Art Deco And Modernist London In Photographs

Regular readers may remember that my favourite style of achitecture is Art Deco, and the Modernist designs that formed part of it. I have posted photos of Art Deco buildings on here previously, but I was lucky to find some more online today. I appreciate that it tends to divide people, and that they either love it, or hate it.

I love it.

The White House, Hendon. I would not particularly want to live in Hendon, but I would love to live in a house like this.

East Finchley Tube Station. Many London Underground stations were built in this style.

The John Keeble Church, Millhill.

Kingsley Court apartments, Willesden.

The Empire Pool and Arena, Wembley.

The State Cinema, Kilburn. I have seen films in there on many occasions.

Residential Houses in Arnos Grove.

Randall’s Department Store, Uxbridge.

A Modernist house in Twickenham, close to the River Thames.

The former Coty Cosmetics factory, Brentford.

Beachlands, Pevensey Bay

As I mentioned last week, it has long been my habit to visit the seaside on my birthday. Six years ago, in 2010, Julie and I drove from the flat in Camden, down to the Sussex coast. It was my intention to visit the architecturally famous Beachlands Estate, and I took my camera along, to record the trip. As usual, these are large files, and can be clicked on for detail.

Built during the mid-1930s, this estate was conceived as a beachfront private project, designed to offer small but convenient accommodation, close to the sea. The style of the bungalows was right up to date at the time, with themes from both the Modernist and Art Deco schools of design. These included the famous Oyster bungalows, built in the shape of an oyster shell. I have never seen the like anywhere else. Originally, the estate was planned as a complete community, and was to include shops, a cinema, and other amenities, as Pevensey is only a small holiday place, and has limited facilities. When the Second World War came along, further development stopped, but left us with this unusual gem of British seaside architecture.

The classic Oyster Bungalow, with its semi-circular frontage.

The properties are still all lived in today, and cherished by their owners.

This Modernist-style house was for sale, and I would have been tempted if it hadn’t been so far to get to work. I would have had to do something with the windows and door though…

Around the corner, this house showed the Modernist style, with Art Deco motifs in the rendering.

Pevensey Bay has a claim to fame in British history as the landing site of the Norman army of William The Conqueror. As it lies between Bexhill and Eastbourne, William would have to turn east, and head to Hastings, to complete his destiny, and change the face of England forever. This is the bay, with the flat shingle beach. It must have been ideal for his ships to land there.

If this prompts you to consider visiting the area, Pevensey also has an interesting ruined castle to explore. It dates from the 4th century, and is managed by English Heritage. Here’s a link.

Architectural admiration (6)

For this part of the series, I will concentrate on places and structures found in Great Britain. This country has a lot of wonderful sights to see, and those that follow are just a few of them.

The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle, England.

Some cities are defined by a single structure. You only have to see a picture of a building, or famous statue, and you immediately recognise the location, even if you have never been there. One of these is Newcastle, where the distinctive Tyne Bridge is identifiable to almost anyone in the UK. There is a good reason for this too. The bridge connects the city with nearby Gateshead, and this industrial centre of the North-East of England has associations with ship-building, trade, docks, and mining. The imposing through arch bridge straddling the River Tyne is itself industrial in appearance, strong and purposeful, very much like the city that it is a part of. It is not the only bridge crossing the river, but was opened in 1928, to assist with increasing traffic, and to avoid tolls on other bridges. If you think it looks a bit like a smaller version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, you would be correct. It was designed and built by the same company.

Southgate Underground Station, London, England.

With the large expansion of the underground railway network in London during the 1920s, many stations on the outer edges of London at the time were constructed in unusual modernist styles. By far one of the best remaining examples is the station at Southgate, an area mostly now part of the London Borough of Barnet, close to the northern limits of the city. This amazing building resembles a spacecraft. The circular design, appearing to be supported by a row of windows, is topped with an unusual ‘spike’, with a ball on the end. This is surrounded by circular lights, giving a futuristic look to the whole structure. Best seen illuminated at night, it looks for all the world like a flying saucer, just about to take off.

