A house frozen in time
The Oswald Bailey house in Chaddesley Glen, Canford Cliffs was a labour of Art Deco love, says Katie Black
Published in December ’13
If you look very closely at the entrance to the Poole Civic Centre, you can see a stone with the initials LMA marked on it. This is not an abbreviation of Local Municipal Authority, but rather cheekily, those of the man who designed the building: architect L Magnus Austin. Why cheekily? Well the building was supposed to have been designed by the then Borough Surveyor, Ernest Goodacre, but whilst his was the first name on the Project’s documentation, the Civic Centre was in fact designed by his assistant. Perhaps Goodacre thought that putting the letters EG in a keystone would not set a good example.
Whilst the Civic Centre may be the most visible of Austin’s designs, not to mention being one of the more beautiful examples of depression-era poor-relief work, it is far from being his design masterpiece; that honour surely belongs to a much smaller, commissioned family home that he also designed in Poole, he designed later, once in private practice.
The classic Art Deco house in question was a design for the Oswald Bailey family. The family is known for the eponymous company – the original British outdoor camping, walking and skiing retail outfitters– which was founded in 1906 and which opened its first Bournemouth store in 1930. Clearly the family enjoyed the area, as before the decade was out, they had commissioned and had built the imposing Art Deco Chaddesley Gate.
Art Deco’s days were numbered – strictly speaking this house is just after the main Art Deco period, which started to tail off in 1935 in continental Europe. The arrival of World War 2 meant that some of the materials typically used in Art Deco properties were hard to come by, while the post-war austerity meant that the somewhat ornate – or at least complicated, designs associated with Deco were replaced by a more brutalist and economical design style.
Whilst post-war fixtures and fittings were utilitarian, Art Deco was all about exuberance and an embracing of new technology. Hence within Chaddesley Gate we see shower cubicles with the pipework forming part of the structure, but in a way that is both beautiful and practical.
Perhaps appropriately for the home of the owner of an emporium of the outdoors, the house’s design is centred around a master bedroom and balcony, topped with what no self-respecting house in Canford Cliffs should be without: a telescope room. This five-bedroom house is classically Art Deco as, like a bird, the symmetrical rectangular wings, which spread either side of the sun-room, are angled to make the most of the location in terms of views, but also in terms of getting light into the house. There is a third, more substantial wing behind (or strictly speaking in front) of the house, which like the two side wings, is set at a 120° angle to the central telescope room turret. On either side on the ground floor are two symmetrically placed single garages.
The ground-floor veranda and first-floor balconies echo the signature circular curves of Art Deco architecture, the circular bedroom and the sun room form a succession of narrowing diameter circles as one goes up the building. The tall, arched windows giving out onto the veranda on the ground floor give way to wide, but shallow, openings on the first floor and these butt right up to the roof line to give the house a greater sense of height that it actually has. While the original Crittall windows survived on what is the front (non-sea side) of the house, those behind fell prey to sea-side corrosion and had to be replaced. The telescope room playfully suggests a lighthouse, while the external curved steel railings add an authentic nautical theme.
The nautical theme of Chaddesley Gate was heightened by Oswald Bailey’s love of collecting things. He attended sales and auctions and bought – from King George V’s racing yacht Britannia, a sloping-topped door (the slope owing to it having to fit under the sprung deck), which became the door into the gun-room. He also secured two of Britannia‘s white ensigns, the binnacle, a pair of rowlocks and two companionways – which he had put on the walls as bookshelves.
All of this nautical detail is complementary to the location, which is why, on the second floor, the telescope room exists. The room affords spectacular views of Dorset’s Jurassic coastline including, to the south, Old Harry Rocks and the Sandbanks peninsula, to the south-east to the Isle of Wight, and to the south-west to Poole harbour and its islands. The gardens roll down the gentle cliff-side offering easy access to the beach via a secluded, narrow winding footpath.
The light fittings in the house which, along with the mirrors, were original to the build, are ornate, colourful and made with exquisite attention to detail. Chaddesley Gate’s study had also retained its original wood panelling from new while the kitchen had its superb original 1930s pantry. The kitchen houses the original servant’s bell-board with designated bells for the entertaining rooms, bedrooms and, luxuriously, the two family bathrooms; the maid’s bedroom had an attached bathroom too – somewhat plainer and without a bell-pull, but Oswald and Olive did not have a live-in maid, so Oswald installed his Turkish bath in there instead.
Looking back through the well-preserved history of the house, it does appear fortunate to have withstood the ravages of World War 2, both given its position and also owing to the rather surprising storage ideas of Mr Bailey. During the war, anti-aircraft spotters and Mr Bailey himself used the telescope room to monitor the coastline. After the war Mr Bailey stored two bombs – which were, unbeknownst to him, still live – in the attic. This fact is extraordinary enough until one realises that it was not until April 2010 that these two incendiary devices were actually removed and then detonated locally in a field in Wimborne. For 55 years, the family had literally been living under not one, but two, bombs. When the house was being cleared, a family member used a pair of gloves she found in which to do the cleaning up. They were Oswald’s and were stamped ‘ARP’, and dated from his time as an air-raid warden.
Whilst the architecture of the house is interesting in itself, its form is as a function of the relatively small site that it occupies. When Oswald Bailey moved down to Poole he originally lived in an adjacent Victorian former vicarage called Chaddesley House. What became Chaddesley Gate was an odd-shaped plot that, combined with the hill and the plot’s angle to the sea, rather informed the design and groundworks (the garden is not steeply sloped); building a classic rectanglar house would simply not have worked on the site, which sat between an Edwardian house called Ullapool and the sea.
Ullapool, which has since been replaced, was owned by Captain Frederick Pine and his then wife Jean, who were not best pleased that their sea view was to be blocked by a new building. There was also some history of the two families’ dogs not getting on terribly well either. All this did not augur well for neighbourly relations, but, according to Bailey family lore, the billiard room was to change all that.
As there were no local air-raid-shelters, various members of the Baileys, Pines and other neighbours would, from time to time, seek shelter under the billiard table during air raids. Legend has it that Lalage (the younger of the Pine daughters, who was studying medicine in London for much of the war) and Frank (the younger Bailey son, who was in the tank corps in the Army) first fell in love under the billiard table during an air raid.
When the house was sold by Berkeleys in early 2013, the new owners expressed their desire to restore the heritage house to its Art Deco splendour; theirs, like the original commissioning and building of the house, will be a labour of love, but one which will hopefully preserve this ideal of Deco for another 75 years.
• Dorset Life would like to thank Oswald and Olive Bailey’s grandchildren, Miss Hilary Bailey and Mrs Suzanna Harris, for contributing their images and memories of Chaddesley Gate.