Down in a Tube Station at Midday – Charles Holden’s Northern Piccadilly Line Masterpieces

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“Why are you all taking photos?… It’s just a station!” barks a baffled commuter, as she carves through our group. It’s understandable I suppose. Millions use London’s underground tube network on a daily basis, reducing the impact of even the most awe inspiring stations to mere pieces of urban monotony, each to be navigated as swiftly and painlessly as possible. For those with open eyes and time to spare however, a multitude of treasures await. For this wasn’t ‘just a station’, it was Arnos Grove, one of Charles Holden’s Piccadilly Line masterpieces.

Taking a 2 1/2 hour rail journey to the big smoke, purely to walk around a selection of tube stations is probably not most people’s idea of an enjoyable Saturday out. But I can’t deny it, I’d been looking forward to this for some time. Oyster in hand, and camera on back, I set out to meet up with Modernism in Metro-land’s Josh, who would guide myself and 24 other architecture, transport and history aficionados, through some of the most iconic English tube stations ever built.

There’s a wealth of information out there on Charles Holden’s work and career, both in printed and digital form, so I’ll refrain from simply regurgitating it all here. To briefly summarise though, in collaboration with Frank Pick, the visionary managing director of the Underground during the inter-war years, Holden introduced modernism to the tube’s built environment. This initially manifested itself through facelifts of existing stations, but ultimately lead to the design of a whole family of structures for the rapidly expanding ‘metro-land’ public transport infrastructure.

Todays tour showcased the final seven stops on the northern arm of the Piccadilly Line, all completed between September 1932 and July 1933 (several of which opened simultaneously). I’ll give brief overviews of each station, and share some choice shots, although the often busy locations and limited time in each, resulted in challenging photographic conditions (at least, that’s my excuse!).

Turnpike Lane

Featuring a large sunken ticket hall set beneath a cubic street level pavilion, Turnpike Lane was apparently Holden’s favourite station. It’s beauty lies in the simplicity of the design, essentially a box with a rectangular ventilation tower, generously fenestrated by huge banks of metal framed windows. Direct access into the station is via two stairways, passing beneath overhanging curved canopies on entry and exit. Originally  part of a civic hub, with co-ordinated bus and tram stations, Turnpike was listed in 1994, years after the trams had ceased to run, and their shelters been demolished. Retail and passenger facilities occupy further buildings, all constructed in much the same style, albeit, rather more curvaceous in form.

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Wood Green

Next stop up the line is Wood Green, the only station in this particular run that isn’t a detached building. Its sweeping façade bridges the gap between two C19th buildings, on a corner of a busy intersection. Two ventilation turrets rise up on each corner, originally equal in height, although one has since been extended. Internally many of the original features have long since been removed, some replaced with replicas, others simply falling victim to modernisation. Every station also features bespoke ventilation grilles designed by Harold Stable, each depicting a historical aspect of the site – in this case deer and wildfowl.

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Bounds Green

Not every ‘Holden station’ was designed in detail by the man himself, with such a rapid expansion program it simply wouldn’t have been possible. All, I believe were based on concepts and sketches by Holden, that once approved by Pick, would be passed on to other architects to develop and draw up the final plans. Bounds Green is one such example, and is credited to Charles James.

It is unique in the network, being the only station to boast an octagonal ticket hall. Said to be beneficial by, “allowing greater expanses of window to be inserted into the splayed corners”, but more importantly, it just looks pretty darn sexy. Two small kiosks are attached to each outer wall of the station, their curved frontages neatly emerging from the sharp geometric form of the parent building.

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Arnos Grove

After a vigorous stroll from Bounds Green (via the delightful Grade II listed Bowes Road Pool & Library), we approach one of the two undeniable architectural icons on this stretch of track; Arnos Grove.

Inspired by the work of Swedish architect Gunnar Aspland, Holden incorporated elements from his design for Stockholm City Library into Arnos Grove. The striking ‘drum on a box’ form of the ticket hall is a triumph of minimalist construction. Something that a passing cyclist felt the need to emphasise by yelling “cylindrical drum” at Josh as he peddled past. The drum in question is huge, towering over the booking hall with one central column supporting its lid-like roof. The original ticket booth (or ‘passometer’) nestles at the base, and now serves as a small museum to the station. Period phone booths, restored some years ago, also remain in situ, their oak by-fold doors securing further exhibits on the buildings history.

Despite its eye catching appearance, Arnos Grove was apparently Frank Pick’s least favourite design, and was only was only approved after a series of drawn out persuasive discussions.

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Southgate

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Arriving by train into Southgate you are greeted in a wonderful subterranean environment, illuminated in a warm glow by the original bronze up-lighters. The ticket hall appears to be of similar design to Arnos Grove, only with a considerably lower ceiling. It’s only once you’ve exited and glanced behind you that the penny drops. There’s really no other way I can think to describe it other than a flying saucer. I tend to associate the golden age of science fiction with the atomic era of the late 1950’s and 1960’s, but clearly Holden was way ahead of the curve.

