Survey of London Monograph 17, County Hall. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1991.
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CHAPTER VI. Architectural Sculpture and Decorative Treatment
The general decorative treatment of County Hall evolved in a very different manner from that intended in Knott's original design. This was due partly to the changes made between 1908 and 1911 under the aegis of the Assessors, but mostly to the delay caused by the 1914–1918 War, which led to changes both in public taste and in the wealth available for public display.
General schemes of decoration had been drawn up before the war, and some were already in hand when work on County Hall was suspended in 1916. The contracts for the external stone-carving and statuary and for the interior wood-carving were allowed to stand, but others had been postponed in 1915 on the grounds that the Government wanted the LCC to cancel all non-essential expenditure. In the changed post-war climate few of the latter were reinstated. (fn. a)
Knott's original design for County Hall, like those of many of his competitors, was liberally decorated with architectural sculpture, and he also proposed a number of large free-standing sculptural groups (figs 23, 24). All this could have been expected from the man who had been responsible in Aston Webb's office for the detailing of the prize-winning scheme for the Victoria and Albert Museum and for the Victoria Memorial. (fn. 2) Contemporary schemes by other architects followed the same pattern; the most notable of these was Cardiff City Hall and Law Courts (1898–1904) designed by Lanchester, Stewart & Rickards, with magnificent baroque figures by P. R. Montford (1868–1938). Knott's design for the Council Chamber (Frontispiece) had included heroic figures under the windows, and similar baroque groups appeared as late as 1912 in drawings for the Members' Courtyard (Plate 16a). In the event, the statues which appeared on the face of County Hall were far less ebullient, the majority emanating from the hand of Ernest Cole (Plate 30), a sculptor more comparable with Epstein than with Pomeroy or Brock, who appear to have been the inspiration for Knott's own groups.
Another fashionable form of decoration for public buildings which Knott had originally intended to use at County Hall was mural painting. In fact the planning of one scheme – for the Ayes and Noes Lobbies – was quite well advanced, and had the war not intervened would certainly have gone ahead. There were, of course, some celebrated Victorian precedents for this type of decoration, of which Ford Madox Ford's series of historical scenes at Manchester Town Hall (1876–88) is a notable example. In Birmingham, under a scheme proposed in the 1890s, students from the local School of Art were employed to paint panels below the windows in the Town Hall, (fn. 3) and although only six were completed, this may well have inspired the LCC's later plans to use students for some of the decorative work at County Hall (see below). Bristol and Liverpool were among the English cities with contemporary schemes for civic buildings, and exchange visits with the City of Paris would have given LCC Members the chance to see the new murals in the Hôtel de Ville and the individual Mairies. (fn. 4) Swinton, through his friendship with John Singer Sargent, probably knew of the decoration of McKim, Mead & White's Boston Library, while at home there was the example of the 1911 competition for decorating Chelsea Town Hall, where Sargent, Wilson Steer and E. A. Rickards formed the jury.
Among the paintings proposed for County Hall before the outbreak of war were murals for the eight lunettes in the Ayes and Noes Lobbies, which were to have been executed by Frank Brangwyn, who had taught Knott etching. Although Brangwyn offered to do the work and accept payment later, this was one of the commissions postponed in 1915 and never taken up again. (fn. 5) The lunettes in the Main Committee Room (room 129) were also intended to be filled by painted decoration (fig. 36b). (fn. 6)
Another element in the early design of the important rooms on the Principal Floor was the fashion for re-using panelling and other decorative elements from demolished historic buildings; this was seen as some atonement for demolition. A precedent had been set by central government, and the Council already had a collection of salvaged historic features, some of which had been re-used at Spring Gardens. This was an important interest of the Historical Records Committee, the predecessor of the Historic Buildings Panel, and the Members played their part in influencing early schemes for the interiors.
