by British Awakening – 24 Jan 2020
Image By Alan Stanton - originally posted to Flickr as De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link
So far as architecture goes, until now I have written mainly about either great railway stations or my passion for the buildings in New York - one of which, Grand Central Station, is both a station and in New York which is hard to beat in my ranking of great architecture. However for a change I thought I would write about a building that is not a railway station and is not in New York.
I have family connections with Hastings in Sussex and even lived there for a while, so I know and love the area. When I tired of the fleshpots of Hastings a favourite spot of mine lay a short drive along the coast in nearby Bexhill - a small town that had a reputation for being a popular retirement place earning itself the cruel nickname "Senility by the Sea". I would argue that the town does not quite deserve the reputation, it is indeed quiet but it is pretty, very respectable and the home of the astoundingly beautiful De La Warr Pavilion, a grade I listed building that dominates the sea front.
Image By Brian Hession - originally posted to Flickr as No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!, CC BY 2.0, Link
So before I outline my love of the building perhaps some background as to why it is even there may help at this point. Herbrand Sackville, 9th Earl De La Warr, a socialist and the first hereditary peer to join the Labour party, initiated an architectural competition for a new seafront building. The winning design was that of architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, an Art Deco design that favoured the more modern materials of concrete and steel with large metal framed windows. Construction of the Pavilion was completed in 1935 and officially opened on December 12th by the Duke (later to become King George VI) and Duchess of York. During the war the pavilion was closed to the public due to fears of a German sea-borne invasion and was thus defended by crack troops like Spike Milligan who served there and who noted.
"De La Warr Pavilion, a fine modern building with absolutely no architectural merit at all. It was opened just in time to be bombed."
The pavilion fell in to decline in the 1970s and 80s, in 1986 it was granted a grade 1 listed building status which saved it from any further alterations and set the scene for a restoration, it was David Hare the playwright who argued that the pavilion should be converted into an art gallery. In 2002 the pavilion secured a £6 million grant from the national lottery and re-opened in 2005 restored to her former splendour.
As those of you who stick with my scribblings will have noted I am quite a fan of Art Deco, I am also a fan of the cruise liners of that time, the five star hotels of the sea. There is just something about being on a cruise liner when you enter the pavilion, it just takes you back in time and makes you feel you have travelled to a happy secure sanctuary.
The last time I was there was to see family, it was a gorgeous summer's day, a day when I myself was just that little bit more fabulous and awesome than I normally am. We took lunch in its excellent restaurant and not being the nominated driver I made absolutely sure not a single drop of wine was sent to landfill. As the meal concluded I sat there in the warmth of my family and the view across the channel with sailing ships gracefully skipping across my gaze, and beyond a faint line of white clouds marked where France lay. Now here is a funny thing that occurred to me as I write; being British means being from an island but few of us give it much thought, yet to anyone that spends time on the South East coast this is all too obvious, on clear days France is not a country mentioned in a geography book, it's there, you can see it. The France across the water for me that day in the de la Warr was the France of a modern day belle epoque, a foreign yet familiar place of fine things and fine life, a France of Champagne and Chanel and Edith Piaf, the France that should have been, a France that was not ruined at Verdun.
Maybe that's the whole reason why I love the building, that split second when I saw in to a heaven that could have been.
So with a nautical theme and a Gallic air I thought I would allow Charles Trenet to conclude my piece and wish you a nice weekend.
Friday Arts Feature – Grand Central Station
Friday Arts Feature – London Underground
De La Warr Pavilion
What do you think? Carbuncle or jewel? Please leave a comment below.