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.
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).
Closed in 1968 and demolished at some point during the following decade I’m afraid folks.
While the school still thrives as Greenford High School, it appears that the original building has either been replaced or modified beyond recognition.
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!
Finished in a subtle grey geometric wallpaper, my home study is a calm, child-free environment in which I can focus on my various projects. It was created a couple of years ago from an unloved, seldom used dining room, and has proved to be an excellent investment of DIY graft. So proud was I, that a blog was even penned, concluding with a list of essential items that I felt would further enhance my Shangri-La. One featured ‘want’ was an original 1930’s Anglepoise lamp, the gorgeous semi-industrial design icon that revolutionised desk mounted work lighting. Having decided that one would no doubt surface at a flea fair sooner or later, I didn’t give it much more thought until recently.
Earlier in the summer I took a trip to Redditch to take some snaps for my Streamline Worcestershire book (now with its own dedicated website). It’s a fairly sizable, if somewhat unremarkable, settlement in the North of the county with a strong manufacturing history. On the itinerary was a visit to the former Danilo Cinema (now tastefully revamped as a Wetherspoons), and expeditions to a clutch of industrial buildings including a local landmark called Millsborough House.
The original Millsborough House, built in 1912, was a huge office and factory complex for the well established Redditch firm Herbert Terry & Sons. Initially specialising in the manufacture of needles and fishing tackle, Terry’s quickly diversified into all manner of metal tools, clips and hooks, ultimately becoming best known for their springs. As if all this wasn’t glamorous enough, in 1934 the firm would cement their legacy by entering into a licensing agreement with Bath based designer George Cawardine to manufacture and market his new invention; the Anglepoise Lamp. This revolutionary product, that enabled the user to tailor the position, and angle the beam of light to their needs without moving the base proved to be a huge success. Numerous variations on the theme were developed into a range of lamps of differing sizes and designs for different purposes, while licences were granted to a select few overseas manufacturers.
The late 1930’s was an exceptionally successful period for the firm, and in 1937 a vast new extension was added to Millsborough House. Large parts of the original factory were replaced (some had been lost during a fire in 1932) in addition to new buildings on a facing site. Apparently designed collaboratively by F.W.B. Yorke (responsible for many large scale constructions in the area) and his son F.R.S. Yorke (a prominent modernist author and architect, later behind the 1950’s expansion of Gatwick Airport), the extension bears no resemblance to the earlier Edwardian buildings whatsoever.
The immense, yet surprisingly slender modernist frontage stands on Millsborough Road. Two towers flank the central triple height section, fenestrated with banks of metal framed windows, each capped with a decorative geometric etched lintel. To the south, an adjoining manufacturing wing has a distinctly different appearance thanks to its glazing and pair of asymmetric pitched roofs. The Northern wing is the most rewarding, with three thin vertical insets, each topped with a small hexagonal window. It then drops down as it corners onto Ipsley Street following similar themes before rising back up to eventually meet the remaining original Edwardian building.
At the outbreak of war Terry’s famously marketed the lamp as a means to ‘Beat the Bogey of Blackout Lighting’, enabling the user to clearly see the task in hand without infringing on regulations after dark. As the war progressed production was altered to aid the war effort, this included the development of a smaller battery powered lamp for the RAF. These were used in a number of applications, most famously in bombers, illuminating the navigators charts and maps while on raids.
Post war production continued, but by the late 1970’s Millsborough House had become outdated and inefficient. The company relocated and areas of the building were demolished and altered to convert it into smaller units. Today it serves multiple businesses in different sectors, and has recently had planning permission granted to convert some of the vacant space into modern warehouse style apartments.
Having concluded it would be in extremely bad form to continue working on a book that featured the Anglepoise factory without the benefit of my own lamp, I hit eBay. The original production of iconic ‘1227’ lamps ran until 1969 (although it’s back in production again now) encompassing subtle alterations with each generation. Early models are the most sought after, and tend to command high prices. Dating the lamps is relatively easy with various online guides including one on Anglepoises‘ own site. I personally favour the comprehensive guide on 1227, a whole site dedicated to the lamp. Having scoured the listings for a few weeks, I concluded that I was probably going to have to opt for a later generation item rather than hold out for an elusive pre-war model, and ended up buying this sexy number. It’s from the 1948-1960 period, but doesn’t really vary greatly from the original (the larger lamp holder being the most obvious difference). Illuminating it gives my study the instant ‘I’m up to my eyeballs in it and working late to meet a deadline’ look that I was after! An interior design icon that was made locally, who’d have thought.
