Missing in Action

A short walk from our home on the boundaries of the prestigious Malvern College campus stands the Preston School of Science. Designed by Hubbard and constructed in 1938, it brought the colleges facilities right up to date, catering for the modern science scholar.

From Google Streetview in 2008

A fairly unsympathetic extension was added to the rear in the 1960s and this is how it remained (externally at least) until last year. A £6.5 million redevelopment program transformed this rather tired pairing into the ‘Razak Science Centre’, an award winning ‘cutting edge’ world class facility.  This is obviously all good news. Everyone welcomes huge investment in their local area and I’ve no desire to go against the grain. But I do have one teeny tiny little complaint: why didn’t they retain the original Crittall windows?

I know I know, its a trivial complaint and it’s clearly not practical to have any 21stC business housed in an un-modernised thermally inefficient 20thC building, let alone a feather in the cap of one of the world’s leading private colleges. The replacements do follow the design of the originals (better modern double glazed recreations are available) but the delicate subtle grids have been exchanged for clumsy thick uncompromising white bands, thus erasing much of the buildings charm and character.

New windows have similar design, but are much less subtle

Having started to research 1930s buildings in Worcestershire it seems that the loss of these windows is fairly symbolic of a larger rather depressing theme. Architecture of this vintage is either listed, or discarded. Some fine examples of Lidos, Cinemas and the like remain in the county, all preserved within an inch of their life to wow the passing crowds. Societies and community groups seem to form and rally behind the more glamorous ‘Art Deco’ structures that are at risk, raising funds and awareness in order to restore and flourish.

Gone but not forgotten, Welland Garage.

Others however, like the poor little Roberts Garage in nearby Welland get demolished without a second thought to make way for housing. This sorry little chap was sold and knocked down fairly quickly after going on the market a couple of years ago. I considered trying to raise the funds to purchase it with a view to opening a ‘retro’ diner there, but the asking price (which reflected the fact it had planning to build 4 houses in desirable area) made it unpractical.

Last night I turned my Google sights on a classic 1930s factory in Worcester I discovered in 2012. I had always meant to return with the camera for a better look but somehow never got around to it. Now it would seem that the residents, one Metal Box Co LTD closed up shop in mid 2013 leaving the building apparently unoccupied.

Metal Box Co LTD, Worcester Perry Wood Plant. Closed in 2013

I’ve found no records to suggest that it has been demolished, but god knows what state it’s in. If it is still standing then I suspect it’ll be boarded up and covered in graffiti. It’s not far from my in-laws, so I hope to pop over on Sunday for a peep. I’ll wear black just in case, as I suspect I’ll be in mourning yet again.

Clearly I’m a hopeless nostalgic who struggles to cope with physical change in the modern world, but looking around I can’t help but feel that 20thC architecture is treasured far less than it ought to be. As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and perhaps the majority of the public aren’t ready to embrace this era of design. Perhaps reviving old industrial properties for commercial use simply doesn’t stack up financially, but come on people, surely there must be a little more love out there to give to these fantastic icons of inter-war Britain?

If you’re interested in this subject please follow these links and help the good people who are:

Restoring Saltdean Lido


Trying to save Floral Hall at Belfast Zoo.


Sadly I think the demolition Jersey airport is a done deal.


Somers Park Road

It’s a dull overcast day with occasional light drizzle and I’m zipping through the backstreets of Malvern about to commence my latest project; a photographic record of 1930s modernist buildings of Worcestershire (catchy title i know, but it still needs some work). Clearly I couldn’t have picked less appropriate weather to get busy with the DSLR, but finding spare time for such frivolous activities is always a challenge. So much so that it’s a constant minor frustration. No matter how much time I have, there are always far more tasks on the ever evolving to do list. It’s amazing to me how some folk can happily spend a whole Sunday lounging in front of the telly, or lose hours sapping amber nectar outside a country pub. Don’t these people have lawns to mow, cars to wash, furniture to sand down or photobooks to publish?! It would seem not.

somers park church 021It’s an idea that’s been bouncing around my brain like a game of pong for at least a year. In a predominantly rural county, ‘art deco’ architecture is few and far between. Those examples that do exist, while not being as impressive as say Miami or Manhattan, still stand out like beacons of a bright new future that never arrived. The short list of photogenic candidates will find me visiting establishments catering in the worlds of leisure, automotive, retail, industrial, civil and religion.

I quickly find my chosen target of today’s photo shoot; Somers Park Road Methodist Church. A striking angular red brick construction on the corner of two fairly busy residential streets in Malvern Link. It’s situated next to an earlier Edwardian church, and was built in 1936 to house the ever growing congregation.

Parking isn’t a problem and I’m quickly in place. With baby in pushchair (yes daddy daycare has reached new lows!), lens bag on back and camera around my neck we’re off to see what we can capture.

