Saturday, 17 October 2009

I know this city!

The following is a series of extracts from BS Johnson's The Unfortunates, an experimental novel which for the most part was set in Nottingham - a city Johnson had visited on a number of occasions in the late 50s and early 60s. The following photographs are also from the same period and I have carefully matched some of his psychogeographic descriptions to what I believe are the exact locations. Well almost - there were no photos of the City Ground from this period which were suitable and so the following photo of Meadow Lane was more apt. Especially given the current fiasco. Why have I done this? Why I have ruined your imagination? Well, look away now if you don't want to see of course, but these descriptions, feelings, ramblings, observations, associations or whatever, are quite acute - that is all. Many thanks to Emily Kawasaki & James Forster for drawing my attention to this book some years ago - though I took my time getting round to it as per usual. Also thanks to Emily Wilczek for lending me the damn thing last summer. The photos are from here.

Covered courtyard, taxis, take a taxi, always take a taxi in a strange city, but no, I know this city! The mind circles, at random, does not remember, from one moment to another, other things interpose themselves, the mind's The station exit on a bridge, yes, of course, and the blackened gantries rise like steel gibbets above the Midland red wall opposite. I should turn right, right, towards the city centre, yes, ah, and that pub! On one visit here I came from this station sullen with depression, savage at myself for some reason I found it hard to define, isolate: and went into that pub, the nearer, on the corner, green glass, leaded panes, ordinary, for relief, which was a green shield Worthington, as I remember, if I remember.

Southwell, the Chapter House, the delicate, convoluted carving on the capitals, foliage is it, yes, leaves, the book The Leaves of Southwell, now I think of it, though I did not know of it at the time, but June did, she knew the cathedral was important for at least this, that was perhaps the main reason why we visited it, when was it, fairly late in our friendship, for I had begun to take a great deal of interest in architecture, at the same time they moved to Lincoln, but how could it be, for they had the car, we went by car, their little blue Austin, which I had picked up for them, yes how the mind arranges itself, tried to sort things in orders, is perturbed if things are not sorted, are not in the right order, nags away. Southwell, said to June it was a useful place to bring children, to show them differences, for the nave was Norman, the choir EE, and the Chapter House, octagonal, best of all was Dec. The carving I was marvelously impressed with, appropriately, from a technical point of view the depth under the leaves, at such angles, but did not see the point of representing natural things thus, why, it is all tied up with truth, with things being what they are, and so on and so forth.

After we were well away from the village, they were guiding me on a ride, a journey. Tony took over, drove well enough, all he needed was experience, he passed his test not so very long after this. The mining villages around this city, I had not seen them before this first journey in their car. The fields around, just fields, no slagheaps that I remember, and suddenly the great wheels at the pithead on the skyline round the bend, classically, as if not industrial, not black country visual clichés. We had a drink somewhere, near a new bridge here, on the way back, it was dark by then, though summer, and in the car park there was some incident, I think someone was backing into Tony's path, and he kept going, they both kept going, and I was supposed to be the one looking out for a learner, but I could not reach the brake as it was the other side of Tony, farther from me, and all I could do was to push the horn button, to touch the horn ring, did it have one, that model, and the other man stopped in time.

When shall I see a ground all of one piece, a new ground, all the English grounds I've seen are so piecemeal, are never designed as a whole, except for Wembley, and in most ways that's an even worse disaster than this one, which seems to have four sides developed at random, at different times, yet there has been, is an enormous amount of money in football, thousands of pounds a game, hundreds of thousands a season, the number of people who go, and the players who don't get it, were very badly treated until recently, still are in some respects, it must have been the directors, the owners, who just siphoned off all the money but for what they had to leave to keep the things running, and even though they have to give their players something nearer their due, now, they still don't have to spend money on these buildings, they see, the swine, still have corrugated iron sheds and charge extra for that, let the men on the terraces, their chief supporters , the sixpences of the masses, stand out in all weathers, and they do, the stupid bastards! Yet these buildings show them up for what they are, the directors and the profiteers of the clubs, there is yet honesty in this: the buildings proclaim that they are cheapjacks, charlatans, who might as it pack their bags overnight and leave, because in the buildings they would be leaving behind them the very minimum that could be left, which would, which does, corrode, disintegrate, rot to pieces every few years. So this ground, the usual mess of badly-shutted concrete badly finished, the scruffy collection of huts which are the turnstiles, fletton-backed stand beyond them, the unpleasantness of this brick in such circumstances, ah, why waste anything of me with these things that disgust me, where's the Press entrance, let's get on with the bloody job.

