Being around 5 years of age when Middleton Shopping Centre, then named The Arndale Centre, was built in 1971, very few people my age or younger will remember or know anything about the huge issues, cost, major changes and impact on the town during these times of complete re-development back in the 60's and 70's.
Indeed to me, the place was 'just there' and had been as long as I could remember from growing up in Alkrington. I hadn't even really thought that much about what is a relatively modern building on the grand scale of things until recently, after an enquiry to Middletonia prompted me to do some digging on the subject. Even then after asking around, I found older people's memories to be surprisingly quite vague including those of my own parents, who you think would have had some concern about such great retail changes, having a young family and their bread and butter coming from helping to run my grandfathers bakery on Long Street (pardon the pun).
There is a lot of debate about the loss of buildings of interest and history and this must have been the case back then as a vast area of land was flattened to make way for the building, but although there was some staunch opposition, the impression I get from the general public was that it was a good thing and that the provision of this new modern concept that was to dramatically change the whole shopping experience was generally, and even positively welcomed. In those decades, modernisation was the trend anyway and so the plan seemed to be accepted happily by most as the way forward.
Even so, the plan was rather controversial in that the whole concept of the new covered shopping precincts was a US idea being brought into the UK and some people resented the idea of this 'Americanisation' taking over our traditional ways. Also, design trends and styles in the 70's were far from the most beautiful and this vast 'concreteness' was and still is considered a huge monstrosity to some!
However, love it or hate it, the birth of 'the new shopping centre' is a story I have found quite fascinating as I have delved deeper for information that has inspired me to write about it. Much of the information comes from reports written at the time in both the Middleton Guardian and The Manchester Evening News that were found in the archives of Middleton Reference Library with the kind assistance of Pat Elliott.
Who the heck was 'Arndale' anyway?
Shortly after the second world war, a partnership was formed between a baker, Arnold Hagenbach and an estate agent, Sam Chippindale and using a combination of their names, The Arndale Property Trust Limited was incorporated in 1950. The company were pioneers in the introduction of the American-style covered shopping malls in this country. During the 60's and 70's, the company formed partnerships with local authorities throughout the UK to carry out major re-development of towns and cities. Whilst Arnold Hagenbach went off to be in charge of similar projects in Australia, Sam Chippindale remained as Chief Executive of the company in the UK and subsidiaries of the company such as Arndale Developments and Town & City Properties were to follow. It was the 'then' Middleton Corporation that worked alongside Town & City Properties during the 60's to develop the massively complex plans that were to take years to come into fruition.
Middleton Corporation had submitted proposals for the complete re-vamp to the Ministry of Housing as early as 1952. The building of the Langley estate had seen over 19,000 people transferred into Middleton from Manchester and many more families were moving into the new privately built estates springing up all over the town. Changes were needed desperately to accommodate this sudden influx of population. There had been no real improvement or changes in Middleton for the last century but it wasn't to start really happening for almost another twenty years!
There were some objections to the plans reported back in 1964. Whilst post-war development of urban areas really started with building on 'blitzed' land, this wasn't the case in Middleton and lots of people's homes, businesses and lives were going to be hugely affected within the proposed 48 acres of land in the centre of town. On top of that, the cost to compulsory purchase, compensate, re-locate and legal costs incurred was going to be phenomenal just to prepare the land before the cost of the project itself, which wasn't just the shopping centre, but also the complete re-design of the layout around the town centre including new ring roads to accommodate the growing number of drivers and improve traffic flow.
Manchester Corporation objected to the proposed bus station. They argued that the plans would lessen the efficiency of the existing services, partly due to buses circling the bus station and the ring roads taking buses so far out of the way compared to the then direct route through the town. It would put extra time on journeys increasing fares and result in putting more cars on the road. Just like today, the use of public transport was encouraged. Manchester claimed that one lane of buses could carry 20,000 people compared to 200 in cars and that at that time, a car carried an average of less than two people. They suggested that buses be given priority and under the new plan, their position would be worse. If the bus situation wasn't helped now, then there might not be another opportunity for many years.
Affected retailers argued that alternatives to Arndales 'monopoly' had not been properly examined. Some shops and offices ear-marked for the bulldozer had only recently been built and older ones could have been modernised. Traders also felt they were not being treated as human beings but rather units of shopping space connected with profit and there was a fear that rents would be geared to sales, a practice already adopted by the petrol companies. There were also suggestions that high-pressure salesmanship on the part of the developers had overwhelmed the council and that they were living in 'Arndale Land' providing little opportunity for constructive discussion between traders and the council and a rates increase was inevitable to contribute to the vast sums of money needed.
The fiercest opposition was to the pending lease-hold situations from people who had owned their properties along with the free-hold, in some cases for generations. These included breweries and banks as well as traders who were being expected to 'give up' ownership to then have to pay ground rent. It was claimed that the Authority was the only effective instrument capable of bringing together a multiplicity of interests and free-holders were being urged to recognise this as the only way to good sound development and that all parties involved in any scheme must pay their way.
