Queen’s Court flats, Crofton Gane and Wells Coates

Queen’s Court, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol

In 1937 a large triangular site on Queens Road in Clifton, a hundred yards uphill from the landmark Victoria Rooms became the site of the first large-scale luxury block of flats built in Bristol. Of plum-red brick with white stucco details and Crittall windows, it is of a type that in London became the characteristic form for some areas. Not so often perhaps a dramatic arrow-shaped example with a feature balcony on the top floor. In Bristol such buildings are much less common and Queens Court was presented to the public as a new and editing concept.

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Queens Court web

This is another building that has come to my attention partly because of researching the Bristol furniture manufacturer P E Gane Ltd. Director Crofton Gane had employed Bauhaus furniture designer and architect Marcel Breuer in 1935-6  and worked with him on several major projects including remodelling and furnishing his own house and making all the Breuer furniture for the Ventris Flat in Highpoint. Breuer joined Walter Gropius in the USA later in 1936 and Gane cast around for another prominent interior designer/architect to work with. This time it was the New Zealander Wells Coates.

Queens Court was designed by Alec French and is an eight-storey V-shaped block of 74 one, two and three-bed flats, the larger more luxurious ones at the prow. Twenty balconies along the sides are each shared by two flats and contribute to an ocean-liner look. On the ground floor of the main Queens Road frontage a row of small shops offered a use range of services. Within the V a garage provides parking for residents. Uniformed porters, fitted kitchens with refrigerators and electric lifts were provided. A two-bed flay cost £150-200 p.a. and the penthouse £350.

Queens Court rear web

Queens Court was promoted as offering a luxurious new style of living and Gane’s were contracted to furnish show flats. Wells Coates was a leading proponent of flats as the future of urban living and was interested in designing unitary furnishings to go alongside them. He had already designed the interiors of the Lawn Road flats in Hampstead for Isokon where Walter Gropius and others had been living. Gane would have been a guest there and would have been very familiar with Coates’ work. He had previously recruited Marcel Breuer as a designer and chose Coates as a fitting new figure to maintain his company’s design credentials.

QUEENS CT Brochure 10

Crofton Gane had two ranges of unitary furniture designed in the early 30s by the companies own designer J P Hully. The idea that a fixed range of adaptable components could be combined to furnish a home was a popular new concept in the 30s and  is the parent of IKEA today. For Billy, read FIT-IN No. 5. Wells Coates was commissioned to provide a new range which was based on the Lawn Road designs and named Flexunit. The new pieces included built in electric fires and double-sided island units. A show flat built in the College Green shop was then presented both as a showcase for the new range and also as a prequel to the show flats at Queens Court.

Queens Court windows web

Queen’s Court has had a varied history since the 30s and been quite run-down at times. A recent refurbishment has given it some of its dignity back. The little row of shops underneath still thrives. The pergola on the end of the penthouse has gone but the Crittall windows are still intact to give it the classic look. Wells Coates as an architect and designer is less well known than he should be and his involvement with Crofton Gane and in Bristol needs more research. The Cresta Silks shop on Park Street, destroyed in 1940 is another of his projects.

Oliver Kent

For more on Wells Coates see Farouk Elgohary’s 1966 PhD thesis ‘Wells Coates and his position in the Beginning of the Modern Movement in England.’ Thanks to Chris Yeo our Curator for the photos of the Queen’s Court brochure and for drawing my attention to it. The Ken Stradling Collection has examples of J P Hully’s unitary furniture (including FIT-IN No.5) as well as other P E Gane furniture from the 1930s.

This post is a revised version of one posted on my blog Clay and Fire.

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Crofton Gane and the All Electric House

The All Electric House – Stoke Bishop, Bristol.

P E Gane Ltd were established furniture manufacturers and retailers in Bristol in the first half of the 20th century. From 1933, director Crofton Gane became increasingly active amongst progressive designers, manufacturers and architects interested in promoting the values of International Modernism in Britain. As politics in Germany deteriorated and the Bauhaus closed, so many leading European figures came to London as refugees in the mid-30s. They were enthusiastically welcomed by this network, often active in the Design and Industries Association. Amongst the group was Bauhaus furniture designer Marcel Breuer, who like the others was keen to find opportunities for work. Much of the action was inevitably London-based and Gane was keen to promote modern design in the West of England and South Wales. Meeting Breuer, he immediately saw an opportunity, and commissioned him to design furniture prototypes for him, completely remodelling and furnishing the interior of his Bristol house and designing and building a ground breaking show pavilion for the 1936 Royal Agricultural Show in Ashton Court.

