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Clive Wood, 1999
Architectural History

Essay Autumn Term 1999    Clive Wood - 2nd Year

Industrial buildings are not so much architecture as an embodiment of architectural embellishment

A statement that is surely true of the industrial buildings associated with the boot and shoe industry, at least in Rushden and adjacent towns, in fact it appears that even in Leeds and Manchester the footwear industry rarely aspired to architectural creations to house their manufacturing activities.

However while most factories of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century are variations on the standard brick box, lit by varying numbers of cast iron windows with a functional entrance on the ground floor and a loading door on the top floor, some owners did show a desire to give their factories a limited individuality by embellishing them with some decorative features.

While there are exceptional examples such as the Art Deco factory of Sears in Northampton the footwear industry never commissioned buildings in the grandiose manner to compare with the Bliss's Tweed Mill at Chipping Norton.

In Rushden there are a number of examples to illustrate the embellishment theory, though the definition 'to beautify' is perhaps slightly exaggerated.

In Rushden there were three, now regrettably only two factories, with 'turrets' or what might be called Scottish 'Baronial' and while there is almost certainly no connection with Rene Mackintosh, his work must at some time have sown the seed for their creation.

William Green & Son Ltd in Aqueen Street
1. William Green & Son Ltd
Of the three factories, the 'turret' of William Green & Son in Queen Street, Rushden is the most decorative, [Fig 1], consisting of an eight sided conical roof, with small pedimented, louvered dormer windows in alternate faces and a crowning finial that would not be out of place in Russia, the whole crowned with a weather vane of plain construction. Because of its corner position the tower itself has only three sides, four stories high but only of three floors and another half story above the roof level of the flanking wings. At ground floor it has only one recessed face, the three upper floors overhanging, allowing clear access for the footpath. The construction is of red brick, one assumes of Rushden manufacture, with stone sills, trimmer arch and keystone on the second floor and a complete facing of stone on the third floor where the piers framing the openings have a simple base and capital decorated with a fielded panel on each face, this format of a single window but surmounted with a stone parapet is used to complete the right hand frontage [Fig 2].
A sketch by Clive
2. Feature to right-hand facade

The half storey consists of recessed semi-circular trimmer arches on brick and stone string courses, surmounted by brick cornices before the springing of the roof. Most of the architectural detail is included in the comer, though there are some features on the facades to left and right, these are divided by a corbel course between the first and second floors which terminates at each end with a small pediment of corbel brickwork and on the third and fourth floors 'pilasters', consisting of two stretchers and a header brick in width, divide the wall into vertical panels, into these are inserted single window openings on the ground, first and second floors of shallow camber gauged arches and on the top floor pairs of windows with strait lintels.

Jaques & Clark factory stands majestically in Station Road
3. Jaques & Clark demolished 1980s
While William Green may have achieved the more sophisticated design, the most imposing has unfortunately gone, being the premises of Jaques & Clark built on a site restricted by Station Road and Midland Road, a site demanding almost a triangular structure and one that due to the open space created by the conjuncture of the two roads gave the building a lofty isolation, [Fig 3]. Again, a matter of decorative detail, one could see similarities in the semi-circular openings of the left hand section with the half-storey of Green's. What strikes one as being odd are the two main components of this four sided structure, where one started the composition with the main entrance but the other culminated in a parapet wall of considerable height above the springing of the roof. Overall the windows were more uniform in design and decorative in their construction of blue and white bricks, with it appears 'white' keystones for the windows in the turret. The string courses appear to have been of alternate blue and white bricks, the brick pilasters on the main frontage again of 'whites' including the section topped by a pediment, something of a peculiarity in one might have expected at that point an imposing entrance when in fact, at ground level there were only two windows, that this section was seen as the principal feature is confirmed by the fact that the name of the company was carved in large letters beneath the base of the pediment and there was a window of considerable size on the first floor. The dimensions of the windows compared to Green's factory would indicate that this was the earlier structure. As a matter of interest when the factory was demolished the conical roof was lifted off in one piece with the intention of reusing it in the construction of the flats planned for the site, unfortunately the original developer suffered a heart attack and the plans were 'sold on' and the proposal subsequently lost.
The turret of the Lilley & Skiinner factory
4. Lilley & Skinner, later YMCA

The third factory 'turret' is a variation on the design, in as much as it is circular with a true conical roof [Fig 4]. Like Green's it starts at first floor level but over a recessed door rather than a window and unlike most of the other factories in Rushden has a pedigree, being the only portion built of a grand scheme designed in 1895 by A Sykes, ARJBA., to provide indoor swimming baths and a warehouse for Rushden, a strange combination although perhaps way before its time, with private enterprise supporting a public facility. The portion that was built did eventually provide something akin to that ideal with the ground and first floors being a leather merchants and the top floor, from 1935, the YMCA. In this instance we have again the use of red brick with detailing in 'whites' with a stone abacus to the brick pilasters and stone lintels to the top floor windows forming part of a facia beneath the roof line, the use of white headers set forward to form a dentil course beneath the stone sills of the semi-circular windows and the roof of the turret and as labels beneath the abacus is a simple but attractive feature, the extrados of the window arches being a larger version of those that form part of both Green's and Jaques & Clarks premises. [Fig 4a]

