This project has grown out of my volunteering at the Courtauld Institute; more specifically my participation in the digitisation project which forms part of the Courtauld Connects programme in the Conway Library at Somerset House.
At it’s heart my project is a simple comparison of then-and-now scenes, with black & white photographs of buildings and places taken from the late 1930’s through to the 1980’s by the late Anthony Kersting FRPS. I’ve then started visiting these locations and have attempted to photograph the scene that Kersting took, be it a building or viewpoint.
A F Kersting was a celebrated architectural and landscape photographer, and one of the prime aims of this project is to showcase some of his exemplary work, taken for the most part during the latter half of the 20th century.
It all started in the bowels of Somerset House
The idea for this project started with one of my first tasks at the Conway Library, which was to go through the handwritten Kersting Ledgers (log books) and to transcribe the (sometimes illegible) entries onto a Google spreadsheet. This was such an enjoyable and absorbing task, but on occasions we would need to open up a box of his photographs to determine the accuracy of our transcription of his original written text. On one such occasion I went to the box for Windsor, which co-incidentally my wife and I had planned to visit the castle that coming weekend. That prompted me to use my phone to take snaps of the (stunning quality) 10×8 photographs therein.
And this is how it all started; I took my camera to Windsor and took a picture as near as I could to the viewpoint of the Kersting photograph. In my contemporary view, hundreds of tourists were milling about, and now there was a plethora of street signs, street furniture and detritus on show which was absent from the Kersting masterpieces. So my decision then, as is now, was to take the shot, whatever was in the viewfinder.
We were soon to holiday in Seville (little did we know days before the pandemic), and so out came the box of Kersting photographs of Seville. Back then I just used the mobile to record the monochromes, though now I use a scanner to obtain Tiff files of his pictures. It’s carried on to more and more locations, towns and cities, with no end in sight. Hats off though, to my long suffering wife, who is often left sipping coffee in a cafe, whilst I’m loitering on street corners trying to get A.F.K’s viewpoint to take my shot.
Running the “chase”
As can be seen from AF Kersting’s work, his scenes and viewpoints, perhaps around a building or monument of interest, are wonderfully ordered and neat, with for the most part an absence of people or cars. It is said he would often choose the quietest time of day to get his shots, and of course there is the inevitable lack of population and activity of, say, the 1950’s, compared with today. He would also find angles that seem these days to be almost impossible to achieve.
His mastery of composition and technique also stood in the way of me ever trying to emulate his photographs, and so my principle is to get approximately to his viewpoint, and to then take the shot whatever the activity or time of day.
Although contemporary viewpoints can be thronged, as with Windsor, there are a surprising number of locations where very little has changed – these will typically be historic properties that are obviously being preserved to a greater or lesser extent.The time span between the then-and-now images can be anything up to 83 years.
My shots – the editing
On some images I choose to wash away some of the colour of some elements – typically a building which is the main subject of a Kersing photograph. I do this to attempt to pick out in black & white this main subject to draw attention to it across the paired images.
I first adopted this idea in an assignment I did at the City Lit, where I followed re-enactors, otherwise known as living history enthusiasts. I would concentrate on WWII and WW1 “actors” and take colour shots of them in their poses, but wash them away to monochrome, just as we all remember the old images, but leave the surrounds and spectators in colour.
As I have worked through this project I have also used a colour profile that to a lesser extent reduces colour intensity across the whole image. And on other occasions, if I feel the full colour image is, of itself, sufficient to draw comparison Kersting’s earlier scene, then I will use that.
The majority of my images are shot digitally, though in a nod to Kersting’s use of glass and film, I have also been using 35mm and 120 roll film. These are noted on the photographs caption.
My curiosity was piqued by Richard’s search: what is the story of the other ‘she’ in the photographs, namely, the ship herself?
What a story it turned out to be:
a source of Norwegian national pride when she entered service in 1931, dubbed the ‘Queen of the North Sea’ and featuring royalty on her passenger lists;
requisitioned in WW2 by Nazi Germany and used to train U-boats in the Baltic;
sunk at Hamburg by allied bombers;
re-floated at the war’s end – Venus rises from the waves!
repaired and returned to peacetime sailing;
running aground in a storm in Plymouth Sound and again rising from the waves!
in her most glorious hours, rescuing the crew of a stricken vessel in horrendous conditions in the North Sea, to international acclaim and as commemorated in oils by the eminent maritime artist Frank Mason.
This is her story…
Display model of MS Venus as originally configured, 1930s. Photo: Bergens Sjøfartsmuseum
Built at Helsingør (Elsinor) in Denmark, MS Venus was owned by the Bergen Steamship Company (Norwegian: Bergenske Dampskibsselskab or BDS) – the company’s funnels were painted black with three widely spaced narrow white bands. She had a gross tonnage of 5407, a length of 398 ft and a beam of 54 ft; she was a twin-screw vessel powered by 2x Burmeister & Wain four-cycle, 10-cylinder diesels delivering a total of some 9,500 bhp, giving her a speed of 19.5 knots. The ship originally had cabins for 278 passengers. She cost NOK 5.2 million when delivered in April 1931 and was the most expensive ship BDS had owned to date.
On 30 April 1931, Venus went to Oslo to be presented to King Haakon VII and representatives of the Norwegian government and the Storting. The king raised a toast on behalf of the fatherland and believed that such a beautiful ship as Venus must be at the service of the whole country. A few days later, the Danish king stated after seeing the ship that there was only one fault with her; that she did not belong to a Danish shipping company.
On 6 May 1931, she took her maiden voyage from Bergen to Newcastle. In the years leading up to WW2, she maintained a summer service along with another BDS ship of four round trips per week, with departures from Bergen at 11.00 on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and from the purpose-built Tyne Commission Quay, North Shields, Newcastle at 19.30 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Queen Maud of Norway was a frequent passenger until her death in 1938 and other notable travellers included the Thai royal family in 1936.
