Morris the poet, craftsman and socialist, wanted England to be like that; but the Arts and Crafts movement, which he started, was just another escape from realities, like the Gothic revival. In due time his work was to "Fill half the land with imitating fools ..."
The influence "of William Morris spread slowly, though it was some time before it became fashionable to be "artistic" and to dabble in the crafts.
By the eighties, although rooms were still overcrowded, heavily carved furniture was giving place to a lighter style, inlaid with patterns of marquetry. Harsh, bright colours became popular, for aniline dyes had been invented, and created a range of hues hitherto unobtainable with vegetable dyes. The colours themselves were good; but the vivid magentas, peacock blues and greens, and sharp pinks were used without discrimination.
These colours remained in vogue until what was called the "aesthetic movement" introduced a taste for more subdued tones. Rooms were then painted in drab olive greens and dull blue greys, and even though this was considered daring-in white. Furniture was rather flimsy, and its form suggested a Japanese source, for it was made of bamboo. Japanese screens and various oriental odds and ends, blue and white china, peacock feathers and sunflowers, appeared in these fashionable rooms.
The majority of householders preferred comfort in stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials to fashion. They had plenty of it: deeply upholstered chairs, sofas and settees; hot and cold water; thick carpets and heavy curtains; high rooms and walls that were thick enough to be almost sound-proof. Some parts of the wall were padded, for the Victorian furnisher had invented the cosy corner. Not since the days of the Roman province of Britain had houses been so well-equipped, so warm and sanitary. Never before in the history of architecture had they been so badly planned, so wastefully built and so ugly. Privacy, comfort and novelty were honoured in houses large and small; commodity, firmness and delight had been forgotten.
DESIGN OF STAIR PARTS BALUSTERS, SPINDLES, NEWEL POSTS, FINIALS THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY ENGLISHMAN'S CASTLE
VICTORIAN taste left the most conspicuous mark in design of stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials upon the cities, towns, villages and country houses of England, because in no previous period had so much building been done. The population of England and Wales had risen from just under fourteen millions in 1831 to over thirty-two-and-a-half millions in 190T. To accommodate this colossal increase, suburbs had overflowed from every city into the countryside, surrounding ancient villages and market towns. It seemed as though London must grow until it extended from Southend to Reading, and from Brighton to St. Albans. H. G. Wells, writing in 1902, said: "Great Towns before this century presented rounded contours and grew as a great puff-ball swells; the modern Great City looks like something that has burst an intolerable envelope and splashed."
In every direction London had invaded rural areas; quiet villages like Putney, where Edward Gibbon was born in 1727 and which Dickens a century later still regarded as a remote and countrified place,2 were now connected with London by continuous streets of houses. All this new development was Victorian; most of it was unplanned and dismally untidy. It had been carried out to meet the needs of the lower middle class, a thrifty and industrious section of the population. That great English journalist, Henry W. Nevinson, once described them and their ideal of home life in these words- "They are the shopkeepers, the clerks, the typists, the lower grades of the Civil Service, in short, the 'black-coated proletariat' who make up the majority of the `bourgeoisie', and are therefore the objects of special scorn to Socialists and Communists. By thrift and application to a labour of monotonous routine, they have made for themselves nests in those innumerable little houses which stretch out for-miles along all the suburban roads and by-passes of our great cities. Having risen to that point of comfort-to the peaceful enjoyment of a passage, a parlour, a back-room, a kitchen with a gas stove, electric light, two bedrooms upstairs, perhaps a bathroom, and certainly a separate and cleanly water-closet-they are very unwilling to sink to a lower standard of life, and down to that standard they perpetually fear to fall. A threat of losing their little savings or having their rents raised by taxation sends them fluttering to the polls to vote Conservative. There is a sound of comfort and security in the very word. The Lower Middle Classes rather than the aristocracy have now become the bulwarks of the Constitution. Against revolution they would fight to the last, with their backs against the front doors."