Community run projects staffed by volunteers seem to be becoming more and more common. Trust owned public houses, post offices, village shops and rural shuttle buses all appear to be on the rise as it becomes less financially viable to run them for profit. My dear old mother donates large chunks of her time to a little shop, set up when the village post office and convenience store closed its doors a few years back. It’s truly commendable, and I take my hat off to those willing to spend half a day or more sat behind the till on the off chance Mrs Kendle from Ivy Cottage unexpectedly runs out of Sheba. I’m not sure when I retire I’d be quite so keen to while away the hours in this fashion, but what if the community project wasn’t a little village shop? What if perhaps it involved re-commissioning and running a 1930’s cinema? I like to think I’d be first in the queue to help, and thankfully I’m not alone, as that’s exactly what the good folk in Tenbury Wells have been doing.
On July 29th 1937 this riverside town would see the opening of a brand new cinema; The Regal. Operated by local firm ‘The Craven Cinema Group’, who owned two other picture houses and managed a further three, Tenbury Regal was a costly project for the small company. Rather than purpose build a new venue, Craven chose to commission established theatre designer Ernest S. Roberts to convert an existing Victorian structure. Positioned in the centre of the town, the building originally housed a couple of shops with living accommodation upstairs. Alterations were made to the houses to create the projection room and foyer, while the 300 seat auditorium was built on land directly behind.
While it may be more common, not all cinemas built in this period had auditoriums decorated with modernist geometric designs and heavy plaster reliefs. Some, particularly smaller ones like The Regal used murals to enhance the escapism of a night at the flicks. Scenic artist George Legge of Bryan’s Adamanta was responsible for several cinema interiors across the Midlands, and Craven chose him for their trio of picture houses. The rear and side walls of the auditorium show Italian rural scenes with lakes, flowers, trees and mountains in the distance. Traditional buildings sprout up, the ventilation system neatly disguised in their arched windows. The odd monkey can even be seen perched on the dado that ascends the space in three horizontal waves.
The Regal CInema (1937), Tenbury Wells
Craven Group ran Tenbury Wells Regal until 1966 when it simultaneously closed it along with their Craven Arms cinema (below). The latter would become derelict 5 years later and be demolished in 1977. Following unsuccessful attempts to revive Tenbury’s Regal, it was put up for sale in 1970. On the brink of demolition Tenbury Town Council stepped in and bought the stricken building for £12,500 and adapted it to meet the needs of the community. The stage was extended to allow for theatrical performance, and a community centre with kitchen and toilet was built behind. For the next 30 or so years various groups used the two spaces to meet their needs, while film enthusiasts still continued to show movies in the main cinema.
Craven Arms Regal prior to demolition
Interior also by George Legge
Situated between two rivers, Tenbury is prone to the odd flood during heavy rainfall, but in 2007 the town (like much of the county) experienced catastrophic flooding and the Regal found itself partly underwater. The ingress was so bad that it completely covered some of the lower seats in the auditorium and caused serious damage to the flooring and walls. Rather than try to simply make good the damaged areas for a quick return to use, it was decided that the rather tired old cinema needed a complete restoration.
The funding, which came from a number of sources including a substantial Heritage Lottery Grant took four years to put in place before work began. This included completely restoring the mural, terrazzo flooring, artex wall coverings and reinstating the iconic neon signage outside. Vital structural works were carried out while a new roof was fitted to the auditorium.
Up until this point the cinema was still under council management, but ultimately limited resources resulted in the venue being closed more often than open. To coincide with the post refurbishment grand opening in 2012 The Regal Trust was founded. A not for profit organisation run entirely by volunteers aiming to bring the cinema back into regular use. The Regal is now open daily, with films or live events every evening with community and private use during the day.
I recently visited to take some photos for my Streamline Worcestershire project and was instantly won over by this charming little cinema. In addition to the wonderful auditorium, the foyer is an Art Deco delight, with its original curved glass paybox and gold banding spanning the space. Original light fittings, doors, illuminated signage, balustrades and poster frames are all present and correct, just as they were 80 years ago.
The delightfully friendly lady in the booking office also pointed out their free museum upstairs. Full of old film reels, interactive displays, artefacts and framed prints it’s a wonderful addition to the venue. In a small back room you can see the old 35mm ‘Peerless’ projector on display (it’s now all digital) and there’s even a wall of fame for all the projectionists who have served since it opened.
With a mixture of live and celluloid events, many of which I’m told are sell outs, it looks like this little 1937 venue is going to be the beating heart of the town for many years to come. Well done Tenbury Wells, you’re doing both the community and us Art Deco obsessives proud, I salute you!