Neasden Hindu Temple, London, England.

Sandwiched between the busy North Circular Road, and the undesirable dwellings of the sprawling Stonebridge Park Estate, the once-leafy suburb of Neasden is no longer the place it once was. Factories, industrial complexes, and high-rise homes make it an unlikely place to find something as wonderful as this bewitching temple. But it is worth the effort to visit this least-likely tourist destination in north-west London, to be enthralled by what you will see there. The very fact that it is so alarmingly out of context in this otherwise depressing area, just adds to the effect. Built and funded entirely by volunteers from the community, this temple really does take your breath away. Opened in 1995, it was then the largest Hindu temple outside India. Standing before it, you have to look around, finding it hard to believe that you are still in London. From the gleaming white exterior, to the intricate carvings inside, it is a complete feast for the eyes. Non-Hindus are made very welcome too, and someone will happily show you around. It really is one of the most amazing things to see in London, and outside of the local community, one of the least known modern wonders of that city.

The Town Walls, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England.

As one of the main border towns between England and Scotland, Berwick has had a violent past, and a history of conflict. Constantly fought over by the English and Scots, it has been part of England since 1482. Due to its strategic position straddling the River Tweed, less than three miles from the Scottish border, it is a place that has always been heavily defended. It still boasts a fine example of an 18th century barracks, but its Elizabethan Town Walls and fortified ramparts remain as one of the best examples in Britain today. They are a fascinating look into the warlike past of these islands, and remarkably well-preserved. They are still free to walk around, and you can do it in less than an hour. The views are spectacular, and there is much else to see in this interesting market town.

The National Wallace Monument, Stirling, Scotland.

Unfortunately, the film ‘Braveheart’ has created and perpetuated many inaccuracies concerning the Scottish noble and warrior, Sir William Wallace. During the 13th century, he rebelled along with other Scottish nobles and landowners, against the English rule of their country. In 1297, he led the Scots to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, near to where his memorial is sited today. Despite defeating a much larger English army, the Scots failed to secure independence, later losing a major battle at Falkirk. Wallace was captured in 1305, and executed by the English, for the crime of Treason.
In 1869, a memorial to Wallace was opened, at the top of Abbey Craig, offering dramatic views from the top. Although perhaps intended to resemble a castle tower, it is somewhat Victorian Gothic in style, described as being ‘Scottish Baronial.’ The memorial serves well as a viewing platform, if you can manage all the steps to the top, (246) as well as a fair ascent from the car park. Each floor also has relevant exhibits, including Wallace’s sword, so it is entertaining for all ages.

The Hoover Building, Perivale, Middlesex.

This magnificent building is one of the best preserved Art Deco constructions from the 1930s. It is situated on one of London’s busiest roads, The Westway, and provides a welcome sight in an otherwise uninspiring landscape. Built in 1933 to house the UK factory for Hoover vacuum cleaners, its colourful designs and unashamedly ornate features divided opinion at the time. After it closed down in 1982, there were fears that it would be demolished, and a local campaign to save it had some success. It was bought by the huge supermarket chain, Tesco, and after ten years of neglect, it was fully refurbished, and opened as a supermarket. Fortunately, the exterior had been listed, so was retained by the new owners, who built a conventional shop inside the walls. It is a true wonder in West London, and delightful when illuminated at night. There is a song about it on this link that you may not like, but watch the video, for the different views.

Tilbury Fort, Essex, England.

Where the River Thames widens, to the east of London, you will find the Port of Tilbury. For many years now, this has been an important container terminal, and landing-place for many of the imports that arrive from overseas. It is an industrial area, and even the most ardent lover of the place would be hard pressed to find it attractive. During the many wars involving England throughout its history, the strategic importance of this area was always apparent. The first fort was built here by Henry VIII, and was later reinforced and improved, until appearing in the star-shaped form we can still admire today. It was here in 1588, at the height of the war with Spain, and under threat from the Armada, that Elizabeth I gave her famous rallying speech to the assembled troops. This fort holds a special place in the history of England, and as a result, is now owned and maintained by English Heritage, as a museum in perpetuity.