A list drawn up by Riley in December 1908 of 'articles of historic interest' for possible re-use in the new County Hall was long and various, and included sections of staircase and moulded ceilings as well as panelling, and chimneypieces, in particular those from houses on the west side of Lincoln's Inn Fields demolished for the making of Kingsway. In response to protests from Knott, with some support from Riley, only the panelling and chimneypieces were considered for re-use, and in the end no old panelling was installed in the new County Hall. (fn. 7) In 1914 Knott designed new and appropriate panelling for the rooms where it was proposed to put the old chimneypieces (see fig. 25), (fn. 8) but he was never very happy about using these imported pieces, later telling Riley that he did not wish his County Hall to become a salvage heap of architectural oddments. (fn. 9) In the event, the long delay in the furnishing of County Hall due to the war led to second thoughts, and in 1919 the Establishment Committee decided not to use the old chimneypieces. In 1920, therefore, Knott was able to replace most of them with new ones of his own design. (fn. 10)
The reasons for this change of heart were educational rather than aesthetic. It was considered that the 'most instructive use to which the majority of the mantelpieces could be put would be to place them in such a position that the public would have intimate access to them'. (fn. 11) Exhibition at the Geffrye Museum rather than removal to County Hall was thus deemed more appropriate, and the only chimneypiece from Lincoln's Inn Fields to be installed at County Hall – the 'Bear and Beehive' in room 118 (Plate 27d) – was placed in a waiting-room used by the public. However, three other old chimneypieces, from Furzedown House in Streatham, were re-fixed in rooms occupied by Chief Officers. (fn. 12)
There is, therefore, very little 'architectural salvage' in County Hall and most of the internal decoration is new work designed by Knott and executed by craftsmen chosen by him and Riley. The most elaborate decorative treatment was concentrated on the Principal Floor, and very large areas were involved. Most of the walls here were panelled in hardwood, marble being used in the ceremonial areas. All the chief rooms on this floor have fireplaces with carved overmantels, in stone, plaster or wood. An important part of the decorative scheme is the elaborate art bronze-work of the entrance doors, gates and railings throughout the building (see Plates 14c, 16c, 19b, 28a, c, d). Knott was fortunate in being able to call on a number of specialist firms experienced in high quality work for Victorian and Edwardian churches and public buildings. These included Farmer & Brindley, the marble specialists; G. P. Bankart, famous for their lead and plasterwork; (fn. 13) the bronze founders J. W. Singer & Sons of Frome (Plate 31e); the Bromsgrove Guild (fig. 26a, b); and the William Morris Company (Westminster) Ltd. of Lambeth. (fn. b) Equally, there were carving and modelling firms (like the Mabey family firm or the Indunis), who were able to carry out designs in wood and stone, and had trained on public monuments. In the 1920s many of these firms were forced into liquidation or amalgamation.
Most of the wood carving on the Principal Floor, as well as much of the detailed design of the bronze decoration, is the work of the Edinburgh-born carver George Alexander (1881–1942), the person above all others who contributed to the high artistic quality of the building's interiors. Alexander was both a modeller and carver, with a reputation for 'sympathetic collaboration with architects'. Although well-known as a wood-carver, he had made his name as a designer in metal, collaborating with a firm of Sheffield iron-workers and with the Crittall Manufacturing Company. The contemporary critic, Kineton Parkes, wrote of his work as 'some of the finest applied sculpture of the revival inaugurated by [Alfred] Stevens, a monument of plastic decoration worthy of comparison with those of the later Renaissance in England and on the Continent' (Plate 26b). (fn. 15) At County Hall Alexander was responsible both for the wood carving in the most important committee and chairmen's rooms, and for designing the Members' seating in the Council Chamber. He also modelled the manganese bronze enrichments and ornamental work in the Council Chamber and on the ceremonial doors. (fn. 16)
Architectural Sculpture: the work of Gilbert Bayes, C. H. Mabey and Ernest Cole
The first architectural sculptures to be commissioned for County Hall were the ornamental bronze mooring-rings of horses' and lions' heads on the embankment wall (Plate 31a, b). As has already been mentioned, these were modelled by the sculptor Gilbert Bayes (1872–1953), brother of Walter John Bayes, the Principal of the Westminster School of Art. Bayes, who worked extensively for the Lambeth firm of Doulton, was an exponent of the 'New Sculpture' and interested in the use of mixed media. Knott had suggested him for the embankment wall job, and in October 1909 he was one of three artists invited to submit models for the mooring-rings or 'dolphins', the others being Courtney Pollock and Hubert Paton. Not surprisingly, Knott preferred Bayes's model. (fn. 17) The casting was carried out by J. W. Singer & Sons, who regularly worked for Hamo Thornycroft and other prominent sculptors (Plate 31e). In 1911 the Builder published a drawing by Knott's assistant, J. R. Leathart, of one of the two horse's heads (Plate 31a). In 1910 Bayes exhibited his 'Sigurd' at the Royal Academy, and it was bought by the Chantrey Bequest and is now in the Tate Gallery. Later on he was commissioned to execute the eleven foot figure 'The Queen of Time' on the Oxford Street façade of Selfridges. (fn. 18) He was also the designated sculptor of six bronze groups for County Hall which were one of the commissions postponed in 1915 and never reinstated, (fn. 19) and in 1931 he modelled the memorial plaque to Knott in the Members' Courtyard (Plate 17c).
