Q. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us about your time growing up, what was your connection to London Road Fire Station?
A. Our father, Keith ‘Tug’ Wilson, was a fireman and we grew up the station, spending our early years there, it was a very happy time. We always felt so safe there! Linda was even born there. We spent about a decade there, from around 1948 – 1958.
Q. Are there any parts of the building which you remember particularly vividly?
A. We mostly used to play on the wide balcony area outside the Club Room, which we used to call ‘the wide part’. The Club Room and the Laundry were really the social hubs of the building. We used to also play around the coal bunkers, each family had their own…and we can recall going up and down in the lifts, with the metal gates across them. Seeing the photos on the London Road Instagram has sparked lots of memories, we remember the tiles so well!
We used to spend a lot of Tuesdays in the laundry with our mother as that was laundry day, she was always rushing to and from there to make sure the sheets weren’t stuck in there too long!
We weren’t normally allowed out of the main front gates or in the courtyard because that was where the firemen would train, but sometimes when it was quiet on a weekend we would go down to the courtyard and play, kicking a ball around…we used to have the most amazing bonfires in the courtyard on Guy Fawkes night, and then of course the firemen would put them out in style! We would always have gingery parkin around that time of year, it was delicious. Christmas was also a real event, there would be these fantastic parties in the club room, and the firemen would erect a huge Christmas tree on top of the fire station garage. And each year a different fireman would take a turn to be Father Christmas!
Q. Aside from being an architectural marvel and a community hub, at the time you all lived there London Road was a world-class fire station, do you have any recollections of the fireman and their work?
A. Well, of course our dad ‘Tug’ was one of the firemen, that was his nickname as he was extremely strong. Dad was on the fire station swim team, and one year in the swimming competition he actually beat the fire station captain, which wasn’t really the done thing!
All the firemen were also in the brigade band, they used to take part in all kinds of marches going through the city…they all used to wear special white pith hats when they played. Dad played the trumpet….no, the coronet!
We used to watch them training all the time, doing fireman’s lifts up and down the hose tower with no safety equipment at all, of course there wasn’t really such a thing as health and safety in those days! it was amazing to watch, and pretty dangerous. They used to carry each other down the ladders from that great height without being tied up at all. They also used to host competitions at the fire station, with different fire departments from all around England.
There were also a few particularly memorable fires : there was one at the Jewsbury & Brown building, as well as at the Paulden’s department store in central Manchester and at a brewery. Probably one of the worst we can remember was the Jewsbury & Brown fire, as the building was full of sugar – our dad came back with his eyes and hands terribly burned. They all risked their lives regularly, and of course then there was no compensation, and they didn’t think of themselves as heroes, although that’s what they were. We can remember all the women coming down with sandwiches and tea for everyone after that.
It was really exciting when the fire chief from Barbados came to stay at London road for a time. London road really was the benchmark for fire industry standards at the time, and he came to learn how all the procedures were run at London Road so that he could take the knowledge back with him to inform his own fire station in the Caribbean. One of the key things he wanted to learn about was fighting fires in large, multiple storey buildings, those were quite novel in Barbados at the time where there were already many in Manchester. He became something of a celebrity during his time at the fire station, and everyone was very fond of him!
Q. Have you been back to Manchester since you lived there to see the building? How would you like to see it regenerated, and repurposed?
A. We haven’t been back for a while and really miss it! It would be great to go back and do a tour! But – we did visit back in 2005, and came to see the fire station, and honestly we were so sad to see the state it had been let to decay into. We are really just thrilled that someone has taken it on board as a project to restore it to its former glory, as it really was the most astonishing place, and everyone who lived there took such pride in it.
The fireman used to clean the whole building top to bottom every year, and everything was repainted regularly to keep it looking pristine. The railings were always shiny and brilliantly clean! It sounds like you are doing a great job restoring the building sensitively anyway. It would be cool if you’re able to keep the fire truck bays, those were always pretty impressive! If you could even put an old engine in one of the bays, that would be good….
