The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Remarkable 1930s survival listed at Grade II

63 Harley Street, London, W1

Edmund Wimperis, William Begg Simpson & Leonard Rome Guthrie; lighting scheme by Waldo Maitland, 1934; Harley Street Conservation Area; II (2009)

The Society is delighted that 63 Harley Street, Westminster, London, is now listed at Grade II. The building was commissioned and purpose-built as consulting rooms and family residence for the celebrated ophthalmic surgeon Sir Stewart Duke-Elder (1898-1978) and his wife, Lady Phyllis Mary née Edgar, herself an ophthalmologist. A Blue Plaque erected in 2002 on the building’s exterior commemorates Sir Stewart Duke-Elder’s residence at 63 Harley Street.

Built in 1934, the building was commissioned soon after Sir Stewart was knighted. The design of the building was a modern take on the traditional town house and the interior featured specially-designed in-built furniture, panelling, and lighting fittings, several of which survive to date. The employment of the significant inter-war practice of Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie is a clear declaration of the prominent status of the client and the intention to have this expressed in the building. The full range of their work – from traditional to modern – is most eloquently expressed here: the room division and external proportions are consistent with the predominantly Georgian neighbourhood, whereas Art Deco features both in the exterior and interior design, along with the free forms of the consulting rooms, prompted the Architect and Building News to report in 1935 that this is ‘the modern manner at its best’.

The survival of the carefully detailed, specially-designed interior is relatively rare for the type, style, and age of the building. Most interesting are the dynamic design of St Stewart’s consulting room, the elliptical stair connecting this to Lady Phyllis’s consulting room on the floor above, and the lighting fittings designed by Waldo Maitland and aimed to provide the effect of natural lighting. Illustrated in the Architect and Building News, a circular rug by prominent American fabric and carpet designer Marion Dorn (1899-1964) – who was, in the mid-1930s, at the peak of her career in London – constitutes further evidence of the prominent social status of Sir Stewart that was to be expressed in the building.

63 Harley Street was discussed by the Society’s Casework Committee and its proposed listing was unanimously supported. Vacant for the last five years, last month the property was granted conditional permission for change of use – from a mixture of residential and medical consulting rooms to purely residential. Now under statutory protection, the Society is pleased that any proposals for changes on the fabric of this elegant 1930s survival will be subject to listed building consent.