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The Magazine, Westminster

Description: The Magazine

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 14 January 1970
English Heritage Building ID: 406527

OS Grid Reference: TQ2699580257
OS Grid Coordinates: 526995, 180257
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5070, -0.1715

Location: Serpentine Road, Westminster, London W2 2UH

Locality: Westminster
Local Authority: Westminster City Council
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: W2 2UH

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Listing Text

Summary

Gunpowder magazine. Built 1805 (date on rainwater heads).

Reason for Listing

The Magazine is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural and historic interest: a fine and well-preserved example of a military gunpowder magazine from the Napoleonic Wars, it is unusual, if not unique, for its sophisticated architectural treatment, which appears to have been a deliberate response to its setting.
* Rarity: purpose-built gunpowder magazines of this period do not survive in high numbers; this is the only one of its kind in London and is also notable for the retention of its original cranes.
* Setting: it is a prominent feature in Hyde Park, a Grade I registered landscape.

History

The supply of gunpowder to the army and navy was a key function of the Board of Ordnance from the C16 until 1855 when it was incorporated into the War Office. Gunpowder, a dangerous and valuable commodity, required cool, dry and secure storage, and early magazines were located within extant fortified buildings, the earliest recorded example being the Square Tower, Portsmouth (1494). Purpose-built, free-standing structures, comprising vaulted compartments in which the powder was stored in barrels in neat regulated stacks, appeared in increasing numbers in the C18. The construction of ordnance-related buildings increased after the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens in 1803 and resumption of hostilities with France, which heightened the threat of invasion.

Hyde Park, a royal park from the C16, was developed as a public amenity from the late C18 in response to surrounding housing developments. The Magazine was built in 1805 to replace an earlier building which stood to the north-east and was still extant in 1875; it is assumed that both structures were erected by the Board of Ordnance, possibly for the issue of gunpowder on the occasions of drill and reviews in Hyde Park. The architect is unknown. Although previously thought to have been remodelled by Decimus Burton, who undertook improvements to Hyde Park 1824-9, a drawing of c1817 by Jean-Claude Nattes and a more detailed engraving of c1823 by T Vivares indicate that the Magazine already existed in its present form at those dates. By 1896 a guardhouse had been added to the exterior of the north perimeter wall, and various infill structures were built during the C20. The Magazine remained in military use as workshops and stores until 1963 when it was transferred to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. It is now (2012) being converted into an art gallery.

Details

MATERIALS: stock brick and Portland stone; slate roofs to end pavilions.

PLAN: the south entrance range consists of a portico flanked by square single-storey pavilions to the east and west, which are marked on a plan of 1881 as a storekeeper’s office and a ‘shifting room’, wherein personnel were required to change into regulation uniforms without metal fixtures which could create sparks. Behind this is a yard enclosed by a perimeter wall, in the centre of which stands the magazine. The building is square in plan, containing two parallel chambers aligned east-west.

EXTERIOR: The symmetrical south frontage is designed in the neoclassical style, built in finely jointed yellow brick, with a Doric hexastyle-in-antis stone portico, entablature and blocking course. The pavilion friezes lack triglyphs but have wide moulded panels with guttae. The rear wall of the portico has a central entrance with a stone architrave and a timber panelled door. The flanking pavilions have one window to the front and return, six-over-six pane sashes and pyramidal roofs. The entrances on the inner returns inside the portico have curved panelled timber porches with dentiled cornices. The inner (north) elevation of the portico to the courtyard appears to have had an open lean-to loggia, infilled in the C20; a single jowled post remains.

The gunpowder magazine, designed in an austere neoclassical manner, is one storey high with an attic, built in brown stock brick with stone dressings. The pedimented attic rises above the roof of the portico. The south elevation is of three bays. The central bay breaks forward slightly and has a large tripartite blind window with a ventilation slit in the central ‘light’; there is a further slit in the left-hand bay (blocked), that to the right has been removed to make way for an entrance. The slits are offset through the thickness of the wall to prevent the ingress of sparks. The attic has a moulded stone cornice and a blind Diocletian window flanked by recessed panels. The north elevation is identical, although obscured by later structures. Downpipes have hopper heads dated 1805 bearing the Royal cipher. The west elevation is symmetrical, the ends slightly recessed, a central blind window flanked by entrances to the magazine chambers, each with a recessed panel above; the doors have been replaced. The attic has a blind central window with three-over-six pane sashes to either side. The east elevation was identical, but the southern doorway has been blocked, and the northern one enlarged.

The site was originally enclosed by yellow stock brick walls with moulded stone copings; these were raised in 1912 and now survive only in part.

INTERIOR: the rooms to either side of the portico have been modernised internally. The inner faces of the curved porches are panelled with reeded mouldings; some panelled window shutters remain. The magazine interior comprises two parallel brick catenary vaults, now painted. Both vaults retain their overhead travelling crane systems, constructed in timber and supported on triangular trusses. These follow a standard type employed in gunpowder magazines, now rare survivals. Mortices on the soffits of the tie-beams indicate the positions of the powder keg racking posts. The floors, originally timber supported on sleepers, are now concrete.

The late-C19 guardhouse to the north, and C20 infill structures within the perimeter walls, are not of special interest.

Source: English Heritage

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