History & Architecture of the Dorset Laundry
75 Elphinstone Road, Hastings, East Sussex
Originally researched by Anne Rowley.
Kindly contributed to 1066online by Vicky Kindell.
Digitised and published on the web by Geoff Wolfe.
To what extent would it be justifiable to say that this building follows the dictates of the International Style 2 How far has the architect been concerned with producing moderne/modernistic architecture adapted for local ends?
In 1895 Payne and Company took over the Cambridge Laundry, (probably named after nearby Cambridge Road) situated at 8 Dorset Place, Hastings and run by Mrs. Boulter. They renamed it the Dorset Laundry and removed to larger premises in Portland Place. An advertisement in a holiday guide of 1903 (1.) tells how they won prizes for several years between 1895 and 1902, at the International Laundry Exhibitions for their Shirt and Collar Dressing and 'Blouse and Finery Ironing". It also claimed that they used no chemicals and nothing but handwork, and were therefore superior to any steam laundry.
On 16th June 1911, a new building in Hoadswood Road was approved by the Council, designed by Alfred Dray, F.S.I., Architect and Surveyor of 30 Havelock Road, Hastings. It was brick built with a roof of timber and iron and consisted of four rooms. Steel stanchions supported the iron roof. trusses. The largest room, fifty-five feet by seventy feet contained the main laundry area, the ironing room with it's stove, washing room and sorting and packing room. The other three roots were; the boiler and engine rooms, the drying room, and toilets and store. The plan can be seen in fig. 1 and the site plan in fig. 2. Two long sheds were later added to the west side of the building.
(1.) Historic Hastings and St. Leonards including Bexhill: illustrated guide
by Rev. G. N. Goodwin. Burfield & Pennells, Hastings, 1903.
The Payne Family
The Dorset Laundry was owned and run by Alderman George Payne, who was also for many years an enthusiastic member of Hastings Town Council. He devoted much of his time to his council work and generously gave the playing fields opposite the laundry to the town. His son Harold entered the business in 1933, eventually taking over on his father's death in 1950.
Harold Payne built the business up after the war-time decline, and served as a member of the Commission of Enquiry into the future of the laundry industry in 1950-2. At the age of 39, he became the youngest president of the Institute of British Launderers in 1953, when his theme for the year was 'Better Customer Relations. He appeared on a Panorama programme in defence of the laundry industry against an outraged and apparently rather unreasonable customer.
Decline of Laundries
The laundry industry began to decline when washing machines became available for home use in 1945 and coin-in-the-slot launderettes began in 1949. Harold Payne pointed out in 1954 that laundries now offered a wider range of services, some at prices which were less than the hire purchase payments on a home washing machine. He also said; "Laundries are far more in the spirit of the times; we do not seek to chain the housewife to household chores but we say, 'Delegate your tasks to experts who will give you a professional job so that you have more leisure and retain your youthful beauty'." (1.)
(1.) Power Laundry, 27th May 1954 supplement on National Laundry Congress.
The Dorset Laundry did try to utilise spare land behind the laundry for a car-wash unit and launderette in 1967, but their planning application was turned down because of annoyance to nearby residents and secondly because their position may have caused a traffic hazard.
In 1973 the Dorset Laundry amalgamated with the Hollington Laundry and Dawn Cleaners, to become the Dawn and Dorset Laundry. Since the death of Harold Payne it is run by Mr. George and Mr. Dennis Davies originally fremthe Hollington Laundry. They are now the only laundry in Hastings; doiné veha to survive as many towns depend entirely on national laundry services. Their business is from schools, hotels, domestic cleaning and their more recent venture into linen and overal hire.
The Main Extension to the Dorset Laundry
The number of laundries in Hastings more than doubled from fourteen in 1933 to thirty-seven in 1937 and the Dorset Laundry was a thriving business with a shop in Queen's Road, (the main shopping area) and their works at Hoadswood Road. They advertised for many years in a prime position on the spine of the local directory.
Alderman Payne commissioned Ward, Son and Wray of Bank Buildings Hastings to build a new laundry building adjoining the existing one. The expansion was a result of his son Harold joining the business and most of the planning fell on him. He visited many laundry buildings including the Sunlight Laundry, Acre Lane, which impressed him considerably. He formed a clear idea of his requirements which included good light for the staff to work in and good ventilation. He also thought that the entrance hall and reception area for callers was important.