Yates's is friendly, the first impression going in, the first time I have felt that kind of warmth since I came to this city this morning, an alien city, though I know it, really, I keep telling myself, friendly here, a relief, a great relief! Nearly full, push my way through, here it was I spoke to that Russian seamen so long ago, without Tony then, where was Tony, what was I doing on my own? Now there was a group there discussing football, they must be going later on, yes, what time is it, the to one, yes time for a good drink and then lunch, noticed a restaurant underneath as I came in, nearby, looked okay, shall go there, perhaps when I have finished here, what shall I have now, a wide range indeed, in Yates's, imported beverages of all descriptions, Commonwealth ports and sherries, Australian White and Red, very cheap, remarkably good value, no doubt, but I'll have Marsala, I think for no other reasons, but that I need something thick and sweat and comforting, I need comforting, why do I need comforting?

This pub, then, what signs of venerableness does it bear, to be seen, claiming to be one of the oldest in England? Black beams, low ceilings, but preserved in various ways, varnish, worm repellent, that detract from the seeing of age, prevent me from venerating it. Which leaves me with only association. This room, yes I recognise instantly as being one where Tony and June and Wendy and I sat, yes, but why should that seem remarkable, as it was only a few years ago, the memory is not that bad, I am overdramatizing this, his death, this place, these occasions. But this is still a place for students where the four of us sat then years ago, was it, something like that, rexine seats, life goes on, ha, bring Fortinbras and cart the corpses off. Cast iron garden tables, look original, not found, the old built-in kicked cupboard, brass fittings, most this looks Victorian, older in one sense than the eighteenth and earlier, the rooms cared from the friable sandstone, that is now to me a cliché, everything is reducible to a cliché, the action of carbonic acid on limestone. I'll have another sherry, I used to drink beer then but do not now, so much there’s another change, it's meaningless, though, it all is, this wallowing in recollection, stupid even, as well, I mean, where does it all lead, there we were students then, there these still are, students now, and so?

Cast parapet, pierced rondel design, the canal oiling its way under, under, and the great letters on the end wall of a warehouse BRITISH WATERWAYS, weathered, flaking, the midland red brick sound, it appears, the red strong enough to come through that amount of blackening, of discoloration, and the buses, I remember, great green and cream buses, and yes, they have trolleybuses in this city, too, the disfiguring lines overhead, quaint even, now, how long is it since they were running in London, remember them taking down the supports, masts would they be called, poles, the relief of the clearing of the air, literally, in certain streets, King Street Hammersmith, for one place, which seemed so much less oppressive once the overhead lines had gone.

This visit it must have been we made the journey to Newstead Abbey, yes, we went by bus, they did not have their car at that time, no, and walking the mile or more up the long rhododendron-lined drive, towards the house, the Abbey, that Byron so loved, and sold, the house buttered up against the single standing west front Abbey, so arrogantly intimate with it, EE, though late, I thought, as I remember, transitional. June went and sat beside the upper lake, pregnant, taking a book, having been here several times before. Tony and I paid to walk round the dead house, not lived in, saw Byron's skull cap, or did we, had it previously been re-interred, a dueling sword, yes, his bedroom, so ordinary now, like a film set, uncomfortable, un-lived in, obviously. The dead things the dead leave behind them as well as the living things. But in the gardens, grounds, the poem to Boatswain cut on a monument was still living, and inside the house, of course the relevant part of that tree, dead now but curiously alive, that Byron cut his and Augusta's names into that two-trunked sapling springing from the same roots.

The Castle too, a round of visits obviously, on either the Saturday, or more probably the Sunday. Wendy, her hair windblown across her face, the view across this city, the museum, the posters and displays commemorating labour troubles, this was some sort of centre for nineteenth-century resistance against the exploiters. Pubs in the evening, particularly two very good ones, students, locals, good drinking. Talking again, always, Tony was hardly interested in drinking, but only in the talk which accompanied it, only in the company he could hold converse with.

