Pilkington Brothers’ Headquarters, St. Helens (1955-65)
Despite a series of important commissions on home soil, Fry and Drew’s post-war work in Britain is often sidelined due to a historical narrative focused on the second generation of MARS (Modern Architectural Research) Group modernists. A forthcoming article examining Maxwell Fry’s scheme for the glass manufacturers Pilkington Brothers’ new headquarters in St. Helens, seeks to shed light on Fry and Drew’s post-war projects.
The Pilkington commission was Fry and Drew’s first ‘prestige’ building for corporate clients in Britain (although they had built several overseas for BP, Shell and the Co-operative Bank). In the wake of the Pilkington project, offices for Gulf Oil Company, Dow Agro Chemicals and Rolls Royce quickly followed, thus enabling Fry, Drew & Partners to establish itself as an expert in modern, corporate architecture.
The project’s sizeable budget and enlightened clients – who saw themselves as patrons to the British art and design scene – allowed Fry to assemble a sixteen-strong collective of artists to design twenty-four artworks. Including work by Victor Pasmore, Edward Bawden, John Hutton, Robert Goodden, Humphrey Spender, and Avinash Chandra, the headquarters house an outstanding collection of post-war applied art – a secular counterpart to Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral.
The new headquarters opened for business on 31st August 1965, providing 1,500 employees with the latest in modern working conditions. Extensive social and welfare facilities for staff included a canteen, a medical centre (including a dentist, an optician and a chiropodist), a hairdresser, a library, and a museum, telling the history of glassmaking. The landscaped grounds with the ‘works water’ reservoir – complete with a pair of swans – was intended for use by both the Pilkington staff and St. Helens community.
The complex was sold off around ten years ago, although some 200 Pilkington staff remain with independent companies leasing the remaining office space. The canteen building (above and shown in this previous post), is currently unoccupied and in a bad state, but is apparently now being stripped of its asbestos linings for future re-use.
Did you work for Pilkington Brothers at the new offices on Prescot Road? Do you remember when the building opened? Did you help build the new headquarters? We’d love to hear from anyone with connections to the company and learn more about its significance for the people of St. Helens.
The article ‘A Monument to Humanism: Pilkington Brothers’ Headquarters (1955-65) by Fry, Drew & Partners’, by Jessica Holland and Iain Jackson, will be published in this year’s Architectural History journal.