Built in 1953-7 as the headquarters for the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMW), Bentham House is executed in a stylised Classical idiom to the designs of H and H Martin Lidbetter. Outside principal spaces, such as the entrance lobbies, stair towers and the former council chamber, the building's interior is of lesser special interest, particularly in the more heavily altered basement, sub-basement, and attic levels.
Reason for Listing
Bentham House, built 1953-7 as the headquarters of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, and designed H and H Martin Lidbetter, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: with its skilful and creative handling of form and detail, the building is a stylish example of post-war classicism;
* Historic interest: it is a rare example of a purpose-built union headquarters of architectural note, constructed at a time when union size and strength was building to its peak, in a location favoured by such organisations;
* Artistic interest: Burton's bold, expressive, carvings have high artistic interest and enliven the building's elevations, as well as celebrating its original function;
* Quality of materials: the building employs a high quality of materials both externally and in the main internal spaces;
* Interior survival: little-altered throughout, the principal interior interest lies in the handsomely fitted main entrance lobbies, stair towers, and the moot court (formerly the council chamber).
The building now known as Bentham House (originally Thorne House) was officially opened in 1957 as the new headquarters for the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMW). Designed by the architectural practice H and H Martin Lidbetter, it replaced a group of terraced houses which had served as the union offices since 1934. The union only remained at Thorne House until 1963, at this time moving to Ruxley Towers in Claygate, Surrey. In 1964 the building was purchased by University College London (UCL), to be occupied by the Laws Faculty, and was at some point subsequently renamed Bentham House, after the philosopher Jeremy Bentham.
The NUGMW was founded in 1924 as an amalgamation of various other unions, including the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers, co-founded by Will Thorne in the late-C19 (it was Thorne's name which was given to this new building). Trade unions evolved from small, locally-based, societies in the mid-C19, to large national organisations, which reached the peak of their membership and power in the decades after the Second World War. The amalgamation of smaller unions to form larger, more powerful, organisations was a feature of the labour movement in the inter-war period, and there was a desire to build prestigious new national headquarters. A number of these buildings, like Thorne House, were built around the London termini which served the North and Midlands – strongholds of union membership. The area around Euston Road became a particular enclave, with examples dating from throughout the C20. Though many of these buildings are large, they are architecturally quite modest; Bentham House being one of few notable exceptions.
As built, Bentham House (then Thorne House) had larger rooms and offices on the ground floor, as well as a council chamber (now moot court); the first to fourth floors provided a number of smaller offices; and the fifth floor had living accommodation for a caretaker and some staff members. One particular feature which has been lost from the building is a pair of bronze doors with reliefs by the sculptor Esmond Burton, depicting scenes of industry in 1956 and in 1889, the foundation year of the General Labourers Union. The doors are now at the GMB's office on Stephenson Way, on the north side of Euston Road. The decision for the union to leave the building some six years after it was opened appears to have been influenced by a number of factors, including a new General Secretary, keen to reposition the union, and to provide the modern facilities necessary to do so, and the emerging trend of moving office jobs out of central London.
Hubert Lidbetter (1885-1966) established his own architectural practice in London after the First World War, and in 1950 was joined in practice by his son Hubert Martin Lidbetter (1914-1992). Lidbetter Snr was responsible in particular for a large number of Quaker meeting houses, one of his most ambitious being that on Euston Road, built 1927 (listed Grade II); he was also involved in a number of restorations of earlier buildings, some of which are now listed. The stone relief carvings on the building, which depict various trades, are by the sculptor Esmond Burton (1886-1964), a member of the Art Workers Guild, who worked on amongst other commissions, the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, and the Bank of England's now demolished New Change Building.
MATERIALS: the building is steel-framed and clad in Portland stone. The mansard roof is covered in slates, and the windows are bronze multi-light casements at ground floor, with steel multi-light casements above. Internally there is extensive use of hardwood timber in joinery, panelling and flooring; and polished stone and terrazzo flooring and wall cladding.
