Squash court and garage, now drama studio, early 1930s, by JEM Macgregor for Naomi and Dick Mitchison.
Reason for Listing
The squash court at Rivercourt House, built in the early 1930s to the designs of JEM Macgregor for Naomi and Dick Mitchison, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a small but exquisitely detailed building notable for its subtly expressive forms and sensitive handling of materials;
* Artistic interest: sculptural embellishments by the distinguished artist and Hammersmith resident Gertrude Hermes;
* Historic association: with Naomi Mitchison, the original client, a prominent mid-C20 writer and social activist;
* Group value: the building has a carefully-judged relationship with Rivercourt House (Grade II).
The squash court at Rivercourt House was built during the early 1930s by the architect JEM Macgregor, his clients being the writer and social activist Naomi Mitchison and her husband, the lawyer and Labour politician Gilbert Richard [Dick] Mitchison. The Mitchisons lived in Hammersmith between 1923 (the year in which Naomi Mitchison's first novel, The Conquered, was published) and 1939, and their house was at the centre of a literary and artistic set that rivalled Bloomsbury: guests included Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis and WH Auden. In 1951 Rivercourt House was acquired by the Latymer School; the house is now the Latymer Prep School, and the squash court has been converted into a drama studio.
John Eric Miers Macgregor (1891-1984), architect, was the son of the artist and sculptor Archie Macgregor, and served in the Artists' Rifles during WWI. He was primarily known for his work in historic conservation, repairing numerous churches and serving for many years as technical adviser to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. He was also associated with the British Concrete Federation, with whom he worked to develop new construction techniques for mass housing - as seen at Lennox House on Cresset Road in Hackney, an experimental A-frame block whose stepped sections anticipate developments in post-war architecture.
Gertrude Hermes (1901-1983), sculptor and printmaker, was born in Kent of German parents, and studied at the Beckenham School of Art and at the art school run by the sculptor Leon Underwood at his studio in Hammersmith. She lived in Hammersmith during the late '20s and early '30s, and became a close and lifelong friend of the Mitchisons. Much of her work was in two dimensions - mainly wood engravings and colour linocuts - but she also worked in bronze and other media, producing a noted series of portrait busts of Naomi Mitchison and other members of their circle.
MATERIALS: brown brick and in-situ cast concrete.
PLAN: a two-storey rectangular building, approximately 9m x 6m on plan, with garage, garden room, store-room and open loggia below, and squash court above accessed via an external staircase.
EXTERIOR: the tall upper storey contains the squash court and is a windowless brick box, its starkness relieved by the serpentine profile of the walls to south, east and west, and by a subtle diaper pattern of black bricks. On the long south (garden) front is a loggia with four sharply-fluted concrete columns between square brick end piers; the curving lintel above has bas-reliefs depicting waves, vines, ears of wheat, a ship, a horse and a cockerel by the sculptor Gertrude Hermes. (The large concrete flower boxes that filled the gaps between the columns have been removed.) The loggia ceiling has a stepped profile, and a niche on its inner wall contains a bronze snail sculpture by Hermes which originally served as a fountain. Metal-framed windows and doors open into the garden room and garage; the latter has been slightly enlarged and its main doors renewed. To the west is an external spiral stair with concrete treads of curving profile set into a cylindrical brick newel and supporting a decorative wrought-iron handrail. The upper flight rises to the viewing gallery, which is contained in a cantilevered segmental projection high up on the west wall. A large bronze weather-vane in the form of a seahorse, again sculpted by Hermes, crowns the newel.
INTERIORS: the squash court interior is plain and functional, with hard plaster walls, a sprung wood floor, a timber viewing gallery and a large skylight. (Since conversion to a drama studio the walls have been painted black and the floor covered over.) The garden room no longer has its seating and panelling, but retains its unusual coved ceiling.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.