Animals for the Kids, Tectons for Dad – the Concrete Architecture of Dudley Zoological 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.


Photo: Bigday Weddings


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.


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.


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


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

Polar Bear1

Polar Bear Complex – now home to an Asiatic Black Bear





Kiosk 1 – originally for confectionery and ice cream




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


Sea Lion Pool


Bear Ravine – now home to a goat of some sort



Kiosk 2 – in dazzling primary colours

oak kitchen

Castle Restaurant, inspired by the Queen Mary apparently

tropical bird house

Tropical Bird House – Now home to Asiatic Lions

tropical bird house3

tropical bird house2


He’s always on the scene (fireman Sam)



Toilets, Bin, Coke Dispenser

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


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.


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.

MPhil Thesis

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*).


The North facing entrance in period, circa 1932



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.


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.


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.


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).


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’.


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.


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.


Original Ticket Booth


First Floor Foyer


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.


Sources and Further Reading:

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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.


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!



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.


Grove Mansions


Weston Grange


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.


Bournemouth Pier


Pavilion Clock (1929)


Former Regent Theatre, Odeon since 1986 (1929)


Former Westover Ice Skating Rink and garage (1930)


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.



Former Burton The Tailor


Former 1934 Department Store, now a Wetherspoons Pub


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.


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.


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.


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!


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).


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


Image courtesy of Google Streetview


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


Image courtesy of WIkipedia commons. 


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


Image courtesy of


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


Grade I listed. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons


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


Grade II Listed. Image courtesy of Panoramio


#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.


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


Photo courtesy of


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


Photo courtesy of


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


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


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


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


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


Photo courtesy of Sarah aka tintrunk via flickr


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


Photo courtesy of Stephen Craven via Geograph


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


Photo courtesy of


#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.


#58 House at fawley, Bucks by Christopher Nicholson


‘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!


 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

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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


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.


“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.


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).


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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