Essential Architecture-  London

Bedford Park

architect

Richard Norman Shaw

location

Bedford Park, near Turnham Green in West London.

date

1875 and onward

style

Arts and Crafts

construction

brick Tree-lined streets, informal gardens, town center.

type

garden suburb
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Bedford Park Society 
A short history of Bedford Park 

Bedford Park, long considered a prototype for later garden cities and suburbs, owes its origin to the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870’s. This followed the ideals of men such as John Ruskin and William Morris, who encouraged the appreciation of beauty in everyday life in revolt against Mid-Victorian materialism, ostentation, vulgarity and the increasing effects of industrialisation. In a letter written in 1874 Morris said: -

‘...suppose people lived in little communities among gardens and fields, so that they could be in the country in five minutes.’

Among the London middle classes were many who looked in vain for a suitable environment in which these ideals could be expressed. Their need was recognised by Jonathan Carr, a cloth merchant with a taste for property speculation and family connections in the world of art.

In 1875 he bought 24 acres of land near Turnham Green Station on the western edge of London. The site was ideal, with many fine trees, and with connections from the stations to all parts of London, the City only 30 minutes away. Here he planned a new kind of estate in which aesthetically acceptable houses at cheap rents would be set in an informal layout which preserved as many mature trees as possible. 

Bedford Park can be seen as the embodiment of the newly fashionable Queen Anne style or Revival that had arisen in the 1860's. This was a somewhat inaccurate term describing a combination of 17th and 18th century English and Flemish domestic architecture but incorporated eclectic motifs drawn from many sources. This included rubbed-brick arches and dressings over and around openings, terracotta embellishments, open-bed and broken pediments, monumental chimneys, shaped and Dutch gables, tile-hung gabled walls, white painted balustrades, balconies and bay-windows. Basements were abolished, and front gardens had wooden fences rather than iron railings. 

Architecturally and in its community spirit Bedford Park was an inspiration and a model to the more deliberate creators of the later Garden Suburbs and Cities, but it lacked their planned social structure and programme. 

The history of Bedford Park can be divided into four phases.

Phase I 1875-1876

The key to success for his novel suburb lay in establishing the reputation of Bedford Park in the minds of the ‘artistic’ community at large. E.W. Godwin had the required credentials, as an architect and interior designer for the houses of Oscar Wilde and James McNeil Whistler in Chelsea, he had established himself as one of the leaders in the Aesthetic Movement. Carr commissioned designs from Godwin and the firm of Coe and Robinson.

Godwin provided Carr with the designs for two houses, one detached and one semi detached and Coe and Robinson provided one semi-detached design. As was to be his way with all of his architects, Carr bought the designs outright, and retained control over where and how they were built with limited further input from the architect.

These first houses were published in the architectural press, and attracted severe criticism for perceived defects in their internal planning. To be fair, one of the correspondents admitted that this at least recognised that they were worthy of critical appraisal, but Carr was not going to live with adverse publicity, which he could ill afford so early in his enterprise. He therefore parted company with both Godwin and Coe and Robinson and had his surveyor/architect William Wilson adapt Godwin’s detached design.

Carr then turned to a leading architect of the time, Richard Norman Shaw, for further designs. 

“The Tower House” designed for Jonathan Carr’s own occupation and sadly lost. A block of flats now stands on the site.

Phase II 1877-1879

Shaw’s first designs for Bedford Park were produced in 1877, and were built next to Godwin’s houses at the bottom of The Avenue. Carr was delighted with them (and with the reception they received in the press), so he commissioned from Shaw a range of different designs to build where he chose to do so. 

It was these designs that established the architectural character of Bedford Park which we now recognise, and which was so influential by its novelty. Shaw presented drawings of imaginary streetscapes composed of his designs, with the boundary fences, piers and other peripheral design features that are now so familiar to us, and the images he produced are a remarkably accurate prediction of what was built. 

As with Godwin, Carr bought the designs outright from Shaw, who had no role in planning the estate, or in deciding which houses should be built where or indeed in the supervision of construction. What was and is important was the result, not the process, and this boils down to the elusive concept of character. The essential ingredients were the ad hoc nature of the planning which successfully reinvented the organic growth of a village, the retention of mature trees, and the architecture itself, using materials that gave the place an established look in a short period of time. During this phase of the development Wilson is credited with a number of detached cottages and M.B. Adams designed the Club House and the extension to St Michael’s church.

By the early 1880’s the heart of Bedford Park was complete, but Carr had steadily acquired more land, and was still building. In 1880 the development entered a final and distinctly different phase, prompted by the resignation of Shaw as the estate architect, and the refinancing of the enterprise as a Limited Liability Company. It would also appear that at about this time W. Wilson left the project. 

Phase III 1880 - 1886 

Shaw had wearied of Carr’s demands, and it is said of his reluctance to settle his bills. However in resigning he set up the succession of his pupil and protégé E.J. May, who was working in his office and setting up in practice on his own. The architectural progression from Shaw to May is almost seamless: May worked on Shaw’s designs, and Shaw probably looked over his shoulder when he was operating independently. The essential style did not change at all. The houses in Priory Gardens date from this handover period, and stylistically could be from the hand of either. Notwithstanding this there is increasingly a distinct difference in the character of the streets developed in the 1880’s. The changing emphasis of the development, now nominally the Bedford Park Company Ltd (but in reality still Carr), and perhaps a changing market, led to the laying out of larger plots. On these were built larger houses, and most important of all, a higher proportion of individual houses for individual purchasers. The most striking example of this is The Orchard. Most but not all of the houses are one-offs, designed largely by May, on plots up to 4 times the size of those in Woodstock Road built a few years earlier. For this reason it is arguable that May had also taken over as the responsibilities of siting and the overall planning of the project.

