The Times They Were A Changing!

Modernity And It’s Legacies

When I was in Shrewsbury’s twin town, Zutphen with the former Mayor of Shrewsbury, Tony Durnell, earlier this month, I was taken on a guided tour around their wonderful town hall. The architect had the problem of building a town hall good enough for such a historic and beautiful town and in it he had to incorporate the old town hall. It was a breathtaking  job and this spectacular building is discretely a part of Zutphen.

At Theatre Severn we see the same kind of architecture as it incorporates an old church, formerly Auto Tyres, if my memory serves me right. This style of architecture is bold and brave, but it seems to pay off. But not all architecture is so cleverly thought out.

In the 1960’s the country had just come out of austerity and building materials were expensive. With the overbearing burden of modernity architects went for buildings that were not only cheap to construct but dazzlingly modern for the era. Nowadays we see these as a legacy of a poor time in building. Great concrete structures, eastern block in appearance and totally anomalous to the surroundings. Maybe juxtaposition was thought as cool in those days but now we see garish ugly constructions that have taken the place of more refined and beautiful buildings.

The examples in Shrewsbury are many, sadly. Imagine if we still had the Raven or Crown hotels on Castle Street and St. Mary’s street respectively. Did we have to lose the beautiful Market Hall? Did we have to lose the Shirehall from the Square? In all their places we see the ugly face of modernity.

It was difficult and we are aware that buildings cannot last forever, some must be replaced.  Currently , however, we are much more thoughtful and there are many restrictions in place to protect our wonderful heritage. One sees it in all towns now, new buildings blending in and looking all the better for it.

I am not going to write a polemic on the mistakes of the past, surely given the circumstances we understand what builders had to do at that time. What I am going to do however is to discuss the white elephant on Chester Street, Just opposite the Gateway.

The poor old building has never appeared to be fully functional and its gross and brashness style sticks out like a sore thumb. Its ugliness knows no bounds as it stands against the railway bridges almost willing us to hate it.

I imagine when it was constructed Southam’s Brewery was still delighting Shrewsbury drinkers with its Chester Street beers. That stood where the Gateway is now; so it was a busy site with drays leaving and returning and people would have been coming and going in a busy industrial way. Maybe it said that modernity had arrived. Rationing was over, people had a little more in their pockets and they could have new buildings. But as I pass it now daily, I see it there and my heart sinks. This isn’t Shrewsbury, this isn’t even Shropshire this building stands alone as a testament to the past; to a time where daring was all the rage and construction engineers could go cart blanche and destroy our history. Thank goodness it stopped.

I am aware that there is some industry in this office block, it has been a call centre and British Rail had some offices there before the concept of nationalised railways died with Thatcher. What happens there now I don’t know but the perpetual sign declaring offices to let is slightly fading it has been there for so long.

Two great mistakes in the town have thankfully gone; I refer to the BT Building and the Multi Storey in St. Austins Street. Maybe one day this tired old man of a building will gracefully retire and we can wipe the slate clean.  But currently there it is. I look at it and I thank heavens that we have come out of the horrible phase that gave us these monstrosities  and we are now all post modernists. Have a look next time you pass and see the vegetation that is growing out of the window sills. Nothing could be done to improve this building apart from the obvious. Give it a good bulldozing and see how it looks then. I wish it wasn’t there and I know as I look at its concrete cancer that soon it will have to go. Just wish it was sooner rather than later.

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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Comments

I remember the multi story coming down and couldn't believe my eyes. Things like that just never happen and you're forced to endure such a carbuncles forever. Then they pulled down the old Exchange, as you say, and I was jumping for joy. I hoped that Cambridge House and the Market hall were next in the sights. Sadly not the case but like you I live in hope.