If you wander down a road off Victoria, you might spot a rather fine concrete frieze running along a 1960s building. This is a council-owned block of flats that was erected in the mid-1960s on the site of a warehouse used by the Army and Navy department store on Victoria Street.

It’s taken a while to find out who the sculptor was, but it turned out to be William Mitchell, who is rather overlooked these days, but as with most good concrete designs, making a bit of a come back at long last.

According to an email to a friend of his, “This was the first integral piece of concrete art ever produced. It’s a ‘ring beam’ which linked all the columns and on which the remainder of the structure depended. I designed it, made the moulds and the builder poured the concrete.”

Being a rather controversial design for the time, there were arguments with the architects and engineers, with the Arts Council, and in the press, but when finished, was widely appreciated.

When built, it had offices on the ground floor as well, so there weren’t the somewhat garish retail signs along the front which while necessary for retail, really don’t enhance the decorative frieze above.

It’s of a style of the time which either repels or attracts in equal measure. I can’t say it’s something I would want, but I appreciate it enough to be glad there are people who would want it.

Sadly, about a third of the frieze is missing. In 2005, planning permission was granted to demolish the northern third of the building, which as mainly offices, and replace it with the current modern structure.

That’s not as heinous as it sounds, as this was a development of the 1960s, so the back of the demolished section was a car park, with a petrol station under the neighbouring flats. Sadly, the tall vertical fins for the staircase were also lost. It’s just a pity that the frontage wasn’t retained to help preserve the long brutal frontage as it was originally designed.

The council obviously disagreed, calling the long monolithic frontage “unexceptional“, for they are fools of the highest order.

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5 comments
  1. Chris Rogers says:

    To clarify; Emmanual House built 1966-68 to designs by Howard V. Lobb & Partners was a mixed-use urban block comprising a mechanical stacker car park of 300 spaces, along with a petrol station, that took up half of the plot; the remainder comprised an air-conditioned computer centre, showrooms, offices and seventy flats. The car park and offices went recently.

  2. Marc says:

    Another interesting article – but did you know you posted this on the day William Mitchell died? I recognised the style of art as being rather similar to the backdrop of Kidderminster rig road (near where I grew up), then today I saw this article on the website of the Kidderminster Shuttle

    https://www.kidderminstershuttle.co.uk/news/18224873.kidderminster-concrete-relief-designer-william-mitchell-died/

    and did another Google for William Mitchell and, according to his Wikipedia page, he died on 30 January.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Mitchell_(sculptor)

  3. Joe Austin says:

    Evening Ian
    This is Joe of Joe Blogs…
    Many thanks both for the link in you post to my blog and for all your posts generally.
    My wife I are big fans of your work and in “olden times” (i.e. pre Covid) we would often use our weekends to go see things based on your suggestions/ findings.
    Regards
    Joe
    PS. Sadly Bill is no longer with us but I’m sure he would have appreciated your words… J

  4. Joe Austin says:

    Hi Ian
    Apologies, my wife points out that this post was from a year ago… it arrived in my inbox yesterday and I obviously didn’t read the header properly
    DOH!!
    Thanks and respect remain though…
    Joe

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