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Opening in March 1933, this giant circular station, features a large overhanging canopy, offering weather protection to those window shoppers passing the numerous integrated kiosks. A smaller central cylinder rises up, with continuous glazing following the whole circumference. On top, an illuminating antenna-like mast crowns the fallen UFO, luring the humanoids in.

Like Turnpike Lane, Southgate is a civic hub, with co-ordinated bus shelters and community facilities, all of which neatly circle the mothership.

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Oakwood

After the giddy heights of the last three stations, Oakwood (originally Enfield West) is perhaps a little disappointing externally. Another C. H. James building, it follows a fairly simple ‘Sudbury Box’ design (Sudbury Town being the first of several stations to be built in this style). Things improve internally, with a huge double height ticket hall bathed in natural light, two original ticket booths, a wonderful curved shop, and a reinforced concrete ceiling reminiscent of the unhealthy potato grids I occasionally feed my kids.

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Cockfosters

The terminus on this stretch of line is more intriguing than first impressions would have you believe. At street level, a fairly simple entry building graced with two stumpy towers greets the pedestrian, while a streamlined bus shelter with duel descending stairwells, is present opposite. Had the original plans been realised, the main building would be bookend by two substantial integrated office blocks, and perhaps even a cinema. Ultimately, these were never built, but the true achievement becomes apparent as you descend below ground.

A huge reinforced concrete hanger covers the three platforms extending from the ticket hall. Daylight streams in from overhead skylights, fortified with light from electric globes dangling from the heavens. Could this be the birth of Brutalism in England? I’m not sure, but its a beautiful church-like environment, and a fitting end to marvellous collection of transport structures. Subtle yet grand, minimal yet alive, functional yet beautiful.

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If this type of tomfoolery is up your street, I’d highly recommend getting yourself booked onto a future Modernism in Metro-land tour. They are fairly infrequent, and sell out quickly, but are well worth getting involved with. Josh also writes regular articles on his site about… well, Modernism in Metro-land, so do have a read.

For some beautiful period photographs and detailed information on Charles Holden’s work with the London Underground get yourself a copy of ‘Bright Underground Spaces’ by David Lawrence. A gorgeous hardback bible, suitable for coffee tables and bookcases alike.

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The Queen Mary Takes Me: A Tribute to Craig Anderson

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Blogging is a fascinating phenomenon. WordPress alone is said to be home to over 80 million posts a month, with authors busy hammering out articles on pretty much anything you can possibly imagine. I follow a small collection of diverse sites, all of which I thoroughly enjoy, even if I am guilty of being a bit light on leaving comments. There is however, one blog in particular, that has affected me more than most, and I wanted to write a short tribute to it, and more specifically, it’s author.

Being a collector of inter-war design and paraphernalia, I was delighted when I first stumbled across The Queen Mary Takes Me. Written by true romantic and British expat Craig Anderson, the site chronicles his search for original items from the RMS Queen Mary Cruise Liner in its pre-war heyday. In his own words…

 “The Queen Mary has special place in my heart, I proposed to my wife on board her and since then we’ve shared many important moments on board. Since we live far away from her we have found that collecting, restoring and sharing her furniture and fittings is our way of keeping her history alive and furthering her connection to anyone who loves and appreciates ocean liners, passenger ships and the Golden Age of Travel.”

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Craig & Shara Anderson

Most of the interior decor was stripped or covered over when the ship was requisitioned during the war. The exterior was painted grey, and the beautiful pieces of furniture, fabric, carpets, china, objet d’art, and general decor was stored, with some of it being sold off later. Since decommissioning in the late 1960’s, the ship has been used as a permanently moored hotel in Long Beach, California, and has in more recent years been restored back to its late 1930’s glory. Earlier refits however, had led to much of the now dated furniture, finding their way onto the market, to be ultimately scooped up by collectors like Craig.

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Third Class Lounge Table “In my eyes it is hands down the best table from Third Class”.

So long as there was clear provenance, Craig would apparently collect it. Each blog post updated the reader on the latest acquisition, with numerous photos of the piece in question, detailed research, and often period shots of it (or identical items) taken while on the ship, all delivered with an enthusiasm so infectious is practically leapt of the screen. Combined together, it showcased an expanding collection of museum quality pieces that I for one, drooled over the laptop screen at. I distinctly remember my own jubilation at a post relating to a curved veneer waste paper bin, desperate to find another I scoured the internet fruitlessly, seriously pondering the possibility of dabbling in 1930’s cruise liner memorabilia.

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Verandah Grill Vent Cover “art pieces in their own right”

Most bloggers are fairly erratic, with periods of inactivity often followed by a burst of posts. As such, I thought nothing of a gap in Craig’s articles, until an update was posted by his wife Shara in January 2016.

“Many people are aware that Craig Anderson was recently killed in a tragic work accident. 2015 should have been one of the best of our lives as we welcomed a baby boy to our family and we had worked hard towards some wonderful goals (on this blog, with the Queen Mary collection, and in our personal lives), instead it ended in heart break for me and our son as the person we loved the most the world was taken away.”

