Former Pilkingtons Headquarters complex: including the canteen block and link walkway, gatehouse, former chauffeur's house, car port, steps down to the lake, the north lake surrounds and concrete bridge
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- FORMER PILKINGTONS HEADQUARTERS COMPLEX, BOROUGH ROAD, ST HELENS
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- Statutory Address:
- FORMER PILKINGTONS HEADQUARTERS COMPLEX, BOROUGH ROAD, ST HELENS
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- St. Helens (Metropolitan Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Purpose-built former Headquarters site for Pilkingtons, 1959-63, by Edwin Maxwell Fry of Fry, Drew and Partners. Concrete-framed buildings clad in slate and Armourclad panels with some narrow buff-brick facings, aluminium-framed sash windows. Building heights range from single-storey to 13-storeys; all with flat roofs.
Reasons for Designation
The former Pilkingtons Headquarters complex is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it is one of the earliest and best-surviving examples of a greenfield headquarters complex, with a finely detailed design that successfully integrates a series of status buildings within a carefully designed landscape, and which was praised by both the architectural press and RIBA. The Tower block in particular dominates the skyline of St Helens and symbolises the power and prestige of Pilkingtons in the mid-C20
* Design interest and innovation: the buildings' strikingly elegant designs utilise materials specially designed for superior functionality, including maximising light and reducing heat loss, as well as showcasing and advertising Pilkingtons' wide range of products; hence the use of various glass finishes, opaque Armourclad panels, Insulight windows, Fibreglass and Vitrolite in the buildings' construction and decoration
* Architect: the complex was designed by the distinguished mid-C20 architect, Edwin Maxwell Fry and represents his principal post-war work in England. Elements of the complex, including the design of the Canteen block and the former chauffeur's house, also reflect the influence of Fry's earlier partnership with Walter Gropius
* Intactness: despite some later alteration the complex survives with a high level of intactness overall; retaining all of its principal and subsidiary buildings, which are enhanced by Fry's extensive landscaped grounds, including the north lake surrounds and concrete bridge
* Interior interest: the principal buildings utilise high quality materials throughout and contain many original features, including parquet floors, panelled lift lobbies, some original veneered and rolled glass doors, stairs with toughened glass balustrades and Vitrolite clad walls of varying shades denoting the individual buildings, and some original toughened-glass spine corridor walls. The Directors' floor in the Tower block is a particularly good survival incorporating a board/conference room and directors' suite with reception rooms, dining rooms and kitchen, which retain concealed lighting, partly-panelled walls and built-in bar and food serveries and cupboards
* Artwork: the principal buildings incorporate high quality artwork by leading mid-C20 artists that complement and enhance the quality of the headquarters environment. These works include, amongst others, a back-lit, abstract relief panel of stained, fused glass by Avinash Chandra in the Tower block's main reception area, a large decorative mirrored panel by John Humphrey Spender, and an abstract sculpted panel by Victor Pasmore in the Canteen block
Pilkington Brothers was founded in St Helens in 1826 by William Pilkington, the son of a doctor. The company quickly grew in size due to the building boom stimulated by the Industrial Revolution, and also due to Pilkingtons' research and development into improving its window glass, which later led to it expanding into other glass products. At the height of its success in the mid-C20, Pilkingtons was one of the biggest producers of flat glass in the world, employing 25,000 people in various countries. It is this success that led to the construction of the company's HQ at Borough Road in 1959-63.
In the late-1940s/early-1950s Pilkingtons realised that the company's growth meant that it had outgrown its HQ and other offices in the centre of St Helens, and it required a single consolidated site. A 16 acre valley site next to the company's Ravenhead Works, just outside the town centre, was chosen. Edwin Maxwell Fry (1899-1987) of Fry, Drew and Partners of London was appointed as the architect for the new complex. Fry had been trained at the Liverpool School of Architecture under Professor Charles Reilly and had been a partner to Walter Gropius in the 1930s, before Gropius' emigration to the United States. Fry had also, along with his wife and partner Jane Drew, designed the Punjab capital of Chandigarh with Le Corbusier in the early-1950s. Fry's connection to Pilkingtons stemmed back to 1937 when he was one of a group of young architects chosen by the company to predict the use of glass in buildings of the future.