Their new flat. Either Sunday or the Saturday afternoon we went to see the new flat they were about to take on or hoping to take on. It was in a superior area of the city, the Estate or something like that, great houses built during the boom in the lace industry, whenever that was, nineteenth century some time, late probably, large red brick mansions, no two alike but somehow all alike, set square into the steep sides of a series of small valleys, green spaces between, wide private roads, No Thoroughfare, gates at all entrances. We all four went there. It must have been for Sunday tea, yes, tea with the old woman who was to be their landlady, very welcome she made us , we two strangers as well. Tea in the drawing room, looking out through French windows on to a lawn, sloping to the floor of one of the small valleys, and, yes, there was a dog, she loved dogs, Wendy, and this was a spirited dog, perhaps it was still young, would rush about indefinitely with her, making those rushes and last-second deviations, which some dogs are given to, I have noticed, perhaps with them it is a form of organised sport, with its own rules, etiquette. I joined in, as I remember, joined in with her, to participate, rather than with the dog, to show that I was spirited, gamey, too, would not be left out, would make her share everything of hers as I made her share everything of mine. That was the way I wanted it. That was the way I went out to get it. And where I went wrong.

At dinner, in Hall, top table on the same occasion, discussing with Tony Barker and Tony the interesting man who worked in the kitchens there, a refuge, who had written and published at his own expense a treatise on the ills of the world, and his own proposed cures, and had given copies to both of them. Sometimes Tony's enthusiasms were too extreme, I thought, too indiscriminate, in this case, for instance, as I remember. The new Hall of Residence, neo-gothic, architecturally sterile, aping the Oxbridge dead.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Myths of War: The War Memorial, Victoria Embankment

Fig 1. Triumphant War Memorial. Portland stone with intricate iron detailing.

Between Wilford and Trent Bridge, the riverside was embanked and landscaped as a place of Edwardian recreation. The suspension bridge, the playing fields and the embankment were all created in an effort to improve local amenities for recreation during the industrial revolution. This was funded by the city and local liberal philanthropist Jesse Boot, who contributed to public works such as the war memorial and gardens. The memorial is undoubtedly well designed, built and maintained, but does this structure perhaps looks a little like a triumphant arch? Of course it does, Pevsner says so but that's all he says.[i] This may be a moot point, but it is worth remembering how the seeds of the Second World War were sown during the aftermath of the Great War. At The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 France and Britain acted victoriously and with vendetta by severely punishing Germany with reparations.[ii] In so doing this left Europe's biggest country with a fragile interwar economy and created a breading ground for extremists. The guilt of war laid on Germany at Versailles was a frequent theme is Hitler's mad mouth foaming speeches. Belligerence breeds belligerence. While much is done to remember the ‘Glorious Dead’,[iii] perhaps more could be achieved by remembering Versailles with equal Daily Mail pomp publicity? Nonetheless, this is still an attractive structure which relates well to the riverside and garden location, and we are lucky Boot had the good taste not to commission a corpse, a Portland stone artillery gun or a lion trampling a snake.[iv] Nottingham’s nationalist hoodwinking is thankfully a little more subdued and this could be attributed to the patron and city architect.

Fig 2. Boots’ modernist gate house, Beeston.

The Jesse Boot story is a real rags to riches tale of a local druggist who built a pharmacy empire from a small Victorian terrace shop on Goose Gate. Like Woolworths, Boots soon discovered that the largest potential market was to be found in the rising incomes of the working class - the populist taste of the proletariat which is now universal law. Also known as drugs, fags, bikes, booze and a bit of fashion. Before his death Boot sold his business to the American United Drugs Company, who were more aware of this market and dedicated their new site at Beeston to Detroit style production lines and industry friendly modernism. A marked change from Jesse's paternalist liberal taste. It is perhaps a shame that the architecture of the Boots estate is restricted from public gaze and as of 2008 the company allegedly no longer pays any tax in the UK. According to the Guardian, under new owner Stefano Pessina (one of the 500 richest people in the world), the Boots headquarters are now based on a Pirate ship in Zug, Switzerland.[v] For Jesse Boot however, his company was always based in Nottingham and he gave liberally to his home city. Alongside this memorial and the adjacent gardens, his gifts were numerous, including Highfields Park for the University of Nottingham and the rebuilding of the Albert Hall in 1909. But the style of those gifts is telling. According to Eric Hobsbawn, the industrialists of England were always very different to those on the continent, primarily because their society had never undergone social upheaval and so they often complied to social hierarchy with the aim of entering the society of gentleman.[vi]

“It was Lloyd George who made provincial towns into ‘cities of dreadful knights’. The absorption of the sons of grocers and cotton-spinners into the aristocracy was a consequence of the loss of impetus in British business, not its cause…”[vii]

Boot achieved his elevation with flying colours; he was knighted in 1909, created a baronet in 1917 and finally became Lord Trent in 1929. In light of this it is not surprising that his favored architectural style was classical - the architecture of hierarchy and tradition, with little respect for the then current social rebellion of continental modernism.[viii] Boot’s chosen architect was T. Wallis Gordon, the city architect who was also T.C. Howitt’s boss and both had similar civic gestures to Luytens and Vincent Harris. For Howitt and Gordon, interwar Nottingham was being recast as a European city, but in the classical tradition, Howitt of course had been on his own 'Grand Tour' during his formative years as an architect.[ix]

Fig 3. T. Wallis Gordon's triumphal arch.