South of the river, London marched steadily into Kent and Surrey; northwards, it had reached Hampstead and Highgate. Here and there a few open spaces remained, such as Clapham and Wandsworth Commons. Old houses that had formerly marked the extent of some village like Battersea or Clapham, still survived with their mediaeval or eighteenth-century churches; but all about them the houses of the Victorian age displayed their fussy Gothic decoration, their clumsy bay windows of sand-coloured Bath stone, their cheap yellow, hard red or dusty grey bricks, set in dark mortar, their purple slate roofs, and their spiky cast-iron front railings and gates. On the face of those houses, drain pipes were fixed, to carry water from gutters and bathrooms; they were never made part of the design; like chimney-pots, they seemed to be awkward afterthoughts. There were plainer houses with painted stucco fronts, and a few ill-placed classical ornaments and features, the last traces of John Nash's influence. This type is described and illustrated in that entertaining account of lower middle class life in the 'nineties, The Diary of a Nobody, by George andth hall staircase with carved stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials Weedon Grossmith. Charles Pooter, who kept the Diary, described his semi-detached home, "The Laurels", Brickfleld Terrace, Holloway, as "a nice six-roomed residence, winot counting basement, with a front breakfast-parlour. We have a little front garden; and there is a flight of ten steps up to the front door, which, by-the-by, we keep locked with the chain up intimate friends always coming to the little side entrance, which saves the servant the trouble of going up to the front door, thereby taking her from her work. We have a nice little back garden which runs down to the railway."
That last sentence shows the sort of muddle unplanned development by speculative builders had created; but it seemed natural to the Victorians that the garden of a house should run down to a noisy railway as it had seemed natural to the highly civilised Georgians that a garden should be bordered by some placid stream. Gas-works and warehouses, smoke-producing workshops and busy railway goods yards were intermingled with schools, hospitals and streets of houses over vast areas. The "Removal of such Trades, as are manifest Nuisances to the City" which John Evelyn had advocated in 1661, had never been regarded as practical; but apart from obeying the recommendations of a Royal Commission, which in 1846 had determined "that all railways within a certain radius were to be underground," the various authorities and great landowners, whose laws, rights and whims governed the metropolis, allowed London to grow anyhow and anywhere.'
There were exceptions among the nineteenth-century speculative builders who developed London's suburbs; some had inherited a respect for and civilised planning stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials. For example, when Thomas Cubit had developed Clapham Park south-west of Clachan Common, "he began constructing four miles of wide roadway and making a nursery of thousands of trees, for transplantation as the houses on the estate were ready to receive them-"2 But in every way Thomas Cubitt was exceptional. "He published one of of the first plans for the general drainage of London, urging that the city's sewage should be carried well down the Thames before being allowed to mix with the river water. In advance of the act which dealt with smoke abatement, he fitted his own works at Thames Bank with appliances which successfully prevented the escape of smoke. He was a warm advocate for the provision of public parks, while the necessary land could still be bought cheaply. He had leased from the Marquess of Westminster a tract of swampy ground partly cultivated by cabbage and asparagus growers; and he framed a scheme, which he submitted to the Metropolitan Improvement Commissioners, for making there a park for the people. The Government accepted the scheme, and when later on Disraeli, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, opposed it, and the project was in jeopardy, Thomas Cubitt helped to secure its passage by offering to buy from the Government, for what they had cost, both the land and the bridge concerned.
In 1898 a book had been published entitled To-morrow. The author was Ebenezer Howard, and he described a new type of town, which was called a "garden city". It was re-issued in 19o7 under the title of Garden Cities of To-morrow. Howard's proposal for a garden city has been summarised by Mr. C. B. Purdom as follows: "An estate of 6ooo acres was to he bought at a cost of X40 an acre, or L240,000. The estate was to be held in trust, `first, as a security for the debenture-holders, and, secondly, in trust for the people of Garden City'. A town was to be built near the centre of the estate to occupy about 1000 acres. Six boulevards were to divide the town into six equal parts. In the centre was to be a park in which were placed the public buildings, and around the park a great arcade containing shops, etc. The population of the town was to be 30,000. The building plots were to be of an average size of 2o by 130 feet. There were to be common gardens and co-operative kitchens. On the outer ring of the town there were to be factories, warehouses, etc., fronting on a circular railway. The agricultural estate of 5000 acres was to be properly developed for agricultural purposes as part of the scheme, and the population of this belt was taken at.