The whole building was such an embodiment of community spirit that we would love to see it restored in a way that gives something back to local people, where they can access this amazing space, and experience the amazing architecture. A local market or similar in the courtyard would be a great use, as would restoring the club room to a high-class function room.
The laundry room, adjacent to the Club Room, was in its own way a place for social gathering and interaction as everyone was constantly in and out of there gathering up their washing. It was a great room too, so it would be amazing if that could be repurposed as a place which people could experience and enjoy.
Q. Are there any specific events which you remember from your time living at London Road?
A. There were some really amazing parties in the Club Room, one very memorable one was the queen’s coronation! The sense of community was just wonderful. There was just one television downstairs, and everyone clustered around to watch it that day. There was also a big Man City game, which was quite an event! It was the one where Bert Trautmann was the goalie, 1955…
We were never allowed to go into the police station side of the building or see the cells, but we did sometimes wave to the prisoners as they were being led through….
Q. All the apartments at London Road seem to be unique, both in terms of layout and decor, it is a real time capsule in there with some amazing mid-century wallpaper! Can you recall what your apartment was like?
A. We lived at number 22, which was at the front of the building, facing over London Road and opposite Manchester Piccadilly, which meant that we had an amazing view when the queen came to Manchester with her entourage, we were all hanging out of the window to get a look! We had a three-bedroom apartment, which was fairly large compared to some of the others, as we were a six-person family.
The wallpaper in the rooms, the original wallpaper, was really amazing, they were like works of art honestly. It would be wonderful if some of it could be kept and maintained, although that might be hard to do…
Q. Finally, I wondered whether you are in touch with any of your other relatives in Manchester that you knew at the time, or any of your childhood friends from London Road?
A. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep track of all of our school friends, it’s hard to know what happened to them all…it would be nice to have a reunion with them someday to catch up! We can recall some of the names…. the Dewson family, Billy Milner…the Clancys next door….maybe this interview will trigger some memories in other former residents!
We also had our uncle, he still lives near Wigan, he was actually a structural engineer at the fire station but he also used to play the piano for everyone, he worked on projects throughout the UK and Europe, but he was also a beautiful pianist. He’s called Alan Johnson, he lives in Parbold…
We really had such a great time, it was a very good life we had there. And in those days, you could really do pretty much what you wanted to, which was amazing as kids! You really didn’t worry about things then in the same way that you do nowadays.
London Road Fire Station
Wilson Children & Jumping Sheet Drill
Works on the Grade II* listed Manchester landmark, London Road Fire Station, continue to make progress.
Allied London Development Management and its project team are progressing with essential repair works to sympathetically restore and re-invigorate the structure’s impressive architecture.
Repair works are now complete to the first roof level temple located on the London Road wing of the building, and to the hose drying tower located on top of the Fairfield Street wing of the building. In the last period, four bespoke curved metal balustrades to the hose drying tower viewing deck were carefully refurbished by metalwork restoration contractor, Calibre Metalworks.
Repair work specifications, schedules, drawings and supporting statements have been developed and submitted to Manchester City Council which detail the full extent of works to be carried out by each specialist work trade package. Additionally, a series of high-quality sample repair works have been reviewed on-site and agreed with Manchester City Council, the project team, and the relevant contractors to benchmark quality standards.
Cleaning works to the building’s façade have been successfully completed to all currently accessible areas. The original surface glaze to the terracotta blocks has been heavily engrained with pollutants over the years, but chemical cleaning methods were considered too aggressive, with a risk of leaving harmful residues, and therefore were rejected. Instead, a programme of hot water low pressure cleaning has been implemented via a specialist building cleaning subcontractor, which has successfully removed surface dirt without causing harm to the surface glaze of the façade terracotta.
Works to the London Road section of the building have advanced over the last period, with essential fabric repair works on schedule for completion in March. Replacement terracotta units are being manufactured off-site by specialists, Darwen Terracotta. The complex and phased manufacturing process ensures that the units are created with the utmost care to enable the building to be restored as sympathetically and authentically as possible.
Managed by North West contractors, Swindells Roofing, the roof covering works for the London Road main roof section are essentially complete, and work will now focus on the mansard roof area. Roof leadwork pieces continue to be crafted within the on-site lead workshop established within the original building workshop, located off the courtyard.
