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Thomas Jeckyll


Thomas Jeckyll began has career as a Gothic Revival architect in his native city Norwich, Norfolk, where this concrete jungle was his playground; designing rectories and schools, restoring churches and historic houses, and contributing to the agricultural industry. Within this Gothic style, traditional aspects were abandoned and replaced by three considerably experimental design idioms, Old English, Anglo-Japanese and Queen Anne. These tastes are apparent in one of his locally crafted designs; the Gothic Revival Chapel for the Free Methodist Congregation in Holt, Norfolk (1862-3).

1859 marked the year of Jeckyll embarking on an eighteen yearlong career with Norwich iron founders Barnard, Bishop and Barnard. Through this association, his liking for the Chinese and Japanese taste flourished; portrayed through the motifs and detailing presented on parts of bedroom suites, such as ebony moldings, small carved brackets and the combination of light and dark timbers. A couple of examples of this are the Japanese style fire grates for the London International Exhibition of ’62, and the Japanese Pavilion at the Philadelphia Exhibition in ’76.

The ‘Key’ design appears on many of Jeckyll’s designs, including the cast iron grates and fenders made by Barnard, Bishop and Barnards and on furniture designed for ‘Alecco’ Ionides for his home at no1 Holland Park, London in c.1875. Also at this venue was the Billiards room designed by Jeckyllwhere the walls were decorated with Japanese lacquered panels. “All of bird and flower subjects” (Aslin p. 94) The ‘Peacock’ dining room at 49 Princes Gate in London also displays the ‘Key’ design on the walnut shelving and sideboard both designed by Jeckyll.

The aforementioned Queen Anne style, or rather the British Victorian version, is tired closely with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Where the Chinese-inspired Early Georgian furniture featuring walnut woods, and curved lines was mis-attributed to Queen Anne, but have in fact cemented themselves to this style. Qualities we search for in Queen Anne architecture include finer brickwork, oriel windows, asymmetrical fronts, and broad porches. A collection of these elements are demonstrated in Jeckyll’s five-story Cambridge town house ‘Rance’sFolly’(1871).

Aspects of his work including the Japanese style lacquered door panels, the cross hatching and circle design on the brass door brackets, all combine to create a unique example of Jeckyll’s Anglo- Japanese work.

The Japanese style lacquered panels feature in numerous furniture designs by Jeckyll, for example, the Edward Green over-mantel from Heath Old Hall, Wakefield, designed in 1872, “Pastiche panels in the style of Hiroshige…” (Girouard p. 369).

Linda Merrill, on the subject of the notorious ‘Peacock room’ (James Whistler), observed that Jeckyll’s “sources for the carved patterns on the spindles that frame the porcelain are difficult to establish. Of the dozen or so designs, a few appear (greatly magnified) in the Philadelphia Pavilion, and some can be found in Jeckyll’s earlier furniture and metal work designs” (Merrill p. 205) “Fantastic, exuberantly eclectic confections made up of architectural and decorative motifs drawn from all phases of Jeckyll’s professional experience” (Merrill p. 258).A circle and cross-hatching design appears on the shelves of the ‘Peacock room’ seeming “the most prevalent imprint, a cross-hatching pattern, figures in several of the spindles” (Merrill p. 205); the cross hatching represents Japanese basket weave. The iron brackets and railings for the Philadelphia Pavilion of 1876, previously noted, also feature the circle design that appears on the door brackets of the desk.

A walnut dressing table designed by Jeckyll for ‘Alecco’ Ionides c.1875, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, bears comparison with the desk (‘IP 1’ Important Furniture Pg1)“…a careful study of its calculated asymmetry, subtle grooved decoration, and superb detailing reveals Jeckyll as a masterly furniture designer.” (Jervis p. 94). The use of Walnut in Jeckyll’s furniture was common. As can be seen in Christies auction catalogue of Ken Hill where numerous items of the furniture designed by Jeckyll are in Walnut.

His experimental and eclectic methods are shown through the combined use of Elizabethan, Jacobean, Asian and Moorish styles, particularly in the commission for furniture and design of the Oak Parlour at Heath Old Hall for Edward Green, over the years 1865-72. This impressive conglomeration, made for an innovative designer of the Aesthetic Movement. His architectural practice routinely included the design of gates, railings, and metal fittings for domestic commissions and of coronas, candelabra, and altar rails for ecclesiastical ones.

“No matter where it was made nor how much it cost, Jeckyll’s furniture was still limited to expensive, one-off pieces that were part of a specific interior project and not intended for batch or multiple production” (Soros p.169) In summarise, the combination of the pattern details, such as the ‘Key’ design, the cross hatching the circle design and the lacquered door panels, together with the general outline resembling a Pagoda, like the Philadelphia Pavilion, create a superb example of Thomas Jeckyll’s genius. “There has been no age since which could invent detailing as fine as on a Jeckyll cabinet” (FAS p. 10).

Researched and written by Tony Geering & Kristy Campbell.

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