My limited vocabulary doesn’t even begin to provide me with the words to comment on this utterly tragic turn of events, it’s heartbreaking, he was just 33. I never met Craig, we exchanged a couple of messages, but I can’t help but feel we might of got on pretty darn well, sharing not just our appreciation of 1930’s design, but a love of classic cars (I discovered later) and similar aged children.

Earlier in this week I was researching a recently photographed house for the book I’m working on. The trail led me to the discovery that the original owner, one Captain Herbert Morgan, was a skipper with Cunard White Star. I doubt he piloted RMS Queen Mary, but who knows. I’d like to think Craig would have found this little piece of information to his liking.

I highly recommend you set aside some time to investigate the site soak up the collection, which Shara has vowed to continue with.

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I wish all the best to Shara, little Thomas, and all of his family.

 

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Bingo, Striptease & Jazz; A Short History of Dudley Hippodrome

IMG_1725smAll over Britain countless former cinemas and theatres lay vacant, slowly deteriorating while a decision on their future is debated.  A select few, largely thanks to pockets of enthusiasts and community groups, get rescued from the wrecking ball, restored and preserved for future generations to enjoy. With a professional, creative and passionate approach, many of these glamorous old structures can still successfully be used for their original purpose. Failing this, it’s often viable to sympathetically modify the building to fulfil new functions, without altering the fabric dramatically.

Alas, many don’t get the opportunity to rise from the ashes. It seems a month rarely passes when I don’t read about another former cinema or theatre being torn down to make way for some architecturally bankrupt, get-rich-quick project. Obviously not every example can, or should be preserved. Some, following years of neglect and vandalism, have succumbed to the elements and deteriorated beyond the point of no return. Others, simply don’t possess the architectural merit or viable business solution to make restoration worthwhile. But those that do, those inspiring examples of Britain’s flamboyant theatrical and cinematic heritage, awaiting the chance to illuminate their neon signs again, should surely be awarded the opportunity.

The Hippodrome in Dudley is one such case in point that, thanks to community pressure, has recently been snatched away from the dreaded demolition gangs. Designed by renowned theatre architect Archibald Hurley Robinson, it replaced the Dudley Opera House, a late Victorian building gutted by fire in 1937. The Hippodrome’s giant curvaceous buff-brick frontage stood directly next door to another Robinson building, the more cubic Plaza Cinema, completed two years earlier. This in turn, was adjacent to the Zoo’s main entrance, and directly opposite the stunning 1937 ODEON Cinema. With four dramatic modernist attractions in such close proximity, all on the main drag into town, Dudley must surely have been the envy of its less pioneering Black Country neighbours.

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Plaza & Hippodrome

Completed just prior to Christmas 1938, the Hippodrome threw open its doors with an evening of up-tempo jazz, headlined by the formidable Jack Hylton and his Band. 1939 saw a packed programme of music, theatre and dance, typical of variety theatres during the period. Despite temporary closure during the war, the 1600 seat venue, dubbed ‘The Showplace of the West Midlands’ became a mainstay for major touring theatre and variety performances in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. The annual Christmas pantomime was another big draw, featuring some of the dazzling entertainment stars of the day including Harry Secombe, Derek Roy, Tommy Cooper, Eve Boswell, Beryl Reid and Morecombe & Wise. The golden 1950’s were rounded out with a run of sell out shows by rebellious rock ‘n’ rolling upstart, Cliff Richard.

Dubious management led to a reported decline of quality bookings in the early 1960’s, and with striptease performances and evenings of wrestling not filling the stalls, the Hippodrome changed hands. Re-launching as a casino club, it boasted a combination of bingo during the day, and live performances every night, a format that lasted until 1974, with the late great Roy Orbison, closing out proceedings. From that point on, the Hippodrome concentrated solely on hosting a mixed bill of bingo, bingo and more bingo, a concern that would  actually prove viable for a further 35 years at the venue. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and in September 2009 the balls would flutter for the last time, as the Hippodrome shut its doors for good.

The Plaza had been demolished in 1997, and thus, plans were made to follow suit with its now decaying neighbour. Had it not been for a group of local enthusiasts led by former college lecturer Geoff Fitzpatrick, this would probably have been the end of the story. The Save Dudley Hippodrome group (later Black Country Hippodrome ltd) collected 35,000 signatures objecting to the demolition of the building, and proposing it be restored and brought back to life in its original guise, a theatre for national and international touring productions.

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Geoff Fitzpatrick – photo: Midlands News Express & Star

Sadly, Geoff passed away in 2014 while the fight with the council was ongoing, but the group he helped form continued their quest, and in July 2016 was granted a five year lease to restore and revive the building. The keys were handed over to chairman, Dr Paul Collins in front of a jubilated crowd at a ceremony on the steps of the boarded up venue in December, and the arduous task of raising funds has now begun.

This short video filmed in 2015 by Dr Collins, though not of very high quality, does show the auditorium intact, complete with decorative plaster mouldings on the side walls, circle and ceiling. Further images taken by volunteers show an Aladdin’s cave of period features retained within the building, all ripe for restoration.

