Symbol of socialism makes way for shops

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WELSH Secretary William Hague is expected to give the go-ahead for the demolition of one of Britain's most celebrated post-war buildings. Although the Brynmawr rubber factory in Gwent is grade 2 listed, meaning it is of exceptional architectural significance, the Welsh Secretary is likely to announce in the next few days that the huge domed building is to come down.

Mr Hague's decision to let it be demolished to make way for a developer's plan for shops will not just be seen as the destruction of one of modern architecture's greatest icons. It will also be seen as a symbolic rejection of past socialist endeavours in the Valleys. Brynmawr, designed by an architectural co-operative, was conceived as a way of improving workers' conditions.

The demolition will also highlight just how vulnerable historic buildings are. Although Brynmawr has been derelict for 10 years, architectural historians had thought it was safe after it became the first post-war building to be listed in this country.

Brynmawr was built after the Second World War as a symbol of a new age of democracy. Managers and workers walked through the same entrance, the staff all shared one canteen, and special attention was paid to the design of the lavatories and cloakrooms.

It was commissioned by Lord James Forrester, a Quaker, who was appalled by unemployment in the South Wales Valleys and built his factory to provide 1,000 jobs. The design was also spectacular: the roof consisted of nine eight-foot-high domes. A vast open-plan area was illuminated by natural light streaming through huge glass portholes in the domes.

"The factory was an expression of a new age; it was a philanthropic gesture made manifest in the fabric of the building," said architect Victoria Perry, author of the definitive history of the building.

Conservationists had hoped that an llth-hour bid by the factory's architect, Architects Co-operative Partnership, to open talks with the Sports Council to secure Lottery money to convert the building into a sports arena would have saved it. But Mr Hague's decision to agree to demolition appears to have sealed its fate.