12 Destinations Marking the Arrival of Modernist Britain | Holidays in England

MOderism – which can be loosely defined as a movement that marked a break with the past – radically changed art, literature, performance and the built environment. It had a big breakthrough in 1922 with the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. Eliot’s mentor, Ezra Pound, called it “year zero” on his calendar – not because of the poetry or the art but because his hero, the fascist leader Benito Mussolini, walked on Rome.

The 1920s were also when Frank Pick and Charles Holden began to redesign the London Underground and new ideas about architecture began to flow in from Germany and the Nordic countries. From office buildings built for glassmaker Pilkington in St Helens, Merseyside, to a Mormon church in Belfast to Cornwall’s Saltash Library (dubbed “the most Le Corbusier building in the country”), modern buildings enliven civic spaces which would be much duller without them. .

The UK is also home to modernist trains, parks and gardens, quays, cinemas, petrol stations, factories and smelters. The ubiquitous influence of modernism makes it a wonderful way to open up parts of the country that you might otherwise bypass or ignore. Here are a dozen events and landmarks to celebrate the centenary.

Churches in the City of London

Fragments is a 100th anniversary celebration of modernist classic The Waste Land, featuring lectures, readings, videos and live music from diverse cultures, set in 22 churches across the City of London. Two of the churches feature in the poem. Wander between sites on modernist paths traced by TS Eliot in verse.
April 7-12banknotes thewasteland2022.com

Blackpool Tower

Photography: Alex West/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Built in 1894 and at the time the tallest man-made structure in the British Empire, the 158-metre (518-foot) cast iron and steel structure was inspired by the Eiffel Tower – the construction that arguably started the modern era. Its designers, architectural firm Maxwell and Tuke, also built the tallest New Brighton Tower, dismantled and sold to scrap metal dealers in the 1920s. Blackpool’s forward-thinking bourgeois also employed Joseph Emberton, an architect who represented Britain at the 1932 International Exhibition of Modern Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to rethink the Pleasure Beach.
From £15, blackpooltower.com

Laugharne and Llansteffan, Carmarthenshire

Laugharn Castle.
Laugharn Castle. Photograph: Ian Dagnall/Alamy

walk it Wales Coast Path between Laugharne and Llansteffan, admiring the Tâf and Tywi estuaries, and visiting the homes and landscapes that inspired two great Welsh modernists. Dylan Thomas, who attended the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in Mayfair (where he is said to have walked around handing people teacups full of string), lived in Laugharne. Lynette Roberts, born in 1909 in Buenos Aires to Welsh Australians, married fellow poet Keidrych Rhys at Llansteffan Church – their best man was Dylan Thomas – and settled in nearby Llanybri.

Duchess of Hamilton Train, National Railway Museum, York

Images of historic locomotion, seen here is the Duchess of Hamilton's Streamlined Wonder at the National Railway Museum, York, UK.FBKNXH Images of historic locomotion, seen here is the Duchess of Hamilton's Streamlined Wonder at the National Railway Museum , York, UK.
Photograph: Peter Wheeler/Alamy

This magnificent Streamline Moderne steam locomotive, built by LMS Crewe Works in 1938, was shipped to the New York World’s Fair the following year as a futuristic example of British engineering feats. Painted black during the Second World War, it had its streamlined nose cut off in 1947 and was only saved from scrapping by Billy Butlin, who installed it at his holiday camp in Minehead. The not quite aerodynamic Mallard, built the same year, is also at the museum.
Free, but tickets must be reserved in advance, Railwaymuseum.org.uk

Coventry Cathedral

Coventry Cathedral Tapestry - Christ in Glory tapestry by Graham Sutherland hung at the cathedral consecration in 1962.PP5XTA Coventry Cathedral Tapestry - Christ in Glory tapestry by Graham Sutherland hung at the cathedral consecration in 1962.
Tapestry of Christ in Glory by Graham Sutherland. Photograph: Robert Evans/Alamy

The most famous Modernist building in the UK’s City of Culture was built between 1956 and 1962, on the site of a medieval Gothic cathedral destroyed by German bombers in November 1940. Scottish architect Basil Spence designed the new cathedral next to the old one, symbolizing death and resurrection. The clean lines, unabashed massing, zigzag walls and polished stone floor of the building are enhanced by Graham Sutherland’s Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph Tapestry, the Baptistery window by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens and the imposing sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein depicting Saint Michael’s victory over the devil.
Free, but donations are welcome