Restoration works to the existing windows are progressing as planned. Sash windows to the London Road and Whitworth Street elevations have been refitted where possible prior to the removal of scaffold ties that are temporarily attached through the external elevations to avoid damage being caused by fixing directly to the terracotta façade. Wherever existing glazing panes are missing, damaged, or have previously been replaced with non-original obscure glass, these are being carefully replaced with heritage glass. Original window ironmongery items have been sensitively cleaned on-site and are being fitted back to the respective windows as part of the window refurbishment works.
Works are generally being sequenced in an anti-clockwise fashion around the building starting from the London Road section and are currently moving on to sections of Whitworth Street.
The professional design team for phase two of the works are developing the detailed design of the refurbishment scheme. This follows the submission of a revised planning application in December 2019.
Details of all work being carried out can be found at www.londonroadfirestation.com and progress will be documented on the London Road social channels (@LondonRoadMCR).
4 December 2019:
The historic Grade II* listed Manchester London Road Fire Station building is currently undergoing extensive detailed sympathetic and sensitive restoration works. For the first time, details of the works have been released.
Managed by Allied London Development Management (Allied London DM) the London Road website will now be reactivated to record the stage by stage restoration.
London Road – the landmark’s project name – was first acquired in 2015 by Allied London Fire Station OPCO Ltd, a company led by Michael Ingall. It was awarded planning consent in 2017 for a mixture of uses including hotel, workspace and hospitality. The current works are part of a staged process to bring this important building back to life.
Allied London DM has appointed several North West based specialist trade contractors. Repair works are now in full flow on site following the finalisation of a long and very detailed collation of historical data and detailed survey information and approval for a sequenced repair strategy.
Sympathetic cleaning of the buildings iconic façade is now almost complete – including to the Hose Drying Tower – via the use of a sensitive façade cleaning system to prevent harm being caused to the surface glaze of the terracotta.
Chimney stack repairs to the London Road section roof are also complete, and bespoke replacement terracotta units continue to be manufactured off site by leading industry experts, Darwen Terracotta.
Existing rainwater goods are currently being disassembled from the external elevations to facilitate the necessary repair and replacement works. Calibre Metalworks have formed bespoke patterns to cast replica rainwater pipe brackets, complete with original matching fleur-de-lis details.
In recent months, windows and external doors repair and replacement works have advanced ahead of schedule, with multiple teams of joiners based on site daily.
Roof covering works on the London Road main and mansard roof sections comprise installing new timber battens and a breather membrane, then re-slating with existing roof slates where possible, mixed with replacement reclaimed slates only where tiles are broken or missing.
Specialist timber and masonry repairs and treatment works are being undertaken internally to eradicate areas of rot and decay to the building.
Allied London DM has engaged Quadriga Contracts Ltd as Construction Manager for the essential fabric repair works phase. Quadriga is a specialist heritage contractor with over 27 years’ experience in historic building repair and restoration.
Simon O’ Reilly, Quadriga Project Manager commented: “Quadriga is delighted to be working with Allied London DM once again, taking on the role of Construction Manager for the phase 1 works to Manchester’s iconic London Road Fire Station. Quadriga has appointed local specialist contractors to complete the essential fabric repair works to the building. These specialist contractors employ craftsmen with years of experience on heritage projects and listed buildings.”
Allied London DM Managing Director, Grant Jarvie, commented: “The restoration of London Road Fire Station is an important milestone in the conservation of Manchester’s history. We are pleased with the progress so far and are working hard to get this project right. We are working alongside Watts Group and Stephen Levrant Heritage Architecture to monitor the progress of the repair works. The next phase of works will involve the construction and re-adaption elements, and we are already in early discussions with suitably qualified and experienced construction partners to work with us to commence the conversion works in 2020.”
Allied London DM’s ability to restore the building came from several months of detailed analysis and survey work, recording every defect and necessary repair. This was agreed with the heritage authorities; hence the building being surrounded by scaffold for so long.
Allied London secured planning and listed building consent for the building in 2017.