Most of the architectural sculpture on the exterior of the building, including the northern front, was entrusted to Charles H. Mabey Junior (1867–1965), a cadet member of a family well known for its carving and modelling. His uncle, James Mabey (d. 1883), appears to have worked under the sculptor John Thomas on the Palace of Westminster, and his father, Charles Henry Mabey (d. 1912), worked at Todmorden Town Hall (1870) and on the Temple Bar Memorial. (fn. 20) Mabey's firm had provided the model of the new County Hall building in 1910, and commissions for models based on Knott's drawings of architectural details for carving in stone and wood followed from this. These included not only the heraldic shields on the Crescent frieze, but also the caskets, torches and other details round the various ceremonial entrances to the building, a full-scale model of the main cornice, and models for the treatment of various elements in the Council Chamber. (fn. 21) The best examples of Mabey's workmanship in architectural stone-carving can be seen above the Members' Entrance on Westminster Bridge Road and in the Members' Courtyard behind it (Plates 14d, 17a), over the doorway to the Members' Terrace (Plate 12b) and in the heraldic panels on the Crescent frieze (Plate 12a).
Knott's intention to decorate the frieze around the Crescent with the arms of the London Boroughs did not at first find favour with all the Members. In 1916 (Sir) Cyril Cobb challenged the idea on the grounds that only twelve boroughs were officially armigerous, and he proposed that the arms of other cities, such as Birmingham and Manchester, should be used instead. (fn. 22) Sir John Benn then suggested having medallion portraits of famous Londoners, such as Chaucer, Dryden, and Macaulay, but Knott objected that these would be even more difficult to make effective from a distance than heraldic designs. Many Members appeared to think that a plain frieze would be best of all. (fn. 23) When, in 1919, the decoration of the frieze became a matter requiring a decision, models were made of both the coats of arms and the medallions and shown to Members, who selected the former. (fn. c)
Another difficulty over the use of heraldic decoration occurred on the Westminster Bridge Road front, where Knott was proposing to place a head of Minerva over the central portal of the Members' Entrance, flanked by the arms of the City and of Westminster. When the LCC was granted its own coat of arms in 1914, this was used to replace Minerva, but then Sir Ernest Debenham complained that the use of the arms of these other authorities was not popular with a number of Members. Ultimately they were replaced by a decorative treatment of the LCC's mural crown (Plate 14d). (fn. 25)
The most prominent sculptures on County Hall are the figure groups by Ernest Cole and Alfred Hardiman, which embellish ten of the twelve pavilions on the four façades (Plates 30, 31c, d, fig. 27). In 1915 it had been intended that Cole should execute all the groups, starting with those for the eight pavilions on Sections A, B and C. (fn. 26) But he failed to complete the contract, the two central pavilions on the Belvedere Road front being left figureless as a result, and the four groups on the later northern end (Section D) were entrusted to Hardiman.
