The Bakers In Widegate St
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
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