Breuer’s time in Bristol is well-known but researching P E Gane Ltd has drawn attention to the range of less well-known projects and ideas that the company was involved in between the First World War and the destruction of the business in the Blitz in 1940. Gane’s held regular exhibitions of new design in their College Green showrooms showcasing contemporary design and designers as well as designing a number of show house interiors for property developments working with a range of interesting architects and institutions. Amongst these is the All Electric House for which P E Gane Ltd designed the interiors.

People in Bristol are aware of classic Modernist houses like the Concrete House in Westbury-on-Trym (Connell, Ward and Lucas, 1934-5) but there are less well known treasures lurking in the suburbs. The All Electric House was commissioned by the Bristol Branch of the Electrical Association for Women and built in 1935. A local architect Adrian Powell was chosen for the task and worked to a detailed client brief.

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The All Electric House, Stoke Bishop, Bristol, 1935. Design for Today, Jan 1936. p.5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The EAW aimed to demonstrate the potential of new electrical technology to make the lives of women less onerous. If you compare this small 4-bedroom house with the Concrete House or the Gane House, it differs in assuming that the domestic tasks are likely to be largely undertaken by the householder rather than maids and cooks.  Gane had Breuer revamp the whole house in theory but in practice the kitchen and service areas were left untouched. The middle classes after the First World War were far less able to rely on service than the earlier generation.

The house featured all kinds of electrical appliances and gadgets from an electric cooker, refrigerator and fires in every room to drying cupboards, electric clocks and food warmers. The reviewer in Design for Today, commented that design issues ‘were not subordinated to the propaganda interests of one industry.’ (Design for Today, Jan, 1936, p.7) P E Gane Ltd provided all the furnishings for the show house and Crofton was keen to show the latest stuff.

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The dining area in the All Electric House, Stoke Bishop, Bristol. 1935. Furnishings by P E Gane Ltd. The steel furniture is all by PEL Ltd. P E Gane catalogue 1936.

The house featured a single long reception room divided into a living/soft-furnished area at the front and a more enclosed dining area with a serving hatch from the kitchen and a side view onto a sun-terrace. Gane set the dining area out with a neat fitted cupboard and tubular furniture by British manufacturer PEL (albeit copies of continental designs). Note the light fittings and the elegant plain rug. He was clearly pragmatic and the other half of the room has a more decorative theme with a dramatic moon-shaped suite.

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The living-room/dining-room of the All Electric House, Stoke Bishop, Bristol. 1936. Furnishings by P E Gane Ltd. P E Gane catalogue, 1936.

Apparently the house sold within the week of opening and was a critical success. In recent years it has been lovingly restored, even to the point of the front-graden planting. Lovely to see.

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The All Electric House, Stoke Bishop, Bristol in 2016

It seems to be less well known that the EAW were brave enough to commission two All Electric Houses. The second one was about a mile away in Sneyd Park and was identical although not kitted out as a show house by Gane’s. Sadly it has suffered very badly indeed over the years – I can’t bring myself to post a photo.

There is more information on the Electrical Association for Women and the house on the Institute for Engineering and Technology website and also the University of Westminster’s page ‘Electricity for Women – The EAW in the inter-war years.’. Thanks to Chris Yeo our Curator for the black and white images.

This is a version of a post published on Oliver Kent’s blog Clay and Fire.

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A Taste of Sunshine

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Standing Bull by William Newland, 1947

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sally Nash, the daughter of William Newland and Margaret Hine, artists who’s work is featured in the current exhibition at the Design Study Centre Of Brush and Clay: Painter Potters of the 20th Century.

In the post-war period Newland and Hine’s ceramics forged a path away from the sombre Anglo-Orientalism of Bernard Leach and his followers. Working with Nicholas Vergette, they drew inspiration from Picasso and the traditional tin-glazed ceramics of southern Europe. During the course of our conversation we talked about Newland and Hine’s travels in the Mediterranean just after the Second World War and the influence this had on their work.

 

Newland and Hine weren’t the only artists looking to sunnier climes for inspiration during the post-war period. Fascination with the Mediterranean could be felt in diffuse areas including fine art, illustration, cookery and garden design.

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Jacket illustration by John Minton (1917-57) for Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean and French Country Food (1950).

One artist particularly associated with this trend was John Minton (1917-57), a fine artist and one of the most popular illustrators of the time, responsible for illustrating many books, most famously Elizabeth David’s first two cookery books.

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John Minton (1917-1957) On the Quay, Cornwall, pen and ink, circa 1944. Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Looking at Minton’s illustrations, I’m struck by the similarities with Hine’s style.