It was on one of these inter-war journeys that Venus had undoubtedly her finest moment.Late at night on 19 January 1937, Venus was en route to Newcastle in a storm when an SOS was heard from the cargo vessel Trym, which was en route from Kirkenes to Middlesbrough. Venus went to assist and remained standing by Trym, with the winds increasing to hurricane force. First attempts at rescue were thwarted until early in the morning of the 21 January, Venus launched a lifeboat with 9 volunteers under the leadership of 2nd Mate Rolf Andreassen. With extra-ordinary bravery, Ordinary Seaman Perry Opsahl on the Trym jumped into the wild seas and swam to take a line to the lifeboat, allowing six of Trym‘s crew to be taken off and brought back to Venus.
With conditions worsening and the Trym at risk of foundering, Captain Dreyer of the Venus manoeuvred close to Trym so that a line could be fired from the bow across to the Trym so that those still on board could be hauled over the wild seas to safety. All were saved. The success of this rescue made headlines across Europe. British newspapers referred to it as the most heroic rescue operation of the century and portrayed Captain Dreyer as a wise, calm and masterful Viking.
Venus received a great reception on return to Bergen – probably 25,000 people showed up. Opsal from Trym and those of the crew of Venus who had participated directly in the rescue operation were awarded the ‘medal for noble deeds’. First mate Brynjulf Bjarnir and nine crew members were awarded the King’s Medal of Merit in gold. Opsal also received a gift of NOK 10,000 from the city of Oslo.
As well as these Norwegian awards, the committee of Lloyd’s in London commemorated the event with a bronze plaque and awarded medals for saving life at sea to Captain Dreyer and those who manned the boat from Venus.
Trym and Venus, painting by FH Mason, oil on canvas, 60cmx100cm – detail. Photo: Bergens Sjøfartsmuseum
The rescue of the last crew members was depicted in a painting by Frank Henry Mason RBA, RI, RSMA (1875-1965), an English artist best known for his maritime, shipping, coastal and harbour paintings, and as a creator of art deco travel and railway posters.
He had served in the Great War as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve – undoubtedly giving him a further insight into depicting maritime events.
His painting Trym and Venus now hangs in Bergens Sjøfartsmuseum (Bergen Maritime Museum). Look closely and you can see a crewman from Trym being hauled across to Venus, suspended from the line running between the two ships.
Darker times lay ahead for Venus, however. Following the outbreak of World War 2 and the occupation of Norway by German forces, Venus was requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine and sailed to the Baltic Sea under the German flag, to be rebuilt at Neptunwerft in Rostock, where the interior was removed. The ship was then used as a training target by the 26th U-boat Flotilla, which trained newly commissioned U-boats in the firing of torpedoes. In 1945, as the Soviets advanced deeper into Eastern Europe, the flotilla relocated westwards. Finally, on 20 March 1945, Venus was bombed and sunk by Allied aircraft in Walterhofer Hafen near Hamburg. One bomb hit the aft hatch and another hit next to the ship, causing her to sink – though the water was so shallow that parts of her structure remained above the surface.
But her story did not end there.
In June 1945, it was decided that it would be possible, though expensive, to salvage her. This work took until early 1948 to complete; she was repaired and refitted in Helsingør, Aarhus and Copenhagen in Denmark and Landskrona in Sweden.
A cargo hold on the ship was scrapped and passenger accommodation increased and a garage fitted out. After the conversion, the ship could take 143 passengers in 1st class, 257 in 2nd class and an additional 60 in a cheaper class aimed at groups of young travellers – totalling 460 passengers, against 278 passengers before the war. The bow, deckhouse and bridge were also modernised. The restoration cost around NOK 16 million.
On 4 May 1948, she arrived back in Oslo to be displayed, where it was agreed that it was still right to call her the “Queen of the North Sea”. King Olaf of Norway said it had been a pleasure to have the MS Venus again “in her new, beautiful guise”. The next day, she sailed into Bergen, after visiting Stavanger and Haugesund. Six thousand people turned up on the quay to welcome her. The first trip to England after her restoration took place on 8 May 1948, sailing first to London then on to Newcastle before the return trip to Bergen.
During the summer seasons, MS Venus continued to sail the North Sea route from Bergen to Newcastle. Every winter season from December to April from 1948 until the mid 1960s, MS Venus offered ten-day cruises from Southampton or Plymouth in Great Britain to Madeira and Tenerife in the Canary Islands, which also took advantage of the cargo opportunity provided by the import of fruit and vegetables to the UK. It was one of these cruises in the spring of1953 that carried Anthony Kersting and his camera – and when he pictured ‘Mary’ on the bridge at the ship’s wheel.
Portugal, Madeira, Funchal, Harbour: Motor Vessel Venus, 25 March 1953. Detail of image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_N01577, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
Portugal, Madeira, Funchal, Shore, 25 March 1953. Detail of image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_N01575, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
MV Venus: On Board, 23 Mar 1953.
Image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_T000003, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
Spain, Canary Islands, Tenerife. 6 April 1953. Image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_N01570, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
Portugal, Madeira, Funchal, From Reid’s Hotel, 26 March 1953.
Detail from image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_H07489, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
MV Venus: On Board, 23 March 1953.
Image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_T000002, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
Not all voyages were smooth sailing. Most conspicuously, on 23 March 1955, Venus dragged her anchors in a storm in Plymouth Sound and ran aground on the Mountbatten Reefs on the eastern shore of the Sound. Three tugboats arrived in the morning to try to pull the ship free, but without success. All on board, apart from essential crew, were put ashore.
Venus aground in Plymouth Sound, March 1955.
