New Brighton – street art, coffee & a pirate ship

My friend had read about a new art gallery that had opened over in New Brighton, as well as a cool street art walk spread all around the Victoria Quarter, so one Saturday morning we headed through the tunnel and over to the ‘other side of the Mersey’.

There is a ton of free parking all around the area, and we easily found a space just off Victoria Parade, right in the heart of the action. There are guided art walks run by the Oakland Gallery, situated in the centre of the Victoria Quarter and they are currently running twice a month, check their instagram for more details. But we decided to do a self guided tour, so we could wander and window shop at our usual leisurely place.

The street art and the Oakland Gallery are part of the regeneration project of the area, and with both local and world wide street artists involved, this is just the beginning, more art and exhibits are being planned, it all sounded pretty exciting.

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The actual gallery didn’t open till 12.00, but outside the front door they had some maps of the street art to take for free, so we grabbed one and headed off on our own self guided tour.

Some of my favourites were a couple by Dotmaster an artist from the other Brighton.

Fanakapan, a London based graffiti artist has done an incredible 3D helium balloon, that really has to be seen in real life to be appreciated, the shadows, the reflections, the creases, the shine, a photograph really doesn’t do it justice, it’s just insane!

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As well as this, ‘Unsung Heroes’ a tribute to the local lifeguards by the Australian artist Smug One, we both just loved this one, and what a piece of art to have in your neighbourhood.

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We probably took just over an hour to explore all the art, and with still a little time to kill before the gallery opened at 12, we headed a couple of streets down to the beach for a sandy stroll and to find a place for lunch later.

There is a 3/4 mile stretch of beach at this part of the Wirral peninsula, along with the Perch Rock lighthouse, the Grade II listed Perch Rock Fort, and the entertainment centre Marine Point, which comes complete with cinema, shops, a theatre and restaurants. If you feel like you want to do more than just dip your toes in the water, then there are a whole bunch of various water-sports on offer, such as canoeing, jet skiing, snorkelling and a water park, complete with an inflatable assault course. So basically, what I am saying is, you could probably spend a full day here even without the art trail.

As we were just filling time till the gallery opened, I tip toed out into the water, then whilst shaking the sand from my sandals, we explored the fort (from the outside, as its currently closed, a Covid thing I think). My friend spotted a van floating in the water, I thought she was joking at first, but no, there it was, after a chat with locals, it appears somebody couldn’t be bothered to walk the extra 10 steps from the street parking to the beach and parked up on the sand. Unfortunately, they didn’t realise it was almost time for high tide, and by the time they were heading back, the van was already floating away.

After spending time staring at and gossiping with the locals about the sinking van, it was pretty much 12PM and time to head back to Victoria Road and to the Oakland Gallery. Opened only last year (2020) its a real highlight of the regeneration of the neighbourhood and will no doubt bring in a whole different set of visitors to the area, to those maybe heading to the beach or the water-park. The gallery is championing both local and international artists and whilst we visited, the main artist in residence was London based Insa who’s collection called Body Work, included prints, paintings, a rug, a surfboard, motorcycle and the star of the show, a 1968 Lincoln Continental MK3 car.

The gallery itself is really welcoming and although I enjoy art, and galleries, I often feel out of my depth and a novice really. But the staff were really helpful and friendly, talking us through some of the designs and intentions behind the work, and really made an effort to make it feel inclusive.

Next door is Rockport Records sitting above its connected diner and bar, its a great little find, full of records and posters, I had to remind myself that I no longer own a record player and resisted the temptation to buy anything, but did see a poster of the Nirvana tour I had tickets too, back in 1994.

Finally, with our stomachs rumbling, we headed back towards the beach, down Victoria Parade, to the Driftwood Cafe where they had delicious coffee and a vegan sandwich option. We sat outside, for some great people watching, saw some lifeguards possibly heading to the pier to start the rescue mission for the white van and made our plans to return to New Brighton for further adventures, its most certainly a place with a bright future, and I’ve been recommending it to friends ever since.

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Brutal Preston

Another August weekend of wet and windy weather and cancelled plans, so I returned to my Brutal North book, and decided to head to my home town one wild Sunday morning.

There are 3 buildings featured in the book, one to the North of the city, in Fulwood and then the other two close to each other in the city centre, so I decided to visit all 3, add a few other buildings along the way and treat myself to a solo lunch, not bad for a potentially washed out weekend.

I started out at the ‘Fulwood Bubble’, built in 1973 it’s a plastic flat roofed building with 35 white panels creating the walls of the classroom, built onto a concrete base. Unusual for sure and easily visible from the main road, so it absolutely sticks out as some otherworldly classroom. I think I would have enjoyed taking some classes inside here, maybe it would have inspired me to work harder at maths . . . maybe not.

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My second stop was to return to a place I spent many an early morning and late afternoon as a teenager, and is probably one of my favourite buildings in the world – Preston Bus Station. Build in 1968, it is often named in Brutalist Best of Lists for the UK, but I remember many people hated the long, grey concrete building and it was going to be torn down.  I always had affection though for its long curved edges, black Pirelli rubber floor & the cool retro signs inside. Luckily it was given Grade II listed building status in 2013 and so it continues to stand.

It had been a long whilst since I visited the place, even though I still drive past it every once in a while. So it was nice to fully immerse myself by driving up the spiral ramp and parking up inside, wandering through the car park, then heading down the tiled stairway and along the platforms before heading outside.  I would never have appreciated it as a school child, it was just the place where I got the bus to school & I didn’t even enjoy school, but I have always loved the bus station.

Just round the corner is Preston Guild Hall, and it is actually connected to the bus station by a ramp. Unfortunately the ramp and entrance to the hall were closed, whilst the place finds new management, so I walked around the outside and up the stairs to the front. I saw a few comedy gigs here in my early twenties and I am pretty sure my grandad went to some snooker matches here too, and even earlier than that, it had visits from The Jackson 5 and David Bowie, so it’s a shame to see its closed up like this. But it meant I had the place to myself to explore and take in the unusual angular structure and its long concrete cantilevers. Fingers crossed I hope they are able to find some future investment and bring it back to life soon, as its been here since the early 1970’s, and with a bit of care and attention it could return to its former glory.

Opposite the Guild Hall you get a completely different, but no less impressive set of buildings, Preston County Court & Sessions building and the Harris Museum. The Harris museum, which I haven’t visited in years (makes mental note to return) is a Grade 1 Neo Classical building, built in 1882 and is now home to a museum, art gallery and library. Whilst its neighbour the County Court/Session structure is Grade II listed and dates from 1904, but lets hope I never need to visit that particular building inside at all!

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After I had successfully located all 3 Brutalist buildings in my book, it was time for wander down the high street, pick up a couple of presents for friends birthdays, and then I headed over to Preston Market. Its totally changed since I used to visit in the 80’s with my Grandma to buy fish paste and kippers for Grandad, I think it still needs some work, or maybe Sunday lunch isn’t the best time to visit. There were quite a few units that were closed, but I did find Brew + Bake who were happy to modify their avocado on sourdough to make it vegan, so thank you!

 

So with a full stomach and fully caffeinated, it was time to head back to the bus station for one last look, re-live those school day memories, collect my car and head home.

Brutal Wigan

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.