Art Deco England

One of the many things I found interesting about my year in England was the different kinds of house styles in my little corner of Essex. If I had been further north I would have found a lot more stone, but on the southeast coast there was mostly stucco or brick construction. In Frinton-on-Sea, where we lived, there was even a small Art Deco development created in the early 1930s.

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The following is an extract from an article written by Kelly Oxborrow, for the Arts etc web site, on Frinton Park Court.

“The partially completed Frinton Park Estate, in Frinton-on-sea, is a remarkable example of a modernist development. In 1934 a two hundred acre site on the border of Frinton and Walton-on-Naze was bought by the South Coast Property Investment Company Ltd., who planned to build a whole new small town. A management company, Frinton Park Estate Ltd., was formed. A member of the board of the company, Frederick Tibenham, who was also a head of a furniture and joinery firm, introduced the board to the architect Oliver Hill.

Hill ensured that the tone of the estate would do nothing to attract day-trippers from London, keeping Frinton for the well kept and well bred, whilst making the estate a showcase for modern British design.

A detailed plan for the whole area was drawn up. The Estate company provided the layout of curved roads called ‘ways’, together with the other main services, and sold plots individually at prices from £150. A few show houses were also to be built by the Company. Eleven hundred houses were planned, grouped together according to their different styles. The best 40 acres nearest the sea were set aside for the houses of the most modern design. These houses were designed to have windows to catch the sun, spacious balconies and wide flat roofs for sunbathing. Also planned was a town hall, college, various churches, a new railway station, a large shopping complex and, most ambitious of all, a luxury hotel, to be situated at the foot of the cliffs right on the sea’s edge. This was designed in 1934 and had a 150m curved facade, 100 guest rooms, each en suite with sea views, and an entrance on the upper level, with the bedrooms below on the face of the cliff.

Many architects were invited to design houses for the estate. By September 1934 Hill had allocated sites on Easton Way to ‘the cream of our younger designers in the contemporary style’. These included Frederick Gibberd, Erich Mendelsohn & Serge Chermayeff, Tecton, Wells Coates, FRS Yorke, Maxwell Fry, W.G. Holford & Gordon Stevenson, Raymond McGrath, and Connell, Ward & Lucas.

The first building to be erected was the circular Frinton Park Estate Information Bureau in Cliff Way, now The Round House. This would exhibit products approved by Hill as well as photographs of modern houses from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA); it also acted as office for records and sales.

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The company borrowed money in order to build 36 houses. Unfortunately the building society that had advanced the funds insisted that none of the houses should be built of concrete, the material preferred by most of the architects. This caused many of the designers planned to have houses built in Easton Way to back out. Once buildings had been commissioned it was also extremely slow, as the builders were inexperienced and the details and drawings supplied for them to work from were inadequate. Another problem met the FrintonPark project in July 1935 when Tomkins Homer & Ley, the major estate agents of the area, took over the sales side of the scheme. Tomkins’ businesslike approach clashed violently with the grand utopian ideas of Hill, eventually leading to Hill’s resignation.

Today, all that stands of Oliver Hill’s impressive estate are little more than 30 modern houses, the Estate Information Bureau and part of the shopping mall, many in various states of disrepair and much altered.”

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