Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Old principles, modern building

From its 19th-century roots in the Rochdale, the co-operative movement grew rapidly in the Victorian and Edwardian periods to become a force to be reckoned with on Britain’s High Streets. There were co-ops everywhere, and they were prized for their combination of quality and fair pricing, and also for their values – from ownership by the members and democratic member control to the support of education and community. These values, enshrined in a list known as the Rochdale Principles, still shape the co-operative movement today.

By the 1930s, although the really big expansion was over, co-ops big and small were still being built. The principal architects who worked for the co-operative movement, William A. Johnson of Manchester and Leonard G Ekins of London, were both enthusiastic modernists. The work of Ekins, for example, developed from an Art Deco not unlike the style of 1920s and 1930s factory architecture to a more hard-edged steel and glass modernism.

This co-operative store in Northampton shares several features with Ekins’ earlier work – the white walls with touches of green, the tall windows, the dark green plinth at the bottom and the stepped-back effect at the top. If it’s not actually by Ekins, it is probably the work of an architect who had studied his buildings. Whoever designed it, the building has proved durable. It’s now an arcade full of small independent shops, while the tiles of the street frontage still bear the name of the original owner, picked out in capitals.

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Here's another example of Art Deco tiling on a co-op, this time in Tamworth, which I blogged about a while ago.


The Vintage Knitter said...

A lovely building indeed. I wonder whether it caused any controversy when first built, as it still looks very impressive 70-odd years later.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, it is impressive, and was a complete surprise to me - I'd no idea it was there. It must have at least caused some comment when first built as it certainly stands out from the surrounding buildings.

Richard said...

you may be interested in my co-op store pictures blog.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Richard: Thanks you. I love the art deco Newcastle store, which is the kind of thing that may have been the inspiration for smaller stores like the Northampton one in my post.

Jon Dudley said...

Oooh! Yummy! as Mr Wallace might say. What a great building.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: Yummy indeed. I an imagine it in its heyday, the interior smelling of cheeses and hams.