Public library, built 1963-5, designed by Donald McMorran of McMorran and Whitby.
Reasons for Designation
Suffolk Record Office, built 1963-5, designed by Donald McMorran of McMorran and Whitby, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as a refined historicist post-war design by an accomplished architect, Donald McMorran, of the significant post-war architectural partnership, McMorran and Whitby; the Soanean qualities and central lantern are particularly noteworthy;
* Degree of survival: the design survives well, as do the original interior furniture, fittings and facilities including parquet floors and an elegant stair hall;
* Group value: for the strong group value the library holds through proximity with nearby listed buildings, the scheduled remains of Bury St Edmund’s Abbey, and the registered gardens of the Abbey.
A library headquarters was first proposed as part of a new complex of county offices in Bury St Edmunds in 1954. In 1956, however, the County Architect John Crease reported that he did not have the staff to produce designs and recommended that a private architect be commissioned. Councillor Miss Doris Pleydell-Bouverie insisted on the formation of a sub-committee and consultation with the Royal Fine Arts Committee. This reported in April 1957 that as the council would have little control over a competition, it should select an architect (in consultation with the President of the RIBA) on the basis of his existing work and experience of public buildings. The President of the RIBA responded in June with the suggestion that the style of building required would influence his recommendations; the councillors asked for a list of traditional architects and of those who had designed in the modern style. The site, extending from the south-east perimeter of the extensive Cathedral grounds, was a sensitive location on which to erect a number of major new buildings, and this was undoubtedly the reason why a more conservative, rather than overly Modernist solution, was sought. In October the sub-committee reported that it had looked at the sketches and particulars of the work of eight architects, and had visited buildings in London and Cambridge by John Brandon-Jones, Jackson and Edmonds, and Donald Hank McMorran. The Sub-Committee recommended in 1958 that McMorran be appointed to prepare a preliminary report on the provision of a council chamber and office accommodation, including a library.
In 1960, the scheme was revised to provide a police station (built in 1962-4), a library (built in 1963-5), and a scaled-down version of the council offices (built in 1966-8, and converted to a hotel in 2014). The buildings were to be developed piecemeal as the sites became available, and site clearance began in August 1962 for the police headquarters. The police headquarters was a simple scheme of four buildings arranged in a square: the police station at the front, facing the main road, with three minor buildings (garages, boiler house and workshops) concealed behind. Built of handmade Leicestershire bricks with Portland stone dressings, the block was completed in 1964 at a cost of £173,550.
There was already a small library in the town, on Angel Hill, run by the borough council. The new library building was to be a headquarters for the county service, with a public library, large reserve book store, a council chamber, and garaging for mobile vans. Delays were occasioned from the first by the difficulty the council experienced in securing a government loan for its offices, and the library was not designed until 1960. As the future of the authority as an independent county came increasingly into question, a smaller scheme was prepared without the council chamber intended at the west end. Work began in 1963 and the building opened in May 1965. On local government reorganisation in 1974 it became a branch of the County Record Office.
Working drawings finally began to be prepared for the council office block in June 1963, and a revised scheme was called for in June 1964. McMorran died in 1965, and following a series of revisions, the work was brought to completion by his partner George Whitby in February 1968. The council offices were converted to hotel accommodation in 2014.
Donald McMorran (1904-65) was an English architect, who is best known for his designs in the neo-Georgian style, built in the period after the Second World War. His work is seen to reflect the influence of John Soane, with handsomely proportioned facades and minimal classical detail. McMorran trained at Regent Street Polytechnic while working for Horace Farquharson and E Vincent Harris, and like them developed a career based almost exclusively on public buildings. Many civic schemes associated with McMorran appear on the National Heritage List for England, including Hammersmith Police Station, built 1939 (Grade II); The Phoenix School, London, built 1951-2 (Grade II*); Sydenham Community Hall, Lewisham, built 1955-7 (Grade II); and Devon County Hall, built 1958-64 (Grade II*). McMorran is also associated with a number of listed housing schemes in London, including those at Wood Field and Barn Field in Camden, built 1947-9, and Lammas Green in Lewisham, built 1955-7, each listed at Grade II. While McMorran designed many police buildings and council offices, the Record Office at Bury St Edmunds is his only public library.