A huge thanks to Ian and the trust for giving their permission to photograph the building and for being so accommodating. For further information please visit their website www.regaltenbury.co.uk
“A house is a Machine for living in. A famous French architect said this a few years ago and a great many people did not understand him. They thought he must mean that a house ought to look like a piece of machinery – hard, shining, and certainly uncomfortable to live in. But he was quite right really. He wasn’t talking about what a house looks like. He was telling us what it is made for.” Geoffrey Boumphrey 1937
Geoffrey Maxwell Boumphrey (1894-1969) may not be a name many are familiar with, but back in the mid twentieth century it adorned the jacket of many a wholesome coffee table reference book. ‘The Shell Guide to Britain’ series, ‘Engines and How They Work’, ‘Along
The Roman Roads’, ‘Sea Farmers’, ‘Down River’ are all titles featuring Boumphrey’s wisdom. For a period he even sat in the editors chair at ’The Listener Magazine’ (Radio Times meets Points of View). ‘Your Home & Mine’, from which the above quote is taken, was an accompanying booklet for the BBC’s Broadcasts to Schools in the Spring of 1937. It aimed to educate children in the development of our homes, from the earliest settlements through to the present day modernist movement, and even speculate as to what changes might occur in the future.
The success of this particular project led him to expand the text into 1938’s full book ‘YOUR HOUSE and MINE’. 250 pages of easy to understand architectural basics charting the rise of the spaces we live in. To illustrate the striking differences between multiple eras of architecture plenty of glossy black and white plates are included. So when it came to showcasing ‘the modern home’, there could be no better example than his own minimalist mansion: Heatherdale.
Interior of Heatehrdale from Your House and Mine 1938
Geoffrey was a keen out-and-out modernist. So much so that in 1933 he had gone into partnership with fellow author, and stalwart of the twentieth century design reform movement; Philip Morton Shand. Together they founded Finmar, importers of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto‘s groundbreaking pressed plywood furniture. Boumphrey waxes lyrical about the benefits of ply in YHaM: “Plywood never shrinks and so does not need to be held in a grooved panel, a form of construction that was invented purely to allow for the shrinkage in solid wood… Thick plywood can be built up of as many as thirteen laminations, and designers realised that they might use this new unshrinkable wood in a new way. Why should not a whole carcass be built of sheets of plywood, stiffened internally with battens where needed?”. He goes on at some length on this subject including photographs of items of furniture from his own abode.
Presumably looking for the perfect setting to showcase Finmar’s latest imports, in 1935 Geoffrey, with the help of consultant architect F.R.S. Yorke (one of the most celebrated modernist British architects of this period) set to work designing his own streamline masterpiece.
Completed in 1937, Heatherdale was Geoffrey’s home for about 10 years before he moved on. At some point, presumably fairly early on in its life, the name was changed to Conigree and now has a covenant preventing it from ever being called Heatherdale again. The house still stands and I was lucky enough to recently be shown around it by its fifth and current custodians.
Situated on the top of a hill in Bredon, Conigree overlooks the Avon and its surrounding common land. Looking West the views stretch almost as far as the eye can see with the Malvern Hills sitting proudly on the horizon. This exposed location works both ways, as the house is visible to passers by from miles around (you can clearly see it while travelling up the M5, look East between junctions 8 & 9, you can’t miss it).
It’s an imposing robust property with a flat roof. This comes as no surprise as again, Geoffrey talks enthusiastically about the benefits of flat roofs in ‘Your House and Mine’. “There is nothing experimental about flat roofs, there are examples up and down the country that have needed no repair for over 100 years. But it is only within the last few years they have become cheap as well as reliable”. He talks about the reduced stress on the walls, the option of overhead natural lighting, easy maintenance, and reduction of the ‘over turning effect of wind’. “A flat roof gives the owner an extension to his garden, where he and his family may sunbathe, play or rest without being overlooked. In the summer he can sleep out there, secure from interruptions”.
There are no fancy curves or towers that often feature in 1930s moderne houses, just clean lines and straight edges. Laid out in an L shape, it originally featured two single story sections at either end with tubular railings. Black metal framed ‘Crittal’ windows contrasted the smooth white render. Render that was unfortunately stripped off in the 1950’s exposing the bare bricks. Then followed a spell in pink, and then green masonry paint (what where they thinking?!). The current owners painted it cream in the mid 1990’s, but are considering a return to the pale render of its heyday.
Original railings still exist on North balcony
While it’s clearly the same property Boumphrey designed in the ‘30’s, changes to its layout have taken place. The single story North balcony has been lost in a second floor extension, while a kitchen extension has been added in a matching style to the West. A further section has been added to the Northern single story area, but doesn’t feature railings. A modern conservatory also sits on the West side which was added a few years back to replace a crumbling mid-twentieth century lean-to.
