Piccadilly. On disembarking at Platform 13, we show the friendly G4S fellows our ticket and walk towards the main entrance. Astride a new fangled footbridge and after seeing TfGM’s new fangled offices, we see…

2. The Department of Employment Labour Exchange: for many people subjected to the ritual of signing on each fortnight at Aytoun Street, this building is less likely to be seen in a positive light by some people. Dating from 1951, it is a building which simultaneously offers an insight into the pre-Beveridge Welfare State, whilst emerging at the start of the Post-War settlement and weathering badly in the 1980s Dole Age. Ironically, it faces demolition under Iain Duncan-Smith’s tenure as the public face of the DWP – and its replacement by a hotel in 2015 (by which time, his fabled Universal Credit scheme should be three-quarters finished).

The Aytoun Street buildings is one of Manchester’s few examples of Art Deco style architecture. A bit of imaginative renovation instead of demolition could be considered for a hotel scheme. Or alternative uses which will benefit Mancunians young and old; I have always thought the former Labour Exchange could make a fantastic artists’ studios. Obviously renovated in a sympathetic manner with a ground floor café and/or public exhibition space.

We take a short walk to Market Street and board the East Didsbury – Rochdale tram for Freehold.

3. Hartford Mill: I could have picked any old mill in Oldham, but this mill is of significant historical importance. It has, after being empty since 1992, been a target for vandals. Built in 1907 and designed by F.W. Dixon, it was the Hartford Mill Company’s second mill. It was extended in 1920 and 1924 and ceased production in 1959. Along with a number of other mills in Oldham it became a mail order warehouse, for Littlewoods. It has lain empty since Littlewoods vacated the premises, and at risk of demolition. In its place would be new houses, possibly lacking the same architectural charisma as any of F.W. Dixon’s creations. Development of the housing scheme has been postponed by the Coalition Government’s cancellation of the Housing Market Renewal scheme. Whether Hartford Mill remains – or even sees renovation – remains another question.

At a lonely bus stop, we board First Greater Manchester’s 419 service to Ashton-under-Lyne for our next forgotten treasure.

4. Majestic Cinema: 30 years ago, as the reinvigorated Metro cinema, it attracted Fat Larry’s Band and Bryan Adams onto its stage. Today, it lies empty, three years since the last fruit machine paid out. The Metro cinema began life as the Majestic Cinema, purpose built in 1920. It became the Gaumont in 1946, before becoming the ODEON in 1962. In 1981, it was saved from closure, upgraded for modern filmgoers and renamed the Metro. Vacant space was used for the Slotworld amusement arcade and an upstairs bar. In the last three years, plans have been made for its demolition, though these have been knocked back.

Once more, we reacquaint ourselves with First Greater Manchester. This time aboard their 348 service to Millbrook.

5. St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church: in 1958, the parish of St. Raphael’s was created to cater for Millbrook and Carrbrook churchgoers, hitherto catered for by St. Peter’s parish. After some services were conducted in the canteen of Staley Mill, the success of which led to a purpose built facility near The Church public house. With the foundation stone laid in 1961, it opened on the 25 April 1963 and became a local landmark for its domed roof and ornate sculpture work. As the cost of repairing the roof became too prohibitive, its last mass took place on the 14 July 2011. Since then, subsequent masses have took place at the neighbouring parish hall.

For our next stage, things get a little more complicated. We can either get the 218 or the 343 to Bottom Mossley and change there for a train to Huddersfield.

6. Yorkshire Cooperative Society Department Store: for many people, their taste of Modernist and Art Deco architecture would come from two sources: an ODEON cinema designed by Harry Weedon or T. Cecil Howitt, or a 1930s Co-op store. For me, the most iconic example of this era, within Northern England, is the Yorkshire Cooperative Society’s 1936 extension of their Huddersfield department store. It opened on the 29 May 1937 and echoed the works of Mendelsohn. Locals joked that the Huddersfield Co-op store was ‘a mucky hole with one window’. The 1837 extension scotched that, and formed part of the town’s Co-op department store till 1999.

After closure, the older part of the department store was let to Wilkinson, whereas the 1936 extension became a nightclub. It has long since closed with – scandalously – the jewel in the crown being empty and, at one time, threatened with demolition.

Unlike the previous leg, we have more travel options to consider. We can board First West Yorkshire’s X6 and 363 services, or catch the train via Brighouse and Halifax. No prizes for guessing where this ought to take us… and I don’t mean a swift pint between bus or train at The Sportsman!