Gallery of Modernism, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Design 1900 to Now installation shots, 16 June 2021 Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Photography: Peter Kelleher/Victoria and Albert Museum

Can’t make it to Weimar or Helsinki? An hour spent soaking up the well-chosen selection of modernist objects of desire in Room 74 at the V&A is a decent substitute. Classic items on display include a 1924 MT8 table lamp, sometimes referred to as a “Bauhaus lamp,” by Wilhelm Wagenfeld; a 1927 MR20 armchair, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; and a 1937 Savoy vase designed by Alvar Aalto.
Free, but book your tickets in advance, vam.ac.uk

Beyond Bloomsbury

Literary and artistic modernism was not confined to a few posh squares in London’s WC1. Newcastle-born Jessie Etchells studied art in Stockport before working at Bloomsbury Group’s Omega workshops in Fitzrovia. The Sitwells, who defined themselves as opposed to the whole of Bloomsbury, hailed from Scarborough and had their campaign headquarters at Renishaw Hall, near Sheffield. Sculptor Marcel Gimond, who made the busts of Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry, was the son of a metalworker from Ardèche in southern France. See full clan portraits and Sahara Longe’s responses to Beyond Bloomsbury: Life, Love and Legacy at York Art Galleryuntil June 5, 2022.
£10 adults

Estate of Dartington Hall, Devon

The Drawing Room at High Cross House, Dartington.
The Drawing Room at High Cross House, Dartington. Photograph: National Trust Photo Library/Alamy

There is no British Bauhaus, but High Cross House, the residence of the former Dartington Hall school principal, and the Warren Lane cottages are quite close. The hills around Totnes are about as far from industrial Germany as it gets, and those hard edges and white walls really stand out here.

Tinside Lido and Plymouth town center

Tinside Lido Pool, attraction on Plymouth Hoe.  Surrounded by the Plymouth SoundRF03WJ Tinside lido pool, attraction on Plymouth Hoe.  Surrounded by Plymouth Sound
Tinside Lido on Plymouth Hoe. Photograph: Roy Perring/Alamy

Modernism looks best in the sun, which perhaps explains the survival of so many seaside cinemas and lidos. Built in 1935 by John Wibberley, Tinside Lido started life as a ladies’ bathing place, with a penny entrance fee. It reopens to the public on April 30. While the lido is usually described as art deco, Plymouth city center is often referred to as “late classicism”, while some see Armada Way and its buildings as half-baked brutalism.

Tube stations, London

In his recently published gazetteer, Modern Buildings in Britain, author Owen Hatherley describes Piccadilly Circus station – built between 1925 and 1928 by Charles Holden – as a “sort of celestial antechamber in perpetual rotation”. Take a Modernism-themed ride on the Tube, stopping to admire stations at Arnos Grove, Barking, Chiswick Park, Loughton and the Hainault Loop of the Central Line, as well as more recent Modernist-influenced efforts, such as Canary Wharf and Westminster on the Jubilee Line.

The Homewood, Esher, Surrey

The modernist house, The Homewood, designed by Patrick Gwynne in 1938 in Esher SurreyB902E8 The modernist house, The Homewood, designed by Patrick Gwynne in 1938 in Esher Surrey
Photograph: National Trust Photo Library/Alamy

This National Trust property was designed by architect Patrick Gwynne for his family and completed in the summer of 1938. Gwynne lived in the house until his death in 2003. The villa is a masterpiece of Modernism domestic, with a dreamy woodland garden designed to suggest the layers of a painting.
Reopens to the public for visits from April 23. Adults £11, Children £5.50, nationaltrust.org.uk

Hope Street, Liverpool

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Photograph: Lana Rastro/Alamy

The great port city has many beautiful modern buildings, from the tunnel ventilation shafts to the Tate & Lyle sugar silo at Huskisson Dock to Speke Airfield (now a hotel). Hope Street is a charming street to stroll, drink or dine (it’s one of Liverpool’s main foodie gauntlets), and its beautiful Georgian townhouses are surrounded by the wigwam-shaped Metropolitan Cathedral, the Everyman Theatre, Philharmonic Hall and Giles Gilbert Scott. Anglican Cathedral – a sublime blend of neo-Gothic and modernism.

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