When Redcroft (left) and Fencegate (right) were built in 1891, they were the most modern pair of ‘semis’ in the country. They began a new phase of Arts & Crafts design which reworked the humble features of farmhouses and cottages into new sophisticated architecture. Edgar Wood’s buildings had been hinting at this vernacular inspired style for several years. The problem was that few wealthy Victorian businessmen wanted their new home to look like a crumbling old cottage! Wood could only introduce a few features here and there so as not to be overruled by his clients.
However, with Redcroft and Fencegate, Edgar was both the client and the designer. He was free to design the house as he wished, save for the views of his supportive father who was paying for it as Edgar and Annie Wood’s wedding present – they were married that year. Edgar and Annie lived at Redcroft while the manager of his father’s mill, Mr. Wiggins, lived at Fencegate.
When building Redcroft, Edgar looked up at the just plastered ceiling and a large piece of wet plaster fell into his face. Plaster is extremely alkaline and he lost an eye in the accident. Had Edgar lost both eyes, his career would have ended immediately and the appearance of buildings fifty years hence might have looked rather different.
51 & 53 Rochdale Road are well preserved example of Arts and Crafts domestic architecture. A picturesque quality is obtained through sensitive use of materials rather than irregular form. The form is blocky and efficient, with a grid-like arrangement of elements on the main facade.
Asymmetry is created simply by raising the bay window on the left hand side, so that it breaks the eaves. Wood’s later designs, for example 36 Mellalieu Street nearby do a similar thing and both are examples of Wood changing his architectural expression from irregular forms to one where materials and formality increasingly play the dominant role.
The building is one of the first polite architect-designed house designs to use common bricks to define the front elevation, something which, again, looked towards the future. Another interesting feature is the design of the two front doors, which anticipate Art Deco by some 25 years!
In the early days of Arts & Crafts architecture, pioneers like Edgar Wood experimented with a variety of materials and forms, trying to find a new way in design. The semi-detached pair of houses on Rochdale Road, Middleton, Briarhill & Hillcrest, is one of these and represents an art nouveau ‘town’ approach to design in contrast to the vernacular revival ‘country’ approach of Redcroft & Fencegate next door.
Their appearance could not have been more different, with bright red Ruabon bricks, tall angular symmetry and pioneering Art Nouveau forms. This striking and original building, now considerably at risk in 2016, is one of the world’s first art nouveau buildings and takes no prisoners in its powerful expression. It was so advanced in its day that the design was published across Britain, Europe and USA and it set the trend for other ‘all red’ buildings.
Some people struggle to like it, though others adore its bold and uncompromising impact.The use of identically coloured red brick and terracotta was approved of by William Morris, where the smoky atmosphere required such materials. However, when it came to the roof, Edgar Wood did something no other architect had thought of, he mix five different types of slate from around the country, to create a mottled impressionistic surface – an idea transferred from the realm of painting to building.
The building was illustrated in the USA publication, American Architect and Building News a year later. This magazine was published in Boston and would have been admired by the early Arts and Crafts designers of the eastern States.
Hopwood Hall is one of the truly great buildings of Middleton but one which has sadly been left to rot under the custodianship of Rochdale M.B.C. Recently, the Council has tried to make amends by providing security and undertaking urgent repairs. There is some hope, with the leadership of Hopwood Hall College and a host of volunteers, plans are being tentatively drawn up to save the building. Great credit should go to Mr. Bob Wall for his constant efforts on behalf of the building, to Andy Marshall, for his amazing photos and to conservation expert Alan Gardner whose advice and direction have been critical to saving the building.
Hopwood Hall is remembered by students of the old De La Salle art college of the 1980s – the chapel to the college is also a listed building but of a very different type, a modernist creation of the 1960s – famous for being Liverpool R.C. Cathedral in miniature.
Hopwood Hall is a building of many ages where the work of the medieval carpenter sits next to that of the modern builder. Its history is long and complex and the buildings ‘ramble’ like no other. Edgar Wood was a fan and around 1910 carried out a sensitive restoration which, in turn, complemented the characterful work by the architect Geoge Shaw of Saddleworth half a century earlier. The interiors are rich in Jacobean panelling and plaster work but currently the floors are simply too rotten and dangerous to walk on. However, you can get a good view from Andy Marshall’s photos.