Seal of greatness for Mervyn's grand design

A "monstrosity," they called it. But that was back in the late 1950s.

And now that family home built by Mervyn Seal in Condover is considered a heritage and architectural jewel, which was given Grade II listed status by Historic England only last year, appearing on a national heritage list of 20 "intriguing places."

Sixty years on since young architect Mervyn conceived his striking design of Bridge House, he is making a nostalgic return to the property.

The Twentieth Century Society - which aims to safeguard the heritage of architecture and design - has arranged a guided tour on Saturday, March 17, which will be conducted by Mervyn, with the current owner showing the gardens.

"I'm proud of it," says Mervyn, who turns 88 next month and lives in Torquay.

"I've been back four times, and it's always wonderful to come back. It's the situation that's so lovely."

For the group that are shown round the home, which will include the likes of architects and people with interests in landscape and design, they will enjoy the rather rare privilege of being shown a listed building by the person who was behind it in the first place.

"With a lot of listed buildings the architects are dead."

Mervyn came with his wife Maria and baby daughter Anna to Shrewsbury from Bath in 1957 after landing a job as an assistant architect with the then Salop County Council, and his first job was to design part of the new Shrewsbury Technical College.

He bought a house in Wenlock Road but when a building plot bordered by the sparkling waters of the Cound Brook came up at Condover he bought it for £167and over the course of a weekend designed Bridge House, drawing on his experience in having designed and built his parents' house in Bath.

Atcham Rural District Council was unhappy with the prospect of the striking modern building in historic Condover, and turned down the scheme, with one councillor describing it as a "monstrosity." However their objections were overruled by county planners.

To bring the self-build project to fruition Mervyn needed to take out a loan of £3,000, with the final costs coming in at £3,896.

This could have been a problem, but in the event Bridge House, a three-bedroomed detached property overlooking Condover Hall parkland, was only briefly the Seals' home. They moved in to the still incomplete building as it was finished off, and it was sold before the end of 1959 for £5,000 - Mervyn had got a new job at Brixham.

"We never really were able to relax and enjoy the place. That is a regret, but one was going on to more creative things."

He used labour-only subcontractors in the project which began in February or March 1959.

As an architecture student, Mervyn studied Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright.

"If you asked which was the more influential, I would say Frank Lloyd Wright, because he was more related to nature and using natural materials. I used natural slate. I think it was an influence, but in the background - you couldn't find anything similar to Bridge House by Frank Lloyd Wright."

Mervyn last visited the property in 2015, taking a chance and knocking on the door, and was greeted by the owners.

For him a particularly pleasing feature is that the building has retained its late 1950s planning footprint, and he says that that was the reason the building was listed, although over time there have naturally been internal changes to things like the kitchen and bathroom arrangements.

"There are people who just want to change something completely so that it is unrecognisable, but I was fortunate that there were two ladies who were there for 40 years and kept everything identical, so it was like a time capsule when I visited them 40 years later as they were moving out.

"It's down to the people who live there and who cherish things as it was originally designed, although obviously one has to upgrade things like the kitchen, which was done on exactly the same footprint."

The building featured in the magazine House Beautiful in 1962 which said: "In Condover and the surrounding Shropshire countryside there are some of the most picturesque Tudor and Elizabethan houses in England. But, perfect though they are in their way, these are houses of the past. Bridge House belongs to the present and the future - here is an ideal home for modern living."

The Historic England listing details for the property say "despite modest means it uses the dramatic potential of its setting and carefully exploits the flow of space throughout the interior and on into the landscape."

It has "undergone little alteration to its original plan and the few changes have been sensitive to the existing pattern of the building."

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