Photographer(s) unknown. Source: M/S Museet for Søfart [Maritime Museum of Denmark] – Berlingske Tidende
Major damage was visible at the bottom of the hull and there was water seeping into some of the cabins. Compressed air was used to keep the water out. Finally, on 26 March when there was a spring tide, the salvage crew managed to pull the ship free at the fourth attempt. She was towed into Plymouth and examined by divers to get a full overview of the damage:outer plates in the bottom were torn up and a leak was discovered in the tanks forward and amidships.
Some of these events in Plymouth Sound were captured on film in unused British Pathé News footage, which can be seen in this YouTube clip.
She was eventually towed to Amsterdam for full repairs to be carried out; she arrived back in her home port Bergen on 31 May to resume her sailing schedule – and to give Kersting further opportunities to sail on her on his photo expeditions.
Norway, Venus in Bergen Fjord, June 1958.
Image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_N02197, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
Norway, On Venus, June 1958.
Image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_N02229, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
Norway, Vestland, Bergen, Bergen Fjord: M/S Venus, 14 July 1962.
Image by Anthony Kersting. KER_PNT_G02178, The Courtauld, CC-BY-NC
In early 1965 the ship made two cruises to the Mediterranean and the Greek Islands, before starting on a new direct route from Stavanger to Newcastle, but still making some calls to Bergen. In March 1966, Venus again set out on a cruise to the Mediterranean, this time as far east as Haifa in Israel.
In contrast to this time cruising in Mediterranean sun, financial clouds were however gathering over MS Venus. Four cruises planned for the autumn of 1968 from Southampton to the Canary Islands were cancelled because of poor ticket sales. BDS put the ship up for sale –her fate was sealed when she was bought for scrapping by Shipbreaking Industries Ltd. based at Faslane on the Lower Clyde. On 5 October she arrived in Bergen for the last time. Valuable objects and artworks were removed and on 17 October 1968 she sailed on her final journey from Bergen to the Clyde and her destruction.
This is how the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende described her departure on its front page:
“The 36-year-old North Sea Queen set out from the quay at Laksevåg and headed across the Puddefjord towards Nordnes and made an elegant turn outside the Skoltegrunnskaien, where it has docked for all these years. With a series of deep blasts from the whistle it sent a final salute into the town and instantly there was a response from a number of boats from the harbour… bidding the proud ship farewell. And then the course was set west, for the last time Venus rounded Kvarven and disappeared out of sight from the city as hundreds of proud schooners have done before her.”
Epilogue – Did she ‘Leave not a wrack behind’? – Not quite.
You can still bid for MS Venus memorabilia on e-Bay!
Items for sale on e-Bay, 4 April 2023 – exactly 70 years after Kersting’s voyage to Madeira and the Canaries on MS Venus
And of course, you can trawl the Courtauld Digital Archive for images of the ship and the places she visited with Kersting and his camera on board.
Christopher Williams, Digitisation Volunteer, May 2023
There is a comprehensive [Norwegian language] history of MS Venus on Wikipedia at:
One began her life and career in the north of England, before travelling to London to find success in the West End.
The other began her life in south Asia before travelling to England to reach the heights in London theatre.
One would be found in front of an adoring public on the stage of the Gaiety Theatre; the other spent 56 years blowing her trumpet to the heavens from the dome of the theatre – only occasionally spotted through the grimy London air.
This musical comedy production, ‘Our Miss Gibbs’, was a huge hit for the Gaiety Theatre and the star of the show was our first leading lady, Gertie Millar, who played the eponymous Miss Gibbs – a shop girl in a large London department store, Garrods.From a working-class background herself, (father a millworker and mother a dressmaker) Gertie’s career began in the 1880s with performances as a child in pantomimes in Manchester and London.She moved to singing and dancing in northern music halls, then found more fame and higher pay in London variety shows.
The zenith of Gertie’s career was achieved through her successful partnership with George Edwardes, the manager of the original Gaiety Theatre in the first two decades of the 20th century.In 1903 the new, rebuilt Theatre opened, Gertie played the lead in the long-running opening production, ‘The Orchid’, watched from the royal box by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
Musical comedy was a hugely popular form of British theatre in the early 20th century, and Gertie was one of the top performers, not only in the London theatres but also on Broadway – taking New York by storm in her performances in ‘The Girls from Gottenburg’ in 1908.She was also one of the most photographed women of the age, appearing on numerous postcards.‘Our Miss Gibbs’ was a typical Gertie Millar success story – running for 636 performances before transferring to Broadway in 1910.
Our second leading lady is The Spirit of Gaiety, designed by Hibbert C. Binny, constructed at his workshop in Essex and positioned on top of the dome of the newly rebuilt Gaiety Theatre in 1903.She is made from blocks of carved teak, gilded, weighs more than a ton and is 20 feet high – quite a show stopper.
In 1939, the theatre was scheduled for demolition to accommodate a road widening scheme.The Spirit of Gaiety oversaw the last performance (‘Running Riot’) on 25th February 1939.However, the road widening scheme was discarded, partly due to WW2, and the theatre stood abandoned and increasingly derelict.Astonishingly, despite bomb damage in The Blitz, the statue remained standing – resilient and proud.
After the war, the famous comic actor Lupino Lane bought the building, hoping to restore it to its former glory.Unfortunately, despite spending huge amounts on restoration works, Lane realised he had in fact bought a money pit, which he did not have the resources to fill.In 1950 he had to sell the property.The theatre was demolished and the English Electric Company building was constructed on the site.Although she lacked a theatre, The Spirit of Gaiety still remained on the site, if somewhat lower in status and height.She was preserved and stood in the well of the Citibank premises until 1984 when she was presented to the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden where she began her 3rdlife –on display in the main entrance until 1992, as concerns about her condition caused her to be taken off display and moved into storage.She came to rest at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Gertie’s private life was also entwined with the theatre: in 1902 she married Lionel Monckton, 20 years her senior, the man who had first spotted her performing and recommended she come to London.A theatrical composer, he wrote several of her best known songs, including ‘Moonstruck’ for ‘Our Miss Gibbs’.He was, however, a jealous man who disliked seeing his beautiful wife enjoying attentions from many of the ‘stage door johnnies’.The couple separated, but Monckton refused to give his wife a divorce even though she desperately wanted to marry the Duke of Westminster, with whom she was having an affair.Eventually King George V and Queen Mary were compelled to step in to prevent the scandal that would have erupted had the Duke had to divorce his wife to marry Gertie.
