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.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
19th-century artwork inspires restoration of Devon estate
Landscape painting discovered in Killerton house informs National Trust development of grounds

Steven Morris

16, Jun, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
National Trust buys romantic landscape of Lorna Doone novel
Nine acres in Exmoor includes buildings, rivers and moorland linked to 19th-century tale

Steven Morris

15, Jun, 2020 @11:01 PM

Article image
Revived: the 1930s London gay members' club raided by police
Caravan Club, once billed as the capital’s greatest bohemian rendezvous, recreated for Queer City project

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

27, Feb, 2017 @4:44 PM

Article image
Duke of Wellington monument to reopen after £3.1m repairs
Visitors will be able to climb to top of 200-year-old tower, which is tallest three-sided obelisk in the world

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

27, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's cottage to reopen after revamp
Parlour fireplace believed to have featured in poet's Frost at Midnight among items uncovered during restoration project

Steven Morris

09, Sep, 2011 @4:06 PM

Article image
Autumn colour brings joy to UK's growing band of 'leaf peepers'
Increasing numbers of people are discovering the pleasures of the turning of the seasons

Steven Morris

09, Oct, 2020 @10:35 AM

Article image
Restored 19th-century ships' figureheads to go on display in Plymouth
The 14 carvings will hang from the ceiling in arts venue The Box, due to open in the spring

Steven Morris

13, Oct, 2019 @11:01 PM

Article image
Amateur archaeologists redraw map of Roman Britain – from home
Volunteers find ‘astounding’ number of unknown sites in south-west from aerial surveys

Steven Morris

12, May, 2020 @11:01 PM

Article image
Wentworth Woodhouse sold to preservation trust for £7m
Grade I-listed Georgian mansion in South Yorkshire, which has 365 rooms, will have £40m of renovations over next 20 years

Kevin Rawlinson

27, Mar, 2017 @6:35 PM

Article image
National Trust prepares to celebrate its gay history
Sissinghurst Castle, Knole, Sutton House and Smallhythe Place are just some of the properties that will feature in next year’s focus on LGBTQ history

Maev Kennedy

21, Dec, 2016 @12:01 AM