I hope that you enjoy this selection. Next time, I will be including some more from further afield.

Architectural admiration (1)

I freely admit that I know almost nothing about Architecture. I have never designed so much as an extension, let alone a massive building or structure. I just know the sort of thing I like, so have carried out a little research in those areas. As I have mentioned before, I have a great admiration for the styles of Art Deco and Modernism. I also cannot disguise a fondness for the 1960s buildings, often described as ‘Brutalist’, along with some housing developments derided as ‘concrete canyons’. Of course, I don’t have to live in them, just admire them from outside.

As a diversion from the usual subjects featured here, I thought that I would discuss some buildings and houses, and attempt to explain why I like them so much. There will not be much Victorian Gothic featured, and you may notice a distinct absence of Edwardian Villas too. I will give some examples though, and if it is well-received, I may well post a follow-up, another time. I will try to only comment on those that I have actually seen, though the Internet, and the availability of images, make it possible to feature almost anything anywhere, I feel that the experience of looking at them can add something to the telling of the tale. They will mostly be in England, with some exceptions that I have admired in other countries too. I will also not restrict myself by sticking to dates or periods, and I will not feature them in any chronological order. The list will appear as it did in my head.

In the tradition of this blog, no photographs will appear. (Except for the Oyster Bungalow, that just popped up!) This will require the small task by the interested reader, of clicking on a link that will appear at the end of each section.

Senate House. (University of London)
Long before I had any idea what this building was, I was taken by its sheer presence, and the way it dominated the surrounding area in Bloomsbury. Completed in 1937, the Art Deco structure was a true skyscraper at the time. It was the second tallest building in the whole of London, overlooked only by the uppermost level of St Paul’s Cathedral. It reminded me of a medieval castle, the symmetrical rows of windows reminiscent of loopholes in an ancient fortification. Even today, it is still visible from most high points around the city, and its imposing stance has made it popular for use in many television and film productions.

Rowley Way, North London.
An experiment in communal living, The Alexandra Road Estate was opened by Camden Council, in 1978. Now commonly known as Rowley Way, this provided over 500 homes, a school, community centre, youth club, and even boasted its own heating system. Built in the style of a stepped pyramid (Ziggurat), the central area is pedestrianised for its entire length, as car parking is incorporated below the apartments. Despite backing on to a busy railway line, the main thoroughfare appears peaceful, and lots of planting gave it a garden feel. Opinion about the use of untreated concrete is still divided. This did not weather too well, and can make parts of the complex appear neglected. Social problems with some tenants also gave the estate a poor reputation, and many did not want to take up the offer of homes there. A stone’s throw from multi-million pound dwellings in St John’s Wood, one of the most desirable parts of London, the change in the law that allowed tenants to buy at a discount has changed the face of this development. To buy a three-bedroom apartment there today would cost a cool £500,000.

Oyster Bungalows.
The quieter seaside towns in southern England were often developed and expanded during the years between the wars. Pevensey Bay is probably best known for being the site where William the Conqueror landed in this country, before the decisive battle near Hastings, in 1066. The area is overshadowed by its proximity to the larger and more popular town of Eastbourne, so it never really expanded as a resort; though Pevensey Castle still attracts visitors. Built in the 1930s, hoping to capitalise on the popularity of seaside holidays, the Beachlands Estate is home to a collection of Modernist and Art Deco homes, all on a small scale. Included in this development are the famous Oyster Bungalows. I have never seen their like anywhere else. Small two-bedroom bungalows on tiny plots, each built in the shape of an oyster. The living area bulges outward, narrowing towards the back. They might actually be better described as Scallop Bungalows, as their shape more obviously resembles the shell of this animal. However, whether by accident, or design, they were called Oyster Bungalows, and they are delightful.
An "oyster" bungalow, Beachlands

The Royal Crescent, Bath.
Just to show that I don’t only like 20th century architecture, feast your eyes on this 18th century marvel. Bath is a city that is so full of interesting buildings, it demands a visit. From the ancient Roman Baths, The Pump Room (made famous by Jane Austen), and the wonderful Pulteney bridge, with the shops built into it, the whole place is a touristic delight. The Royal Crescent, dating from 1775, is a sweeping terrace of houses in the Georgian style. These days, there is a museum at Number One, as well as a luxury hotel at Number 16. The whole row of houses is listed of course, and beautifully preserved. Essentially unchanged since the time it was built, this is a true look at architectural history that is still living and breathing today.

