Lawrence Wright and his Drawings

Lawrence Wright (1906-1983) was an ‘architectural perspective artist’, who lived in Alresford in his latter years. He was elected as an Associate Member of RIBA in 1930, and they record him living at 27 West Street in the 1960s. Detailed drawings of the houses and shops of West Street and on the East side of Broad Street were drawn and signed by him, in 1965. A lot of the originals of these are held in the Alresford Museum, plus some coloured prints taken from these drawings are on display in the Community Centre, in the downstairs main hall.

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A coloured print of Broad St/East St, as on display in the Community Centre

Lawrence also wrote several text books describing the historical development of various architectural or domestic accessories. These included “Warm and Snug: The history of the bed” in 1962, “Home Fires Burning: The History of Domestic Heating and Cooking” in 1964, which included fireplaces. The description of Lawrence as Author of ‘Warm and Snug‘ was:

Born in Bristol in 1906, he is a well-known architectural painter. He has designed many exhibitions, and it was from one of these, a history of the bath, under the title ‘Clean and Decent’, that his first book evolved. Its reception encouraged him to write ‘Warm and Snug’.

His pièce de resistance was “Clean and Decent: The history of the bath and loo and of sundry habits, fashions & accessories of the toilet, principally in Great Britain, France & America”. My personal interest in such history was triggered when as a young man in an office on the Embankment in London, one of their facilities featured a classic blue and white china bowl, in a design more familiar on Victorian tureens and porcelain tableware, showing a country garden scene. His book was first published in 1960, but has been re-printed many times since then.

I have no knowledge of any buildings or houses where Lawrence was employed as the architect, but there are unsigned drawings in the Alresford Museum collection of his papers showing a design for the re-build of the house and shop at 5a Broad Street, on paper marked as from Nightingale, Page and Bennett, Chartered Surveyors, of Kingston-on-Thames. These are dated 1961: the shop next door at number 5 Broad Street at that time was quoted as Broad Street Fruiterers, and next door at #7, in Livingstone House, was A. Livingstone and Sons. The work obviously went ahead as it showed the shop layout as used until 2015 by the D.Gedye electrical business.

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Whether he was involved with Roy Robins in the design and construction of 38, 40a and 40 West Street is not certain, but it appears that he lived opposite at number 27, in a small house on the South side of West Street: RIBA say that this was his address in 1965. This is now a listed building and private residence, situated on the corner of what is named “Lawrence Wright Passage”. Certainly, from there he could have looked out across the street at these very elegant buildings and roofs, captured in his 1965 drawing below.

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The original Lawrence Wright drawing

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The coloured print in the Community Centre

What immediately becomes apparent to anyone keen on historical data, is that the Lawrence Wright 1965 pictures give a great snapshot and record of the businesses present in the town centre in 1965. Plus they also show that there were far more residential buildings, than shops or business premises: although some were presumably used as Doctor’s Surgeries and for other professional services. Some, such as #40 above (now Jaga Designs), have a business sign which cannot be read from Lawrence Wright’s front of building views. There are too many drawings in the collection to reproduce them all here, but in time they will be made available on the Alresford Museum website, museum.alresford.org.

West Street (North side)

The identifiable business premises are listed as:

  • 6 (Shown as a shop window with no markings).
  • 8 Eureka Fish Company
  • 10 Electrical supplier (there is an advert for Murphy radios in the window)
  • 12 The Bell Hotel
  • 14 Tobacconists plus Walls ice cream sales
  • 16 JS Stiles (later moving to become the Broad St. hardware and china shops)
  • 18 Lex Leathers
  • 20 Tobacconists (Note the ‘No Waiting’ sign, for vehicles, in the picture!)
  • 22 Reg Cutting , Antiques and Bric-a-Brac
  • 24 Ann Verity, Hair Stylist
  • 40a ‘Mollys’: apparently a Restaurant or Cafe
  • 42 Christian Bookshop
  • 56 Chemist (named as H.C.*****)
  • 58 Newsagent
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For 2016 we have Susie Watson Designs, Alresford Haircare, the Naked Grape and the ex-Wedding Dress shop!

West Street (South side)

  • 1  (Unidentified shop front)
  • 7  Lloyds Bank
  • 11 The Swan Hotel
  • 13 Cycle, Motorcycle and Pram services
  • 17 Post Office
  • 19-21 House’s Stores (Players cigarettes, Ariel washing powder)
  • 23 The White House Florist, Fruiterer & Greengrocer
  • 39 Southern Electricity Service
  • 43 Co-operative Food Hall (now two modern shop buildings)
  • 47 Hankins Ltd: Garage and Petrol Pumps (now the Co-op)
  • 49 Dedman’s Grocers, Tobacconist & Newsagent
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These shops look different in 2016 – Moda Rosa and Hetre!