The plot has also shrunk over the years with a row of bungalows sat in what was originally the lower reaches of the garden. Apparently responsibility for this is shared among the previous owners, each building a couple more to sell off during their tenure.
The most noticeable change on the exterior is the lack of original windows. Modern UPVC double glazing may add thermal efficiency and ease of maintenance, but fail to create the charm of the original metal frame casements.
Inside Conigree is a modern family home with little sign of its minimalist past. The original reinforced concrete staircase with tubular banister, some internal doors, and the fitted wardrobe and dressing table photographed in YHaM (now painted white with different handles) are the only original features remaining. That said, we can’t all live in museums, and it’s still a lovely space to be in. Should a future owner wish to revert to Geoffrey’s vision of clean smooth lines and ply, it could easily be done.
I’d like to say a huge thanks to current owners Roger & Di for taking time out of their Sunday afternoon to show me around and let me take photographs for my Streamline Worcestershire project.
Nestled in a fairly nondescript area on the north-westerly drag out of Worcester sits one of the most iconic 1930s buildings in the city: a towering symmetrical red brick monster called Northwick.
Appearing from virtually out of nowhere, it can catch the unsuspecting motorist by surprise, surrounded by a patchwork of different period houses and business’s, one couldn’t say it blends in with its environment. A huge neon lit fin soars into the sky flanked either side by robust angular wings. It’s almost fortress-like appearance is enhanced by narrow outer windows running virtually the full height of the upper storeys (looking more like arrow slits than anything designed to let light in). Below this there is a more traditional 1930s curved canopy with long wide steps leading up to a row of double doors.
Northwick (1938), Worcester
Designed by Charles Edmund Wilford to be used as a theatre, it was quickly converted into a huge 1109 seat cinema. Run by an independent operator that also ran the Scala cinema in town, it opened its doors on 28th November 1938.
As with many cinemas of this era, the increasing popularity of television in the 50s & 60s meant it struggled to continue attracting sustainable numbers to the box office. On September 10th 1966 Northwick closed its doors as a cinema, screening Dean Martin in ‘The Silencers’and Audie Murphy in ‘Arizona Raiders’ on its final day. By the end of the month it had reopened as a bingo hall, changing hands several times until finally shutting again in 1982.
Concerned for its future, in January 1984 Historic England gave Northwick grade II listed status. The building then stood empty for almost 10 years until it was resurrected, opening in June 1991 as a venue for live entertainment and the occasional film on a temporary screen. This only lasted until 1996 when once again it was boarded up.
In August 2003 a planning was made to demolish the building and construct flats on the site, but these were objected to by the Cinema Theatre Association and were thankfully rejected by the local council.
Its current owners, David and Helen Gray purchased Northwick in 2004 and extensive restoration works began to return the building to its original glory. After 18 months of collaboration with local and national heritage conservation departments, Northwick reopened as Grays of Worcester, a high end interior furnishings showroom.
While you can’t help but be impressed by the exterior, it does nothing to prepare you for what awaits inside. As you stand at the back of the auditorium you are greeted with the last remaining complete work of interior designer John Alexander. Moulded from fibrous plaster, either side of the proscenium arch are trios of over-life-size mythical figures ascending a golden staircase. They point skyward while surrounded by a feast of scrolls and curls, all up-lit from the treads. Standing below them one feels almost intimidated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the odd visiting child has been concerned by their presence over the years!
Looking up further, the ceiling still features all the original light fittings surrounded by yet more decorative plaster work, painted scroll borders and intricate golden air vents. Exploring around you’ll find original signs for the toilets and stalls, correct doors and handles along with the odd glimpse of period Art Deco carpet.
Wilford designed 10 theatres in England, as of 2016 only 4 including Northwick survive. Cineworld in Chelsea is the only one still operating as a cinema, The Regal in Bridlington is a Gala bingo and the Century cinema in South East London is reportedly derelict and vacant. These facts alone make it a privilege to be able to visit Northwick in 2016 at all, but what’s more astounding is that it’s managed to survive virtually unmolested these last 78 years.
Families gently file into the auditorium. Some have small toddlers, uneasily making their way into the semi darkness, others stride confidently in armed with popcorn and juice boxes. Groups of friends meet in the adjoining cafe, eagerly awaiting delivery of a hot beverage before finding their seats. It’s just a normal Saturday matinee at Worcestershire’s best loved Art Deco cinema, The Regal in Evesham. But what’s this? A man scampers around in the dark waving a camera about. *Snap snap snap*. Is he photographing the ceiling?! *Snap snap snap*. Now the carpet! *lens change…snap snap snap*And the door to the toilets?! Who is this mad man? Get him away from our children. SECURITY?!….
