Standing on Red Lion Square just off High Holborn in central London is Summit House, an impressive office building in the Modernist style. Designed by the British architect Joseph Emberton with his architectural partner Percy Westwood, Summit House was built in 1925 for the Austin Reed Company.
The Austin Reed company was founded in 1900 by Austin Leonard Reed as a gentleman's tailor. By 1911 the company had a flagship store on London's Regent Street, and by 1925 the company commissioned the architectural practice of Westwood & Emberton to design its London headquarters for the company. By the 1930s the company had concessions aboard the transatlantic Cunard Liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The company went into administration in 2016, before the brand name was bought out by the Edinburgh Woollen Mill company.
Architect Joseph Emberton and his partner Percy Westwood formed Westwood & Emberton in 1922. Emberton was born in Staffordshire in 1889 and died in 1956. Percy Westwood was born in 1878 and died two years later in 1958.
The practice was responsible for a number of designs for Austin Reed shops, including in Glasgow (on the corner of Gordon Street and Renfield Street) and Sheffield (on Fargate, near to its junction with the High Street) although these were in a more traditional style of architecture compared to Summit House. Emberton in his own right was responsible for some notable Modernist buildings including Simpson's of Piccadilly (in London), the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club in Burnham-on-Crouch and Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Summit House uses a steel-framed construction, with the building comprising six storeys (five main storeys and a basement). Its distinctive facade is clad in biscuit-coloured faience. The main elevation onto Red Lion Square is eight bays wide with a return down Dane Street for a further ten bays. The two rightmost bays on Red Lion Square are set back slightly from the main body of the building, with a smaller parapet compared to the central five bays. The left-most bay on Red Lion Square comprises a stairwell, extending over three storeys faced with a glass and metal window surround. The windows on each storey are deeply recessed, with black metal-framed windows. Beneath the windows are square panels with a distinctive geometric pattern.
At ground floor level a low-wall encloses the basement storey. The wall is topped with iron railings and decorative finials at each corner, and either side of the main entrance. The building's entrance is via steps from the street, with deeply recessed double doors. The wooden doors incorporate carved panels by English sculptor and designer Percy Metcalfe 1895 - 1970) depicting elements of the tailor's trade.
The furthest bay along Dane Street originally had a side door entrance, but this has been bricked in at some point; the original signage of the building over the door (Austin Reed Ltd) and on the main facade's parapaet (Summit House) has been removed. The building also had a tall flag pole atop the roof, but this has also disappeared.
On the corner of Dane Street there is a Blue Plaque dedicated to John Harrison (1693 - 1776). Harrison invented the marine chronometer, a device which allowed ships to accurately calculate their longitude whilst at sea.
Summit House has been occupied since 2002 by solicitors Mishcon de Reya; prior to that the building had been used by the telecoms company Cable and Wireless.
The building, including the outer wall and railings, was awarded Grade II-listed status on 6 July 1981.
This is an updated and revised building profile first published on 28 September 2010.
Posted by Richard Coltman on Tuesday, September 28, 2010