The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Department stores

House of Fraser – Birmingham

Nominated by: C20
Region: Midlands
Former names: Rackhams
Dates from: 1955-1966
Built for: Harrods (who had acquired Rackhams) and later for the House of Fraser (took over 1959)
Architect: T. P. Bennett & Son
Listed: Unlisted
Conservation Area: No

Rackhams, Birmingham

Credit: Mike Sleigh

The House of Fraser was built between 1955 and 1966 to designs by T. P. Bennett & Son. The store was designed initially for Harrods (who had acquired Rackhams) and later for the House of Fraser who took over Harrods in 1959. The lead architect was Phillip Bennett, Ove Arup & Partners were the consulting engineers and Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd. were the contractors. The new store opened in phases between 1960 and 1966.

The House of Fraser is constructed on eight storeys from reinforced concrete with fine Portland stone cladding and ‘zig-zag’ glazing to the exterior, and ground floor shopfronts are clad in granite. It is noted in Nikolaus Pevsner’s guide to Birmingham. 

In 2019, Birmingham City Council approved its change of use from change of use from retail to flexible mixed use including offices and retail spaces, involving the refurbishment and extension of the existing building (ref: 2018/10311/PA). The Twentieth Century Society urged Historic England to list the building at Grade II but unfortunately a Certificate of Immunity from listing was issued in 2020, meaning the building cannot be listed for 5 years from this date. While Historic England described it as a “local landmark” and “an interesting survivor of the architecture of Birmingham’s post-war period”, they claimed it was “not quite of the standard required to meet the high bar for listing of buildings of this date”. In summer 2021, the former department store was put up for sale as a ‘refurbishment or development opportunity’ (last update: August 2021).

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