Nicholas Pevsner would certainly have raised an eyebrow. His well-known saying, “a bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture” introduced his seminal book, An Outline of European Architecture, in 1943.
This was just the moment that the modern listing system was being born. He would probably have thought it quite unlikely that any bicycle sheds would meet the test of special architectural and historic interest for listing in the future. But, perhaps surprisingly, about 15 bicycle sheds are listed, either as stand-alone structures or as integral parts of listed buildings.
Those of us who cycle know how important it is to find a secure, covered place to store a bike; and if it can be of architectural interest, too? Well then, all the better!
Here are 6 of the best listed bike shelters:
1. St Catherine’s College, Oxford
Let’s begin with a Grade I individually listed bike shed. Built in 1961-6, it is a rare British building by the Danish architect and interior designer, Arne Jacobsen, part of the exquisite and highly-listed St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. It is a circular building of narrow buff-coloured bricks laid in a stretcher bond, with an opaque glazed flat roof letting in diffused daylight. This simple, sophisticated, Scandinavian modernist bicycle store was a thoughtful addition to the college.
2. Waterlow Court, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London Borough of Barnet
This brick bicycle shed with tiled roofs and a gabled porch clad in ‘wany-edged’ timber serves Waterlow Court, the Grade II* listed housing for women in Hampstead Garden Suburb (1908-9), by the important Art and Crafts architect, M H Baillie Scott. The bicycle shed charmingly exhibited a picturesque architectural treatment of this new kind of structure. The proliferation of women on bikes was an important development of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and here the shelter was used by women who very much exemplified the modern Edwardian spirit.
3. Westcliff Library, Southend on Sea, Essex
This Grade II listed Branch library (1958-60 by P F Burridge, Southend Borough Architect) incorporates a projecting bicycle compound as an integral part of the library’s design. At the front of the elegant one-storey building, opposite to the staff room and workroom, the bicycle area is set within a paved terrace, with seats and planters at the front and a patio at the back.
4. Ashlyns School, Dacorum, Hertfordshire
Ashlyns School was designed by John Mortimer Sheppard and built in in the 1930s, when Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital (founded 1739) was moved from its Georgian Bloomsbury home to the fresh air of the Hertfordshire countryside. Beautifully planned and built, the new school incorporated parts of the 18th century Hospital. And befitting the historicist design, the two long, single-storey bicycle sheds, extending from the rear of the classrooms, are built of brick and feature a timber colonnade, reminiscent of the listed colonnades that remain at the former Foundling site, now called Coram Fields.
5. Easington Colliery School, Durham
The bicycle sheds at Easington Colliery School form part of the Manual Instruction Block (1911-13 by J Morson of Durham), and although identified as play sheds on the original plans, they served a bicycle function later on. Their design – a single-storey shed with an open front with iron columns facing the playground – is a common arrangement for both types of building.
6. British Library, London Borough of Camden
The integration of bicycle stores into the magnificent national library was a considerate inclusion by Colin St John Wilson. The Grade I-listed British Library’s distinctive red hand-made Leicestershire bricks were also used for the stepped range of covered bicycle sheds near the entrance (centre-left of the piazza), and there is additional bike parking elsewhere in the complex. Readers can cross the piazza with its grand public sculpture and enter the hallowed reading rooms with the knowledge that their bicycles are safe in listed quarters. What could be better than that?
Written by Emily Gee, Head of Listing Advice at Historic England.