Ernest Cole (1890–1979) was only twenty-four when he began working at County Hall. He had been educated at the Art School at South Kensington, where he was discovered by Charles Ricketts and Selwyn Image when they were judging art work there. (fn. 27) He later found one or two patrons, but the County Hall sculptures formed by far the largest commission that he was ever given. His studio was at the Old Bus Stables, just off Sirdar Road in North Kensington, and it was there in April 1915 that he set to work. In the following October he enlisted in the army, but continued to employ an assistant and to work himself at weekends until he was sent to France towards the beginning of 1917. He made considerable progress, finishing five-and-a-half groups in some eighteen months, for twelve of which he was in the army. (fn. 28)
Cole spent little time in France. His joining up had caused much anguish in the artistic community, and it seems the authorities were persuaded to transfer him to the safer world of military intelligence. In his efforts to obtain special treatment for Cole, 'whose loss in the trenches I would consider a national disaster', Charles Ricketts compared him to Alfred Stevens. (fn. 29)
Cole was sent to the United States, and on his way there met his future wife, Laurie Manly, a widowed lawyer who was to have such an influence on his career as virtually to end it. (fn. 30) Cole was never to rejoin the artistic circle he left in 1916. He had, it appears, become a convert to 'modern art nonsense' and his old friend Ricketts could never thereafter refer to Cole without 'a sort of rage possessing him'. Cole had, in his phrase, 'gone over to the enemy'. (fn. 31)
This new Cole was to have a good deal of trouble with his old patron, the LCC. When he was discharged from the army, eight months after the end of the war, the sculpture work was as he had left it, with-five-and-ahalf groups completed of the initial eight required. Quite understandably he wrote to the Committee asking for an increase in his fee. Prices and costs had after all risen quickly during the immediate post-war years; George Alexander had put some of his prices for oak carving up by ninety per cent. Knott recommended that the Committee grant an increase of £1,600 to finish the outstanding work, which they did. (fn. 32) Unfortunately Cole's rate of progress fell dramatically. He seems to have had trouble finding a new studio, but this hardly explains the fact that twentyone months after approval for his increased fee, he had only carved one-and-a-half groups, and still had one to finish. Worse than that, Knott rejected one group, which Cole had already had carved in stone without previous approval of the plaster model. This was the 'Motherhood' group intended for the Belvedere Road front: Knott thought it 'unsuitable in scale and finish'. (fn. 33) (fn. d)
After this long delay Cole asked for a further £1,000, in March 1921. Although the architects were prepared to recommend this to the Committee, their report was debated by the Members with mounting impatience. Riley concluded that the Members were not impressed with the value or suitability of Cole's work, and that 'more than one Member indicated that they regarded his work as a positive eyesore, and by no means an artistic advantage to the building'. The Chairman then agreed to see Cole and to indicate that 'the present was not a good time to consider granting any increase'. (fn. 35) Relations deteriorated further when the following week a postcard, addressed simply to 'New County Hall', and including a request for £600, arrived from Cole's wife: 'Mr Cole is unwell from the strain and worry ... I am taking him away for a bit to cheaper places'. (fn. 36) Cole was paid an additional £200.
As Knott bravely set about collecting artistic opinions of Cole's work, the Committee made it plain they considered it irrelevant what other artists thought. (fn. 37) The opinions Knott eventually received, from excellent authorities, were favourable to Cole's work. The poet and arthistorian Laurence Binyon (1869–1943), then Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, wrote:
If you had Michelangelo to do the groups for you, the LCC would I expect be disgusted with his work ... what public building in London has statuary as interesting? There is sincerity and imaginative intention so manifest in the sculptures that they ought to be judged with generosity and goodwill ....
I firmly believe that no other English sculptor living would have produced groups to match Cole's for bigness of conception and style.
Binyon also told Knott that the American sculptor Paul Manship had told him that he thought 'the groups on your fine building the most interesting things in sculpture that he had ever seen over here'. (fn. 38) Another artist who wrote in support of Cole's work was the painter (Sir) George Clausen. (fn. 39)
The Committee Chairman, Hubert Greenwood, sent Knott to Paris to find out whether Cole was prepared in principle to continue the work. He was, for a price, and Knott wrote a report for the Committee, supported by the Binyon and Clausen letters, recommending that Cole be allowed to continue. Riley, most unusually, dissented from this report, stating that he did not 'concur with the opinions expressed as to the value of the recent work executed by Mr Cole'. (fn. 40)
In October 1921, the Solicitor wrote to Cole asking him to honour his contract or consider his employment at an end. By this stage many Members were happy to do without the two unfinished groups for the Belvedere Road front, and the letter merely provoked one final outburst from Laurie Cole, writing from Florence. She was particularly scathing about Knott, the sculptor's last real defender on the project. She contrasted him, as 'an architect collecting, throughout the war double fees, part from Government for sitting in an architectural office, and part from the Council and other clients', with Cole, as 'a sculptor unique in England who had done great works for the Council with his own hands and who had volunteered and served as a private soldier and then in the French trenches, thrown away three and a half years out of his twenties – not sitting warm and comfortable at home drawing – but out soldiering'. (fn. 41)
Predictably, Cole's employment at County Hall came to an end, and the Belvedere Road front was left as we see it today, without the proposed groups in its central section. (fn. e)
Striking though some of Cole's statuary undoubtedly is, the subject matter is not easily identifiable. Various themes, most of them having no obvious connexion with the world of local government, are mentioned in the Committee papers, but there is no definitive list of the completed groups and the allegorical treatment precludes a straightforward correlation with any of the subjects mentioned. An attempt to discover what the statues represented was made in 1920 by one of the LCC Aldermen, (Sir) Evan Cotton, who tabled a series of facetious questions to the Council. (fn. f) The questions were disallowed by the Clerk, but not before a reply had been drafted stating that Cole's work was 'a sincere attempt to embody the representation of beauty in stone', and venturing explanations for some of the groups. (fn. 43) In 1923, however, Riley himself confessed that neither he nor Knott had ever been clear about what the statues represented. (fn. 44) However, it cannot be assumed that this style of work was not at first well regarded by the Committee, since the rejected group 'Motherhood' is very much more representational in treatment than any of the accepted works.
