Tuesday 8 December 2009

North Country Arcadia

This is a tale of two arcades in the north of England, either side of the Pennines in Manchester and Huddersfield. Two multi-level Victorian shopping arcades that display some striking contrasts in the contribution they make to local distinctiveness. The Barton Arcade in Manchester, built in 1871, is an “h” shaped arcade constructed in iron and glass with two octagonal glass domes. The two balconies are graced with handsome ornamental balustrades with mahogany handrails. The paintwork is a dazzling white, with ornamental detailing picked out in gloss black and a tiled floor (not original) in shades of grey. The Byram Arcade in Huddersfield was built in 1881 within the interior of the Byram Buildings designed by local architect, William Crossland (who would later design Royal Holloway College). Like the Barton, there are two upper levels with decorative ironwork. The glazed roof is of simple pitched construction.

The eye is drawn upwards to the complex roof structure in the Barton Arcade and a cool and airy sensation is created. The upper levels are given over to office accommodation and access is via large plate glass doors making them feel like private space. The retail activity includes a travel agent, a sandwich shop, a wine shop, and a restaurant as well as menswear and fashion shops; not as high-end and exclusive as it appears at first glance. The fabric of the building is in excellent external condition but it feels as if the presence of a plethora of glitzy outlets in surrounding streets make it difficult to attract much footfall into the rarefied atmosphere of the arcade.

The Byram Arcade has a warm and enclosed feeling. The upper levels are all retail with an eclectic mix of shops selling art materials, leisurewear, musical instruments and haircuts. There’s a superb restaurant (The Oak Rooms) on the ground floor that attracts a lot of custom but there’s no through traffic, the entrance and exit being one and the same. The Byram has fine spacious architecture and wonderful decorative detailing and the excellent condition to which it has been restored is a joy to behold. Both arcades offer a special experience but seem to fall short of their full commercial potential, but for the disinterested observer, therein lies their charm.

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