Oakwood Hall, Bingley: epitome of The Arts and Crafts movement

by Joe McGrath

In the late 19th century, a rebellious movement took full force in the form of the Arts and Crafts movement.  It rejected the ever-increasing over-elaborate designs and adhered to reverting back to the use of nature and using much simpler forms to make art itself. It came with a strong social and moral purpose and formed the notion that not only could art be a set of basic activities, but with the conviction that Arts and Crafts could forever change people’s lives. Jonathon Woodburn puts the movement into context perfectly:

‘The ideology of the Arts and Crafts Movement represented a reaction against the moral and material consequences of the industrial revolution. Its followers were concerned with the negative social and aesthetic impact of Victorian urbanization’[1].

The official Art Workers Guild wasn’t formed until 1884, and it was not until 1887 when the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was formed, which gave its name to the movement. It was still heavily inspired by the ideology and works of two of the most significant cultural figures of the Victorian era, William Morris (1834-1896) and William Burges (1821-1881) over the preceding decades. Matthew Molineux states that Morris was the principle founder of the movement: ‘A nineteenth-century social movement founded by William Morris in reaction to what he, and others, saw as the problems of industrialization’[2]. These two men forever changed the face of Victorian architecture and art; spreading their influence all over the world. A magnificent incarnation of their early work stands true today in that of Oakwood Hall.

The exterior of Oakwood Hall. Constructed in 1864; the dour gothic-style is immediately evident from the outside.

The exterior of Oakwood Hall. Constructed in 1864; the dour gothic-style is immediately evident from the outside.

Oakwood Hall was constructed and commissioned by architects Knowles and Wilcox in 1864 as a gothic-style mansion/villa for the newly married affluent textile merchant Thomas Garnett, co-founder of Gillies Garnett Stuff Merchants. It is located within the outskirts of Bingley, West Yorkshire and in the present day it functions as a Grade II listed hotel. It still maintains almost all the Victorian features which makes it such a wonderous illustration of a bookmark for Victorian architectural history. The hotel is a rarity in the Arts and Crafts movement and the Gothic revival era. This is because both Morris and Burges were commissioned to be involved within the building of Oakwood Hall. They were consulted about the Villa and both submitted ideas and designs which can still be seen in place to this day. It is stated that ‘Oakwood is of importance as it is the only domestic house, apart from Waltham Abbey, where the work of Burges and Morris can be seen side by side blending perfectly.’[3]. This marks its significance in portraying the Arts and Crafts movement to an even higher standard in this day and age.

Tomas Garnett had William Burges design the comprehensive interior fittings, who contributed two fireplaces himself; one of which is still standing. These designs include extensive architectural plans of the building itself, the layout, furniture, ceilings, wall panels and the fireplaces in the lounge and dining room. These drawings are now held in the RIBA Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. All the designs indefinitely captured the Pre-Raphaelite style of Burges in terms of the colour, style and flair in which he suggested to Garnett himself. According to Tim Barringer the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (act. 1848–1854), was the most influential avant-garde group in the history of British art.’[4]. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were a group of English poets and painters, founded by three men, Hunt, Millais and Rossetti. The group reformed art, rejecting the mechanistic approach that it had been conforming to. Instead the brotherhood sought after a return to the rich detail, intense colours and intricate compositions of Quattrocento Italian art.  The group was incredibly significant in inspiring Burges and Morris themselves. And their influence is so easily seen when visiting Oakwood Hall.

The fireplace itself is now in the bar area of Oakwood Hall. It was carved by Thomas Nicholls using Burges’s design and bears on it a Lincoln Imp, which apparently helps to keep demons coming down the chimney, according to the lady who worked there. It also bares the initials TG, signifying the owners name; Thomas Garnett. The fireplace stands as a reminder through the test of time to the ingenious of Burges himself. James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson state that ‘Burges has a claim to be regarded as a herald of the Arts-and-Crafts movement.’[5]. This is a true testament, due to his unparalleled influence upon the Victorian era, without him, modern day architecture would not be the same. Due to his innovative way of reforming the industrialised norm of architecture, escaping from Neoclassical architecture, which derived from the architecture of Classic Antiquity, which had swept over Europe (The Parthenon is a prime example). Burges was rebelling against Victorian architecture that had been following the written rules of Europe for decades. Due to this, Burges has been referred to as ‘The most extraordinary and imaginative architect and designer of the 19th Century.’[6].

