Thursday, August 13, 2015
Look up. People are always telling me to do it. I am always telling people to do it. Look up above the tree line, at church towers, above the doors of houses, above shop windows. You often see something unexpected and rewarding. So when a splash of colour caught my eye above the modern shops of North Street in Sudbury I looked up and saw this: a bit of 1870s Arts and Crafts design that can still take your breath away about 140 years after it was built.
I’ve called it Arts and Crafts because it demonstrates so many crafts in such a small space: colourful floral mosaic, incised plasterwork, stained glass, ornate metalwork (those floral finials that tops the little hipped roofs of the oriels), and the use of neat openwork ridge tiles. All of this is set within a strong design, with the Tudoresque timber framing, the pair of tall, narrow oriels (topped and tailed with hipped roofs and plastered undersides), and the russet roof. It’s an impressive piece of work and in a different league from the upper fronts of so many shops, where you find a bit of brick wall and a couple of sash windows if you’re lucky. I don’t know who commissioned this facade or what business was first housed beneath these mosaic flowers and Tudorish windows, but it’s good to see such care being lavished on so small a frontage back in 1876.
Although the Arts and Crafts movement is often said to have got into full swing in the 1880s, William Morris’s firm was in full swing by the 1860s, and Morris and his colleagues founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877. Morris’s work, the interest in design fostered by the embryonic Victoria and Albert Museum, and, above all, the kind of ‘Free Tudor’ architecture of Norman Shaw (as in is famous 1860s house, Cragside), set the tone. So, if we’re surprised by the restrained richness of this facade, we should’t be surprised at the date, the curvaceous numerals of which are incorporated into the mosaic. This kind of design was in the air.