Arts & Crafts, Shelters & Bridges & Memorials (the Transport Architecture of Edwin Lutyens)

Fed up of Brutalist transport architecture? Left cold by the exposed pipework and structural elements of High Tech? Weirded out by the angles and slopes of Deconstructivism? In that case, I have the perfect antidote.

Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) is the architect for people who like their buildings on a human scale, and pleasing to the eye of those with an eye on tradition. He started his own architecture practice in 1888 and initially focussed on domestic architecture.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Lutyens undertook a number of commissions for large houses, often in the Surrey countryside. They might have been 19th/20th Century buildings but they looked much older, settling comfortably into the countryside as though they had been there for a couple of hundred years. Designed in the Arts and Crafts style championed by people like artist and interior designer William Morris, they drew particularly on Tudor building styles with features like pitched roofs, massive chimneys, leaded windows, solid doors with decorative ironwork, and massive inglenook fireplaces. The houses were often accompanied by a complementary garden from garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, with whom Lutyens struck up a long-lasting and productive working relationship. Though initially focussed on the south of England and country houses, Lutyens could later be found remodelling castles on Lindisfarne in Northumberland, and designing sedate offices and public buildings in Britain’s larger cities (the headquarters of the British Medical Association on Tavistock Square in London is one of his). He moved away from Arts and Crafts to a more Classicist style as the years went by, and this can be seen particularly in his public buildings. His architectural fame in the pre-war era also rests on a large number of commissions he completed in New Delhi, India, which referenced or appropriated depending on your point-of-view, elements of Indian architecture.

Of his domestic works, it is perhaps Goddards in Surrey (completed in 1900) which is his masterpiece. Now in the ownership of the Lutyens Trust, most of the house (along with its accompanying Jekyll garden) is leased to the Landmark Trust and is available for holiday lets; the Lutyens Trust retains use of the house’s library. If you want to pretend you’re a member of the country house set of the pre-war period, I can strongly recommend it.

Goddards, Surrey. Photo by tim rich and lesley katon [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr page

While it’s always nice to look at pretty buildings, what does this have to do with transport? You won’t be surprised to find that Lutyens also turned his hand to transport buildings too. His output was relatively small, but some of it is particularly appropriate to feature at this time of year.

Sadly, Lutyens never designed a railway station, although I can imagine exactly what it would have looked like if he did. In fact, it was the humble bus shelter to which he turned his attention. Patronised by a wealthy local landowner, Lutyens undertook a number of commissions in the village of Mells, Somerset. One of those was the village’s bus shelter, and here it is:

Lutyens’ bus shelter at Mells, Somerset. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Robin Webstergeograph.org.uk/p/5335749

Solid, picturesque, and looking as though it could have been around for much longer than it actually has, it is typical of Lutyens’ approach to architecture. You can imagine that it might once have been a shelter for some other village activity long predating motorised transport, only latterly taking on a new role as a bus shelter, rather than having been purpose-designed. Unlisted, I’ve never been able to confirm a construction date, but most of Lutyens’ work at Mells was undertaken before 1920. There are relatively few British bus shelters or bus stations designed by leading architects, yet this one seems to be virtually unknown.

Lutyens’ other pieces of transport infrastructure are three road bridges. The largest of these is Hampton Court Bridge across the Thames in outer London. Over a concrete structure, the bridge is finished in red brick with Portland stone parapets. It features three shallow arches and complements, without aping, the finishes of nearby Hampton Court Palace.

Hampton Court Bridge. Photo taken by Apdevries {{cc-by-sa-2.5}} via this Wikimedia Commons page

Somewhere in Surrey County Council’s County Hall headquarters in Kingston-Upon-Thames is a stunning watercolour of the design of the bridge (I last saw it in the office of the head of integrated transport), a beautiful piece of art in its own right and a genuinely artistic artist’s impression. It’s one of those pieces of publicly-owned art that the public never gets to see.

On to a good thing, Lutyens more-or-less reused the design on the smaller Runnymede Bridge, though this time the red bricks and Portland stone parapets cloaked a steel structure. It was a bridge long in the building. Although designed in 1939, it was 1961 before it was completed, the Second World War having interrupted proceedings. In between, Lutyens designed the much smaller Silver Street Bridge over the River Cam in central Cambridge.

Runnymede Bridge. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Colin Smithgeograph.org.uk/p/1499978

The delayed completion of Runnymede Bridge was not the only time that war had a significant influence on Lutyens’ career. In fact it was war-related work that led to the Lutyens structures with which most people will now be familiar. For while Lutyen’s pre-First World War reputation rested on his New Delhi work and his country houses, his later reputation is that of a leading architect of war memorials.

Having already been appointed as a principal architect to the Imperial War Graves Commission (later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) during the First World War, in 1919 Lutyens was commissioned to design a temporary structure in Whitehall to form the centrepiece of the victory parade for Allied forces following the Great War. His design was considered so appropriate and so impressive that he was asked to recreate it in permanent form, using Portland stone. We know it now as the Cenotaph, the focus of the yearly Service of Remembrance ceremony and wreath-laying in London, in which members of the armed services who have lost their lives in the two world wars and later conflicts are remembered. Held on the nearest Sunday to November 11th, this year’s service is a week on Sunday.

Lutyens designed many other war memorials around the country, while the design of his Whitehall Cenotaph was often used as an inspiration for war memorials by other architects. As an architect to the Imperial War Graves Commission, Lutyens designed the memorials to soldiers with no known graves at the cemeteries in Thiepval and Villers-Bretonneux in France.

Two Lutyens memorials, however, will be of particular interest to readers of this website. The first is the Midland Railway war memorial in Derby, completed in 1921. The second is the North Eastern Railway war memorial in York, completed in 1924.

Midland Railway war memorial. Photo by Harry Mitchell [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

The Midland Railway war memorial takes the form of a Cenotaph flanked by a wall, and the memorial is one of eight Cenotaphs Lutyens designed, including the one at Whitehall. It is Grade II*-listed. The Cenotaph is some 10m high and features the Midland Railway’s coat of arms on its sides. The names of all 2,833 employees of the Midland Railway who were killed in the First World War are listed on a series of bronze plaques, attached to the Cenotaph’s flanking wall. Sadly, the memorial was vandalised in the early 2010s and the bronze plaques stolen. They were recovered and the memorial restored by Network Rail and the Railway Heritage Trust.

North Eastern Railway war memorial, © Simon Robinson, 2017 / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL-1.2. / via this Wikimedia Commons page

The North Eastern Railway war memorial is a visually slightly simpler affair than the Midland Railway’s. Here, stone walls stand on three sides of a stepped podium, and a tall obelisk is placed in the middle of the rear wall. Though tall (at some 16m), the obelisk is plain and simple, featuring only the North Eastern Railway’s coat of arms on its pedestal. The screen wall includes 2,236 incised names, those employees of the North Eastern Railway who died in the First World War. Slate panels were added to the monument after the Second World War, detailing those lost in that conflict, by which time the North Eastern Railway had been subsumed into the London and North Eastern Railway. Unlike those on the bronze panels on the Midland Railway memorial, the carved names on the North Eastern Railway memorial have suffered erosion over the decades. Rather than recutting them, a decision was made to maintain a list of remembrance in the nearby National Railway Museum. The memorial is listed at Grade II*.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Historic England listing citation for the Midland Railway war memorial, Derby, here

Historic England listing citation for the North Eastern Railway war memorial, here

The Mells Village website, here

The Lutyens Trust, here

…and anything else linked to in the text above.

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