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Cars and Cafes: A Sam Scorer Road Trip

January 27, 2013
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Sam Scorer’s former Little Chef on the A1 at Markam Moor

Last year, when I visited Sam Scorer’s Little Chef it was a fully functioning restaurant.  The staff even had photocopies available of Scorer’s obituary to give out to interested passer-by (of which there are many).

But on a recent trip back to this landmark building, located on the A1 at Markham Moor, Nottinghamshire, I was shocked to find it boarded up, covered in graffiti and sitting in an overgrown wasteland.

This situation seems all the more sad considering that this late-fifties building was finally listed last year (having survived an earlier attempt to demolish it for a new slip road).  But at least, according to a worker at a nearby hotel, it is soon to have a new lease of life, even if it is to become yet another branch of a ubiquitous coffeehouse chain.

The canopy is one of Scorer’s finest examples of a hyperbolic paraboloid roof.  These roofs, composed of double curves, were often used because of their relative economy of construction in a time of post-war austerity.  They are often seen in developing countries and those by Felix Candela in Mexico are perhaps the most well-known examples.

In their listing notes for Markham Moor, English Heritage praises the canopy as “a dramatic piece of concrete design which displays the hyperbolic paraboloid form in a daring manner.”

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Sam Scorer’s Church of St John, Lincoln (1962-63),

Scorer designed three buildings with this roof type, all in association with the structural engineer Dr Hajnal-Konyi.  The other two are in Lincoln and both are listed – the former Lincolnshire Motor Company Showrooms (1959-61) and the superb Church of St John (1962-63), which is Grade II*.

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Sam Scorer’s former Lincolnshire Motor Company Showrooms, Lincoln (1959-61)

The former Lincolnshire Motor Company Showrooms have seen two changes of use.  Firstly to a successful library and book storage facility and then to its currents use as three different chain restaurants.  The massive roof is composed of four separate hyperbolic paraboloids, with high points in the centre and at the corners.  At the time of construction the unfamiliarity of this roof type led people to call the Lincolnshire Echo to report that the roof had sunk.

The interior has been changed to suit the corporate branding of the restaurants, but it is still possible to see the interior of the roof, complete with board-marked concrete.  Scorer was a real innovator of this roof type in the UK and this building was mentioned in the contemporary architectural press and at conferences.

On the bypass on the edge of Lincoln is a more recent Scorer building.  Damon’s Restaurant (1987-88) is a circular brick building with an unusual feature in the middle of its roof.

Damon's Restaurant, Lincoln-by-Pass

Damon’s Restaurant, Lincoln-by-Pass

On my visit there I got talking to a couple at the front door.  The man had worked as a joiner on the roof and confirmed the story I’d heard that the wooden crown was meant to signify the BBQ Ribs that are served in the American-style restaurant.  The couple, regulars at this popular venue, invited me in for a tour of the glitzy, Hollywood-themed interior, with its film posters, smoky mirrors and artificial plants.  On the wall is a framed picture of Sam Scorer, keeping an eye on proceedings.

*A version of this article appeared in The Modernist magazine (Issue 6, Cuppa)

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