Fry first visited the new site in 1956 and immediately suggested creating a landscaped setting for the new headquarters, including forming a 3-acre lake with a concrete bridge linking the headquarters with the neighbouring works. His design also included constructing a series of buildings along the lakeside, grouped like a college. Part of the brief was to create buildings in which glass would be 'used to the furthest limits imposed by taste and sense' and to showcase Pilkingtons' products, including Armourclad and Vitrolite. Construction started in 1959 with Ove Arup & Partners as consulting engineers, Holland & Hannen and Cubitts as the contractors for the main parts of the scheme, including the lake, roads and landscaping, and J Gerrard & Sons Ltd of Swinton as the contractors for the headquarters' canteen block. The site remained as the headquarters of Pilkingtons until 2005 when the company was acquired by Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG), whose headquarters is based in Tokyo. The site is still partly occupied by Pilkingtons.
PLAN: The former Pilkingtons HQ complex is a large 16-acre site comprising a series of buildings (the five principal buildings being the Tower block, Lakeside block, Court block, former museum block & directors' garage, and the Canteen block) and structures set within landscaped grounds. The complex consists of buildings arranged as two large courtyards with a tall, 13-storey 'Tower' block rising at a right angle from part of the south side of the eastern courtyard; the remaining section of the courtyard's south side is formed by a 3-storey bridge link. The eastern side of the eastern courtyard is formed by the 'Lakeside' block, which is of 4-storeys plus basement, and the northern side is formed by an enclosed bridge link that originally housed the export order office and is now occupied by a restaurant and kitchen. The courtyard's western side is formed by the 4-storey 'Court' block (originally occupied by Fibreglass Ltd, one of Pilkingtons' subsidiaries), which continues around to form all four sides of the western courtyard. The western courtyard appears as 3-storeys on the outside face of the north, west and south sides due to a sloping ground level. Connected to, and flanking, the southern end of the Tower block at a right angle is a 2-storey former museum block (the museum closed in the 1990s and is now used for IT services) and a single-storey directors' garage block (the garage appears as the same height as the museum block due to a sloping ground level). A covered walkway also links the former museum block to the Lakeside block.
Set to the north-east of the main buildings at the head of a large lake is the 2-storey Canteen block, which is linked to the Lakeside block via a partly-subterranean, enclosed walkway. Steps adjacent to the former museum block and the Canteen block lead down to the lake edge and gardens. Crossing the lake at its mid-point is a concrete bridge.
Set to the west of the Court block is a long, single-storey, detached car port built into the site's sloping ground with a single-storey former chauffeur's house attached at the southern end. Set to the north-east of the canteen block, next to the site's main entrance, is a detached, single-storey gatehouse.
The complex's main buildings all have concrete frames clad in slate with double-glazed, floor-to-ceiling height, heat-loss reducing Insulight windows set within aluminium frames, and narrow buff-brick facings to some parts of the ground floors. The north and south faces of the Tower and Lakeside blocks, and the south-west corner of the Court block, are clad with Armourclad panels (opaque glass) in four different shades of blue; the panels are also used as horizontal bands beneath all the main buildings' windows.
TOWER BLOCK: The Tower block is 170ft high and is of 13-storeys plus basement and sub-basement with a pergola-style level on the roof housing plant rooms, lift motor rooms and a water tank. The main entrance is located on the north side of the building facing into the eastern courtyard and has replaced entrance doors set underneath a flat-roofed canopy. The site access road, which passes underneath the eastern courtyard's bridge links, punches through part of the southern half of the Tower's ground floor, with the upper floors being carried on a series of concrete piers.
