Harbour Meadow, Birdham
Description: Harbour Meadow
Date Listed: 23 June 2000
English Heritage Building ID: 481220
OS Grid Reference: SU8209900965
OS Grid Coordinates: 482099, 100965
Latitude/Longitude: 50.8024, -0.8363
Location: Birdham, West Sussex PO20 7BG
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SU80SW Harbour Meadow
Private house and attached covered way and garage. 1938-40 by Peter Moro and Richard Llewelyn Davies, with Gordon Cullen, for Mr and Mrs Tawse. Concrete frame, clad in brick with exposed natural stone screen facing the long approach drive. Flat roof. `Z'-shaped plan set around centrally-placed entrance hall, the principal rooms overlooking the sea and the service and guest rooms along the drive front. Two storeys, including large balcony terrace to the sea-facing wing, reached via steps opposite the main entrance. Further steps from sea-facing first-floor terrace lead to the roof. This entrance is set in a small patio formed by the shape of the building and the long covered way, of steel posts and timber, that links the house to the double garage set at right angles and which forms a screen between the drive and the gardens.
The windows have been renewed and are not of special interest; the original windows had narrower profiles and were imported specially from Switzerland, where Moro had trained. The replacements have been inset into the original openings, so that their replacement has not greatly compromised the original design. The main entrance is via the glazed screen to the entrance hall, set in the angle of the house. Projecting canopy over entrance, and timber beam canopy over first floor above. The natural stone screen facing the approach drive conceals doors to either side, one to the kitchen and one to the boot room, which are the day-to-day entrances. Between them a large window is framed outwards. To the side, on the seaward wing, a large window is set into slanting concrete frame, which forms a balustrade to the balcony terrace above. This window is double glazed, serving as a small indoor conservatory to the former morning room inside. Along the sea-facing front, the house is set back in its frame, which forms a plinth or narrow patio to ground floor, and which has a balcony to its forward line above. The set-back brickwork was always a contrasting, darker shade, and was yellow when inspected in 2000. Full-height glazing to living room beyond. Dining room with curious window facing towards the sea, containing yellow glass and with internal neo-Baroque surround with urns, shell and swag decoration. It has something of the bravura of the classical motifs at Highpoint II, where Moro and Cullen had worked. To side is a long window in projecting frame, resulting in a very deep window sill internally. Long, narrow horizontal windows to kitchen and first-floor corridors on service range. Their repetitive square and rectangular forms form a contrast with the variety of planes adopted on the principal elevations.
INTERIOR. Square entrance hall has dramatic curved, sweeping `Hollywood' style cantilevered open-tred staircase, with tapered and slightly fluted newel. Area by front door curbed for plant displays; square patterned artificial stone floor beyond is original. The principal rooms are to the left, a suite originally used as morning room, living room and dining room. Morning room to east has timber lined columns, with strong entasis and tapering plain tops and bases, reminiscent of those used by Moro at the Royal Festival Hall in 1949-51 (LB Lambeth, grade I) and framing a wall of shelving. Fireplace here and in living room renewed. The living room is curious for its mixture of high, light open space served by full-height windows, contrasted with the lower inglenook under timber beams; its entrance supported on another timber-clad, tapered column. Although the fireplace has been renewed the other features of the inglenook are well preserved, including the mantlepiece framed by radio/gramophone speakers, and the built-in leather settee terminating in a cupboard. Broad timber window sills to all these rooms, but particularly to the dining room as already noted. Boot room with long set of built-in blocks, shown on published plans, presumably for drying boots upside down. The kitchen and corridors with many built-in cupboards, as have the guest bedrooms and maid's rooms in the entrance wing. The former first-floor suite of bedroom with flanking dressing rooms for Mr and Mrs Tawse has been remodelled and no longer has features of interest.
From the balcony outside, steps lead up to the roof, and, of steel, back to the front door. Besides this staircase is a built-in planter and seat. Other subsidiary features are the covered way and double garage, of steel, timber and brick, which Moro conceived as a means of screening the garden and making the house 'sit comfortably' in the flat landscape.
Peter Moro (1911-99) emigrated to Britain in 1936 to avoid Nazi persecution, and he went on to have an acclaimed if never extensive practice in England, later specialising in theatre design. This is his first building, designed in collaboration with Richard Llewelyn Davies, then still a student and through whom he met Mr and Mrs Tawse. He describes the commission as 'a fairy tale', and one that saved him from deportation. The `Z'-shaped plan was evolved as a means of separating parents from children and servants, and defines the seaward and landward facing halves of the house. In its use of brick and natural stone the building anticipates the revival of natural materials in modern architecture for private houses in the 1950s. The use of framing as a device for highlighting the key features of a house, though found on a smaller scale in the work of other emigre architects in England, such as Ernst Freud, is also a peculiarly 1950s device brought to popular attention by the Festival of Britain. It is in the internal timberwork, so reminiscent of Lubetkin's Highpoint II and so closely anticipating Moro's interiors at the Royal Festival Hall, that this house is so remarkable. Cullen was brought in to help Moro complete the building after war was declared in 1939 and Davies left for Ireland; Moro himself had difficulty travelling in what became a restricted zone. Cullen's `architectural joke' of the window again serves to link the ideas incubated in Lubetkin and Tecton's Highpoint II with their post-war fulfilment. Although a little altered, this is a rare architectural textbook of progressive ideas - ideas not fulfilled in other houses because of the war, but which can be seen scattered in the limited public building permitted thereafter.
Architectural Review, March 1941
Peter Moro, `Harbour Meadow, Birdham', in Twentieth Century Architecture 2, The Modern House Revisited, London, Twentieth Century Society, 1996, pp.8-14
Listing NGR: SU8209900965
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.