The Twentieth Century Society

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Building of the month

June 2008 - Mount Lane, Chichester, W Sussex

Powell & Moya, 1949

Text and photos by Nevil Hopkins

Because of Chichester’s almost overwhelmingly Georgian appearance, it seems an unlikely setting for twentieth century architecture, but there are gems to be found. The most celebrated is without doubt, the Festival Theatre (1962, Powell & Moya, Grade II*), and currently the least celebrated, tucked away behind a high wall and hedge, almost forgotten, lies 1 Mount Lane, also by Powell & Moya, the sole remaining one of the pair and currently under threat of demolition.

Dating from 1949, 1 & 2 Mount Lane were flat roofed single storey houses, designed by the fledgling partnership for Powell’s father, The Rev. Canon A.C. Powell who was Canon at Chichester Cathedral, and Lt. Cmdr A. S. Hogg RN. The two houses were built when restrictions on small house construction were very severe, and the limitations imposed on the architects were considerable. This influenced the design and is reflected in the materials used, and the construction methods adopted. Government restrictions at the time of building limited new houses to 1500 sq. ft. and the maximum cost was at the discretion of the local authority, who based their figure on the cost of houses built under their own contracts. In 1949, the average cost of Council houses in Chichester was 26s. 0d per square foot and the cost of these two houses was around 18s. 0d. per square foot even though the specification was higher, and the houses were single storey when Council housing was usually two storey, and therefore more economical to construct.

The Sussex Pevsner notes that “they were one of the first of their type to be built in Britain. Simple roughcast walls, cheap but not mean: the rather uncompromising recipe, is handled here carefully and sensitively.”  Number 2 was demolished some years ago and the remaining house has been included on the recent Local Buildings List compiled by volunteers from Chichester Conservation Area Advisory Committee. The list has yet to be adopted by Chichester District Council so it seems unlikely to provide any extra protection.  An earlier attempt in 2000 to attain listed status was turned down, and confirmation that English Heritage has not changed its mind has just been received. Retaining this house is important, because as far as I can ascertain, it was the first built design, in 1949, of what was then the new partnership of Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, who went on to design The Chichester Festival Theatre, and The Skylon at The Festival of Britain. It has huge local significance due to the connection with Chichester’s Festival Theatre. It is also significant due to it being, as far as I know, the only small domestic building by Powell and Moya, RIBA Gold Medal award winners in 1974, and architects of many other larger, later and more complex buildings which are already listed.

Nevil Hopkins is Managing Director of a Chichester based construction company specialising in building modern design and is an active member of The Twentieth Century Society.

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