LAKESIDE BLOCK: The Lakeside block is 200ft long and 45ft deep with a main entrance located at the northern end of the west side, facing into the eastern courtyard. Attached to the northern end of the Lakeside block at basement level is a 370ft long, enclosed link walkway leading to the Canteen block. The walkway is partly subterranean due to a lower ground level by the lake and has floor-to-ceiling windows and patio doors on the east side separated by buff-brick piers, with a buff-brick parapet concealing pavements and planting above.
COURT BLOCK: The entire Court block is 200ft long and 180ft wide with an internal courtyard. The block's main entrance is located on the west side and incorporates a flat-roofed canopy with later side supports. The internal courtyard is paved in York stone with a central raised podium incorporating brick planting beds and concrete seats. One of the entrances into the internal courtyard retains its original green-coloured, glass slab door handles, which are fixed horizontally.
FORMER MUSEUM BLOCK: The former museum block is of 2-storeys and incorporates buff brick to the westernmost third and replaced cladding to the east end wall. The block's main entrance is located at the western end of the north side and retains its original entrance doors with green-coloured, glass slab door handles, which, in contrast to those at on the Court block, are fixed vertically. A flat-roofed covered walkway connects the main entrance to the Lakeside block. A secondary entrance lies at the eastern end of the same north elevation. The attached directors' garage block is mainly in buff brick with a roller-shuttered vehicular entrance to the west end wall.
CANTEEN BLOCK: The Canteen block, which is now derelict, encloses the north end of the lake and was originally constructed to serve approximately 1600 people from the offices and works. The west end of the building is built into the valley side at the lakeside level. The Canteen block is 296ft long and has a squat T-shaped plan formed by the presence of a smaller, detached 2-storey block to the centre rear, which is linked at first-floor level by an enclosed bridge link that originally contained the preparation and washing-up areas, and which crosses a former goods access road. The Canteen block's ground floor is recessed and the first floor incorporates a horizontal strip of windows set between two white Vitrolite bands. The ground floor on the south side, which appears to rise out of the lake, incorporates large bow and bay window projections and a series of vertically arranged windows separated by concrete fins. The rear block and the ground floor on the north side and east end are in buff brick; the rear block also incorporates a Bauhaus-style jettied first-floor projection on the north side lit by narrow lights to the side returns. The building has suffered from vandalism and, as a result, some of the windows and panels have been removed and bricked-up or boarded over. The Canteen block has two internal courtyards, each with an exposed framework with a bone-like sculptural mosaic-clad column forming a focal point and original planting troughs to the walls and floor.
Parquet floors exist to many areas within the buildings (mostly hidden under later coverings), along with suspended ceilings concealing services, and Fibreglass wall panels and ceiling tiles made by Pilkingtons' subsidiary company. Grilles set underneath the windows circulate warm filtered air and have been adapted to accommodate air-conditioning. The buildings contain dog-leg and open-well stairs with timber handrails and panelled balustrades of toughened glass; most of the stairwell walls are clad with Vitrolite panels of various colours e.g. yellow shades in the Lakeside block and green shades in the Court block. The majority of the buildings' lift lobbies are panelled and original veneer doors with small metal lettering denote the presence of gentlemen's and ladies' lavatories on alternate floor levels. Some of the buildings' original toughened-glass spine corridor walls remain in situ, but others have been removed or replaced and some spaces opened-up. Original Armourcast glass doors in the corridors have been replaced with modern fire doors.
TOWER BLOCK: A double-height foyer beneath the Tower block forms the main entrance for the complex. The foyer has a marble floor and a flight of marble steps incorporating later planters on one side, which lead up to a later reception desk and lift lobby (now enclosed). Access is also provided into the ground floor level of the Court block. A wide stair with marble treads and a toughened and textured-glass panelled balustrade with metal block fixings to the lower part accesses a first floor mezzanine and lift lobby. The mezzanine also provides access to the Court block and also the southern bridge link accessing the Lakeside block. Filling the stair's half-landing level is a large, 37ft x 9ft back-lit, abstract relief panel of stained, fused glass by Avinash Chandra that stretches across the entire entrance wall. The panel's production involved the use of new techniques used to weld the glass and its swirling colours symbolise fire, the origin of glass. The mezzanine's back walls are decorated with gold mosaic tiles of various shades (an identical section of mosaic work can be found to a column on the entrance level) and black textured cladding. The mezzanine is fronted by a continuation of the stair balustrade.