Public library, built 1963-5, designed by Donald McMorran of McMorran and Whitby.
MATERIALS: brown Leicestershire brick laid in English bond, with Portland stone dressings. Welsh slate roof and timber cupola to apex of roof.
PLAN: rectangular in plan, with a central five-bay two-storey block over a basement, flanked to the north and south by a single-bay single-storey pavilion. Shallow-pitched hipped roof to the central block, gabled to the west, with a square-plan cupola to the junction of the slopes. The single-storey pavilions each have a flat roof.
EXTERIOR: the front (east) elevation is a symmetrical five-bay two-storey facade, with a semi-basement and a single-storey pavilion to the north and south ends. The roof is shallow-pitched and hipped, with a Welsh slate covering and a glazed timber cupola to the apex. The single-storey pavilions each have a flat roof. The walls are constructed of brown Leicestershire brick laid in English bond, with Portland stone dressings to the cornice, first floor sills, ground floor lintels and sill course, plinth course, and to the parapet of the single-storey pavilions. The front elevation has five bays of square-headed eight-over-eight pane timber sash windows to the first and ground floors, and segmental-arched openings and recessed windows to the basement level. The single-storey pavilions each have a blind niche to the front elevation. The central entrance has a camber-arched Portland stone surround, and a recessed nine-pane glazed timber door under a camber-headed overlight. The north and south elevations each have six bays of square-headed eight-over-eight pane timber sash windows to the first floor and seven bays of camber-headed tripartite sash windows to the ground floor pavilions, each bay flanked by round-headed blind niches. The central bay of the south elevation contains a recessed double-leaf half-glazed timber-panelled door, with a plain segmental overlight. The rear (west) elevation does not have any openings and shows unfinished brickwork at its quoins, where the intended council chamber and garage were not completed. The rear elevation is therefore of considerably lesser special interest than the front and side elevations.
INTERIOR: the building is entered from the east elevation. The entrance hall retains an original timber dado rail and timber grille on its north and south walls; the grille represents part of the original heating system (no longer in use due to the presence of asbestos). A flight of five Portland stone steps spans the width of the entrance hall, and leads to a stair on the west wall, which rises to a half-landing and turns 180 degrees to the first floor. It is composed of timber treads, with metal oval ring balusters and plain metal newel-posts under a plain timber handrail. To the north, off the entrance hall, is a ground floor reading room, which retains its early character, and contains an original parquet floor. A public service room and three toilets are located to the north of the reading room and to the west is a large storage area, and a corridor with an original parquet floor which leads south to the entrance of the south elevation. To the east of the corridor is a public lecture room, which contains an original parquet floor, and recent rectangular panelling on the east wall. Also east off the corridor is a concrete stair to the basement, with a plain but elegant metal handrail. The basement does not contain any features of interest. To the west of the corridor is a staff office and kitchen.
At first floor level, the landing encircles the stair well bounded by metal oval ring balusters and plain metal newel-posts under a plain timber handrail. The original parquet floor survives and a pyramidal ceiling rising to the cupola at its apex. The first floor reading room is located to the west of the stair and landing, and is accessed by two replacement glazed doors with plain segmental overlights and sidelights. The reading room retains original fixtures and fittings, including its parquet floor and fitted book cases. The reception desks have been recently replaced. To the east and south of the landing are offices, each retaining the parquet floor, and some containing original fitted bookcases and cupboards.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the front (east) entrance is accessed by way of a paved platform, with a flight of ten Portland stone steps rising from the north, and is bounded to the east by metal balusters and a handrail. There are two flights of Portland stone steps to the south-east corner, providing access from the road east of the building to the car park to the south of building. The stone paving continues along the length of the south elevation.