Bentall’s, Kingston upon Thames

From Historic England entry:

“HISTORY In 1867 the retailer Frank Bentall opened a small drapery shop in Kingston upon Thames. The venture was markedly successful, and later geographical expansion saw the firm open branches in several other towns across southern England. Around 1930 the then proprietor, Leonard Bentall, employed the architects Sir Aston Webb and Son (by that time headed by Sir Aston’s eldest son Maurice) to design a vast new department store on the original Kingston site, occupying more than a hectare at the corner of Clarence Street and Wood Street.

The work, carried out by a large team of contractors led by John Mowlem & Co., proceeded in two main phases, allowing the store to transfer its operations gradually to the new building as its old premises were demolished. The first phase, comprising the Wood Street façade and the main shop floors behind, was completed by the end of 1932, while work on the Clarence Street section (including a quadrant corner block with sculptures by Eric Gill) was undertaken in 1934-5. A third phase, which would have seen the Clarence Street façade extended across a series of existing buildings, more than doubling its length, was not carried out. The new Bentall’s was a steel-framed structure with an open-plan interior on five floors, with a central escalator hall rising through the full height of the building. Other features included a 750-seat restaurant, a ‘mannequin theatre’ for fashion shows and (across Wood Street to the north-west) a multi-storey car park. Webb also built a large furniture depository for the store, some distance away in Hardman Road.

In 1990-2 the entire Bentall’s site was redeveloped with the exception of Webb’s façade which was retained as part of the frontage to a new indoor shopping complex known as the Bentall Centre; the semicircular Wood Street entrance lobby was reconstructed in its original location. The depository building survives and is Grade II listed.

The former Bentall’s department store is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the 115 metre-long façade, a restrained exercise in the English Baroque by an important architectural firm, is impressive and substantially complete, and – complemented by the surviving elements of the Wood Street entrance lobby – is of sufficient interest to offset the loss of the building behind; * Artistic interest: the curved corner element incorporates reliefs by the major sculptor Eric Gill; * Historic interest: a very unusual instance of a department store on a truly metropolitan scale built in an outer-urban location.

EXTERIOR: 31-bay façade wrapping around the corner of Wood Street and Clarence Street and totalling nearly 115 metres in length. English Baroque style, derived from Wren’s extensions to Hampton Court but of three storeys to Wren’s four.

INTERIORS: Only surviving 1930s interior is semi-circular Wood Street entrance lobby, reconstructed in original location in 1992 using a mixture of new and old materials. Egyptianesque columns of Travertine with gilded capitals supporting illuminated glazed architrave. Renewed ceiling with illuminated sunburst above doorway. Behind the colonnade, a series of bronze-framed kiosks; between them, stained-glass roundels with the arms of Kingston upon Thames and the counties of Surrey, Hampshire, Essex and Sussex. Other interiors date from 1990s rebuilding and are not of special interest.”

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