If you need a reminder of the ambitions and achievements of post-war architecture, a flick through England’s Post-War Listed Buildings is a good place to start. A comprehensive guide to over 650 buildings, monuments and landscapes listed for protection since 1945, it’s impressive not only for its size – weighing in at 608 pages – but also for the depth of material covered: schools and universities, concert halls and swimming pools, shops, phone boxes, television masts, service stations… there’s surely no aspect of daily architectural life left untouched.
New House, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire, 1963-4. Architect Stout and Litchfield. Photograph by James O. Davies
Smaller Cold War survivals, sculpture and monuments, but there are 537 more detailed entries to pour over here – each honoured with its own photograph by James O. Davies and a description by Elain Harwood. She packs a lot into a relatively short space – we learn about the architects, how the building was received and subsequent history, but without resorting to formulaic descriptions (I particularly enjoyed the thought of St John’s Church, Lincoln, resembling “a dark whale beached in a suburban housing estate”.)
Cheltenham Estate, London. Trellick Tower: 1968-73. Architect Erno Goldfinger. Photograph by James O. Davies
The book is organised by area, which makes for excellent browsing potential. It also means that the most well known names – the likes of Trellick Tower or Park Hill – are nestled among examples that are more overlooked but also deserving of attention. It’s perhaps inevitable you’ll first flick to the areas you know the best, but it also helps reinforce local links and connections. For example, Ryder and Yates met while working for Berthold Lubetkin at Peterlee. Their subsequent Trees private house and British Gas Research Engineering Station, both also in the north east, are featured here.
St Paul’s Church, Kennington, London, 1958-60. Architect John Wimbleton and H.G. Coulter of Woodroffe, Buchanan and Coulter. Photograph by James O. Davies
England’s Post-War listed Buildings: From Span to shops
The number of entries has doubled since the first edition of this book in 2000, and the book’s introduction gives some interesting background on the process of listing. Since the first edition , listing has encompassed more Roman Catholic churches and Brutalist buildings, such as High Tech from the 1970s and more private houses. In the latter category, there are many examples that will be familiar to readers of MidCentury (Span’s South Row and The Ryde both featured in issue 08 for starters).
The book also underlines the importance of listing in preserving post-war architecture, especially when a building is threatened. Preston Bus Garage is one famous example but there are countless others too. For example, the future of Castle House, Sheffield, built for the Co-operative Society and described at its 1964 opening as “luxurious”, with marble fascias, mosaics, fitted carpets and air conditioning, is uncertain, following the store’s closure in 2009. A happier example is this charming mosaic, originally made for Lewis’s department store, Liverpool, now preserved as part of a hotel breakfast room.
Lewis’s Department Store, Liverpool. Designed 1947, built 1951-3, 1954-7. Photograph by James O. Davies
Around the country with England’s Post-War Listed Buildings
England’s Post-War Listed Buildings is a wonderful book to dip in to, and worth referring to before planning any English road trip. Perhaps more importantly, it reminds us to look closer. Next time I pass the Zara store at 219 Oxford Street, I’m going to make sure I look up to see its Festival of Britain plaques. And there was a real “aha!” moment when I realised a strip of shops I’ve walked past countless times in Lincoln were actually housed in a 1950s futuristic, streamlined garage. And that, of course, is a joy: remembering that these symbols of modernism are as likely to be found in Lincoln as they are London, and that England’s architectural history is all the richer for it.
Farnley Hey, Farnley Hyas near Huddersfield, 1953-4, 1956 and later. Architect Peter Wormersley. Photograph by James O. Davies
England’s Post-War Listed Buildings
By Elain Harwood and James O. Davies
Published by Batsford, £40
Dimensions 224 x 216 mm
See our home tours of properties within listed estates The Ryde and South Row in issue 08.
Buy a copy of England’s Post-War Listed Buildings here
Take a closer look at one of the listed properties featured in the book, Leslie Gooday’s Long Wall
Modernist Estates is another recent book looking at Britain’s post-war architecture