His comment that laundries should be "Clean and bright as a dairy as they are
'the creators of cleanliness' (1.) is echoed by the present managements' upkeep
of the building.
Kenneth Wray the architect remembers Alderman Payne's request for: "A modern factory that would look modern for all time." The Institute of British Launderers Journal of 15th May, 1953 said that the "Dorset Laundry at Hastings is a model
works that could well service as a showpiece for the industry."
The site is about two and a half miles from the centre of Hastings and in 1937 was on the outskirts of the town with only a few houses nearby. Now it is in the centre of a residential area which ironically has caused more inconvenience to the laundry than vice versa. Inadequate drainage was provided for the new housing, and the laundry premises suffered flooding. After unsuccessful negotiations with the council, Mr. Payne had to pay to rectify the problem. Their position also caused the refusal of their planning application for car-wash and launderette as mentioned earlier.
Kenneth Wray believed that industry should be in the middle of the town and remembers a councillor who thought that industrial estates were a better solution. When reminded of the Dorset Laundry, by then surrounded by houses he immediately dismissed it as inconsequential. Mr. Wray thus felt his building was a success. It is set well back from the road and although it stands out from the houses it is not obtrusive.
(1.) Institute of British Launderers Journal June, 1953.
Layout of the Building
The building consisted of offices and laundry area (see figs. 3 & 4). The front block of two wings contained waiting rooms, office and garage on the south side. On the first floor the canteen was in the north wing and pressing department in the south. The central ground floor entrance hall between the wings was topped by a tower containing a service area to the canteen on the first floor, and
a kitchen above.
Stairs are situated at the corner of the north wing, centrally from the entrance hall and a fire escape is at the rear of the south wing. Steps down are necessary as you enter the south wing due to the sloping site. Service lifts go from the garage to the pressing room, and from the service area to the kitchen. Behind this block the main laundry area joined the existing building and more than doubled the working area.
The laundry was a steel-framed structure with brick infill, the steel stanchions carried down to a foundation of 6" hardcore and reinforced concrete floors variously covered. The upper floors and roof were of hollow tile for sound insulation.
Damp courses were of slates set in cement, the roof was of corrugated asbestos with north-light glazing. The flat roof was of rubbercrete with gravel finish and the canopy was covered with 0.75" asphalt.
Externally the walls were rendered in sand and cement and finished with snowcrete, and a black cement rendered plinth.
The cost of the new building was £17,000. It was approved by the Hastings Council on 8th May, 1936 and completed in March, 1937.
Kenneth Fletcher Wray was of course aware of the modern movement and the continental architects when he designed the Dorset Laundry but he denies any
specific influences on his work. He admired Frank Lloyd Wright.
When designing the laundry extension he had to take into account the request for a modern building and the fact that the existing building was of a traditional pitched roof construction. This was neatly overcome as they had a corner site, by demolishing the long sheds at the western side of the building and fronting the building onto Elphinstone Road instead of Hoadswood Road. (See site plan of original building fig. 2). The new extension was "wrapped round" the existing one as the south wall was moved out and the existing windows re-used to match the north side. This left a window short, and a new window had to be used in the last bay which can been seen next to the new one in fig. 5 on the extreme left. The western wall had to be raised and the roofs flashed and three new openings had to be made into the new building. The north side door was removed and the window formed to match the existing ones.
Having had a beaux-arts training at the Architectural Association Kenneth Wray used classical proportions to articulate his façade into bays. This is illustrated particuarly well on the north façade (fig. 7) where pilasters separated the windows as well as on the main façade where his spacing of windows was based on classical column heights.
The canopy provided a strong central feature to unite the two wings as well as stressing the importance of the entrance hall. This is emphasised by the steps
up to the rain entrance because you can approach from left or right but not centrally.
The facade was decorated with two strips of blue faience running level with the top and bottom of the upper storey windows and centrally a third, level with the top of the transom. The bottom strip formed the window-sills externally. The wall face above the string course was set back by one inch and the black cement plinth (now a dark grey) stood out by one inch. The blue strip theme was continued inside the building. Fig. 3 shows a bin and fig. 9 the internal tilling.