Mention is made of some nine different groups either modelled or carved by Cole – 'The Creation of Eve', a 'Hero Group', a 'Love Group', the 'Expulsion from Eden' and 'The Good Samaritan' (both bronzes), a 'Thames Group', 'The World Beyond', 'Motherhood', and 'Sacrifice', the last intended as a substitute for 'Motherhood' but never carried out. (fn. 45) The 'Creation of Eve' was originally meant for the north central pavilion on the Belvedere Road front, and 'Motherhood' for the corresponding south pavilion. When neither this nor 'Sacrifice' were forthcoming or acceptable, the 'Creation of Eve' was moved to the river front, and the central part of the Belvedere Road front left unadorned.
Westminster Bridge Road front: east pavilion – 'World Beyond Group', humanity supporting the world (Plate 30c); west pavilion – untitled group. In 1920 it was said to represent 'Benevolence and Humanity'.
The contemporary opinions of Cole's County Hall work already quoted were garnered specifically in their defence, and contemporaries were by no means unanimous in their praise. Writing in 1924, Charles Marriott (1869–1957), the successful novelist turned art critic of The Times, felt that Cole's sculptural groups were a mistake, not because they were badly done in themselves but because they needed 'a much more florid architectural context to support them'. He thought that the proper style of ornament for County Hall was that of Mabey's work in the crescent. (fn. 46) The justice of this remark is hard to deny. Cole's work, large in scale though it is, is not well 'set off' by the building, which manages to make it less significant than it merits.
When work on the northern front was put in hand in the late 1920s, the Council decided to continue with figure sculptures in the pavilions, but they employed Alfred Hardiman (1891–1949), with whom relations were considerably easier than they had been with Cole (see page 97 and Plates 31c, d). Hardiman was a former student in the Artistic Crafts Department at the Northampton Polytechnic, Clerkenwell, where he won an LCC Senior Art Scholarship to the Royal College of Art. In 1920 he won a Prix de Rome scholarship in sculpture, and throughout his life was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy. Among his works are the bronze figure of St George, now at Eltham Palace but originally fixed to the front of No. 13, Carlos Place, Mayfair, and the memorial to Field-Marshall Haig in Whitehall. His fee for the work at County Hall was £4,100. (fn. 47)
Work by London County Council Students
In 1912 the Edinburgh town planner Patrick Geddes organized an exhibition of Designs for Mural Painting for the decoration of schools and other institutions, in which the LCC participated, Riley serving on the Committee. (fn. 48) The exhibition was intended to encourage the kind of decorative work which Geddes had pioneered, and the LCC co-operated by making space available for murals in LCC schools.
The following year, Swinton led a movement to have students employed on some of the decorative work. Halsey Ricardo put the case for student involvement in a letter to William Garnett of the Educational Adviser's Department. Arguing that the standard of technical education in the LCC schools was high, indeed not inferior to that in Germany, and that Members were unaware of the quality of their own schools, he attacked the LCC for not making practical use of its own teaching. As trustees of public money, the LCC trained students to be good craftsmen, but how often, he asked, were these principles put into practice:
They train the student, for instance, to appreciate and practise fine lettering – whilst they permit, on the public buildings and street corners, lettering that is a venomous eyesore. They train him to discriminate the various stiles of fine metal work and surround their open spaces with railings of cheap commercial manufacture ....
