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Former Tilling-Stevens Factory, Maidstone

Description: Former Tilling-Stevens Factory

Grade: II
Date Listed: 17 February 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1408072

OS Grid Reference: TQ7560456110
OS Grid Coordinates: 575602, 156110
Latitude/Longitude: 51.2771, 0.5163

Locality: Maidstone
Local Authority: Maidstone Borough Council
County: Kent
Country: England
Postcode: ME14 1JU

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Listing Text


This former motor vehicle factory was built in 1917 by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, in collaboration with Truscon, for Tilling-Stevens Ltd. It is an example of a factory designed using the Kahn Daylight System. The various sheds which adjoin the factory building to the south are not of special interest.

Reason for Listing

The former Tilling-Stevens factory, 1917 by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, in collaboration with Truscon, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: the building is the earliest surviving by the practice of Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, the foremost factory architects of the inter-war period; it is also one of few surviving examples of their early Daylight factories not to have undergone significant alteration;
* Technical interest: the building is one of few surviving examples of a group of English factories built using the Kahn Daylight System, an adaptable, efficient and influential system of factory building, developed in America for the construction of automotive factories;
* Architectural interest: the front elevation of this imposing building employs the compositional devices and decorative motifs which became synonymous with the work of Wallis, Gilbert and Partners; the powerful rationality of its other elevations expresses the modern approach to industrial architecture that its design, construction and layout embodies.


In 1916 Thomas Wallis (1872-1953) founded the architectural practice of Wallis, Gilbert and Partner (becoming Wallis, Gilbert and Partners the following year). In the early years of the practice it worked in close collaboration with Trussed Concrete Steel Limited (Truscon). Truscon's proprietary system of concrete reinforcement had been developed by the Kahn family, who had set up Truscon to exploit the system in America; an English branch of the company formed in 1907. In America the Kahn system had been applied to the creation of a particular model of factory design which was based on a regular grid of column, beam and slab, in which the concrete frame was fully exposed, and the external walls were glass-filled, it was called the 'Kahn Daylight System' of factory design. The best known and most influential American example is Henry Ford's Highland Park Ford Plant, Michigan, designed and built in 1908 by Albert Kahn. Truscon built several Daylight factories in Britian prior to the partnership with Wallis, Gilbert and Partners (including three in Scotland), but the only English one known to survive in anything like original condition is Enterprise House, Hayes, of 1912, listed Grade II.

Together, Wallis, Gilbert and Partners and Truscon designed and constructed of a number of Daylight factories in England, of which the Tilling-Stevens factory is the earliest surviving. Wallis Gilbert and Partners went on to great success as an architectural practice, designing many factories and commercial buildings in the interwar period. One of their best known works is the Grade II* listed former Hoover Factory (1932-35) in Ealing.

Tilling-Stevens Ltd was formed in 1915 after WA Stevens, inventor of the petrol-electric motor, met Richard Tilling of Thomas Tilling Ltd, London's oldest omnibus operator (established 1847). The men recognised the potential for petrol-electric transmission in motorised buses, and the companies went into partnership together, manufacturing their own vehicles. New premises were added to Stevens' Maidstone works (known as the Victoria Works) in 1912, and following the formation of Tilling-Stevens Limited the works were enlarged again with the construction of the Wallis Gilbert and Partners factory in 1917 to accommodate production for war requirements.

The original design for the factory was a five-storey hollow rectangle, with a central, glazed, single-storey space within the well, which would contain part of the assembly shop. It was designed to be built in stages, with the south and west sides of the rectangle shown on the plans as 'future extension' (J Skinner 1997, 50). It is thought likely that the decision only to build the north and east sides of the rectangle was taken at an early stage, as the attic storey is centred over the existing front elevation. The factory was designed so as to accommodate all the various manufacturing processes in a downward flow through the building, each level being linked by electric lifts. Power was supplied to work stations by shafted over-head motors suspended from the beams.

In the early 1950s Tilling-Stevens was taken over by the Rootes Group, which was itself taken over in the mid-1960s by Chrysler (UK) Ltd; the Tilling-Stevens factory closed in 1975.


The factory is constructed of a regular reinforced concrete grid, expressed throughout the exterior of the building; the front elevation, also of concrete, is dressed to present a classically-styled composition to the street.

MATERIALS: the building is composed of a grid of exposed horizontal and vertical reinforced concrete members, which divide the building into 20' by 20' bays; on the outer faces of the building the bays are in-filled with panels of red brick and glazing. The original windows were multi-light steel casements however these have almost universally been replaced with uPVC casements.

PLAN: the building is five storeys high with a small attic storey. The factory floor is L-shaped in plan; the core is 3 bays wide by 16 bays deep, with a perpendicular wing to the rear, 3 bays wide by 3 deep, extending southwards. Another 3 bay by 3 bay wing projects to the north, which contains the main goods lift and stair; this was where the services and amenities for the building were housed. The front of the building is an additional two bays wide to the north, providing a vehicular access at street level. A roadway runs from this entrance, through the centre of the northerly service wing (where there is a weigh bridge), and down the side and rear of the building. To the rear there is a projecting stair and lift tower, and to the south there is a second projecting lift tower; this is later in date, but appears to use the same construction system. There is a third internal fire escape stair on the south side of the building which exits onto St Peter's Street at the front.

EXTERIOR: with the exception of the front, all elevations of the building are without architectural embellishment and form a regular pattern of concrete grid, brick, and glass. The concrete grid is also expressed on the front elevation, however here the concrete is also used decoratively to shape the elevation into a classical composition. There is a heavy cornice over the fourth storey, with recessed ribbing and nail-head corner stops; the fifth storey is treated as a classical attic, having smaller windows and a much plainer and shallower cornice above. The true attic storey is three bays wide, central to the elevation and set back from the front. The bays to the far left and right of the elevation are treated as towers, defined by slightly projecting pilaster-like verticals to either side. The 'capitals' of these pilasters take the form of a circular disk, flanked by triglyph-like elements. At ground floor there is a pedestrian and vehicular entrance/exit to either side of the elevation. These openings are framed by wide, flat, unmoulded architraves and above each of the vehicular openings is a framed panel (which once bore the name of the company) with a stylised tassel motif to either side. This panel with tassels motif is repeated within the parapet above the attic storey.

The exterior of the building is generally little altered, the most notable exception being the replacement of the windows. The largest windows to the front were originally 54-light windows, they are now 12-light windows, those to the sides and rear were mostly 45-light windows, these are now 8-light windows. On the front elevation a doorway has been inserted into the left-hand of the three central bays to give access into a site office from St Peter's Street.

INTERIOR: the interior is utilitarian; at each storey concrete pillars support beams and joists which support the floor above. The pillars get progressively smaller in cross-section at each storey up. Circular holes are cast into the joists, through which a conduit carrying electrical cable ran; in some places slots are cast into beams and joists to carry the motors which were suspended overhead, providing power to the factory machinery. The factory floors, which would have been completely open, are now divided into units with concrete block walls built between pillars. Fixtures and fittings which may have been associated with the service and amenity block (which included an office, boiler house, first-aid rooms, lavatories and rest rooms) do not survive.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.