The tower provided an ornamental relief between the severity of the two wings; it's tall window and decorative mouldings also helped to make a vertical contrast to their horizontality. The top kitchen was lit by two little windows looking out over the flat roof (fig. 10) on each side, below which the tower widens and is covered by a little corrugated pitched roof. This can be seen from the back in fig. 11 and is just visible from the front, in fig. 39. Fig 12 shows how careful detailing keeps rainwater off the walls.
The Entrance Hall
Fig. 13 shows the entrance hall with enquiry hatch to the left and door to the works visible. The Managing Director's office is on the right. The flooring is of 12 inch by 12 inch terazzo tille 6 and the hand rail of polished stainless steel. The panels on the stairs and beneath the hatch are not original; the tiles designed by Mr. Wray for this area were not used.
The tiled window-sills as seen in fig. 14 appear in all the rooms.
Originally the decoration on the front doors matched the tower windows (fig. 15).
Today the doors are electronically operated.
The Main Laundry
The laundry was entered by the door in the entrance hall or by the staff entrance at the rear of the north wing (fig. 5). It has an area of 720 square feet with a 1 inch dustless grano floor with an area of 4.5 square feet teak flooring in the centre (fig.16). The walls are tiled.
Fig. 17 is a view from the west showing the internal roof structure of the 1937 building and the north-light glazing. At the back of the picture is the external wall of the 1911 building with the circular spaces for extract ventilators on what was then the external wall. They can be seen in more detail in fig. 18. Fig. 19 shows the roof glazing and the windows combining to give extra light. Unfortunately the difficulties of photographing in the brightness give the opposite effect.
Fig. 20 shows some of the internal fittings still in use. The door leads into the general office in the north wing. A firs alarm is attached to one of the steel stanchions. Fig. 21 is a closer view of the lampshade above which is typical of several still to be seen in the building and fig. 22 is a steam iron.
Fig. 23 shows the teak-topped steel stools bolted to the floor, fig. 24. the wooden-framed mirrors and curved window and fig. 25 is a view from the door.
The canteen provided a subsidised hot mea daily to a staff of over a hundred in the 1940's. Today the staff is down to seventy-five and the canteen deals more in snacks. It had a woodblock floor with two inch core skirting and the walls were fairface distempered.
Fig. 26 looks into the service area situated in the tower. The patterned tower window can be seen. Notice the tubular steel framing to contain the queue, Fig.27 shows the view out of the window that can be seen on the right of fig. 26. This must have been very attractive in the 1930's when very few houses could be seen. The mouldings of the tower, the canopy and the car park can be seen. Notice the original gate and gate-posts to the boundary wall although the wall itself has been rebuilt. Fig.28 is the factory hooter and fig. 29 shows the lift in the adjacent service area.
The original heating system is still in use except for tha fact that the
boiler has been converted from coke to oil. Fig. 30 shows a heater in the main
laundry and fig. 31, a radiator in the canteen. Radiators can also be seen in fig. 13 of the entrance hall and fig. 32 in the landing level office, now used by the Manageress. The fireplace in this room (fig. 33) is entirely ornamental having no chimney.
Rainwater is collected from the guttering and conducted through the rainwater pipes into an underground tank which runs the length of the old building under the
"wrapped round" part of the extension. The water is stored for the laundry's use.
Rainwater collected in a relatively country area contains very little impurities
and is ideal for Washing.
The laundry is well ventilated and a view of the ventilators in the old
building can be seen in fig. 34.
Extensions & Alterations Since 1937
These have all with one exception been designed by Kenneth Wray and he described the Payne's as very loyal clients.
New Tank Room
In 1946 the new Tank Room was built at the rear above the Engine Room to contain a calorifier. It can be seen on the right of fig. 35 with a new steel framed flooring and asbestos covered pitched roof.
In the 1940's the Dorset Laundry decided to expand into dry cleaning which had first come to England after World War I. Dry cleaning was relatively easy as any fabric was suitable as opposed to washing, where shrinkage and colour running was often a problem. The situation is completely reversed today as modern man-made
materials can dissolve in spirits and everything has to be carefully checked before
dry cleaning, whereas nearly everything washes.
