Oxford Rd Station Approach, Clendinning for MRAT, 1958-60
You can still enjoy a classic 1960s terminal every time you use Oxford Road train station. This has survived partly because it’s listed grade 2 and because its remarkable laminated wood roofs were braced a few years ago in a tactful restoration. In the late 1950s and early 60s the Midland Region of British Railways – remember them: a publicly-owned, integrated rail network? – began the electrification of the London, Liverpool and Manchester lines. At that time Oxford Rd was the city terminal of the Manchester-Altrincham electric line, now a branch of the Metrolink tramway. Platforms 5 and 6 saw a regular service of green, slam-door electric units to Sale and beyond. There were fewer cross-city transit services then to London Road and Mayfield stations. The station is built on a long but structurally weak viaduct (have a look at Len Grant’s viaduct photographs on platform 12 in Piccadilly). How do you build a light terminal and transit station on a triangular viaduct site? You use a prefabricated structure like a timber-shell roof.
In 1956 the Timber Development Association appointed Hugh Tottenham to research timber-shell roofs; Oxford Road is his best. He worked with British Railways’ Max Clendenning [a C, never a G] to design a timber structure of three conoid shells, 13 to 29 metres in span, supported on a cruck-like frame. Other crucks support the curved canopies over the platforms. Timber was also used for the buffet, ticket office and benches, making a cohesive design. Using timber made sense then: it was cheap, being promoted by Canada, and it saved scarce foreign exchange, if it was imported from the Commonwealth Sterling Area.
Oxford Rd station has a warm organic feel. Careful study of the lamination and structure reveals the skill and imagination of Tottenham and Clendenning. If only Northern Rail would restore the cute but empty wooden clock case above the ticket office…
*****thanks to Aidan Turner-Bishop, Chair of the North West Group of the Twentieth Century Society for this text. the image is from the ever reliable Looking At Buildings website.
First published February 2010