Spoonerism

A year ago today, the funeral took place in Arbury, Cambridge, of John Purkis, who was a member of The William Morris Society for almost 60 years. He served as Lecture Secretary in the early days of the Society, and was the first winner of the Peter Floud memorial prize in 1960 with his essay on ‘The Icelandic Jaunt: a study of the expeditions William Morris made to Iceland in 1871 and 1873’. He was instrumental in launching the Society’s Journal in 1962, and published ‘Morris, Burne-Jones & French Gothic’ in 1988. John Purkis served as Secretary from 1990-1993.

For the Winter 2013 issue of the Journal of William Morris Studies, he wrote a review of Alec Hamilton’s Charles Spooner (1862–1938) Arts and Crafts Architect (2012). He commented:

In his day Spooner was better known for his carved wooden chairs and lecterns; in 1912 he produced electrical fittings. As a member of the Art Workers Guild, Spooner specialised in Church Furniture. Among the churches to which he supplied such furnishing, besides those already mentioned, was Holy Innocents, Paddenwick Road, Hammersmith; there he installed a ‘medieval’ rood screen (ca 1901). This has been moved to the west end since 1989 (see above). There is an unusual lectern at Holy Trinity, Halstead, (1903) which is mentioned by Pevsner; the reading desk is supported by four wooden shafts and two iron candle holders project at either side. Hamilton calls this ‘eccentric’; I feel that something as original as this really shows an Arts and Crafts designer experimenting in the direction of the Modern. Spooner’s work in this field caught the attention of W.R. Lethaby, who appointed him to a teaching post at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1899. For thirty years he taught furniture design in wood and metalwork, and he seems to have been happy to do this. Among his colleagues was May Morris.

I suppose Charles Spooner, in the end, was not a great success as an architect, and he is little known today. I think he became discouraged and stopped working at projects he could have finished; but he really could not cope with the new requirements and cost-counting which changed his well-laid plans. And now, as Hamilton explains, some of his churches have been destroyed and some of his adaptations to churches, following his High Anglican beliefs, have been taken out. But this book seems to me to play down the whole context of his career. Unlike the situation during the nineteenth century there was no great will or indeed funding to see new churches built. Yet something had to be done as the built-up area of London and other cities increased. Those growing up in East London or similar districts newly built between 1890 and 1939 will remember those unlovable redbrick church buildings where we went to meetings of Scouts or Guides. The churches were both new and yet out-of-date compared to what was being built in Europe. Spooner in his own way took up the challenge, and Alec Hamilton has carefully documented what remains of his work.

John Purkis”

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