The garage space in the south wing was required for the new service and in 1948 a new garage extension was built. It had always been intended to extend the garage accomodation as this was indicated on the original plans. The new extension was behind the south wing running alongside the new building (fig. 36). The existing steel roller shutter garage doors were removed and refitted to the new garage. Two doors at the back of the south block were filled in as they would have novi led into the new garege, and a new one cut by the fire escape. The garage door spaces at the front were blocked in and replaced by metal windows to match the windows in the north block.
Alterations in 1950
A new boiler house was built at the extreme south-east corner making the ground plan rectangular. Two corrugated iron storage buildings were erected just to the rear of the boiler house adjacent to the chimney. The boiler house was brick built with two double steel doors facing south and can be seen on the left of fig. 35 and in fig. 5.
The complex of buildings at the north-east corner of the building were considerably altered at this time. The recess seen on the old building ground plan (fig. 1) between the old boiler room and the toilets was filled in and the mens changing room WՅ.S put there. A new opening was made from inside the works by demolishing a brick wall and putting a R.S. J. Over the opening. The drying machines were put into the opened-up room. Other rooms in this corner contained the mens toilets, electric main switch gear, water softener and sump, air compressor room and motor room.
Alterations were also made to the offices surrounding the entrance hall in the front block. The toilet occupying the curved area next to the entrance hall in the Orth wing was removed and it was adapted for use as a manageress" office. A corner of the cloakroom was taken to make a new toilet and fitted with a ne saite. Access was from the offices. The mens toilet in the west curved corner was also redecorated. On the south-side a waiting room and office was made into two offices.
In 1952 Gordon Walford, Architect and Surveyor of Amhurst Road, Hastings designed an extra garage containing a pit for maintenance to be built next to the existing ones. It had nine inch brick walls, sliding doors and an asbestos sheeting roof glazed with quarter inch wired glass. The existing and new garages and lean-to shed can be seen in fig. 37.
Electrically operated automatic doors were fitted in 1965 but much of the original doorframe was kept (fig. 33).
The garden was tarmacadamed over to make a car park in about 1972. A large. percentage of the cleaning work is taken in at the factory possibly because of the parking facilities not available outside the shops.
The building has needed very little maintenance apart from rebuilding of the chimney undertaken in 1975 at a cost of £4,000. The wall adjoining the front steps has cracked and needs attention.
The International Style
Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson organised the first architectural exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, and realised that a new style had evolved based on the ideas of architects like Le Corbusier, Oud, Gropius and Mies van de Rohe. They published their book 'The International Style' in the same year describing the characteristics of the new architecture. The three basic principles that they noted were an attention to volume rather than mass, regularity rather than symmetry and dependence on the intrinsic elegance of materials rather than applied decoration.
The Dorset Laundry is obviously not a pure International Style building: it is not a square box with curtain walls and the ornamental tower and cornice immediately disqualify it as such, but Hitchcock and Johnson lay down very narrow guidelines by which to judge International Style buildings and many features are
worthy of discussion and comparison.
The steel framing does give the ground plan the regularity demanded, and although the front block seems symmetrical at first glance, closer inspection shows that the windows do not exactly match as there are four corner windows
in the north wing and one in the south.
The composition of the façade has been altered by the removal of the garage door 3 and their replacement by two single windows and je must therefore look at fig. 39 of the building as built to gain an impression of what the architect intended. It is my opinion that he wanted a symmetrical effect and that he has attempted to match the windows as far as possible when the garage doors were removed, although with one small window already present and two openings it would not have been possible to replace these with three windows.
The strips of faience join the upper floor windows together and help thern to flow round the corners giving an impression of International Style, strip windows and the lighting in the black and white original photograph accentuates this effect. The ground floor windows are slightly bigger and are more isolated giving the 'hole in the wall' effect spoken of by Hitchcock and Johnson. They are also set back further than the upper floor windows and this breaks the vertical line (fig. 40). They are light metal-framed non-standard windows. The damp proofing above the lintells and the airbricks also break the wall surface.