Having visited the site a couple of times recently, I can’t help but comment that the scale of the project is mind boggling. The giant brick complex houses a neat collection of graffiti, rooftop weeds, boarded up windows, leaking guttering and missing down pipes that is not a sight for the feint hearted. Look past its current condition though, and the sheer potential the place possesses is astounding. With its prominent location, excellent access, and ample parking, there is no reason why it couldn’t be run as a successful theatre, and to see this gigantic chunk of jazz age construction glowing with neon again, busy with Black Country crowds, would be truly magical.

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Artistic impression of a renovated Hippodrome, via the friends Facebook page

For further information and updates on the project, please join, follow, like, contribute to the Black Country Hippodrome’s Facebook page here  https://www.facebook.com/groups/25779253540/

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Animals for the Kids, Tectons for Dad – the Concrete Architecture of Dudley Zooilogical Gardens

If you exclude actual buildings, I’d wager that there are few 1930’s structures in England more famous than the Penguin Pool at London Zoo. Even those with a mere cursory knowledge of the UK’s key tourist attractions will be familiar with it. Famous in period, thanks to its innovative construction and wondrous sweeping lines, it has been celebrated as an ‘art deco’ masterpiece ever since. Poirot has been there, Bekonscot model village has a miniature recreation of it, and now, at long last, amorous starry-eyed couples can get married there; it’s nothing short of iconic.

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Photo: Bigday Weddings

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Photo: Avanti Architects

This pioneering slice of inter-war design, featuring two unsupported intersecting spiral-ramps, descending into an azure pool, was designed by Tecton, an influential architectural firm headed up by Russian émigré Berthold Lubetkin. Unveiled in 1934, it was Tecton’s second structure in the Zoo, following the previous year’s Gorilla House. Their pioneering early use of reinforced concrete (concrete set over a metal framework) allowed the construction of curvaceous adventurous designs not previously achievable through traditional methods.

Both structures are now justifiably Grade I listed and admired globally, but what of the firms follow up projects? If the Penguin Pool represented Tecton’s “Strawberry Fields Forever”, are you familiar with their “Sgt. Pepper”?dudleyzooposter

The success at London Zoo led to commissions for various projects, including, most notably, one from The Earl of Dudley, wishing to realise his dream of creating ‘The Most Up to Date Zoo in the World’. Built on a 40 acre site between ‘35 and ’37, and centred on the remains of Dudley’s C11th Castle, Tecton created thirteen innovative structures in a similar vein to those at London. This winning combination of exotic concrete experiments paired with exotic live animals proved a roaring success, with over 1 million visitors attending within the first 18 months. It is worth noting that in addition to the five key members of the Tecton Group, the celebrated structural engineer Ove Arup was also involved in the project (later famous for his work on Sydney Opera House).

Twelve of the original thirteen structures (now referred to simply as Tectons)  survive, and somewhat ironically, it’s the penguin pool that is no more. Following the onslaught of forty years worth of corrosive salt water containment, it was condemned and demolished in 1979. The others all remain, seven with grade II listed status, and five granted the coveted grade II*. The site was collectively given World Monument Status in 2009, and a £1.15 million heritage lottery fund grant followed in 2011, allowing the zoo to begin restoration of the Tectons one-by-one, a process that continues presently.

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DZG Penguin Pool, 1937-1979

My eldest daughter had been petitioning for a trip to a zoo for quite some time, so in January, on a bleak and near freezing morning, I obliged by treating the family to a maiden visit to DZG: Animals for the kids, Tectons for dad!

Most of the structures original purposes have changed over the years, and many of the walkways and steps have been cordoned off in the interest health & safety. Kiosks once used to serve refreshments, now act as unusual huts for informative displays, and generally, the Tectons remain more as monuments than functional buildings. Never the less, it is fascinating to get up close and personal with these impressive chunks of concrete. One has to keep reminding oneself that they are from the ‘30s, when this type of Brutalist construction is more typically associated with the flyovers and multi-story car parks of post-war redevelopments, some twenty to thirty years later.

In the winter, the place is virtually empty with most attractions closed for the down season. Great for unobstructed photos, less so for family enjoyment! Here follows a series of photographs from our adventure.

Spoiler alert, if you’re hoping to see exciting shots of the residents, please click away, as they were all sensibly hiding inside. This is purely about the architecture.

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The famous entrance gates, no longer used as primary entry point.

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This rather dilapidated brick hut greets the public as they approach from the car park.

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Polar Bear Complex – now home to an Asiatic Black Bear

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Kiosk 1 – originally for confectionery and ice cream

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Moat Cafe – Now The Discovery Centre, it was closed, we discovered nothing.

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Sea Lion Pool

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Bear Ravine – now home to a goat of some sort

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Kiosk 2 – in dazzling primary colours

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Castle Restaurant, inspired by the Queen Mary apparently

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Tropical Bird House – Now home to Asiatic Lions

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He’s always on the scene (fireman Sam)

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Toilets, Bin, Coke Dispenser

Find out more: www.dudleyzoo.org.uk

 

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Startling, Monstrous, Brutal, Magical – An Introduction to Scott’s RSC Memorial Theatre

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It’s unspeakably cold and bleak, but myself and my long suffering sweetheart have been granted a night away without our ‘charming’ offspring, so despite the weather, we’re determined to enjoy a mini-break. The destination of choice is Stratford upon Avon. No, we haven’t got tickets to a play, yes yes I know, because it was sold out. Never mind, it’s the Theatre itself I’ve come to see, and it’s certainly quite a place. A monstrous living-breathing red brick memorial to the bard, that has caused a fair bit of controversy ever since it’s construction in 1932. Despite some undeniable flaws in the original design and the unsympathetic nature of its scale in this historic riverside town, it has grown to be treasured within both the theatrical, and architectural communities. Admiring it from the frosty riverside gardens is one thing, but to understand what you’re looking at requires a look into the building’s, and its predecessor’s, past.

