Why Manchester’s Smith’s Arms pub should be saved

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There are few things more important in our lives than buildings. New buildings, old buildings, they make our world, they are a reflection of us as human beings. We live in them, work in them, shop in them and do practically everything else in them.

We travel the world to see them. We look at them in awe, pay a fortune to view them stay in them. Often we hate them and complain about them. Personally, I love to draw them (see image above).

The buildings people most appreciate are old buildings and not just the big, famous ones.

So why are we knocking so many of them down? In summer 2016 several significant, arguably iconic Manchester buildings are to be destroyed.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016


 
One of the most significant among them is a former pub, The Smiths Arms in Ancoats. It’s over 200 years old and predates many of the industrial buildings Ancoats is famous for. It was in use through the 19th and 20th centuries, surviving many upheavals, including the industrial revolution, war and industrial decline.

Like many buildings in Ancoats, it’s been out of use but has great potential for reuse. All around are stunning examples of how old buildings can be given a new lease of life, most notably Halle St Peters, which stands next to it.

Restored Halle St Peters  Ancoats

Restored Halle St Peters Ancoats


 
Although run down due to neglect, the Smith’s Arms could still easily be restored.

So why has Manchester City Council decided it must be demolished?

For this article I am not interested in the design of the new development, its background, or the fact that it’s a consortium of Manchester City Council and a company based in Abu Dhabi, where I worked for four years.

I am only interested in the building with its façade reminiscent of an age so different to our own. I can hear the hammers of the construction workers who put it up in the late 18th century, the proud owner welcoming customers, the echoes of the people who went in there down years.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.

The Smiths Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.


 
I can see the changing scene around it, in time lapse, at first open spaces and then a growing number of factories and commercial buildings, then dwellings and places of worship.

You can learn so much by focusing the bricks, the ornamentation, the typeface of “Smith’s Arms” lettering above the main door.

And there is an additional aspect. The Smiths is the name of one of Manchester’s most famous bands, although to my knowledge they didn’t have any connection with the pub.

The drummer of the Smiths, Mike Joyce, took part in protests to save the pub.

Now let’s move from the past into the future and let’s assume that good sense will prevail and the building is saved.

Scaffolding goes up, the builders get to work and when the covers come down there is a pristine building, unique, fashionable, a place to go and visit, hang out, contributing to the community spirit of the area. Inside much of it is new but there are some original features. It’s surrounded by a variety of other complimentary, a stimulating mix of old and new, quirky and imaginative. The new owners have made a connection with the name and there is a theme of ‘The Smiths’ inside, with photographs and memorabilia. It has become a magnet for fans of the Smiths.

Now let’s explore the alternative scenario. Manchester City Council gets its way and building is destroyed.

What’s there? Nothing. No bricks that have survived two centuries, no quirky designed lettering. It’s gone. It doesn’t exist. It never existed, or so it seems. And in its place?
Concrete, or maybe glass or maybe those awful terracotta tiles that can be seen on numerous other buildings nearby.

The Smith’s Arms and all its history, all the memories it contains, the associations it conjures up, has been destroyed to make way for an apartment building that may not last more than a few decades.

One less reason to visit Ancoats and Manchester.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016


 
That’s the reason why we must preserve old buildings, not just the big, Grade 1 listed buildings but also the smaller less noticeable ones, like the Smith’s Arms. Because they are rich in memories and associations, because they have a power to fascinate, and that’s what most people like, both residents and visitors. Because they look good and add interest and quirkiness to the street scene.

Because they are better than anything that present day architecture can build.

And so to answer my question above, why did Manchester City Council decide it had to be demolished? I believe that the people taking the decisions don’t fully appreciate old buildings. They move within the corridors of city-based power, less visible and accountable than at the national level. The council is constantly short of money and is always looking for any means to increase its income. A crumbling old pub is just a minor barrier to be removed, and the people campaigning for it to be saved are standing in the way of progress, causing the inconvenience and expense.

The Smith's Arms frontage and lettering

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If the Smith’s Arms is destroyed, Manchester City Council will in my opinion have committed yet another act of civic vandalism against the city it is supposed to be caring for. People will complain about it in strong words. They will become further alienated from local democracy and how we rebuild and renew our cities.The damage will be irreversible and yet another piece of the mosaic of Manchester will have been ripped out.

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Why I’m proud to be Civic Champion Number 2

At last! Finally! After all these years of documenting Manchester in photos and words, highlighting, writing, campaigning, I have finally gained some recognition!

