The Arts and Crafts Movement and The Building of Rounton Grange

WhereGreat Broughton Village HallType of EventIllustrated Talk
WhenMonday 9th September TutorBarbara Morden

Thirty five members attended the presentation, with slides, by Barbara C. Morden (Open University and lecture at Teesside and Durham Universities.)

She began by describing the remnants of the model village at East Rounton, built by the Iron Master for his estate workers. They were designed in an English cottage style, in contrast with the cramped terrace houses of his factory workers at Port Clarence.

Rounton Grange was built in 1872/3 for Sir Isaac Lothian Bell. Philip Webb was the architect and William Morris worked on the interior. In common with many of the late 19thcentury houses in the north east built for the recently wealthy industrialists, Rounton Grange was designed in the Old English Style, later characterised as Arts and Crafts. Red Barn, Redcar; Great Smeaton Manor; Cragside are a few other examples. Rounton Grange (costing £33,000) mixed an English Vernacular Style with a Borders Peel Tower influence. It used an ochre stone from Leyburn, had “Flemish” pantile roofing with a steep pitch, carried high chimneys and was deliberately asymmetrical. It had a rose garden, a daffodil wood and two lakes and was designed to appear as if it were an ancient foundation set in natural countryside.

The interior decoration included Morris’ hand blocked wallpapers (a sensation at the time) and handcrafted rugs, tapestries, windows and furniture, all reflecting a rejection of factory values and an espousal of items designed by and hand made by individual craftspeople. Barbara Morden pointed to the irony of the industrialists developing immense factory systems and building uniform living conditions for their workers, themselves rejecting all of those processes in their own homes.

William Morris’ concept of a community of artists at work was fully realised in his firm Morris and Company, based in London, but issuing catalogues nationally. They hand-crafted stained glass, wrought iron chandeliers, curtain poles, decorated tiles, fabrics, pottery..etc. The Linthorpe Pottery was another example of this philosophy and practice.

A typical Arts and Crafts house of that period had rugs on a wooden floor, an inglenook fireplace, a minstrel gallery and decorated oak beams. They suggested a medieval style with the addition of modern conveniences, like electricity.

Women were active in the Movement, producing exquisite tapestries and other items. There was also an idealised female form – a sculptured look, with heavy features, a long neck and cascading “natural” hair. They wore much looser (and vaguely medieval) gowns than other contemporary Victorian women.

Morris had a vision for the future – a mission to “weave the art of life into a beautiful pattern” to give to the poor. Barbara Morden made clear the irony that the poor could never have afforded it!

 Barbara Morden offered short biographies of Lothian, Hugh, Florence and Gertrude Bell.

In spite of the Movement’s philosophy of creating homes for the family to dwell in, Rounton Grange proved cold, draughty and uncomfortable. In 1920 the Bell family moved to Mount Grace and the house was finally demolished in 1954.

 The legacy of the Arts and Crafts movement can still be seen in any suburb of any town or city in the “half timbered” houses, steep pantile roofing and interior décor (think Laura Ashley!) and in numerous road-side pubs !

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