Still in 1964, 7 years before the Arndale was to open its doors, details were emerging from Arndale. Unit rents would start at £12 per week going up to £24 and £30 for additional storage space. Imagine paying that today for the size of the current Tesco!
Tenants would pay for internal maintenance and decoration, insurance and rates and Arndale would pay for heating. Tenants may also be charged for external repairs and decoration. Tenants would also be required to to join a 'tenants association' sponsored by the developer. A solicitor is reported to have said that this plan sounded like "big brother" interference. Leases would be from 14-21 years after which a new rent might be negotiated but Arndale assured tenants that their profits would not be investigated.
In the same enquiry, figures were not disclosed but what the council paid out in compensation, land and legal fees was estimated to be £2M and the ground rent Arndale would pay the council, who would still own the land under the agreement, was estimated to be about £113,000 per year. In these early plans, only the block including the Palace cinema (now gone too), 3 public houses and some modern stores would escape the axe. Of course this wasn't the case as many changes were made to the plans from there-on.
An idea of the sums involved
Afterwards, some of the additional costs to the council were reported as follows;
Construction of river culvert and diversion of sewers; £360,000
Construction of link road (Middleton Way); £110,000
Limetrees Road to give service access to the centre and its car-parks; £34,000
Bus station; £150,000
Public toilets and accommodation for bus ticket office; £19,000
New Highways Depot to replace existing one affected by the development (now also gone too); £225,000
Further diversions of sewers; £377,000
Further diversion of services; £250,000
Oldham Road/Corporation Street major road improvement scheme including link road (Assheton Way); £600,000 (It isn't clear if this includes the underground subway but it's possible)
Wood Street westerly link to divert Langley housing estate traffic away from the town centre (Eastway); £100,000
A lot of money now, let alone back then!
Other schemes in the pipeline of the 3-phase plan to continue after completion of the Arndale included new housing for people affected by the scheme, diversions of water and gas mains and electricity and Post Office (telephone) cables, further road and property acquisition, Civic Hall (built but now gone), extension to baths (now gone), moving the market from the site of the proposed Civic, new public library (which never happened), indoor sports building (recreation centre, also to be gone soon) and additional surface car parks to keep pace with the increasing demand for spaces. These plans also included an additional multi-storey to the Arndale one which was almost built on the site of the current recreation centre but this never happened either. An undisclosed Government grant towards some of the above costs had been received or were expected.
The grand opening
Over 20,000 cubic metres of concrete went into the frame along with a 1000 metric tons of steel. The Arndale Centre was finally completed at a cost of just short of £4M and opened its doors at 9.30am on Tuesday 5th October 1971. People flocked from miles around and many reviews were written, often raving about this long-awaited and much talked about project. Even its most adamant objectors had to admit that from the point of view of the general public, this new facility and way of shopping made a huge difference to what people were used to before-hand. The main benefits were not having to endure bad weather conditions and being able to drive right up to the doors, or step off the bus into a building of stunning luxury in comparison to anything else seen before, and to be able to buy everything you needed under one roof. The bus station previously condemned by Manchester had gotten the go ahead after all.
The centre provided 285,000 square feet of retail space to accommodate shops and offices on 3 levels along with parking for 1500 vehicles both on the roof, the attached multi-storey and even more to accommodate service users in the basement. Husbands could even get their tyres checked or replaced in special bays on the roof top car park while their wives shopped inside.
Two bright and spacious malls set at right angles to each other separated the attractively adorned shop units that ran either side of their lengths, and escalators as well as stairs glided the shopper up to the upper levels. Climatically controlled air conditioning ensured the centre stayed warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Eye-catching floral displays, fountains and much appreciated pleasant seating areas were strategically placed to break up the monotony of the clean lines of the main malls whilst elsewhere, plush carpets were aplenty, all contributing to the warmth and luxury of the experience, which was completely new to many people at the time. It is hard for people having grown up within that environment to appreciate just how breath-taking it must have been!
The Duchess of Kent officially opened the Centre in a ceremony on Monday 20th March 1972 and thousands of spectators lined the streets to try to get a glimpse of the royal visitor.
Remember the shops back then?
Most of the units were snapped up long before the opening by a mixture of large national and small local businesses. Some names have been brought back to me that would have been otherwise long gone from my mind from those early days of tagging along with Mum.
Woolco on the top floor is the place many remember with some affection. A division of FW Woolworths & Co, Woolco was the first of its kind in the north west covering 100,000 square feet with 46 departments catering for every need and a 162 seater restaurant to take a break from shopping and enjoy some refreshment. Many people my age bought their first something or other from Woolco, mine being my first chart single on vinyl record from the fairly centrally placed record department. Many also will remember the odd and somewhat rather insulting custom of having to hand your shopping bags in at the desk, yet it was a rule that was accepted as the norm.
