Richard Bingham begins his series of articles on the unsung heroes of Shoreham’s architecture with a profile of the former Post Office on Brunswick Road.

The former Post Office on Brunswick Road in Shoreham town centre is one of many “architecturally handsome” post offices built by the Office of Works between the wars. Designed by Brighton-based architect William Overton (1879-1946), the Shoreham-by-Sea Post Office is also a good-looking example of the neo-Georgian style.

Post offices are official buildings. As such, their designers are expected to lend them a certain gravitas. At Shoreham, this is provided by the classical allusions. The most obvious example is the rustication to the ground floor: the cream-coloured render on top of the bricks has been incised with deep lines so that the exterior resembles the stones of a fortified castle, creating an impression of solidity.

This imposing appearance is reinforced by the other classical details of the kind found in so many neo-Georgian buildings of the 1930s. Although there are no columns, the ghosts of their capitals are still visible on the corners at the frieze level, where the post office’s name has been cut into the plaster in assertive, sans serif capital letters. The final classical detail is the dentil (a repeating pattern of small decorative blocks) where the roof meets the front wall.

So far, so grand…

However, English post office architecture of this period balanced Georgian simplicity and touches of classical grandeur with other detailing that was distinctly domestic.

The Shoreham Post Office reflects this in its pitched and tiled roof and in the regular spacing of the windows on its first floor. The first floor of the building therefore looks much more like an elegant but modest home than it does an office of state.

Indeed, although it might well be a later addition, much of the side elevation of the Post Office along Western Road looks just like a private house. The dormer window and the tall chimney stacks of the roofline and the bay windows are all more redolent of domestic than public architecture. Yet, thanks to the unifying brickwork and that pitched roof, they blend in with the rest of the building.

The side elevation along Western Road

A very British affair

All this makes Shoreham’s Post Office a very British affair. Reviewing the recent Post Offices built by the Office of Works for the October 1930 edition of Architectural Review, P. Morton Shand could boast that in Britain “our aversion to bureaucracy is such that its appearance is made as deliberately domestic as possible.”

In his recently-published book Interwar: British Architecture 1919-1939, critic Gavin Stamp describes the significance of the neo-Georgian style to architecture between the two world wars: “the repetitive, orderly simplicity of the Late Georgian was widely seen as the basis for the development of a modern national architecture.” The fenestration of the Shoreham Post Office is therefore thoroughly typical of its period in its Georgian-inspired arched windows and, again, their regular spacing.

…but an uncertain future

Susie Barson notes that in the eighteen-month period from October 2007 to March 2009 about 2,500 post offices were closed under the Government’s Network Change programme. The programme accelerated thereafter, and Shoreham’s post office closed its doors in 2017, although at least part of the premises are presently occupied by a special educational needs charity.

Shoreham’s post office is an example of what were known as Class 1 Crown Offices. These were often sited on high streets or along shopping parades. Their large ground floor rooms have meant that, like many neo-Georgian banks, these post offices often enjoy second lives as public houses, restaurants and shops. However, according to the Adur and Worthing website, no such application for a change of use has been received.

Since 2017, the exterior of the building has been bashed about and graffiti has not been removed. It would be a shame if a handsome building like this were to become as battered as the wider public image of the Post Office has been in recent years!

Richard Bingham

Sources and further reading

Interwar: British Architecture 1919-1939, by Gavin Stamp, Profile Books, 2024.

The Architecture of Public Service, in Twentieth Century Architecture Number 13, published by the Twentieth Century Society, 2018

William Henry Overton, 1879 – 1946

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Last modified: April 23, 2024