Bodiam Castle, Sussex.
Back even further in time, to the 14th century, we find the exquisite moated castle of Bodiam. This is the embodiment of every castle I ever wanted to visit, or to live in. In a near-perfect setting, well-preserved in part, and also sympathetically restored, it is now owned and run by the National Trust. The imposing battlements have witnessed so many upheavals in our history, from the Wars of The Roses, to the English Civil War. On the losing side in that war, much of the castle was demolished, until later rebuilt to its original plan, in 1829. Despite its military appearance, the castle is not well-designed for war, and is more of a stylised ideal, than a practical fortress. Nonetheless, it is simply sublime.

St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow.
Many churches of the Orthodox religion feature the distinctive ‘Onion’ dome in their design. However, there are few churches, or any buildings for that matter, as unusual and as easily recognised as St Basil’s in Red Square. Built during the 16th century, to commemorate the victories of Ivan the Terrible, it has nine domes, and two spires. The domes are coloured and patterned, with the effect that the whole building appears to be about to float into the sky, attached to a series of balloons. Since 1928, it has been a museum, owned by the Russian state. Illuminated at night, this iconic building is simply breathtaking, and remains as the instant connection with the city of Moscow, known the world over. (Click small icon to see a photo)

The De La Warr Pavilion.
For the last entry in this first post about architecture, it is back to England, and the 1930s. If I could choose to live anywhere, it would certainly be to own and live in this marvellous Modernist building in Bexhill, on the south coast of England. Inside as well as out, it typifies everything I adore and admire about this style and design. I could write a post about the staircase alone. The interior light, the feel of space, the flat roof terrace and outside balcony, all are just divine. Unfortunately it is not a house, and it is not for sale. It was built in 1935, to serve as an entertainment centre for this sedate seaside town. It houses a theatre, a gallery, and a popular restaurant, as well as exhibition rooms, and a gift shop. Since 1986, it has been listed as a Grade 1 building, so can never be altered. It will remain as it is, for as long as it stands. It is one of my favourite places, anywhere in the world.

So, there you have my first seven choices. I don’t for a moment expect everyone to agree with them. But please have a look at the links, if you don’t already know these places, and see what you think. Feel free to suggest your own preferences, and I will happily investigate them. I have plenty more for consideration, but seven is enough to be getting on with. If you like this idea for a series of posts, let me know. I will be happy to write more.

Going to The Pictures

In London’s working class districts, during the late 1950’s and well into the late 1960’s, you did not hear the phrase ‘going to the cinema’. It would always be ‘going to the pictures’, or the common slang term, ‘the flicks’. This was a hangover from the earliest days of silent film, when the flickering of the jerky, hand-cranked projectors, gave the experience this nick-name. My early memories of trips to the pictures date from about 1958, when I was taken to see films suitable for someone approaching their seventh birthday. By 1960, I was a veteran of hundreds of visits, and had seen all the blockbusters of the day, including ‘The Ten Commandments’, ‘Ben Hur’, and ‘Spartacus’. I had developed a love of film and cinema that stays with me to this day.
London was a grey place in those days. The swinging sixties were around the corner but there was little sign of them just yet. Post-war life was hard. The winters were cold, money short, and we were still surrounded by bomb-damaged buildings, and open flat areas known as ‘bombsites’. There was Television. It had two channels, was black and white, and finished quite early. The majority of the content was either too stuffy, or populist game shows and variety programmes. This was especially true during the working week, as all the effort to entertain seemed to be targeted at the weekend audience. Escape from this was provided by a trip to The Pictures. Cinema attendance at that time was immensely popular, and every showing seemed to be to a full auditorium. You did not have to travel far to see a film, from where we lived, at least. We were spoilt for choice , with at least five cinemas within a comfortable walking distance, as well as three more accessed by a short bus trip. There was also the West End of London within easy reach, with the biggest new films, and the most luxurious cinemas.