The Tower block's stairs are treated differently on the floor levels, dictating status within the building; the 11th and 12th floors (Directors' floors) have inset carpet panels to the treads, the 10th Floor (managers' offices) has carpeted treads, and the floors below (general offices) have bare treads. The stairwells are lit by tall vertical and narrow horizontal windows; the latter being of textured glass. The 12th floor was the Directors' floor originally and has a central corridor with rooms off to each side accessed via toughened, rolled-glass doors with a polished edge and large, circular, blown and spun coloured-glass handles. The floor contains a board/conference room and a directors' suite with reception rooms, dining rooms and kitchen. The rooms have partly-panelled walls and most contain built-in bar and food serveries and cupboards. The conference room also has a sunken rectangular ceiling with concealed lighting and a later translation room/booth inserted alongside one wall. The Directors' dining room has a sliding screen partition and a servery recess containing a large, decorative 'Topaz' tinted glass mirror by Professor Robert Gooden. The servery has been extended and has a polished granite top; a similar servery can also be found in the central corridor on the 11th floor, which is lit by concealed lighting. The offices on the 11th floor, which originally formed the chairman's office, are plain and are of lesser interest. The rest of the Tower's floors, which were originally occupied by directors' offices, conference rooms, secretarial, finance and buying, are generally plain and have been modernised and are also of lesser interest; the exception being the 1st floor conference room (now known as the Australia Room), which contains a large decorative mirror with silvered and shelled edges by John Humphrey Spender. The Tower's basement and sub-basement contain plant rooms, workshops and storage areas, which are not of special interest.
LAKESIDE BLOCK: This block originally contained general offices and some areas have since been modernised and are of lesser interest. The former medical centre with consulting rooms, treatment and recovery rooms and surgeries for a physician and chiropodist survives and is now in use as nursing/physiotherapy rooms, with blue and white Vitrolite panels to the walls. Plant and storage rooms are located within the basement, which also provides access into the link walkway connecting to the Canteen block. The walkway has panelled walls (the west wall conceals a retaining wall to the access road and parking area above) and a suspended ceiling with partly-raised, chequerboard patterning.
COURT BLOCK: The Court block has a spine corridor linking all four sides of the courtyard with offices off to each side. The ground floor incorporates a post room, plant rooms, safe rooms, telephone cubicles (telephones now removed), a clocking-in machine and card holder attached to a wall, and a later gymnasium. A reinforced plastic mural originally located in the entrance foyer has been removed.
FORMER MUSEUM BLOCK: The interior of the museum block has been converted into IT office space and is of lesser interest. The ground floor has been opened-up and the mezzanine level has a replaced balustrade, although some of the original glass balustrade panels, which are in the same style as those in the main Tower entrance foyer, have been retained and are attached to a wall on the main stair landing. The attached directors' garage is a utilitarian sheltered car park.
CANTEEN BLOCK: The Canteen block originally had a large entrance hall, lounges, cloakrooms and coffee bar on the ground floor, with two large dining rooms for office staff and factory workers on the first floor with views over the lake, along with smaller dining rooms for visitors, senior executives and managers, kitchens and serving areas. Due to the presence, and removal, of asbestos the interior has now largely been stripped out, and some of the original artwork has been lost; consequently, it is of lesser interest. However, the original stairs with glass-panelled balustrades survive, including the main broad open-tread staircase, along with mosaic-clad columns. The former staff dining room also retains part of a massive abstract sculpted panel in painted wood by Victor Pasmore, whilst a further section of the mural in unpainted wood has been removed into storage; the whole panel put together would occupy an area of 60ft x 10ft. Two smaller murals by Pasmore incorporating coloured glass are believed to have been removed. The ground floor entrance lobby and former lounges retain some small, abstract stained-glass and relief panels by various artists, but further etched glass panels and original light fittings have been removed.