The entire Pre-Raphaelite inspired fireplace that was designed by William Burges himself. It speaks volumes about The Arts and Crafts movement.

The entire Pre-Raphaelite inspired fireplace that was designed by William Burges himself. It speaks volumes about The Arts and Crafts movement.

The Lincoln Imp located at the top of the fireplace. Showing the medieval inspired works.

The initials TG that was engraved for the owner of Oakwood Hall; Thomas Garnett.

The initials TG that was engraved for the owner of Oakwood Hall; Thomas Garnett.

William Burges’s influence upon Victorian architecture is most easily understood when seen through his most famed works throughout the UK, such as Catelle Coch in Wales, Gayhurst House in Buckinghamshire, The Church of St Mary in North Yorkshire, and most notably, Cardiff Castle.  All these designs by Burges paved the way for a gothic revival within Victorian England, as he was the main person leading the restoration. It is incredible when looking at the scale of all these designs, when comparing it to Oakwood Hall and features such as the fireplace, as these are the blueprints for a man of such stature who went on to design some of the most impressive architectural landmarks of the 19th century. Oakwood hall is an undiscovered gem in this regard, as it is not widely known or talked about how it houses works by such an influential figure.

The stained-glass window designed by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Here you can see the depiction of St George being surrounded by the women representing the four seasons. Also, the left panel hosts the white Rose representing Yorkshire. The medieval inspired aesthetic is clear to see.

The stained-glass window designed by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Here you can see the depiction of St George being surrounded by the women representing the four seasons. Also, the left panel hosts the white Rose representing Yorkshire. The medieval inspired aesthetic is clear to see.

Along with William Burges’s designs and works within Oakwood Hall, going up the staircase within the hotel reveals another stunning hidden gem tucked away; one of William Morris’s famous stained-glass windows. Gary Oho states that the piece is ‘some of the finest early stained glass by Morris and Co. that has yet been discovered’[7]. William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) are credited with the design of the stained-glass windows at the top of the stairs in Oakwood Hall. They were a part of the Morris and Co. a decorative arts firm, which was formed in 1861 by Morris himself with others from the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Morris and Co. had a deep-routed medieval visually inspired theme to their works. The company has a profound influence upon the decoration of numerous churches and houses, so much so that it stretched well into the 20th century, which is an impressive lasting impression. Peter Cormack manages to put into perspective the scale of the influence the company had ‘The reputation gained by Morris & Co.’s stained glass was such that, by the 1890s and 1900s, a number of their patrons, in churches or in educational and other institutions, determined to ensure the visual unity of their buildings by commissioning windows exclusively from the firm.’[8].

The glass window design shows St George flanked by female figures of the Four Seasons, as well as depicting Chaucer flanked by the heads of four female Chaucerian Heroines. Along either side of the main portrayal are the white rose and red rose, indicating that the Garnett family had lived in both Yorkshire and Lancashire. The stain-glass window in Oakwood Hall manages to portray a prime example of ‘the 19th century’s most celebrated designer’[9].  Such intricacy in the window shows how his imagination and rejection of the consensus of industrial progress and patriotism within art in the 19th century managed to mould an entire country to his ideals of new art derived from such simple ideals. His most notable works with Morris and Co. include stained-glass windows at various churches across the UK, including the All Saints Church in the village of Wilden, St Martin’s Church in Brampton, Cumbria and All Saints Selsley, Gloucestershire. Being one of the most significant voices in Victorian art and architecture, his influence helped shape the entire Arts and Crafts movement. He is stated as ‘William Morris was one of the most influential Pre-Raphaelite artists, textile designer and writer of his time during the English Arts and Crafts Movement.’[10].  The impact of Morris’s art is unparalleled.