Plan included baths but that part was not built
4a. Original plan - 1895 - when Rushden was expanding

By the early 1900's Rushden had over fifty shoe and allied trade premises and even now over forty still exist, though only three as production units, they range from William Green's first factory of 1872 to John White's 'Daylight Factory' of 1937, the later built to the design of Professor Albert Richardson is now a Grade II listed building, though sadly neglected. Whilst the product of an architect of National importance it would be difficult to attribute the design to any particular influence, other than the Thirties desire for simple clean lines and as indicated by its title, 'daylight factory' a desire to use natural light, though of course this had been achieved for many years with north facing roof lights, and that without the pedigree of a nationally known architect. It is possible to see within many of these buildings an attempt, however small, to make a statement about the aspirations of their builders, most shoe manufacturers started life as 'workers', usually clickers, the 'cream' of the trade and one can make interesting comparisons between the factories and the residences of these self made men, often their home was close to the factory even attached and by today's standards were imposing, not to say pretentious, some have gone, many remain and in themselves show a good range of middle class housing of the late nineteenth early twentieth century.

A rare view from behind the Claridge's factory - building currently under threat of demolition - 2008
5. Claridge's - a touch of 'Jacobean'
The factory of William Claridge is unique within the town having been re- built in stone [Fig.5.] as late as 1889 when most were being constructed of brick, in this instance the embellishments were quite extensive and may well have recalled the appearance of the earlier structure coupled with the fact that Mr Claridge's house, also of stone, forms part of the same building. The front of the building is in two distinct halves, the right hand larger portion having a gable of Flemish design, above three stories with sash windows under flat arches of cut voussoirs, the glazing bars are thin and the glass panes four by four. The left hand portion, consisting of a staircase to the first and second floors with an archway to give access to the rear of the building is also constructed of stone, a mixture of iron and limestone in a variety of decorative combinations and colours, framed by flat pilasters of banded ironstone of a deep Ochre colour and limestone from floor to parapet and surmounted by a stone panel with a lozenge shaped pattern, the abacus formed by the stone cornice that tops the whole facade, the parapet formed of chequered stone work, the ironstones rich brown colour forming a strong contrast with the other components. At ground level the doorway has a masonry arch with curved extrados, moulded jambs and arch, the components in contrasting colours as is the adjacent shallow segmental arch giving access to the rear of the building, at first floor level two narrow sash windows with exaggerated contrasting voussoirs and between them a very large bay window surmounted by a small pediment. The windows on the third floor have segmented arches composed of contrasting colours and the windows themselves are of cast iron with central opening louvers and are the most industrial looking component of the whole building. When looked at in detail, this small factory might be said to have a wealth of architectural embellishment, far more than any other single industrial building in the town. We might look at a few other examples from among a large and varied range of industrial buildings.

The factory of George Selwood & Co in Harborough Road was another building of individual character, unfortunately without a good illustration, but from memory and a rather poor picture [Fig 6], it was a single story building with a semi basement, at least one assumes it was a basement, the main entrance was by a flight of steps and through double doors beneath a segmental pediment, this in a receding front set at the corner of two facades, the most memorable feature was the windows which sat above stone panels decorated with carved swags of fruit and flowers in the Baroque manner, it is very regrettable that no decent record of this rather striking little building appear to exist, described as a fine large factory in a 1916 publication it can be seen that the decorative front was only a small part of the overall premises, the design also accommodated the manufacture on one floor and preceded the Tecnic Shoe Company's factory by thirty years, Tecnic were generally accepted as the first factory in Rushden to install their manufacture in a single story building.

The Selwood factory was close to the Harborough Road entrance to the Cemetery
6. George Selwood & Co - A little 'Baroque' in Harborough Road

Cunnington Bros. Ltd at the corner of Crabb Street & Park Road One of the Bignell's factories in York Road Detail around the door of the Cunnington's factory
7. Cunnington Bros Ltd, Crabb Street - Mid 18C! windows of 1890
8. Improved version of 7
9. 'Gibbs' surround - Rushden Style

