De La Warr Pavilion In Bexhill
The Spiral Staircase
My favourite part of this amazing Art deco building
One town I used to really enjoy living in was Bexhill-on-sea on the coastline of East Sussex, England. I still live less than 10 miles from the town and visit as often as I can. It’s an interesting place, but being an obsessed non profit freelance photographer I found one part particular interesting and that was the De La Warr Pavilion, an iconic Art Deco Modernist building from 1935. It’s a great place to visit and like me many people photograph it. It has many great features, but none as spectacular as this spiral stairwell that connects all three floors together using this amazing staircase.
These photos were all taken by me (Dean Thorpe) at various times over the last few years and I wanted to add them to this website to share them with everybody, but they were taken with different equipment over the years and didn’t really go together. One common theme I noticed when sorting them out again was how good the Art Deco style of this part looked in black and white, so I had a play around and came up with an effect that I really liked and changed them all to match. Now I am much happier with them as a set of photos.
I really hope you enjoy these photos, I will be adding ones of the other parts of the De La Warr, so please keep checking back and if you get the chance I really do recommend visiting this incredible iconic modernist building. Entry into the building is free, they do have events on sometimes, so it’s worth checking before you visit in case there is a time to avoid or an event you might really enjoy.
The history of the De La Warr Pavilion
The Bexhill seafront building was the result of an architectural competition initiated by Herbrand Sackville, 9th Earl De La Warr, after whom the building was named.
The 9th Earl, a committed socialist and Mayor of Bexhill, persuaded Bexhill council to develop the site as a public building. The competition was announced in the Architects' Journal in February 1934, with a programme that specified an entertainment hall to seat at least 1500 people; a 200-seat restaurant; a reading room; and a lounge. Initially, the budget for the project was limited to £50,000, although this was later raised to £80,000. Run by the Royal Institute of British Architects, this competition attracted over 230 entrants, many of them practising in the Modernist style.
The architects selected for the project, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, were leading figures in the Modern Movement. The aesthetics employed in the International Style proved especially suited to the building, tending towards streamlined, industrially-influenced designs, often with expansive metal-framed windows, and eschewing traditional brick and stonework in favour of concrete and steel construction. Amongst the building's most innovative features was its use of a welded steel frame construction, pioneered by structural engineer Felix Samuely. Construction of the De La Warr Pavilion began in January 1935. The building was opened on 12 December of the same year by the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth).
During World War II, the De La Warr Pavilion was used by the military. Bexhill and Sussex in general were vulnerable if the Germans decided to mount an invasion (Operation Sea Lion). Amongst those who served at the Pavilion during the War was Spike Milligan, later a noted comedian. The building suffered minor damage to its foundations when the Metropole hotel adjacent to the building's western side was destroyed by German bombers.
After the War, management of the Pavilion was taken over by Bexhill Corporation (which later became Rother District Council). In the 1970s and 1980s, changes were made to the building, many of which were inconsistent with its original design and aesthetic. Lack of funds also resulted in an ongoing degradation of the building’s fabric. It was used as a venue for indoor car boot sales and the exterior lost its original signage.
In 1986, the De La Warr Pavilion was granted a Grade I listed Building status, essentially protecting the building from further inappropriate alteration. 1989 saw the formation of the Pavilion Trust, a group dedicated to protecting and restoring the building. Playwright David Hare notioned that the site be used as an art gallery as opposed to an expected privatised redevelopment. In 2002, after a long application process the De La Warr Pavilion was granted £6 Million by the Heritage Lottery Fund & the Arts Council, to restore the building and turn it into a contemporary arts centre. Work began in 2004 on the De La Warr Pavilion’s regeneration and a transfer of the buildings ownership from Rother District Council to the De La Warr Pavilion Charitable Trust. In 2005, after an 18 month long extensive programme of restoration, the De La Warr Pavilion reopened as a contemporary arts centre, encompassing one of the largest galleries on the south coast of England.
A small collection of archival materials related to the De La Warr Pavilion is collected in the Serge Chermayeff Papers held by the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University in New York City
This information was all taken from:
Location of the De La Warr Pavilion
Address: De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, TN40 1DP