This triumphant Portland Stone arch complies with the Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George’s view of the war as a costly victory over a war hungry Germany, rather than an unprecedented waste of life created by a long-term Victorian nationalist myth, imperialism, industrial ignorance and the short-term conflicts of a European aristocracy. Like Lloyd George’s commissioned Cenotaph, it may speak of ‘death, duty well done and remembrance’,[x] but promises nothing in creating a brave new world.

It's a devise for making the unacceptable tolerable. A big euphemism. Certainly in the marshal life death is close at hand, or rather, the dead are - which is different. The way they got to be dead - the cause of the greatest physical mutation - is forgotten. The dead are the dead. The literally vital precondition of being dead, the fact of being alive, is forgotten. The indignity of having life extinguished is forgotten. Death is forgotten. The enormity of its belligerent causes ignored. The dead get an arcadia to sleep in. They get a bit of respect when really it's too late. If only they could have lived in such peace.[xi]

[i] Pevsner, Nottinghamshire, p. 374

[ii] S. Marks, ‘1918 and After: The Postwar Era’, in, G. Martel, (ed.), The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered (London, 1999), pp. 13 – 37.

[iii] Allan Greenberg is polemic in his praise for the Cenotaph. See, A. Greenberg, The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), pp. 5 - 23.

[iv] Nicolas Penny is more critical than Greenberg but still fails to see the wider historical context. See, N. Penny, ‘English Sculpture and the First World War’, in, Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, Sculpture (Nov., 1981), pp. 36 - 42.

[v] The Guardian, 9th February 2009, From the High Street to a Tax Haven.

[vi] E. Hobsbawn, Industry and Empire, (London, 1999), p. 161.

[vii] E. Hobsbawn, Industry and Empire, p. 163.

[viii] N. Pevsner, An Outline of European Architecture (London, 1972), pp. 404 – 435.

[ix] E. R. Scoffham, A Vision of the City: The Architecture of T.C. Howitt (Nottingham, 1992).

[x] A. Greenberg, ‘Lutyens's Cenotaph’, The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), pp. 5-23.

[xi] Jonathan Meades, Brick and Mortars Part2/3 2mins.

Friday, 21 August 2009

CLASP: Nottingham modernism as heritage?

The award winning Nottinghamshire CLASP infants school in Milan, 1960.

On further investigation into CLASP, it turns out that Nottinghamshire County Council have recently undertaken a (unpublished, although available on request) report into the historical significance of CLASP (K. Jugins, Post-War Schools, 2008?). It is only a historical introduction but the contents and academic references are useful nonetheless. It is also interesting that such buildings are now considered important as 'heritage' and there are perhaps some parallels here with the English Heritage/Park Hill debacle in Sheffield - although it is hoped that this won't be a similar balls up. Unfortunately the report does lack a definitive glossary of all CLASP buildings in the county and understandably this would be a huge undertaking on both time and resources. It is estimated that there were at least 50 such buildings going up in the county between 1957-1970 (M. Dudek Architecture of Schools: The New Learning, London, 2006, p. 79). The effort to document, accurately classify and criticise is perhaps worth a mind numbing PhD thesis or even an entire academic career spent in social isolation.

Charles and Ray Eames: Similar prefabraicted consumer modernism - more individually stylish but less easily reproducible than CLASP

So what the bloody hell am I doing meddling in such things? I'll give four half baked reasons: Well, firstly I admit that until recently I was ignorant of their significance despite the fact that most of my educational and recreational life has been lived in these community buildings; nursery, infants, juniors, secondary, college, fire station, leisure centre, library, clinic, miners welfare, social services, council offices, old people's home and community centres. Nearly everything from a failing a 5 metre swimming badge to learning how to smoke at the youth club. In the sleave notes to Donkeys 92-97, Tindersticks dedicated 'For Those' to the CLASP Gedling Miners Welfare.

