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William Kent’s Arch At Bow

April 25, 2017
by the gentle author

‘a curious vestige from a catalogue of destruction’

This fine eighteenth century rusticated arch designed by the celebrated architect and designer William Kent was originally part of Northumberland House, the London residence of the Percy family in the Strand which was demolished in 1874. Then the arch was installed in the garden of the Tudor House in St Leonard’s Street, Bow, by George Gammon Rutty before it was moved here to the Bromley by Bow Centre in 1997, where it makes a magnificent welcoming entrance today.

The Tudor House was purchased in a good condition of preservation from the trustees of George Gammon Rutty after his death in 1898 by the London County Council, who chose to demolish it and turn the gardens into a public park. At this point, there were two statues situated at the foot of each of the pillars of the arch but they went missing in the nineteen-forties. One of the last surviving relics of the old village of Bromley by Bow, the house derived its name from a member of the Tudor family who built it in the late sixteenth century adjoining the Old Palace and both were lovingly recorded by CR Ashbee in the first volume of the Survey of London in 1900.

The Survey was created by Ashbee, while he was living in Bow running the Guild of Handicrafts at Essex House (another sixteenth century house nearby that was demolished), in response to what he saw as the needless loss of the Old Palace and other important historic buildings in the capital.

Ever since I first discovered William Kent’s beautiful lonely arch – a curious vestige from a catalogue of destruction – I have been meaning to go back to Bow take a photograph of it when the wisteria was in bloom and, although for a couple of years circumstances conspired to prevent me, last weekend I was able to do so and here you see the result.

William Kent (1685 –1748) Architect, landscape and furniture designer

Northumberland House by Canaletto, 1752

Northumberland House shortly before demolition, 1874

William Kent’s arch in the grounds of the Tudor House, Bow, in 1900 with its attendant statues, as illustrated in the first volume of the Survey of London by CR Ashbee (Image courtesy Survey of London/ Bishopsgate Institute)

William Kent’s arch at St Leonard’s Street, Bromley by Bow

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In Old Bow

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CR Ashbee in Bow

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg Tingey permalink
    April 25, 2017

    My Wisteria is looking like that right now, as well.
    ( The robins,blue-tits & great tits love it. )

  2. Paul G permalink
    April 25, 2017

    To me, as an old sailor, the first sight of William Kent’s Arch looked as though it was made of coral! So I Googled the Gentle Author’s use of the word “rusticated”. I found other examples of stone carving described as “vermiculation”… or ‘the carving of stones with sinuous lines in imitation of the tracks left by worms (there are many variants of this type)’.
    “Rustication”, it would seem, made its way into the classical repertory of English architects via Italian Renaissance architects and in imitation of the effect of antique ruins. They say the roughness of the ruined stone captured the imagination of Renaissance and later architects. You’re never to old to learn!

  3. April 25, 2017

    Thank you for this and thanks too to whoever it is who prunes the Wisteria at the right time to get it to produce its beautiful flowers. There is a huge knack in establishing the plant in the first place and to bring it to flower and then to help it continue to flower each year for the enjoyment of all who pass by its fleeting wonderfulness.
    Is the sensitively dropped kerb seen in the old photo of the arch still in place? I do hope so

  4. April 25, 2017

    Glad it has a safe home. I have always wanted to go and see Northumberland House and that part of London pre Trafalgar Square. Fancied a chop and an ale at the Golden Cross too. Ah well…

  5. April 25, 2017

    Good sturdy arch showing large block work by architect William Kent. I’m glad it has survived and is nicely shown here today. The blue Wisteria fronting the arch has beautifully peaked in the photo shown. I understand the best place to see it in London is Kensington. Wisteria is a good façade coverer, my favourite place to see the shrub is in colourful Appledore North Devon UK. Poet John

  6. Jim McDermott permalink
    April 25, 2017

    While Northumberland House couldn’t have been called an architectural gem, its loss – like so many others at about that time – lovingly recorded in English Heritage’s magnificent ‘Lost London’ – radically transformed the historic sense of the city. Look at what came after it in the east Strand/Aldwych area – a shabby ‘landscape’ entirely designed for traffic, not people.

  7. Annelise permalink
    April 25, 2017

    Just beautiful! It is so sad though how many amazing old residences are destroyed and demolished. Thank your for your always fascinating blog, it is quite wonderful.

  8. April 25, 2017

    The archway abides!
    Would love to know more about the expressive gargoyle.
    Preservation in bloom…….thanks for the uplifting post.

  9. Gary Arber permalink
    April 25, 2017

    This year has been very good for Wisteria, very often early frosts kill the blooms before they can open. The frosts forecast over the next few days could however hit it, so enjoy it while you can.

  10. Leana Pooley permalink
    April 25, 2017

    Yet more fascinating information but I now brace myself for the bad news – the facadism and demolitions. When will we ever learn to cherish good quality buildings and enjoy their character and proud ornamentation. I met a hairdresser who works on the Isle of Dogs the other day and he said he dreaded going there for the soulless glass and steel architecture. And it seems to have a bad effect on his clients, too, who pride themselves on their measly tips.

  11. April 25, 2017

    Thanks, GE, how wonderful that this arch has survived – by coincidence I was looking at the duke of Northumberland’s patronage of Canaletto and others only yesterday, though for completely different reasons:

  12. May 5, 2017

    Excellent. The loss of Northumberland House was a great shame to say the least. The lion is at Syon, of course, and most if not all the furniture, fittings, paintings etc between there and Alnwick, but apart from items like this, almost all the fabric lost forever. This resembles a little the old Temple Bar story.

  13. Liam Mannion permalink
    March 11, 2018

    I used to kick a football near this from early 80’s to pre 1997 when it was in the park as it was just off one end of the sizable circular grass area that was once a putting green in the 70’s. The large tree in front of it served as one of the goalposts and I used to climb onto a ledge that was situated by the side of it and shimmy behind it when the ball found its way there usually conveniently resting halfway down as when in the park the arch was lodged about 10 inches in front of a wall. It was a nice piece of architecture that complimented the park’s(named Bob’s) surroundings. The putting green used to cost 2p if I recall and you used to get two putters,a ball and a score card from a wooden hut. I believe there used to be a bench under the arch when in the park. No doubt the park was formerly known as the Tudor House gardens as you mentioned. I was researching its history and your article is the most lucid account of it I’ve found.

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