... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Market failure

Another bit of the brave new world has slipped away. Perhaps it is because I am a child of the sixties (literally; born slap bang in the middle) that I have a soft spot for the hopes and ambitions, the wild dreams even, that drove the decade - epitomised by its architecture - no matter how shoddy their (frequently literally) concrete realisation or how misguided they were later (made) to appear.

In 2003/4, as I drove each day to my first proper academic job at Portsmouth, I witnessed the dismantling of the Tricorn Centre (yes, I could find some photos, copy them, check out the copyright, write an appropriate caption, and upload them, but it would be so much easier if you just did a Google image search. But please do.), an Owen Luder brute with a giant marble run attached to it. It haunted my dreams; even though I had never been inside it in reality, my unconscious self desperately sought something in its decaying concrete labrynths.

Through my next job, in Huddersfield, I discovered Queensgate Market, which tapped into my strange attraction to the tatty and tawdry, and allowed me to travel in the amazing time machine of neglect that is the sixties market hall. I was immediately hooked on this northern delicacy; literally cheap and cheerful, a place where you could still buy broken biscuits, along with duck eggs, tripe, sink plungers and other glimpses of the fast-ebbing past.. Queensgate, which opened in 1970, has in fact fared better than most. Listed (against much local opposition) in 2004, it is genuinely unique architecturally, although this didn't stop the council proposing to partially demolish and significantly alter it in 2008.  It was the 20th Century Society's Building of the Month in February 2009, and won the Concrete Society's Certificate of Excellence for a mature structure in 2007 (I am SO glad that the Concrete Society exists, and that it has a Certificate of Excellence). It appears to be thriving with a glitzy website and even (heavens) click-and -collect - and was recently named Market Hall of the Year by the National Association of British Market Authorities (apparently there are 700 to choose from). It's probably been all done up inside since I was last there as well.

As we boated around the Midlands, I  made a point of trying to visit indoor markets where possible - often it wasn't, when they weren't open every day. But Wolverhampton got a look in, and of course Cannock. Particularly poignant was the half empty but oh-so-ambitiously named Agora in Wolverton, although as it was built in 1979 it falls outside the sixties dream, and indeed lacked the requisite pastel tiling.

But there was one market hall above all others that I wanted to see, ever since I read about it on the now sadly abandoned Nothing to See Here blog: the already long-doomed, and thus beautifully preserved through neglect, Castle Market in Sheffield. We never made it to Sheffield by boat, in the end, so my ambition was thwarted for a long time. By the time I did get to Sheffield, Castle Market was enjoying a (very) mini-renaissance, with the city council promoting its use; even though it was in its death throes, they were trying to keep it cheerful and on its feet until its successor was ready to take over. As a result, some of the old signage had already gone. It had the sense of somewhere that was waiting to die, but then they all do; that is part of their attraction. They are anachronisms, far more so than their lovingly restored Victorian predecessors (those that survived, of course, from the days when they themselves were the embarrassing old relics, quietly crumbling, smelling and dribbling in the corner). Huddersfield's Queensgate is unusual in having real architectural merit and interest; for the others the interest is historical, human, and not amenable to preservation orders. There was a wild, anonymous, request to have Castle Market listed in 2010, but it was, unsurprisingly, turned down.

And now Castle Market has gone; closed for the last time on Saturday. I didn't go along to photograph its last day, but others did. Its replacement - a curvy glass box as blandly typical of its time as Castle Market was of its own - is part of an attempt to regenerate the area which was itself in the sixties the retail centre of the city, while plans for the site of Castle Market include excavating and opening up more of the ancient Sheffield Castle remains over which it was built. If you had to get rid of an old building from the sixties, you probably couldn't have picked a better one. But it is, in so many ways, a loss all the same.


  1. I don't think many people in Pompey miss the Tricorn. It was a truly ugly thing. It always used to depress me just looking at it.

  2. Wolverton's Agora is a depressing place. All that space, taken up by a thinly spread, anonymous cheapie shop. There only ever seems to be two customers at the most. The small shops within the building and surrounding the vast central space seem never to have any customers at all.

    The greasy spoon is good, though.