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The Bakers In Widegate St

January 5, 2016
by the gentle author

Next time you pass through Widegate St, walking from Bishopsgate towards Artillery Passage on your way to Spitalfields, lift up your eyes to see the four splendid sculptures of bakers by Philip Lindsey Clark (1889 – 1977) upon the former premises of Nordheim Model Bakery at numbers twelve and thirteen. Pause to take in the subtle proportions of this appealing yet modest building of 1926 by George Val Myers in which the sculpture is integrated so successfully, just as at Broadcasting House which Val Myers designed five years later, placing Eric’s Gill’s figures upon the front.

In fact, Philip Lindsey Clark was a friend of Eric Gill – his work shares the same concern with illuminating the transcendental in existence, and from 1930 onwards his sculpture was exclusively of religious subjects. Born in Brixton, son of Scots architectural sculptor Robert Lindsey Clark, he trained in his father’s studio in Cheltenham and then returned to London to study at the City & Guilds School in Kennington. Enlisted in 1914, he was severely wounded in action and received a Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry. Then, after completing his training at the Royal Academy Schools, he designed a number of war memorials including those in Southwark and in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow.

The form of these ceramic reliefs of bakers – with their white glaze and sparing use of blue as a background – recalls religious sculpture, especially stations of the cross, and there is something deeply engaging about such handsome, austerely-modelled figures with their self-absorbed presence, preoccupied by their work. The dignity of labour and the poetic narrative of transformation in the baking of bread is made tangible by these finely judged sculptures. My own favourite is the figure of the baker with his tray of loaves upon his shoulder in triumph, a satisfaction which anyone who makes anything will recognise, borne of the work, skill and application that is entailed in creation.

These reliefs were fired by Carters of Poole, the company that became Poole Pottery, notable for their luminous white glazes, elegant sculptural forms and spare decoration using clear natural colours. They created many of the tiles for the London Underground and their relief tiles from the 1930s can still be seen on Bethnal Green Station.

Philip Lindsey Clark’s sculptures are those of a man who grew up in the artists’ studio, yet witnessed the carnage of First World War at first hand, carrying on fighting for two days even with a piece of shrapnel buried in his head, and then turned his talents to memorialise those of his generation that were gone. After that, it is no wonder that he saw the sublime in the commonplace activity of bakers. Eventually Lindsey Clark entered a Carmelite order, leaving London and retiring to the West Country where he lived until the age of eighty-eight.

So take a moment next time you pass through Widegate St – named after the wide gate leading to the ‘spital fields that once were there – and contemplate the sculptures by Philip Lindsey Clark, embodying his vision of the holiness of bakers.

George Val Myer’s former Nordheim Model Bakery with sculptures by Philip Lindsey Clark

You may also like to read about

A Night in the Bakery at St John

Dorothy Annan’s Murals in Farringdon St

Margaret Rope’s East End Saints

A Door in Cornhill

10 Responses leave one →
  1. January 5, 2016

    If this building has to come down these ceramic bakers should be saved B M take note. Hot topic bakers and bread yes its the staff of life. Gentle Man and us should see the BEEB tonight ‘Victorian Bakers’ lets go. John B

  2. Annie G permalink
    January 5, 2016

    Every single element of that building is pleasing.

  3. January 5, 2016

    It is a beautiful building, so glad Boris hasn’t had it knocked down yet. Valerie

  4. Pennie ort permalink
    January 5, 2016

    My grandfather George ort managed this shop from about 1925
    My uncle was born here in 1927. Their mother died there 5 years later.
    My dad and his brothers attended sir John class. And helped with chores at this shop
    And another of their fathers shops .
    I think my grandfather spent quite a lot of time in the pub next door. Bit too handy for him.
    My family are still baking in the London area. But now under the Wenzel name.

  5. January 5, 2016

    I’ve been subscribing to your blog since you began it – so a few years (even though I changed my email provider during the time). I’m not a prolific blogger but I do dabble occasionally, and I thought it was time to drop you a line. It may surprise you that I read it prolifically from the Philippines, where I am currently in residence. You have the most enchanting and remarkable prose and way with words. Sometimes I may not be interested in everything you write, but I still read it because of your wonderful construction. It is magnetic and often poetic. I especially appreciate the way you produce, as if by magic, hidden gems of London which many are unaware of. I applaud you on your causes, and successes. However, you haven’t come to Brentford, as far as I know, which is where I also reside, and I’m sure that you can dig up some jewels there – especially now, when it is undergoing rampant change, where developers and the local council appear to be immune to protect it’s heritage and history – indeed it’s contribution to the London you so much love and being lost before our very eyes.

  6. Phyllis permalink
    January 5, 2016

    Wonderful! And from left to right they illustrate the baking process: hauling flour, kneading the dough, baking the bread and finally the finished product, which appears to be brioche.

  7. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    January 5, 2016

    I lived in the Kkings Stores, the pub next door and my bedroom on the second floor had a window onb the side so every morning I could smell the bead, In those days it was called Snadrock and Nordheims The sculptures are excellent and I am pleased they are still there

  8. January 5, 2016

    Lovely piece.

    I especially like the solidly-planted-in-reality work boots. Because you see them from below, they are most noticeable.

  9. Barbara permalink
    April 23, 2016

    This is a beautiful building and the sculptures are wonderful. I didn’t know about them and will definitely visit. Thank you so much for sharing the beauty of London through your blog, which I follow regularly. I am very interested in the history of baking in London and did some extensive research into an Edwardian bakery just off Blackfriars Road. I’d be happy to share this with you if feel it’s of interest. Sadly, the bulk of the building has recently been demolished as part of a ‘redevelopment’, but our local campaign to save it did at least result in retention of the façade. It’s a beautiful and very special building, of neo-classical design with faience decoration. It has a fascinating history encompassing two world wars. There are diaries from a young woman who worked there during the 1930s, in which she documents aspects of her home life as well as the daily running of the bakery – and even the aftermath of the night of the Blitz and how the bombing affected the bakery and the surrounding buildings.

  10. Trudi Gatehouse permalink
    June 20, 2016

    The sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark is my grandfather and even though we lived in London for a few years I never knew these wonderful pieces existed

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