Meanwhile, theatrical tastes began to shift – in WW1 audiences began to prefer new entertainment in the form of films as well as music hall.George Edwards died in 1915, and Lionel Monckton’sstyle of song was increasingly dated.She achieved a few successes after 1912, but never again had the consistent acclaim of her early career, so in 1918 she retired from the stage. Her final performance was fittingly in the theatre of her home town – the Bradford Alhambra.
Gertie had by then embarked on a liaison with the 2nd Earl of Dudley.His wife died in 1920, and Lionel Monckton succumbed to illness in March 1924, so in April 1924,at last Gertie became the Countess of Dudley.She and her new husband spent most of their short married life in Le Touquet, not far from their neighbour, friend and fellow theatrical writer – P.G. Wodehouse.The Earl of Dudley died in 1936, while Gertie, still a countess, lived on in Surrey, until 1952, on her death leaving a substantial estate.
The Spirit of Gaiety on the other hand, has outlived the era of the Gaiety Girl, epitomised by Gertie Millar, and resides at the end of the Paintings galleries on the first floor of the V&A.Years of exposure to rainwater had left her internal framework heavily corroded and woodwork weakened.Urgent work was required, before an extensive treatment programme could progress, strengthening the rotten woodwork and reinstating her gilded surface – carried out by lead conservator Zoe Allen, who calls the statue one of her favourite objects.She was given this level of care as she is something of a rarity – wooden architectural sculpture doesn’t often survive.Size, weight, exposure to the elements mean few are preserved intact when the buildings they grace are demolished.The Spirit of Gaiety is therefore considered by the V&A to be unique within UK museum collections.She now has a new name – the V & A staff affectionately call her the Angel.Restored and renewed, she is once again visible to many visitors as well as staff who can all appreciate the joy and gaiety she represents.
This is the text to a presentation that was part of the Conway Storytellers in the Being Human Festival in 2021.
I’ve continued the search for ‘Kersting’s Mary’ and have found that Mary Musgrave and her parents went on another voyage the following year 1954, this time it was to Lisbon, Portugal on the Alcantara. However, after this it has been difficult to find any definitive information to follow the ‘Musgrave trail’ further.
The Gilmour Trail
Mary Gilmour and her parents also went on another voyage together in 1959, to Melbourne, Australia on the Iberia. This made me think that they may have been emigrating there, but on the passenger list it showed that their ‘Country of future permanent residence’ was Scotland. Amongst the details listed were full names, dates of birth and a permanent address:
Walter Cockburn Gilmour (b 23 Jul 1898), Dorothy Mary Gilmour (b 25 Mar 1903) and Mary Margaret Gilmour (b 29 Jan 1942) of Mistylaw, Bridge of Weir.
I now decided to focus on Scottish records and was able to establish a number of useful pieces of information:
Walter Cockburn Gilmour married Dorothy Mary Noble in 1931 at Paisley
Mary Margaret Gilmour’s birth record showed that she was born at Bridge of Weir, near Glasgow, in 1942 and that her mother’s maiden name was Noble
A further birth record search found that she had an elder brother, Walter Noble Gilmour born in 1932, also at Bridge of Weir
I made further searches for Mary, but could not find any definitive results. So I now turned my attention to Mary’s brother, Walter Noble Gilmour, and found that sadly he had died in 2015 at Poole, Dorset. This then led me to a probate record, which revealed details of his will and grant of probate at Oxford. Surprisingly the will was drawn up when he was living at Sanctuary Cove, Queensland, Australia in 2007. (Could Mary’s trip to Australia in 1959 with her parents have been to visit her brother?) His wife is shown as Christina Gilmour and his son as Mark Noble Gilmour.
Next I searched for information about Christina Gilmour and discovered through electoral register records that between 1998 and 2022 she had lived at a number of addresses in Sussex and Dorset, initially with her husband. The latest address (2018-2022) was in Bournemouth, Dorset and I wrote to her there to see if she could help with my attempts to find her sister-in-law Mary Margaret Gilmour.
Just over a week after sending the letter I was excited to receive an email from Christina who had kindly forwarded the information in my letter to her sister-in-law Mary. She had also lived in Australia, but was now living in North Wales.
A few days later I was delighted to receive an email from Mary expressing her fascination with my search and surprise at seeing the photo, which had ‘brought back long forgotten memories’.
I also received feedback from Christina, her sister-in-law, saying that she and the rest of the Gilmour family were delighted to hear the story.
Having started work on the Kersting Photographic Archive as a Digitisation Volunteer in August this year, I decided to try to find out more about his life. As part of this I used an online genealogy service and amongst various records that I discovered was a passenger list for a ship called “Venus” showing an entry for Anthony F Kersting, Photographer, aged 36, of 37 Frewin Road SW18. This sailed from Southampton to Madeira in March 1953 and when I checked in his ledger there were entries for photographs he had taken there at this time.
Looking through the relevant boxes I was surprised to find in one that there were photographs he had taken of the ship itself and some of its passengers. One particular photograph intrigued me. It was of a young girl who looked to be about ten years old, standing at the ship’s wheel, with an excited expression, pretending to steer. This prompted me to go back to the passenger list to see if I could identify her.