The similarities between Morris and Burges are extremely close, as they both held the same reasons for wanting to reform both art and architecture. As it is also said of Morris ‘He was also a driven polymath who spent much of his life fighting the consensus. A key figure in the Arts & Crafts Movement, Morris championed a principle of handmade production that didn’t chime with the Victorian era’s focus on industrial progress.’[11]. This is what makes Oakwood Hall such a valuable bookmark in Victorian History which has unfortunately gone mostly unnoticed. Only little records about the Hall and its significance are out there and is a great shame as it brings together two of the fore-fathers of Victorian history in one small hotel. However, Oakwood Halls existence still provides the greatest of representations of such an innovative and creative time in history, that would change Victorian history forever.

Bingley Parish Church (Church of All Saints)

You don’t have to look any further than Bingley to see more pivotal evidence of The Arts and Craft Movement that swept over Victorian England. Bingley Parish Church is the best example of this, a current grade II listed building. The construction of the church precedes the Victorian era, as it was said that it was built pre-dating the Norman times and has been rebuilt numerous times over the past centuries. Maybe some time after 1066 according to Horsfall Turner[12]. However, in 1870 Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912) carried out restoration of the north chapel. This then led to a William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones crafted stained-glass window being installed in the church. The purpose of the window is a memorial; dedicated to four children who died in infancy. It is erected in the north chapel which was built 3 years prior, the three panels also illustrate Angels playing long trumpets.

This is a magnificent portrayal of Morris’s awe-inspiring designs and works, looking at the stained-glass windows manages one to grasp a better understanding of the way the Arts and Crafts movement branched out into greater depths than the norm. Achieving incredible detail down to every inch. It is no wonder that it is said ‘Historians of 19th-century stained glass have generally agreed that the contribution to the medium made by William Morris (1834-1896) and his principal collaborator, Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), marked an epoch in its postmediaeval development.’[13].

Guide to further resources

http://www.oakwoodhall.co.uk/history-of-oakwood-hall.html – Oakwood Hall’s official website, great insight and background information into the history of the hotel itself.

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1133355 – An official survey of Oakwood Hall, goes into specific detail about the Hotel and is certainly useful if you’re wanting to know more about the logistics and the interior fittings it hosts.

https://www.turkaramamotoru.com/en/oakwood-hall-716943.html – A beneficial site where it goes into detail about the background of Oakwood Hall. It goes on to list all the buildings and works of William Burges throughout his life.

http://achome.co.uk/williamburges/ – A great biography on the life of William Burges. Including his collection of works.

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-william-morris – Biography on William Morris. Overview of his career and his importance.

http://www.haslamandwhiteway.com/pdf/stainedglass.pdf – A collection of various works by the company Morris and Co. Interesting insight into the firm’s medieval-inspired aesthetic and the art that Morris became so well-known for.

http://www.allsaintsbingley.org.uk/about-us/our-history/history-8930.php – All Saints Bingley Church’s official website. Shows the stained-glass window that William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones designed for the church.

Bibliography

 

Notes

[1] Woodham M, J. (2016). A Dictionary of Modern Design. (2 ed.). Oxford University Press.

[2] Molineux, M. (2017).  A Dictionary of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Oxford University Press.

[3] https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1133355

[4] Barringer, Tim. (2012). Pre Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-garde. Tate Publishing.

[5] Curl S, J and Wilson S. (2015). The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture. (3 ed.). Oxford University Press.

[6] http://www.achome.co.uk/williamburges/index.php?page=home

[7] Aho, G. (1985). William Morris, A Reference Guide. G K Hal. Pg 247.

[8] Cormack, P. (2008). An Exhibition of Morris & Company’s stained glass. Haslam & Whiteway Ltd. Pg 2.

[9] https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-william-morris

[10] https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/william-morris-3212.php

[11] https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-william-morris

[12] Turner, H. (1897). Ancient Bingley: or, Bingley, its history and scenery.

[13] http://www.haslamandwhiteway.com/pdf/stainedglass.pdf

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