Please help us save the most hopeful building in Britain!
The Church of St Andrews, Barrow Hill in Derbyshire will close this month and, despite a groundswell of community interest in saving the building and its contents, its future appears bleak. Despite three attempts spread over ten years and support from Chesterfield Borough Council, Historic England have refused to recognise its importance because of its ‘modest’ design. It is true that this brick-built working class church is modest because the community that paid for it were miners and steel workers.
But this was the design test best for two giants of the Garden City movement, Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker. Their contribution to working class housing was even more monumental, and it’s what they learned about the appalling conditions in Derbyshire mining villages that fuelled their commitment for a beautiful home for everyone regardless of their income. We believe that St Andrew’s marks a critical moment in both their partnership and the evolution of Raymond Unwin from mining engineer to outstanding exponent of the Arts and Craft tradition. It was a building that they both put their heart and soul into, even making the internal fixtures. It is vital that Historic England lists St Andrews, and that we all support the local community in finding a fitting legacy to this extraordinary heritage asset.
The Historical Significance of Unwin and Parker
The English Heritage Publication ‘English Garden Cities’ (Miller 2010) sets out powerfully the shared and unique contribution of Unwin and Parker. They, above all figures in the Garden City movement, translated high ideals into practical action on grand scale. This was not simply through individual design and master plans, but in their contribution to founding the modern town planning system and to housing design standards. Miller points to the influence of the joint publication ‘The Art of building a Home’ (1901) and to Unwin’s critical shaping of the Tudor Walters Report (1919) which transformed the design approach of the 1.8 million working class homes built in the inter-war period.
Unwin and Parker’s work had an overtly political purpose to provide working class communities with high quality design and amenities inspired originally by Ruskin’s notion of the positive effect of good surroundings on the human well-being. They also advocated the co-ownership housing model, and Unwin’s ‘Nothing Gained by overcrowding’ (1912) made an economic as well as social case for houses with decent gardens. The TCPA believes these two figures deserve to be recognised as the most influential planning and design partnership of the 20th century.
The heart of the case for listing hangs on the significance of St Andrew’s in the development of Unwin and his partnership with Parker. It is clear that St Andrew’s is ‘The earliest work of Parker and Unwin’ (Pevsner 1978). Unwin and Parker’s personal relationship was founded in family ties (they were half cousins) but St Andrew’s, which involved both design (Unwin) and manufacture of detailed internal features (Parker) marks the first practical design collaboration between them.
A real sign of the significance which they themselves ascribed to the building is the fact that they ‘meticulously preserved’ the plans for St Andrew’s throughout their professional lives.
St Andrew’s marks the transformation of Unwin from a mining engineer with no formal architectural training into one of England’s most renowned architect planners. Unwin worked as chief designer at Staveley Coal and Iron Company from 1887 until he established the architectural practice with Parker a decade later. His role as designer increased form 1890 when he began to design whole villages of bye law housing built with minimum cost. Each community was also provided with a range of community buildings from welfare to sports clubs and churches. Arkwright Town and Poolsbrook have now been demolished but some of Unwin’s terraces survive at Warsop Vale. While further research is ongoing it appears that St Andrew’s is the only surviving example of an Unwin and Parker designed community building from this early period (1878 to 1896). While Parker was the most immediate influence on Unwin he was also transformed through his meeting with Edward Carpenter whose house, just north of Chesterfield, was a crucible for idealists and architects.
The TCPA strongly urges Historic England to reconsider the decision not to list St Andrew’s. We continue to believe that there is an overwhelming case for such a designation not solely on the grounds of intrinsic architectural value but in relation to the iconic role these building plays in the formative development of two of the greatest figures in the British and international Garden City movement. If you have time to send an email please contact Historic England.
Please write to the CEO of Historic England Duncan Wilson here.
 M. Day British town planning the Formative years ( A Sutcliffe ed.) 1981 St Martin’s Press