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!

 

The lost art of the family picnic

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…
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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! 2016-03-17 13.10.55

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”

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Art For Art’s Sake

So what does your run of the mill Art Deco enthusiast hang on the walls of their humble abode? Vintage travel posters? A Chinese reproduction canvas of a Tamara de Lempicka painting?.. or perhaps a framed and mounted period advertisement featuring a stylized sketch of a dashing couple enjoying a glass of a trendy French liqueur! All have their place, and yes, like many others we too have examples of all of these gracing our home. Sometimes however, none of these options seem to fit the bill. Sometimes you find yourself with a very big blank wall requiring eye candy and no budget to commission a suitable piece. Its on these very dangerous, and thankfully very rare occasions I go rummaging and dig out my beret, easel and £1.99 set of acrylic paints!

The project has been a long time coming. I spotted an image online a couple of years ago while googling The Grosvener School of Modern Art. We’ve got some prints by Cyril Power and i was keen to see more of his work when I stumbled on a random image of some birds in flight. It was by Edward (“Ted”) McKnight Kauffer, “one of Europe’s most prolific and influential advertising poster artists during the twenties and thirties”.MD_KaufferEM_Flight_640

The image hit me in the face with a double whammy of admiration and inspiration. Not only was it strikingly original, extremely clever and utterly beautiful, but it looked to my naive eyes that it could easily be copied by an amateur such as myself. I saved the image, logged it on my mental rainy day ‘to do list’ and got on with life.

Cue the completion of our new kitchen. If you look back through some of my previous blogs you’ll see the  lengthy transformation of a huge derelict room into our dream modernist food prep and eating area. An area that came complete with one big blank wall! I could stand it no longer, a trip to The Works stationary emporium was made, and coins exchanged for the biggest budget canvas that they had kicking around.

Phase one included a long length of wood, a pencil and a jpg. I sketched it by eye, not worrying too much about accuracy. With one eye on the Eurovision song contest (A dreadful guilty pleasure the wife and I always watch!) and one on the canvas I was off. Phase 2 included several rolls of masking tape, hole re-enforcers and some sponge brushes borrowed from my 3 year old. Frankly I underestimated the complicated nature of the intersecting lines and it grew ever more mind numbing trying to work out which bit should be which colour. If it wasn’t for the fear of them showing through I would have turned it into a giant paint-by-numbers!

Each stage required the removal of some tape and application of further strips in different areas. The reveal was always a rewarding and exciting moment. Much like on the silver screen with the tense removal of bandages from a beauty queens face after major surgery. Will she look as foxy as she once did? Will the black have leaked under the 50p masking tape ruining the perfectly straight lines? Yes & yes.. she’s still a honey, but nooooo, I knew I should have invested in proper frog tape!

Nevertheless, after a month or so my opus was complete. Some light touching up was required to  improve bleed, but from a distance its not at all bad. I’ll construct a frame of some kind when I get a chance, but for now the naked canvas hangs in the kitchen, adding some drama to the rather plain walls. And here she is…

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Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Airports

hollywoodEver feel like you want to escape from the modern world with its never ending stream of deeply worrying problems? Fancy a bit of head in the sand action for an hour or so? Well should you ever find yourself in the settlement of Beaconsfield, as I did recently, you can do just that by purchasing a ticket to Bekonscot model village. Originally created in the 1920s by Roland Callingham in his back garden as a labour of love, this fictional land has become one of the country’s most popular model villages.site

The ‘village’ (which is actually made up of 6) is a beautifully landscaped 1.5 acre plot set out with rolling hills, mountains, rivers, lakes and beaches. Railway lines a-plenty wind
theirtrains way around the site with miniature trains howling out of tunnels and pounding across bridges just as they would have done in the golden age of steam. To quote their website, ‘There are more than 200 buildings, 3,000 inhabitants, 1,000 animals, hundreds of vehicles and many models move right before your eyes’.

The architecture, as you might expect, includes houses, churches, castles, farms, schools, hoovershops , a windmill and colleges. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.. we also have London
Zoo (with iconic penguin pool), a cement works, a circus, Royal Ascot, Brighton pier, a cattle market, a coal mine and an oil refinery all stuck in a 1930s timewarp. As if all this wasn’t enough, I was hopping around like an excited child by the unexpected appearances of some interwar modernist buildings:hanton2 Hanton airport (modelled on Shoreham maybe?), a little art deco bungalow, and as part of a brand new unfinished section, The Hoover factory in London.

In essence, I loved it! When can I go back?!

