All around as I write is permafrost, so here’s a little sunshine from a few months ago to remind us that spring is, er, just around the corner. Maybe. Anyway, what has this urn to do with the co-op? Four of them stand in East Ham Park, a little way from the site of the 1928 London Co-operative Society department store which was quite the latest thing when built, with huge plate glass windows. The design was by the CWS chief London architect, Leonard Ekins, who would go on to design some unusual Dutch-style brick offices in the 1930s. Here, however, he stuck to respectable classical with a tall corner tower looking down on East Ham’s High Street. Possibly a challenge or homage to the stupendous Edwardian East Ham Town Hall which is close by. The four urns were placed near the top of the store’s tower and seem to be the only elements to survive the building’s demolition in the 1990s; really I’m surprised it lasted that long. The store was clad in terracotta or cast stone produced by Shaws of Darwen, who also provided the decorative bits and pieces. It’s good to have the chance to examine the material close up; one can see the combed texture, so it is probably a grey terracotta, but it feels very stone-like. It’s lovely that something survives from what must have been a very popular shop, at least initially. There is even a little plaque in the park to tell you what you are looking at. Delightful in the sunshine….
Here in glorious sunny Lewisham the frontage of the recently revamped 1930s Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society building Tower House is looking spiffing. Delightful ceramic details abound, with the little trucks even bearing RACS lettering. The ground floor is not yet complete – the building is going to be apartments – but the upper floors of the exterior show the RACS at its architectural best. Even the little ventilators come in the form of RACS letters.
Recently checked through a few old copies of Architectural Review to see what they threw up in terms of co-op related adverts and so on. This rather lovely specimen from October 1959 encapsulates the sheer awesomeness of the new self-service stores (or perhaps it was just singles night….). We forget how totally different shopping was pre-supermarkets, and it must have taken shop managements some time to adjust to the ‘browsing’ aspect of the new ways. The illustration shows very well the things shop designers were doing in the late 1950s – brightness, good lighting, colourful floors and walls – and the colour aside, it’s not too different from today’s (blander) supermarkets. The advert, by the way, was for the flooring system, in use at one of the London Co-operative Society’s stores. Anyway, the dog looks pretty happy about it all!
To London again this week for the British Library and yet more issues of Co-operative News, an invaluable source both for shop openings and general discussions – about advertising for instance – in the co-op movement. For a bit of light relief I went along to the Bow Road in Poplar, to photograph a 1919 Stratford Co-operative and Industrial Society store; it still functions as a supermarket, although not a co-op. It has a rather splendid beehive on its pediment, so well detailed that the individual bees and the hive’s structure are clearly visible. It’s near the Bow Church DLR station (and not far from Bow Road tube). If you happen to visit, don’t miss the former Poplar Town Hall (1937-8) just across the road, a smashing modernist building with sculptures in socialist realist style of various building labourers, and also mosaics above the councillors’ entrance. But you must cross the road to see the best bit, as there is a lovely mosaic design of the Thames and docklands beneath the entrance canopy, presumably to inspire the members as they looked up when entering the building!
When in London last weekend to take yet more industrial architecture photos for the forthcoming (when I’ve written a bit more) book, I chanced to be on Leman Street, in that peculiar bit of the capital running south from Aldgate East station. Pevsner points out the wonderful CWS buildings, and is absolutely right, it is a veritable co-op canyon, with massive warehouses-cum-offices on both sides. The most eye-catching are the towered corner building of 1885-7 at the south end, by CWS architect JF Goodey, and opposite (and best of all) a refugee from Amsterdam, the massive and very bricky offices of 1930-3 by CWS architect LG Ekins (see left). Fabulous brickwork detailing. Ekins is usually said to have been the CWS architect during 1916-45, but he worked for the Society at Dunston (Gateshead) a little earlier, so I presume he was the CWS head architect from 1916 and in their department before that. We know the names of several CWS architects but little else about them, mostly I guess due to their archives having been destroyed. A researcher in Rochdale is doing a dissertation on some aspects of CWS architecture, but it would definitely be worth a whole book. They were early adopters of reinforced concrete and their buildings – if one includes factories, offices and shops – have played a part in townscapes throughout Britain. Think of the enormous Scottish Co-op offices in Glasgow, on the south bank in Morrison Street, almost under the M8 – it is Leeds Town Hall-like in scale. Anyway, back to work…..