Joseph Emberton Archive

Scope and Content

The archive primarily comprises photographs and newspaper cuttings, as well as business correspondence and other manuscript material, and some plans.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Emberton (1889-1956) was one of Britain's most significant architects during the inter-war period. His projects introduced modern design to broad audiences, among the best known being the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club at Burnham-on-Crouch (1931), Simpsons of Piccadilly (1936) and Blackpool Pleasure Beach (1935-9).

Emberton was born in 1889 in Staffordshire, where his parents ran a local drapery shop. He was apprenticed to a firm of local architects, committing to additional study at evening classes which led to him winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1911. From 1913, he was employed by Trehearne and Norman, working on a number of conventional office building projects using modern construction techniques. Service in Egypt during the First World War brought him into contact with vernacular Egyptian and Ottoman buildings, and Emberton saw parallels between plastered mud and the new reinforced concrete. On his return to England he was appointed to a partnership in the firm of John Burnet and Thomas Tait, whose work was influenced by European and American modernism, and whom he had encountered with interest before the war. All these influences shaped Emberton"s practice, which embraced modern materials for contemporary purposes. He wanted to develop efficient buildings to meet the needs of modern life and industry, though he resisted the intellectualization of his discipline.

In 1922 he went into partnership with Percy Westwood, and among their first projects were a series of pavilions and kiosks for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley (1924-5). It was Westwood who introduced Emberton to shop design, the partners working together on Austin Reed"s shop in Regent Street and office building, Summit House, Red Lion Square (1925-6). In 1926 Emberton left the partnership to work alone, going on to design the Advertising Association"s first exhibition in 1927 and a chain of shops for Lotus and Delta shoes (1928), followed by the New Empire Hall at Olympia (1930). By now, Emberton"s reputation as a modern designer was established, and he was approached to design a new club house for the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club at Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex (1931). This building attracted a great deal of attention internationally, and was the only building designed by a British architect to feature in the exhibition 'Modern Architecture: International Exhibition' at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, from 9 February - 23 March 1932. It also received a Bronze award from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1932.

Other major projects from the 1930s included Universal House, Southwark Bridge (1933), Simpson (Piccadilly) Ltd (1936), the HMV shop in Oxford Street (1939) and various buildings and rides at Blackpool Pleasure beach from 1935, culminating in the Casino (1939).

After the Second World War, Emberton"s focus in a period of austerity shifted to social housing. His prototype steel house was designed for the Ministry of Works, where he was a consultant, a radical project for prefabricated housing which was thwarted by steel shortages. There followed a series of flats, commissioned by the London Borough of Finsbury, Stuart Mill House, the Stafford Cripps Estate and the Brunswick Estate (1953-1958). His final and perhaps most controversial scheme was for the area around St Paul"s Cathedral (not realised), and he died shortly after making a speech on the subject at an Architectural Club meeting debate, in 1956.


The collection is presently arranged and listed in one sequence, but will be rearranged into the following series:

EMB/1 Professional papers and correspondence

EMB/2 Photographs

EMB/3 Presscuttings

EMB/4 Miscellaneous

EMB/4 Material added after Emberton's death

Access Information

Researchers wishing to consult the collection should make an appointment. Telephone 44 (0)1273 643217 or email

Acquisition Information

Transferred to the Design Archives by the Emberton family in 2002.

Archivist's Note

Collection level description created by Catherine Moriarty, 2007, and extended by Sue Breakell, 2009.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission must be sought to publish any material from the collection. Email

Related Material

Screen Archive South East holds 31 family films made by Joseph Emberton. To access information about them, see


Ind, Rosemary 'Emberton' London: Scolar Press, 1983

'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography', entry by Alan Powers, Oxford University Press, 2004

Gray, Fred 'Designing the seaside : architecture, society and nature' London: Reaktion, 2006