The LCC is building itself a County Hall. How many of its students will be invited to do the ornamental carving of the stone and wood – how many to do the decorations in paint and plaster – how many the metal work, the cabinet work, the seats, the lettering? Why are we, as ratepayers, debarred from getting any dividend from our investment? And, think, how it would hearten our students to be allowed to do some real work. (fn. 49)
Knott came down firmly against this idea. He felt very strongly that the carving on such an important building should be in the hands of experienced professionals. It was 'rather hard on outside sculptors' that such an opportunity should be given to students. The Committee should follow the lines they had already laid down and allow him a free hand in such purely aesthetic matters. But Knott had a nice course to steer between unskilled innocence and skilled artistry, explaining that he did not want 'sculptors of big reputations' because of the 'difficulty in inducing them to merge their very pronounced individualities into mine'. (fn. 50)
it would be intolerable to carry out a building on which an architect's reputation may be judged, the decorative details of which would be settled or even influenced by a Committee of men who have not been educated on strictly architectural lines. (fn. 51)
In 1916, in response to pressure from the Education Committee, Knott agreed that 'some small portions of wood-carvings – overmantels and that sort of thing might be found' for students from LCC-supported art-schools, and that they might 'try their hand at colour decoration on the large plaster spaces of the Staff Refreshment Room ceiling'. If this proved unsuccessful it 'could be limewhited out'. (fn. 52)
Riley's reservations about employing students were sceptical rather than snobbish, practical rather than artistic. When it was suggested by the Establishment Committee after the war that students from the Central School of Arts and Crafts be given a chance, he pointed out that there was £120–worth of work that they might do, but they thought this was too small. Riley continued:
I then pointed out that a very large number of relief panels were wanted for the Central School of Arts and Crafts, the very home of these students, and that they had been invited to look into this question long before the war, but the result so far is nil. This seemed to impress the Chairman very much. (fn. 53)
Between Knott's vigorous defence of artistic principles, Riley's scepticism and the Committee's indecision, almost nothing came of the suggestion for student decoration of the building. Knott might have felt that by banning student work he was opening the way for professionals, whose work he knew would be of a higher standard. But a Municipal Reform administration which grudged money to build their immense headquarters was not about to pay established artists to decorate its walls.
The only student to work extensively at County Hall was the Birmingham-born sculptor, Alfred H. Wilkinson (1884–1958), who won a competition (held within the Central School) for carving on the Ceremonial Staircase. This was never carried out, but it led to Wilkinson being employed to execute the stone-carving in the Belvedere Road and Westminster Bridge Road entrance halls and on the Members' Library chimneypiece (Plates 27c, 29c, d), for which he was paid £670. (fn. 54) Wilkinson was later commissioned to carry out the wood-carving in the northern section of County Hall (Plate 29b). (fn. 55)
A second competition was organized in 1921 for the decoration of spandrels in the Principal Floor corridors. Each of four art schools – Royal Academy, Slade, Westminster, and Royal College of Art – was to submit two lunette cartoons, on the subject of 'Life in the London Parks controlled by the LCC', a theme possibly inspired by the example of Stockholm Town Hall. The paintings were to be experimental, not in positions of prominence, and the intention was that each year the Committee should choose from a new selection, so progressively decorating the building. The first series of eight was prepared and installed for inspection in December 1922, together with a further unsolicited six on 'Railways'. (fn. g) Five of the cartoons were exhibited in the following year at the Royal Academy Decorative Art Exhibition, when that by H. Weaver Hawkins of 'The Vale of Health' was highly praised (Plate 29a). (fn. 57) Others were reproduced in the Architectural Review. (fn. 58) Knott was happy with them and recommended that they be left in place for a year to give Members a chance to judge them properly. (fn. 59)
However, having viewed the cartoons in situ the Committee decided that no murals should be installed at County Hall 'unless they are of undoubted artistic merit', (fn. 60) thus closing the door on an enterprise which might have been the long-term influence for good in the art schools that many saw as its purpose. It would certainly have put the corridors of County Hall on a different level of enjoyment. So ended Swinton's vision of the County Hall as a work of art embodying the principles and practice of the LCC arts-and-crafts educational system.
