I love Brutalist architecture, there is something about the stark grey, heavy concrete, sharp lines and minimalist aesthetic, that just does it for me. Plus, I think of myself as a minimalist, I love simple, uncomplicated designs, made from natural materials, such as wood, metal and of course concrete (hint hint for anyone wanting to buy me a gift).
I have done a few art walks before, mainly around the well known Brutalist structures in London for example, such as around the Barbican and the Southbank Centre, but I really wanted to learn more about the architecture inspired by the movement closer to home, so a friend bought me the Brutal North coffee book for my birthday, and it felt like a great project to undertake, whilst foreign travel is still pretty much off limits still with Covid.
I started with Wigan, because I moved to the area when I downsized from expensive Liverpool and wanted to become more central to the NW as I moved from a full time NHS employee to locum work. Of course the main reason for that was more flexibility to travel, but well. . . . my last trip was Dec 2019 so thats gone well.
There are just two buildings in Wigan that are featured in the book, but I found a couple of other interesting places to explore too, put on my walking boots, grabbed my camera and set off.
The first building is just outside the town centre and is the Roman Catholic Church, St Judes, located in the Worsley Mesnes area. Designed by the team who also built a couple of churches in Liverpool & built in 1964, this fan shaped church sits at a busy cross roads, with most people I guess just driving by and sitting blankly at the traffic lights, but I always passed it with a curious interest, always meaning to pull over and explore, so I was delighted to see it mentioned in the book.
Of course my art walk was a Sunday morning, and there was a service in full flow once I rocked up, so I had to make do with a quick peek inside, but as I only live a short drive away, I will have to make a return trip to explore some more of the inside at a later date.
The circular portion of the church is the baptistry, which makes sense, but my favourite part is the main body of the church fanning out behind, with a cool mosaic imprinted into the concrete.
Another place I pass weekly is the large Trencherfield Mill, across from Wigan Pier and the Leeds/Liverpool canal. So I decided to pop over and have a quick look on my way into the town centre, again, another place I’ve driven past in heavy traffic many times.
The building as its now stands was built in 1907, but there was one before that, built in 1822. The cotton mill was an important part of the industrial revolution, as cotton was brought in from the slave plantations in America as well as other parts of the world. Ships full of cotton docked at Liverpool, then it was transported along the canal into Lancashire to be transformed into textiles. Although the cotton industry never recovered after WW1, this Wigan mill managed to survive until 1950. It’s now a combination of college, commercial space and apartments.
I then headed off to the centre of town to locate the 2nd building featured in my book, the now empty and abandoned Wigan Civic Centre. Built in 1970, this four storey concrete structure was evacuated by staff in 2018 as they moved to a more modern building. Rumours have been around about its future use, such as a hotel, but as of now, its stands unused, looking across the road to its modern replacement, the Life Centre.
Across from the Civic Centre, is a rather striking metal ‘Face of Wigan’, which despite living in the area for 3 1/2 years, I had never seen before. Chosen as a symbol to represent Wigan, not one person in particular but representative of all the people of the town, it reminded me of The Dream in a way, the large stone head that looks across an old colliery over in St Helens.
The first book I read when I arrived in Wigan was George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and just down the road from the Life Centre is the library where George did his research. I thought there would maybe be a blue plaque or something marking the spot, but I couldn’t see one, also probably part due to Covid and also that it was a Sunday, the library and museum were closed, so maybe inside there is something paying tribute to the novel, which I really enjoyed by the way. Now every time I drive past the library on my way to the recycling centre or to a drum lesson, I pay attention to the red bricked building that played an important part in the history of one of Britains most famous novelists, sometimes it good to explore on your doorstep, you never know what little gems you will find.
I had a good wander around the little side streets, paying attention to the little houses and shops that I usually rush past on my way to the train station or the shopping centre. The Wiend in particular definitely felt like a past era, a narrow paved alleyway, with a few bars, pubs, fairy lights & hanging baskets of flowers. Being a rugby town, it was no surprise to find a statue of a rugby player, ball in hand too, although I cant say I have converted into a sports fan since moving here.
Finally, I found a nice church, situated on a small hill in the centre of town, one that I had seen from a distance on my travels, but not close up before. A Grade II listed building, parts of the church were originally built in the 13th Century, with a war memorial, a black metal fence studded with red roses and a very ancient looking archway, it was a nice place to finish my art walk, before grabbing a coffee and heading back home.