Monday, July 23, 2018


Mr Fothergill

A discussion on Facebook about the name Fothergill reminded me of an architectural Fothergill – Watson Fothergill, a late-19th century architect who did a lot to transform the streets of the city of Nottingham. I’ve posted about Watson Fothergill before, featuring in particular the office building he designed for himself in his characteristic mix of Gothic and ‘Old English’ styles, in glowing polychrome brick. I think of him as one of the ‘local heroes’ of English architecture, one of those architects whose impact was confined mainly to one town or city but whose work was both distinctive and high in quality. Of course Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a ‘local hero’, in that nearly all his buildings are in or near Glasgow, but his impact was worldwide. I’m thinking of lesser, but still notable, talents. The Jearrad brothers, who built quite a bit of Cheltenham; the Bastards, who created Blandford Forum, virtually from scratch, after a devastating fire; the Goddard family of Leicester, and so on. Many towns have one such architect, many have more than one – Leicester has Arthur Wakerley as well as the Goddards; Nottingham has Thomas Hine as well as Watson Fothergill. 
Watson Fothergill began life as Fothergill Watson. He swapped his names around in mid-life, in an attempt to perpetuate his mother’s maiden name. But he failed to keep the Fothergill line going: both his sons predeceased him without fathering children. He worked industriously all over Nottingham and in some nearby places, designing banks, offices, at least one church, and a lot of houses. His legacy, then, is his buildings and his architectural character is portrayed in his own office building, which lays out his artistic lineage like an architectural family tree. Here’s what I wrote about it in the early days of this blog:

It’s a wonderfully Victorian mixture of advertisement and creed. ‘I can do multi-coloured brickwork, timber-framing, and intricate Gothic details,’ it says. And also: ‘I employ the best carvers and take trouble with my lettering.’ But it’s more than this. The little heads above the windows are identified as A W N Pugin and G E Street, two of the most revered Gothic architects of the Victorian period. The man who displayed mentors like these on his office façade was insisting that he could deliver the best – and that he believed in the transcendent value of Gothic architecture. Further along the front are more names – William Burges (another Goth with a flair for decoration) and Norman Shaw (pioneer of the Old English style that inspired the Arts and Crafts movement). Fothergill learned from these designers too, to Nottingham’s benefit.

In spite of the emphasis on Gothic that his choice of architectural mentors suggests, it’s the Old English style that comes through most strongly in his buildings. Colourful brickwork abounds, as do timber-framed gables, large chimneys, and ornate turrets, often poking up at different heights to give variety to the skyline. It’s intricate stuff, and much of it is not just asymmetrical, but almost hyperactive, as bay windows break free of the building line here, and turrets enliven a corner there. Daring work, in its way, but also thoroughly right for a busy, fast-moving Midland city that’s also aware of its illustrious past. Its virtue is long-lived indeed.

- - - - -

Photograph, top, of whole building by Darren Turner, reproduced with thanks under Creative Common licence CC BY-SA 3.0.
Other photographs by me.


Hels said...

Great photos! Given the mix of Gothic and Old English styles of architecture, what did Watson Fothergill hope to add with the glowing polychrome decoration? Ditto the half timbers.

I would have thought that the arches, free standing sculptures and low relief carvings, steeples, chimneys and outstanding veranda would have been decorative enough.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you, Hels. Well, I guess he just wanted to give it everything he could! He added polychrome tiles and stained glass to the mix too – I didn't mention those!

bazza said...

Wow. A really eclectic style and extremely busy but it seems to work nicely.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s equanimous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Joe Treasure said...

I was inclined to call this a resumé cum manifesto and then I saw that you’d already described it as a “mixture of advertisement and creed”. Exactly right. Far too much going on, but delightful nevertheless. I was in Nottingham once in my life, in 1972, for a university interview for something or other.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joe: Ah, in the footsteps of D H Lawrence. The university is, if I remember rightly, out in the burbs, so you would not have seen much of Fothergill's work, even if your mind had been on such things. And writing that has brought to mind, for the first time in several decades, that in my interview with the President of CCC we discussed among other things the demolition and presevation of old buildings in Cheltenham.

Anonymous said...

Among architects who dominated a town, you surely must include Skipper of Norwich?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Absolutely. George Skipper was hugely important in Norwich.