It helped that the passengers were put into age categories, one of which was ‘Children between 1 and 12’, and under the column for females there were two possible candidates, both called Mary. They each appeared to be travelling with their parents:
Mary M Gilmour (Schoolgirl, aged 11) with Walter Gilmour (Produce Merchant, aged 54) and Dorothy M Gilmour (Housewife, aged 49)
Mary F Musgrave (Schoolgirl, aged 10) with James P Musgrave (Carpet Manufacturer, aged 53) and Margaret Musgrave (Housewife, aged 53)
The Gilmour’s address was shown as being in Bridge of Weir, which is in Renfrewshire, Scotland and the Musgrave’s in Halifax, Yorkshire.
Armed with this information I started to search further to try to find which Mary it was in the photograph and whether she might still be alive. If so, my idea was to make contact and arrange to invite her to come and see her photograph at The Courtauld.
Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to follow the trail much further with enough certainty, but am continuing the search…
For Nikolaus Pevsner, writing in 1957, the rebuilding of John Soane’s Bank of England, undertaken between 1923 and 1942, represented the worst individual loss suffered by London’s architecture in the twentieth century.  Constructed to a design by Herbert Baker (1862-1946), the resulting Neo-Georgian pile loomed over the heart of the City, attracting negative comments from the outset. Many, like Pevsner, considered it to be an act of arch-vandalism. Others have since perceived in the ensuing furore a principal reason for its architect’s fall from grace.
A conspicuous portion of the criticism levelled against Baker’s work at the Bank targeted the building’s external sculpture. This was overseen in its entirety by Charles Wheeler (1892-1974), a young protégé of the architect who would go on to become the first sculptor serving as President of the Royal Academy (1956-66). However, in 1922, when Baker gained the commission for the rebuilding, Wheeler was then a relatively unknown figure in the world of British sculpture. This all changed after the Bank. With his and Baker’s working relationship begun through war memorials at Harrow School and Winchester College, it was his Madonna and Child (1922-4) at the latter that earned Wheeler the opportunity of working on this most attractive of projects: “a commission which any of the established sculptors of the day would have gladly accepted”, he later wrote; it was “the young artist’s dream”. 
Wheeler’s work was executed in a bold, angular style whose gestures towards Swedish Art Deco sculpture and Byzantine planarity produced muscular forms with a grave, elemental presence. At the Bank, this is clearest on the Threadneedle Street facade, the building’s principal front and most common target of criticism. In addition to three enormous cast-bronze doors, Wheeler ornamented this front with six giant figures (two female caryatids and four male telamons) and, in the pediment, The Lady of the Bank (1929-30). The monumentality of these schemes presaged a career creating public sculptures, often of the gargantuan kind. This culminated in Water (Fig. 1) and Earth (1950-3) at E. Vincent Harris’s Ministry of Defence (1938-1959), which, weighing in at forty tonnes each, are among the largest architectural sculptures in Britain. 
The massing and ornament of the Threadneedle Street front were, for Pevsner, the most effective parts of Baker’s scheme, whilst sections like Garden Court, behind an intervening vestibule, were deemed less successful. However, Wheeler’s work was to be found here too, and even in the most humble of pieces he managed to convey something of the deeply symbolic vision he shared with Baker for the Bank. Upon entering Garden Court and facing west, a line of sculpted keystones can be seen in the rusticated storey of an arcaded loggia, with five ornate blocks atop windows in blind arches and four in recessed spaces above. These keystones, photographs of which are kept in The Courtauld’s Conway Library, were carved by Wheeler to carry likenesses of important figures involved in the rebuild, including himself.
First among the Garden Court keystones was that depicting Baker (Fig. 2). The architect’s stern mien, craggy brow and cropped hair suggest the gravity and Graeco-Roman dimensions of his character. These harmonise with the surrounding neo-Greek décor – acanthus leaves and meandering Greek keys abound – chosen to align with the supposed origins of banking in ancient Greece. An Ionic capital, mark of the scholar, is placed below Baker’s face, itself surrounded by olive branches and singing birds, chosen to denote “the music of his country recreations”.  Wheeler shared with Baker an understanding of Architecture and Sculpture as being “sister arts” in pursuit of the “higher spheres of creative and spiritual art”.  This lent itself to the melding of personality, artifice and nature shown in the keystones, which broadcast a profound respect for and dedication to good architectural craftsmanship and its executors.
Baker’s assistant, Alexander Thomson Scott (1887-1962), was depicted in no less of a striking manner (Fig. 3). Balancing his high-cheekboned, pince-nez’d face with a compass, set square and protractor, Scott is bounded by tall thistles – a clear indication of his origins north of the border. Working with Baker from 1914, he became his chief assistant in 1922 and entered into a partnership from 1929 until 1946. This saw the two collaborate on all of Baker’s commissions in Britain after his distinguished career in the wider Empire-Commonwealth, although portions of work at New Delhi were also carried out with Scott’s assistance. A similar transcontinental situation characterised Wheeler’s professional connections with Baker. Like Scott, he was during his time at the Bank just beginning to learn the mastery of his craft. His keystone (Fig. 4) shows the young sculptor, steely-eyed beneath boyish locks (which he kept to the end of his life), clutching a hammer amidst “foliage symbolical of the parallel process of the growth of forms in nature and the artist himself”.
Whereas keystones depicting Wheeler and the Bank’s architects conformed to established precedents of artistic recognition, others represented a striking break from tradition, attributing authorial status to figures occupying more identifiably “modern” roles in the architectural enterprise. George Macaulay Booth (1877-1971), Chairman of the Building Committee and later Director of the Bank, for example, was afforded just such an honour (Fig. 5). An enthusiastic patron of Wheeler and Baker, Booth was, in the latter’s words, “our revered leader […] He had unique gifts, a combination of quick insight and the understanding of complicated plans and practical problems, as well as sympathy for the artist and a genuine flair for the beautiful in art”.  The visual puns continued in Booth’s ornamentation by Wheeler with a “staff of power” and a lyre – “a double reference to “calling the tune”: to the designers and his musical recreations”.