The whole affair caused an uproar in the schools concerned, whose Principals – Henry Tonks, Charles Sims, W. Rothenstein, and Walter Bayes – wrote to the Chairman of the Establishment Committee on 17 November 1923. They objected very strongly to the Committee's rejection of the works as un-artistic, offering to submit them for opinion to a committee of experts, including the Directors of the National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Slade Professors at Oxford and Cambridge. Needless to say, the LCC did not take up this challenge to its artistic judgement. (fn. 61)
The controversy spilled on to the correspondence pages of The Times. The irony is that for once Knott and Riley had supported the proposed decoration by students. Swinton, who had not been on the Establishment Committee since 1909, but always kept an eye on matters of art connected with County Hall, offered his regrets and an explanation:
In the first place the members adjudicating wished the train drawn as they see a train, and the crowds besporting themselves on Hampstead Heath clothed as they know them, not fancifully in all the colours of the rainbow. Then our corridors are new and clean, and look very well as they are. But the real trouble was that, while in all probability these cartoons were designed and worked out in wide studios, these corridors in which they were shown – and rightly shown because they would have to hang there – are only nine feet wide. We were too near them. Hence the tears. (fn. 62)
Two of the lunettes, those from Westminster Art School showing Hampstead Heath, were bought shortly after by the management of the underground railways for the entrance to their Westminster station. (fn. 63) (fn. h)
The Italian Government Gift
In 1920 the Italian Government, having heard that the LCC was erecting a new headquarters, offered to give the Council two blocks of Italian marble for the building, since 'Most of the great buildings of London are associated with Italian Art, either in architecture, material or decoration'. (fn. 64) Knott was asked what type of marble he wanted and the size of blocks required, and, with the chimneypieces in the Belvedere Road entrance hall in mind, ordered 'Verdi di Prato' (Verde Prato). Though told that 'Breccia Paonazzetta' was 'held in higher esteem' by Italians, Knott adhered to his first choice, and when it was found that this could not be supplied in the sizes required he proposed to redesign the chimneypieces, but seemingly did not do so (see Plate 27c, fig. 28). (fn. 65)
The Council Portrait Collection
In addition to the sculpture and carving commissioned for the building itself, the Council also owned a number of paintings and works of art, many presented by Members or by the public, but others specifically commissioned. As the paintings were largely hung in the ceremonial and official parts of the building, it is appropriate to consider them briefly here.
The LCC, as the first London-wide local government body, inherited works of art and other property from a number of predecessors, most notably the Metropolitan Board of Works, and the London School Board, and later on the Metropolitan Asylums Board and the Boards of Guardians. Finally, the GLC became heir to the Middlesex County Council, as well as the LCC. Together these collections provide a record of the individuals who played an important part in the management of London, and also some indication of the esteem and affection in which many of those bodies were held by their members. Not all of these objects were displayed, but many of them found homes in lobbies and corridors, and in Committee Rooms and offices, doing a great deal to soften the austerity of the Edwardian panelling. (fn. 66)
The most important single collection is that of the portraits of Chairmen of the London County Council and of the Greater London Council, not least because of the interesting manner in which it started, and the unusual personality of its originator, Captain George Swinton. All but one of the Chairmen are depicted in this collection of eighty-eight portraits (Plates 46b-d, 47). (fn. i)
Swinton had embarked on an army career, out resigned to study painting under Sir Hubert Herkomer. His interest in painting was second only to his enthusiasm for townplanning, and he was a personal friend of some of the leading painters of the day. (fn. 67) As he later recalled, the portrait collection began as a compliment to an acting Chairman:
his brother Councillors, in grateful recognition of work well done, inviting him to have his portrait painted – at their expense, and presented to him, but with a thoroughly-understood arrangement that he should give it back to them in order that it may be hung on the walls of the County Hall as a pleasant remembrance. (fn. 68)
The collection includes works by some of the most outstanding artists working between 1889 and 1986. It is also a record of the men and women who for ninety-seven years played a part in the history of local government in London and their patronage of the arts. The majority of the Chairmen were extremely busy in public life, a proportion were M.P.s, one became Prime Minister, all without exception held a variety of public offices outside the LCC and the GLC. No history of County Hall can ignore the contribution the portrait collection made to its decoration; in addition, the motives behind its creation throw a lot of light on the attitudes of the generation which created the building, and the way in which they intended to enrich the lives of Londoners.
During the move to the newly opened County Hall in 1922, the Council's collection of portraits of all its past Chairmen was brought over and hung, experimentally, in various parts of the Principal Floor, though there were relatively few areas thought to be entirely suitable. The Establishment Committee agreed guidelines for hanging the portraits, deciding that as they were by eminent artists they should be displayed in the 'best possible positions from the artistic point of view'; they should be hung in positions visible to members of the public visiting the building, and they should as far as possible be hung together.