One of the principle features of CLASP schools is that they were built as community centres; alongside leisure centres and close to the town centre. Some of the architects were even imagining that this could bring about the end of compulsory education - people would just pop in when they needed a bit of education. Secondly, I think that some of these CLASP structures, when 'In skillful hands... can produce buildings of considerable architectural distinction' (C. Ward, British School Buildings, 1976, p.x). I can't pretend that they are all beautiful either, but for the most part they work well and are true to their social context. They are definatley not aspirational lifestyle living bollocks either - they have a function for a local community. There were also a number of mistakes - from small faults such as leaky roofs and noise to more troubling problems of fire hazard and asbestos. Thirdly, it is still open to debate as to which post-war CLASP buildings will be saved or bulldozed and the report specified that this would depend largely on critical acclaim (such as Pevsner) and their current rate of use within the community. So some half-wit with a blog might just have an influence! Or maybe not. Finally, I work as a lowly in-house graphic designer at a technical college and so you could say that this is a small attempt to redress the social stigma of pubic sector design.

The CLASP frame, Toot Hill Comprehensive, Bingham, Notts.

Before I retrace my school years and then undergo some CLASP psychogeography further afield (although I’m slightly concerned by the prospect of wondering around school buildings with a camera) it is perhaps a good idea to give some definition as to what it is I'm banging on about. The story goes like this: in 1944 the age at which children had to go to school was raised to 15, which not only defined the contemporary split between primary and secondary education but was also designed to tackle the problem of a lack of skilled labour. This meant that there was a glut of state schools which was made worse by the post war baby boom. The problem was particularly urgent in Hertfordshire where the county architects soon discovered that the best way to tackle this was through conveyor belt prefabrication, because reinforced concrete was 'literally sinking' both schools and budgets (K. Perkins, Post-War Schools, p.8). In the late 1950s Gibson, Lacy and Swain became county architects at Nottinghamshire, where there was a similar shortage of schools. This was made more complex by the affects of mining subsidence, which would physically shake buildings - often resulting in cracked brickwork and smashed windows. In order to solve this problem Gibson and co modified their prefabricated steel frames with loaded springs. In short, many of Nottinghamshire's buildings are built like Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout. Fantastic. To some easily excited designers, this was preparation for future generations who would travel to the moon:

"The task and responsibility of the new men will be to build in sufficient quantity and therefore at an industrial rate, schools first, but not just school buildings but schools for real children, and children who later will travel to the moon..."
(Jean Prouve, ‘Prefabrication’,, in V, Huber & J. Steinegger (eds), 'Structures and Elements', (London, 1971), sited in M. Dudek, Architecture of Schools: The New Learning Environments, London, 2006, p. 79).

Local Authority building consortia

This prefabricated system (with or without the springs) was called CLASP, which not only denoted a type of structure, but also a way of co-operatively pooling resources among local authorities. In the 1960s the results were award wining and the design was repeated over many parts of the country, with some local authorities developing their own building systems from the CLASP template. In terms of fabric they were built with either concrete panels, red tiles, brick, timber or as a mixture. The choice of cladding was often related to the pre-existing local vernacular, such as the folk weaved tile hanging, which could ‘move like the scales of a fish when the building itself moved’ (Seaborne & Lowe The English School: Its Architecture and Organisation Vol II, 1977, p. 163). There are also five different types of CLASP builds, as the design developed between the 1950s and the late 1980s; from modernist to more traditional tastes. Today, CLASP is now going under the name of SCAPE and there appears to be a variety of different structures still using the steel frame system; curved roof, pitched, flat etc. They look like well thought out technological structures (certainly better than this) but so far I am struggling to find the aesthetic sensibilities that were present in the late 50s to the early 80s. Also, many new (and recently some of the old) schools are fenced off from local communities in fear of you know what. Have the links with Eames and the brave new world been sadly lost to the IKEA & Daily Mail generation? I hope I'm wrong, but I have a sneaky feeling that design based on a social ethos, no matter how humble, has been on the back foot for the past thirty years.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

A County Divided: County Hall Nottinghamshire

N. B. Following article is an ongoing research project on CLASP design. Comments and references welcome. Sorry for the footnote links not working correctly.

Fig 1. Two County Halls bonding ‘awkwardly’. While the modernist half relates to the riverbank, the neo Georgian predecessor seems more in-tune with the South.

