Metroland Art Deco


Detail of Rayners Lane tube station

The early twentieth century saw a house building boom across the nation.  The utopian idyll of garden cities was, however, seldom realised. Most housing developments only borrowed ideas from the likes of Parker and Unwin, creating the endless suburbs that ring the core of the nineteenth century, and earlier, towns and cities.

Appearances can be deceptive. In many ways the suburbs of the 1920s and 1930s could easily be mistaken for garden cities. The houses seem similar. Set back from the road, behind generous gardens and with room for a drive and garage, their low density allowed inhabitants to feel closer to nature. Stylistically they copy Arts and Crafts buildings. Half-timbering is much used; rooflines are varied, with many gables; round and square windows, with stained glass added to complete the picturesque composition. However, these weren’t individually designed. Instead avenues, road and closes were filled with identical semi-detached houses, individualised only by their border planting schemes and the paint colour of their front doors. These motifs were also transferred to other buildings, notably the shopping parades and public houses serving the new communities. Mock Tudor became monotonous.

The greatest growth of these suburbs was, unsurprisingly, in London. Vast swathes of countryside were taken up by the mushrooming suburbs. Here the car and train combined to allow residents to travel speedily to work. Indeed, much of the development was controlled by London Underground, creating suburbs like Rayners Lane and Pinner, called by many Metroland. Two buildings formed the heart of these new suburbs: the tube station and the cinema. It is strange, then, that these contrast to the houses around by striving to be modern. Mock Tudor was rejected in favour of Art Deco, with its concentration on line, interest in the exotic, and liking for industrial materials. Metroland, therefore, was a strange combination of styles and sources, as the images in this section suggest.


About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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