Those readers used to the current trend for the featureless multiplex, normally tucked away as part of a drab trading estate on the outskirts of the suburbs, can have no concept of the impact of the cinemas in London at that time. With the increasing popularity of films after 1920, most of them were built from around that date, up to the Second World War, in 1939. This meant that following the architectural fashion of the day, they were predominantly of Art Deco, or Modernist design. This was in stark contrast to the rows of Victorian and Edwardian houses where we lived. Even those destroyed by bombing would be rebuilt in a similar style, to retain their landmark features. And they were landmarks indeed. Usually on a corner plot, these cathedrals of film could be seen from a long way off. After dark, their white painted exteriors, and huge neon-lit signs, would shine like beacons, through the smog and gloom of the city. There was little else to match them, except perhaps some of the larger Department Stores, like Selfridges, or Harrods, but these were not places we commonly visited. A visit to the cinema was also comparatively cheap. With both my parents working, we could afford to go at least once every week, sometimes twice. As a treat, we would occasionally visit the West End Cinemas, to see a film in a new or different way. That could take the form of 70 mm projection, Cinerama, or early experiments in 3-D. The bigger budgets of films like ‘How the West was Won’, or ‘Spartacus’, would also justify the production and sale of souvenir brochures. These were expensive perhaps, but they were full of additional information, profiles of film stars, and stills from the making of the film. I would collect these whenever the chance presented itself, and read them over and over again. I don’t know what happened to them, and I wish I still had them today.


The experience of going to The Pictures began before you even entered the foyer. Outside, would be a uniformed commissionaire, in greatcoat and cap. his coat bearing tassels, and contrast piping. Here was someone who would not be out of place in a Ruritanian comedy, yet he would be a man of some bearing usually, perhaps with a military background. He would wear fine gloves, and give everyone a civil and deferential greeting as they passed. Posters for the film, and for the next week’s offering, would be in special frames outside the building. There might also be stills, and glossy celebrity photographs of the current film’s stars, and most exciting scenes. Thick red velvet ropes, suspended between gold-coloured posts, provided a barrier- at least a symbolic one – to wait behind, until the doors were opened. The very doors seemed like a work of art. Brass frames, flamboyant designs, so thick and heavy that it was necessary for attendants to open them , and secure them open after the audience started to file in. Then there were the names of the Cinemas. They meant little to a seven-year old Londoner like myself, but how exotic they sounded, how mighty and prepossessing, with their Greek and Latin simple nouns, or invented names, transferred to the streets of my youth. Odeon, Rex, Regal, Ritz, Gaumont, Trocadero. These names seemed to have never appeared before in my consciousness, and applied only to Cinemas. Even now, when I know their actual meanings, I still associate them with those old buildings, first and foremost.

Once inside, I felt as if I was entering a wonderland. We were greeted by uniformed usherettes, who in my young eyes, always seemed stunningly attractive, with heavy make-up, smart hair, and friendly smiles. They would inspect your ticket, advise you which entrance to take, and tear the ticket in half, so it could not be used again. As a family, we preferred to sit in the upper balcony, which was called The Circle. In the ground floor area, called The Stalls, the seats were on one level, so the sudden arrival of a heavy set, or tall man, or a lady who chose not to remove her hat, would mean that I would have to watch the entire programme though the gap in their shoulders. Upstairs, the seats were arranged in a tiered fashion, so no matter who sat in front of me, I would always be able to see. There was also a small surcharge for sitting in The Circle (unlike live theatre, where the opposite applies) , so it made you feel a little bit grander, as you made your way up the sweeping staircases.


