Porchester Centre

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II*
List Entry Number:
1262987
Date first listed:
28-Nov-1994
Date of most recent amendment:
12-Nov-2019
Statutory Address:
Porchester Road, London, W2 5HS
Statutory Address:
Queensway, London, W2 5HS

Map

Ordnance survey map of Porchester Centre
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Location

Statutory Address:
Porchester Road, London, W2 5HS
Statutory Address:
Queensway, London, W2 5HS

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:
Greater London Authority
District:
City of Westminster (London Borough)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ 25740 81360

Summary

Civic centre, including swimming pools, Turkish baths, assembly halls and a public library, built in two phases between 1923 and 1929.

Reasons for Designation

The Porchester Centre, City of Westminster, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for the range, quality and coherence of the public spaces, which are particularly elaborate for the period and survive very well; * for the richly-detailed and finely-executed elevations to Queensway and Porchester Road;

Historic interest:

* as an exceptionally complete and grand civic complex of the 1920s; * for the remarkable survival of an especially rare and almost entirely complete Turkish bath complex;

Group value:

* with 9-31 Porchester Square (Grade II), on the opposite side of Porchester Road.

History

The Porchester Centre is a civic complex comprised of baths, swimming pools, assembly rooms and a public library, developed in two phases for the Metropolitan Borough of Paddington. The earliest phase was built 1923-1925 to the designs of the borough architect Herbert Shepherd. This consisted of large (first class) and small (second class) swimming pools, men’s and women’s slipper baths, a laundry and a first-floor committee room. The scheme was initiated by the Paddington Baths and Wash-Houses Committee in order to replace Paddington's first public baths of 1874, which had been situated to the south on Queensway (then Queen’s Road) before demolition to make way for Whiteley's department store (completed in 1911). The plot that was chosen for the new baths formed part of the grounds of what was Westbourne House, a significant building in the early development of Paddington which had been home to the architect Isaac Ware in the C18 and Samuel Pepys Cockerell in the C19. The site was cleared and a foundation stone for the new building was laid by WG Perring MP and Alderman Sir George Handover on 24 November 1923. It is clear that from the outset the intention was to build an assembly hall on the east side of the plot to Porchester Road. The perspective drawings of Shepherd’s design published in 1923 show an early unrealised design for the hall, although construction of this part of the centre would not commence until October 1927. For the interim period, Shepherd carefully designed the entrance rooms, access routes and a timber covering for the main pool to make the building suitable for temporary conversion for use as an assembly hall and concert venue when required.

The expansion of the Porchester site from 1927 through the addition of Turkish baths, a library and assembly hall was an endeavour of great ambition on the part of the Borough of Paddington. The scheme, which was completed in September 1929 to the designs of Herbert Shepherd and Harold A Thomerson, transformed the Paddington Baths into a major civic complex for the Bayswater area. The addition was built at a greater scale than the earlier phase and evidently larger than was initially envisaged in the perspective drawings of 1923. The grander scale of this part of the site was partly a response to the neighbouring buildings along Porchester Road but this also appears to have been necessitated by the initial plan to integrate shops at street level, which in turn required the galleried hall to be situated at first-floor level. In the event, the shops were omitted from the plans at a late stage in order to extend the library and provide an additional public hall adjacent to the main entrance (although the shop front arrangement to Porchester Road was built as originally designed). As was reported in the architectural press, the main 1000-capacity assembly hall and its attendant rooms were fitted-out to an exceptionally high standard, including generous use of applied marble, brass fittings and oak and walnut panelling throughout (The Builder, 11 October 1929, p589). The Turkish baths complex was a distinct element of this secondary phase and was of an exceptional standard for a public facility of the period. It was laid out across two floors in accordance with the established Victorian Turkish bath arrangement, comprising a series of three increasingly hot chambers (heated by dry air), a cold plunge pool, a shampooing room, and a spacious cooling-room for relaxation. In addition there are two Russian vapour baths to supplement the Turkish bathing complex.