The idea of the garden city appealed not only to the middle classes, but to many speculative builders, who applied the name to almost any housing scheme where a few original trees survived and the front and back gardens were a little larger than usual. This spacious form of suburban development increased the demand for detached and semi-detached houses; it made the Victorian streets and terraces seem cramped and out-of-date, and it encouraged hundreds of builders to imitate the character of the Red House that Philip Webb had built for William Morris. Thus a new form of romantic architecture arose, less solid than the early Victorian romantic style, but satisfying the householder's desire for picturesque and cosy surroundings. Suburban villas began to look like enlarged cottages. By comparison with a Victorian house, their rooms were smaller and the ceilings much lower. The sash window with its large plate glass panes was replaced by the casement with leaded lights, and in the front door a panel of stained glass, or half a dozen bullions or bull's eyes framed in wood or lead, admitted a little dim light to the hall staircase which was designed in period style of the stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials. These bullions were the scars or lumps that occurred in the old process of making glass, and in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries cottagers were glad enough to have them in their windows, because there was nothing better available: for a very different reason the Edwardian householder who lived in an artistic "garden" suburb, was glad to accept such an imperfect article. The Victorians had often used cheap materials and mechanical methods to imitate costly and elaborate finishes; the Edwardians went to any amount of trouble to imitate materials that, in former ages, had been considered crude and cheap. They were delighted by finishes and texture that skill and invention had long rendered obsolete. There -a-as a fashion for "hand-made" things, and metalwork was often speckled with hammer marks-put on by machinery -to suggest that it was the work of a toiling craftsman. This was one result of the arts and crafts movement design in stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials that William Morris had started; another was the awakening of a lively interest in old houses and interior design . In practice, Morris's ideas were widely misrepresented; for example, the small houses produced by speculative builders were furnished with cheap imitations of features that had arisen naturally in the course of Morris's attempt to restore old methods of building. Stained slats of wood were nailed on to the face of brickwork to imitate the timber-framing of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: every little villa had to look like a Tudor manor in miniature, with a gable crowning its projecting bay window.
Fashionable folk filled their houses with old furniture, and began to study "period" styles. The antique dealers began to thrive. People no longer wanted the newest and latest designs; they wanted the very oldest relics. The collecting of antique furniture, or the buying of machine-produced furniture that imitated antique forms, seemed to satisfy every section of the public. The appearance of such furniture certainly provided a link with "the good old times", and the early twentieth-century English, home became strangely dependent upon the past for its ideas. Never before in the history of house had building had so many materials and mechanical processes been available; but builders and manufacturers seemed afraid to use them, except for purposes of imitation. Perhaps the last "original" style in furnishing and decoration had something to do with this reluctance to experiment with new forms.
At the end of the nineteenth century a strange and restless fashion known as "New Art", had spread in stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials over the Continent, at last reaching England where for a few years it was regarded as really "modern". In 1897 "Van de Velde was startling Europe with his celebrated art-nouveau Rest-Room at the Dresden Art Exhibition";' but England was even more startled by this new fashion. It was characterised by wriggling curves and arabesques; by florid, writhing plant forms, leaves and stems that wound over chairs, tables, wallpaper, mantel-pieces and overmantels. Where the Elizabethan interior had reflected the splendour of the tropical forest, the Edwardian "New Art" interior suggested the fevered complexity of the mangrove swamp. Every surface was packed with ornament; there were panels in contrasting woods, carved scrolls and loops, painted and stained patterns, and inlays of such materials as enamel, mother-of-pearl, and polished copper. Textiles were woven in florid patterns or stencilled on plain grounds. Vases, lamps, and household ornaments of glass and china all followed the same forms. There was no peace for the eye; none of the solid, dull and comparatively restful comfort of Victorian furnishing and interior decoration in stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials design . No wonder people turned with a sense of relief from this worrying and strenuous fashion to the pleasant and exciting task of collecting antique furniture, genuine or faked. Everybody began to borrow ideas from the past. A large town or country house in the opening decades of the century might have a late Tudor dining room, an Adam drawing room, a Regency morning room, Queen Anne, early Georgian and late Stuart bedrooms; with electric light everywhere, the glass bulbs sprouting from white porcelain tubes, in imitation of candles, so the form of "period" chandeliers and wall brackets would not be marred. A little steam heating would supplement the coal fires; telephone instruments would he tactfully concealed in damask-covered dome-topped cases or in adapted eighteenth-century mahogany knife-boxes; and in the bathrooms, plumbing of super-Roman luxury would be found. Decorators and furnishers were determined to conceal all evidence of the machine age. Even electric bells were operated by tasselled bell cords, hung from the frieze.