The first Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was built in 1879, perched in a picturesque setting on the banks of the Avon. Designed by Dodgshun & Unsworth, the building was said to be “a delightful and fantastic blend of Mediaevalism, combined with Elizabethan or ‘Old English’ elements”. Contemporary reports of both its appearance and practicality aren’t hugely favourable. But despite not being the faithful Globe recreation that some had hoped for, it was not entirely without merit, and was certainly unique. It would not survive though.

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The original Memorial Theatre, photo circa 1900

Despite the sensible addition of a water tower in the design, on the afternoon of Saturday March 6th 1926, fire would tear through the building, leaving only a shell, and the slightly later museum wing (attached by a wooden bridge seen in the above image) in its wake. The cause of its ignition is still unknown to this day, but threw up the question of how to replace such an important structure.

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Elizabeth Whitworth Scott

The following year a competition was set to design the new theatre. Of the 72 entries received, the winning design was by 29 year old Elizabeth Whitworth Scott. Scott, an early graduate of the Architectural Associations’ new London School was somewhat of a trail blazer. Female architects in this period were extremely rare, but then, Scott had an exceptional pedigree. Her great-uncle was George Gilbert Scott (a prolific gothic revival architect) and she was second cousin to Giles Gilbert Scott, who had a glittering CV including design of the iconic K2&3 red telephone boxes, Liverpool Cathedral, and the consultant architect duties for the construction of Battersea Power Station. Having such a talented and respected family behind her must have been a huge boost in confidence for Elizabeth, and no doubt helped her overcome some of the many gender related obstacles she must have faced. The Memorial Theatre was to become the first major public building to be designed by a woman, and Scott’s only theatre.

The winning design caused a huge amount of controversy in both the theatrical and architectural worlds, but was said to be the only genuinely modern submission in a sea of “Mock-Tudor and Post-Gothic horrors”. HRH the Prince of Wales cut the ribbon at the grand opening held on April 23rd 1932, Shakespeare’s birthday (he would have been 368). Sir Edward Elgar, who was due to be the new theatres musical director, was so furiously upset with that “awful female” and her “unspeakably ugly and wrong” design, that he wouldn’t even enter the premises and had nothing more to do with it. The Manchester Guardian’s review labelled the structure “startling, monstrous (and) brutal”, while others have been known to cite its similarities to industrial buildings of the period, and moan that its huge bulk is far too overpowering for the quaint site. In my humble eyes at least, this seems to be far too harsh a criticism, and simply shows the adverse reaction to the refreshing modernist approach of the period. Even Scott herself admitted that the design had “not intended to conceal the functionality of the building”. Gone were the fancy decorative adornments of the previous era, to be replaced by function in its bare form, which in itself, is surely a thing of beauty?  Thankfully English Heritage also held it in high regard, and granted the theatre listed status in 1971 (its currently grade II*).

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The North facing entrance in period, circa 1932

 

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Shakespeare Memorial Theatre nearing completion. Photo RIBA

If externally Scott’s theatre was unduly criticised, perhaps complaints of its internal layout were more valid. The auditorium was of proscenium arch design, seating an audience of 1400 in three tiers (stalls, circle, and balcony). This sheer scale and relatively plain decor, created a lack of intimacy, rendering it extremely hard for the cast to ‘connect’ with the audience. Consistent complaints about the lack of audibility from the back rows, and comments such as “reciting from the stage was like addressing Calais from the white cliffs of Dover” led ultimately to an inevitable redesign.

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Scott’s original auditorium

In the mid-1980s, the remaining walls of the original 1879 theatre, which for six decades had been left as an empty shell following the fire, were used to house a new smaller theatre christened The Swan. The intimate auditorium, seating 450, was designed with a deep thrust stage and galleried viewing, essentially a slightly modernised take on an original Elizabethan theatre-in-the-round.

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The Swan Theatre and adjoining Museum & Cafe wing

Proving to be a huge success with both cast and audience alike, this approach was to be adopted in the main theatre. After abandoning initial plans to completely replace Scott’s building, the RSC commissioned Bennetts Associates to re-imagine the complex, bringing all the facilities into the C21st. In 2007 work commenced on the three year project, with initial performances held from November 2010, and a grand opening by HRH the Queen & the Duke of Edinburgh in March 2011.

