The 1950s and 60s saw a boom for Swedish design, as well as the expansion of its church to an increasing number of foreign countries and cities, with new buildings commissioned in places like London (in Rotherhithe) and in Middlesbrough.
This meant that the old Swedish Church in the town was replaced by a new modernist building which still stands on Linthorpe Road today.
The Swedish Church was as much a cultural expansion as a religious one, and wanted to show the world what Swedish design was all about. They commissioned bright young artists to decorate these new buildings, and though the congregation itself may be gone, two fine examples of this design remain in modern Middlesbrough.
The Stained Glass Windows
Christer Sjögren was a master glassworker at Lindshammar – a Swedish glassworks – and it was he who created this stained-glass window. In fact, it was made just before he became the company’s lead designer, showing how highly regarded his work was.
In 1963, the window was delivered ready-made in two huge prefab pieces, and was unlike any other stained-glass that the town had seen. The thick, slablike bricks are encased in concrete and have to be protected on the exterior by Perspex (which slightly ruins the effect from the outside – see below). Inside is a very different story. A vivid, multicoloured, maplike wall awaits – small, but as impressive as any glasswork you’ll see in the region and incorporating those clean, recognisable Scandinavian lines.
Attribution was made possible by the research of many people, chiefly local illustrator Sean Sims, whose studies led him to suspect the work was Sjögren’s. He invited Antiques Roadshow glass expert Andy McConnell to visit the space (which was then Sara Calgie’s Start Studio) where he confirmed the attribution of the work (as well as giving a fascinating fundraising lecture about Swedish glass and sampling the local curry).
An Uncertain Mural
While we can be sure about who created the stained glass windows at Scandinavian House, the mosaic outside has been more difficult to pin down. Installed in 1966, the work seems to represent the ships at the local dockyard.
Local researcher Sean Sims believes that it’s the work of Swedish artist Harry Booström, whose work was of a similar style and who was contracted to create murals in at least one Swedish school.
The similarities between Middlesbrough’s mosaic and Booström’s work are apparent in the photographs shown here, and we know that the Swedish Church was in the habit of commissioning notable artists to produce work for their overseas missions.
The mural was installed in 1966 – three years after the building’s completion – and is recognised as a significant work by the C20 Society. Unfortunately it hasn’t always been treated with the respect it deserves, having been covered by advertising and hidden by bins over the years.
First Aid Kit
Another artistic link to the building comes from the music of Swedish sister duo Klara and Johanna Söderberg, best known as First Aid Kit. Klara and Johanna’s grandfather is Pastor Lennart Lundström, who led the congregation at the Swedish Church in Middlesbrough in the 1970s. Their mother spent part of her youth in the town and the band have been back to perform several times.
Thanks to the people of Memories of Middlesbrough Facebook group, Ian Stubbs, Sean Sims and Sara Calgie for their time, help and photos for this post.
The windows look to be in a style called Dalle de Verre Pioneered in France but taken up in England by the Whitechapel Studios.. Examples can be seen at the new church of St Teressa in Ingleby Barwick.
Interestingly the mosaic work looks very similar to work executed at St Mary’s Convent School Saltersgill now demolished and rebuilt as Trinity College
You’re right, it is. Sjögren was a fan apparently; he did a similar one in the Swedish Mission in Rotherhithe, London which is also still there.
I’ve not seen the St Mary’s one – any photos?
Here’s the now-lost mosaic from St. Mary’s Convent School (as was), in Saltersgill Avenue. Discussion on the ‘Memories of Middlesbrough’ Facebook group suggests it may have been made in Italy.
By the way, I became friends with fellow Middlesbrough exile Sean Sims, after we met online in the MoM group, and had similar interests in art and design. We both had a few Lindshammar glass bricks – they are so solid and heavy, very tactile, and the colours are wonderful.
Thanks Ged! I’ve got a Lindshammar roundel myself and echo your thoughts. Sean’s been a massive help on this one.