Gas was used not only for lighting, but for cooking and water heating. The incandescent mantle had improved the power and purity of gas lighting, and the dully glowing carbon bulbs at first used for electric light compared badly with the gas mantle. But the brilliant and powerful metallic filament bulb replaced the carbon, and gas gradually lost its popularity for lighting, though it remained the principal form of power for cooking and supplementary heating. The gas stove, convenient, compact and easily managed, made - kitchens everywhere cleaner and more agreeable; fuel-burning cooking stoves were also greatly improved in design. Kitchens were smaller, for they no longer accommodated a huge cooking range, and as new houses seldom had basements, they received the benefit of daylight and fresh air.
Although most of the house building was done by speculative builders, several talented architects were at work and the design of stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials improved in the Edwardian period. They built individual houses, generally in the country, and in their early designs the influence of that famous model, the Red House, was apparent. C. F. A.. Voysey and Sir Edwin Lutyens are the two outstanding names. Voysey's houses had a clean simplicity of form; they were ample and homely, and they made the most appropriate use of materials; within, they had an air of orderly spaciousness. They were a development of the English tradition of domestic building, which had lasted until the seventeenth century; and, except for some of the materials used, they might, like the Red House, have been built during the two centuries between i48o and 168o. (They provided fresh material for imitation by the speculative builder.' Sir Edwin Lutyens, the last great English architect to design in the Renaissance: tradition, had in the 'nineties, built some large country houses; and they also had close kinship with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century country houses of the type that were modestly unconcerned with fashion. But early in the twentieth century, Sir Edwin gave to the classic style a new injection of genius in a house called Heathcote, in Yorkshire. It had the symmetry, the harmonious proportions and the easy dignity of great architecture, Heathcote and many of his later buildings revealed that an English architect was in practice, whose work could be ranked with the best that was produced in the eighteenth century.
Some furniture designers of great distinction were at this time making beautiful and very costly things by hand in various country retreats; of these Ernest Gimson and Sidney Barnsley produced work that was comparable with that of the great Georgian builders in stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials design. They were interpreting the ideas of William Morris, by reviving sound craftsmanship, and they continued the sturdy English traditions of mid-seventeenth-century furniture-making. They never imitated older models; their furniture was original in design, unmistakably and refreshingly English in character. The work of another designer, Sir Ambrose Heal, had great influence on contemporary taste, and his furniture, which was simple and well proportioned and unmarred by dark staining and polishing, was within the reach of ordinary people. Apart from the exclusive and enormously expensive work of artist-craftsmen like Gimson, the only genuine twentieth-century furniture before 1914 was Heal's. After the First World War, other designers organised the production of modern furniture; and of these Gordon Russell was the most outstanding. All these master-designers of furniture used the colour and figure of wood to the best advantage; they allowed clean surfaces of English oak and English walnut to provide the decorative interest; they never "applied" mouldings; they seldom used carving, but they were skilful in their use of inlays. Such furniture enabled people to see what fine woods really looked like; for generations the rich hues and markings of oak, walnut and mahogany, had been concealed by deep-toned, high polishes; and since the start of the craze for collecting antiques, everything had to look like "old oak". It was many years before the stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials manufacturing trade made any attempt to follow such original and adventurous leadership.