Private Places in Public Space: Commerce, Community and Computers in Wythenshawe’s Civic Centre

Ian Martin

Leeds Metropolitan University


Faced with further industrial decay, Manchester in the 1960s desperately tried to shake off its dour northern heritage in order to recast itself as a commercial centre. Wythenshawe, eight miles south of the city centre, was an important part of this vision of commerce. Its fringe location and satellite garden town design set it apart from the rest of the city and the promise of free-flowing traffic, greenfield sites and generous grants incentivised a number of businesses to relocate. Three businesses that moved operations to the area – Shell-Mex British Petroleum, Barclays Bank, and the Trustee Savings Bank – created large computer centres in Wythenshawe’s newly-built civic centre. The buildings’ Brutalist designs, typical of building projects at the time, dominated the surrounding area and architects rose to the challenge of humanising the buildings’ visual identity by setting them in open landscaped grounds. In this paper, I examine the relationship between these buildings and the community in which they were situated to understand why, despite the computer centres’ planned open outlooks, the buildings were increasingly fashioned as very private places.

(Courtesy of Barclays Group Archives)

(Courtesy of Barclays Group Archives)


Ian Martin is a senior lecturer in Business Information Technology at Leeds Metropolitan University. His research interests include spatial and temporal perspectives on the history and sociology of technology. His PhD thesis from the University of Manchester in 2010, Centring the Computer in the Business of Banking: Barclays Bank and Technological Change, 1954-1974, is a labour history of early computing work.


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