Friday, November 26, 2010


Co-op modern

This 1936 design features the Midhill Road branch of the Sheffield and Ecclesall Co-operartive Society. Designed by J W Blackhurst, it is a resplendent combination of plate glass, chromium trim, lettering made up almost entirely of straight lines, and the signature material of 1930s shop fronts, Vitrolite. Vitrolite, a form of coloured glass available in a range of hues including orange, black, pale yellow, and pale green, produced hard shiny wipe-down surfaces that were much admired in the 1930s. The material is not so common today, but a skin of black Vitrolite still covers the Daily Express building in London’s Fleet Street.

Vitrolite and chrome were used with flair in this shop front, now alas demolished. The dark cornice, overhanging canopy, grids of glazing bars and railings, and the lettering, all combine in a glittering, angular whole. It’s flashy, in the way the Art Deco cinemas are flashy, but also hygienic and wholesome, a blending of apparent opposites not unlike the powerful combination of capitalism and mutual ownership on which the co-operative movement itself was built.


bazza said...

Hi Philip. Your picture looks like the kind of watercolour painting used to help sell a new building descibed as an 'artists impression'.
I don't believe there is a single curve in that picture!
Does the building look this good when seen for real?
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: You're spot on there. I think this picture was used not just to sell the building to the client, but also, in advertisements, to sell Vitrolite. The building looked pretty good when new, I believe, but is now sadly no more.

Hels said...

The Midhall branch of the Sheffield and Ecleshall Co-operative Society had every element of Art Deco design that the architect could throw at it - sharp geometry, modern building materials, specific colours, specific lettering, a passion for hygiene, no clutter.

I would have loved it, but most Deco businesses and many Deco residences seemed to have been destroyed in a flurry of later 20th century vandalism.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Indeed they were. Shops in particular are the victims of architectural fashion – shop fronts have been seen as the most ephemeral of architecture, good for a few years before being made over in the latest style. It's a shame that so many designs of quality have been destroyed in the process.

worm said...

I love this style of architecture - you actually see a lot of pristine shops like this in Australian towns, including awesome original mosaics in the doorway floors

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: I've not been to Australia, but I have heard of the Art Deco and modernist buildings of some Australian cities. There are one or two examples still standing in Britain, but they're few and far between.

Anonymous said...

from Chris Morley

Hi Philip

Where exactly was this branch?

There's no Sheffield neighbourhood called Midhall nor, that I can trace, any local roads with Midhall as an element to their name.

I've only been able to find a Midhill Road in Heeley, but in 1935 the OS maps show this was a cul de sac of slightly more than a dozen semi-detached houses and a builder's yard - hardly a likely setting for a cutting edge new branch.
Coordinates 435660, 385382

I've searched but can't find anything else on this. What was your source for this post?

And Eccleshall or Ecclesall?

In Sheffield it's definitely pronounced without any h and that's how it's spelt too.

So this was a design for the Sheffield and Ecclesall Cooperative Society.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: Thanks for your comment. My apologies for the confusion about this. The illustration came from an old issue of Architecture Review (July 1936) shown me by a friend. I made some mistakes in transcribing the information about it – it should be Midhill Road and, of course, Ecclesall. The illustration is also published in Kathryn A Morrison, English Shops and Shopping (Yale UP, 2003) but this book doesn't include any further information about location. Looking at the old map, I'm wondering whether it's the building on the corner of Olive Grove Road, but who knows?

I've corrected the post, and thank you again for your interest.

Unknown said...

The perspective of this building, and another, which I possess, were done by my father Norman Palmer, working as an architect in Blackhurst's office in Sheffield.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Gray Palmer: Thank you very much for the information. It is good to know the name of the architect who did this striking perspective drawing.