To Booth’s managerial functions were added engineering responsibilities in the domain of Oscar Faber (1886-1956), depicted by Wheeler below a square arch of steel girders and above the “winged wheel of mechanical forces” (Fig. 6). Faber was another of Baker’s frequent collaborators in the Interwar period who, alongside Wheeler and Scott, made a name for himself through working at the Bank. A pioneer in the use and advocacy of reinforced concrete, he wrote widely on engineering matters, garnering extensive praise: earning an OBE during the First World War, a CBE for work on the House of Commons (1951), and rising to the presidencies of the Institute of Structural Engineers (1935-6) and the Institute of Heating and Ventilating Engineers (1944-5). A firm believer in the importance of the architect-engineer partnership, Faber worked well with Baker, and extensively, on projects like India House (1928-30) and South Africa House (1931-3), both in London.  Indeed, the depth of their involvement indicated the growing participation of engineers in the architectural profession which Baker – in many ways a late survivor of an earlier period – foresaw as inevitable.
As well as Baker, Scott, Wheeler, Booth and Faber, less prominent but no less crucial figures involved in constructing the Bank found their likenesses carved into its surface too. A row of keystones, set above portals in the spandrels of Garden Court’s west arcade, depict four individuals whose reputations have since waned or been lost to posterity. If recognition of Booth’s managerial contribution and Faber’s engineering prowess was a conspicuously modern means of displaying architectural authorship, the installation of these four keystones (Figs 7-10) spoke to the growing importance of the collective and the lessening pre-eminence of the architect in large-scale projects of this kind. The craftsman Joseph Armitage (1880-1945) – whose best-known work is the oak leaf sign for the National Trust (1935) – worked largely in reproducing sculptures after Wheeler’s original carving. His keystone (Fig. 7), showing “tools and a decorative wreath”, is simple yet evokes the foliate designs he was known for making throughout his tenure with Baker, as at India House and the Indian Memorial for the Missing at Neuve Chapelle, near Lille (1918-27).  H. W. G. Tanner, clerk of works (Fig. 8) and R. H. Pillar (Fig. 9) have all but faded from recognition. However, Henry Thomas Holloway (1876–1951), the Chief Builder, has remained comparatively well-known due to his role as head of Holloway Brothers, a thriving construction firm responsible for large-scale and civil engineering projects across the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Wheeler’s keystone he is shown with two cranes (Fig. 10).
Wheeler’s Garden Court keystones represent in stone the contribution of those who, beyond the architect and chief sculptor, helped build the new Bank of England. In doing so, they encapsulate the collision of a fading Arts & Crafts tradition, to which Baker (and, to a lesser extent, Wheeler) could claim inheritance, with the modern realities of large-scale, complicated construction work. They are also, perhaps just as importantly, a bit of fun, as Baker himself acknowledged. In both ways, the keystones lend traces of humanity to the building they are fixed to. As marks of recognition, they capture the likenesses of men who carried out the real, often toilsome, work required to complete the project. They remind us that architecture is more than taste and style – it is budgets and schedules; measurements and repetition; people working together rather than abstract genius; it is weight, pressure, stone and steel.
Courtauld Connects Digitisation Volunteer Tutor in Architectural History and History of Art at the University of Edinburgh
 Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London I: The City of London (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 276.
 Charles Wheeler, High Relief: The Autobiography of Sir Charles Wheeler Sculptor (London: Country Life, 1968), p. 55.
 Sarah Crellin, The Sculpture of Charles Wheeler (Farnham: Lund Humphries, in association with the Henry Moore Foundation, 2012), p. 169.
 Descriptions of the keystones in quotes come from Herbert Baker, The Decoration of the New Bank of England and its Significance (London: private printing for the Bank of England, 1939).
 Herbert Baker, Architecture and Personalities (London: Country Life, 1944), p. 3.
 Ibid., p. 129; Wheeler, High Relief, p. 55.
 John Faber, Oscar Faber: His Work, His Firm, and Afterwards (London: Quiller Press, 1989), p. 2.
 Edward Armitage, ‘Joseph Armitage, Craftsman. 1880-1945’, Journal of the Thirties Society, no. 3 (1983), pp. 25-30.
“There are three that give witness”. These are the words inscribed on the entrance of Rushton Triangular Lodge. They are a quotation from the first epistle of John 5:7 and refer to the Holy Trinity. As a Roman Catholic in Protestant England, the Trinity was a deeply personal and symbolic icon for the building’s designer, Thomas Tresham (1543–1605). Tresham was part of the Catholic elite of his time: he was brought up and married into the Throckmorton household (a wealthy Catholic family), had connections to the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion, and argued that the state should not have jurisdiction over conscience. His eldest son, Francis Tresham, was even involved in the Essex Rebellion, and in 1605, the Gunpowder Plot. All in all, Tresham was a prominent Catholic “recusant” – he refused to conform to the Elizabethan Protestant Church. As a result of this, Tresham was subject to the increasing number of penal laws being passed against Catholics. He was heavily fined and imprisoned on several occasions. It was upon his release from prison in 1593 that Tresham is said to have designed the Triangular Lodge, completed in 1597.
