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….
Many thanks to Darwen Terracotta in Blackburn for the trip round their works a few weeks back. Fantastic to see the whole process in action, along with some splendidly strange ornamentation in course of production, like this scary monster! And of course big thanks also to @tilesocorguk for organising the trip.
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.
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?
In Scotland last weekend to take various co-op photos (although really Scotland won’t feature a great deal in the co-op architecture book) as well as looking round the Verdant Works in Dundee. So here is doubtless one of very many wheatsheaves which I expect to see over the next few years, this one indicating the lovely art deco former co-op bakery at Stonehaven, near Aberdeen. Not sure if this is ceramic tile or enamel, probably the former. Similar signs show a cow or bull’s head, a basket of grocery and a pestle and mortar. The little row of shops connects with the even more wonderfully art deco Carron Restaurant to the rear, originally opened by the local co-op in 1937 and now functioning again (privately) after restoration. The second photo relates to my last book on industrial architecture, and shows the huge Cox’s Stack at Dundee’s Camperdown Works (jute of course) seen from above at the Law, a volcanic plug which looks down over the city. Quite a treat to see the chimney from above after staring up at it when trying to fit it into a photo from ground level. Liverpool next for more photos.
The text of Vic & Ed Industrial Architecture is coming along nicely, about half done now, and I’m just taking the very last photos for the 150 or so illustrations. Last week visited the former Royal Small Arms factory at Enfield, all redeveloped but still retaining an industrial feel with some pretty polychromatic brickwork which looked good in the sunshine. Slightly further afield was the really splendid Bursledon Brickworks in Hampshire, probably the last steam-driven brickworks in the world. If you are anywhere near (or even if not) this is truly worth a detour; you can get there by train and foot/bus from London in a little over two hours, so it is not exactly remote. The most attractive part visually is the old two-storey drying shed (see pic) where the bricks were laid to dry, but the kilns are great too, and there’s a huge display of bricks and terracotta, including some glazed terracotta from one of Portsmouth’s old pubs. Good day out, complete with tea shop and excellent cakes, what more could one ask!
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.