Thursday, November 14, 2019

Bridgwater, Somerset


Keying in

While admiring the brick-built houses in Bridgwater, I noticed this interesting bit of brickwork. It’s on one side of King Square, a development that was meant to form the climax of Lord Chandos’s work in the town, but was never finished. Many of the houses here are rather plainer than those in Castle Street, without the segmental-arched windows or fancy pilasters to the doorways, and quite a bit later. But they’re still admirable. What my picture shows are protruding corner bricks at the end of a facade, left like this so that when building work was resumed, the builders could ‘key in’ their courses to those that were already there.

People may think this all looks a bit untidy now, and indeed someone has grown some creeper up part of the corner to soften the effect. However, I think it’s interesting evidence of a bit of history. Lord Chandos sold off the redevelopment area of the town in 1734 and thereafter building in the square proceeded sporadically. Most of the square dates to the early-19th century, after which things came to a stop, rather as they did as funds dried up after the financial crisis of the late-18th century in places such as Bath. What’s left, though, is still some of the best town housing one could hope to see.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Bridgwater, Somerset


Bridgwater brick

I’m impressed by the quality of some of the houses in this Somerset town. This is an example, from maybe the best street of all, Castle Street, which Pevsner calls ‘one of the finest early Georgian streets outside London’. It contains ten well proportioned five-bay houses built of brick – lovely local brick, which became the material of choice in the town from the late-17th century onwards. The brick walls are set off with white-painted quoins and, visible in my picture, segmentally headed windows. These windows are surrounded by moulded architraves; bracketed sills are another pleasant touch.

The doorways, in particular, stand out. There are several variations – some have Doric pilasters, some Corinthian, some, like number 10 in my photograph, Ionic.* The illustrated doorway also has a Gibbs surround, that band of alternating protruding and recessed blocks that gives it special prominence and goes with the ornate keystone at the top of the arch. The Duke of Chandos, who built this street as part of a larger development also featuring many brick houses of this period, must have been pleased. It’s not known who the architect was, but Pevsner and others point to the involvement of craftsmen who worked for the Duke on his properties in London and his famous, long demolished, country house, Canons in Middlesex. The houses they produced in Bridgwater still deserve our admiration.

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* I recently posted this doorway and a couple of its neighbours using different classical orders on my Instagram page, @philipbuildings ; scroll down the Instagram page to find them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire


In situ

Theme and Variations, 1969–72 is a sculpture by Dame Barbara Hepworth fixed to the facade of a building in the centre of Cheltenham that was originally the headquarters of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society. The 25-foot long piece was made especially for the building, has been part of the Cheltenham scene for well over 40 years, and was the artist’s last public commission. She made the sculpture to exploit the slightly curving frontage of the building – the relationship of the groups of semicircles is revealed more clearly as one walks along appreciating the artfulness of the way they are stacked. I think the work enhances the street and deserves to stay there.

However, a while ago the sculpture’s owner (not the same as the company that occupies the building) announced a plan to remove the piece and replace it with an exact replica. Many objected to this proposal, not because the appearance would change but on the grounds of integrity: Hepworth made Theme and Variations for the building and it should remain where it is. It is one of very few works Hepworth created to be attached to a building, which makes it still more important that it continues in situ.† Fortunately, Cheltenham Borough Council and the Twentieth Century Society agree. As a result of the Society’s work, the facade of the building with its integral sculpture have now been listed. It’s with pleasure that I report that this Hepworth is not going anywhere.

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† The Twentieth Century Society says that her Winged Figure from ten years earlier, attached to the facade of the John Lewis store in London’s Oxford Street, is the only other work by Hepworth designed to be fixed to a building and still in its original position. It is listed at Grade II*.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

London, Western Avenue, travelling westwards


A different angle

I’ve read two recently published books that mention the old Hoover factory in Perivale, West London. Both books were good ones, but neither author had had the chance to cover at any length the building’s fast-changing fortunes. After Hoover left, Tesco eventually acquired the building and ran a supermarket there for some years. This is the stage it had reached when I lasted posted about it in 2010. Tesco pulled out and in 2017–18 the building was converted into 66 flats.

I’m all for finding new uses for old buildings – it’s often a way of saving therm from demolition. But when I passed the other day on the coach from London to Oxford, I thought the price of this change of use was a rather intrusive alteration – it seemed that the developer had very slightly increased the building’s height by adding a pitched roof behind the original sleek, white parapet. Looking into the history of the Hoover Building, however, I discovered that the roof line has been changing almost since the beginning. The Hoover factory was built in 1932 as a two-storey building with a front topped by a long white parapet, with a centre portion slightly taller than the rest. As early as 1935, the building was enlarged by adding another storey, its front windows set well back from the parapet. Soon after that, a gently pitched glazed roof was added, to let more natural light into the top storey, and some time later still, this roof became more substantial, reaching the form it takes today. Various photographs exist of these stages, and the first version of the pitched roof was there early on. But it’s not clear to me quite when the roof reached its current form.

The fact that I could see this roof so clearly, its grey slope detracting from the effect of the original white parapet, was due mainly to the fact that I was looking at it from an elevated position on the top deck of the Oxford Tube,* when I took the photograph above. I’m much more used to seeing it from the position of the driver of the silver car, or from pavement level. When the Hoover factory was designed in the early-1930s by Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, the last thing the architects were thinking about was what their building looked liked from the top of a bus. Their main thought would have been for the result when seen at ground level – that and the host of other things that preoccupy the designer of a large industrial building: everything from getting the interior spaces to work for their intended purpose to making sure the building is completed on time and within budget. They might even be surprised that their building, years after Hoover moved out, having undergone two changes of use, is still, triumphantly, there.

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*The name of a coach service that runs between Oxford and London