Introducing a new section to our website, New Town Herts, in which we will be documenting the modernist and art deco architecture of the Garden Cities and New Towns of Hertfordshire.
Letchworth Garden City, Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield, Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead were all built in the 20th Century to create living places balance between work and leisure, urban and rural. These towns feature a variety of architectural styles from Arts & Crafts to Brutalism, and designs from a range of architects, such as Louis de Soissons, Clifford Culpin and Sir Basil Spence.
In this section you will find guides to the modernist and art deco buildings of each town, a map of all the buildings and a profile of some of the important town architects and planners.
The film “The Monuments Men” opened in cinemas last Friday 14th February. Directed by George Clooney and starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and many others, it tells the story of an Army Unit convened for the purpose of rescuing great works of art from destruction at the hands of the Nazis. The unit featured a mixture of Allied nationalities, and in the film the most prominent British character is Ronald Balfour, played by Hugh Bonneville. Another monument man, although not featured in the film, was architect Lt. Col. John Edward Dixon-Spain. Born in 1879, Dixon-Spain went into partnership with Charles Nicholas in 1905, and they remained in partnership throughout their careers.
Dixon-Spain became one of the first “Monument Men” charged with recovering missing art works, and along with American officers Cpt. Bancel LaFarge and Lt. George Stout. The three offices landed in mainland Europe two weeks after the Allied landings in Normandy on D-Day, and began to track down and rescue works of art from the debris of the conflict. The intrepid trio were eventually joined by 5 more officers, and the 8 of them used their persuasive charm to hitch lifts with other Army units to move about Europe, eventually inspecting 3,000 monuments and archives.
If the film had been made a couple of decades earlier it may have opened in a cinema designed by Dixon-Spain and Nicholas, such as the Gaumont Streatham or the New Gallery Cinema in Regent Street. Both buildings are still extant, although neither are showing films any longer. The Streatham cinema opened in 1932, but was damaged by a V1 rocket during the war and was rebuilt by TP Bennet & Son. It became a bowling alley in the 1960’s and today is waiting undergo redevelopment. The New Gallery Cinema was originally built in 1888 as an art gallery, and Dixon-Spain and Nicholas redesigned the building in 1925 with a 256 foot Greek style frieze by Gertrude Halsey. It is now Grade II listed and open as a Burberry store.
Dixon-Spain and Nicholas designed a variety of buildings from factories to churches to schools. The Aladdin Lamp factory in Greenford built in 1932, is still a recognizable presence alongside Western Avenue with its bell tower. The building had been turned into a B&Q store but that has now closed down. The partnership also designed number of churches, St Aphage’s in Hendon (1927) was designed to serve the newly built Watling Estate and features a brick basilica in the Early Christian style. St Joan of Arc, Farnham (1929) is constructed with red brick in the Romanesque style, and features statues by artist Vernon Hill. The church is Grade II listed. St Hugh of Lincoln in Letchworth Garden City was designed by the partnership in 1938, but not completed until 1960. Originally featuring a flat roof, this was replaced in the 1980’s due to leakages.
Further afield, Nicolas and Dixon-Spain designed a number of significant buildings; the Qaer-El-Aini Hospital and Medical School in Cairo (1921), City Hall, Northumberland Road, Newcastle (1928) and the Rock Hotel, Gibraltar (1932). Dixon-Spain also designed film studios and after the war concentrated on nationwide school building programme. He died in Graveley, Hertfordshire in 1955.
Info from Our Illustrious Family.
To coincide with Jonathan Meades return to the small screen to celebrate Brutalism (Sunday 16th February BBC4), we present our guide to Brutalism in Metro-Land. As we hope we have have shown through our site, the suburban hinterland is not an empire of neo-tudor semi detacheds and pebbledash bungalows, but an area of varied and interesting modernist architecture. From Charles Holden’s brick box stations, to the art deco cinemas and houses such as Amys Connell’s High and Over. The modernism of the suburbs does tend to be of the modest International Style kind, but there are examples of it’s bigger, uncompromising brother, Brutalism, and the architects associated with it.
In a previous blog we have discussed the suburban work of one the most famous architects associated with British post war architecture, Erno Goldfinger. He produced a range of designs throughout Metro-Land, from houses to flats to shops. The most brutalist of his suburban designs is Hille House in Watford. A office and factory complex on the St. Albans Road in Watford, Hille House is an instantly recognizable Goldfinger building, with a reinforced concrete frame, and a central cantilevered box with coloured glass. Not far from Hille House on the outskirts of Watford is Sugden House, by a pair of architects who are as identified in Britain with Brutalism as Goldfinger, Alison and Peter Smithson. The house was designed for Derk Sugden of the engineers and architects Arup Associates, who wanted a “simple but radical” house. Alison Smithson’s initial design featuring a butterfly roof was rejected, and the finished house features a catslide tiled roof from a design by Peter, and an exterior of second hand London brick around a reinforced concrete frame.
Other architects strongly identified with Brutalism have built buildings in Metro-Land. Owen Luder, whose partnership designed some of Britain's most iconic concrete buildings like the Trinity Car Park, Eros House and the Tricorn Centre, has Colman House in Hayes and Hendon Hall Court. Colman House on the Uxbridge Road, completed in 1962, was built as an office block but has now been renamed Pointwest and converted to residential use. Hendon Hall Court, just off the North Circular, is an apartment block built between 1961 and 1966 in shuttered concrete with projecting balconies. Richard Seifert, designer of Centrepoint and Space House in Central London, also has a couple of buildings to his name in the suburbs. Ever Ready House was built in 1966 as the British headquarters of the American electrical company. The building is a 12 storey office block in a T-Plan on tapering stilts. The building has now been taken over by Barnet Council. Angel Cottages in Mill Hill use red brick and timber boarding to blend in to this picturesque outreach of North London, while still looking modernistic.
Aside from the famous names associated with Brutalism, there are a number of buildings built by the public sector in the style in Metro-Land. The Greater London Council Architects Department was responsible for a number of projects in the suburbs. The housing estate at Colindale, Grahame Park (1969-75), is probably the most famous (or infamous). A collaboration with the Barnet Borough Council Architects Department, Grahame Park was designed to house 10,000 people on the site of the old Hendon Aerodrome. The site features nearly 1800 homes, a library, community centre, schools and a shopping parade. The estate was remodelled in the early 1990’s by Barnet Council, and is today undergoing another redevelopment scheme. A neighboring housing scheme, Grahame Park West (also GLC and Barnet Arch Dept.), was more successfully received than its neighbour, and is today a private estate renamed Willow Gardens. Another GLC built project is the West Waste recycling centre in Ruislip. Built in 1980, it is a classic monolithic concrete block in the brutalist style.
Famous for featuring in that Brutalist roll call “A Clockwork Orange”, the Grade II listed Lecture Block at the Brunel University in Uxbridge is also an overwhelming slice of Brutalism. Designed by Sheppard, Robson and Partners and completed in 1966, the building is formed of an exposed reinforced concrete frame, infilled with precast concrete panels. A rather less spectacular, but equally interesting building is the Fernedene Apartments in Kingsbury, Brent. Designed as retirement apartments by former assistant to Basil Spence, Clifford Wearden, and built in 1966, the flats themselves are rather overpowered by the concrete ramp that fronts the building. Nevertheless, the complex forms an interesting contrast to the Ernest Trobridge cottages opposite.
This is just to show that you can find a wealth of brutalist and post war modernist buildings in the sleepy suburbs…..