Wood block of the ‘Oak Leaf’ design against samples of the hand-blocked wallpaper. ©Watts of Westminster.
A small exhibition at the Fashion and textile Museum in London features the wallpapers of Watts & Co., a firm supplying ecclesiastical and domestic furnishings which is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year.
Selection of hand-blocked Watts wallpapers. ©Watts of Westminster.
The firm was founded by the architects G. Gilbert Scott, G.F. Bodley and Thomas Garner. The ‘Watt’s’ name is purely fictional, having apparently been chosen because the founders wanted to keep the decorative work separate from their architectural practices.
The Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham House, hung with ‘Pear’ flock wallpaper by Watts. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
Scott, Bodley and Garner were known for their Gothic Revival buildings, but they also designed schools and houses in the eclectic ‘Queen Anne’ style which was popular in the later nineteenth century.
Detail of the ‘Ravenna’ flock wallpaper by Watts in the White Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
Early Watts wallpaper survives at Ham House, where Bodley and Garner were involved in restoration and refurbishment work for the 9th Earl of Dysart in the late 1880s. Flock wallpaper in the ‘Pear’ pattern can be seen in the Duchess’s Private Closet, and ‘Ravenna’ hangs in the White Closet.
Michael Hall has written an enlightening article on Bodley and Garner’s work at Ham which was included in the book Ham House: 400 years of Collecting and Patronage.
Proposal by G.F. Bodley for the redecoration of the Oak Drawing Room at Powis Castle, painted by Henry Charles Brewer, c.1902, showing the intended use of Watts ‘Pear’ pattern silk, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 11807882.2. ©National Trust.
At Powis Castle a cut silk velvet woven in the ‘Pear’ pattern was used for the upholstery and the curtains in the Oak Drawing Room when the room was remodeled by G.F. Bodley for the 4th Earl of Powis between 1902 and 1904.
Detail of the ‘Bodley’ wallpaper, originally designed by G.F. Bodley in about 1870, in an updated colourway produced for Cecil Beaton in 1952. ©Watts of Westminster
Because Watts supplied both domestic and ecclesiastical furnishings, it was better able to weather the changes in fashion than, for instance, Morris & Co., which closed in 1940. Watts’s offering was refreshed in the 1950s and 1960s by Elizabeth Hoare, one of Scott’s granddaughters, who brought in new designers and new colourways – including a ‘think pink’ version of the ‘Bodley’ pattern for Cecil Beaton.
Selection of wallpapers in the Watts showroom at the Chelsea Design Centre, London. ©Watts of Westminster
There will be a study day on the history of Watt’s & Co. at the Victoria and Albert Museum on October 25.