The Twentieth Century Society

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Winchester School of Art Rotunda

A visit to Winchester by C20 Southern Group

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The C20 Southern group’s November event was held in Winchester, on a day of incessant drizzle, our spirits lifted by a lively and informative architectural tour, led by Pauline Mousley with the assistance of Judy Rake. The walk began at Hampshire Record Office 1992 (Stansfield-Smith, County Architect), its brick-faced basement, containing the archive, with suggestions of a defensive city wall and castle keep, a striking contrast to a series of light, steel-framed, angular roofs and balconies overlooking an enclosed garden on the south-west side, with water channels and a sculpture by Glynn Williams.

Walking past the Theatre Royal, an hotel building transformed in 1912 and updated in 1974 and 1998-2001, we entered Winchester Discovery Centre, the library, exhibition space, art gallery and studio, performance hall and café, an 1835 Corn Exchange adapted and extended by Alec Gillies and Martin Allum (HCC Architects) in 2006-7. Hanging in the foyer is a stunning 16.5 x 3m panel embroidered by Alice Kettle in 2006-7. Continuing along Jewry Street we passed Sheridan House by Robert Adam, 1982-4, evoking a Venetian Palazzo, the Classical Revival City Church, designed for Hampshire Friendly Society in 1925 by T D Atkinson and the richly decorated Gothic Revival St Peter’s Church, by F A Walters, 1924-6, on our way to the United Church, where we held our AGM.

The architects, Plincke Leaman & Browning Limited, had won a City of Winchester Trust Design Award in 1991 for the refurbishment and decoration of this church interior, which had included the skilful placing of a new floor level in relation to the existing and impressive, vaulted ceiling. As we left, we passed the Neo-Georgian Barclays Bank building, by W Curtis, 1957, noting the cupola on the roof. Walking past David Kemp’s Hampshire Hog sculpture outside the County Council Offices, located in Queen Elizabeth II Court 1956-9, designed by John Brandon-Jones based on 1930’s design by C. Cowles-Voysey , we were met by Bob Wallbridge of HCC Architects, who pointed out various features of the exterior viewed from the courtyard, whilst members debated the style which has been described as a Scandinavian classical-influenced idiom. Inside the building we were shown an original meeting room with a mural of a map of the county, and then looked through to the adjacent Ashburton Court, a 1966 concrete building by H Benson Ansell, remodelled in 2007 by HCC Architects led by Steve Clow.

Having reduced carbon dioxide emissions and provided a seventy percent reduction in planned energy consumption, this has won numerous environmental awards, including the Building/UKGBC sustainability award for Sustainable Building of the Year in 2009. Flexible use of space had also greatly increased the density of occupation, allowing the council to release accommodation in other buildings, such as Mottisfont Court in Tower Street, an idiosyncratic design with stepped, glazed canopies supported on slender concrete shafts, designed by Sir Colin Stansfield Smith in 1990-1, which was sold to Hampshire Police for a new headquarters in 2012.

The Law Courts building, with its fortified appearance, comprised of stone bays, flint panels and large, blank brick areas, designed by Louis de Soissons and completed by Richard Fraser, 1964-73, occupies a position raised above the Great Courtyard site of the Hampshire Jubilee sculpture by Rachel Fenner, 2003. Other buildings around the courtyard, including Trafalgar House, 1972-76 and Three Minsters House, 1976, both by by Donald Insall and Associates, we understand, were able to provide roof positions for the security forces required during the trial of the Provisional IRA members convicted of the 1973 London bombing. In the High Street we saw the late Arts and Crafts exterior of WH Smith, by GL Blount and FC Bayliss, 1925, and the Boots store occupying two mock Tudor buildings, by MV Trevelyan in 1905, adjacent to the third, a genuine Wealden House. In Little Minster Street we walked by Mozetta, a tall development of apartments designed by Huw Thomas, 2005, and a mixture of offices and housing, designed in 1984 by Plincke, Leaman and Browning, who were also responsible for the Visitor Centre at the cathedral, where we saw the conversion and extension of a grade 1 listed 17th century coach house for the purposes of retail, offices, food, functions and meetings. In the Wessex Hotel, by Feilden and Mawson, 1961-3, the appearance of which some found rather a confused mix, rather than the triumph of Modernism suggested by Pevsner, we admired in the foyer a stained glass screen designed by John Piper in 1964 and made by Patrick Reyntiens and David Gillespie. We then passed the 1934 neo-Georgian M&S and 1958 Debenhams stores and noted the Modernist archway of the bus station, designed by Geoffrey Denham in 1938, on our way to Middle Brook Street, where the Ritz Cinema, by WR Glen, was opened in 1940, closed in 1960, and after functioning as a Bingo Club, again closed in 1986, was converted to a church in 2015, with minimal alteration to the simple Art Deco exterior.

Finally, we visited Winchester School of Art, where one of the members of our group had the good fortune to have been taught etching by Norman Ackroyd in the 1980s. We were interested to learn that the East side, aligned with the river, was developed by H Benson Ansell in 1962-6, to double as a hospital, as at that time Hampshire County Council believed war to be a distinct possibility. By 1964, this approach was no longer considered necessary, so the impressive Rotunda was built as a library, rising from a reflecting pool and attached to the main building by a bridge. When the library grew too large, the space was used for storage, but now functions as a graphics studio. In 1993 a Sculpture and Textile Design Studio with some details reflecting the earlier building, was added to the East. On the West side, built in 1995-6, a group of four identical buildings is linked by a two-storey gallery beside Park Avenue. We went into the large first floor studio, which was originally used for textile machinery and now houses the library. Designed as a studio, allowing maximum lighting from windows and roof, this is not considered an ideal place for book storage. Attached at the South end of the complex is the Winchester Gallery, glazed only on the North side. It was here that we ended our fascinating tour, looking forward to plans for next year, made during the AGM meeting.

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