We came from housing which was acceptable to us at that time. We did not have fitted carpets, central heating, or an inside bathroom. These commonly accepted facilities came later, when the terraced houses were mostly demolished, to make way for the new estates of maisonettes and flats that we moved into after 1960. The cinemas were a break from this. Carpet so thick, and of such quality, my small shoes sunk into it. Ornamental design on a massive scale; balustrade staircases of great width, enormous chandeliers, wall sconces to provide up-lighting, framed pictures on the walls. Even a visit to the toilets was an experience. Rows of shiny gleaming urinals, containing small blocks of sweet-smelling chemicals, lofty stalls, with locks that declared whether they were occupied, or not. Mirrored walls above large wash basins, and paper towels from chrome dispensers. They were immaculate; no vandalism was apparent then, it just wouldn’t have occurred to us.


Once through the doors into The Circle, subdued lighting provided a coloured glow to the surroundings. It felt as if you were in another country, or in a Royal Palace. More usherettes (they were always female then) waited to check tickets, and to show you to your seat, using the small torch that they carried to light the way. Once everyone was seated, overcoats folded, most hats removed, darkness would descend, along with the complete silence, punctuated by an occasional cough, that was expected of the audience. Noise was not tolerated at that time. Nobody chatted, there were no mobile ‘phones to worry us, even the cellophane packets of toffee popcorn (the only type available), or the small boxes of chocolates that we had been treated to, were opened with the silent skill of a master safe cracker, so as not to cause offence.  Smoking was allowed of course, anywhere in the building, and most of the adults, and even some of the younger audience members smoked freely; not just cigarettes, pipes and cigars also. There were ashtrays on the backs of the seats in front of you, and they would have been emptied between performances. This was not at all unusual or strange to the audiences of that period, and a ban on smoking would have been unthinkable then. As a result of all this smoking, a blue haze would appear above us, reflected in the ceiling lights, and later in the beam from the projected film. I actually looked forward to this, as I regarded it to be an essential part of the experience, something like The Northern Lights, courtesy of nicotine.


I was then ready. An early type of air-conditioning, about which I knew nothing, ensured that the cinema was cool when it was hot outside, and central heating provided cosy warmth on cold days. I always felt just right in the cinema, it was my home from home, and a better home at that. Though the film had not even started, there would be music playing. In some cinemas, even then, there would be an organist to entertain the audience. He would sit at some incredible conglomeration of pipes, keyboards, and buttons, which I generically called ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer’. In more modern establishments, piped music would be played. This would usually be the soundtrack to the film that would soon be shown, and would sound very loud and dramatic. Many films had a theme tune in those days, before the addition of pop songs and rap tracks became the norm. There was another chance to buy a programme, if it was that sort of film, or to purchase an ice cream, or drink. These were sold from deep trays, carried around the necks of yet more usherettes. Though they were probably the same ones that had taken the tickets earlier, I did not work that out for a long time. The tray’s contents were illuminated by a small light, and she would also have a small cash box. It was a portable, floodlit shop in miniature; purpose built for the venue, and to me, always fascinating. There would be a later chance to re-visit this lady if need be, during the intermission.


If a film was a large production, and lasted over two hours, it would break just over half way through. A sign on the screen would announce the interval, usually of fifteen minutes duration. People would shuffle along the long rows, mouthing their ‘excuse me’ to every neighbour, and head off to the toilets (called Lavatories of course) or to join the queue for refreshments. When less grand films were being shown, which was more usual, there would also be a break, as there would be two films in  the programme, so the intermission would come after the first, less important film, and before the film called the ‘main feature’. As well as two films, there would also be Pathe News, showing world events, Royal visits, or sporting triumphs, and sometimes cartoons. So it was a full evening of entertainment, and represented excellent value. At the end of the evening’s performance, the lights would be turned up, and you would be expected to stand, for the playing of the National Anthem. This may seem archaic now, but woe betide anyone seen sneaking out before the end. It was frowned upon. Britain was still a patriotic country in every way then, with a vestige of Empire, and a flourishing and loyal Commonwealth.


I would walk home, tired but happy, chattering to my parents about the film or films we had seen, perhaps clutching my glossy programme, and looking forward to the next time that I went to ‘The Pictures’.