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Sir Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905) - Arts and Crafts Designers

Sir Alfred Waterhouse, architect and designer, is perhaps best known for his design for the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, London (1866). His output was prolific and the projects undertaken by him were varied, including the headquarters of the Prudential Insurance Company at Holborn Bar, London (1892-1902). This was the largest building in a group of twenty three buildings across Britain designed by Waterhouse for the insurance company. This project provided Waterhouse with the opportunity to develop a specific identity for the Prudential as he was commissioned to design the furnishings as well. The offered benches would have met practical requirements through their very size and form as well as providing stylistic conformity.

At the start of Waterhouse’s career August Welby Pugin (1812-1852) was a key influence but as he developed and towards the end of the nineteenth century he looked towards more contemporary design ideals focusing on bridging the gap between the ‘Reformed Gothic’ and ‘The Aesthetic’ styles. There are also parallels with his furniture designs to his friend, the architect and designer Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912).

Waterhouse was commissioned to turn Blackmoor Farm House in Hampshire into a mansion by supplying designs for functional buildings and furniture, which he carried out between 1866-73. He employed Henry Capel in the Blackmoor project, knowing that he could rely on his high standards.

Although a dedicated reader of Pugin's and Ruskin's writings, producing many study sketches of their work, Waterhouse never hesitated to embellish his Gothic designs with features from other historic styles and hence developed a distinct architectural language. He studied the historic styles during his 'Grand Tour' through Europe (1853-54) and was excited about the variety of possibilities. He remarked very poignantly: "Returned home much disgusted with English architecture. We want size, light, and shade, and colour in our buildings and in ourselves more good humour and good manners.

The third Marquis of Westminster who was bestowed his title in 1869, later became the 2nd Duke of Westminster in 1874? commissioned Sir Alfred Waterhouse to substantially remodel and rebuild Eaton Hall the most important commission of Walterhouse's career. The work began in 1869 and reached its completion in 1883.The large drawing room can be seen in a photograph taken circa 1887, plate 199 in Jeremy Cooper, Victorian and Edwardian Furniture and Interiors, in which Cooper mentions that the Duke had spent £600,000 on the decoration alone, and that Heaton, Butler and Bayne carried out the work. Sotheby’s and various other local auctioneers held many sales of the various contents of Eaton Hall from 1955 through to 1961 until the Hall was demolished in 1961.

Researched and written by Tony Geering.

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