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There’s no service today and both church and grounds are chained and padlocked (I assume they must be fed up with hoards of stray photographers trespassing!), leaving me no choice but to snap from the pavement. It’s not a problem as there are plenty of attractive angles to enjoy and I get busy with my kit wandering back and forth. I freely admit that the building is not as impressive as some of the more iconic heavyweights of British Art Deco architecture like Battersea or the De La Warr Pavillion, but it still has some key 30s design elements.  A barrel fronted South wall protrudes from the base of the structure with plain bands of stone running parallel to the flat roofed section. Twin towers rise up either side offering entry and exit to the space. The doorways have the delightful touch of a small flight of steps with one curved level and three square. A porch on the West side has a fort-like roof line with an a-symmetrical chimney and stepped incline. Stained glass window detailing is also quite stylized and geometric, leaving me keen to return and see them illuminated from the inside.somers park church 003

It doesn’t take long to complete the shoot, and we’re swiftly on our way back home. Unfortunately, when I download the images onto the laptop it quickly becomes apparent that they aren’t up to scratch. When it comes to photography I’m a bit of a chancer; worry about the composition, ignore the technical side and it’ll come good in the end. Alas, today’s total lack of sunshine has robbed me of anything usable for the final project. Rendering them into black and white improves matters enough to post up here.. but I’ll have to go back again for a second attempt on a sunny day. Not to worry, I’m happy enough to have actually laid the foundation stone for the project and have given myself a target to beat next time.


Airfield Activities – Flywheel 2016

flywheel 043I’m a bit of a classic car fanatic and make no apologies for it. I’ve always found the sensuous curves and roaring fume-belching engines of mid-century sports cars totally intoxicating. Its a hereditary trait that I’ve picked up from my eccentric father, now well into his 70s, who spends practically every waking moment battling with old wrecks in his Olympic sized mancave. As the only male in our household, this love of bygone automotive achievements is usually kept strictly separate from family life, but occasionally I concoct a cunning plan to mix the two.

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1934 Fort-Type Watchtower

Having greedily soaked up several magazine articles on it, I was eager to find an excuse to visit Bicester Heritage, a former RAF bomber base in Oxfordshire. This huge pre-war airfield had been laying derelict until it was resurrected in 2013 as a centre for historic motoring and aviation. Now a hive of activity, it is host to over 30 independent businesses, all providing different services for the classic car and plane buff. From the photos I’d seen of the architecture (most of which is from the 20s & 30s) it looked absolutely breathtaking. The sympathetically restored red brick hangers and support buildings are a perfect fit for the ethos of the centre, and provide a romantic backdrop impossible to create in a modern industrial unit.

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Unit 93, now home to Pendine Cars

The excuse I needed to combine a family day out with a good nose around this fine destination came in the shape of the second annual Flywheel Festival. A celebration of automobiles, aeroplanes and vintage culture for young and old. Surely this was the perfect opportunity to fill up the picnic basket and spend a jolly good family day out in our old Daimler!

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With everything prepared and packed the night before, we bundled everyone into the car first thing Sunday morning and set off on the 90 minute journey. Travelling with young children tends to lead to anxiety of emergency toilet stops and frantic mopping up of travel sick, putting a potential dampener on any day out. But thankfully, today passed without any such issues. The car was also in fine fettle, its v8 engine burbling along the M40 flywheel 009.jpgeasily keeping up with modern traffic and shaming them with its superior beauty.

We arrived in good time and found a spot in the classic car enclosure. Our 3 year old daughter Dot immediately spotted a pink Cadillac and demanded a photo, before jumping in elation at the sight of the vintage fun fair. The festival is laid out on the airfield, with a makeshift figure of 8 track for motor demonstrations, off road area for tank rides and grass runway for the light aircraft. flywheel 010.jpgStatic WWII displays, vehicles & planes run the length of the field with a flea fair, period music tent, silent cinema and paddock separating the classic car park from the action.

From the paddock you can gain access to the main Bicester complex and stroll around freely. A long tree lined avenue runs from one end to the other with smaller lanes intersecting it. On this occasion we weren’t able to enter any of the buildings, but wandering around the place was more than enough to stoke the emotions. Individual vintage motors scattered around the virtually deserted site gave the strangest sensation of literally stepping back in time.

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1935 Douglas C-47 Skytrain

On returning back to the airfield we were just in time to witness a fabulous synchronized aerial display from a swarm of Tiger Moths. This was followed by flypasts from a Hawker Hurricane, Spitfire and a very impressive mock dogfight complete with anti-aircraft fire and smoke.

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Supermarine Spitfire mkIX doing final checks before takeoff
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Chap on his smart phone while driving a 1901 Toledo!

Full access to the paddock was also granted, giving the chance get up close and personal with the cars. A feast of automobiles ranging from very early veteran cars like a 1901 Toledo through to iconic 1950s racers were lined up ready for action. Action that came in the form of a makeshift track surrounded by hay bales. Each car screeched off the line one at a time, pounding around the figure of 8 to the cheers of onlookers. Commentators

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A 1937 Frazer-Nash BMW powers away from the line

housed in the original 1934 watchtower competed with untamed engine roar, trying to guide the uninitiated through each vehicles’ merits.

Before heading off Dot fancied a go in the miniature aeroplanes provided by the Joystick club. 50p secured her some bright yellow wings. She pedaled around in a circle for while making her best engines noises while we tried to ignore the swastikas on the side of the plane!

I came away eager to write up the event and spread the word, my only regret being that I didn’t take more photos. But I will return, you can count on that!

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