7. The New Victoria/Gaumont/ODEON: once more, time for the invisible popcorn and brief hallucination of Pete Moore’s ‘Asteroid’ (a.k.a the Pearl and Dean signature tune). Thankfully, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Built in 1930 as the New Victoria, it was designed by William Illingworth to an Italian Renaissance style. In September 1950, it became the Gaumont and, like our previous cinematic entry, has a footnote in musical history – it played host to Bill Haley And His Comets on the 17 February 1957. Then Buddy Holly the year after, and Eddie Cochran two years after that. Then a rather obscure group from Liverpool came in 1963. And 1964. A rather obscure Welsh singer came in 1968, we don’t know what happened to him!

Its loss of original style and eventual decline came when 1969 saw the cinema twinned, along with the introduction of bingo. By then, it became known as the ODEON, with a third screen following in 1988. Then it closed for good in 2000, with bingo ceasing in 1997. Though plans were made for its demolition in 2001, the New Victoria stood empty, but sustained campaigning by local filmgoers and celebrities have ensured the building’s survival. Between 2001 and 2013, it was also threatened with demolition and replacement of a mixed use scheme in 2006, 2007 and 2008 (none of which thankfully materialised). By 2012, it was owned by the Home and Communities Agency who terminated an agreement with Langtree Artisan.

The Bradford ODEON Rescue Group, formed in 2005, aim to restore the building to its 1930s glory. As restoration projects go, one hell of a task though one I would love to see fully realised.

For our next part, we take a train to Leeds and change there for Transpennine Express’ service to Hull Paragon.

8. Edwin Davis Department Store: along with Coventry and Plymouth, Kingston-upon-Hull sustained a lot of damage during World War II. This also gave the city planners a clean slate to redevelop and boost its commercial centre. After having its first replacement store bombed (its original was destroyed in the First World War), Edwin Davis’ Department Store’s second replacement was a modern building of similar styling to the Aytoun Street Labour Exchange. After closure in the late 1980s, it became the Evolution nightclub which after a series of drug busts, closed in the late 1990s.

There has been plans to demolish the building completely, replacing it with an 18 storey tower block. The building remains unsold and unloved, though one with potential for non-retail uses. It has potential in its current guise to become a learning centre, craft centre, or artists’ studios. The long first and second floor windows would allow plenty of nature light for creatives to work with the ground floor suitable for exhibitions.

Whilst remaining in Hull, we walk a short distance to Clarence Street taking in the River Hull, where the city got its name from.

9. Clarence Flour Mill: replacing an earlier structure which suffered a similar fate to Edwin Davis’ department store, the Clarence Flour Mill was rebuilt for Rank Hovis in 1952. It was built in an Art Deco/modernist style around the Victorian silos. The flour mill closed in 2005 with a loss of 30 jobs. Since closure, its machinery has remained largely intact with the site prepared for and tidied for eventual demolition. In 2006, there was plans to replace the Clarence Flour Mill with a 23 floor apartment block, retail outlets, a hotel and a casino. A wannabe Beetham Tower, though in Hull.

Since then, Clarence Flour Mill’s future has lain in the balance. In 2012, Manor Properties’ plans to redevelop the site lay in limbo, though interim plans would have seen the mill replaced by a surface car park. It is a fine building which, in addition to being part of Hull’s heritage deserves better than demolition.

Making the fairly modest walk back to Hull Paragon bus and rail interchange, we take a trip to the seaside. We can either board Northern Rail’s service to Scarborough (every two hours), or the longer East Yorkshire Motor Services 121 bus to the resort (every hour, though three hours journey time).

10. The Futurist: for several years, Scarbroarians and tourists alike (myself included) would have seen the likes of Ken Dodd, The Beatles, The Chuckle Brothers and Peter Andre in the town’s 2,000 seat theatre. Till 2002, it was owned by SFX before being taken over by Barrie Stead, under contract on behalf of Scarborough Borough Council. It has for the last 15 years been linked with redevelopment or demolition. With Scarborough Borough Council having no money to guarantee its future, this year’s summer season could well be its last.