Broad Street (East side)

  • (1 East Street) Lawrence Stationer & Tobacconist
  • 2  Horse & Groom pub
  • 4  Cubitt & West House and Land Agent
  • 6  Hobby Horse – Antiques & Bric-a-Brac
  • 12 Joseph Atkins
  • 14 Kelsall Food Markets (now Tesco)
  • 20 County Library
  • 28 Westminster Bank
  • 30 Chas Eddolls Ltd: Drapery, Clothing, Footwear & Carpets
  • 32 Tylers Wine Stores (now Pizza Express)
  • 36 Broadway Motors (John Allen) (now three modern private residences)
  • 38 (Unidentified shopfront)
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What did Joseph Atkins do? Apparently he lived at 13 Edward Terrace. Next door we have the Chinese Take-Away and the Toy Shop occupies the Cubitt & West premises!

The T-Junction and Town Hall

Other pictures of interest are an unfinished sketch of the Wessex Pharmacy, the view down East Street, and a pen and ink picture created from one of Wright’s drawings of the Barclays Bank building.

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Postscript – His earlier Career

Something I read once made me think that Lawrence Wright had strong links with the RIBA, which was reinforced by the comments made on the back cover of ‘Warm and Snug’, quoted in the above story. On the RIBA website, I found that the picture used to illustrate the design for the Lisboa Casino in Macao, dated 1966, is attributed to him as the artist, which confirms the book cover comment that he was a (very skilled) architectural painter. In the Author’s introduction to ‘Clean and Decent‘, he explains that the book arose after he was invited by Molly Montgomery, who ran the Building Exhibition at Olympia in the late 1950s, to organise a ‘Feature’ display stand at the show, on the theme of The History of the Bathroom. The book inevitably followed: but was a side-line, writing books was just an offshoot from his main works.

Nevertheless, one sentence from his intro to ‘Warm and Snug‘, which explains why his history does not cover the most recent 50 years, is of relevance to all modern historians: “There is no future in writing the history of the present before it is past”.

RIBA advise that he had a further book published in 1983: ‘Perspective in perspective’, published in London by Routledge & Kegan Paul.

(c) Nick Denbow 2016

 

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for an interesting article about Lawrence Wright’s later years – but are you aware of another book he wrote called ‘The Wooden Sword’ about his wartime career in the RAF and the development and use of glider borne troops. Brilliantly written and it shows that he was far more than just a very talented artist.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Adam P on June 22, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Lawrence Wright was my Great Grandfather.

    I can inform you that he was the architectural artist for a number of important buildings in the 1950s, 60s and 70s; perhaps most notably the new Coventry Cathedral. He also produced many pictures of existing buildings, and occasionally other subjects. He extsively documented post-war London, and many of his pictures are in the posession of the Museum of London, although frustratingly this is the only one of which an image is available online:
    http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/93859.html
    Although his books were popular I think he would probably have been most proud of an enormous painted panorama he produced in the early 50s. He sat at the top of St. Paul’s cathederal and spend about four years sketching and then painting about 270 degrees of the city over about 10 metres of panel, as it would have looked then with much post-war reconstruction, but still much evidence of the Blitz. My Grandmother (his daughter, who died in 2011) once told me that he was fascinated with intricate details like bridges and scaffolding, which you can really see in the panorama. The panorama is also in possession of the Museum of London, although unfortunately not on display (though I appreciate that it takes up rather a lot of wall space!); our family arranged to view it together at his centenary in 2006. I suspect the museum would be receptive to requests to view it again.

    He produced another, somewhat smaller panorama of the city – I think in the early 70s – which was painted from what was then the newly finished London headquarters of a corporation, I think possibly Shell Oil? I think can still be viewed at the top floor of their building.

    He was also interested in animation before the war, and produced a number of short films – the kind that would be shown before features in cinemas. As Andrew points out, he was also involved in the D-Day gliders during the war.

    I believe the majority of his work is scattered around various museums or private buildings; the family have a few of his works as well though most are unfinished, prints, or reproductions.

    I’m not aware of him having been the actual architect of any buildings, though polymath that he was I’m sure he would have lent his hand to it and been skilled enough!

    Reply

    • Posted by Adam P on June 22, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      By the way, I forgot to say, thank you very much for posting these sketches! I had never seen them before.

      Reply

      • Posted by Andrew Briggs on July 3, 2017 at 7:00 am

        Adam,
        Thank you for adding to my knowledge of your Great Grandfather. The Alresford drawings shown above are presumably from the collection held in the Museum on Broad Street.
        There are – or at least were – other examples of his skill online which I have saved.
        One which I now know is from the top of St Paul’s and another which has always intrigued me titled ‘Royal Palace, Baghdad’ How did he come to he paint it ? He receives a credit on the palace’s Wiki page here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Palace .
        I also suspect he had some involvement in the London Gliding Club’s club house which still serves its purpose at Dunstable.
        Best wishes
        Andrew Briggs

    • Posted by Steve on August 30, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      I’m lucky to have been studying very high quality copies of your grand-father’s awesome work recently. Next year, the London Topographical Society are publishing a book celebrating his panorama of London and there are some truly stunning images in it.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Adam P on July 5, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Andrew. Yes, I’ve seen the Republican Palace picture before – to my knowledge he never went to Iraq; I would guess that he painted the picture on commission from the architects, based on their architectural drawings. He certainly would have done this for Coventry and perhaps any number of other buildings.

    Reply

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