Politically Nottinghamshire is a divided county and this is in someway reflected in the architecture of County Hall. The Trent generally marks the severing point between those more inclined to vote Labour or Tory; in general terms, north and west are the more collectivist coal fields and in the south and east are a conservative cluster of agricultural villages. Elections are historically decided in the West Midlands, although the East Midlands and particularly Nottinghamshire is also a region where polling day has been closely fought. More interestingly it is also a home to moderates - those on either side of the political divide who have sympathies with their counterparts. Historically, the economics of consumer manufacturing in Nottingham was of course very different from the heavy industries of the North, or the small industrial specialties of London.[i]

For free market fundamentalists or militant socialists, Nottingham has an unfavorable reputation. The Tory Ken Clarke's pro Europe views have landed him unfavorable headlines in the right wing press. While the local miners' history of strike-breaking has often overshadowed their will to support non militant action and negotiation.
[ii] Although the reputation of moderates doesn't always illicit such antagonistic responses; A J Mundella and the lace and hosiery workers were pioneers of arbitration and class conciliation.[iii]

Fig 2. County Hall part I by E Vincent Harris: Civic conservatism and difficult to photograph.

County Hall also comes in two parts and it is worth remembering at this point how Labour became a stronger party in the new Nottinghamshire coalfields after the nationalisation of mines reduced the influence of the neighboring aristocracy in the post war period.[iv] The first part of the Hall is the grand, incomplete and piecemeal 1930s NeoGeorgian grandeur by Emanuel Vincent Harris, who was famous for his inter-war civic gestures; Sheffield City Hall, Leeds Civic Hall, Bristol County Hall and Manchester Central Library. The second part of Nottingham County Hall is the modest and functional prefabricated steel and concrete post-war modernism. Elaine Harwood rightly states that these two buildings ‘bond awkwardly',[v] while the architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner is in no doubt about his own preference, describing the Georgian half as "dead as mutton", while he praises the 1960s extension.[vi].

Fig 3. County Hall part I by E Vincent Harris: Statue of
homoerotic miners.

Fig 4. County Hall part I by E Vincent Harris: The entrance, built with Portland Stone and Winchester brick, which gives it an appearance more often associated with the south of England

Fig 5. County Hall part II by CLASP: Overhead walkways – built for the camera.

The modernist half was designed by The Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme (CLASP) and County Architects, this particular CLASP design predates the widely acclaimed York University Building. To some, post war British state school building was among the best in Europe - the most famous example being Hunstanton Comprehensive in Norfolk. Nottinghamshire CLASP buildings won RIBA awards, and were noted for schools such as New Ollerton and Sutton in Ashfield, which were spring loaded in order to withstand mining subsidence and to function as community centers. These designs were later adopted in other mining areas and countries prone to earthquakes.[vii] Considered by critics as a non-idealistic consumer modernism (how very Nottingham),[viii] these CLASP designs won the Gold Medal at the Milan Triennale in 1960.[ix] Similar to the prefabs of Charles and Ray Eames, although less individually stylish, they were more easily reproducible - almost straight off the conveyor belt. Is this what Caruso St John are referring to with Nottingham Contemporary’s concrete panels? Maybe not but the fact that production line modernism is built in Nottingham is significant. It must be said that aesthetics of these schools are somewhat modest and over the years they have been poorly subsidised in comparison to their private rivals (Nottingham High or Loughborough Endowed) but they have always been socially and educationally more vital to local communities.[x]

Fig 6. County Hall part II by CLASP: Prefabricated concrete and steel frame, which was replicated throughout Nottinghamshire’s public sector buildings; such as fire stations, schools and offices.

Fig 7. County Hall part II by CLASP: Similar to Alva Alto’s Scandinavian modernism.

[i] P. Hall, ‘England circa 1900’, in H. C. Darby, (ed.), A New Historical Geography of England After 1600 (Cambridge, 1976), pp. 374 – 446.

[ii] Andrew Taylor, The NUM and British Politics 1969 – 1995 (London, 2005) p.191.

[iii] W. H. G. Armytage, 'A. J. Mundella as Vice-President of the Council, and the Schools Question, 1880-1885', in The English Historical Review, Vol. 63, No. 246 (London, 1948), pp. 52-82.

[iv] Robert J. Waller., The Dukeries Transformed : The Social and Political Development of a Twentieth Century Coalfield (Oxford, 1983).

[v] E. Harwood, Nottingham, (London, 2008), p. 161

[vi] N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, Nottinghamshire, (London, 1979), p. 248.

[vii] A. Blanc, M. McEvoy and R. Plank, Architecture and Construction in Steel (London, 1993), p.170

[viii] N. Whitely, Rayner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future, (London, 2003) p. 152.

