By WILLIAM LUCAS, F.R.V.1.A.
ROM Mappin and Webb's Mansion House Build- ings, designed in 1871, in conjunction with his father—a man of some power in classic design—
to the Mappin Terraces in the Zoological Gar- dens, of 1913 (in which his partner, J. J. Joass, shares the honour), both London structures, is a long cry; and the course of the late John Belcher that lay be- tween is one marked with work which links extensive and in- tensiveness together in exceptional measure. In fact, it is the furnishing of another proof, if such were necessary, of " the in- finite combination and inexhaustible changes within the mach of the artist."
The Gothic movement at the outset of Belcher's career, and especially during the first ten or twelve years of his manhood—
say, from 186o to 1873—was in its heyday. Gilbert Scott, with his methodical ways and an office staff after the manner of a Government department ; George Edmund Street, one of the most strenuous workers, wishing to do everything himself ; and the meteor-like Burges, all three men of consummate genius and tre- mendous powers, then swayed the architectural world in England;
and Belcher, as he turned over the pages of the professional papers of the period (that by the way of the Law Courts Com- petition), and also saw arising design after design around him in London, was so powerfully influenced as to overpower the classi- cism of his father, and project from their office, Mansion House Buildings, the Gothic structure at the junction of Cheapside and Queen Victoria Street, so long and well-known until its remodel- ling a few years since.
The Evolutionary Process
however, in all its restlessness was forcibly at work in Belcher's mind ; and the Catholic Apostolic Church, Camberwell, soon showed that his fervour for Gothic was being tempered by a love
Ifie[eber, 1R.B.38 of wall-surface that evidenced some freedom in interpretation of the canons of his great contemporaries.
Then, with remarkable suddenness, in 1873, Norman Shaw startled the architectural world with his N.Z. Chambers, which Professor Donaldson, a few days after the design appeared in the press, declared " was a raking up of a type of the very lowest state of corrupt erection, of a period that marks the senility of decaying taste . . . a sad spectacle of abuse of high powers."
Among others of high ambition, Belcher passionately studied that design ; and the result was that three years after, and only five years from the date of Mansion House Buildings, Queen Anne Chambers, a most pronounced offspring of Shaw's N.Z. Chambers, appeared from amid all the strongly contending forces of Classic and Gothic order in the Belcher office.
Not so very many years pass, and we find Beresford Pite, with his archæological knowledge of English mediæval work and pow- erful pen-and-ink draughtmanship, as an assistant of the Belchers.
Then a perspective by Pite of a large block of City offices in Wood Street, London Wall, of a domestic Gothic character, with double hung sash windows, is seen, whic'i shows how unsettled Belcher at that time was (he then being forty-three years of age) in the matter of adopting a pronounced phase of design for com- mercial architecture.
The Destiny of the Subject
of this article was clearly not that of a follower of the great Gothi- cists, nor yet of the versatile Shaw, nor altogether of his Classic father; though to all of these his future undoubtedly owed much for the foundations of architectural knowledge and vivid percep- tion of required expression.
Then after a fair amount of practice of a general nature, en- tirely on his own account, which also brought him the friendship and influence of an old schoolfellow—Hamo Thornycroft, the sculp- tor; about the end of the eighties arrived his opportunity, and the result of a limited competition was The Institute of Chartered Ac- countants. The cramped surroundirgs, and the confined nature of the site in the narrow Moorgate Place, which would render the
John Belcher, 1R.21.39 building being but imperfectly seen, and that by comparatively few, were conditions by no means inspiring to a competitor. Yet perhaps no building in the metropolis is packed fuller of truly artistic merit. So enthusiastic did Belcher become over this work, both in its competitive stage, and in carrying out the design, that he drew the whole of the details with his own hand. He was then about fifty, and his brother professionals realised, that though the process of development in his case had been relatively slow, the ripening was very pronounced. Fidelity to tradition, and strong determination to express individuality regardless of tradition, con- flict and assert themselves in a way which result in a substantial gift, both in matter of plan and external expression, to the de- velopment of national achitecture. Personal acquaintance with the actual structure, some fifteen years after its erection, considerably strengthened the opinion earlier formed from illustrations. The years that gathered around the period now being touched on were unusually strenuous for Belcher. In common with the great bulk of architects he largely experienced the uncertainties of the pro- fession, and so much so that I have it on good authority that at the period immediately prior to the Institute of Chartered Ac- countants' competition, it was a grave consideration with him as to whether he would not forsake architecture for another vocation.
