Manchester Unspun - Pop, property and power in the original modern city
Andy Spinoza is the author, PR pro, journalist, and founder of Manchester’s City Life magazine.
In his new book Manchester Unspun, Spinoza introduces us to the architects of the city’s transformation from “post-industrial malaise” to a thriving hub of music, culture and football. Among them is our Urban Splash co-founder Tom Bloxham MBE; here are some of the extracts about him…
The early days of Tom…
Today’s undisputed king of Britain’s urban regeneration is Tom Bloxham. His business origins lie firmly in the Manchester music scene. He came to study at Manchester University in 1983 and was soon selling posters in the student union’s markets.
Realising that most of the available posters were old hippy images, he started selling Manchester music album covers. The Smiths and New Order did better sales than the Athena tennis girl scratching her bum. As his business grew, he took a stand in the city centre’s ‘alternative emporium’ Affleck’s Palace on Oldham Street.
Urban Splash is born…
By renting out the whole of 1st and 2nd floors of Affleck’s arcade, he learned about letting space to other businesses, and a property entrepreneur was born. He became entranced by the possibilities of Smithfield Buildings, an entire city block further up Oldham Street, and its potential for characterful apartments.
Bloxham moved swiftly when the opportunity came, with the entrepreneur’s killer feel for change in the air, despite all appearances: ‘When we bought the Smithfield Building the main tenant was bust,’ he said. ‘The owners were bust and the mortgage bank in possession was bust – and that was the time for gut feeling and decisive action.’
In his 1999 landmark Urban Task Force Report, Lord Richard Rogers praised Urban Splash for pioneering urban living in the Northwest.”
“There was another strong relationship between the rock star developer and the rise of city-centre living – Bloxham’s own love of the club scene. He became Manchester property’s carouser-in-residence. And, with his rackety entourage in tow, he was a generous setter up of tabs in the Haçienda cocktail bar and the other nightspots along Whitworth Street like the Venue and the Brickhouse.
One night on the town he stumbled across one of his earliest developments, a former paper factory tucked into a side street near Oxford Road, which he turned into open-plan apartments in 1994. ‘We were rolling out of the Haçienda when we found Sally’s Yard,’ said Bloxham. ‘I’d often walk around, perplexed at how quickly it became a ghost town each night. There were pockets of vibrant cultural scenes starting to emerge; my good friend Tony Wilson’s infamous assault on the music scene and the renowned Haçienda nightclub started a cultural appreciation that permeated everyday life … we hoped we could bring the physical architecture to match a new cultural scene.’”
An instinct for the changing city…
“Bloxham and was taking a chance buying Ducie House, close to Piccadilly rail station. His instinct was right; not only were the Ducie House offices in demand from tenants like the experimental dance group 808 State but the party-loving property prince so enjoyed being the host that he opened his own nightclub in the basement.
When United won the 1997 Premier League, half of the first team descended on Home after a riotous day at Chester races, where the red tops later reported they had brawled with other racegoers who first took the fight to them. They got to Home around 9pm with ripped shirts and ruddy faces to be greeted by Mick Hucknall. The scene was set for a raucous celebration.”
The last word...
“Mr Urban Splash could lay claim to two areas as Bloxham barrios − the audacious extension to ‘Castlefield’ that his schemes created in what was the Hulme–Salford border west of the A57, and in New Islington, with Will Alsop’s Chips, a free school, marina and nicely done groups of new builds on small infill sites.”
Manchester Unspun. Pop, property and power in the original modern city is available now.
Andy will be in conversation with Stuart Maconie at Waterstone’s Deansgate on November 10, tickets available here.
You can also read Andy’s recent article on 30 years of Urban Splash.
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