From secret nuclear bunkers to a house by Grayson Perry, ten of the greatest works of architecture in Essex

By Culture24 Reporter | 09 September 2016

This weekend’s Essex Architecture Weekend features more than 20 modernist buildings, shuttles buses across five locations and even a DJ set from Bob Stanley. Here are ten sights to see around the county

Hadleigh Castle, Benfleet

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Chris Beach
The building was started in around 1215 by Hubert de Burgh, the First Earl of Kent, who had been gifted the land by King John. De Burgh’s castle was a lavish, grand statement, but he fell out of favour with John’s successor, Henry III, and ceded all his lands to the crown in 1239.

Built on the slopes behind Leigh, the castle’s position overlooking the estuary meant it played a crucial role in defending the Thames estuary from French attack during the Hundred Years War. In later centuries, it was owned by Henry VIII, but after his death fell into the hands of Lord Riche, who made the crumbling castle profitable by selling off stone for building materials.

It then passed through a number of owners, before the site and land were bought by General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, who set up a farm colony in 1891.


Kelveden Hatch secret nuclear bunker

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
Originally built to house up to 600 military personnel, civilians and potentially the government, in the aftermath of a nuclear war, the hatch developed in secret in seven months in 1952-53. Its primary task, should it have been used, was to organise the further survival of the population.

As the tension of the cold war eased, the bunker became a drain on finances and resources, costing around £3 million per year to run on standby. After being decommissioned in 1992, the site was bought back from the government, and now operates as a tourist attraction.


State Cinema, Grays

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
Once called “one of the finest, least altered and latest in date of the super cinemas”, the striking cinema was designed by Frank Matcham & Co. Showing The Hurricane with Dorothy Lamour, it opened in 1938 with a capacity of more than 2,000, plus air-conditioning and a pipe organ.

The cinema had a string of owners from the 1970s, before closing for good in 1989, a year after being used as a location in scenes from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Since then the cinema has largely been derelict. In 2015, a deal was signed to convert the disused cinema into a Wetherspoons pub.


Greensted Church, Greensted-juxta-Ongar

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
The oldest wooden church in the world. The 51 split oak boards, still in situ in the nave, date from around 1060, and excavations have shown two previous structures on the site, from the 6th and 7th centuries.

Renovations were undertaken in the late 19th century and 1990, and the spire was re-shingled in oak in 2005.

A 12th century crusader is buried in the graveyard, and a small hole bored into the woodwork on the north-western side of the building is said to have served the purpose of allowing lepers, who were banned from inside the church, to receive a blessing.


Bishopsfield Estate, Harlow

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
Known locally as ‘the Kasbah’  the estate, just south of Harlow New Town, is credited as influencing many later generations of architects and town planners.

Its design was chosen via an open competition in 1961. The winner was 24-year old graduate Michael Neylan, who at the time was working as a graduate with Chamberlin, Powell & Bon.

After winning, Neylan quickly recruited William Ungless as his partner to work on the 256 dwellings. The patio houses and maisonettes are L-shaped, with between one and five bedrooms and living areas arranged around a courtyard.

The bold design was an attempt to import a Mediterranean atmosphere in the estate, with narrow lanes and privacy for residents.

It won a Civic Trust Award in 1968 and Housing Design Award in 1969. Neylan and Ungless went on to work on other housing projects including those in the London Borough of Southwark.


Labworth Café, Canvey Island

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
Over Arup, the founder of the Arup engineering firm, built the Island between 1932-33.

The building, which has panoramic views of the Thames Estuary, is constructed from reinforced concrete and has a flat roof. Two arms extend from a central drum-like structure, and its curves anticipate Arup’s work with Bertold Lubetkin on the Penguin Pool at London Zoo, built in 1936.

The Grade II-listed building is still open as a cafe and restaurant.


The Studio (Spender House)

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
This 1960s steel-framed house is Grade II-listed and considered significant for bringing the lightweight Californian aesthetic to Britain.

Designed by Richard and Su Rogers, it was commissioned by the photographer Humphrey Spender – famous for his Worktown Study photographs of Bolton – after Spender was introduced to Rogers via the Royal College of Art.

The studio is built on the site of an orchard at the rear of Spencer’s family home, and is also notable for being the first house by the engineer Anthony Hunt, who went on to become a specialist engineer of steel-framed houses.


A House for Essex, near Wrabness

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture’s collaborative project is part secular chapel, part folly, part artwork, and part shrine.

Perry dubbed it “the Taj Mahal on the River Stour”. It is dedicated to Julie, a mythical Essex everywoman whose story is told inside the house via Perry’s ceramics, tapestries and artworks.

The gingerbread-like dwelling, built in Wrabness in 2015, is Perry’s homage to the “single mums in Dagenham, hairdressers in Colchester and the landscape and history of Essex”.

It is constructed from a series of house forms in increasing sizes, with two bedrooms and a bath that allows a view of the hallway.


Bata Estate, East Tilbury

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
Built to house workers of the Bata Shoes factory, located on the same site, Bata’s building began in 1932.

The estate predates many of Britain’s modernist gems building ‘flat-tops’ in a checkerboard pattern, architects Frantisek Lydie Gahura and Vladimir Karfik allowing space around each property for the comfort of each resident.


Frinton Park Estate, Frinton-on-Sea

A photo of an interesting architectural interior as part of the essex architecture weekend
© Catherine Hyland
The largest group of individually designed Modernist houses in the country, despite many of the planned houses never being built. The original show home for the development was the circular Round House, which includes a mosaic map of the estate built into the floor.

Architect Oliver Hill, who also built the Midland Hotel in Morecambe, was in charge of the development, and he enlisted the help of 19 architects connected to the Modern Architectural Research group.

The estate was originally intended to cover 200 acres, with 40 acres between the railway line and the cliffs on the coast designated for modern houses and 1,000 properties on the estate.


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