SUBSIDIARY LISTED FEATURES:
GATEHOUSE: Set to the north-east of the main buildings, adjacent to the site's main entrance, is a small, single-storey gatehouse with cladding and buff-brick facings, and large windows to the front elevation. A flat roof projects to form a canopy. The interior was not inspected and is not thought to be of special interest.
CAR PORT: Set to the west of the Court block is a 9-bay car port constructed into the sloping valley side with landscaped grounds above. The car port is constructed of reinforced concrete and is supported by slender and tapered piers with a buff-brick retaining parapet above, surmounted by later railings.
FORMER CHAUFFEUR'S HOUSE: The former chauffeur's house is attached to the southern end of the car port, and is accessed at car port level, even though the main, single-storey body of the house is located upon higher ground above. The house was originally the home of the chairman's chauffeur and his family, but has most recently been used as an office. It has buff-brick facings and a flat roof, and has a Bauhaus-style cubic shape and form. The house is built into the sloping valley side and presents a high, blank retaining wall to the front (east) elevation with a jettied cubic projection at first-floor level (similar to that to the rear of the Canteen block) incorporating narrow vertical lights to the side returns. Further vertical lights exist to the north side, whilst the west and south elevations incorporate large floor-to-ceiling windows. Attached to the retaining wall to the south of the house is a small outbuilding/store in the same style and materials as the house. The outbuilding's roof projects outwards beyond the wall on the east side as a large, flat-roofed canopy above an access doorway.
Internally the main entrance accesses a concrete and timber dog-leg stair that leads up into the house and a hallway lit by a rectangular skylight. The stair is enclosed to the lower part and has wide timber rails forming the landing balustrade and handrails. The rooms are plain and are not of special interest, having been altered and with some of the walls knocked through.
NORTH LAKE SURROUNDS, STEPS DOWN TO THE LAKE AND CONCRETE BRIDGE: On the west side of the lake, adjacent to both the former museum block and the Canteen block, are flights of stone steps leading down to the lake. Crossing the lake at the mid-point is a very wide, 45m long, concrete footbridge with steps at each end and a sturdy balustrade incorporating integral bench seating. A further, simpler concrete bridge over Alexandra Drive, which originally connected the headquarters site to Pilkingtons' neighbouring Ravenhead glassworks was demolished in 1996. The northern section of the lake has stone kerb stones and surrounds, and straight edges on the west side. The eastern side has an irregular curving edge of 'sculptural' form, with parts of the edging comprising diagonal stone retaining walls.
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Books and journals
Harwood, E, England A Guide to Post War Listed Buildings, (2003)
Pevsner, N, Pollard, R, The Buildings of England: Lancashire, Liverpool and the South-West, (2006)
'Interbuild' in At Last, (October 1959)
'The Architect and Building News' in Offices, St Helens, (28 October 1964)
'The Architect and Building News' in Head Office, St Helens, (29 July 1964)
'Industrial Architecture vol.3 no.2' in Lakeside Glass Headquarters, (March - April 1960)
'Interbuild' in New Buildings: United Kingdom. Lakeside Complex, (August 1964)
'The Indian Architect' in Offices for Pilkingtons Bros. Ltd., St Helens, England, (February 1965)
'The Architects' Journal' in Glass Headquarters in St Helens, Lancashire, (October 29, 1959)
, accessed from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/69298
Fry, (Edwin) Maxwell (1899-1987), architect, accessed from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/39983
Spender, (John) Humphrey (1910-2005), photojournalist and artist, accessed from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/97623
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing
Images of England
Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.