6 Boscawen Street listing application
Response from Historic England
An application has been received to consider the former WH Smith (currently a travel agents), 6 Boscawen Street in Truro for listing. A planning application was submitted in April 2018 for a single-storey extension to give independent access to the upper storeys of the building and to create new window openings at first and second-floor levels in the north and west elevations. The original decision date was 14 June, but we understand that an extension to 17 July has been requested. The building is situated within the Truro Conservation Area.
HISTORY/DETAILS 6 Boscawen Street was erected on the site of an earlier building in 1963 for WH Smith. It was designed by Truro-based John Crowther Architects; the project architect was Giles Blomfield. It was perhaps Cornwall’s leading private practice during the 1950s and 1960s, and Crowther won four Cornwall Design Awards during his career, as well as the Civic Trust Award for Cornwall for Martin's Bank (1958-1959), 4 Boscawen Street. The WH Smith building occupies a prominent corner position at the junction of Boscawen Street and Lower Lemon Street. It has four storeys; the uppermost floor being smaller, and a basement, with a narrow yard on the east side. It has a structural steel frame and a felt-covered flat roof, with a parapet to part of the Lower Lemon Street elevation. The upper floors to the two street elevations are treated as a single unit and are clad with textured, split-faced, tessellated tiles; those to Lower Lemon Street are divided into five panels (the left-hand panel being wider) by narrow, vertical channels, and are windowless. They have been described as ‘floating above’ (Pevsner, 2014) the ground floor. Problems with corrosion in the steel frame and some damage to the tiles resulted in the addition of a wide, horizontal band of render above ground-floor level along both principal elevations to rectify these issues. The ground floor of the Boscawen Street elevation has a tile-clad pilaster to left, and a display window and a recessed entrance with a pair of glazed aluminium doors of 2004. The side return has early-C21 large plate-glass display windows with broad aluminium mullions, and a tile-clad pilaster to the far right. Significant alterations were carried out at ground-floor level in 2004. The entire shop front was replaced; the entrance into the store was re-positioned further to the right to create the large display window; the tile cladding on the structural column at the corner of the building was removed and was reclad in MDF; and the slate floor of the entrance lobby was replaced with ceramic tiles. At the same time the display windows to the Lower Historic England (Designation) Reject at Initial Assessment Report 15 June 2018 Page 2 of 3 Lemon Street elevation were also renewed; a recessed fire door was removed and replaced by glazing; and a stallriser was added. New fascia signs were also added over the existing ones. The rear (south and east) elevations are rendered and the windows are metal framed; the rear alley has a galvanised steel spiral staircase. The applicant provided little information regarding the interior but we have not been informed that it contains any notable fittings.
DISCUSSION Buildings are assessed for listing in accordance with the Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings (March 2010); they are therefore assessed on the basis of their architectural and historic interest, and particularly careful selection is required for buildings from after 1945. Historic England’s Listing Selection Guide for Commerce and Exchange Buildings (December 2017) also notes that selectivity is important by virtue of the high numbers of existing shops and the degree of standardisation in their design. It also draws attention to the fact that intact modern retail architecture of note is surprisingly rare, and that it is important to identify examples. In addition the special interest may sometimes be concentrated in a single aspect of a building (such as a shop front or fine interior) and this needs to be identified at the designation stage. Front elevations can sometimes be sufficiently interesting or rare architecturally to warrant listing, even if the interior has been substantially altered or even lost. Structural alterations and change are intrinsic factors when considering commercial buildings and allowance must be made for this. 6 Boscawen Street has an accomplished and architecturally-distinctive design; its stark, windowless upper floors contrasting with the more traditional ground-floor shop front and glazing. As such, it is the ultimate in minimal post-war shop design - a recognition that maximum glazing was needed for the ground-floor retail area and none on the upper storeys which were primarily for storage, although part of the first floor was intended from the outset to include a retail space. However, the design is so minimal that any change will dilute the impact of the original design. Although some alteration is to be expected with a retail premises, the loss of the original shop front and the replacement of the ground-floor display windows at 6 Boscawen Street have adversely affected the architectural interest of the original design. For a shop of this date the glazing would need to be unaltered for the building to be listable. The emphasis on vertical lines in the exterior composition, as noted by the applicant, has also been negatively affected by the replacement windows to the ground floor of the Lower Lemon Street elevation. Here, the window mullions originally aligned with the narrow channels that divide the upper floors into bays to create vertical rhythm from ground level to parapet level on this elevation. The current mullions, however, not only have a broader profile, but do not align with the channels above. This has significantly reduced the vertical emphasis of the composition, which has been further weakened by the continuous, wide band of render that was added above the fascias in 2016. Based on the information provided and with reference to the Principles of Selection and the Listing Selection Guides, 6 Boscawen House, a shop building of 1963 by John Crowther Architects, is not recommended for listing for the following principal reasons: Degree of architectural interest: * the design is so minimal that the ground-floor alterations, namely the replacement of the original shop front and all display windows, have significantly compromised the integrity and architectural interest of the original composition; * the re-positioning of the mullions on the early-C21 display windows on the west elevation and the addition of a wide band of render above the fascias have adversely affected the strong rhythm and vertical emphasis of the exterior. CONCLUSION Although 6 Boscawen Street is not considered to meet the strict criteria for listing post-war commercial buildings, it has very strong local interest as an unusual and visually-striking building from possibly Cornwall’s leading private architectural practice at the time. As such it makes a strong and important contribution to the character of the conservation area.