A month ago I wrote about Thomas Atkinson’s first book, Gothic Ornaments, commenting on the fact that that other great exponent of the neo-Gothic style, AW Pugin, had published a book that looked very similar, although it appeared several years after Thomas’ book.
I have now been able to obtain a very rare physical copy of Thomas’ book, which I found – of all places – in Madrid, Spain! It is very large, with each plate 330mm x 425mm. There is no text other than that on the title page and the captions beneath the beautifully executed drawings of carved stone details from churches and cathedrals across Britain.
Nor is Pugin the only author to produce a book that looked very similar to Thomas’ work. Joseph Halfpenny, for example, published Gothic Ornaments in the Cathedral Church of York in 1831; and James Kellaway Colling published Gothic Ornaments, Being a Series of Examples of Enriched Details and Accessories of the Architecture of Great Britain in 1848. So Thomas was certainly at the forefront of thinking and writing about the neo-Gothic, as his book was published in 1828.
One other thing about the copy of Gothic Ornaments I found in Madrid; the bookplate shows that it once belonged to Laurence A Turner (1864-1957). Turner was an extremely
important figure in the history of British architecture. Not only did he design the tombs of William Morris and Norman Shaw, but he worked on many important buildings. These include (and I quote): “Scottish Provident Institution building (1905); the Scottish Widows’ Fund in Lombard Street (1915); University College, Bangor, North Wales (for Henry T Hare); the Bodley Memorial, Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road (for Edward Warren); the stone carving and decorative plasterwork in Rhodes House, Oxford and Church House, Westminster; internal plaster and wood carving at Africa House, Trafalgar Square; stone and wood carvings at Downing College, Cambridge, Woldingham Church, and Bishop Jacob Church, Ilford; coloured heraldry and symbols, lettering and stone carving for Winchester Memorial Cloisters; and the carved oak pulpit, altar table and the fibrous plaster chancel ceiling at St. Thomas’s Church, Upshire, Essex.”
He was also Master of the Art Workers Guild in 1922, a member of the Society of Antiquaries, and an honorary Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1927 he published Decorative plasterwork in Great Britain (Country Life, London and New York, 1927). He was a lifelong Freemason and held office in the Grand Lodge as well as being a past Master of the Arts Lodge.
He retired from practice in the early 1950s and died in a London hospital. Charles Wheeler paid tribute to his craftsmanship and design skills in an obituary for The Times: “According to the fashion of these days such artists are rare and at a discount, but never does skill of his quality disappear form the world without a warmth and richness going too.” (Tuesday, 15 October 1957, p. 14). (You can find out more about him here).
It is, indeed, a great pleasure to see his name alongside that of Thomas Atkinson and his business partner, Charles Atkinson (no rel.), in a copy of this very rare book.