I always loved making things out of nothing; sheets of card that dad gave me, from which he would otherwise use to make price tickets for our greengrocers in Fairway, Petts Wood; Sellotape; Balsawood, paper; you name it, I made things from it. I and my friends, who lived two doors away, made houses and shacks from the empties in the back yard; orange boxes for walls, Fyffe banana box lids and potato sacks for roofs, tomato boxes for windows. I guess that was the start of it.
At school I was excellent at technical drawing and loved the workshops. John Gale, John Parsons, they were terrific in drawing out the best in you. Quite good at art but always temperamental (I frustrated Mr Cummings!), not bad at Maths, loved Geography and Physics upto O level then we had Nuffield Physics for A level – what a disaster! Still, I scraped four A levels and got to Bristol University to study Architecture under Professor Douglas Jones, an old-schooler and probably a bit of a dinosaur for the 1970’s but a real gentleman and rooted in the continuity of heritage. Sadly, the 1970’s were not good years for architectural design or for heritage. I hate most of the designs of that era. Many of them are being pulled down now, thank goodness.
Remarkably, I attained a II.i Bachelor of Arts in Architecture and went on to gain my Diploma (they now call it a Master of Arts). In amongst all of this I had met my soon-to-be wife, Julia. We spent our first year of marriage in a flat in Cotham whilst I completed my final year; she was in her probationary year of teaching. 1976 saw my graduation and a forlorn search for jobs in Bristol at the height of the worst recession we have ever had since the 1930’s. Julia came from Bolton in Lancashire so the next port of call was there. Out of the six architectural practices in the town only one replied to my letters; the only one taking
on anybody. That was Bradshaw Gass and Hope (BGH).
I started work on 2nd August 1976 and as my first job I was given a concrete staircase for the new A & E department at Blackburn Royal Infirmary to detail. (A rather plain building with a flat roof and ribbon windows so typical of the era, now all demolished) I must have made an impression. Bristol had taught me well – we had been taught to design in steel and concrete so I knew exactly what was needed. Bradshaw Gass and Hope had always been a multi-disciplinary practice with structural engineers so that was always a benefit to me. Sadly, it also meant that I lost the knowledge to calculate steelwork and concrete after a few years!
Hospitals were the main gamut in those days, and I got involved in a multi-million pound development for Hope Hospital Salford – Phase 1 of a major reconstruction. I was deeply involved in the planning, design and detailing of this whale of a building – about £60m by today’s reckoning – and was invited by the Hope Hospital, Salford – Phase I - 1984 senior partner to become the resident site architect for its construction. Wow! What an opportunity! Yes please!
Four and a half years later, in 1984, we finished it. I had gone in with a full head of wavy hair and had come out bald! Yes, stressful, but incredibly formative and utterly invaluable. Within a year I had been made an Associate of the practice.
The work profile started to change around then. Maggie Thatcher’s government had kyboshed some major hospital schemes so the firm was concerned to find other avenues to major in. The firm had a tremendous pedigree since its formation in 1862 but that counted for nothing. This is a salutary lesson for all firms. Past successes are no guarantee of continued patronage. Keep moving, keeping searching, keep improving. We were saved, really, by a commission from Norweb (North West Electricity Board) in 1988 to build a major distribution centre and workshops in Salford £10m at the time, probably about £35m today. I was involved again, with the senior partner, in designing and Church conversion 2007detailing the building and
became the project architect for the construction stage. Another really interesting experience and with a ‘difficult’ national contactor who manufactured claims out of nothing. We were left with a wrangle at the end of it, but the client was steadfastly with us and the claim was demolished, albeit with a political resolution. Another lesson – stick by your client and he should stick with you!
I had a couple of ‘bids for escape’ during these years. On both occasions I had made up my mind before I had got to the interviews in Manchester. Did I REALLY want to grind in to the city every day, wasting two or more hours sat in the car, paying exorbitant parking fees to boot? The grass is always greener, I realised. No, stick with it. I live and work in the same town, have ownership of my adoptive home and have friends at work and on the doorstep. There’s more to life than chasing ambition, I felt.
