The Twentieth Century Society

Review: The Buildings of England: Kent: West and the Weald

John Newman (Yale University Press, 800pp, £35)

Reviewed by Robert Drake

Newly revised tall-format ‘Pevsners’ are being issued at an increasing rate.  A great advantage is the introduction summarising an area’s post-1914 architecture, so useful for our casework and thematic listing projects. This latest English volume is by John Newman, who wrote the original edition in 1969, and has also revised the East Kent Pevsner, due this autumn.

As well as its tile-hung Wealden houses, this part of Kent has many important and interesting 20th century buildings, such as ‘Rysted’ (A H Jones, 1930-31), a marvellously intact early modern house near Westerham, and the Wood House at Shipbourne (1936-37), begun by Gropius and completed by Maxwell Fry, where the use of timber reflected a move by modernists away from concrete to more traditional materials in the late 1930s.  The most significant municipal complex of the period is Tunbridge Wells Civic Centre by Percy Thomas (started in 1937 but not completed until 1952), with much surviving exterior sculpture.

From the post-war period, the book highlights Maguire and Murray’s West Malling Abbey of 1964-66, visited on a C20 event in April last year with its architect Bob Maguire. Also featured is the Span development at New Ash Green which we explored on an event led by Richard Walker in 2011.

There are a number of interesting C20 churches in the Medway Towns, including two on the outskirts of Gillingham: St Matthew, Wigmore by Peter Bosanquet (1963-65) and Holy Trinity, Twydall by Arthur Bailey (a recent C20 case).  Two notable RC churches by Eduardo Dodds are English Martyrs at Strood (1963-64), and St Thomas of Canterbury, Rainham (1956-58) with ceramic reliefs by Adam Kossowski. The Foord Almshouses in Rochester by Guy Dawber (1925-27, enlarged in the 1930s) are decorated with murals by Gerald Moira. Chatham is also the site of the Lloyds Bank Buildings in the former Dockyard by Arup Associates (now occupied by Medway Council), which Simon Wartnaby wrote about in the recent ‘Seventies’ journal.

In the southern part of the county, highlights include the Lister Wing at Benenden Sanatorium (now Hospital), a marvellous 1936 block with thin projecting eaves and impossibly slender pillars by Thomas Tait of Burnet, Tait and Lorne.  Newman also documents the lighthouses and self-built beach shacks at Dungeness, including one made of rubber, visited by C20 in 2004.  This book will suggest many more such visits to buildings familiar and unfamiliar, and the next English Pevsner to appear – East Sussex, by the late Nick Antram – will surely do likewise.

To order a copy of this title for £25 (£10 off RRP) with free p&p (UK only), contact Yale University Press Sales Department on 020 7079 4900, quoting ‘Twentieth Century Society Magazine offer’.

Published February 2013