On Thursday 7 July I found out that I had won second prize in the Manchester Shield Citizen Champion Award. In the number one position was Maxine Peake, Coronation St actress, and in third place, tour guide and writer Jonathan Schofield.

Manchester Shield Best and Worst

Manchester Shield Best and Worst – Aidan O’Rourke Second prize Civic Champion

 
I was very happy to receive this honour from Manchester Shield, a grassroots collection of people who care deeply about the development of our city, and are not afraid to express their views.

In summary what I have done is to use photography to document and showcase the city with the aim of providing a record for the future. By doing this I’ve also put the spotlight on how the development of the city has gone well in some respects but badly in others.

I have used photography to document and campaign. That’s different to most other photographers who use photography to help promote commercial clients, or who focus on newsworthy events or take photos with an eye to winning competitions.

I focus on the city, the skyline, the streets, the transport routes, bridges, canals and everything else you see around you. My photographs are not stock images and most wouldn’t win any competitions. They are just my view of the city. As a spinoff, many have been used commercially – most recently a photo of the Victoria Baths in the Observer newspaper. But most are taken just to capture what’s there today and might not be there tomorrow. My photos are always accompanied by words, which are often overlooked.

I have experimented with all kinds of photographic genres but the one I’m known for is photographs of the city, Manchester, also Liverpool and other locations.

My photos have been used in the media, including the Manchester Evening News, magazines, publications and many websites. If you go into Waterstones, you’ll find several local interest books with my photos on the cover and inside. A lot of people have told me they have followed my work over the years. I’m always pleased to hear those words.

I’ve been interviewed a number of times on radio and TV. But I’ve never received any official recognition from the authorities, least of all from Manchester City Council, but that’s not surprising, is it?

I’d like to say many thanks to Manchester Shield for nominating me and also to the people who voted for me. I hope to use this impetus to push ahead with some new projects – I’m not sure what – in order to continue to highlight local development, what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well, maybe with a stronger and more confident voice than before.

In the pictures are 20 of the buildings / locations I’ve highlighted over the years. How many more will there be in the years to come?

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The fate of 1930s buildings in Manchester

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Kendals / House of Fraser

Kendals, now House of Fraser store on Deansgate Manchester completed 1939


 
This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News that appeared on New Year’s Eve, Thursday 31 Dec 2015. In the first line I made a reference to the famous character Shrek and what he said to Donkey. Unfortunately the editors had to remove it! Presumably for brand usage and copyright reasons. Other than that the article that appeared in print is the same as here. The article has a sting in the tail, as I remember Library Walk, once a unique and atmospheric spot that was ruined in 2014 with the insertion of a clumsy and unnecessary glass cylinder.

As Shrek said to Donkey: ‘Ogres have layers!’ and so do cities. Their fascination lies in the many facets left over past decades and eras. The 1930s is an interesting period in Manchester but much of its legacy is disappearing. This year Century House on St Peters Square was demolished and the impressive 1930s facade of Bootle St police station may go the same way. The striking art deco Northcliffe House (1931) was taken down over a decade ago. Other 1930s buildings stand proud : Ship Canal House, the former Midland Bank, Sunlight House, Arkwright House on St Mary’s Parsonage. The former Kendals, now House of Fraser, was completed at the end of the 1930s, as was the Daily Express building. A year later, 75 years go, a firestorm rained down on Manchester that would change its character forever. But the inter-war period is still alive. If you look up, it’s as if time has stood still. One of the most precious things is when a corner is left untouched. This was true of Library Walk between the Central Library (1934) and the town hall extension (1937) , until a modernist style glass structure was placed within it, the controversial link building which opened in 2015. Let’s hope Manchester’s ‘layers’ remain in 2016 and beyond.

Century House St Peters Square 1 Oct 2012

The 1930s office building Century House overlooks Peters Square and helps to give St Peters Square a strongly inter-war character. It was built for Friends Provident, set up by the Quakers. Demolished 2015.


 
Former MIdland Bank Building, Key St Manchester

Former MIdland Bank Building, King St Manchester


 
Arkwright House, off Deansgate, Manchester

Arkwright House, off Deansgate, Manchester


 
Northcliffe House just before demolition and Sunlight House (left) 26 March 2002

Northcliffe House just before demolition and Sunlight House (left) 26 March 2002

Ship Canal House, King St Manchester

Ship Canal House, King St Manchester built in the early 1930s

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