Other stores included Tesco (still there), Rochdale Equitable Pioneers, Boots (still there), Macfisheries, John Menzies, New Day Furnishings, Barclays Bank (on the corner outside where the YMCA shop now stands), British Bakeries, BSC Footwear, Burneys, Currys, Dolland & Aitchison (still there), George Glass, Great Universal Stores, George Holland Jewellers, KLM Fashions, Leslie's Fashions and Michelle and Lesley's (both for ladieswear), Modern Shoe Repairs, North West Electricity Board (later Norweb), Price Tailors, Jas Smith & Sons (cleaners), Telefusion, Thorn Electrical Industries, Thornton's Chocolate Cabin, Tylers Shoes, Willey's (home decoration), John Temple Tailors, C. Loofe & Sons (gifts), Cut Price Cosmetics and GA Whittaker's for cards, toys and stationary. This local couple ran Whittakers for many years also introducing Thorntons and a large selection of gifts at their outside unit facing the bus station before retiring.
Parking charges have changed a little since the early Arndale days. It was free to park for up to an hour but up to 2 hours would set you back two and a half pence. Up to 3 hours was 5p and over 3 hours, a crippling 25p! Basement parking designed for contract parking was £1 per week. An interesting report from 1971 stated that from the south side of Manchester, motorists could be in Middleton within 15 minutes. Most certainly not the case today!
So what did Middleton shoppers themselves have to say back in the early 70's?
One lady said, "It is just what Middleton badly needed. This town was dead and sleepy until the Arndale opened. So many people coming to Middleton to see this centre can only benefit the town".
Two other ladies told how they had even 'educated' their husbands into enjoying a shopping trip now and that their men folk were particularly impressed with the parking facilities. The scrupulous cleanliness and attractive luxury features, warmth and comfort were also praised.
Another ladies' recommendation to two of her friends led to a whole day out. They had arrived at 9am, had their lunch at noon and found so much of interest to them that they didn't leave until tea-time! Gone were the days of rushing from shop to shop huddled against the cold and rain. Shopping instead had gone from being a chore to a family treat for parents, who no longer had to worry about their children running across roads or getting lost.
The centre wasn't without its critics though and one young mum expressed her concern at having to leave prams unattended downstairs when you wanted to shop on the upper levels, and some thefts had indeed occurred. It was quite bizarre that in this grand scheme with its fancy escalators taking people up 3 floors, something as simple as an ordinary lift wasn't included in the plans. Mums had to struggle to carry their babies as well as heavy shopping bags up and down the stairs and escalators, the potential dangers of which don't bear thinking about. Of course this has now been rectified with the inclusion of such a lift in more recent years, also solving the same problems for the disabled to whom access upstairs would have been impossible, something unheard of these days. However, apart from the absence of a lift, every person interviewed by the Guardian back then had nothing but praise for the new facility.
Over the years
Many businesses have moved in and out since the early days. The name 'Domus' rang a long forgotten bell, although I cannot picture the location of this store. I also remember Tench Sports existing for some years on the top floor run by another local, Tony Tench I think. As a teenager 'hanging about the place' as we did, I remember the Wimpey Cafe at the end of the first floor balcony and the one in Woolco was called The Red Grill. I frequented DS Textiles on the first floor for curtains for my first flat, as my mum had for the house from their location before the centre was built.
Shopping 'the 70's way' in Middleton has changed very little as the Arndale nears its 40th birthday. It has seen several changes of ownership and further alterations, an extension and a brand new bus station again, said to be the most expensive in the world to date. The overall idea and the foresight of Mr 'Arn' and Mr 'Dale' back in the 1950's worked well and has done so in pretty much the same way ever since. Even when taken over by companies such as P & O and Mainscene, names fairly irrelevant to ordinary shoppers, the Arndale brand name remained and it was only during a take-over by Octobre Properties in 1998 that it was decided to let go, 'end an era' and re-name the centre Middleton Shopping Centre. In a way, this is more appropriate but Middleton people still, over 10 years later, refer to it as the Arndale and possibly always will. It is still such a force of habit for people, even though most now know it isn't officially called that anymore. The present owners are Agora Shopping Centres Ltd who bought the centre in 2003.
It is interesting to note that all the changes described were planned and took place mostly under the jurisdiction of Middleton Corporation only one year before central government proposals forced Middleton into the control of Rochdale in 1972, a move that many Middletonians regret. It seems we are rarely left alone to enjoy our town as it is for long without further changes or disruption. Recent plans by Rochdale have once again left us with a seemingly permanent building site for a town whilst more major changes, already begun, take place to make way for a new Tesco supermarket, who will largely pay for the re-development of the town all over again.
Written by the editor, August 09
Pictures courtesy of Agora Shopping Centres Ltd
Loved your page in the *Guardian. Brought back so many memories. I was about 13-14 and worked at Macfisheries (mid 70s) stacking shelves. I had to get a work permit (age) from Rochdale council.
I'd finish school at Bishop Marshalls, run home, uniform off, then off to work (except Tuesdays.. army cadet night). I can't remember the wage but would come home and give Mam the £1 note(s), then the change was mine to buy blackjacks, fruit salads, sherbet dips, a lucky dip and a comic. Loved the Beano and the Fantastic four or I would save up and buy an Airfix plane.
*This article was also published in the Middleton Guardian. The Ed.