Since the centre was opened in 1929, its main public spaces and the Turkish bath complex have seen relatively little alteration. The hall, which retains its complete original decorative scheme and its range of attendant rooms, has been regularly used for ceremonies, public meetings, and concerts; with notable performers since the 1960s including Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and Van Morrison. The Turkish baths are a particularly notable survival of the complex, being one of only five such baths still open, from over 500 which were built nationally from the 1850s. As would be anticipated, the slipper baths and laundry area in the earliest part of the building have been redeveloped in more recent times (by around 1990). The eastern bathing room adjacent to the main pool was converted into an enlarged changing and showering area and the western (male) baths were converted to form part of a new gym, which also saw the conversion of the former laundry (consent granted 2002). This phase of work entailed extensions to the existing service tower at the western end of the former laundry to provide new changing facilities, floor space for the gym and a dance studio. The public library has also been thoroughly refurbished, along with several offices, although these areas were not ever so lavishly decorated as other parts of the complex which survive intact. In 1965, under the London Government Act, the Metropolitan Borough of Paddington was abolished and the area became part of the City of Westminster, which then assumed responsibility for the centre. Since 2016 the Porchester Centre has been privately managed by Everyone Active Ltd, under license from the Westminster City Council.

Details

Civic centre built in two phases in the 1920s. The first phase of public baths, swimming pools and a laundry were built 1923-1925 to the designs of Herbert Shepherd, architect for the Borough of Paddington. The site was extended to include a Turkish bath complex, a public library and assembly rooms in 1927-1929, with designs produced by Shepherd and Harold A Thomerson.

MATERIALS AND STRUCTURE: steel-framed structure with Portland stone and red, purple and stock brick.

PLAN: the wedge-shaped plot is bounded to the east by Porchester Road and narrows to west where it abuts the end of Burdett Mews. The south side fronts onto Queensway and the northern side is defined by a private road principally intended for access to the former laundry. The earliest 1923-1925 part of the building runs most of the length of Queensway. The public entrance here leads to two vestibules (originally for men to the left and women to the right) set either side of a ticket booth and then on to a central entrance hall. The small (second-class) pool is set-off the hall to the north, running parallel to the street, and the large (first-class) pool (with viewing gallery) is set square to the east and is accessed via a corridor from the hall. The west side of the building was formerly occupied by the laundry and men’s slipper baths; this now converted to a gym and dance studio with changing facilities. The former women’s slipper baths, to the east of the entrance hall, are now changing rooms for the large swimming pool. The first-floor offices and committee room are accessed from the main staircase set on the north side of the entrance hall.

The 1927-1929 part of the building fronts Porchester Road. The central public entrance opens to a vestibule, a large entrance hall and then on to a grand staircase at the west end. The public library occupies the northern side of the entrance hall (at ground-floor and basement level) and a small assembly room is set to the west (originally planned as a shop). The upper storey accommodates the rectangular, double-height, galleried main public hall. This is flanked to the sides by annexes, store rooms and WCs with the stage and artists’ rooms set to the south and an ante room and an inserted kitchen to the north side. Service stairs occupy the corners of this part of the building.

The Turkish baths are separately accessed via the corner entrance at the junction with Queensway. The entrance leads to a vestibule with pay booths and on to a temperature-controlling lobby which is served by a small refreshment kiosk. The double-height relaxation/cooling-room occupies most of the ground-floor space. This connects with the large swimming pool via stairs on the west side and has a central well with a plunge pool that leads down to the steam baths.

EXTERIOR: the public entrance to the earliest phase of the Queensway elevation consists of a five-bay frontispiece with a dentiled cornice and a set-back, three-bay, upper storey with a cornice and parapet. This forms a symmetrical composition with rusticated stonework and a trio of paired columns in antis marking steps to the recessed entrance which is flanked by two pairs of small windows. The windows throughout are of bronzed metal with thin glazing bars. The entrance doors are accessed via elaborate iron gates bearing wrought and gilded ‘PB’ monograms. Beyond the gates are round-arched doorways with keystones and teak double doors set either side of a projecting bay window and foundation stone; all set beneath a decorated coffered ceiling. The upper level (accommodating the committee room) has a central Venetian window flanked by two square windows with heavy keystones. To the east, along Queensway, is the plain brick gable-end wall to the large swimming pool, punctuated by doors set under bracketed stone hoods which give direct access to the pool and former slipper baths. A series of small windows feature on this part of the elevation: a lunette window set into the gable, ocular windows to the first floor and a run of small high-set rectangular casements at street level. Separate entrances to the former laundry, with glazed brick doorway surrounds, several original doors and shuttered loading bays, are reached from a private side road to the north.