In view of the 'considerable diversity of opinion' among Members on the matter, the Committee sought the advice of the President of the Royal Academy, and other RAs as to the best way to hang the collection. They recommended that the portraits should be varnished, put under glass 'as a preservative from the effects of the London atmosphere' and re-framed in a uniform manner in a type of frame which they personally recommended. Sir Richard Llewellyn and Richard Jack also generously offered to advise on the hanging and arranging of the portraits. It was decided to hang one portrait in each of the twenty panels in the Ayes and Noes Lobbies and display the remainder elsewhere (Plate 22a). (fn. 69)
The small collection on which so much thought and time had been expended was remarkably representative of leading contemporary portrait painters. That the collection was of such quality was almost entirely due to Swinton's vision and persistence. He left a vivid description of the way in which he built up a collection of portraits by the best-known painters of the day at an extremely modest figure through a mixture of cajolery and mild social blackmail. (fn. 70) His tough and unscrupulous approach in what he felt to be a good cause, combined with his social standing and his own artistic knowledge, enabled him to secure some outstanding works in the early days of the collection.
He moved from the fairly obvious names for painters of the early sitters, to finding more 'up and coming' artists for later Chairmen. Thus the portrait of the first Chairman, the Earl of Rosebery, was a copy 'after and touched by G. F. Watts, O.M.'. Rosebery was followed by Sir John Lubbock, M.P. (1834–1913), afterwards Lord Avebury, a City banker and scientist, and a prominent early campaigner for the preservation of historic buildings, who was painted by the Hon. John Collier (Plate 46d). Collier (1850–1934) was a fashionable figure, connected to the Council through his brother, Lord Monkswell (1845– 1909), Chairman 1903–4, whom he painted, together with several other Progressive Chairmen – W. H. Dickinson, later Lord Dickinson of Painswick (1859–1935), Chairman 1900–1, Sir Andrew Torrance (d. 1909), Chairman 1901–2, and Sir Edwin Cornwall (1863–1953), Chairman 1905–6. Indeed, as Swinton pointed out, Collier and 'Mr. Leonard Watts, who painted Sir John Hutton, Sir Arthur Arnold and Mr. McKinnon Wood, were for a time almost Painters in Ordinary to the Council, though relieved at intervals by Mr. Herman Herkomer, who painted Sir William Collins, Sir William Richmond's Lord Welby, Mr. Spencer Watson's Sir John McDougall, and Sir George Clausen's Sir John Benn'.
The collection was growing steadily, and although 'not very exciting', Swinton thought it worth while to try and put it on a safer footing. The main problem, of course, was financial. Public funds could not be used and Swinton could never count on more than £100 in contributions from Members – in his own words, 'A pittance!'. In 1907 and 1908, however, the Council was able to secure portraits of Sir Evan Spicer and Sir Henry Harris from the young William Orpen, at a time 'when the meager sum which we were able to offer our painters was sufficient recompense'. Spurred on by this success, Swinton approached Sir William Orchardson (1835–1910), 'the doyen, and perhaps the most honoured of our portraitpainters living at that moment', and a brother Scot indebted to one of Swinton's relatives. On being told of the financial constraints, Orchardson readily agreed to 'give a present to London, and paint us a picture for £100', in this case a portrait of Sir Richard Robinson, Chairman 1908–9. (fn. 71)
Where Orchardson led, other painters could be persuaded to follow, and the plea of 'we take no money from the Rates, will you give a present to London and paint us a portrait for £100', secured pictures from Alma-Tadema, Edward Poynter, Llewellyn, Strang, Nicolson, Ouless, Britton Rivière, Ambrose McEvoy, Glyn Philpot (Plate 46c), Hacker, Walter Russell, Fiddes Watt, Jack, Frank Dicksee, Solomon, Harcourt, and Sir John Lavery.
Swinton had hoped to persuade his close friend Sargent to contribute to the series, and did indeed approach him, but at a time when the artist was 'overwhelmed with work'. One of Sargent's most successful portraits was of Swinton's wife, painted in 1896–7, and Swinton always had it in mind that if the Council had chosen a Chairwoman, and Sargent had lived longer, 'he might have been asked more easily to do something that no other had done'. There is, however, one Sargent in the collection. This is a charcoal sketch of Swinton himself, made in 1906, which the sitter later presented to the Council (Plate 46b). (fn. 72)
Despite his other concerns, Swinton retained an interest in the portrait collection. He secured its future by an arrangement with the Royal Academy by which the President would assist the Council in choosing an artist annually. (fn. 73) It was not until 1940 that the Council obtained powers under the Annual LCC Act to spend money from the rates on the Portrait Collection. (fn. 74) The tradition of having the Chairman's portrait painted was continued by the GLC, its last Chairman, Tony Banks, commissioning a group portrait (Plate 47d).