Streamline Worcestershire – Adventures With The Printed Page

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Blakedown Rough (1934)

14 months ago, I assigned myself the task of researching and photographing of all of the surviving Art Deco and early modernist architecture in my home county of Worcestershire. The resulting images would then be compiled together into a booklet of some kind, with a few copies printed up for posterity. A nice straightforward achievable project to occupy myself with, when the time presented itself.

At this point my ‘green-horn’ credentials became blindingly obvious. Not only did I underestimate how much work is involved in such a project, but I forgot how obsessive and single-minded I become, once committed to something. And so, for over a year, I devoted pretty much all my spare time, outside of work and family, to what became Streamline Worcestershire.

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Northwick, Worcester (1938)

Travelling all over, including areas that were once, but are no longer part of Worcestershire, I visited factories, offices, churches, private homes, shops, cinemas, swimming pools, garages, pubs, hotels, a transmitting centre, a bus stop, a zoo and a water tower. I’ve marvelled at what the county has to offer, with the number, diversity and quality of applicable candidates greatly exceeding my original expectations. Hours vanished while rolling through microfilm at the city library, pouring over stacks of local history books, and scouring the internet for elusive pieces of information. My limited photography skills have also been put to the test, shooting in all manner of weather and light conditions, with the removal of unwanted cars via Photoshop, now a particular speciality. Now this may all sound rather tame, driving to Redditch on a rainy Sunday to find a needle factory not being that impressive, but within my fairly sheltered existence, this was more akin to a Tolkienesque quest!

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Former Co-Operative Department Store, Dudley (1939)
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Regal, Tenbury Wells (1937)
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Austin House, Worcester (1939)

After the seemingly endless process of proofreading and fine tuning for print, the manuscript was eventually completed a few weeks back, with a bound proof dropping through my letterbox today (via the excellent bookprintinguk). The little booklet I originally envisioned, has grown to a weighty 168 page full colour hardback tome (not quite ‘coffee table’ specification, but substantial nonetheless).

I can’t quite explain the strange elation, of holding, and leafing through one’s debut printed offering for the first time, it is somewhat unreal. I also get a perverse sense of satisfaction in having executed publication following a DIY punk ethic, taking me back to an industrious youth spent recording and self-releasing material in various noisy bands.    

Evidently, the book is of fairly niche interest, but I’ve received such a wave of positive feedback concerning the project since its inception, I suspect that I’m not the only one, mesmerised by the lesser celebrated structures of this golden age of design.

‘STREAMLINE WORCESTERSHIRE – DISCOVERING THE ART DECO & INTER-WAR MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE OF THE COUNTY’ is a limited print run of 258 copies (the number of ODEON cinemas opened in the UK during founder, Oscar Deutsch’s, lifetime). Available direct here, via Amazon, and through a number of local retailers. OUT NOW. See www.streamlineworcestershire.com for more information.

covercontentsinside2inside1A larger selection of images from the book are being featured as part of an ongoing series on the Art Deco Magpie Instagram page #streamlineworcestershire

 

Beating The Blackout

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.

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The original Millsborough House, built 1912.

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.  

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1937 advert

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.

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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.

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1939 advert

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.

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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