Build it new: Illustrations of the month
Edward Bawden (1903–89) is probably one of the best loved of British illustrators. His work, from glorious big linocuts like the one he did of there interior of Liverpool Street Station to his tiny lithographic illustrations for the King Penguin Life in an English Village, from London transport posters to adverts for Twinings Tea, will be familiar to many readers. And Bawden has been made more familiar by books such as Malcolm Yorke’s lavish Edward Bawden and His Circle* and smaller glories like Peyton Skipwith’s One Lump or Two,† on Bawden’s work for Twinings.
But sorting through a pile of old Architectural Reviews of the 1940s I was pleased to come across a couple of Bawden’s illustrations that I’d not seen before. They are from a series of advertisements for the Zinc Development Association promoting new building in the post-war period and the use of zinc (for roofing, flashings, and so on) in new buildings. Each advertisement covers a specific building type and begins with the line ‘We need new…’. The two I found were ‘We need new hospitals’ (above) and ‘We need new houses…’ (below).
Some of the older hospitals were evidently designed by and for a hardy race. Cold winds blew down long grey corridors. Only the most strapping amazons could clean those labyrinths. Only the strongest patients could be cheerful in those wards. Only the fittest survived – which was perhaps the aim. The new hospitals and hospital wings will, let us hope, be different. Not gaol-dark and portentous, but bright, open, airy, labour-saving, hospitable…
And roofed with zinc, of course.
As usual, Bawden is well up to the task of capturing the right mood and helping the copywriters make their point. There are just enough telling details – the Gothic gate lodge, the finials on the hospital fence piers, the diamond-pattern tiles on the bungalow roof, the boxy shop window. As so often, he evokes the atmosphere of the times and of England’s eclectic, organically grown, mashed-up built environment, as much of it was back then. And as it still is in some places: the general hospital in my own local town still looks a bit like the Bawden illustration at the front, although there are any number of new wings around the back.§ Plus ça change…
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*Antique Collectors’ Club, 2007
†The Mainstone Press, 2010
§My thanks to a reader, Mike Rigby, who has pointed out the similarity of the porticoed frontage of Bawden's hospital to the General Hospital in Cheltenham, precisely the hospital I had in mind. Apparently Bawden was in Cheltenham in 1946, so the similarity may well not be a coincidence.