The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Charles Spooner, Arts and Crafts Architect

by Alec Hamilton (Paul Watkins Publishing, 320pp, £45)

Reviewed by Teresa Pinto

Charles Spooner (1862-1938) was an architect, craftsman,  teacher and active socialist – but he was also a deeply self-effacing man. Although acclaimed by his contemporaries, his work has since been largely forgotten. In this first study of his life he is considered primarily as a church architect, but chapters are also dedicated to his furniture and his houses, all of which were shaped by his devotion to Anglicanism and adherence to the political aesthetics of Arts & Crafts. While his ecclesiastical architecture was often commented on by others, he was a private man who left little in the way of architectural writing, using the telling pseudonym ‘Ghost’ in early submissions to journals. What remains is sparse, but using personal correspondence, the very limited archival evidence and a single portfolio of drawings, Hamilton manages to render the faceless Spooner human, and provide a new perspective on the Arts & Crafts movement.

The churches themselves are unpretentious and practical, much like Spooner himself. Hamilton reveals how they were often the culmination of collaboration, the longest enduring working partnership being with his wife, the painter and illustrator Minnie Dibdin Spooner. He argues that  Spooner’s churches – often built for poorer parishes – exemplify the Arts & Crafts ethic just as profoundly as any domestic building, due to his personal faith and his devotion to high quality materials. The second half of the book dealing with his later work suffers from a relative dearth of source material from the 1920s and 1930s, but recurring themes are drawn together and consolidated in a final chapter which reviews his progress as an architect throughout the early twentieth century. The heterogeneous nature of Arts & Crafts and the movement as a twentieth century construct are touched upon here, but ultimately this is a straightforward study of one man’s  work. Resplendent with sketches and watercolours by the architect and photographs by the author, this is a charming and conscientious assessment of a little-known architect which treats its subject with great fondness and respect.

Available from the publisher with free UK p&p: cheques payable to Shaun Tyas, 1 High Street, Donington, Lincs PE11 4TA, credit card orders 01775 821542.