Architectural tour for the Twentieth Century Society organised by the Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust
Saturday 28th April 2012: 9.45am – 5pm
Not put off by the April showers I joined around thirty Twentieth Century Society members who had signed up for a re-run of the popular Frinton-on-Sea tour. After arriving into Frinton train station we congregated outside Crossing Cottage, HQ of Frinton and Walton Heritage Trust, whose dedicated members ran the tour. Over tea and coffee we were given an outline of the day’s itinerary and a folder complete with map and extensive notes. Following a brief introduction to the Trust, the cottage museum and other work by John Barter, our tour guide for the morning, we set off for the short walk towards The Avenues. This area forms an important part of the Cooper Powell Estate, which is comprised of a mixture of Edwardian, Tudorbethan, Arts and Crafts and Baronial-esque houses (there are quite a few turrets in Frinton).
Holding on to vestiges of its summer retreat past, a lot of the properties that we looked at are still used as holiday homes today. An example of which is the grade II* listed The Homestead, on Second Avenue, which was designed by C.F.A. Voysey (1905), the renowned architect and designer of the Arts and Crafts movement.
With names like Little Saling, Meadow Brook, Wyndways, Byfields and Upway it was easy to imagine languid summer afternoons playing tennis or croquet on the lawns of these generously sized houses.
After a quick pause by the beach huts – it was definitely not a day for taking a paddle – we made our way along The Esplanade towards St Mary’s Church, another of Frinton’s listed buildings (grade II*). Dating back to the 14th century this tiny church provided a handy shelter from the rain, and also the opportunity to see an impressive late 19th century William Morris stained glass window. The final stop before lunch was St. Mary Magdalene, Frinton’s ‘new’ Parish Church, designed by Sir Charles Nicholson (1929).
After lunch on Connaught Avenue – Frinton’s ‘high street’ – participants gathered at the end of The Esplanade. We were then divided into two groups for the afternoon’s tour of Frinton Park Estate. My group was led by Rachel Baldwin and we began the afternoon’s proceedings with a brief introduction to the Estate and a test of our architectural detective skills. We were asked to date a photograph of a building that on first glance appeared to be an example of a 1930s tiled seaside pitched roof house. However, comparison with an earlier photograph of the same house revealed it to have been originally one of the Estate’s signature flat roofed, white rendered houses. This little teaser was a great way of setting up the theme for the afternoon: how period houses are adapted and used for 21st century living.
The Frinton Park Estate is one of the main reasons why architectural devotees flock to Frinton. The brainchild of the eccentric Oliver Hill (I learned that he drove a pink Rolls Royce and was a keen naturist) this private Estate provides a snapshot of what were grand plans for Modern Movement architecture on the Essex coast. As notes provided to accompany the tour explain:
Oliver Hill returned from a spring holiday in Palm Bay, Monte Carlo, fired with inspiration and enthusiasm for modernist continental architecture. Hill designed the whole scheme, including specifying road names (suffixed Ways) and some of the best houses together with the Estate Information Bureau (now The Round House) and the proposed hotel in the undercliff, the design of which is reminiscent of The Midland Hotel at Morecambe.
Hill’s vision for a carefully planned new addition to Frinton, complete with train station, shopping centre, town hall and school was never fully realised, with the scheme going into liquidation in 1935. Despite this a number of houses were built in between 1934-1936. These are now within a conservation area, and what distinguishes them from other modernist developments in Essex, such as Tata’s East Tilbury or Crittall’s Sliver End, is their claim to being “the largest group of individually designed Modern Movement houses in the country” (tour notes).
We were lucky enough to be able view the interiors of three houses: The Round House (the original Estate Information Bureau designed by Hill, which has an absoultely fantastic mosaic floor detailing in beautiful Poole Pottery Hill’s plan for his seaside utopia, the property is now listed grade II); Sunningdale (designed by J.T. Shelton, original cost £1,190!); and Dawn (also designed by Hill and listed grade II).
The ability to access the interiors of these three houses provided a really welcome insight into the pleasure that can be gained from living in, but also the commitment, enthusiasm, not to mention time and investment required to maintain these experiments in modern design. Sincere thanks to the owners who so kindly let us into their homes and to Frinton and Walton Heritage Trust for organising a great tour.
More photos from the tour can be seen here
Further information on the work of the Frinton and Walton Heritage Trust can be found here