It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve been trying desperately to kill two birds with one Canon shaped stone. My photographic mission of capturing local 1930s buildings has been gathering steam of late, with an ever growing list of candidates and plenty of great weather, it’s just the time factor that poses a problem. As a result I concocted a genius plan: Combine family days out with photo shoots.
The first of these was an astounding success. Picking one of the hottest days of the year, we all headed up to Droitwich Spa Lido. Designed by Thomas H. Mawson and opened in 1935, this fine modernist building boats the U.K.s only outdoor brine pool. I had arranged pre-opening access to take some snaps before the heaving masses dived in, so capturing its beauty was a piece of cake. Pictures in the bag, we all enjoyed a good splash around before heading home.
Buoyed by my success I planned the second group adventure. Finding Dory, the latest Pixar effort was showing at my favourite local grade II listed cinema, The Regal. A round of emails once again sorted out pre-show permission and a plan was set. Unfortunately we were running late, and other happy cinema goers were running early, leading to the situation described above.
…….Abandoning the heavily occupied auditorium I took to the foyer. It covers three levels and has a wonderful banister rail snaking its way up the memorabilia laden stairway. Two old projectors sit on upper and lower floors, while the circle bar with classic Deco signage occupies the middle. I would have got some wonderful shots if all the damn people didn’t keep getting in my way!
Never mind, I’ll just pop outside and capture the exterior of the building in all its glory. The main street frontage is framed in stonework, dominated by a cornice rising and becoming fluted over a corner entrance and flanked by piers. Original paired double doors with flèche motif are…. covered in chipboard. It turns out a couple of rotters broke down one pair of the gorgeous original 1932 double doors earlier in the week to steal some collection boxes left out. They’re irreparable I’m told, but recreations will be commissioned once funds have been secured. I could rant for ages about this, but I’ll suppress it and simply say that arrests have been made, and I hope they throw away the key.
On examining the pictures later in the day it became quickly apparent that results weren’t up the scratch. Blurred, underexposed and filled with ‘ghosts’. I guess I’ll have to go back and do it all again, what a chore!
Next weekend.. who fancies a trip to a paint brush factory kids?!!
The Regal is raising funds for a 4th floor extension. If you’d like to contribute please visit their crowd funding page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
It’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.
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.
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.
I’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.
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.
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!
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 easily 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. Static 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.
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.
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
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!
So the conversation might go a little something like this..
“Darling?” “Yes dear” “You’re not working this weekend are you darling?” “No dear” “Why don’t we go out for a picnic on Sunday? You know how much Dorothy loves to dine alfresco, and I’m worried about Beatrice, she spends far too much time playing in the nursery with that penguin” “Do we have scotch eggs and ginger beer?” “I think so darling” “Sterling idea then dear. We could take the Daimler, head over to that old trust place near Leominster”.
And of course one expects the outing to look a little like this…
Unfortunately the reality is usually a far more harrowing experience. Half empty pom bear packets flying off in the breeze, leaking bottles of fruit juice reducing the sandwiches to a heavy playdoh like consistency, dairylea triangles & half eaten cherry tomatoes as unwanted cushions, and melted wrapper clinging kit-kats all take the edge off the enjoyment. In fact here I am.. drinking supermarket own brand chocolate milk direct from the bottle, surround by a mountain of filth. Oh the shame! Even Dorothy looks embarrassed to be photographed in such depravity!
This is clearly unacceptable and can’t go on, so this summer I’ve called time on 21st century nastiness ruining these otherwise enjoyable days out. All food must be removed from their wrappers at home and placed in suitably chintzy Tupperware containers, drinks should be served in a suitable breaker and poured ideally from an attractive glass bottle, napkins will be used rather than baby wipes, chairs and possibly even a folding table with decorated cloth will be required. Cutlery? I should jolly well hope so! To top this all off the most important addition will be a portable gramaphone. Preferably blasting out a pre-war recording of the teddy bears picnic or similar.
Only once these rules are abided by will I be able to sit back in my picnic chair, cucumber sandwich in one hand, cup of tea in the other and say..
“oh how lucky are we to be out here soaking up the treasures that only our green and pleasant land can provide. England how thee warms my soul…” “daddy?” “what is it sweetheart, are you have a wonderful time?” “daddy, I need a poo!” “greeeeaaat”