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Tag Archives: A History of Visitors & Settlers

  • 'Tecton buildings' in Historic England: The Black Country by Andrew Homer

    Unique Images from the Archives of Historic England

    The Black Country is home to a remarkable set of buildings created in the Modernist style by Russian born Berthold Lubetkin and his Tecton group in the 1930s. Historic England: The Black Country includes a whole chapter on the Tecton buildings which form part of Dudley Zoo and Castle. Pictures from the Historic England Archive show the Tecton buildings in their prime having been taken just a few years after they were completed in 1937. One building out of the original thirteen, the Penguin Pool, has not survived as salt water reacted badly with the concrete.

    The iconic front entrance and fully restored 1950’s chair lift. (Author's collection)

    The Tecton group of young architects had been formed in 1932 to explore ‘modern architecture’. The Dudley Zoo commission came about when the third Earl of Dudley, William Humble Eric Ward, formed a partnership with the wealthy Marsh family and Captain Frank Cooper. The Earl of Dudley had a private exotic animal collection and Captain Cooper was a co-owner of the recently closed Oxford Zoo. The group had access to stock for the new zoo and looked for an architect. At the time of its opening in 1937 it was described as ‘the most modern in Europe, a zoo without bars’. The Tecton group had already worked on commissions for London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo. The Penguin Pool at London Zoo completed in 1934 being of particular note.

     

     

     

    The Bear Ravine built into the existing hillside before restoration. (Author's collection)

    The buildings exploited the use of a new building material, pre-stressed concrete reinforced with tensioned steel rods, which enabled the iconic curves and sweeps of the structures to be achieved. The buildings were constructed with the help of a young Danish structural engineer, Ove Arup. Visitors were able to view the animals roaming freely rather than through the bars of a cage. Paradoxically, as far as the animals were concerned, the structures created for them were far from being appropriate environments. Virtually no effort had been expended towards recreating the features of the animal’s natural environment. Indeed, the purpose was to give the maximum number of entrance fee paying customers a view of the animals unrestricted by the bars of a cage.

     

     

     

    The Tecton set of buildings includes two ice-cream kiosks, sadly no longer fit for purpose. (Author's collection)

    Nevertheless, the architectural merits of the Castle Hill site cannot be ignored. The Tecton group designed the buildings to fit in with the natural environment of the hillside below Dudley Castle. This approach is exemplified by the impressive Bear Ravine. Built into an existing ravine the building gave visitors an unrestricted view of the whole enclosure. The building was so badly in need of restoration that it was on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register but to date has been fully restored to its former glory. Twelve of the original Tecton buildings survive but some are still in desperate need of refurbishment.

     

     

     

     

     

    The Queen Mary Ballroom designed to resemble an ocean liner. (Author's collection)

    As well as animal enclosures the Tecton group of buildings include the original entrance consisting of five interlocking curves of concrete, cafés, kiosks, and the Queen Mary Ballroom built to resemble an ocean liner. In 2010 the remaining set of twelve buildings were added to the World Monuments Fund Watch List. The good news is that Heritage Lottery funding worth £1.15 million pounds was secured to fund restoration work on some of the buildings. These included the Bear Ravine, the front entrance, Safari shop and one of the kiosks. That the Tecton buildings at Dudley were added to the World Monuments Fund Watch list is testament to their architectural value and extreme rarity.

    Andrew Homer's new book Historic England: The Black Country is available for purchase now.

  • The Chinese in Britain by Barclay Price

    A History of Visitors & Settlers

    The Chinese Magicians, Drury Lane, 1854. (Public domain, The Chinese in Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the earliest Chinese to travel to Britain were Chinese Jugglers. Although described as jugglers, their acts also included acrobatics and magic. The first recorded troupe arrived in 1816 and were well received; ‘The Nobility, Gentry and Public in general, are most respectfully informed that The Chinese Jugglers continue to exhibit their wonderful performances every day, and to attract numerous spectators; many of whom do not tire of repeatedly witnessing the astonishing feats of these foreigners.’

    In 1818, the troupe had an unusual booking in London when they performed in the nude at a Royal Academy lecture on the naked figure. ‘Some have been so illiberal as to censure such exhibitions at the Royal Academy, but this extraordinary display of the muscles in forms and uses never before beheld, was a circumstance of the utmost service to Artists; it was a display that might never again appear in Europe; the actions of an African, at the Academy, had surprised them, those of the Indian Jugglers had astonished them, but the present ones surpassed all belief or power of description. The Chinese Jugglers then, performed their positions, and the distortions of their extremities surpassed everything that could have been conceived of them. The room was immensely crowded; the applause at the conclusion was general.’

    In 1853, another troupe included Tuck Guy whose knife-throwing trick was a standout of the show; ‘Placing his daughter, a prepossessing girl of about thirteen years of age, at one end of the stage, and causing her to stand with her back against some soft wood, her hands expanded and her fingers separated, he retires to distance. A parcel of very large knives are produced, he picks them up one after another, and, apparently without taking aim, or occupying any time in preparation, slings them recklessly at the child. With wonder amounting to amazement the spectator perceives that every knife has been aimed in the most accurate manner, and that they have been planted one between each of the girl’s fingers, one on each side of her cheek, and others close around her neck, but that not one has grazed her skin, though all have entered deeply into the wall behind her. This unique and unrivalled specimen of sharp practice—if it may be so termed—was well deserving of the applause which was elicited.’

    James Legge and the three students who attended Duchess of Gordon’s school in Huntly in 1846, engraving by J. Cochran after painting by Henry Room. (Public domain, The Chinese in Britain, Amberley Publishing)

    The Victorians also delighted in exhibitions of human ‘freaks’ and in 1864 James ‘Marquis’ Chisholm, a Scottish musician, was touring in China and noticed Chang Yu Sing. Chang was not a man easy to miss as he was at least 7 foot 8 inches in height and Chisholm saw a money-making opportunity.  He convinced Chang to travel with him to Britain, along with a dwarf, Chung-Mow. Chang the Giant and Chung-Mow were exhibited to great success at The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly accompanied by Chisholm playing his specially composed The Great Chang Polka. Chang swiftly gained star status. He was invited to meet the Prince and Princess of Wales at Marlborough House and at the request of the royal children, wrote his name in Chinese characters on the wall at a height of ten feet from the ground. He later toured to America and Australia, as well as within Britain, and he settled in Bournemouth, where he and his wife, Kitty, ran a tearoom and an 'Oriental Bazaar' selling Chinese curios.

    The Chinese in Britain offers a fascinating portrayal of these and the many other Chinese travellers to Britain since the first in 1687, including seamen, students, cooks, brides, diplomats, servants, sportsmen, bureaucrats and writers. As China becomes a pre-eminent world power again in the twenty-first century, this book uncovers our long relationship with the country and its people.

    Barclay Price's new book The Chinese in Britain is available for purchase now.

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