The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Domestic and Trades College, the Toastrack, Manchester City Architect's Department, 1960

C20 opposes demolition of former Towers Cinema and changes to Toastrack

The C20 Society has objected to the demolition of the former Towers Cinema in Hornchurch. Opened in 1935, it was built for the David James chain of independent cinemas and designed by Leslie H. Kemp and Frederick Tasker. Kemp was an important cinema architect of the period: his Union Cinema in Dunstable is listed at Grade II, and he collaborated on the Regal Cinema in Camberwell. Many examples of his housing designs are also nationally recognised for their quality, including his work at Dorchester Drive and Dorchester Court Flats in Herne Hill, which are also Grade II listed.

The Towers cinema subsequently became an Odeon and then a Mecca bingo hall. Despite its change of use, the auditorium retains much of its original decoration. The proscenium arch remains in situ, and is flanked on either side by full height niches with decorative grilles and balconettes. There is rich arabesque detailing to the skirting and dado, as well as strong horizontal moulding bands and detailing to the ceiling panels. Some of the original circle seating remains, as do a number of polished walnut doors and brass fittings throughout. We supported the Cinema Theatre Association in their application for listing in 2015, when it was turned down on the grounds of being too altered.

We’ve also objected to extensive alterations at the Grade II listed Hollings Building, Manchester Metropolitan University by Leonard C. Howitt, 1957-1960. Made up of three separate buildings, the central one of the three is known affectionately as ‘the Toastrack’ for the way its structural frame tapers and rises over the top storey. The application is to replace the bold, brightly coloured panels and brickwork with grey-black panelling, and to construct a tall residential building which we believe would dominate the iconic Toastrack. We have objected on these grounds.