The Twentieth Century Society

Reviews: Books round-up August 2016

Catherine Croft and Robert Drake

All Manner of Workmanship ed Robert Gage (Spire Books, 130pp, £34.99)
This book follows a 2013 symposium on the ecclesiastical fittings firm Faith Craft and its products – made typically for Anglo-Catholic parishes – from just after WWI until 1969. It begins with Elain Harwood on the development of churches in England 1915 – 65. James Bettley looks at the church architect Laurence King who was closely associated with Faith Craft, and Michael Yelton explains why companies like Faith Craft went out of business in the 1960s as a new, harder aesthetic (exemplified in the churches of Maguire and Murray) replaced the colourful, figurative and often quite Deco carvings of Martin Travers’ designers at Faith Craft. Finally, Stephen Keeble documents the main figures working at the firm.

£29.99 including postage to C20 members – send cheque payable to J P Elliott at Spire Books, South Barn, Old Standlynch Farm, Downton, Salisbury SP5 3QR.

Churches: an Architectural Guide Simon Bradley (Yale University Press, 176pp, £12.99)
This is another in the new series on building types and written by the co-editors of the Buildings of England series. The story and examples relate only to the Church of England. It’s a readable guide to church architecture and its development, tracing an assured path between how churches and fittings look and the theology behind them. It has good illustrations and some unusual examples, but once again it’s disappointing that only 12 pages are devoted to churches after 1914. One of the most radical, Martin Purdy’s multi-purpose church of St Philip and St James in Birmingham (1963-68), cited by Bradley as the apogee of the process of evolution, has already been demolished, showing the need for greater heritage protection for these buildings.

Houses: an Architectural Guide Charles O’Brien (Yale University Press, 176pp, £12.99)
This is part of a new compact and accessible series drawing on the Buildings of England guides, by one of the ‘Pevsner’ co-editors, Charles O’Brien (who is also a recently appointed Historic England Commissioner). The 20th century gets only 25 pages for both private houses and public housing combined, and O’Brien is more interested in social and economic developments and their impact on architecture than in tracking styles. But it’s a good read, and a clear and intelligent introduction which will appeal to both beginners and more knowledgeable enthusiasts. Churches in the same series is also out now, with Industry, Towns, Transport and, most intriguingly, Modern, set to follow shortly.

How to Read Modern Buildings Ben Jones (Bloomsbury, 256pp, £9.99)
This little paperback bills itself as ‘an effective I-Spy guide’ to modern architecture (by which it means anything from 1900 on). I like Jones’s opener that ‘Modern buildings are about much more than the white walls, flat roofs and glass-clad skyscrapers that many would class as Modernist’, but overall I’m a bit disappointed. It’s rather woolly about its use of terms such as styles, genres and aesthetics, and confused about brutalism, which is classified as ‘a subgenre of Modernism’ where concrete is the main material. Le Corbusier’s La Tourette is ‘similar in style to his housing projects, in that it’s almost Brutal in aesthetic’, while at one point he says of the word brutal, ‘needless to say, the name defines the genre’ – he lost me there. But the book includes many recent C20 Society cases – the Florey building, the Carreras Cigarette Factory and Grimshaw’s Waterloo terminal, all with pithy captions. The last gets a double-page spread, surely that should help with our current listing bid?

Parish Churches of Greater London Michael Hodges (Heritage of London Trust, 454pp, £25)
This guide to just over 400 Anglican and RC churches in Greater London (but not the City or any non-conformist churches) has been published to raise funds for grants. With about 1500 Anglican and RC churches in the five London Pevsners, the author has had to be selective. With most C18 or earlier, and many C19 churches included, the many C20 candidates are jostling for space, but the guide does contain over fifty post-1914 churches, with plenty of colour illustrations. The coverage of RC Churches
is largely new territory for such guides. There are a few from the post-war years, including two of the best by John Newton of Burles, Newton & Partners (both unlisted): St Aidan, East Acton and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Hayes, but I wish there were some striking modern examples, such as Gerald Goalen’s recently listed St Gregory the Great (1967) in South Ruislip.

The Mystery of Marquis d’Oisy Julian Litten, foreword by Roy Strong (Shaun Tyas, 192pp, £14.95)
This book charts the career of the enigmatic designer of church fittings who claimed to be a French aristocrat of Brazilian descent. He was in fact a bankrupt and failed monk (with a strong cockney accent) who appeared in NW Essex towards the end of WWI. He designed church furnishings, painted furniture and vestments and staged elaborate pageants under the patronage of Frances, Countess of Warwick. His work can be seen in Thaxted Parish Church and other rural Essex churches., 01775 821542

Wilhelmina Geddes, Life and Work Nicola Gordon Bowe (Four Courts Press, 520pp, £45)
Until recently there were few books on 20th century stained glass, but now there is Peter Cormack’s book on Arts & Crafts stained glass, Caroline Swash’s book (also reviewed here) and Martin Crampin’s book on Welsh glass (see C20 issue 3/2015). Now here is an authoritative and readable biography of this Irish stained glass designer.

After training in Dublin, she worked at An Túr Gloine, that crucible of talent which also produced Harry Clarke and Evie Hone. In 1925 she rented studio space at the Fulham Glass House where she produced perhaps her best known work, admired on our second war memorial trip, an enormous rose window in the rebuilt Ypres Cathedral to Albert, King of the Belgians. This was installed in 1938 but was many years in the making. Her work is otherwise to be found mainly in Belfast, Larne and Dublin’s Church of Ireland and Presbyterian churches but there are also examples at Laleham near Staines, Middlesex and at Wallsend and Lampeter. Her life was tragic with periods of mental breakdown, but she was a quite brilliant and exacting designer who paved the way for other women stained glass artists.