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County Offices, South Lakeland

Description: County Offices

Grade: II
Date Listed: 27 February 2013
Building ID: 1410338

OS Grid Reference: SD5148893164
OS Grid Coordinates: 351483, 493161
Latitude/Longitude: 54.3317, -2.7476

Locality: South Lakeland
Local Authority: South Lakeland District Council
County: Cumbria
Postcode: LA9 4RJ

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Listing Text


Council offices 1937-9 to the designs of Verner O. Rees for Westmorland County Council.

Reason for Listing

Kendal Council Offices, completed in 1939 to the designs of Verner O Rees is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it is a subtle and well-detailed civic building in a progressive but neo-Georgian tradition with Scandinavian influences;
* Architect: a good example of the work of Verner O Rees, a respected C20 designer and competent planner, who was also a former President of the Royal Architectural Association;
* Materials: it displays a confident use of local materials, in particular the hammered and dressed local limestone which contribute to the building's sense of character and civic pride;
* Interior: the dignified decorative treatment of the 1930s interior is in a subtle art deco style, which incorporates good quality materials and employs characteristic stepped detail;
* Planning: like most of Rees's buildings, his ability as a planner is reflected in a coherent and effective municipal building;
* Intactness: the building remains effectively externally and internally complete down to the retention of original light fitments; alteration has been minimal with the exception of the basement conversion to a Cold War emergency control centre.


These council offices were constructed between 1937-9 for Westmorland County Council, to the designs of Verner O Rees. The building is depicted on the Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1938 and, with the exception of the addition of a ramp to the main entrance, two small stores buildings to the courtyards and an extension to the rear to accommodate plant for the Emergency Control building, the footprint remains unaltered to the present day. During the Cold war, the basement was converted to an Emergency Control Centre for the council, which was decommissioned during the 1990s leading to the removal of many features.

Verner O Rees (1886-1966) studied architecture in London at the Royal Academy School of Architecture and the Architectural Association Design Club. Early in his career, he worked for a short time at the architectural practice of Edwin Lutyens, and in New York. After First World War Service, he taught in London at the Architectural Association School of Architecture and became its Vice-Principal until 1933. He became President of the Architectural Association and took an active part in the Royal Institute of British Architects of which he was elected a Fellow and served as a member of its Council. During the inter-war years, many of Rees’s commissions were as the result of competition wins including his design for the Memorial to the Missing at Soissons (jointly with GH Holt) in 1925 and the same year he and P Morley Horder won the competition to design the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (listed Grade II). His entry for the new RIBA headquarters was awarded second place in 1929, and in 1934, 1935, and 1936 he won competitions for the library at University College, Swansea, Westmorland County Hall at Kendal, and the Harrow Municipal Offices. Rees also received an honourable mention in the 1936 competition for the Parliament House in Salisbury, Rhodesia. Rees's other important commissions included extensions to the Froebel Educational Institute on Roehampton Lane, the Sir John Cass Technical Institute, Jewry Street, Westfield College of the University of London and Kings College University of London (listed Grade II).


Materials: snecked and dressed local limestone (with close hammered finish) with ashlar dressings to the front and sides and snecked natural limestone rubble with ashlar dressings to the rear elevation; Westmorland slate roof covering, lead cladding to the clock turret. Cast iron and lead rainwater goods.

Plan: rectangular with a pair of small central courtyards lighting the main stair hall. Two storeys plus a basement with central stair hall and council chamber to the rear; narrow corridors with offices are placed around the other three sides.

Exterior: neo-Georgian in style with hipped roofs; all windows are square-headed with ashlar surrounds and fitted with 4/4 sash frames with margin lights. There are original rainwater goods. The main (south) elevation has nine bays and steps lead up to a centrally placed square-headed and architraved entrance; inset double oak doors have a rectangular fanlight over with glazing bars and the county coat of arms. A central clock turret rises from the hipped roof with corner pilasters and an entablature, a metal balustrade and a pyramidal roof surmounted by a weathervane. A lozenge shaped clock is affixed to the south face. Left and right returns are ten bay ranges; the basement windows on the right return have flat arches. An additional bay at the north end of each elevation serves as a stair tower and has a plain square-headed side entrance and windows above. Rear (North) Elevation a central recessed bay with central roof lights lighting the council chamber, flanked by slightly projecting end bays; fenestration is limited to the sides and lower parts.

Interior: the main entrance leads into a plain vestibule with three steps up to a set of double wooden glazed doors. The latter give access to the ground floor with corridors off to the right and left leading to plain offices, many partitioned, around the south, west and east sides. A plain stair leads down to the basement which largely retains its cold war emergency centre plan and some original fittings including blast doors, window fittings for blast screens and a decontamination shower within an air lock. Some suspended ceilings have been introduced. Signage also survives.

Timber and glazed double doors give access to a wide double height stair hall with a cream tiled floor inset with narrow border of slate; original pendant and some wall lights remain. Each straight flight of the double staircase rises against a side wall of the hall and has a solid balustrade surmounted by a brass geometric hand rail. The central open landing is supported on four plain pilasters. At first floor level, the stair hall is lit by three large sash windows in each side wall, and the corniced ceiling is supported at each end by a pair of plain pilasters. A large carved wooden roundel placed above the doors into the antechamber bears the county coat of arms and the date '1939'. At the north end of the stair hall's ground floor, heavy oak double doors are set into a square, limestone architrave and two steps lead down into the ante chamber. To either side of this opening is a bronze roundel of G.H Pattinson, Chairman of Westmorland County Council and James Cropper MP for Kendal (1880-1885) and first chairman of Westmorland County Council (1888).

The ante chamber has half oak panelling with plainly painted walls above and a square roof light;it retains original pendant and wall lights. Large square-headed openings with oak architraves to the left and right lead into cloakrooms and committee rooms respectively. The latter, entered through large oak doors are small and plain rooms with simple oak skirtings; one has a plain oak fireplace and another has original fixed bookcases. The ante chamber leads through a central entrance down three steps into the rectangular meeting chamber. This has half oak panelling with surface fixed acoustic panels bearing large geometric designs to the upper parts. Door and window architraves and reveals are also of oak and there is an oak panelled dais with the county coat of arms above. The chamber retains a full compliment of original oak benches arranged theatre style around three sides; most are fixed but not all. The narrow public gallery in the rear wall is supported by square oak columns and has a geometric brass balustrade. The chamber ceiling has a plain cornice and a large central atrium with original multi-paned oak frame, and there are original brass and glass pendant ceiling lights.

The first floor comprises corridors around three sides giving access to offices. Some of the latter have suspended ceilings with original plaster ceilings and simple mouldings retained above, and some have new partitions; many original partitions remain with original doors and door furniture. Glazed timber screens /doors have been added for fire compartmentation, and a plain metal fire escape giving access to the rear side doors occupies each of the rear end bays. Original floor coverings are mostly retained throughout.

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