In the old style of building is the factory originally of Cunnington Brothers in Crabb Street, a building that might be called pretty due to its brickwork being in single Flemish bond, particularly attractive when done with red stretchers and white headers, with the segmental window openings in red brick and blue brick sills the exception are the 'office' windows, being large three light sash windows surmounted by plain pediments,[Fig 7], a slightly more refined version of this is to be seen on premises of Bignell's in York Road, [Fig 8]. As with the office windows at Cunningtons, so it was necessary to differentiate between the entrance for the workers or staff and the doorway represents Rushden's attempt at a Gibbs surround, [Fig9]. Another building, that of Denbros in Rectory Road, brings together embellishments in gay abandonment, with quality red brick and stone pilasters, framing and dividing another Flemish gable, this one with a stone cornice and narrow vertical shafts of stone, a bullseye window forming the central feature of the gable. Blue diaper brickwork in diamond patterns of varying sizes enlivens the elevation, [Fig 10]

Denbros factory still in use today The workers entrance. The staff entrance at Denbros Ltd.
10. Denbros Ltd, Rectory Road
diaper brickwork - rare in Rushden
11. Denbros Ltd
The Workers entrance
12. Denbros Ltd - a version of 18C
detail for the staff entrance

Two doorways differentiate between staff and operatives, the latter with narrow wooden pillars with rebated panels, small capitals and abacus under narrow panels decorated with a diamond pattern, a segmental head to the door recess with keystone and spandril, in the spandrils a crude form of strapwork decoration [Fig 11]. The second and obviously principal door is somewhat larger and has a Baroque feeling with its wide architrave surround, a fanlight of balusters and a broken pediment and cornice to complete the creation [Fig 12].

As an example of restrained decoration, the factory of Walter Sargent in Crabb Street is a good illustration, very much a brick box of three and a half stories, it incorporates a number of refined details. The windows with chamfered jambs and arches with stop-ends three courses above the sill are quite unusual and enliven an otherwise standard window opening, a blue brick string course at all levels of the windows which follows their segmental arches is again a nice detail and compliments the blue brick sills on matching brackets, add to this the four courses of corbel brickwork and you have a good example of an industrial building as an embodiment of architectural embellishment. Of course if we look at the design of modern buildings, by comparison, even the plainest of Victorian or Edwardian factories can contain the equivalent architectural input of some of the simpler eighteenth century mansion if not their more flamboyant predecessors.

Reference sources:

Gravestock, B.C. Secretary The Shoe & Leather and Allied Trades News October 26 1916
Godfrey, Walter H. The Story of Architecture In England Batsford, 1928
Lloyd, Nathaniel History of the English House The Architectural Press, London 1931
Mitchell, George E. F.R.I.B.A.,M.I.Struct.E. Building Construction and Drawing B.T.Batsford London, 1942

Tutor's Report at end of term:

Essay: Industrial buildings are not so much architecture as an embodiment of architectural embellishment.

A very good essay, with excellent descriptions and, on the whole, competent use of architectural terms. The examples were relevant to the title, and you demonstrated an admirable perception of details and architectural styles. It is a pity that, based on the comprehensive evidence in the main part of your essay, you did not write a better conclusion than the single sentence which ends your essay.

Your introduction was very useful in showing that the essay is focussed on boot and shoe buildings in a particular locality, viz. Rushden, and that you were aware that the normal definition of embellishment involves "to beautify".

I was interested in your choice of the three factories with turrets as your starting point. They are certainly examples of an architect's influence in "turning a corner" rather than having a plain corner and I wonder if this matter of "turning a corner" has been dealt with elsewhere on the course, since its effect is quite important in the urban situation. Apart from this architectural aspect, what other function did the turrets serve ? Stairs ? Your statement that Rene Mackintosh's "work must at some time . . ." would be hard to justify and I suggest caution by using probably instead of must.

Only one of the three factories has a conical roof to its turret (By definition, a cone is on a circular or other curved base). For the roof of the turret at William Green's "an eight sided stunted spire" might be a more appropriate description. The sketch at Fig. 2 is very useful. I appreciate your analysis of the Jaques & Clark building identifying similarity with some details of the Green's building. Regarding your description of the Lilley & Skinner building, there are two terms which do not seem to be used correctly:

Abacus is usually used for the flat slab on top of a capital whereas impost is the normal term for the block or band from which an arch springs; Label is an alternative name for hood-mould, a projecting moulding above an arch or lintel to throw off water.

John White's 1937 building is evidence of architecture of the whole building and a fuller description could have been used to balance your discussion which concentrates on the embellishment of facades, for example your excellent description of the front of William Claridge's premises.

Your attention to window and door details, as recorded in figures 7 - 12, is impressive. If only more people, including planners, took notice of these they would see boot and shoe factories are interesting and worth looking after. I am particularly attracted by your final analysis, that of Walter Sargent's factory in Crabb Street. At first glance this building seems to have nothing to offer in the discussion of architecture v embellishment but, as you point out, its public sides are enhanced by "refined details". Is it possible to see if these details are to be found on the non-public sides ?

I have found this essay enjoyable, as well as interesting, to read and hope you enjoyed your exploration of these often-overlooked buildings.

Geoffrey Starmer

Note: Clive received a high mark for this work. Click here for more about Clive

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