The later phase fronting Porchester Road is a Beaux Arts Baroque composition of three storeys and nine symmetrical bays, with rusticated stonework and fine classical sculptural ornamentation. The entrance bay is the main focus, this being recessed behind a vast shell-hood canopy on pilasters. Above is a centrepiece comprised of a pair of carved classical figures, one with a chelys lyre and the other with a scroll (possibly Terpsichore and Clio - personifications of music and learning); these being the work of the renowned architectural sculptural firm, John Daymond and Son. The two bays to either side of the central entrance have round-arched windows to the first floor. At ground-floor level are large bronzed margin-light tripartite top-opening casements intended as shopfronts - but never so used, as the spaces behind were incorporated as a hall and reading room instead. The central five bays have ocular windows to the second floor above which runs a parapet with some balustrading over a modillion eaves cornice. To the north end is a round-headed set of double doors for the library, no longer in use. Affixed metal signage marks out the entrances for the ‘PORCHESTER HALL’, the ‘PUBLIC LIBRARY’ and the ‘PORCHESTER SPA’ (originally ‘TURKISH BATHS’).

The return elevations to the private access lane to the north and Queensway to the south (adjoining the earlier phase on this side) consist of five-bay elevations of brick and Portland stone. Both have a three-bay brick centrepiece with round-arched and ocular windows (to the first and second floors respectively), linked by stone mouldings, in the manner of Wren’s work at Hampton Court. A continuous sill band over the ground floor links the compositions of all these elevations. At the junction of Porchester Road and Queensway the corner is chamfered, with a separate entrance with original teak doors leading to the Turkish baths.

INTERIOR: the distinct elements of the Porchester Centre are outlined in turn below, beginning with the earliest 1923-1925 phase.

QUEENSWAY ENTRANCE HALL AND UPPER ROOMS: the main entrance hall to the swimming pools (and also originally the baths) is a double-height rectangular space decorated with moulded faience, teak woodwork, panelled plasterwork and a patterned inlaid marble floor, all set under a central glazed dome. Against the south wall is an apsed niche with an inserted door. Above the niche are tiled spandrels decorated with the arms of the Abbey and City of Westminster. A stone sculpture of a maiden is set on a black marble plinth, positioned at the base of the stone staircase. This is dated 1937 and is inscribed ‘The Reading Girl / Bequeathed by Alderman Sir William Perring JP’. The stone staircase has a bronzed, neo-classical balustrade and teak handrail. The stairs lead to a first-floor balcony and on to offices, the viewing gallery for the large pool and the committee room. The latter room is panelled in teak with a domed ceiling and fibrous plaster frieze depicting galleons in a rough sea. The corridor leading to these rooms is panelled, with ocular windows to the large pool integrated above the side (north) gallery.

SWIMMING POOLS: the large (first class) pool is lined throughout with moulded faience with decorative swags, the balcony with curved balusters and a teak handrail. A clerestory of ocular windows in the barrel-vaulted ceiling provides natural light. The seating to the gallery has been replaced, but the wooden flooring is retained. Simple iron hooks remain fixed to the ceiling, providing evidence of the temporary flooring that could originally be lowered into place when the space would be used as an assembly hall prior to the completion of the permanent hall in 1929. The small (second-class) pool has a simple steel-truss roof with glazed sections. The tiling in this pool has been replaced.

TURKISH BATH COMPLEX AND ENTRANCE VESTIBULE: the Turkish bath complex is entered via a curved vestibule with an original inlaid marble floor, a pay booth with a service window and a part-glazed teak screen and sets of doors with brass furnishings. A set of part-glazed double doors leads through to a temperature-controlling lobby, which has chequer-tile terrazzo flooring and an original refreshment kiosk with another part-glazed screen. Most of the ground floor beyond the entrance area is occupied by the relaxation area/cooling-room, which is a double-height square space with a bordered chequer-tiled terrazzo floor and moulded faience wall tiling set under a coffered ceiling with decorative fibrous plaster work. A central staircase is set between square piers which support a groined vault. This leads down to a kidney-shaped plunge pool which is set beneath a sculpture of a ‘green woman’ holding a globe lamp. The plunge pool is of ferro-concrete construction and has original faience walls and a replacement chequer-tile floor. Simple building board has been inserted to the north and south walls where glazing was previously fitted (originally providing borrowed light for the lower floor).

