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Staircase House Stockport including Strawberry Studios Gallery

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
Published January 11th 2020
Let them take you down
A recording studio set up by 10cc now has a dedicated room in its honour at Stockport's market place museum - Staircase House. Sadly, the long-term future of Staircase House, as a museum, is under review.

Stockport Museum, Strawberry Studios, 10cc, Stephen Morris, The Smiths, Martin Hannett, Joy Division, North West history
Strawberry Studios blue plaque (outside original studio, now Mondiale Publishing and CGA)

Amongst those who recorded at Strawberry Studios are Joy Division, Paul McCartney, The Smiths, Neil Sedaka, The Stone Roses, The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and the Happy Mondays.

The new dedicated gallery is a condensed version of the exhibition which Staircase House opened in 2017 and was extended, due to its popularity, to February 2018. Included are Paul Slattery's photographs of Joy Division in Stockport, in 1979 and a Formula Sound 1972 mixing desk.

Stockport Museum, Strawberry Studios, 10cc, Stephen Morris, The Smiths, Martin Hannett, Joy Division, North West history
Courtesy of Stockport Museums

Talking to Jon Savage during Manchester Literature Festival 2019, Joy Division/New Order's drummer Stephen Morris spoke about working with producer Martin Hannett at Strawberry Studios.

Stephen Morris said his first impression of Hannett, was that he "looked like Tom Baker . . . a mad professor" with a "mad cackle."

He confirmed that Hannett would turn the air conditioning to freezing, to keep unwanted opinions away, when recording wasn't in progress.

However, the drummer added that Hannett was "very aware of digital technology ... " and "things that were going to happen in music."

Joy Division's 1979 album, Unknown Pleasures, Stephen Morris said, would "not have sounded anything like it did without a great studio in Stockport and 10ccs investment."

Inevitably, not all of Hannett's production methods found approval with the artists he worked with. The exhibition notes how the Stone Roses recorded Garage Flowers at Strawberry in 1985 but, because they weren't happy with the sound, it was not released until 1996.

The seed of Strawberry Studios was planted when Inter-City Studios opened above the Nield & Hardy music store in Stockport, in a twenty-foot-square room. This was 1967 - the year when The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The studios were owned by former roadie Peter Tattersall. Financial investment came from musicians Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman and engineer and band manager Ric Dixon. The extra cash meant they could relocate to a larger, old warehouse building, in Stockport, in October 1968.

The name Strawberry Studios was chosen, in honour of Eric Stewart's favourite Beatles song - Strawberry Fields Forever. Graham Gouldman joined with Eric Stewart, as well as Lol Creme and Kevin Godley to form 10cc.

The Strawberry Studios artefacts are though only one facet of Staircase House. The rest of the labyrinth-like museum, with its Jacobean cage-newel staircase, tells the story of the Stockport region from the neolithic period through Angle Land to modern times.

Stockport Museum, Strawberry Studios, 10cc, Stephen Morris, The Smiths, Martin Hannett, Joy Division, North West history
Courtesy of Stockport Museums

In 1958 archaeologists uncovered the Dowel Cave Burials - the bodies turned out to be about 5,000 years old. The bones, which gave this Neolithic insight, are on display behind a glass case.

The Dowel Cave material is shared between the Stockport, Manchester and Buxton museums - following the closure of Peakland Archaeology Society who were the original custodians of the historical treasures.

One of the most eye-catching exhibits is a large plate of stained glass (c.1805), designed and produced by Walter J Pearce, from the Centenary Hall Sunday School (demolished in the 1970s).

Exhibits span the centuries - there is a recreation of a middle-class Second World War era living room and a 1950's kitchen with the ubiquitous framed print of the kitsch Green Lady (1950) by Vladimir Tretchikoff.

L.S. Lowry included Stockport in his priceless portfolio. His painting A Street in Stockport (specifically Crowther Street) was referenced in the first scene of the film Mrs Lowry & Son (2019).

Some objects, such as weights and measures, beer barrels from Robinsons Brewery and an 1895 sewing machine, will perhaps only appeal to those with a specialist interest.

Others exhibits are dark reminders - such as a plague stone (c. 1630 - 1670) "believed to have been found in Stockport market place" when coins were washed in vinegar). Some are cruelly compelling, such as the Scold's Bridle. The punishment mask had a spike which went inside a woman's mouth and was displayed on market days as a warning.

Stockport was granted a market charter in 1260 during the reign of Henry III. Staircase House has been dated to around 1460, though little is known of its early history.

Stockport council needs to make savings of £10 million in 2020/21, with the proposal being to reduce museums budget by £150,000. The council conducted a consultation which included moving exhibits to the War Memorial Gallery and reducing the opening hours at Staircase House and only accommodating schools and pre-booked groups during the week. Entry is currently free but charges of £5 (£3.75) are suggested from April 2020 onwards.

In November 2019, the Manchester Evening News reported that some staff had been put on notice of redundancy and that over 4,000 people had signed a petition against the proposed closure.

In January 2020, the same newspaper reported that a decision on Stockport Museum had been put back to allow councillors to take stock of alternative options put forward in the public consultation. One councillor commented that the collections "people really care about" need to remain "as accessible as possible."

Stockport Museum, Strawberry Studios, 10cc, Stephen Morris, The Smiths, Martin Hannett, Joy Division, North West history
Staircase House and Stockport Museum Public Domain,

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Why? A cage-newel journey to Stockport’s treasures
Phone: 0161 474 4444
Where: 30 Market Place SK1 1ES
Cost: See website
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