Hitchcock and Johnson did not approve of curves because they are not functional but admitted that curves "introduce an aesthetic element of the highest positive interest".
The lettering now seen on the façade is a recent addition and does spoil the smooth surface plane. Originally (fig. 39) the words Dorset Laundry were set above the canopy.
The laundry is a horizontal building and although Hitchcock and Johnson say that horizontality is not in itself a principle of the International Style it was a feature of many of the buildings.
Hitchcock and Johnson said: "Those who employ roof projections in normal construction indicate a definate lack of feeling for contemporary style". This was because it detracted from the effect of volume rather than mass and a seal rather than an overhang was recommended for weather protection. Forever 8. cantideo və red roof-plane such as on the German Pavilion at the Barcelona. Exposition in 1929 by Mies van de Rohe was considered acceptable as it "exists, like the ceiling of an interior, as the bounding surface of a volume". Hitchcock and Johnson appear to stretch their rules to include otherwise un conforming buildings.
The only applied decoration is the faience and mouldings on the tower which is itself an ornamental feature. The fire escape in the south wing (fig. 41) although a functional feature is reminiscent of the nautical architecture favoured by sore architects at this time.
Very little of the internal organisation of the laundry is expressed on the façade; the canopy signifies the entrance hall and when the south wing was used as a garage the doors made this fundion very clear. Today only the opaque glass representing the toilet windows (and in fact one of these is now an office) are left to give any indication of the interior. Similarly the structure is not expressed on the exterior of the building.
The acceptable features of International Style buildings laid down by Hitchcock and Johnson are extremely limited and very few 1930's buildings in England fulfilled the criteria. The fact that the laundry does not do so does not detract from the fact that it is an excellent building. No industrial building can expect to remain unchanged for very long and the laundry has fulfilled the changing requirements of it's occupants for forty-five years needing minimum alteration and little repair. This is fundionalism on a par with that advocated by the International Style architects.
J.M. Richards writing in 1937 (1.) about the forthcoming exhibition by the Modern Architectural Research Group talked of the "bogus modernism ... that assumes the transitory or accidental characteristics of the real thing and exploits it's fashion value without possessing either it's rational justification or it's artistic integrity. The extistence of this 'modernistic practice ... presents a greater danger to the healthy unselfconcious acceptance of the modern idea than the existance of any die-hard practice of, for instance Renaissance revivalism ..." In spite of the denail that the International Style was a style at all this point of view was prevalent until quite recently when the modernistic buildings began to be appreciated as architecture in their own right.
(1.) Architectural Review April, 1937.
The laundry stands out as a 1930's building; it's curvilinear shape fitted current ideas of streamlining without being too austere. The tower with it's figureless clock, the metal-framed windows flowing round corners and the rendered finish all proclaim the building as representative of British Modernistic architecture. Because the International buildings were so magnificently ahead of their time, they are still modern today and a layman cannot date them as he can a moderne building. High Point or Lawn Road flats could have been built as easily in the 1980's as in the 1930's. In producing a building so typical of the 1930's I feel in retrospect that Kenneth Wray with the Dawn Laundry has truly captured the spirit of the age more acutely than the best of the International Style architects.
Bibliography & Sources
Architectural Review. April, 1937
The British Architect in Industry 1841 - 1940 by H.A.N. Brockman, London. George Allen & Unwin, 1974.
Broadcasting Supplement Part 2, The Open University Press, Milton Keynes, 1976
Historic Hastings and St. Leonards including Bexhill : illustrated guide by Rev. G.N. Goodwin, Burfield & Pennells, Hastings 1903
Institute of British Launderers Journal, 1953
The International Style by J. R. Hitchcock and P. Johnson Norton, New York, 1932
Kellys Directories of Hastings, Kellys Directories Ltd., London, Various years between 1890 and 1940
Pike's Directories of Hastings. Various years between 1390 and 1940
The Principles and Practice of Domestic and Institutional Laundry Work by Agnes Jackman and B. Rogers, Edward Arnold Ltd., London, 1934
My thanks go to Mr. G. Davies, Mr. K. Wray and Mrs. J. Payne for their information given to me by personal interview.