The Futurist was built on the site of the Catlin’s Arcadia Theatre, opening on the 27 June 1927. Originally a cinema, it was converted to allow live theatre as well as cinematic exhibition in 1957. In the 1980s, Scarborough Borough Council took over the theatre and – a la Tameside MBC – leased it to Apollo (later SFX). Occasional film showings continued alongside live entertainment. With the lease expected to run out this coming New Year’s Eve, Scarborough could only have The Spa Complex and the North Shore Open Air Theatre for its live entertainment. The resort has already lost the Royal Opera House, The Corner, Floral Hall, Capitol Theatre and the Alexandra Music Hall.

*                                      *                                      *


The North of England has some fine underused and empty buildings, brimming with potential for suitable alternative use. Many of which go beyond the ten described here. As seen here, insensitive development and inferior replacements (or even speculation of) have threatened their existence. This has meant each building going in to a state of advanced dereliction leading to demolition (see also Stalybridge Town Hall and the ongoing saga of London Road Fire Station in Manchester which is awaiting sensitive renovation).

Sometimes, economic circumstances have stymied developers’ dreams of redevelopment. The developers may have fallen into liquidation, forcing local authorities to impose Compulsory Purchase Orders. This could be a blessing for the historian, in the vain hope insensitive development could be reneged. Or it could delay the redevelopment process and lead some companies to proceed with another project. Sometimes, a Zombie Car Park could replace that for the short term, blighting the area somewhat and endangering motorists.

In the last decade, there has been plans to improve our Northern cities and towns with city living schemes, plus other cultural projects like the Baltic Flour Mills’ renovation in Gateshead. A lot of which has included a mix of public and private sector spending.

Then came the Global Financial Downturn in 2008. The city living dream was more or less over. Two years later, after the economy began to pick up came another blow: the 07 May’s General Election resulted in a Hung Parliament. On the 11 May, the Liberal Democrats agreed to form a Coalition Government with the Conservatives. Recession returned to Northern England, though some critics could say that The North has been in recession since June 1979. Result: massive spending cuts disproportionately targeted at Northern English councils and the lack of spending power to improve the livelihoods of Northern England’s 12 million or so people.

Thanks to recent events, all of the buildings and structures detailed are intact, though with a somewhat precarious existence. There is sufficient scope to save them and renovate them for future, more recession proof functions which require public and private investment.

But the money isn’t there. The ConDems wouldn’t pay for it: trashing Northern England outside of Manchester is almost official policy. The local authorities would love the resources, but the ConDems would rather fund leafier areas at the expense of Burnley or Middlesbrough. The private sector sees no profit, because the average Northerner is skint through frozen wages, unemployment, zero hour contracts, the Bedroom Tax and rising food prices.

I shall leave the politics for now. However, if you are able to see these buildings in the flesh, I must point out that most of the ten aren’t open to the public and can only be seen from the outside. The one exception to this rule is the Futurist in Scarborough, which at this moment still open for cinematic exhibition. Get to see a film there while you can!

S.V., 16 October 2013.


6 thoughts on “Endangered 20th Century Buildings and Structures of Northern England: The Not So Perfect Ten

Add yours

    1. Hi John,

      That’s an amazing tidbit of information. On reading their Early Years entry, I found that they also built the Valley Bridge and the Cumberland Hotel. The latter retains a connection with the bus and coach industry to this day. It is a Leisureplex Hotel owned by Alfa Coaches, Euxton.

      Bye for now,


      P.S. Any pictures of Plaxton bodied Dennis Dart SLFs or Plaxton Primos over Valley Bridge – or outside the Futurist – would be most appreciated!


    1. Hi Andrew,

      I love the 28 Days Later forum, and it amazes me how their members manage to walk inside culverts, disused railway tunnels and former hospital wings. Plus the amount of risk taking – not only the law, but also Weil’s disease, asbestos and the dangers of exploring empty or derelict buildings which may not be in sound structural fascination. Sometimes I’m tempted to do the same, though I don’t fancy scaling Warrington Transporter Bridge nor the Acres Brook culvert!

      Bye for now,



  1. There is a building in Gateshead of a similar design and it became a contempory art centre/museum. I wonder how of these buildings there were and how many have been demolished or put to another use.


    1. Hi Pops,

      An interesting point. The only other flour mill I can think of in a similar category is Sugden’s in Brighouse just off Owler Ings Road. The only problem is it lacks the architectural merit of the Baltic and Clarence flour mills and that Brighouse already has an art gallery to call its own (The Smith art gallery on Halifax Road). However, it sees regular use as the home of the Rokt Climbing Gym – a must-visit for brass band loving thrill seekers.

      Bye for now,



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