Best Rides: Art Nouveau architecture and sculpture in London
- By London Cycling Campaign on at 12:02pm 30 July 2013
- Posted in:
- Tagged with: arts and crafts, art nouveau, ride
Tom Bogdanowicz leads us on a tour of the capital's Art Nouveau architecture and sculpture in London, with the option for a couple of further extensions
Find a downloadable map here
WHAT WILL I SEE?
Virtually all of the Art Nouveau architecture and sculpture in London. Although a Brit, Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, is credited with inventing Art Nouveau with his book cover of 1883, the style never had a wide following in England. Instead we saw the earlier flourishing of Arts and Crafts which, like Art Nouveau, drew inspiration from the design philosophies of John Ruskin and Eugene Viollet le Duc.
The UK dominance of Arts and Crafts means that the whiplash curves and floral extravagance of Art Nouveau, as found in Brussels and Paris, is hard to find in the UK. Indeed, some believe, wrongly, that there are no examples of this architectural style in London.
This unique ride uncovers some splendid examples of genuine English Art Nouveau in the capital. The ride takes a quiet route around the centre of town starting at Westminster Abbey and ending at Blackfriars. By pleasant coincidence it passes several London landmarks including Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Piccadilly, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Smithfield.
There are two optional extensions to the London ride for completionists – the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill and Navarino Mansions in Hackney. There is also an out of town destination in Compton Village near Guilford that is worth visiting.
WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS?
The ride looks primarily at the work of two architects and one sculptor: WJ Neatby (Harrods Food Hall, Orchard House in Westminster, Fox and Anchor in Charterhouse Street and strange gargoyles at 58 Cornhill) generally worked on facades and interiors even though he was qualified as an architect. Born in Barnsley (1860-1910) he started off designing tiles in Leeds before moving to the Doulton works in Lambeth. He later went freelance but continued to collaborate with Doulton’s and many of his works make use of Doulton’s tiles.
Charles Harrison Townsend might prefer to be described as an Arts and Crafts architect but he can’t conceal his love of the floral and organic forms that characterize Art Nouveau. His best known works are the Bishopsgate Institute (in Bishopsgate), the Whitechapel Art Gallery (it was supposed to have an ornate frieze but they ran out of money) and the Horniman Museum (in Forest Hill and not on the ride route). The ride also stops by the unusual Russian orthodox church for which Townsend designed the façade. Services in this church showcase a talented Russian choir.
Sculptor Alfred Gilbert (1854 – 1934) is best known for Eros (correctly Anteros) in Piccadilly. This ride also includes his less well known statue of Queen Alexandra next to St James’s Palace. There might have been more of his work in London but for the fact that he went bankrupt and had to emigrate to France for 25 years.
The route includes the only building by Britain’s only full-time Art Nouveau architect (William Walcot) though, unfortunately, the London example post-dates his pure Art Nouveau buildings which are all in Russia. Note his trademark women’s heads which echo pre-Raphaelite designs at 61 St James’s. There is also an opportunity to see two facades by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo (the sober one next to the Arts and Craft buildings of Charles Annesley Voysey at 14 Hans Road by Harrods and the other next to WJ Neatby’s the Fox and Anchor), who may have invented the floral whiplash style on paper but built in a much more conservative manner.
The final stop on the ride is the curious Black Friar pub by H Fuller Clarke. As with Townsend’s work there is some debate as to whether this is Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts. Either way it’s a joy to behold the engravings of misbehaving monks carried out by a range of artists. It is built on the site of a monastery.
As noted above, the full London Art Nouveau tour should probably include Navarino Mansions in Hackney which have quite distinct Art Nouveau balcony railings but there are no Art Nouveau fittings or fixtures inside the buildings. The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill is the other major work by Townsend. The London Cycle Guides show pleasant routes to both locations.
If you have the appetite for more Art Nouveau, the Watts Chapel, in Compton Village near Guildford, by a woman architect (Mary Watts) is an eclectic mix of Art Nouveau, A&C and the Byzantine.
WHO'S THE ROUTE SUITABLE FOR?
At about 12 miles this is an easy route allowing for breaks in either of the two Art Nouveau pubs (Black Friar and Fox and Anchor), both of which serve food. Or maybe buy a picnic in the Harrods food hall for consumption in Hyde Park?
HOW TO GET THERE?
Waterloo and Victoria are conveniently located for the start of the ride. The additional trip to Compton can be cycled, but it is faster to take a train from Waterloo to Farncombe and then pedal for 15 minutes. The trains will only take 6 bikes — no reservations .
MORE RIDES IN THE AREA?
Tom Bogdanowicz’s London Cycling Guide describes more than 30 of the best rides in London complete with detailed maps, routes guides and photographs. Several of the rides link up to the Art Nouveau ride described here. Published by New Holland at 11.99 but available for less online.