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History

Watts history & timeline

Watts legacy

In 1874, the architects George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner won the commission to design the new offices of the London School Board. As well as the building itself, the School Board also asked Bodley and Garner to provide the furnishings for the board room and the commissioners’ offices. The two architects saw an opportunity, quickly founding an interior furnishings company in partnership with George Gilbert Scott the Younger. This ‘money spinner’ on the side was a little too grubby for gentleman-architects unwilling to be directly associated with trade, and so the company was born as Watts and Co. While some have suggested that the name may have come from a pun ‘Watts in a name?’, the firm may also have been named after Scott’s landlord, R.R. Watts.

 

All three architects had been pupils of the grand old man of Victorian architecture, Sir George Gilbert Scott, and were initially steeped in his Gothic Revival aesthetic. By the 1870s, however, they had developed a new style, an eclectic mélange of Tudor, Elizabethan and 17th century neo-classical architecture, which came to be known as the ‘Queen Anne’ style. The London School Board was one of the first and most important buildings designed in this new mode. In the years following, Bodley largely took care of the practice’s ecclesiastical commissions, building them in an elegant neo-Gothic style, while Garner continued to design secular buildings in the language of the ‘Queen Anne’ movement.

 

The breadth of influences that underpinned the ‘Queen Anne’ movement also lay behind Watt’s early fabric and wallpaper designs. These drew inspiration from a variety of sources, including the geometric neo-Gothic wallpapers of Augustus Pugin, the sumptuous fabrics depicted in fifteenth-century paintings, the naturalism of William Morris, and grand late seventeenth-century damasks. Watts offered a full decoration service, including the option of a specialist painter, Mr Mole, and customers were able to buy ‘Embroidery and Textile Fabrics, such as Damasks, Silks, Velvets, Woollen and other Hangings…Wall Papers and Stained Glass, together with all the usual Articles of Household Furniture.’

 

The firm rapidly gained a reputation among leading architects and aristocratic cognoscenti, including the architectural firms of Basil Champneys, Somers Clarke, Paley and Austin and others, and members of London’s elite such as Marchioness Hastings, Lord Londonderry and Princess Federica of Hanover. The firm’s furnishings were also used within Bodley and Garner’s own commissions, as with Hewell Grange, designed by Garner, for which they created an entirely bespoke design reflecting the complex interplay of Italian and English Renaissance design at the house. Unsurprisingly given the mixture of creativity and business from which Watts had sprung, these bespoke designs were very often adapted and then sold by the firm.

 

As Watts entered the twentieth century, secular fashions began to change and the firm relied increasingly on ecclesiastical commissions. Because of this, Watts was able to survive even as purely secular firms like Morris and Co closed, preserving its unique archive of period design. In the 1980s as fashions changed interest in Watts secular furnishings revived, and in 1987 Watts of Westminster was launched to take care of this side of the business. Delving into the extensive Watts archive, design after design was re-introduced, often re-coloured or re-scaled to reflect contemporary trends. Since then, Watts has continued to flourish, building a formidable reputation through their work on prestigious private and public projects.

 

 

  • 1836 Charles Barry employs A.W.N Pugin (1812-1852) to assist with the interior decoration of the new Palace of Westminster.
  • 1846 At the age of 19 G.F.Bodley (1827-1907) joins George Gilbert Scott’s architectural practice as a trainee. It is at this point that he meets William Morris, who is also working in Gilbert Scott’s practice.
  • 1850 Pugin submits the design for Bellini to J.G.Crace, for use in the interior decoration of Abney Hall, Cheshire.
  • 1851 Pugin and others design the Medieval Court for the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace.
  • 1854 – 63 George Frederick Bodley builds his first churches, including St Michaels, Brighton and St Martin’s, Scarborough, collaborating with William Morris on the interior design.
  • 1856 Bodley is invited to join the Hogarth Club by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rosseti (1828-1882), and forms life-long friendships with him and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
  • 1865 – 69 Bodley and Morris move apart in their stylistic aims and by 1869 Bodley has begun to use Burlison & Grylls for his stained glass.
  • 1869 Bodley falls seriously ill, possibly with septicaemia. When he returns to work he is much weakened and takes Thomas Garner (1839-1906), another pupil of George Gilbert Scott, as a partner to cope with the huge demand for his architecture.
  • 1874 Watts and Co founded by Bodley, Garner, and George Gilbert Scott the Younger (1839-1897). The name Watts is chosen because, as gentlemen, the three founders could not be too publicly associated with trade.
  • 1879 Watts moves to 30 Baker Street.
  • 1884 Gilbert Scott the Younger is declared of unsound mind and his association with Watts comes to an end.
  • 1889-90 Bodley and Garner are commissioned by the 9th Earl of Dysart to renovate Ham House, one of the most quintessential late 17th century houses in England.
  • 1896 Garner converts to Catholicism and the partnership between him and Bodley comes to an amicable end.
  • 1897 Gibert Scott the Younger dies of cirrhosis of the liver in a bedroom of the Midland Hotel, London, one of his father’s most famous designs.
  • 1897-1900 Temple Moore, who increasingly collaborated with Bodley after the departures of Garner and Scott the Younger, restores the Treasurer’s House in York, using Watt’s fabrics and wallpapers exclusively in the interiors.
  • 1901 Bodley is commissioned by the 4th Earl of Powis to redesign elements of Powis Castle and extensively refurbish the interiors, during which he uses numerous Watts fabrics and wallpapers.
  • 1902 At the coronation of Edward VI Watts is commissioned to supply all the principal religious figures with specially designed vestments. This is the first of thee coronations for which Watts produced vestments.
  • 1906 Garner dies.
  • 1907 Bodley dies.
  • 1931 – 37 Watts provides all the soft furnishings for the new University Library at Cambridge University and does the same for an extension to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.
  • 1940 Morris and Co. closes.
  • 1940 Keith Murray, one of the most post-war period’s most important ecclesiastical designers, joins Watts.
  • 1950 After 70 years at Baker Street, a decline in demand for luxurious fabrics after the WWII forces Watts to downsize and move to premises on Dacre Street.
  • 1953 Watts produces the altar frontal for the coronation of Elizabeth II and the Coronation robes. In the same year Watts sees the arrival of Elizabeth Hoare (1915-2001), great-granddaughter of the founder Gilbert Scott the Younger, under whose inspirational direction the company would survive the difficult sixties and seventies.
  • 1965 Watts moves to its current home on Tufton Street, just behind the Palace of Westminster.
  • 1975 Six domestic designs of Pugin, originally part of a larger series produced by Scott, Cuthbertson and Co., are rediscovered and added to the Watts wallpaper collections
  • 1986 Watts is presented with a royal warrant appointing them ecclesiastical furnishers to H.M. the Queen
  • 1987 With demand for Watts’ secular products growing, Watts of Westminster is founded under the direction of Fiona Flint, to solely concentrate on this expanding demand. As part of this many designs from Watts’ extensive archive are re-introduced.
  • 1995 With the secular side of the business flourishing Tufton Street becomes too cramped for both the secular and ecclesiastical sides of the business and Watts of Westminster move into a showroom in the Chelsea Design Centre.
  • 2014 Watts 140th anniversary.
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