Brutal and bleak, England’s modern architectural gems join heritage list

A Sheffield substation and a Cold War bunker get Grade II* status

Most people would struggle to find much in common between a concrete electricity substation in Sheffield and the Chapter House of St Paul's Cathedral, London.

But the Brutalist building, described by its creators as “a vast automaton in our midst” when it emerged on the Yorkshire city's Moore Street in the 1960s, today joins the Christopher Wren designed churchyard structure in being able to boast of  Grade II* listed status.

After receiving a floodlit makeover three years ago, the Sheffield substation is one of four modern buildings that have been added to the prestigious National Heritage List for England detailing sites with both historical and architectural appeal.

The other three are a cold war bunker in Gravesend, a 'high tech' Sir Norman Foster designed warehouse in Swindon that featured as a backdrop in the film A View to a Kill, Roger Moore's final outing as James Bond, and a steel-framed private house in Tunbridge Wells.

The defence bunker is a rare surviving example of a purpose-built civil defence control centre. It was a command post staffed by around 35 people in the event of a Soviet air attack during the Cold War. Information from air raid wardens of an attack would have been received and orders issued to civil defence and emergency services. It was operational from 1954 until 1968 and has now been restored and is open to the public on occasion.

Despite winning the Financial Times Architect at Work award shortly after its creation, even its own makers describe the Bryan Jefferson-designed substation as “a marmite building” though on balance they say comments have been more good than bad over the years.

Describing the building, purpose and effect of the substation upon completion in 1968, Jefferson Sheard & Partners, who are still based in Sheffield, said: “Although this building with its massive scale and strong character bears little resemblance to the layman's normal idea of a sub-station it has, apart from its basic function, one thing in common. It is unmanned, or virtually so, being remotely controlled from outside the City boundary. A vast automaton in our midst, seen but unheard, providing us with the electrical current so vital to our everyday lives.”

Tom Rhys Jones, managing director of the firm now known as Jefferson Sheard Architects, said Mr Jefferson was absolutely delighted at the recognition.

Mr Rhys Jones told The Independent: “Bryan hasn't been well lately so when I told him the news it really broke him up. He is very proud and it is a very proud moment for the company.”

The substation was built at a time when post-war regeneration of Sheffield was at its peak and is therefore symbolic of that era. Brutalism, typified by blockish, concrete structures such as the Trellick Tower block of flats in London and the J Edgar Hoover building in Washington, began to fall out of fashion in the mid-1970s.

Sheffield Hallam University librarian Julia Shakespeare said she had changed her mind about the substation. “When I first moved to Sheffield in the 1980s, I just couldn't believe how ugly it was, but I think over the years it has grown on me. It's almost so ugly it has a charm of its own. So I'm pleased it has been listed and will be loved and loathed in equal amounts for years to come.”

Heritage minister Ed Vaizey said today: “Everyone knows that England has a fine and wonderful built heritage but it's sometimes forgotten that we have many outstanding modern buildings too. Our architects are among the best in the world and it's absolutely right that their finest work is afforded the same protection as their historic forebears.

”The buildings and structures I am listing today demonstrate this well: innovative, exciting and eye-catching, they each in different ways show that architecture in this country is very much alive and well in the modern world.“

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage said: ”Some still view the buildings of the era as concrete monstrosities others as fine landmarks in the history of building design.“

The latest additions to the National Heritage List, more than 700 of which are post-war buildings, come on the eve of a new English Heritage exhibition highlighting the country's love/hate relationship with the recent architectural past. English Heritage said Brutal and Beautiful, beginning on 25 September at Wellington Arch, London, will show what makes the post-war era special and why the best of its buildings are worth saving.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before