So it was, in January 1992 that I became a partner of the practice. In the midst of another recession where fee competition had been introduced (before, there was a statutory minimum fee scale) and tender prices had plummeted. A double whammy as far as fee income was concerned. Things became very tight indeed. The firm shrank in size. When I joined it was 90 strong, with Architects, Quantity Surveyors, Structural Engineers and Mechanical & Electrical Consultants. By this time, in the mid 1990’s, we had lost the M & E Engineers and were down to about 50 souls. In the midst of this I took a year’s correspondence course to obtain an RHS General Certificate (distinction) in Horticulture which furnished me with confidence to practice some modest landscaping along with building design. Our work profile was changing again. We maintained a profile in health but it was lessening; industrial work was still there in some measure, but our salvation was yet another change of direction into leisure and education. Bolton MBC had always been a friend and we were invited to participate with them in a joint venture for design and procurement of a Tennis Centre of excellence. This finally ended up as Bolton Arena, which now houses international sports events as well as being a very successful local fitness centre.
Our profile in schools also started to magnify and by 2002 we had climbed out of the desperate position we had been in for some years. Our hard work in traipsing around client after client and putting ourselves about had finally paid off. My high level involvement in the design and construction of Bolton Arena had been a marker point in my career but it was to expand for me in the realm of education. The firm had always worked in the sector but the new BSF (Building Schools for the Future) had opened doors for us in a miraculous way.
We were propositioned by Bovis to be one of the three consultants in their team for Burnley and Pendle BSF. I played a strong part in the staged bidding for the commission, putting a great deal of time into preparing schemes, visualisations and texts for the submission documents. We won! We were given two schools out of nine and I tool the lead on a new 1050 place secondary school in Pendle, eventually christened Marsden Heights Community College. This involvement was terrific for us. It introduced us to a wide range of consultants with whom the firm still works and communicates.
The next few years saw a tumbling of the BSF programme following Tony Blair’s demise as premier and our focus yet again had to change. Leisure became an equal runner and our previous experience in Bolton Arena paid dividends in introducing the firm to further work, particularly with Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust which had been successful in winning contracts all over the north and midlands. A really good client indeed. Another wonderful client has been a local Catholic Sixth Form College, Holy Cross, Bury. Clients like these
come rarely and so it with enormous gratitude to them that I attribute my own personal pride in the profession of Architecture. I had always tried to fathom the needs of the client and become part of their ethos in order to produce buildings that last the test of time; functionality and flexibility paired with beauty and affordability. The firm has won some deserved professional accolade, also, in recent years, but the real accolade for me has satisfaction of my clients.
My own work profile over my career has been very wide. My experience has ranged from health sector work, industrial, commercial/office, through to private dwellings, conversion work, ecclesiastical involvement including working as a church inspector for the Manchester Diocese and other denominations, education in all sectors, leisure and sport sector and heritage conservation work. The trouble is, nowadays, you are expected to be ‘an expert’ in a field, which means you have to practice that side of things almost exclusively to gain official accreditation. I always preferred a rounded and mixed back and to be proficient in a multitude rather than an expert in one field. The CDM (Construction & Design Management Regulations – Health and Safety), which emerged in 1994, were an opportunity to get into Planning Supervision, later called CDM Coordination – a new consultancy governed by
criminal law. Mainly common sense regarding safety of design but, as regulations always engender; it quickly became a heap of over-wrought nonsense. It was necessary but I hated it – not because of its purpose but because of its ridiculous procedure and uncompromising legal strictures.
I decided to retire early at the end of 2012. Quite honestly, I had become weary of the weight of ludicrous legislation and the diminution of the profession. Also, I felt, like Douglas Jones 35 years before, that maybe, it was a younger person’s game now. After 40 years in the profession and 36 years at Bradshaw Gass and Hope, the last 20 of which as a partner, I have run that course. Current involvements, for which I earn nothing except a sense of civic duty, include trusteeships of Bolton Deaf Society (a long-standing client of BGH), All
Souls Bolton (a restored redundant church used as a community focus), The Bradshaw Gass Trust (we manage legacy investments and distribute to local charities and educational concerns in the locality) and I am an original member of the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee for the URC NW Synod. Choirs, Language-learning, Sketching, music composition and church choirmaster duties fill in the rest – oh, not to forget two sons and their families, walking on the moors and baking! Life goes on!