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Externally, almost all of Scott’s design remains as intended, bar the odd bricked up window and loss of the riverside colonnade. The most prominent and decorative aspect being the North facing frontage and entrance, overlooking Bancroft Gardens. Its near symmetrical frontage is gently curved, with five bays separated by vertical angled brick fins. Double doorways in each are given shelter by one continuous stepped canopy clad in copper. Tall windows above this illuminate the bar area and sit directly below some marvellous brick relief sculptures (by Eric Kennington RA – an English sculptor, illustrator and official war artist) depicting Treachery, Jollity, Life Triumphing over Death, Martial Ardour and Love. To the left is the polygonal tower, with brick bond windows inset at irregular intervals. What was originally an open rooftop terrace above the entrance is now glazed and covered, home to the RSC rooftop restaurant (in which we had a delightful candlelit evening meal… I digress).

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Treachery, Jollity, Life Triumphing Over Death, Martial Ardour & Love by Eric Kennington

To the right of the original frontage is the most prominent addition of the C21st revamp. A glass fronted welcome centre and gift shop (which also acts as a connecting corridor to The Swan) adjoins ‘The Tower’ – a 36 meter red brick monolith rising up into the grey Warwickshire sky. Square, with chamfered corners housing continuous glazing and multiple globe lanterns. On top, a glass observation booth with overhanging zinc clad awning. While I’m a natural sceptic when it comes to ‘blending’ different eras of architecture, the tower is undoubtedly a resounding success. It acts not only a distinctive landmark in the town, guiding lost tourists to the playhouse threshold, but creates a focal point, adding drama to the substantial mass of the complex.

The riverside terrace is a continuation of Scott’s frontage. Five smaller bays, with tall windows (tea room & bar) lead to two double doors with marvellous streamline canopies. Beyond this another significant modern addition in the form of improved dressing room facilities. Riverside balconies from the red brick block are encased by a grey steel exoskeleton, and finishing with what I can only describe as a unit resembling two ‘zinc clad shipping containers’.

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The South face is made up of the aforementioned Swan Theatre, a feast of Victorian era nostalgia, that is no doubt cited as many to be the ‘prettiest’ wing of the complex.

The new primary entrance is via the gift shop and box office. Turn left into the main building and you find yourself circling the huge brick silo housing the new performance space on wonderfully patinated oak floorboards, reclaimed from the original  stage. The original back wall of the auditorium remains, with parts of the old render giving clues as to its previous layout.

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Continue round and you’ll encounter Scott’s foyer, bar and stairway, all remaining virtually untouched. A wonderful Jazz-Age cocktail of chrome, marble, brick, and rich dark veneers greet and delight the eye upon entering. The ticket booths, an unusual amalgamation of the machine age meets medieval armament, are available for all to goof at and pose through. Pass under the giant integral ‘1932’ clock, through the giant chrome doorway and you are greeted with the green marble spiral staircase. Tactile geometric slabs to the centre, and a smooth chrome banister to the outer.. reminiscent of Oz’s Emerald City. The original 30’s features continue on the first floor in a similar vein, beautifully preserved and oozing with charisma.

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Original Ticket Booth

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First Floor Foyer

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Marble Staircase

The new, smaller performance space has a reduced capacity of 1040, with the desired effect of creating the intimacy that its predecessor never possessed. Members of the front row sit with their noses mere inches from the edge of the stage, with two gantries, allowing cast to enter from three separate locations. Behind the internal rear walls, the circular auditorium corridors transform once the performance beings, curtains drawn to reveal hidden dressing rooms and storage space in one orbital back stage area.

There is so much more to be said about this wonderful iconic theatre, its past present and future, its vital role within the local economy, and the unique international allure it holds for tourists. Hopefully at some point the RSC will publish a full blown hard back history of the theatre, packed with lots of juicy archive photographs and first hand accounts. In the mean time, I highly recommend a visit, we’re already planning a return trip.. and next time, we’ll be sure to get tickets for a performance.

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Sources and Further Reading:

https://www.rsc.org.uk

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1207396

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Shakespeare_Theatre

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_Scott

http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/resources/royal-shakespeare-company-rsc/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/nov/23/royal-shakespeare-theatre-revamp

https://stevenewmanstratfordwriter.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/a-history-of-stratfords-shakespeare-memorial-theatre/

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Winter in the Southern Sunshine: The Art Deco Magpie Visits Bournemouth

A weeks holiday in mid-November presented the family with an important decision; enjoy a staycation to catch up on the ever growing list of chores, or escape to an exotic location for some much needed recuperation. A vote was taken, with the latter emerging as the surprise victor. Suggested factors for determining the destination included sun, sea, sand, softplay centres, swimming pools, sorbets & interesting architecture, leaving only one genuine candidate; Bournemouth! I’ll admit to there being some surprised, if slightly disappointed faces,  when this news was broken, but upon being shown an official poster guaranteeing ‘Winter Sun in the Southern Sunshine and Warmth of Bournemouth’, I was given the benefit of the doubt.

