Thursday, July 5, 2012


Five early pieces: 2

Here's a second re-posting, another early piece from 2007, to celebrate the fifth birthday of this blog. I've included a second photograph, so that you can see some of the tiled decoration on the building more clearly (clicking on the pictures opens a new box in which they display larger, by the way).

Bristol is rich in interesting buildings, in spite of the fact that swathes of the city were bombed during World War II. Some of the survivors, like the cathedral and the vast church of St Mary Redcliffe, are justly famous. This is one of the less well known. It’s the former printing works of Edward Everard in Broad Street. The interiors have been changed out of recognition, but the wonderful street frontage, covered in Carrara-ware tiles produced by Doulton and Company, survives and gleams.

Gutenberg and William Morris, both working at their presses, stand on either side, looking inwards towards an angelic Spirit of Literature. Below, the company’s name is spelled out in letters designed by Everard himself, while above, a figure representing Light and Truth looks down.

W J Neatby, senior designer at Doulton’s, was the creator of these stunning tiles, and the whole composition, from the heart-motifs on the turrets to Everard’s swirling letter forms, conjures up what was most fashionable in English design around 1900. It’s rather like the early volumes in Dent’s Everyman’s Library, with their Art Nouveau bindings and title pages – a delight to the eye promising a feast for the mind.

Postscript 2012

Neatby has become a hero of this blog, and I’ve also admired his work in London, Norwich and Leicester. He worked at a time when Art Nouveau was wrapping its sinuous tendrils around everything from vases to furniture, and when architects weren’t ashamed to apply decoration to buildings and to use colour in profusion. When World War I finally ended in 1918, there no longer seemed to be a place for such exuberance. Architects looked to styles such as revived classicism or pared-down neo-Georgian – or espoused the caused of modernism and turned their back on ornament. I’m pleased that some of Neatby’s work has survived to remind of us of what came before.

This posting of Neatby's elegant evocation of the history of printing is especially for Emma Bradford, designer of beautiful books and creator of lovely paintings and prints.


Hels said...

I must go back to Bristol and have another look *sigh happily*.

My students had a really good look at Bristol architecture this week, with a particular focus on Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The city must have always been important, but how much more important once the trains started arriving. And the modern Atlantic ships as well.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Yes, Brunel (and his railways and ships) was very important to Bristol's growth, and the Victorian expansion of the city is still reflected in some wonderful architecture, as I've observed in various posts. Indeed, Bristol was a major city before, as you say. In the Middle Ages, even, it was one of Britain's largest cities, its richness reflected in the architecture of St Mary Redcliffe, and other churches.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful building, I will have to go and find it. Thanks for pointing it out!