The Arndale Centre’s lofty lookout
Recent news that Zhuzhou, China had built villas on the roof of a shopping mall sparked excitement across the world with the concept being labelled as the future of urban planning, however, this future had already been realised, in 1981, on top of Manchester’s Arndale Centre.
The Arndale Centre from above, circa 1980
Cromford Court, known to tenants as ‘the podium’, was a housing association venture by Manchester City Council. In all there were 60 flats on the rooftops of the Arndale Centre and they were inhabited on and off from 1981 until 2003, when they were demolished soon after as part of a redevelopment brought on by an IRA bomb in 1996.
My friend had a one bedroom flat but the storage cupboard was also turned into a single bedroom. Good place to crash after a night out in town and no need for a taxi home. He lived there during the Manchester bomb in 1996… it had been declared unsafe and everybody was kept out, in order to retrieve his passport to go on holiday he had to sneak past the police - David Crausby
A view of Manchester, 1992 from Cromford Court [David Crausby]
Former Hacienda DJ Graeme Park said of the flats:
Not long after I started DJing at The Hacienda, Mike Pickering moved to one of the flats above the Arndale Centre in Manchester. In 1988, I used to stay at Mike’s and I had my own room. I’d roll up to his every Friday and park my car in the Arndale’s multi story car park and get the lift from the street up to the roof.
It was weird, because you’d expect a great view, but the flats weren’t as high up as people thought. You could see some of the city and look down at people on the street whilst walking from the lift to Mike’s flat but once inside you couldn’t see anything but the lift.
There were two bedrooms and a bathroom downstairs and a living room and kitchen upstairs if I remember correctly.
The ground floor of Mike’s flat was very dark and upstairs quite bright. We had some great nights in there after finishing The Hacienda at 2am.
I remember once crazed evening up there that involved me, a raw egg and Martin Fry from ABC.
On Saturdays, I’d often get the lift down to the shops before heading back to Nottingham. Well, until the lift stopped between floors. I got the foul smelling stairs after that. In fact, to this day I’ll always use the stairs if I can.
Withy Grove view of the housing, 2002
Cromford Court was named in tribute to the area that existed prior to the shopping centre which razed it to the ground. A city surveyor in 1962 said that Manchester was “crystallized in its Victorian setting“ and the dense, dirty collection of Victorian buildings on what is now the Arndale site, were presented as a maze of inequity.
The beat clubs that saturated the area before the Arndale was built 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 meant, as well as a haven for undesirable characters, runaways and around the clock opening hours, a prevalence in drugs such as Purple Heart amphetamines and a constant haze of marijuana smoke.
They go by different names—coffee and dance clubs, beat clubs, jazz clubs and the like. They are clubs at which refreshments of the coffee, snack and soft-drink variety are available, and they offer evening and often all-night entertainment in the form of “pop” music
Liston’s Music Hall, at nearby Swan Court
The top left of this image is some of Cromford Court prior to the Arndale being built (white building is Lewis’s now Primark) [Aerofilm]
Excerpt from Geographica map, 1960. Central area showing the streets prior to the Arndale
One of the most notable of the clubs in the area was The Magic Village, the owner of which would later move to the eponymous rooftop houses. Also known as The Cavern it 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
It was decided that even the innocent who went with good intentions would “slide into the evils which these clubs purvey”.
Many young people who become members of a jazz club in all innocence because of a love of music or dancing may find themselves enticed in the intimacy of a private club into trying drugs
In 1965 the Manchester Corporation Act was passed meaning that the clubs could be closed without reason. At the time Manchester had 250 beat clubs, by 1967 it had just 3.
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