[ix] The Independent, 11th January 2002, Henry Swain,

[x] Pevsner, Nottinghamshire, p. 75.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Six English Towns, by Alec Clifton Taylor

"Sir Alec is civil, prodigiously knowledgeable, an excellent social as well as architectural historian; and he talks well and clearly — if anyone doesn’t know what vermicular rustication is they will find out. He has the good manners to explain himself as he goes along. His programmes have no resort to gimmickry — no artily self-conscious photography, no awful electronic music."

Jonathan Meades

Saturday, 20 June 2009


In memory of Penny Gallon

1. Arkwright's Mill

"It was at Cromford that Richard Arkwright started the first successful cotton spinning mill worked by water power...The buildings of c.1790 along the road have no windows along the lower floors and suggest a defence against industrial spies and rioters...It looks rather grim now and must always have been foreboding. Bray tells us that 200 would have been employed, 'chiefly children, they work by turns night and day'."*

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 157-8.

2. Carboniferous Limestone

"South of the millstone grit area of the Dark Peak is the carboniferous limestone of the White Peak, or the Derbyshire Dales, as it is known...Limestone has fissures and is slightly soluble in water, therefore the rivers have been able to carve deep narrow valleys, which has resulted in some of the most spectacular riverside scenery."*

*E. Burkinshaw, 'Historic Walks in Derbyshire', (2003), p. 14.

3. Cromford Mill Shops

"Cromford's relatively poor communications led to the end of textile production in Cromford around 1840. The building was used for a variety of industries including brewing, cheese warehousing and finally in the early twentieth century for the production of colour pigments, paints and dyes... In 1999 it opened as a working textile museum and shopping village"*

*E. Burkinshaw, 'Historic Walks in Derbyshire', (2003), p. 184.

4. Gardens

Will I grow tomatoes like me grandparents? Will I walk a pig through Kimberley?

"the first custom built industrial community, which became a model for others throughout the world..."*

*E. Burkinshaw, 'Historic Walks in Derbyshire', (2003), p. 182.

5. Bookshop

"Between the two mils, the dramatic break through the limestone rocks, which is called Scarthin Nick. Behind this, away from the river, to the s, Cromford Village, the settlement created by Arkwright around his mill."*

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 158.

6. Gate

7. Framework Knitting Workshops

Similar to what you might find in Nottingham and Leicester, except they're made out of Limestone instead of brick.

"SE of the marketplace is North Street, a complete street of housing built in 1771-6 by Arkwright for his employees. Two three story terraces with mullioned windows, originally larger in the attics, which were intended as framework knitting rooms"*

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 158.

9. Modernism

1970s modernist houses? Local limestone? Perhaps. Clean lines, designed on a grid and modest.

10. Quarry

"Mineral extraction, particularly of lead had been important to the White Peak for centuries... The Cromford Sough, which ran from a Wirksworth lead mine by the river Derwent, was later used by Richard Arkwright to power his mill at Cromford."*

"Following the collapse of the lead mining industry in the nineteenth century... Limestone quarrying followed , which did provide employment but [nearby] Wirksworth became badly affected by the resultant dust, dirt and noise..."**

*E. Burkinshaw, 'Historic Walks in Derbyshire', (2003), p. 24.
**Burkinshaw, p. 165.

11. Sheep

Never attempt to read a map while walking through a sheep pasture, because you will be certain to tread in shit.

12. Arkwirght's Mansion

Willersley Castle was built as Sir Richard Arkwright's residence in 1789-90 by William Thomas of London. Arkwright died before he could move in. It is an ambitious seven bay stone structure of two and a half storeys, with lower side wings fronting the sheer face of the cliff across the sloping lawn and across the river. The house is entirely classical in construction but is romanticised by battlements and by semicircular turrets at the angles of the wings. Torrington in 1790 called it 'an effort in inconvenient ill taste'..." *

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 159-60.

13. High Peak Railway

"The construction of the Cromford and High Peak Railway was considered an engineering masterpiece, which later attracted railway enthusiasts from all over he world...steam powered beam engines to haul wagons up the steep inclines...horses replaced by locomotives in 1832 but it was still an arduous 16 hour journey to compete the 33 miles, including the steepest gradient of any British railway, the 1 in 14 Hopton Incline."*

*E. Burkinshaw, 'Historic Walks in Derbyshire', (2003), p. 183-4.

14. Catch Pit

"Associated with the railway at the bottom of sheep pasture incline is a railway repair workshops, the bottom pulley wheel pit of the incline, and the water tank used by locomotives. Further up, a catch pit to catch [runaway] railway trucks, and on the main road the Loco and Agent's Houses, an early nineteenth century pair."*

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 160.

