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!
Towards the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s the CWS Architects’ Department was very keen on incorporating public artworks, often large-scale murals, into their buildings. Several examples are shown in their book Co-operative Architecture 1945-1959, including the surviving ceramic tile mural in the town square at Stevenage (it now fronts Primark), a figurative work representing the spirit of co-operation by the CWS’ own designer, G Bajo. Into the 1960s and mosaics came to the fore; still with us are the colourful semi-abstract on the Ipswich co-op buildings (1962, unknown artist) and the massive graphic abstract glass mosaic on the former Hull emporium (1963, commissioned from Alan Boyson) which hopefully will be retained in future developments. There were many more, but I thought rebuilding and weathering had seen the end of all the others. But no! Just rediscovered in the north of England is this large (three plate glass windows wide) mosaic abstract, part of the 1963 building which was then the largest co-op pharmacy department store in the country (I’m not sure whether that’s England or the UK), presumably rivalling Boots and suchlike. Inside, the store is rather grand, a broad central stair descending to a large lower ground area, and twin side stairs reaching up to a gallery-cum-mezzanine, all very spacious; it’s not a co-op, but is still a functioning shop and almost exactly as it was originally laid out. The mosaic faces north, and is best seen in midsummer rather than winter when the light is from the rear, but it has survived amazingly well – a little conservation/restoration work and it would look terrific. Again, the artist is unknown. Overall, the shop is an absolute gem. How many more of these are out there I wonder?
Briefly in Edinburgh this week, I enjoyed tea and cake at the café in the City Art Centre, with its lively mural (1980) by William Crosbie (1915-99). The design is perfect for its setting, and Crosbie himself supervised the mural’s restoration in the late 1990s. Sadly, as you can see from the photo, the mural is now in rather a sorry state, with parts blistering and paint coming off. It is certainly a difficult environment for a mural, with lots of steam and similar tea-making activities taking place. Let’s hope it can be re-restored and last for at least another couple of decades.
Yes it’s the solstice at last so the nights (after this one) will be growing shorter and the dog-walking and photography days will be getting longer. Beers all round. Finally, a merry Christmas and a happily industrial and industrious new year to all! The, er, card is of course adapted from one of Dorothy Annan’s 1960s tile murals, originally at the Fleet Building near Farringdon Station, now rescued, restored, and mounted on the High Walk just beyond the Barbican Centre. Well worth a Christmas diversion.
I’ve been busy travelling all over the place to collect photographs for the Vic & Ed industrial architecture book, last week fetching up in Halifax and Glasgow, the latter on one of their Doors Open days. Felt very fortunate to see the trades stained glass panels at Maryhill Burgh Halls – although pictures are easily available on the web, the real thing was so much better; the detail of the tools and workplaces is incredible. And a fine little talk on the panels from local author (and mountaineer) Ian R Mitchell, for which many thanks; his book Glasgow Mosaic is excellent on industrial ‘stuff’. The wonderfully 1960s St Gregory’s Church was close by, with a fibreglass mural by Charles Anderson and some great stained glass, then just had time to head south in search of the dragon. At least, I think he (is it a he? how does one tell?!) is a dragon although the building’s category A list description specifies a griffin. However, a griffin should have the body of a lion and legs of an eagle. This, er, chap is more lizard-like with four clawed legs and of course the wings, and that is certainly not a beak. Also he is not a wyvern as he has two pairs of legs, rather than the wyvern’s one. So I guess he is probably a dragon, up there amongst the rainwater goods. And the building? I leave you to guess, but it is an unusually art nouveau styled works façade.
A lot of positive things have happened around the topic of postwar murals since I first began looking at them in the 1990s. Listings, conferences and books, all generate interest in an area that could do with even more research into the lesser-known artists of the time, especially those using ceramics and other non-paint materials. So this is just a reminder that my book, A Field Guide to Postwar Murals (Blue House Books, 2008) is still available through the blurb website, and best of all the ebook version (readable on ipads) is still under £2. There’s a 15-page preview on the blurb website.