Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre, Oldham

The Spindles, Oldham, Greater Manchester, England


The series of three interrelated roof lights in stained glass of the Spindles Shopping Centre – connecting and spanning the main public areas of the principal mall in Clarke's hometown, Oldham – were designed between 1990 and 1993, and are among the largest stained glass windows in Europe, and some of the largest public artworks in the UK. Originally conceived as a monumental, rhythmic composition of five rooflights, and with a clerestory in the rotunda window, inspired by composer William Walton, the design was later modified to three windows. The three artworks cover a total of 6,760 square feet, and are made of traditionally-leaded, mouth-blown glass, laboriously acid-etched, enamelled, and screenprinted.

"Since Oldham's other 'most famous son' is William Walton', Clarke has drawn inspiration from this 'so very English' composer, to whom he has given homage in his design. The stained glass in Central Square contains both literal and figurative references to Walton. Without a conscious intention to make a pictorial representation, Clarke evokes a recorded anecdote of Walton in which the composer, finding himself at a creative impasse, glanced at the vine-covered trellis in his garden at Ibiza, and gazing at the shafts of sunlight penetrating the latticework, felt himself released from that despair and bondage. In Clarke's design for the Central Square, the great latticework grid is pierced by a flash of orange-red light (like an Annunciation). The manuscript and music pages, unreadable by the passer-by, remind me of those Gothic stained glass makers, some of whose representations on high could only be deciphered by God. The glass roofed corridors linking these great spaces have been designed to have the pace of the rhythm of a stately march, punctured by heraldic emblems sufficient to induce a pause of recognition, but not to stop the inevitable flow into the climactic spaces, the points of crescendo. For this project Clarke has revived the use of a red glass made with gold which has not been in use since the nineteenth century. The texture and quality of brushstrokes [is] emulated by the texture of the glass." Paul Beldock in the essay 'Into Architecture', from the book Brian Clarke: Into and Out of Architecture, 1990.

"The design for the central square incorporates specific reference to the music of Sir William Walton (born, like Clarke, in Oldham). These elements include musical scores from Belshazzar's Feast, the initial programme page of the Te Deum written in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and a highly magnified facsimile of a letter written by the composer when he was a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford. The ‘small mall’ was motivated by the 'Orb & Sceptre Coronation March' and marks a breakaway from the amorphic elements of the other compositions towards a more painterly abstraction. Here the rhythm of the grid is disrupted by huge brushstrokes in orange, green and red glass."