Devon’s 1930s High Cross House to reopen for culture festival

‘Bizarre’ modernist building on Dartington Hall estate is to host Sea Change festival in May

One of the UK’s most important modernist buildings, High Cross House on the Dartington Hall estate in Devon, is to reopen to the public during a festival of music and conversation next month.

High Cross House on the Dartington Hall estate in Devon.
High Cross House on the Dartington Hall estate in Devon. Photograph: Sea Change festival

Created as a sleek “machine for living” in the 1930s, the building has been empty for five years, its white paint peeling, its crisp lines and unexpected curves a little tired.

But next month it will be a eye-catching venue at a festival called Sea Change, when members of the public will be able to listen to musicians, poets, artists and thinkers in its light and airy rooms. A craft gin bar will be set up on the terrace, which gives on to gardens.

Opening up the house for the festival is part of a drive by the estate, a centre for radical thinking for almost a century, to raise the profile of the building and hopefully eventually restore it to its former glory.

Regarded as a modernist masterpiece, High Cross was designed by the Swiss-American architect William Lescaze and built in 1932 for art patrons Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst as a home for William Curry, then headmaster of the progressive Dartington Hall school.

Dartington Hall, the estate where High Cross House is located.
Dartington Hall, the estate where High Cross House is located. Photograph: Globuss Images/Alamy

The building was Curry’s home until 1956 and remained as the headmaster’s house until 1987, when it fell into neglect and was used as a student hostel.

One of the ‘unexpected curves’ at High Cross House.
One of the ‘unexpected curves’ at High Cross House. Photograph: Sea Change festival

High Cross was renovated in the 1990s, and in 2012 it was leased to and opened to the public by the National Trust but the charity closed it just two years later, citing low visitor figures. It has been named as one of the top 10 buildings at risk by the 20th Century Society.

Rhodri Samuel, the chief executive of the Dartington Hall Trust, said the nature of the building meant it degraded very quickly and the climate of the English West Country was not always kind to it.

But he said “it still feels unbelievably modern” and that every window framed a wonderful view. “There is a lovely dance between the inside and outside,” he added.

Rupert Morrison, the director of Sea Change festival, founded by the independent record shop Drift based in nearby Totnes, said he was delighted the house would be used again and called it a rare and special space.

He said: “High Cross House is a bizarre building in the best possible way. It has been in our minds since we first imagined creating the festival. Hopefully, Sea Change will give some attention to High Cross House and help to secure the future of one of the finest modernist homes in the country.”

• Sea Change takes place from 24-26 May at Dartington and Totnes. Among the lineup are the Devon pop group Metronomy, the singer Gruff Rhys, the comedian Stewart Lee – and a live celebration of the beloved children’s show Bagpuss.

Contributor

Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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