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Figure on a donkey by Margaret Hine, 1949

The vigorous rendering and hatching of Hine’s work is very much in the Minton manner. Even the heads of Hine’s figures have the same distinctive horizontal elongation seen, for example, in Minton’s Children by the Sea.

Children by the Sea 1945 by John Minton 1917-1957

John Minton, Children by the Sea, 1945. Image courtesy of the Tate Gallery.

Studio ceramics are so often seen in isolation from other genres that perhaps we forget that they were and are subject to the same influences, movements, challenges and artistic ideals.

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Plate painted with a pierrot on horseback by Margaret Hine, circa 1950.

The exhibition has had its run extended and is at the Design Study Centre, 48 Park Row, Bristol until Wednesday 30th December.

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A Famulus chair for the Ken Stradling Collection – and one at Charleston

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We have recently purchased this armchair at auction. Known as the Famulus, it dates from the mid 1930s and was designed by J P Hully and made by P E Gane and Co. of Bristol.

John Parkinson Hully (1882 – 1944) worked for Gillows of Lancaster before becoming Chief Designer for Bath Cabinet Makers. By the mid 1930s he was in-house designer at Gane’s, coinciding with Marcel Breuer’s time as Consultant to the firm in 1935-36.

The chair is made of birch and formed by the intersection of steam bent curves, the arms bending through 180 degrees to form sledge feet. At first glance, this is a feature it shares with the armchairs designed in 1935 by Marcel Breuer for the home of Crofton Gane, however, on those chairs the arms are composed of two sections, only partially bent and then pegged together. This chair must therefore date from after 1935, when Gane’s had acquired the machinery necessary for steam bending.

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An identical chair, which belonged to Virginia Woolf, is in the collection of the National Trust at Monk’s House in East Sussex. Apparently Woolf bought a number of these chairs in the late 1930s for Monk’s House and gave one to Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, which is now in the Studio at Charleston.

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Famulus chair in the Studio at Charleston. Copywright National Trust images.

As soon as funds become available, the current 1970s brown Dralon upholstery will be replaced with something more period appropriate.

 

 

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Ken Stradling Collection at Margaret Howell – Preview Photos

Here are a selection of photos of the Ken Stradling Collection show at Margaret Howell at 34 Wigmore Street, London. The show is on until the 15th November. The work look stunning and sits beautifully alongside Margaret Howell’s elegant designs. The Marcel Breuer desk and chair from the Gane House is displayed in the window with pieces by John Leach and Robert Welch. Elsewhere in the gallery, the Breuer pieces are accompanied by a carefully selected range of objects from the collection of which many are glass. The selection is subtle with a number of red pieces acting as a foil to the quiet palette of the space as a whole.

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Margaret Howell window display 2 MH Long shot 3 MH general shot with MH MH general shot with glass and panelMH Black breuer desk and mirrors MH Couple looking at Breuer chairs DSC_9925 MH Exhibition panel

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Bill Newland, Margaret Hine and Sam Haile at the Ken Stradling Collection

Clay and Fire

‘Of Brush and Clay – Painter Potters of the mid 20th Century’

The current exhibition at the Ken Stradling Collection, 48 Park Row, Bristol. On until 9 December.

A selection of work fom ‘Of Brush and Clay’ including pieces by Nicholas Vergette, William Newland, Sam Haile and Margaret Hine. An exhibition of ceramics by Bill Newland, Margaret Hine and Nicholas Vergette together with Sam Haile celebrating an interesting group of mid-century artists whose interest in contemporary art and in painting set them apart. The show combines pieces from the Ken Stradling Collection with around 30 examples of Newland and Hine’s work on loan from their family.

Figure on a donkey holding bunches of grapes. Margaret Hine/William Newland. Tin-glazed earthenware. 1949. Private collection. Newland, Hine and Vergette were members of a group of artists working with clay whose interests lay away from the orientalist concerns of those lead by Bernard Leach…

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Ken Stradling Collection at Margaret Howell

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Margaret Howell’s gallery in Wigmore St, London is currently showing a selection of more than 50 pieces from the Ken Stradling Collection chosen and curated by Margaret herself. The show included pieces from across the collection but central is a selection of furniture designed by Marcel Breuer for the Bristol house of furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane in 1935.

Christine Dove, Chairperson of the Society of Designer Craftsmen examines a model of the 1936 Gane Pavillion.

 

Margaret Howell’s News page  has a full description of the show and a video conversation between Margaret Howell and Ken Stradling.

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