Accrington’s Elephant House / from the archive / issue 4

Prologue
Accrington is a Lancashire town noted for its hard building bricks used in the construction of the Empire State Building, famous for its football team, and culturally for the town’s art gallery having a large collection of Tiffany glass. It also, briefly, had the chance to be known for the brilliance of its late twentieth-century architecture.


In 1968 Accrington Corporation got county council planning consent for a public convenience on the edge of the town’s Broadway car park. It was to be the only building in the area. Borough Architect Raymond T. Duckworth (b.1926) had a hankering for something monumental to rise above the mess of cars. Having seen Sir Hugh Casson’s 1965 Elephant and Rhino Pavilion at London Zoo, (listed grade II* in 1998) he was inspired to take the masonry arc back to Accrington where he executed the design in brick.

The plan of the convenience was devised by cutting a disc in half, sliding the cut surfaces together to give two arcs with a short flat edge on either side, leading the Accrington Observer to enthuse “Accrington could well be one of the first places to attempt this bold solution of an old problem by making a virtue out of a necessity, making use of contemporary architecture”.

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To allow the brick to make a smooth turn, Duckworth selected soldier bricks (bricks on end with the narrow ‘stretcher’ faces showing) letting the mortar between the verticals accommodate the change in angle with each joint.  He knew what he was doing; his RIBA thesis was on the history of brickwork in Great Britain.

The result, a 'remarkable public toilet' as the Civic Trust for the North West described it, opened in 1970, incorporating dark blue soldiers, timber window frames and an aluminum roof with trimmed parapet. It cost £6000.

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Epilogue
By 2002, the toilet had been demolished to allow the building of a new shopping center. Today the town is arguing about closing some mundane public toilets and boasts of its repro Victorian market.

Hyndburn’s motto is ‘The place to be’.

© Christopher R Marsden 

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 4 'BRUTAL'