PLAN: situated on a corner site, the building is five storeys high, with a basement, small sub-basement, and attic. It is broadly rectangular in plan, formed of a long, five bay range (each bay with paired windows) facing north onto Endsleigh Gardens, with a tower to each end housing entrance lobbies, stairs, lifts and some larger offices. The towers, and the fifth floor and attic, are set back slightly from the main body of the north elevation, which terminates with a parapet. Above the attic is a mansard roof with flat-headed roof dormers. The return flank of the west tower forms the west elevation onto Endsleigh Street, which is four bays wide, and then steps down to an additional, parapeted, four-storey two-bay range (with paired windows) which straddles a vehicular access to the rear of the site. The large area to the north of the building, and the window areas to the west have now been covered and paved over.
The ground floor of the building contains offices, a meeting room and the council chamber, now the moot court. The layout of the first, second, third and fourth floors follow an almost identical arrangement to one another, of offices leading off a spinal corridor. The two-bay range over the vehicular access also contains offices. At attic level, what had been living accommodation is now arranged as offices.
EXTERIOR: there are two entrances to the building, both accessed via a shallow flight of steps, one in the east tower, which is currently covered by a hoarding, and the principal entrance in the west tower, which has large panelled timber doors. The ground floor of the building is rusticated, with a fascia which runs above the almost full-height windows. The paired windows facing Endsleigh Gardens are divided by engaged Greek columns. The fascia continues across in front of the recessed towers, forming balconettes with bronze zigzag patterned balustrading. The balconette to the west tower cuts across the chamfered north-west corner and runs along the west return flank fronting Endsleigh Street. This balconette is supported on fluted Greek columns without capitals, which form a portico over the principal entrance.
The first, second and third floor windows are arranged in close-set pairs, bays separated by simple incised panels in the stonework. Architraves are simple flat bands, and between the windows are carved fluted spandrel panels. At the head of the parapet are incised horizontal bands and a cyma-recta moulding. The treatment is the same in the two-bay range fronting Endsleigh Street.
The windows in the towers have a similar treatment to the rest of the building but are not paired, and first floor windows to the north, and the central of the three first-floor windows to the west, have a broader architrave with keystone. Fourth-floor windows have an accentuated sill (continuous between the west windows). Each corner of the towers is chamfered, and carved to appear as a column, bearing a flaming urn at the top. Above each of the fourth-floor windows is a carved relief by Esmond Burton, depicting labouring men. The depictions include a metal worker, with anvil and tools; tunnelers with a power-breaker and shovel; a man at a lathe; and three others of various physical labours.
Surrounding the now in-filled areas to north and west, is a slate-clad dwarf wall with bronze zigzag pattern balustrading. The building has several rainwater hoppers bearing the NUGMW crest.
INTERIOR: the interior of the building has a clear hierarchy of detail, with the principal entrance foyers having polished stone floors and wall cladding, with the stair lobbies above, having terrazzo. The main stair is square in plan, with quarter landings, and wraps around the lift core, which is clad in painted pressed metal sheet. The stairwell wall is clad in stone at ground floor, terrazzo above and below. The secondary stair to the east is terrazzo, with a simple painted metal balustrade. Elsewhere, such as in the wide ground-floor hallway, there is use of flush veneered hardwood panelling, and timber doors with a long glazed panel, the glass held in a copper latticework. The moot court, originally the council chamber, is fully lined with flush panelling, has a woodblock floor, and retains its original built-in curved benches and desks.
Throughout the building the smaller offices are relatively little-altered in layout and character, but are modest and are of lesser interest. The basement, sub-basement and attic floors have been remodelled to various extents, and again, are of lesser interest.
Throughout the building there is much original detail; however, some of the fittings and finishes are later as the building's owner since 1964, UCL, has undertaken various alterations with sympathy for the original character of the building.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.