Thursday, 28 April 2016

A building called the Towers, the Ship Canal and a certain animation company

The Towers is a building with a lot of history.

It was built between 1868 and 1872 by John Taylor who founded the Manchester Guardian in 1821.

Here in 1882 the decision was taken by a group of businessmen to build the Manchester Ship Canal and in 1920 it was bought by the British Cotton Industry Research Association and renamed the Shirley Institute after the daughter of one the main contributors to the cost of buying it.

And today it is surrounded by a business park which has recently become home to Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick Entertainment.

Cosgrove Hall was based in Chorlton and it was here that they produced some memorable animation films including Danger Mouse and Chorlton and the Wheelies.

And now they are back in Manchester with a team of 40 animators and graphic designers with a plan to generate another 70 jobs in the next few months.

All perhaps a long way from the young man who began work in a lab at the Shirley Institute in 1921.

We know only his first name and that his laboratory was visible from the drive as you made your way up to the building.

I don’t suppose we would even have known about him if his mother had not sent a picture postcard of the Towers to a friend with the proud message that “this is a view of the new Institute showing the new Lab where our Joe will shortly be working in the house.”

Picture postcards can be a wonderful source of local history not only offering up  fascinating glimpses of buildings and places but also because the messages reveal much of what was going on at the time.

In our case Jean’s account of her son Joe’s first job at the Institute is the only popular reference I have to the people who worked there.

But no doubt that will be other accounts and maybe even some pictures of the laboratories, offices and the canteen.

After all I am intrigued by the widely held belief that the building has 12 towers, 52 rooms and 365 windows which is why it is known locally as Calendar House.

In the past there have been open days and I rather think if there is another I shall attempt to wander through the old servants’ area of the house.

According to one description this will allow me to visit the kitchen and follow the trail to the china closet, the plate safe where the silver was kept and onto the servants’ passage which led to the dining room the butler’s pantry, and servants’ staircase.

Now this is my type of history.

Like a lot of people it is the quiet and hidden lives of the servants which are more interesting.

And so I want to explore the cook's pantry, housekeeper's room along with the servants' hall with its small spiral staircase in the far corner that led to the roof and the kitchen with its large open fire and range sadly now concealed behind a wooden screen.

And while I am on this romantically fuelled flight of fancy I wonder if Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick Entertainment might be inspired by the servants’ room’s, the passages and that spiral staircase to come up with a new animated film.

Now that would be something.

Painting; The Towers © 2013 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,
Web: Facebook:  Paintings from Pictures

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