I have always been intrigued when reading stories about incidents where ‘lost’ music tapes of top recording artists, are discovered collecting dust in someone’s loft or attic at some obscure location.
Well –“London Shoes” has had its own experience of this scenario this week, when a never published ‘lost’ blog was discovered whilst conducting a ‘spring clean’ of the ‘Shoes’ archives.
The blog in question was undertaken way back in sunny June 2017, at a time when ‘London Shoes’ was still in its infancy, having only started its life some 4 months earlier.
Anyway – just like an old Beatles, or any other famous band’s ‘lost’ recordings, I felt it was only right to resurrect this ‘lost’ London Shoes blog, and give it the ‘life’ it deserves, alongside all the others that have been published.
So – the subject matter of this ‘lost’ blog is one ‘Charles Holden’ – a man who has left us with an everlasting legacy of work, that ‘all’ of us, whether we be Londoners or just visitors to this magnificent city, will viewed and touched at some stage in our everyday lives.
Charles Holden – 1875 – 1960 :
Born in Bolton in 1875, Charles Henry Holden endured a tough childhood. His father went bankrupt and his mum died when he was just eight years old.
Charles Holden’s first jobs were as a railway store clerk and then as a chemical laboratory assistant. He then moved on to work as a trainee ‘articles clerk’ with a reputable Manchester architects EW Leeson , a role which enabled him to continue his studies at the Manchester School of Art – where he became their star pupil.
Having graduated from the Manchester School of Art, Holden went in to design and architecture for employment.
He soon became a partner of a prominent and very successful architectural business ‘Adams, Holden and Pearson’, which continued to operate right up until the 1970’s.
Charles Holden’s earliest architectural design works were for gothic type hospital constructions, many of which are still around today.
He was also commissioned the prestigious job of designing many of the WW1 war graves in France.
In 1923 Charles Holden experienced a break in his fortune that saw his name rise to prominence within the design industry – when Frank Pick, the then general manager of the ‘Underground Electric Railways Company of London’ (later to become London Transport and now Transport for London), commissioned Holden to re-design the interior of Westminster Tube Station.
At that time Holden had absolutely no experience whatsoever in designing for the transport industry, but by using the simple modernist styles he had used for his war graves work – he created a completely new style of tube station ticket hall that was constructed of Portland stone, with walls covered with ceramic tiling.
The ticket office fixtures and fittings and the customer signage was all designed to display the Underground Railway ‘roundel’ of the time.
Following the favourable feedback received from the public regarding his transformation of Westminster tube station, Frank Pick then commissioned Charles Holden to provide the same sort of design for the interior of “Piccadilly Circus” tube station, and the interior and exterior of “Clapham” tube station.
By the late 1920’s Charles Holden had been responsible for the redesign of a number of tubes station within what is now known as the Northern Line.
The ‘Underground Electric Railways Company of London’ were so impressed with his work that in 1926 they commissioned him to design a new headquarters for them at ’55 Broadway’ above St James Park tube station. When finished, this building was one of London’s most talked about constructions because of its design and structure – its art deco style interior, and the fact that it was clad in Portland stone.
In 1930, London Underground (as it was known as then) was planning extensions of the Piccadilly Line to the west, north-west and north of London, and a new type of station was wanted – and Charles Holden was again called upon to be responsible for their design.
For these stations Holden created simple designs consisting of cylinders, curves and rectangles that were built in plain brick, concrete and glass.
The extensions to the Piccadilly Line crossed over existing routes operated by the Underground network, and as a result a number of stations had to be rebuilt to accommodate additional tracks.
Sudbury Town in west London was the first station to be rebuilt in 1931, and its design went on to form a template for many of the other new stations that followed.
All in all, Charles Holden used his simplistic ‘box’ or ‘cylindrical’ designs, with a ‘lid’ on top – to adapt up to 39 tube stations throughout the 1930’s and into the early 40’s – the majority of which are still in use today and are now Grade 1 and Grade 2 ‘listed’.
In 1933 the ‘Underground Electric Railways Company of London’ became ‘London Transport’ and Charles Holden’s designs were used to also transform tram/bus stops and shelters.
Holden’s very last pieces of work for London Transport were the art-deco designs for Wanstead and Gants Hill tube stations on the then recently extended Central Line extensions.
In 1932 – because of the success of the London Transport Head office building at 55 Broadway, Holden was commissioned to design ‘Senate House’ for the University of London, near Russell Square.
At the time, the design of this 29 story building was unique, and it was (right up until 1957) the tallest building in London – and like the London Transport Head Office building, it was clad in Portland stone.
Charles Holden died in 1960. His body was cremated at Enfield crematorium and a memorial service was held at St Pancras New Church, where Holden had designed the altar in 1914.
So – for a boy from a poor background, who did not have the best of starts in life – this shy, unassuming, teetotal vegetarian, certainly made his mark on London, that left future generations with a legacy of work that millions of people use and observe to this very day, and scenery that has become a backdrop to the lives of Londoners and visitors to this wonderful City.
Interestingly, during his lifetime, Charles Holden turned down 2 offers of a Knighthood – because, in his opinion, he felt strongly that architecture/design should be viewed as a collaborative activity ‘by the people, for the people’.
So – having travelled the length & breadth of the tube network tracking down the late great Charles Holden’s work – and before heading off for home, I dropped into “The Feathers” pub, directly opposite the old London Transport Head Office, and Charles Holden designed ’55 Broadway’ in Westminster, for a quick ‘cheeky’ beer.
There has been a pub in or around this site since the late 1700’s – and ‘The Feathers’ itself, first appears on a London street map, as far back as 1869 – and as with all remaining London pubs from the Victorian era, there are still a number of the original fixtures & fittings within the building that help create a cosy vibe.
The photos accompanying this piece provide a ‘journey’ through just some of Holden’s work – which I hope you find interesting.