Matthews Yard, The Last Craftsman

By - Friday 16th November, 2012

Matthews Yard is a feast for the eyes as well as the belly

I walk into Matthews Yard from the biting October cold with my cycling hat still firmly in place, a habit I have enforced upon myself since my girlfriend made it perfectly clear that it made me look like an idiot, but I love it so the hat stays. Tea bought and a seat found, I finally remove the hat and nervously open my sketchbook. As well as the architecture blog, this is another fragment of my life that I have neglected over the last six months and, as a result, have forced myself recently to correct that failing.

It also turns out that I have not been back to Matthew’s Yard since the bustling grand opening back in April, and although the general layout remains roughly the same as when I last saw it, all the animated and distinctive character that I got a glimpse of on that night has now thoroughly embedded itself within the internal space. Sitting comfortably in the large cafe space one can observe straight away that by making both resourceful and aesthetic use of materials at their simplest form the tactile experience of Matthews Yard has been made to feel very homely. By resisting the urge to completely clad every wall, and paint every soffit, the building’s age and beauty is allowed to intertwine with the fresh furniture and industrial fittings that have been employed throughout the space.

The Craftsman Himself

From the light fittings to the stripped timber floor the materials show their texture, open their skin.

The bar is undoubtedly the golden lamp in the room, a vast ten metre pleasantly crafted wooden mass that stands as a foundation for the many pieces of equipment that steam, bang and hiss as they produce their many cups of coffee and other delights. To further add to the character of the bar is the fact that it was cut and erected on site, by hand, by one man. This kind of dedication to a single element of a new build is a rare thing to witness, especially with so many interior design products being available so easily and quickly that with just a few clicks of a mouse or pages turned of a catalogue you can fit out almost any space. However, inside Matthew’s Yard you discover the opposite, finding yourself constantly entertained by the delights of such honest things as industrial light fittings, chalkboards and stripped timber flooring, all reminders of the many hands and minds who helped craft this space into what it is, a community hub.

Finding yourself constantly entertained by the delights of such things as industrial light fittings.
For Matthew’s Yard, however, this kind of dedication and cooperation is not only built firmly into the architecture, but is all part and parcel of the overall operation. At almost any time of the day one can observe people from all walks of life who spend their time organising or socialising within the spaces that Matthew’s Yard has to offer, whether it is someone emailing their friends in far off places or a book club meeting. Being what could be the friendliest ‘big’ space in Croydon, people appear to treat this establishment as their second home. The precedent Matthew’s Yard has set for rejuvenating disused spaces within Croydon is unparalleled, and clearly the straightforward idea of combining a relaxing social environment with a flexible working space has been wonderfully achieved. So surely more projects similar to this can and should begin to appear throughout Croydon, are not the urban and social benefits distinctly evident?

I am sure the lone worker who constructed the wooden bar had no idea about the important social and physical example he was laying down that day, but the fruits of his labour are clear to see and I can only hope it continues to influence the internal space and the newly inspired community that seems to be growing around it every day.

Tom Winter

Tom Winter

Practicing Architectural Assistant and fabricator of Dirty Croydon Love architecture and urban-design blog, having worked for Fantastic Norway Architekten in Oslo over the summer of 2011 and now recently graduated with a postgraduate in Architecture at London South Bank University. Stimulated in and intoxicated with South London with a keen interest in the potential of Resourceful Design and Urban Social Spaces that can be created through provocative yet sensitive contemporary urban architecture, with a strong belief that architecture can further enhance Croydon’s complex urban community. Also a passionate cricket player, dedicated book reader and enthusiastic CD music collector.

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  • Kake

    Glad to see you writing here — as you know, I’m a fan of your Dirty Croydon Love blog! Other things I like about the interior at Matthews Yard include the lift shaft, the ropes between the floorboards, and the home-made sinks.

    • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

      The ropes are great reminded me of a documentary about wooden boat construction.

  • David Cavanagh

    “To further add to the character of the bar is the fact that it was cut
    and erected on site, by hand, by one man. This kind of dedication to a
    single element of a new build is a rare thing to witness”
    An old guy in the Spread Eagle pub round the corner from the Yard once told me he had carved the wooden gargoyle like features on the main bar with some students from a local technical college. If true, maybe we have more of this type of craftsmanship than we normally notice in our day to day life. Looking at these they are all quite individual. (I know gargoyle is not the right word but this seemed the most descriptive.)