Well, this site is a bit special to me - I worked here a few times while it was still a studio, in its dying days in 2004, working on what would turn out to be its last broadcast network programme and its last pop video. I wish we'd got to it a couple of months earlier, before they started stripping it out - I didn't expect that the portrait of a stern-looking Lord Rank was still going to be gazing down from the top of the main staircase, but I still felt a little sad at seeing it gradually having the heart ripped out of it.

Details of the site history is below. For now, the photographs of its current state can be seen in the galleries on the left...

Hillside Studios
Hillside after closure - February 2006
(this photo: © David Hawgood)


Originally constructed as a private residence between 1911 and 1914 as one of a number of properties on the land along Merry Hill Road owned by Edward Hedley Cuthbertson, a significant local landowner (though he was also listed by the Inland Revenue as living at 67 Portland Place, London). It is believed that Hillside House, as with other properties buit on Cuthbertson's land was constructed by the building company Jaggard's.

By 1912, the four properties to the east of Hillside House - Haydon Ridge, Salperton, Littlecote and Hillbrow were occupied by private individuals, as listed in Kelly's Directory. Currently, both Salperton and Littlecote are subject to planning applications. Haydon Ridge, the immediate neighbour of Hillside is the only one of them to still retain it's strong original similarity of appearance.

The original layout of Hillside seems to have been based on the popular 'country house' model of the time - consisting of a suite of four function rooms grouped around an entrance hall; bedrooms located on the first floor; and a service wing consisting of kitchen, scullery, etc on the ground floor and servants quarters on the first floor. At the time, the service wing was often attached to the main house in such a way as to increase the frontage of the house in order to look more impressive from the outside.

From outward appearances, it would seem that it's neighbour,'Haydon Ridge' was constructed around the same pattern. In terms of floorplans and elevation drawings, it seems to be similar to the American buildings: Sunnyridge House (Massachusetts, 1884) and the Charles A. Newhall residence (Philidelphia, 1881).

A notable figure in Hillside's history is William Barclay Peat (1852-1936). Coming from a financial background - the Barclay part of his name comes from his mother's side of the family, the founders of Barclay's Bank - he moved, aged 17, from Scotland to London in 1870 to seek his fortune.

His son, William Henry Peat (1878-1959) also became an accountant, eventually becoming a senior partner in his fathers firm. He married Alice Evelyn Jameson in 1906, and was the father of four children. He was knighted in 1920, and awarded the title of Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1952. After 1960, Hillside House is listed as the home of his widow, Lady Peat. The date of her death is not known, but by 1964 the house is listed as being unoccupied.

The first occupier of Hillside House was a business - the accountancy firm Marwick, Mitchell, Peat & Co. This company was formed by the merger of William Barclay Peat & Co. with the American company of Marwick Mitchell & Co. in 1911. The company continued to operate in the UK as William Barclay Peat & Co. until 1923 when the company was renamed Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co, later to become Peat Marwick International (PMI), the predecessor to todays firm of KPMG Auditors. It was also listed as the private residence of Sir William Henry Peat from 1915 onwards.

In 1918, William Henry Peat let a single room of Hillside to St. Hilda's School, newly founded by Miss Violet Curry, and starting with just six pupils. The school soon moved to a new site in nearby Herkomer Road, before moving to its current location in 1928.

The other key figure linked to the history of Hillside is J. Arthur Rank. Born in Hull on 22 December 1888, Joseph Arthur Rank became one of the most influential figures in the 20th century British film industry. His father, Joseph Rank, was a successful flour miller and the business he inherited went on to become Rank Hovis McDougall. The company he went on to create - The Rank Organisation - ended up owning interests in many aspects of the entertainment and leisure industry, employing tens of thousands of people at its peak in the 1960's and 1970's. Among its interests were hotels, cinemas and film studios including Denham and Pinewood.

J. Arthur Rank was also a devout member of the Methodist Church, and his teaching at Sunday Schools led to his creation of the 'Religious Film Society'. When the 'Methodist Times' newspaper became critical of the negative influence of British and American films on family life, Rank became one of the main figures in the creation of the British National Films Company, aimed at producing more 'moral' films.

In 1953, Rank created the J. Arthur Rank Group Charity, later to become The Rank Foundation.

In 1957, he became Lord Rank, the 1st Baron of Sutton Scotney, Hampshire.

In 1959, The Rank Foundation created the 'Churches Television Centre'

In 1965, the 'Churches Television Centre' moved to Hillside House, carrying out building work to expand the original site and giving it the new name of Hillside Studios. It is believed to have originally been equipped with two television and two radio studios, though without making programmes for any of the main broadcast networks.

Kelly's Directory also lists Hillside as being the home of the 'World Council of Christian Education & Sunday School Association' from 1966 to 1972. After the death of Rank, on 29 March 1972, the building is listed as the 'Churches Television and Radio Centre'.

Hillside first appears on an OS map in 1914, along with its four neighbouring properties constructed since the 1898 OS map. By the time of the 1934 OS map, the only changes have been to the landscaping at the front of the house and a more formal arrangement of the rear gardens, along with a construction of a terrace and some small outbuildings.

The 'bungalow block' addition has been dated as being from 1973.

Planning applications since the original 1964 application for the creation of the studio space include:

1965 - Building of a staff bungalow
1966 - Building of a dwellinghouse for gardener
1968 - Extensions to studio space
1973 - Extensions to studio space
1991 - Demolition of gardener's house. Construction of scenery workshop and 2x3bed residential units.
1995 - Rear extension to basement, ground, first and second floors to add studio/dining/office space and to construct internal staircase.

In 1972, Hillside converted its studios from black and white to colour, being equipped with Marconi Mk.8 cameras with Ampex 2" Quad VT machines. The cameras were replaced in the 1980's with Hitachi SK-970's and Z31's.

The studio complex finally closed in early 2005.

The site, including grounds, covers 3.4 acres (1.37ha).

The current (2007) planning application is to create 22 residential units (2x1bed; 13x2bed; 7x3bed) along with 52 car parking spaces.

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