Newgate Flicks

The Gate
Sat. 28th Sep., 2002

Work continues apace on the new cinema and leisure centre at Whitecross. The junction of Newgate Street and Low Friar Street was the site of the mediŠval spire called the Whitecross, from which the walkway in Eldon Square Shopping Mall derives its name. Until the recent work started here, the site was commemorated by a white stone cross in the ground.

This is one of the oldest streets in the city, and was the location for a livestock market. The nearby Green Market, on the site of the present Bourgognes pub, spilled out here too. The
Church of St. Andrew was the location for market officers and an assize to settle market disputes.

Cylinder tower and disc: very 1990s
A realistic size

The new development is called "The Gate" and is owned by Land Securities, the UK's largest publicly quoted property development and investment company. It is a 17,495 square metre site in two parts, bisected by Low Friar Street, and cost ú65 million to develop.

The plans were drawn up by Geoffrey Reid Associates of Birmingham and the architect in charge, Jeremy Ward, said that it was the most exciting space that he had worked on.

The cylindrical tower and disc roof is a 1990s time stamp, and the lower structure on the south side of the development uses this motif in several places. Its scale does not dwarf the surrounding buildings and partly echoes the previous Co-op building that was latterly a furniture store.

Futuristic bridge spanning Low Friar Street
Impressive glass wall

The northern section of the development abuts the massive Co-op building and takes its line from this impressive 1930s edifice. See more here.

The architect claims this 24m glass wall is the tallest expanse of planar glazing in the UK.

The Gate will offer under-cover street-style leisure, a sky bar and a 12-screen multiplex cinema to the heart of the city. Odeon Cinemas has already undertaken to operate the cinema multiplex, and Chorion┤s Tiger Tiger has taken another prestige letting.

The magistrates have granted 13 site liquor licences and a variety of restaurants, cafes and lifestyle shops is expected when it opens early in 2003.

Compare the view below with that from the same vantage point 2 yrs ago

Grand view from above
Architect's impression
Low Friar Street

©1999 Geoffrey Reid Associates

The Architect's impression above shows the pedestrian area and a glamorous night time feel.

Left is a view of today's pedestrians in the narrow gap that is now all that remains of this end of Low Friar Street.

Dispensary Lane leads off to the right and goes to
Blackfriars, and in the distance the copper clad dome atop an earlier cylinder tower at the junction of Clayton Street and Westgate Road is visible. See more here.

This street was the location of the of the Blackfriars Prior's house in the 13th century. It was then known as Shod Friar Lane because the Dominican friars wore shoes, unlike the barefoot Greyfriars, whose land was near High Friar Street on today's Grey Street and Theatre Royal.

The new building has been tastefully joined onto the old. The traditional sandstone and brick decoration from the older has been echoed throughout on the south building. That lotus motif cornice is borrowed from Ancient Egypt and lends massivity to the structure.

This is still a working building site, and is littered with vans, skips piles of supplies and hoist equipment. It is gratifying that during the construction public rights of way were maintained, yet no accidents have been reported involving the works and members of the public.

The internal structure of both buildings relies on massive tubular steel frames resting on deep foundations. Floors are suspended within this frame with little internal support interruption. This gives maximum flexibility to future reorganisations of the demountable internal divisions.

The view on the right is from the end of Dispensary Lane looking towards Low Friar Street. More cylindrical artifices greet one and break the line of what is effectively a collection of rectangles and cubes. The architect has not only thought about the crook in Low Friar Street but also this view from Dispensary Lane, and his pleasing solution serves both admirably.

The glass wall extending along the front of the cinema building from the junction with the Co-op and to just beyond the futuristic looking bridge linking the two sections is a gentle curve.

Visible behind the glass panels the are the structures and service ducts, yet from this high vantage point the busy city is reflected in the panes. I hope that those picture panels will be removed before completion. I suspect that they hide a contractor's service area.

The glass is only lightly tinted and the architect has shied away from the mirror finish featured on other planar glass walls of this type.

Below is the view from the site of the Blackfriars Monastery chancel arch, destroyed during the
Reformarion. All of the other buildings are 20th century.

Junction with older building
Dispensary Lane
Reflections of the future
Cinema rear from chancel arch of Blackfriars

Back in Low Friar Street, once the builders' skips and rubble have been removed businesses here can resume their normal trade. A blight has descended on this street, and a few outlets have closed. The construction has seemed forbidding to many who have used this road as an access from the Fenkle Street area and the nearby Chinatown to Newgate Street.

In the days when Newgate Street was a market, vendors extended from the New Gate, site of the town gaol until 1828, and the
cathedral at the foot of Bigg Market. It was also the location of numerous taverns and alehouses. Visitors and traders would throng the bars and provide a lively trade for local hostelers.

These premises survived until the Eldon Square development of the early 1970s.

Low Friar Street Plaza
St. Mary's RC Catedral spire in distance

Although the market for out of town produce has gone; even the thrice weekly stalls in Bigg Market have been banished by the Council's New Look policy for the city centre, activity is set to return to this part of town.

It is a strange irony that the destruction of so many leisure facilities in this area by the developments of the late 1960s and early 1970s is being redressed by this bold new project.

It is also pleasing that the new structures, whilst being modern and using innovative methods, retain a scale and shape that is in tune with their surroundings.

This is architecture for people, not hot-headed planners plonking their "what it should be" visions on a remote location they will never use.

Click here to see high quality album copies of these and other photographs from the same shoot

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