‘We tried to help them make Salford as good as it could be’

Extracts from an interview with the architect-planner Percy Johnson Marshall

In this blog piece, we publish extracts from an interview between Professor Miles Glendinning and Professor Percy Johnson Marshall, who was one of the ‘architect planners’ employed by Salford Council to work on the design and construction of the redevelopment of Pendleton in the 1960s.  The interview was conducted in 1987 at Percy Johnson Marshall’s office at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Glendinning is currently Chair of Architectural Conservation at the Edinburgh College of Art.  His research focuses on the history of social housing in the 20th century, and his outputs include the book, Towers for the Welfare State: An Architectural History of British Multi-Storey Housing 1945-1970.  Prof. Glendinning presented a paper entitled ‘1960s Salford: Slum Redevelopment, Local Political Power, and ‘Everyday’ Modernist Design at the Modern Backdrop Workshop ‘Slums, Slum Clearance, And Slum Dweller In Britain (1950-1975)’, in January 2023.   The interview quoted in this blog post was one of a number conducted by Miles as part of his research. 

PJM: At Salford, we were brought in after the slum clearance had taken place. We were presented with a gigantic empty site, and a road that was to be widened to motorway standard, and that there would therefore have to be a complete rethink of land use. We were also told that the population to be rehoused was largely grown-up. We were told that we were to provide a new town centre, but that the bulk of the area had to rehouse people, at approximately 200 to the acre. This of course precluded houses. Our solution was to make as large pedestrian areas as we could. So for the stage I scheme, we designed a mall, a big, wide pedestrian walkway, as the main core, which went right through the scheme from one end to the other. Along this would be arranged a group of high buildings, but the rest of the housing was to be provided by four-storey maisonettes, which we thought was a very reasonable urban solution for small families, interspersed with schools, pubs, and other community buildings. Along Ellor Street, the Salford housing people had already built three blocks which we had to accept. Our idea of a high block was a very slender, pencil like building, on the model of Peter Shepheard’s block in London, at Berwick Place in Soho, with four flats per floor, clad in brick – quite a delicate sort of block. We then proposed that the shopping centre, built on the side of a hill, should be mostly on the first floor, with car parking below, and on all sides the pedestrian areas would be raised on wraps – so when you came to the road, the road would be in a cutting.

Aerial view of the Broad Street and Ellor Street areas showing large scale regeneration of housing areas, c1964. Reference Number: IS00828, Digital Salford

We were not concerned with that [aesthetics of different levels] aspect. What we were concerned with was to get safety for pedestrians, and that meant separating pedestrians and vehicles. We propose a marketplace, which is there. But unfortunately, there was a powerful estates objection to upper floor shops, and so the shops were built on the ground floor. At that time, I was one of the two consultants, and I was also director of the architecture research unit here at Edinburgh University. What we persuaded the Salford housing committee to do was to give us the five blocks as an experiment in heavy prefabrication. Under the leadership of Charles Robertson, we conclusively proved it shouldn’t have been done! [in prefabrication] One or two of the architects of the ARU, such as Aart Bijl, were complaining that the planners had forced them into these solutions – in other words, point blocks as opposed to low-rise – and I had to remind these chaps that both Robert Matthew and I were qualified architects, and also that it was not every day you got five blocks handed to you to play around with!

Progress of Ellor Street Redevelopment Block 18. Stage 1 phase 1, 1967. Reference Number: LH00314, Digital Salford

On the 15 storey blocks, the podium was put in at our instigation. We envisaged small flats and four flats per floor, because we’d found that if you have four flats, the tenants get together and clean them – Margaret Willis found that out.

Salford [Council] felt they wished to establish the rival identity [to Manchester Council] and thought that Ellor Street gave them an opportunity to provide a better shopping centre than Manchester, because they could provide the car parking. And they wanted to rehouse as many as they could inside the city.

We tried to help them make Salford as good as it could be. But the key elements of our comprehensive plan never emerged. The civic buildings were all cut and taken out. We were hoping to have some really fine public buildings. 

Aerial view looking down across the Broad Street and Ellor Street Redeveloped areas, showing flats and new builds, 1989. Reference Number: IS00463, Digital Salford

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