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Sunday Morning Maidstone

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posted by John K Thorne alias John K Thorne on Sunday 17th of October 2021 12:19:39 PM

II Former Barclays Bank, now mixed commercial use, 1956-60 with late C20 alterations, by Sir William Graham Holford (1907-1975) MATERIALS: Reinforced concrete construction with panels of black two-inch bricks from High Brooms Brick and Tile Company, Southborough, Kent; Canterbury knapped flint and Portland stone dressings. Ground-floor windows are timber, whilst original external doors and first, second and third-floor windows are bronze. The building sits on a plinth of Belgian Fossil marble. PLAN: Narrow, slightly wedge-shaped rectangular plan with long elevations to north and south. Principal stair tower to east, secondary stair to west. Open-plan at ground-floor, at first, second and third-floor rooms open off a corridor to the north running east to west. EXTERIOR: Four-storeys plus basement, with a flat roof. There is a small attic storey to far west. The building has three public-facing elevations; to the north, south and west. The north elevation has nine bays; bays two and eight (from left to right) expressed in stone. The first, second and third-floor windows of these bays are separated by panels of knapped flint and advance as a very shallow oriels over the ground-floor openings beneath. Originally the principal entrance doors were located in these bays; a door, although not original, remains in the second bay. The door in the eighth bay has been replaced with a window. A relief carving of the Barclays griffin logo remains above both openings. Above ground level the remaining bays and floor levels are delineated by a slender stone grid-work in-filled with square panels of brick. To the far east and west ends, the exposed grid terminates with a vertical strip of decorative 'quoining'. The ground-floor windows are separated by plain columns of Issogne green marble, either side of which are quadrant-shaped recesses lined with ribbed bronze sheet. Embedded at the top of the recesses are spotlights, which cast light downwards either side of each window. Beneath the ground-floor windows there were originally panels of knapped flint, however these have been removed. Historic photographs suggest that the door of bay one may be the original door from bay two, and bay one originally had a window at ground-floor. The south elevation is similar to the north elevation, however it is bays two and nine which are expressed in stone and, in this case, the stone border is infilled with knapped flint. Above ground-floor these bays have five horizontal rows of three small square windows, and mark the internal location of the stair wells. There is a figurative carving above the ground-floor openings of both bays. At ground floor, there are large panelled bronze doors in bays one and nine, and a timber door in bay two. The doors in bays one and nine appear to be original to the building, however bay one originally had a window at ground-floor, suggesting this door was originally located in bay two. The windows in bays seven and eight have been converted to doors. The west elevation is a single bay wide with landscape windows at first and second-floor, which advance and rest on three plain triangular corbels. At ground-floor the elevation is blind, with decorative panels of flint 'quoining'. The ground-floor corners of the building are cut back, and four carved stone coins adorn the stone recesses. The coins are: the reverse of a half penny, depicting a ship and with the date 1962, the reverse of a farthing, depicting a wren and with the date 1956, the obverse of a twenty shilling, or pound, coin, with a bust of Charles I, and the reverse of a ten shilling coin depicting St Michael slaying the serpent (also known as an 'Angel' coin), also dating from the reign of Charles I. At third-floor the building steps in at the centre to create a balcony, and above is a small attic storey with a pierced stone screen, to which a flag pole is attached. INTERIOR: Internally the banking hall interior does not survive and suspended ceilings have been installed throughout. On the upper floors the original layout is not known; planning records suggest that the third-floor was originally a caretaker's flat. The principal and secondary stairs remain largely unaltered. The stylish principal stair has an open well; the stairs and landings are floored in white marble with black marble applied to the exposed edges. Paired black metal stick balusters are ringed with a bright brass band and support a rounded hardwood handrail. To the south the wall of the stairwell is lined in black marble, and at second and third-floor the north, east and west walls are lined with narrow hardwood strip panelling; the panels are slightly concave in section. The secondary stair shares similarities of design, however is considerably more modest in size and use of materials. HISTORY: Sunley House was designed in the late 1950s by Sir William Graham Holford (1907-1975), as a local head office for Barclays Bank. The site was formerly occupied by five buildings which formed the west end of Middle Row. The building was opened in 1960 but closed as a bank in the mid 1990s. Holford was born in South Africa, but in 1925 took up a place studying architecture at Liverpool University. In 1933 he set up practice as an architect and town planner, and a few years later became Lever Professor of Civic Design at his old university. During the Second World War Holford supervised a team of architects in the design and construction of munitions workers' hostels for the Ministry of Works, and became principal adviser to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, established in 1943. Holford was involved with the drafting of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, the forerunner of planning law in Britain. With Charles Holden, Holford acted as a planning consultant to the City of London, and together they put forward proposals for the long-term redevelopment of the city. Holford also became planning consultant to the University of Liverpool, Exeter University and Cambridgeshire County Council, as well as architect to Corby New Town Development Corporation. He also worked on plans for Pretoria and Durban, South Africa, as well as Canberra, Australia. Holford was referred to in one obituary as 'the father of town planning as practised today'. In recognition of his contribution to his profession, Holford was knighted in 1953, and made a life peer in 1965. Despite Holford's work not always attracting critical acclaim; he is nevertheless a key figure in town planning, whose influence helped to shape the major redevelopment of towns and cities in the post-war period. Although Holford was involved in a great number of planning schemes, much of this work was undertaken by his firm; Holford Associates, Holford's own involvement being more on the matter of architectural policy, rather than actual design. Sunley House is one of the few examples of Holford's personal work, and it reveals a skilled for pattern and texture, and a true regard for place. The building conforms to no one particular style; although unquestionably a piece of modern architecture, it uses traditional building materials and subtle historicist references to create an aesthetic which is both idiosyncratic and contextual. Holford's use of pattern and materials allows the building to make a bold and modern contribution to the streetscape, without losing the human scale of detailing and texture. SOURCES: Booker, Temples of Mammon, The Architecture of Banking (1990) GE Cherry and L Penny, Holford: a study in architecture, planning and civic design (1986), 219-221 J Newman, The Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald (1979), 412 'Lord Holford: modern town planning' Building Week, 24 October 1975, 53 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,, accessed online 26 October 2009 A perspective drawing of the building and a photograph of the building under construction are held at the Royal Institute of British Architects Library and can be viewed online at: (accessed 30 October 2009) REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: Sunley House, a former local head office for Barclays Bank, 14-19 Middle Row, Maidstone, is listed for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the building is a bold and accomplished piece of modern architectural design which employs a variety of high quality materials and sculptural decoration to create a rich composition of colour, pattern and surface texture * Interior interest: despite the loss of the banking hall interior, the distinctive principal stair survives intact, displaying a stylish use of colour and texture * Designer: the building is a notable work by Sir William Holford, a major figure in post-war town planning

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