Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lydney, Gloucestershire


In the shadows, in the sun

Unassuming, isn't it? This utilitarian building, part of a very large industrial complex near the harbour in Lydney, is now at least partly empty. Walking past it on my way to look at the front of Naas House, something struck me about the way it is built, and I wanted to know more about it: above the plywood doors, those concrete walls, the imprint of their shuttering visible on the surface, seem like something out of the 1960s. Industrial Brutalism? They turn out to be earlier, an example of the ways in which the industrial and military architecture of World War II, simply by being utilitarian and hastily built, seems to anticipate what became high fashion later.

This building (I think: I've not found much information about it) is part of a factory, the Pine End Works, built in 1940 to make plywood for the fuselages of the Mosquito aircraft and for the Horsa gliders that were used in the D-Day landings. It was one of a host of factories built around the country, in places off the regular routes of the Luftwaffe bombers, to produce military aircraft (and later other hardware required during the war). These were facilities called "shadow factories" and they were built both to increase production and to guard against problems caused by the loss of existing facilities that might more easily be bombed. The staff, many of whom were women, were ordered to keep secret what they were producing and the outfit running this one, to maintain secrecy, was called simply and enigmatically Factories Direction Limited.

The works was well sited to receive the large quantities of timber required, which came up the Severn from the Bristol port of Avonmouth – Lydney's harbour and canal are nearby. After the war the factory continued to produce plywood, but as far as I know has been empty for a while. It's bleak and unregarded now, but I'd like to think that with some care and attention, the vast spaces inside could again hum with the activity of people making things. Meanwhile, there it stands, to remind us that the least elegant of structures can have an interesting history.

6 comments:

bazza said...

Hi Philip. This Blog is nothing if not eclectic! You certain go where other architecture writers don't go. But it has given us a really interesting story and fascinating piece of history.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Bazza. I have to say I hesitated before posting this one, as I'm aware that many of my readers will just think it's ugly. But, as you'll realise, my interesting in buildings is not limited to their architecture, but embraces their use, history, atmosphere, setting, and whatnot too.

Stephen Barker said...

Philip, Yale University Press released a book a couple of years ago that looked at wartime architectute in all the main combatents of WWII and how it developed and promoted elements of modernism. English Heritage have also produced a book looking at buildings and installations from the cold war era, some of which had a very short period of use.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: Thank you. I was vaguely aware of these books, but I've not read them. They will be on my to-read list when I return from an extended stay in Europe, in a country to which the tentacles of Amazon do not (yet) reach.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I presume you also noted the tall terrace with the tall chimneys next to Lydney station. Waiting for a delayed train, I spent over an hour looking at these against a darkening winter sky.

Philip Wilkinson said...

James: Yes, I remember being struck by the terrace.