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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Plymouth 3 Royal Parade to St Andrews

In Part 2 I covered the Civic Square just off the Royal Parade and now I am back on the Parade going east down to St. Andrews Cross. Part 1 covered the western half of the Parade.

This is the House of Fraser store, what used to be Dingles Department Store. Designed by Thomas Tait of Sir John Bernard Tait and Partners, 1949-51.

Adjoining it is what is now T K Maxx, and how many T K Maxx stores have beautiful art like this on the front. This is a series of Bas Relief panels which appear to show market scenes throughout the ages, specifically trading in cloth. I believe this was the last building to be completed on the Royal Parade.

Here some elegantly dressed people have arrived in an impressive ship to show off their beautiful cloth to some less well dressed individuals, wearing what appear to be animal skins.

This scene is Elizabethan and again a man is showing off his bolts of cloth.

This scene looks medieval with a knight in chain mail looking on.

This is a classical scene possibly Greek.

This is a detail from the former Debenhams Store. Plans are afoot for redevelopment which will see two floors added to the top and 166 apartments built at the rear. This façade will remain though.

We are currently going through an era that sees mega department stores going out of fashion and also residential accommodation returning to the inner city.

Looking south is the first clear view of St. Andrews Church. More on this later.

Now I've reached St. Andrews Cross the eastern end of the Royal Parade. This is the old Post Office 1957, designed by Cyril Pinfold. I have found a very detailed description of the plan.

The site is in the heavily blitzed part of the town, and forms part of an area of redevelopment. The planning has been largely determined by the peculiar shape of the site, and the most suitable disposition of the public office to meet operation requirements. The accommodation is arranged on four floors, the upper floors being "single banked" only in order to meet the height requirements of the planning authority. The public office has been kept back from the frontage to provide the requisite length of counter under full supervision and to permit of additional height. The writing room and entrance lobbies maintain the reduced height of the side wings which accommodate requirements directly related to the operations of the public office. The upper floors accommodate general offices, a large telegraph instrument room, dining and welfare rooms, lavatories and locker rooms .

The building will be of reinforced concrete frame construction, with hollow block floors and roof. The walls will be of cavity construction with brick outer skin and block inner skin between the frame. It is a condition of the local authority that the building should be faced in stone. This will be in the form of thin stone slabs in two colours, textural interest being gained by change in the pattern of the joints. Polished black granite slabs will be used on the flank walls in the entrance lobbies, with thin sawn slate slabbing to the curtain wall below the cills on the ground floor. The columns will be faced with polished terrazzo. In the public office certain of the wall surfaces will be in flush panelling, the counter being hardwood. The floor finish will be terrazzo. It will be top lighted, the laylight also housing the general artificial lighting required, lighting of a higher intensity being provided over the counter. Other internal finishes will be largely painted plaster walls.

Norwich Union House by the London architects, Donald Hamilton Wakeford & Partners showed how the Classical Style was manipulated. Each façade was symmetrical with thin stone cornices and the columns pulled away from the office windows. It is reminiscent of the stripped classical architecture of the Paris International Exhibition of 1937.

The National Provincial Bank now RBS was designed by BC Sherren, staff architect of the bank, 1955-8. Faced in Portland stone again, but with a stripped classical portico in Devon granite. The walls behind the facade were faced in Mediterranean-blue and lilac glass mosaic, studded with gold motifs of fish, anchors, castles and squirrels taken from the bank's Coat of Arms. It was crowned with an illuminated green glass lantern featuring a clock.

Down the side street between the church and the Guildhall is this remnant St. Andrews Abbey Hall. This is one of two buildings behind St. Andrews, the other being Prysten House which backs onto the Abbey Hall. Both offer spaces which can be hired out.

On the Guildhall are some sculptures representing the arts.

No other building symbolised the rebuilding of Plymouth more than the restoration of St. Andrews Church. There was never any debate about leaving the ruins as a memorial. The architect was Frederick Etchells whose practice specialised in church repair. Etchells restored the exterior more or less to it's medieval appearance between 1945 - 1957.

Inside the new roof vaults over the nave and aisles were thin cast concrete shells, a very modern approach, but they were faced with oak ribs and false oak wall plates. All the interior fittings were designed by Etchells in oak, copying historic patterns.

This made it more surprising, therefore, that John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens were commissioned to design the stained glass windows.

They had both collaborated on Coventry Cathedral and Piper was probably the most famous modern artist in Britain at the time. The five windows installed into the Gothic tracery in 1965, were highly abstract and brightly coloured and a very effective foil to Etchell's rather academic and monotone interior.

It has to be said I missed one of these five windows as it was in a side chapel and I did not see it. I have also discovered much else in researching this set of posts which warrants a return trip some time soon.

The west window of 1958, a representation of the Instruments of the Passion and a memorial to Lord Astor, was more figurative as befitted it's dedication.

The view south from inside the church shows Prysten House.

and here it is on the south side backing onto the Abbey Hall mentioned earlier.

Part 4 will take up here and describe Prysten House before I progress towards the Barbican and Sutton Harbour.

Part 5 is Sutton Harbour to the Hoe.

Unless otherwise stated, the architectural information is borrowed from the Plymouth Plan. Vision of a Modern City.

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Unknown member
Jun 11, 2022

I am liking the inside of the church but somewhat bewildered with the windows. The designs are not the "normal" kind, as a matter of fact one of them look like it has the devils horn. I read that you mentioned they were abstract, yet makes me wonder, why go that route.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jun 12, 2022
Replying to

The windows are very typical in style for the 50's and in particular the work of John Piper who was a painter and Official War Artist. I cannot find them explained but I will call in again next time and see if there is info on them. The horns as you describe them look like a Lyre or stringed instrument. I did find that one of the windows represented music so maybe it is that one. Another was in commemoration of Nancy Astor.


David Nurse
David Nurse
Jun 09, 2022

Another good tour, Gethin, St. Andrews Church is lovely. I enjoyed the the stained glass.

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