was the road, in common with the vast majority, along which he felt his path lay. Shortly after the success in Moorgate Place he was one of nine invited to compete for the completion of the South Kensington Museum In his design there was certainly mas-
terly vigour on a Renaissance basis of a high order; but Aston Webb was a rival, and I remember that it was generally felt at the time that Waterhouse's award, in his favour, to a powerful design on Spanish lines (far removed from that carried out) was the right one. Then in the Sessions House, Newgate, nine years later, Belcher's planning was amongst the best submitted ; but it could not be claimed that the elevations, with their picturesque restlessness, definitely expressed the requisite severity. Its legacy has been that its magnificent central feature has woven itself into
3obn 113eIcber, 111.E.40 much of Britain's best modern architecture, including more than one leading building in the Transvaal. I am not sure as to the consecutive order of several competitive schemes, but it was in those early 'go years that somehow Francis Doyle beat him at Liverpool over the Royal Insurance Buildings, when Belcher sub- mitted possibly one of the finest and boldest conceptions in matter of elevation (I never met with the plan) he ever produced. Where Belcher invariably and undoubtedly peculiarly scored in competi- tion work, as well as otherwise, was in his magnificent hall in- teriors In this direction he had but few rivals, and one can never forget the perspectives for those submitted unsuccessfully for the Sessions House, London, and the Royal Insurance Buildings, Liv- erpool ; that awaiting realisation in the Guild Hall, Cambridge, won in competition ; and that realised in the Eastern Telegraph Co. Offices, London. But Academy reviewers could not fail to note the unequal merit of his exhibited work ; and I think, on the whole, nothing of exceptional individualistic merit would be claimed for his ecclesiastical or domestic treatment, some examples of which, by the way, are on the Continent. It was Belcher's suc- cess in limited competition in 18g7 with the
Colchester Town Hall,
which was really the starting point that marked off his career amid his contemporaries. Norman Shaw as assessor gave this de- sign very high praise indeed, referring to it as a scheme of very exceptional merit, exceedingly well fitted for its purpose, and most original and striking as an architectural composition. Personally I think the known individuality of the assessor, plus Belcher's early appreciation of his work, swayed him in the working out of the design far more than such factors usually did. Merit of a very high order, within and without, was generally recognised by the profession in his treatment of the subject, and though there was much about the design which challenged criticism, such as tt~e setting of the tower on plan, the nature of the return elevation (rarely illustrated), and the handling of the pronounced statue niches, it is this work at Colchester which laid the basis of his future expression.
John :Belcher, 11.E.41
Yet there was a fair measure of eclecticism in Belcher's work right to the end. Some of this is inexplicable in view of his erudite knowledge of the essentials in architecture, though there is a congruity about his later designs which is not so prevalent in the earlier. No doubt that historic study, which, in conjunction with Mervyn Macartney, resulted in the " Later Renaissance in Eng- land," had a powerfully beneficial influence at the beginning of this century upon his own work, as well as its publication has had upon that of others. With his enlarged view, in such executed works as Electra House, Winchester House, the Royal Insurance Offices in St. James' Street, Piccadilly, and the premises for the Royal Society of Medicine, Belcher during the last decade has broadened the very alphabetical basis for the rendering of Renais- sance, and even Classic, design.
As Collcutt once said : " Electra House is broad, imposing and masculine in treatment, though showing great beauty and delicacy of detail." In the premises of the Royal Society of Medicine, opened by the King in 1912, there is not only much classic severity but a wealth of highly original features that afford another forcible illustration of what i building can do without, when designed with culture, on permanent principles, and yet be highly meritorious.
Winchester House presents the elements that command in archi- tecture in a very pronounced degree. Repose with stern simplicity dominates the lower floor carried out in that Cornish granite Bel- cher loved so well, and bears the upper stories of Portland stone with a sense of considerable ease; while the mass of entablature above practically embodies whatever continuous moulded work there is. To so fully, even floridly, concentrate enrichment, even to Telamones, and bodily carved pilasters on the intermediate stories, and to crown these with severity of treatment that pre- vails above to an equal height, was a daring venture. Elevation- ally the effect is doubtful, but in the actual work the lower of the upper stories, with its square-headed windows, aided by the bold projection of the cornice, becomes in a most striking manner a parapet from which the highest row of sternly circular-headed windows and masque pilasters rise with perfect ease. The whole composition, in common with most of Belcher's, is one deserving
Sohn Metcber, 1t.3.42 of closest study by all aspirants to architectural fame. The Royal Insurance Offices were being erected in Greek marble on my last visit to London five years ago; and illustrations since seen have shown that, though far less assertive than Winchester House, this building, with its alcoved storey immediately above the main cornice, and the alternately recessed bayed windows below, is a most worthy addition to the architecture of the Metropolis. To me this work is particularly interesting as some of the sculpture, which Belcher always delighted to embody in his architecture when at all practicable, is the work of Bertram Mackennal, with whom I was privileged to be professionally associated on one occasion early in our respective careers in our native city. In regard to many of Belcher's later works, with which London in particular is graced—and his mission was essentially civic—there should ever be the fullest recognition of the valued co-operation of J. J. Joass, for the past six years his unusually brilliant partner. And, in ad- dition to the works mentioned, of those at disposal one can hardly omit that charming bit at 20 Margaret Street, and the playfully refined entrance through which I passed to the Franco-British Ex- hibition. As to Whitely's, costing f25o,000, with its great front- age of some 36o feet to Queen's Road, markedly on conservative lines, and showing much refined detail, including a delightful angle turret, somehow, with its attenuated single and coupled columns, stringlike entablatures, and central pyramidal clock tur- ret, it never seemed to me a satisfactory composition. The Ash- ton Memorial, Lancaster, and several other of his works, were cer- tainly among the outstanding features that I saw in the Architec- tural Room at the Royal Academy in 1908.
As I have already pointed out, Belcher's ripening had been very gradual, not reaching its first pronounced expression till about the age of fifty, when the Institute of Chartered Accountants ap- peared ; and in many, if not all, respects, among his executed buildings this was never eclipsed. Fifteen years of strenuous pres- sure from that standpoint for a more distinctly emphatic stateli- ness, resulted in his unsuccessful competitive design for the Peace Palace at The Hague. In this was evident the fruit of much striv- ing, and was undoubtedly a powerful composition, both in plan and elevation. But the year following when the supreme oppor-