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Four Corners, Upper Warren Avenue, Caversham

A Grade II Listed Building in Mapledurham, Reading

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.4723 / 51°28'20"N

Longitude: -0.9983 / 0°59'53"W

OS Eastings: 469671

OS Northings: 175287

OS Grid: SU696752

Mapcode National: GBR QD7.WP

Mapcode Global: VHDWS.N836

Entry Name: Four Corners, Upper Warren Avenue, Caversham

Listing Date: 14 March 2012

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1406005

Location: Reading, RG4

County: Reading

Electoral Ward/Division: Mapledurham

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Reading

Traditional County: Oxfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Berkshire

Church of England Parish: Caversham Thameside and Mapledurham

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

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Summary

House in an Art and Crafts style, designed 1916 by the architect Percy Westwood (1878-1958) for Thomas Poynder, printer (d.1960) and constructed between 1918 and 1922. Also contemporary upper and lower terrace with urns, sundial/water feature and bench all probably the work of the Compton Pottery.

Description

PLAN: Four Corners is a two storey detached house (with attic and basement garage) in an Art and Crafts style. It is cruciform in plan and has a raised brick terrace wrapping around the building such that the house is elevated and overlooks its south garden with views down to the River Thames. Both the house and terrace are in hand-made red brick Stretcher bond although the entrance loggia on the house north elevation has some English bond detailing.

MATERIALS: hand-made red brick in Stretcher bond with some English bond detailing. Stone mullions, buff brick and tile detailing. Tile roof.

EXTERIOR: the south garden elevation is tripartite with a set forward gabled bay flanked by gabled wings. All share an architectural vocabulary having sprocketed eaves to their clay tiled roofs, a niche to the gables (all empty) and a variety of sizes of stone mullioned windows with leaded lights and tile sills. Each first-floor bedroom has an oriel corner window (this is also repeated at the north-west and north-east corners). The first floor to the central bay overhangs the ground floor and is supported on brick piers. It has a four-light window within a buff and red brick panel. Beneath is a ground-floor semi-circular bay with central French windows, also with leaded lights. The composition of this elevation is symmetrical apart from a single tall brick chimney stack which sits at the junction of the principal range and the east wing.

The north elevation also has three gables in the same style although here the treatment of the first floor windows to the central range is simpler with a pair of single light casements flanking a three-light mullioned window. Beneath is a loggia with an arcade of three semi-circular arches approached by a shallow step with attractive tile decoration. The loggia provides weather protection to the main entrance which has a wide solid-plank door. This elevation is entirely symmetrical with a pair of chimneys at the junction with the wings perhaps suggesting that the loss of a chimney from the south elevation is the cause of its asymmetry.

INTERIOR: it has not been possible to inspect the interior of the house but the available photographs suggest that it remains remarkably intact with wood panelling and panelled doors (all understood to be stained oak), original light fittings in the dining room, also original light switches and pewter door furniture. A consistent motif used on interior and exterior fittings is of four cut-out squares to pewter plates with the holes embellished with leather. The staircase has stick balusters and substantial square-section tall newel posts.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the stone-flagged upper terrace has two flights of steps to the south-west and south-east, raking buttresses supporting its red brick retaining walls and a decorative brick balustrade. At each of the four corners of the terrace was a large terracotta urn made by the Compton Pottery (from Compton near Guildford) established by Mary Watts (1849-1938). At least one of these survives and is decorated with floral swags. A large, elliptical, niche in the centre of the south elevation provides a sheltered garden seat with brick benches. There is a further semi-circular south terrace on the same axis, which has a red brick retaining wall and a balustrade in the same style as that to the upper terrace. The lower terrace is also stone flagged and has a central brick-lined pool divided into quarters, at the centre of which is a decorative terracotta column, perhaps a former fountain or sundial, with Celtic interlace beasts and scrollwork decoration. A stone bench on the same terrace has terracotta legs with a similar interlace decoration. On stylistic evidence it is presumed that these features are also by the Compton Pottery.

History

In c.1916 Thomas Poynder (c.1880-1960), a partner in E Poynder & Son, a successful family printing business based in Gun Street, Reading, purchased land at Caversham to build a house. The 2½ acre plot was located south of Upper Warren Avenue and north of the River Thames. This area of Caversham was open fields at the time of the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1879 but began to be developed at the very end of the century: the 1899 map shows that Upper Warren Avenue had been laid out although with no houses built at that time. These begin to appear soon afterwards with a small number completed by the time of the 1913 edition.

Designs for Four Corners date to 1916 are by the architect (and friend of Thomas Poynder) Percy Westwood (1878-1958). Percy Westwood was a Scottish architect who was based in London, working in partnership with Joseph Amberton between 1922-6. Austin Reed, the tailor and retailer (1873–1954) was a friend (and indeed was also a friend of Thomas Poynder's) and gave Westwood his first major commission, re-fitting a shop in Fenchurch Street in London. Following a joint fact-finding trip to the United States in 1920, they decided that the Austin Reed shops should be refitted and Westwood’s work can be seen either singly or with his architectural partner at the stores in Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Barber’s shop to the Regent Street store, London of 1929. Two of the partnership’s buildings are currently listed, both at Grade II: a house at 8, Churchfields Avenue, Elmbridge, Surrey (1926) and Summit House (1935), an office block for Austin Reed in Camden, Greater London.

It is understood that the owner’s brother Robert Poynder (c.1865-1944) also provided advice on the design of Four Corners. Robert was an artist (Reading Museum curates some of his work) and art teacher - at the University of Reading’s Department of Fine and Applied Art, Master of Sunderland School of Art and Art Director for Borough Polytechnic School - but then joined the family business in 1910. The firm was responsible for the Poynder Series of Types and Ornaments and the Reading Old-Face Type in 1910 and 1911 respectively.

Construction work began in 1918 although the identity of the building contractor remains unknown and continued until 1922 as evidenced by a rainwater hopper which bears this date. Reading street directories provide evidence that the family took up residence in 1923 and owned the house until 1966. It is understood that Robert Poynder designed all the furniture for the house (which was made by Elliots of Caversham, better known for making the doors to Westminster Cathedral) and that all the paintings were also by him (although such portable fittings are not a factor when considering buildings for listing). Comparison between the 1936 Ordnance Survey map, on which the house is first shown, and the modern footprint indicate that it has not been extended since built. Historical and biographical information provided by Thomas Poynder's daughter Peggy has assisted in confirming various facts about her father, the design and build.

Reasons for Listing

Four Corners, a suburban detached house of 1918-22 designed for the Reading businessman Thomas Poynder by the architect Percy Westwood, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural design: for its careful massing and elevational treatment, also the integrated design of its garden terraces and good quality interiors, all in an Arts & Crafts idiom;
* Materials: for the quality of the principal building material, hand-made red bricks, and the detailing of the pewter door furniture and the craftsmanship with which they are employed;
* Intactness: a house which is largely unaltered from its original early C20 form and retains its strong relationship with the garden.

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