The number three runs through every vein of this folly-like building. As well as its striking triangularity, the building exhibits three triangular gables on each façade, a triangular chimney and windows, and trefoil shaped windows (the emblem of the Tresham family). Each of the three walls is 33.33 feet high. The Lodge has three floors – the main room of each one being hexagonal, thus leaving three corner spaces triangular (see image of the ground plan). On the exterior of the building, there are three biblical texts in Latin, each 33 letters in length. One wall is inscribed “15” (3 x 5) another “93” (3 x 31) and the last “TT” (presumably Tresham’s initials). The text of 1 John 5:7 is written in Latin, Tres testimonium dant, which might be a pun on his family name: his wife Merial Throckmorton is known to have referred to Thomas as “Good Tres” in her letters. Above the Latin are the numbers “3333”. Evidently, Tresham liked the triadic holy number.
But Tresham’s building of Rushton Lodge was subversive as well as spiritual. The dissidence of such a novel building should not be downplayed. The peculiarity and obsessivity of this project invites the imagination to run wild. One wonders whether the space ever housed contraband catholic images, candlelit discussions with Jesuit missionaries, or perhaps even a clandestine meeting between Francis Tresham and his fellow plotters. Despite its intriguing design, the Triangular Lodge is thought to have fulfilled a rather more practical purpose – the accommodation of Tresham’s head warrener. A warrener was someone in charge of breeding and managing rabbits for the constant supply of food and skins. The earthwork and buried remains of a rabbit warren can be found adjacent to the Lodge. Indeed, the building is often referred to as “The Warryner’s Lodge” in documents from the Rushton estate. For such a rebellious and ornate building, the Lodge appears to have had a rather quotidian function.
Considering this, the Lodge’s existence seems somewhat contradictory – a highly decorative and puzzling façade which housed plain whitewashed walls and simple accommodation. Further, the secrecy that surrounded Catholic worship at this time appears completely at odds with this small building. For many Catholics, Elizabethan England was a place of illicit masses, of “Nicodemite papists” who secretly refused to internalise Protestant doctrine, of priest holes and the hiding of underground missionary networks. The era was thus characterised by outward secrecy and inward defiance. But the Triangular Lodge flies in the face of this trend: it conceals nothing, its design is testimonial and bold, yet, peculiarly, there is nothing religiously rebellious in its mundane function. Perhaps, therefore, the Lodge is most subversive in its decorative non-necessity – the performative nature of the Lodge’s nonconformity stands out. Its rebelliousness is explicit and unapologetic – a statement of Tresham’s Catholic faith.
Courtauld Connects Digitisation Oxford Micro-Internship Participant
 Britain’s Premier Independent Heritage Website, “Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire”. Available at:
https://web.archive.org/web/20110904021016/http://www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/misc/rushton_lodge.htm (last access: 16 September 2021).
 Historic England, “The Triangular Lodge (1052038)”, National Heritage List for England. Available at:
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1052038 (last access: 16 September 2021).
 English Heritage, “Rushton Triangular Lodge”. Available at:
https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rushton-triangular-lodge/ (last access: 16 September 2021).
 Britain Express, “Rushton Triangular Lodge”. Available at: https://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=3532 (last access: 16 September 2021).
 Historic England, “Rushton Triangular Lodge: an Elizabethan warrener’s lodge and rabbit warren (1013826)”, National Heritage List for England. Available at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1013826 (last access: 16 September 2021).
 Britain’s Premier Independent Heritage Website, op cit.
In the Summer of 1951, the wedge of land between Waterloo Bridge and Hungerford Bridge was populated by a series of temporary architectural structures built to house exhibitions that showcased innovation in British science, industry, and design. Notable amongst these were the Royal Festival Hall (still standing), the Dome of Discovery (which, at the time, was the largest dome in the world with a diameter of 365 feet), and the Skylon, a cigar-shaped steel sculpture that reached vertically into the air, visible for miles around.
A new aesthetic known as the “Festival Style” emerged from the innovative architecture, furniture, textile, and graphic design featured in the construction of the site. Inspired by International Modernism, the Festival of Britain was perceived by many to be a successful modelling of new principles of urban planning that introduced cutting-edge design to the lived environment. The festival was a success with many architects, designers, and the public alike, with around 8.5 million visitors between May and September 1951.
However, the striking development of the South Bank was not popular with everybody. The following year, a new Conservative government came to power. Headed by Churchill, the site (and the Skylon in particular) was understood to be a symbol of Labour’s successful project to lift the spirits of the post-War British public still enduring austerity and rationing. Famously, Churchill ordered that the Skylon be destroyed. Popular imagination has it that the sculpture’s cables were cut so that the structure toppled into the Thames where it still rests. The reality, of course, is far less romantic. The Skylon and the steel roof of the Dome of Discovery were melted down by a London scrap metal company and repurposed into letter knives and other commemorative souvenirs; the utopic symbol of Labour’s reform fittingly transformed by the new government into capitalist commodities.
Aside from the Royal Festival Hall, there are no physical remains of the Festival of Britain. I can’t help but wonder; what ghosts were left behind as these iconic structures were torn down? Might they have been disturbed when the London Eye was winched into place twenty years ago?
Inspired by the Conway Library’s collection of photographs of the Festival of Britain held by The Courtauld, I retrace the steps of visitors to the Festival of Great Britain to find out. You’re welcome to come with me. Armed with my medium format camera and a few rolls of black and white film (Ilford HP5, if you’re interested), I walk the length of the South Bank in search of the ghosts of festivals past.
From the Embankment, we look across the Thames at the site occupied by the Festival of Britain in 1951. We are met with the familiar sight of the London Eye. Towering above County Hall and neighbouring high-rise office blocks, it is near-impossible to imagine what the South Bank looked like before the wheel was installed at the cusp of the last millennium.
Boats chug up and down the river and passers-by admire the view from the many bridges crisscrossing the Thames as the London Eye slowly creeps through its rotation.
