The Tamworth Estate tower blocks lie within the borough of Trafford, even though they share the east side of Chorlton Road (B5218) with Manchester’s Hulme, M15. Their ‘brutalist’ architectural style has more in common with 1970s Hulme, now gone, than anything else in the surrounding area.
Trafford Council has decreed that four of the seven must go – the “bird blocks”, furthest to the east – Eagle, Falcon, Osprey and Raven:
So the Seven Sisters will become only three. Pickford, Clifford and Grafton, closest to Chorlton Road, will remain.
They’ve recently been done up – with asymmetric box-structures on top – each printed with the tower’s name, but so faintly that you can hardly read it:
As for the bird blocks: Raven and Osprey have already been demolished; Eagle is being stripped out prior to demolition… the windows are open and you can hear workmen clinking and bashing around inside the building as you walk past:
All the while, nearby Falcon Court is still inhabited, in the process of being “decanted” according to Trafford Housing Trust’s website:
The adoption of this word to describe the complex process of rehousing hundreds of people tends to suggest that the authorities have learned nothing from past blunders.
This postcode map shows the borough council boundaries which were established in 1972:
My part of M16 (Whalley Range) lies within Manchester city limits while another M16 further North, containing Tamworth, falls within Trafford. You can see how Trafford borough is wedged between the cities of Salford and Manchester. The council boundaries separate areas with different political colours, wildly varying council tax rates and contrasting school systems; they artificially carve up this area in a way which confuses and alienates people.
The Tamworth tower blocks were built in the late sixties and early seventies to replace Victorian terraces, one of which was occupied by Morrissey and his family. He lived in Queen’s Square, which was close to where Osprey Court was built, near Loreto College, which appears on the map below as “Convent” on the right-hand side:
Tamworth occupies the top central area of the map, bounded by Chorlton Road and Bold Street, both of which are still there. (Strangely there is another ‘Bold Street’ at the very bottom of the old map, which is dated 1915.) You can see that the tower blocks Pickford, Clifford and Grafton have been named after demolished streets. I wonder what inspired the birds-of-prey tower names? They are a bit sinister, especially Raven, although I saw and heard a bird which could have been a raven while I was taking photographs, so perhaps the name was fitting.
Here is the area in the mid-80s (- Morrissey made this short film, which was broadcast as part of the Oxford Road Show in 1985):
When I was a big Smiths fan in 1983/84 I had no idea that Morrissey had lived right near Loreto College, where I regularly visited my old school friends, nor did I know that he grew up on Kings Road, about a mile from my family home. Prior to the internet, this kind of information was hard to come by; the gap between what you might like to know, and what you could easily discover at a given moment, was insurmountable. Now we can share knowledge so easily, we’re like The Borg.
I’m sure when Morrissey made this film for the BBC, he had Ken Russell’s 1960 film “Shelagh Delaney’s Salford” in mind; there are parallels which are unlikely to be co-incidental. Both Morrissey and Shelagh speak about the streets where they grew up, their schools and their ambivalent feelings for their home towns and the North of England. There are even similarities in their delivery.
Both films discuss the trauma of demolition and the devastating effect it can have upon communities and individuals. Shelagh explains:
“It’s a terrible thing to have to start off from scratch more or less… Nobody knows anybody… It takes years and years before you can ever get the contact, the same contact that you have when you live in a little area down, say down Trafford Road, or something…”
But it’s not just demolition which affects and alienates people – the enormous size of the city, its complexity and the arbitrary (almost occult) nature of its development all serve to emphasise our personal impotence. The city shapes our lives but most of us are powerless to shape the city. I suppose this is where activities like graffiti art, urban exploration and free running draw there energy from – the efforts of individuals to assert themselves against the urban environment.
Brutalist architecture, in particular, demonstrates the arbitrary power of a few individuals over the majority. It demonstrates our individual powerlessness bluntly (makes us feel small!) without sentimentality. And this is why some of us grow fond of it I think. It has a perverse integrity because what it tells us about ourselves is true.