PS – it’s worth adding that it’s also got a fantastic play park.. should your children be less than excited by model Hoover buildings!

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bungalow

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The Reshuffle Part 2: Lighting The Tunnel

So the mammoth reorganistion of our home is starting to gather some steam now as we slowly enter the exciting kitchen design phase. The generously proportioned room is nearly empty and ready for work to commence, which means we really need to finalise the layout and start investigating some of the finer details such as lighting.

Our future kitchen diner
Our future kitchen diner

The room itself is a long dark space, hidden mainly underground with a french doors at one end and one (yet to be reinstated) single pain window. As such, artificial lighting is gonna play an important part in rendering the room a pleasant place to inhabit. Despite the fact it’s a Victorian building, we’ve decided to follow our hearts and create a clean, crisp modernist kitchen with a strong 1930s influence. So where does one start with lighting?

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of a weekend away in the big smoke while the little one enjoyed some quality time with granny. Amongst the action packed itinerary was a meal in the jaw dropping surroundings of Brasserie Zedel, a French Restaurant in Piccadilly. Anyone with even a casual interest in Art Deco needs to put this on their bucket list. Wander through the quaint street level cafe to the stairs at the rear and you’re already picking out exciting details. Wallpaper, mirrors, posters all hint at whats to come. As you descend into the lower hall it becomes clear that this really is a subterranean inter-war wonderland.

‘Bar Americian’ is a sumptuous dimly lit lounge with an aviation theme. Thick ribbons of dark wood veneers are spliced with brass geometric banding that span the whole room. Illuminated column mounted glass discs and innovative bar lighting bathe the room in a warm glow that creates such an intoxicating environment its hard to tear yourself away.  But leave we had to, as our table in the adjacent Brasserie was ready..

The restaurant is located in marble clad hall that’s a total contrast to the dreamy atmosphere of the bar. Originally part of the Regent Palace Hotel, it was opened in 1915 exhibiting the ‘opulence and scale of a transatlantic liner’. The ghost of this Edwardian extravagance is still clearly visible today , but in the early 1930s Oliver Percy Bernard was commissioned to redesign the interior of the hotel with a more contemporary feel. The brasserie retains many of these upgrades, giving a perfect blend eras. As I sat at our table drinking in both my surroundings and a splendid glass of Corbières, my eyes kept returning to one thing; the stunning ceiling lights. Huge slabs of opaque glass strapped together in a brass cage, all suspended on four rigid legs. Perfect for a kitchen renovation thought I!

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Cursory searches for something in a similar vein didn’t prove all that fruitful. odeonThere doesn’t seem to be many ‘off the peg’ large Art Deco ceiling lights available in England.. wonder why?! One rather fetching option I unearthed named the Odeon Plafonnier looked ideal until I inquired about the price (I won’t say how much, but lets just say I burst out laughing on receiving the quote!). Some Chinese manufacturers list fittings that might be ok, but are likely to be of dubious odeon copyquality. The best option so far is this one from the States.. problem is their mains power runs at 110V, less than half of that in the UK. I need to investigate further, but light fittings are fairly easy to rewire, and priced at about 5% of the Odeon it looks like a strong possibility.

Family Heirlooms

It’s not often you get the opportunity to add to your collection with pieces that have a genuine family connection, in fact it’s a first for me. As far as I’m aware, no one in my family has any particular affinity with home furnishings from the 30s and some even consider my fascination somewhat eccentric (dunno what they’re on about!). It therefor came as a huge surprise the receive an email from my uncle keen to hand down some pieces my grandparents had acquired new when they married in the 1930s.  I have fond memories of holidays spent as child staying with them in Devon. A huge garden to run around in and homemade shortbread and lemonade were always in abundance. Sadly they both died in 1990s and after 15 years in family custodianship, their old bungalow is up for sale and in need of emptying.

My Gran - Winnie Haines nee Chick, circa 1920s
My Gran – Winnie Haines nee Chick, circa 1920s

So we’ve just come back from a weekend near Sidmouth sifting for gold. The car was loaded with the usual toddler paraphernalia, so no room to bring back the gorgeous extending ‘magi-cube’ dining table and matching chairs this time. But we’ll head back with a van before completion. In the mean time I’m the proud new owner of lovely oak mounted frame-less mirror and a Grindley Cream Petal teapot. Now I’m going to spend some quality time hunting through my mums old photo albums looking for snaps in which they feature.

Grindley Cream Petal teapot
Grindley Cream Petal teapot

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