Architecture Wandering Architects
Michael Drury (Shaun Tyas, £35)
I’m pleased to see the reissue of this book, first published in 2000, which I bought at great cost when it was out of print. many readers will enjoy the subject matter: that of the Artsand-crafts movement. The author charts the stories of 15 or so architects who attempted to live according to the teachings of John Ruskin and William morris. It was a hard row to hoe and the narrative explores an unusually wide range of emotion for a work of architectural history: triumph, catastrophe and love interest are all here.
I’m not sure that the title does the book many favours. Architects of this school did sometimes travel as itinerant craftsmen and there are some good paragraphs on the vogue for gypsy caravans, favoured by Detmar Blow and his client Pamela Tennant, as well as by Toad of Toad Hall before the advent of his motorcars. Pamela’s was called Traveller’s Joy. (It was not the only kind of joy that she shared with Blow, for whom she had an infatuation, nor was she the only client’s wife to be smitten by a romantic architect.)
However, wandering was not the principal quality that these idealists had in common; some, like Herbert North and Harold Falkner, travelled little and, once the Barnsleys and others had come to rest in the Cotswolds, they hardly budged. Indeed, their rootedness is part of their charm. Still, there’s a great deal to enjoy in this scholarly volume, including the best account of Blow’s life in published form.
Blow’s life was a Shakespearean tragedy, whose denouement followed his over-reliance on the cruel, self-indulgent Bendor, 2nd Duke of Westminster: what Blow called ‘the devil’s buttons’ (money) were his undoing. As an artist, he attempted to rise above such petty concerns, but, as other artists have found, ignoring an unpleasant necessity doesn’t mean it goes away.
There is much striving, many tribulations and ultimately some failure in this book. The ideals that the architects set themselves were too high, the society in which they worked too obdurate. However, in some ways, particularly their reverence for ancient buildings, they conditioned the aesthetic of the modern world.
Alfred Powell actually lived until 1960, dying at the age of 95. A pity more of them could not have seen the dawn of that decade; its liberated exuberance might have suited some of them better than the edwardian era. Clive Aslet