On the lower-ground floor are three inter-connecting hot rooms (on the east side) which, together with the shampooing room, shower area and cooling-room, comprise the main elements of the traditional Turkish bath complex. Each of these rooms has original glazed white tiling with bands of green tiles. In the sequence of hot rooms (which incrementally rise in temperature as they progress south) are original terrazzo chequer floor tiles throughout, some tiled seating to the edges and several replacement (1920s-style) wall-mounted light fittings. The original zinc ceiling panels here have been removed. The shampooing room has two of its original marble slab tables. In addition to the usual sequence of Turkish bath elements of the complex, the Porchester Centre also has one original Russian vapour bath, opposite the entrance to the hot rooms, which has white replacement tiles to the walls and original glazed ceramic tile floor gullies. The adjacent vapour bath is a later-C20 addition. A sauna and treatment rooms (added later in the C20 in place of the former gents’ cloakrooms for the main hall) are positioned adjacent to the Russian vapour baths; no historic fittings are retained here. The WCs and shower cubicles are modern (the latter replacing original needle douche showers shown in early photographs).

PORCHESTER ROAD VESTIBULE, ENTRANCE HALL AND GRAND STAIRCASE: the main entrance hall is accessed via two sets of teak double doors with ocular windows. The entrance is served by ticket booths to either side, each with a service hatch and small counter set amongst a multi-paned screen, with fielded panels and some carved ornamental work in teak above and below. This vestibule leads through to the entrance hall, which has an inlaid marble floor with a central star motif and decorative bordering. Across the middle of the floor, parallel with the entrance doors, is a later-inserted screen with doors broadly matching those of the entrance (this separating the access to the hall entrances from the smaller assembly room and public library). At the west end of the entrance hall is a grand staircase of two straight flights which lead up to imperial stairs to the hall, all with broad marble steps, a central landing and wrought-iron and bronze balustrading. The imperial staircase is set under a large glazed dome with a chandelier. The walls are panelled with moulded faience tiling to the lower floors and inlaid marble with inset mirrors at the upper level leading to the main hall. The WCs set-off the landing of between the first and second flights of stairs retain original terrazzo floor tiling, cubicles and urinals.

ASSEMBLY ROOM: the ground-floor ancillary hall is reached on left of the main entrance hall. This has a coffered ceiling, original part-glazed teak screen with central doors and fielded oak panelling throughout.

ASSEMBLY HALL: exceptionally grand double-height rectangular hall with gallery, ante room, stage and service rooms. The hall has hardwood flooring and a tripartite coffered ceiling with modillion plaster decoration. Both the hall and its ante room have oak and figured walnut panelling throughout; with Ionic pilasters and a continuous acanthus leaf frieze to the hall. The side walls are treated as two tiers of arcading. On the north side the hall opens to an annexe area and to the south it connects to the corridor from the main stairs (with blind arcading to screen-off the central portion where the stairs descend). The gallery arches continue the arcaded effect, with classical Atlas brackets interspersed at intervals of three between the openings.

STAGE AND DRESSING ROOMS: the raised stage is lit from above by a glazed dome. The back walls of the stage have fielded oak and walnut panelling. These walls are canted, meeting in the centre where there is a carved door surround integrating the crest of Paddington supported by cherubs. This leads through to the dressing rooms and storage areas which have simple banded panelling that has been painted over.

PUBLIC LIBRARY: the original entrance at the north end of site has been blocked. The plain interior of the library is now reached via main central entrance, which retains original part-glazed teak doors and screens. The interior of the library, which has banks of shelving, desks and an issuing desk at ground-floor along with a computer suite and further shelving in the basement area, has all been thoroughly modernised.

GYM: the western end of the Queensway side of the building has been converted from the former laundry and the men’s slipper baths. This area has been comprehensively remodelled and retains no historic fittings of note relating to the former laundry and slipper baths.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the pavement to Porchester Road has a set of six cast-iron, three-armed lamp posts, with glass globes and decorative finials; all added as part of the 1927-1929 phase of work to this side of the site.

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
433581
Legacy System:
LBS

Sources

Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 3 North West, (2002), 670, 680
Marcus Binney, , Hana & Alistair Lang, , Taking the Plunge the Architecture of Bathing, (1982)
Shifrin, Malcolm, Victorian Turkish Baths, (2015)
'Paddington Baths' in The Builder, , Vol. 125, (30 November 1923), 844-846
'Paddington Central Baths' in The Builder, , Vol. 129, (14 August 1925), 246, 249-252
'Porchester Hall, Bayswater' in The Builder, , Vol. 137, (11 October 1929), 598, 615, 604-606
Other
Plans held at the London Metropolitan Archives: GLC/AR/BR/19/4249 and /3291.

Legal

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.

Date: 01 May 2004
Reference: IOE01/12196/04
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Adam Watson. Source Historic England Archive
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