The Skylon tower has reappeared next to the London Eye. The cigar-shaped body propped up on spindly legs recalls Louise Bourgeois’s colossal spider sculpture that stood downstream, outside the Tate Modern many years after the 1951 festival. The Dome of Discovery stretches out in front of the London Eye, the boxy Sea and Ships pavilion visible in front. Look to the left of the Dome. Here, we have the swooping crescent of The People of Britain exhibition (today we might ask, which people? whose Britain?). To the left of the Skylon, the Regatta Restaurant has been replaced with the glass structure of the Power and Production exhibition. For, while the Skylon and Dome are in situ, the other exhibitions jostle for space on the South Bank. They have rearranged themselves, desperate to be seen by us again. After all, if the London Eye can coexist with the Dome of Discovery, why wouldn’t the other Festival structures shuffle around through the flattening and regeneration of the South Bank?
Now, let’s cross the river on Westminster Bridge to investigate the site more closely. Descending down the steps on our left, we head towards the London Eye. Set behind the giant wheel is the highly manicured Jubilee Gardens. It is here that the Dome of Discovery once sat. Amidst the dreary office buildings and clinically sculpted paths that curve through the green lawn and bare trees, it is near-impossible to imagine how the vast domed structure might have fitted into such a space.
If we listen carefully we can hear a babble of excited voices. Skirts swish around the legs of two young women striding across the grass. A child plays by the side of the path.
All of a sudden, the Festival unfolds before us.
The famous abacus screen designed by Edward Miller cuts diagonally across the bottom of the path, setting out the boundaries of the festival site while the Skylon towers in the background to the left of County Hall.
Let’s take a closer look at the Dome of Discovery.
Legs stretch down from the domed roof to support the UFO-shaped building, designed by architect Ralph Tubbs. Inside are exhibits on the theme of British exploration. The visitors descending the staircase on the left are returning to the South Bank from the polar regions, the depths of the sea, and outer space.
We, too, must return to the edge of Jubilee Gardens as we know it. Blink, and the Dome of Discovery has returned to its rightful place in the photograph held within the Conway Library.
Let’s walk under the bridge in the middle of the photograph to the back of the Royal Festival Hall, its domed roof visible towards the left of the image. From here, we’ll clamber up the stairs that lead onto the terrace overlooking the Thames.
In the early afternoon of a dreary Tuesday in December, the South Bank is all but empty. It’s hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of visitors weaving their way through the crowds to visit the different exhibitions or clustering around the glass display cases that lined the bank of the river. Yet, gazing out across the river at the rectangular buildings neatly dotted with pinpricked windows, our view is the same. So much so, in fact, that it is possible to overlay the 1951 photograph of festival-goers over the image I am currently taking.
When I return home to my little London flat this evening, I’ll develop the negatives over my bathtub. Hung to dry overnight, these will be scanned into my computer to be laid underneath the 1951 image from the Conway Library. It is only as I crouch over my laptop in the corner of my kitchen and carefully remove the background of the original image (and my photo begins to show through) that will become quite so apparent how little the vista has changed.
Crossing to the other side of the Royal Festival Hall we walk up onto the highest level of the Hayward Gallery. Although a new addition (built in 1968), from here we can take one last look at the Festival of Britain. Laid out in front of us, the Dome of Discovery cuts across the façade of Westminster Palace silhouetted in the distance. The London Eye, as always, oversees proceedings. Old and new London are united in a single vista.
Blink, and the exhibition spaces dissolve.
The Dome and Skylon have been dismantled for scrap. The Royal Festival Hall remains, but has now been incorporated into the later development, the Southbank Centre. Westminster Palace is still silhouetted in the background (although now it is Big Ben that is in scaffolding rather than the tower of the palace).
While nearly all traces of the Festival of Britain may be gone, its legacy continues to capture popular imagination. It endures in the living memory of many who visited the pavilions as children and stared up in awe at the Skylon towering above them while marvelling at the new technologies on display.
Like the Great Exhibition that came a century before, the Festival of Britain continues to capture popular imagination. A forward-looking statement of modernity in its time, it has since become a symbol of the past. Little remains of the site. Just as Crystal Palace was razed by a devastating fire in 1936, the empty spaces on the South Bank evoke the ghosts of what stood here before. Yet, its influence lives on. The International Modernist style of architecture that inspired the Festival’s architects mutated into the Brutalist design of the National Theatre, Hayward Gallery, and British Film Institute built in the 1960s and 1970s. Its spirit lives on. As this walking tour has shown, if you look hard enough, you too may encounter the ghosts of the South Bank.
Paul Laib (1869–1958) specialised in fine art photography working between 1898 and the 1950s. He was commissioned by many prominent British artists of his time including Oswald Birley, Philip de László, Ben Nicholson, John Piper, and John Singer Sargent. Among these, Laib’s photography of Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) and her work stand out from his collection. One of the founders of Modernist sculpture in Britain, Hepworth was a major international figure exhibiting around the globe.
In the video accompanying this blog post, I have created a vinyasa yoga practice inspired by Laib’s photography of Hepworth’s sculptures. A vinyasa is a sequence of positions, one flowing after the other, guided by the breath. This type of yoga invites exploration of Hepworth’s work particularly well – attention is brought to both the poise of the figure and the fluidity of form. Indeed, attempting to express the experience of human embodiment in her work, Hepworth stated “I rarely draw what I see. I draw what I feel in my body”. In this world of social distancing and self-isolation, I encourage you to experience the tactility and physicality of Hepworth’s work through your relationship with the body.
The sight but also sensation of natural form inspired Hepworth throughout her life; she maintained that “body experience… is the centre of creation”. Hepworth was inspired by the enclosure and embrace of the shapes in the landscape around her – be that watching a mother hold her child, the undulating terrain of the Yorkshire hills, or the hollows of rocks on the Cornish coast. Likewise, in your vinyasa practice, you may also wish to connect to the environment around you, cultivating spaciousness and balance through appreciation of Hepworth’s sculptures.
Courtauld Connects Digitisation Oxford Micro-Internship Participant