The design for the palisade fence and boundary piers is first seen in Maurice B Adams 1877 advertisement for Bedford Park, showing an ideal street, with houses by Norman Shaw, drawn from a sketch by Shaw. This type only seems to have been used for some houses in The Avenue, Blenheim Road, Woodstock Road, Bath Road, Queen Anne’s Grove and Marlborough Crescent. The remains of a low brick wall with gaps for the posts often indicate its former presence. 

Jonathan Carr’s projected scheme of Bedford Park which, by that time included a proposed westward extension, which E J May was to have designed, was unfortunately brought to an abrupt end in 1886, owing to the failure of the Company which had been formed in 1881 to finance the project. This area that comprises about half the land which had been acquired is shown on Maurice B Adams’ record plan drawn in 1931, and contains the houses that are now listed. But this was not at the time considered the end of Bedford Park. 

Phase IV 1887 -1914

Construction proceeded on the remainder of the land that had been sold to various developers, though without Jonathan Carr’s control. There are, however, many interesting houses in the later part, notably 14 South Parade by C.F. Voysey (1891).

In Conclusion

Bedford Park pioneered a number of concepts that were later used and formalised by the designers of the Garden City movement. It is the result rather than the process that sets it apart, and makes it an important landmark of suburban planning. 

Carr’s instincts led him to create what the greater intellectuals could emulate and in its mature state it is arguable that we have here a more successfully semi-rural environment than the more carefully planned successors. Britain in the first half of the 20th Century developed a form of suburbia that is unlike anything else in the world, and Bedford Park represents a turning point in the architecture and layout adopted for it. Without the intellectual framework of Howard and the socialist influence of William Morris, it is perhaps all the more remarkable that one man should have created such a place, and such an influential social experiment. It is not diminished by the fact that Carr was a slightly dubious property developer, or the decline of his business through his less shrewd ventures. He was treading new territory, and it is right that he should be remembered for it.

Though now swallowed up by London, Bedford Park still retains its identity, community spirit and its unique character bequeathed by Carr’s inspiration and Shaw’s genius.

The Architects of Bedford Park

Maurice B Adams

Born in 1849, died in 1933: Maurice Bingham Adams saw the founding of Bedford Park, lived there during its aesthetic heyday, than watched its sad decline between the two world wars.

He had a grandstand view from his editorial chair at the Building News, but as an architect and long-time resident

he was constantly switching roles between observer and participant.

When the first houses went up by Turnham Green Station in 1875, Building News was quick to criticise Jonathan Carr’s original architect, Edward J Godwin. However, Maurice Adams seems to have been won over to the concept because from 1896 onwards it was his drawings of Bedford Park houses that illustrated a string of articles about the new suburb.

He joined Building News in 1872, having trained in Brighton and then become architect to the borough council. He’s variously been described as editor, technical editor and architectural editor, but whatever his title he remained there for over 50 years, combining the role with a private practice and various honorary posts. As a result he had an unrivalled network of contacts in the profession.

He came to Bedford Park in 1878, settling first at 14 Woodstock Road. In 1901 he moved to Edenhurst at 1 Marlborough Crescent. Originally designed by Norman Shaw, the detached house with its gables 

and scalloped hanging tiles was probably adapted by its new occupier. Sadly, it was demolished by Acton

Council in the early 1960s, just before the newly-formed Bedford Park Society succeeded in having the houses

listed. The site is now occupied by a block of flats called St James Court.

In 1880 Maurice Adams designed 12 and 14 Newton Grove (the former being the home of the Society’s late co-founder, Tom Greeves) for the artist J C Dollman. Both homes had elaborately carved porches and plaster gables, while the larger (no 14), incorporated a studio on the first floor.

The following year his School of Art opened in Bath Road. Featuring five Queen Anne style pedimented gables, it

was not a particularly successful design; but it was doubtless better than his first effort, which apparently had to be sent to Norman Shaw to be pulled together. Destroyed by a flying bomb during World War II, it was replaced by Chiswick Polytechnic and is now the Arts Educational School.

He also designed 5 Priory Avenue, and it's possible that he drew up plans for some of the smaller, cottage-style

houses in Bedford Park, as seen in Marlborough Crescent, 35 Queen Anne's Grove and 12 Blenheim Road.

His Church Hall, which fits in so harmoniously with Norman Shaw’s church,

was built in 1887. At the same time he completed the church’s north aisle, and

he also designed the font and pulpit. In 1909 he added the rather Gothic style chapel of All Souls.

During his years in Bedford Park he seems to have amassed various properties.

His will mentions numbers 5, 23 and 41 Priory Road (now Avenue), 2 Addison Road, 33 Marlborough Crescent and 14 Woodstock Road.

He designed various buildings round London, including almshouses in Chiswick, and restored All Saints, South Acton, as well as fulfilling commissions in the United States and Australia.

In addition, he published several architectural books, one co-authored with Norman Shaw and another with E J Godwin.

Maurice Bingham Adams.1849-1933

He was married for 60 years to Emily, who died in 1927. Of his six daughters and one son, only four survived him.

Despite his close links with St Michael and All Angels he was first churchwarden there his funeral was held at Chiswick Parish Church, and he is buried in the adjoining cemetery.

Jonathan T. Carr

Jonathan Carr was the driving force behind the Bedford Park development

The first estate architect was E W Godwin

R Norman Shaw is perhaps the architect most associated with Bedford Park

The Tabard Inn was designed by R Norman Shaw

The Vicarage, St Michael & All Angels, Bedford Park

© The Bedford Park Society MMIII. All rights reserved. Registered Charity No. 288204 

links

Special thanks to www.bedfordpark.org 
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