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Being completely out of season, accommodation prices were at rock bottom, and we were able to secure the penthouse ‘Kings Suite’ at the Cumberland Hotel. This turned out to be a wise move as it’s a fascinating old place in a prime spot. Situated on the East Cliff, and surrounded by a myriad of other boarding houses, the Cumberland is perhaps one of the more upmarket lodgings in the area. Built in 1937 as a luxury Jewish Hotel with in-house synagogue, it looks directly out to sea with distant views of the Isle of Wight to the East, and Sandbanks to the West. The hotel no longer has any specific religious leanings, and the synagogue is no more, but otherwise it has managed to survive the last 80 odd years relatively unscathed. The simple white rendered exterior, with stepped facade, black tracers and glass balcony dividers are all in a good state of repair, retaining the same grand presence it had when first built. After dark, residents are treated to a light show as the facade is lit with by ever changing rainbow hue of up-lighters. You can make your own minds up about this, but my 3 year old daughter loved it!

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The interior retains some original features, such as the wonderful marble foyer with inlaid monogram and streamline banister rail. Elsewhere the Art Deco theme is continued with appropriate carpets, signage and mirrors. There is perhaps, more than a whiff of naff bling to some of the other interior decor, but I don’t want to be cruel, it proved to be very comfortable, and I’m not here to write a Trip Advisor critique.

I don’t believe I’d ever been to Bournemouth before, and having spent the summer hunting down the lesser spotted inter-war modernist architecture of my home county of Worcestershire (a fairly traditional, semi rural county not known for its progressive structures), it came as a bit of an assault on the senses to see what was on offer on the Dorset coast. Some basic homework had made me aware of the prevalence of Art Deco in the area, but witnessing such a large number of beautiful Jazz Age buildings scattered across this fairly compact town came as quite a pleasant surprise.

The East Cliff, a 1.5 miles stretch rising up from Bournemouth Pier before descending down to meet Boscombe Pier, appears to be the primary area for hotels and coastal apartments.  A veritable pick-and-mix of architectural styles can be found scattered along the front. Some survivors from the golden Edwardian age of the English Riviera still exist, starkly contrasted by the minimal 30’s designs, and totally dwarfed by the towering post war behemoths. Each has its place, and it makes for an interesting stroll.

The tree lined streets running parallel to the front are generally filled with large leafy villas, some with expansive lawns, presumably in a bid to compensate for the lack of sea views. I’ve selected some choice buildings from this area, but alas, I’m unable to tell you anything specific about them at present.

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Grove Mansions

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Weston Grange

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Princes Gate – Post-war, but with an inter-war coastal flavour.

Albany, a 1960’s monster that towers over the seafront.

The town centre surrounds the 3km long Central Gardens that follow the path of the river Bourne, from the North West suburbs, through to the central shopping district and ultimately out to the seafront. This coastal section features some of Bournemouth’s most iconic and well known buildings such as the famous Pavilion (currently wearing scaffolding for restoration work), Odeon cinema, former Ice Skating Rink and of course The Pier. The area was also recently home to a huge Imax leisure complex. Built in 1998 against huge public opposition, later voted Europe’s most hated building, and torn down in 2013.

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Bournemouth Pier

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Pavilion Clock (1929)

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Former Regent Theatre, Odeon since 1986 (1929)

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Former Westover Ice Skating Rink and garage (1930)

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Former Palace Hotel (1936), now Premier Inn

Further into the town there is a fair bit of redevelopment taking place. Several large new structures were in the midst of being built, while more demolition was taking place on the periphery of the shopping area. It would appear, and come as no surprise, that the casualties were all ’50s-’70s office blocks, no longer in favour with the wider public and easy targets for developers. Thankfully the earlier inter-war style seems to carry more kudos and still plays a key role in the townscape, with many of the retail units still wearing their 1930’s facades with pride.

Rebbeck’s Corner with multiple shops to the front (1936), former Plummer Roddis Department Store (1938) behind.

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Former Burton The Tailor

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Former 1934 Department Store, now a Wetherspoons Pub

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The 1932 grade II listed Bournemouth Echo building by Seal and Hardy is well worth a visit. Once a beacon of the towns’ thriving local press, it was located on the main road into the centre. Thanks to pedestrianisation it now occupies a sleepier cul-de-sac backwater, and is probably better off for it, if now being somewhat overlooked by the average tourist. Only the upper floors are occupied by the Echo presently, while the ground floor is mixed use and semi-vacant.

Heading North-East on foot out of The Square on Christchurch Road you quickly come across George Coles’ pioneering  cinema, retail and apartment block amalgamation. Built in 1937, it provided the modern town dweller with an embarrassment of facilities, perhaps never incorporated into the same single unit before. The cinema, run by Odeon, closed in 1974, with the chain later transferring to the former Regent Theatre nearer the seafront (as above). As so often is the case, its now a bingo house.

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Situated directly next door is Beacon House, a small a-symmetric red brick office block with central tower flanked by curved three and four storey wings either side. I’ve not managed to find out a great deal about it presently, other than the original metal framed curved glass windows were replaced with the current UPVC units in the 1990’s. A small consolation, but thankfully the original stairwell glazing has been left well alone.

On a complete tangent, here’s Homelife House aka Avalon. Built in the 1987 this is just one of many chunks of Post-Modern architecture littering the outskirts of the town centre. I’m generally not a huge fan of this era of design, often finding it reminiscent of Lego, with brightly coloured exoskeletons and jarring choices of construction material. This however, is rather attractive (my wife even went as far as to label it ‘beautiful’) and has clearly taken design cues from Jazz Age motifs.

