The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Department stores

House of Fraser (Binns)- Middlesborough

Nominated by: David Holdsworth
Have C20 acted upon before? no
Region: North East
Dates from: 1930s
Built for: House of Fraser, the store was known as Binns until 2006
Architect: W. & T.P. Milburn
Listed: Locally listed
Conservation Area: No

The Binns were a Quaker family who began trading in the early 19th century in Sunderland. By the time of World War II they had created a significant chain of department stores, mostly across the north and north-east of England. The chain was taken over by the House of Fraser group in 1953 but retained the Binns name and identity within the larger group until 2006. The Middlesbrough store had been destroyed by fire in May 1942 (arson rather than enemy action) and a new building was opened in 1957 as one of the first of the new post-war department stores in the town. It occupies a prominent corner position in the town centre and is one of Middlesbrough’s ‘anchor’ retail businesses, described by Middlesbrough Council as an “iconic presence”. Above the ground floor display windows and canopy, the main elevations are three storeys of Portland stone with recessed bays of metal windows and green marble spandrel panels. Floors above are set back to form a terrace. Overall there is a strong mass and a strong sense of the vertical. The curved, more utilitarian rear elevation is of brick above a Portland stone ground floor. Inside, of particular note is an elliptical staircase.

Ongoing changes to the structure of retail led House of Fraser to announce the closure of 31 of its 59 stores as a crisis measure in June 2018, including Middlesbrough. But following House of Fraser’s collapse into administration in August 2018 and its immediate purchase by the then Sports Direct group, the Middlesbrough store was granted a reprieve – welcomed by high street shoppers –  and is still trading at present.  Nonetheless, given the uncertainty of the post-Covid retail and economic landscape and continuing fundamental change in the retail industry, the store’s future cannot be regarded as completely beyond doubt (last update: November 2021).

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