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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Beating The Blackout

This gallery contains 6 photos.

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 … Continue reading

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Saving Tenbury Wells Regal – A Community Success Story

img_0930bwCommunity 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.

advertOn 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.

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.

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!

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 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

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Heatherdale: A Machine For Living In

“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

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Accompanying booklet for the BBC’s Broadcasts to Schools Spring 1937

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.

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.

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“A Luxuious Modern Armchair” from Your House and Mine

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.

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Axonometric Diagram by Nikoulaus Pevsner from Pevsner Architectural Guides: Worcestershire

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).

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Conigree in 2016

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.

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.

img_0743Inside 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.

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Northern Neon Lights

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.

Northwicksmall1Appearing 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.

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!

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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.

Thanks to the owners David & Helen and all the staff at Grays of Worcester for their permission in letting me photograph the building for my Streamline Worcestershire project.

 

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A Trip to the Talkies

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Trying to save Floral Hall at Belfast Zoo.

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

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