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Photography by Jaden Boyd & Katie O'Neill

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The Northern Quarter's iconic ceramic street signage

Tim and Liam first met in 1978. Tim was showing paintings in a local gallery and Liam accompanied them with his ceramics. They formed a friendship there and then that has continued to the present day. They went on to collaborate in many personal projects during the next 15 years this culminated in them working together on the Northern Quarter urban regeneration project for which Liam was lead concept artist.

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Visual artists Tim Rushton (left) & Liam Curtin

In the late 1990’s Tim Rushton and Liam Curtin were commissioned to make the Northern Quarter's blue and white ceramic street signs, designed to give the area a sense of place. Tim designed a unique letter face for the signs known as Cypher and the signs blue on white for streets that are north/south, white on blue for east/west help to orientate visitors and help to brand the area. The pair were also responsible for the pavement poem installations “Flags” on Tib Street, along with the series of 20 Manchester music themed metal castings “Soundbites” set into the pavement on Oldham Street.

Street signage - Northern Quarter

In 1996 Liam commissioned several artists to create artworks for Manchester’s Northern Quarter. One of the commissions identified was to create a unique street signage identity for the newly designated area.

In his commission Tim designed a system of hand printing letters onto quarry tiles. The system would require rapid stencil changes to cope with the wide variation in the total number of the letters involved… lots of E’s and S’s, not so many J’s and Y’s. He adapted one of the fonts that he had drawn in his studio.

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A montage of some of the Northern Quarter's street signs

A total of nine different widths of tile were chosen to accommodate different letter widths and corner tiles. Tin glaze was poured onto the tiles and when dry, the screen printing of the letterforms could take place using hand-cut paper stencils; the result being the iconic blue and white street signs which have been part of the fabric of the Northern Quarter for over 25 years.

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Recently Tim and Liam considered extending the street sign scheme to include the wider Northern Quarter but soon realised that the making of the ceramic street signs would be costly both in fabrication and installation, so they commissioned an enamel steel sign in the same design and were pleased to see that it fitted well with the old scheme and would be less costly and easier to install.

The proposed new street sign

The idea has been presented to City Councillors and Officers, the Northern Quarter Action Group and other arts and design agencies within the city and so far it has met with enthusiastic approval.

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“Flags" - Tib Street Street pavement poems

Lemn Sissay’s pavement poem “Flags” which run along Tib Street. Although replaced with cast iron panels in the last couple of years, the original ceramic block poem lasted twenty years.


The new cast iron panel

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The original ceramic block poem in need of updating

"Soundbites" - Oldham Street castings 

In 1998 Tim and Liam met with a group of people including club owners and DJ's who were interested in the project to discuss what form the representation of Manchester's popular music scene could take. The consensus was that from the 60's to the millennium would be the best time frame. Tim thought of the name 'Soundbites', for better or worse and that name seemed to stick.


808 State


The Hacienda


Factory Records

Tim decided on a triangular format and looked at different methods of casting deciding that the most cost effective one would be the lost-foam process. Tim borrowed source material from friends and record shops in the Northern Quarter and drew up the twenty designs. He worked the designs into polystyrene patterns and took them to Sheffield for casting.

Weighing nearly 70 kilos each, the panels were laid by City Contracts at the end of '99, just in time for the millennium but were lifted after only two years so that Oldham Street could be re-paved for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

THE SHOOT: The Northern Quarter

Street corners and pavements - sites of iconic ceramic street signage and Manchester music themed iron panels

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Student reflection: Jayden Boyd


Getting involved in this shoot was a wonderful opportunity to not only photograph two interesting characters, but to also add images to my final major project at college. I have chosen ‘street photography’ as my subject, so l am regularly out and about in the city centre with my camera.

I have often noticed the unique street signs around the Northern Quarter, so to meet the artists involved was amazing. Tim and Liam were very friendly and easy to work with. We started the shoot photographing the metal artwork in the pavements and then moved to a building in the heart of the NQ where the pair got access to an open office window so we could photograph them close to one of their street signs. I had to use a telephoto lens at street level to get the shot… this brought a lot of attention from passers by.


We completed the shoot getting close ups of Tim and Liam on Back Turner Street to give a typical Northern Quarter vibe. The Spring sunshine sometimes caused problems for us, but when we found shade the images worked brilliantly.

The shoot was really enjoyable, Tim and Liam were really cool to work with and the experience boosted my confidence, whilst managing to get some great shots for both the Greater Mancunians and my college project.

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Tim, Jay & Liam

The shoot - Tib Street


Tim Rushton - abstract artist

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Tim Rushton was born in 1951 in Crumpsall and raised in New Moston. He attended Foundation in art and design at Manchester Polytechnic going on to study at Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1972. He left with a fine art degree in painting. He then began working as a freelance for graphic designers, screen printing rock posters which he sold to outlets around the country. At the same time, he started part-time teaching in the adult sector, this led to him being asked to set up a further education printmaking facility in locations in central and south Manchester. Tim taught full time until the late eighties.


North Manchester was a fascinating playground, a shocking rural/urban mix. I was aware from a young age that beauty and ugliness were two sides of the same coin… a concept that has since inspired my visual vocabulary”.

A job share enabled Tim to concentrate on his own work and public art commissions followed in Greater Manchester and Yorkshire including the Middleton Gateway project. He has been assisted with much of the digital preparation work for these projects by his wife Sue, between them they have been able to exploit a variety of industrial patternmaking and casting techniques.


In the 1990s Tim created a series of photographic images of Welsh chapels using his medium format film camera. The body of work was published in a book entitled, ‘Capeli/Chapels’. 


Now retired from part-time teaching Tim purchased a reconditioned 19th century etching press now assembled in his conservatory. Tim’s creative work, printing, painting and drawing now continues from his Withington home.

Liam Curtin - artist


Liam Curtin was born 1951 in Liverpool, Liam has worked as a teacher, potter and visual artist based in Manchester since 1972. During the last 20 years he has been commissioned to create a range of public artworks such as The Blackpool High Tide Organ, which he made with John Gooding in 1996. The 15m tall sculpture turns waves in to musical chords. Other work includes small bronze pavements jewels which create a complex puzzle in East Oxford. He has been involved with a number of regeneration projects and regularly gives talks about this method of creating a dialogue between various groups through art.

Liam spent many years making ceramics, setting up ‘Majolica Works’ with Wendy Jones in 1986, their pots can be seen in various museum collections. Liam has also made a short film, commissioned and composed music.

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