15. Pump House

"At High Peak Junction... is a group of buildings belonging to the transhipment point between the High Peak Railway and the canal. There are two major architectural monuments: ... the pump houe to pump water from the river [Derwent], to the canal, a tall, narrow, rock faced stone structure with pediments voussoird arched windows and a tall elegant chimney with cast iron capping ..." *

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 160.

16. Cromford Viaduct

"...[and] the Canal Aquaduct over the Derwent , 1792 by Jessop, ashlar, a beautiful single span bridge with wide elliptical arch, rebuilt at the engineer's own expense after the first one collapsed." *

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 160.

17. Cromford Canal

"It was the success of the new factory system that stimulated the demand for more efficient communications, which lead Arkwright and others to promote construction of the Cromford Canal, which was completed in 1794. The engineer was William Jessop in partnership with Benjamin Outram and the total cost of the project was £80,000. The canal provided a vital artery into the national canal network and was the first part of a link from the Midlands to the North West...latterly carrying mainly coal and limestone."*

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 158.

18. Cromford Wharf

"The water [for the mill] was supplied partly by the Bonsall Stream and and partly by and adit for draining mines called the Cromford Mear Sough...The same stream is the chief source of the Cromford Canal... Just past the mill is it's Derbyshire terminus at Cromford Wharf. One of the two warehouses still has a overhead canopy." *

*N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, 'Buildings of England: Derbyshire', (2002), p. 158.

Fat Man on a Beach

Saturday, 30 May 2009

East German Design

Again, thanks to Chaffe, for this link.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Robert Welch & Old Hall Tableware

Thanks to Tomas Chaffe for pointing out this tableware designed by Robert Welch for Old Hall in the West Midlands.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

David Mellor Cutlery

Not the plate - that's Denby - the cutlery, which is by Sheffield lad David Mellor. This is thanks to Albam and this obituary.

Monday, 25 May 2009


"Until the 1870s the only open space in the congested town was Woodhouse Moor”
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 28.

“It’s highlight [of The University of Leeds] , and the core of the plan, is the Rodger Stevens Building (1967-70) containing communal lecture theatres whose design acted as a prototype for Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's Barbican theatre in London.”
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p.34.

“Across the main axis is the E. C. Stoner Building, for physics, much the longest of the spine ranges; fourteen irregular bays long (mainly five stories high with vents); its elegance shows the hand of Geoffry Powell.”
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 181.

“Across the main axis is the E. C. Stoner Building, for physics, much the longest of the spine ranges; fourteen irregular bays long (mainly five stories high with vents); its elegance shows the hand of Geoffry Powell.”
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 181.

"In 1877, with Alfred Waterhouse's plans for Owen’s College Manchester, to hand, Yorkshire College appointed him as architect."
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 176

"A fund raising campaign yielded only £20,000 of a hoped for £60,000 and building was made possible only by the munificence of the Clothworkers’ Company of London, anxious to improve the scientific basis of their industry after the Paris exhibition of 1861.”
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 176

"...a limited competition was held in 1926 to bring belated civic dignity to the [university] institution… the winners were Lanchester, Lucas & Lodge. “
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p.178

“To maintain a link between their expanding campus and the city, the University lobbied successfully for the sinking of a new inner ring road (in truth an inner city motorway), opened in 1964…”
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 34

"The long awaited decision to provide the money for a tower was only made in 1856 as consequence in a growing pride in the building as it progressed and a realization, as it was claimed in the laying of the foundation stone, that it was going to be a display of 'the wealth and growing importance of the town'. At that time Leeds was actively campaigning to be appointed the West Riding Assize town, in opposition to the claims of Sheffield and Wakefield"
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 63.

“…the Henry Moore Institute of 1993 by Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones with BDP…dramatically refaced the gable end to Victoria Street with igneous rock with crenelated parapet and fissure like entrance passage.”
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 166.

" of the most beautiful interiors in the city. T-plan, 394ft long, and glowing with exuberant decoration in marble, mosaic and Burmantofts faience, all symbols of the city's wealth and confidence."
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 159.

Luis Vuitton shop.

"The central dome, over the crossing, dipicts figures representing Leeds' industries."
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 159.

“…the well named Dark Arches, a line of mightily red brick groined vaults covering an access tunnel beneath the railway… The richly atmospheric gloom is animated by the sounds and smells of the Aire..”
S. Wetherall, 'Pevsner Architectural Guides: Leeds' (2005), p. 63.