Lastly a few highlights from Boscombe, the coastal village suburb of Bournemouth. Standing right on the promenade is the Neptune Public House, part of the Harvester chain. The building throws up hints of its previous life as The Overstand, an area designed to offer shelter, changing facilities, and refreshments to sun seekers. The original 1930’s elements have been retained, with an interlinking single storey section cutting across the front. This in turn, appears to have had several face-lifts over the years and sports a mixture of different claddings, plastic windows and twee ‘coastal’ touches that are far from endearing.  Beside this sits it’s replacement, a sizable mid-century double storey construction presumably designed to look like a ship (though more ferry than cruise liner). This also had a recent renovation and now wears an eclectic mixture of ceramic and wooden claddings.

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Boscombe Pier Pavilion & Kiosks (1958)

Just up the road from Boscombe Pier are these stylish moderne coastal apartments. Some white, some cream, but all looking in a fairly good state of repair and oozing charisma.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the area and appreciate good architecture from any era, I’d highly recommend you pay Bournemouth a visit. Yes, there are plenty of stereotypes concerning the place, some of which are true, but put prejudice aside and it’s actually rather nice. Perhaps we were just lucky, but it also seemed to occupy its’ own micro-climate, with air temperatures reaching highs of 18C in Mid-November, a whopping 10C higher than the midlands that week.

Apologies for the lack of information on some of the properties. If anyone is able to fill in any blanks I’d be more than happy to hear from you.

And to close.. I couldn’t resist including this little honey!

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Roundhouse Hotel (1960s)

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Recent English Architecture 1920-1940 – Then & Now

I was recently fortunate enough to pick up a copy of marvellous book entitled ‘Recent English Architecture 1920-1940’. Its a small hard back compendium, published by Country Life in 1947, containing 63 of  images of English architectural highlights from the inter-war years. Selected by the Architecture Club, it served as an epitaph to the groundbreaking design from this era, and heralded the start of a new one in a post-war Britain.img_1035

The photographs show each of the buildings, some iconic, some less well known, at their best. Each freshly completed and free from the ravages of ‘modernisation’ and general weathering. I initially decided to reproduce the book in blog form, simply to share these striking images, then curiosity got the better of me. How many of these structures still exist, and to what extent have they been altered? Below is a selection of my personal highlights from the book, with a modern comparison from various credited sources (if you own the copyright to any of these photos and would like me to remove them, i am happy to do so).

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#7 Town Hall (aka Meridian House), Greenwich by Culpin and Son (1939)

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Image courtesy of Google Streetview

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#8 Town Hall, Dagenham by E. Berry Webber (1937)

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Image courtesy of WIkipedia commons. 

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#9 Arnos Grove Underground Station by Adams, Holden and Pearson (1932)

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Image courtesy of hiddenlondon.com

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London Passenger Transport Board by Adams, Holden & Pearson (1927)

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Grade I listed. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons

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#11 Woodside Ventilation Station, Mersey Tunnel, Liverpool by Herbert J. Rowse (1925-1934)

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Grade II Listed. Image courtesy of Panoramio

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#17 Ramsgate Air Port by A. Pleydell-Bouverie (1935)

Closed in 1968 and demolished at some point during the following decade I’m afraid folks.

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#18 Liverpool Philharmonic Hall by Herbert J. Rowse (1939)

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Photo courtesy of streetsofliverpool.co.uk

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#19 St Dunstan’s Convalescent and Holiday Home, Rottingdean by Francis Lorne (1938) 

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Photo courtesy of blindveterans.org.uk

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#27 National Provincial Bank, Osterley by W.F.C. Holden (1935)

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Photo courtesy of Pete aka DaveyJones144 – a prolific deco hunter!

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#29 “Comet” Roadhouse, Near Barnet by E.B. Musman (1936)

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Photo courtesy of Mark Amies, his blog post about the roadhouse notified me of the existence of the book.

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#36 Church of St Nicholas, Burnage by Welch, Cachemaille-Day & Lander (1932)

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Photo courtesy of Sarah aka tintrunk via flickr

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#38 Church of St. Saviour, Eltham by Welch, Cachemaille-Day & Lander (1934)

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Craven via Geograph

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#45 Bedford Girls Modern School by Oswald P. Milne (1938)

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Photo courtesy of Britainfromabove.org.uk

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#48 Greenford County Secondary Grammar School, Middlesex by H. W. Burchett (1939)

While the school still thrives as Greenford High School, it appears that the original building has either been replaced or modified beyond recognition.

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#58 House at fawley, Bucks by Christopher Nicholson

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‘Kits Close’, the house was used in the Poirot episode ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. Photo couresty of Chimi Wiki

This is obviously only a selection of the images featured in the book. There are some interior shots, and some more well known buildings such as Battersea Power Station and The University of London, and others that showcase some more traditional constructions of the era. Should you wish to track down your own copy they seem to be fairly obtainable. Mine only cost a mere 83p + P&P from Abebooks!

 

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