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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

14 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.

  14. Eileen A.V. Dowsing; Nee Rutty permalink
    September 29, 2023

    I am so happy to have come across the writings regarding the memories surrounding The Tudor House.

    My great grandfather George Gammen Rutty was a road builder around that area and bought the Tudor House where he lived with his wife and where they brought up a family of six girls and two boys. My Grandfather was Edgar George Rutty a wheelwright. My Knowledge of the house mostly comes from my Aunt Madelene who I got to know when introduced to her during the late seventies. I visited her for several years until her death in 1988 and she talked a great deal of her family life; her visits to her grandparents and their home she referred to as The Rutty House and how it was connected to Royalty . She was full of gladness when talking of her visits to that house and described it in great detail with its sweeping stairway and the great armorial collection, which, she said , she had helped her father pack in great boxes to take to the British War Museum. She and her siblings had happy times visiting their grandparents – she described hiding under the skirts of her grandmother while playing hide and seek and would hear her father and grandfather ‘talking business.’
    I tried to visit the church where one of my great aunt’s was married – under the arch my Great Grandfather had erected there; according to my Aunt Madge, her grandfather had laid the foundation stones to the arch. However I didn’t have correct information regarding Bromley and Bromley By Bow . I wonder if the ae h my aunt spoke of refers to the arch described in in the article on The Tudor House. My aunt told me that though the house was left for the benefits of the ‘Down and Outs’, along with the garden. it was bought by the council with a ‘peppercorn payment’. There was an article in a newspaper describing he local council’s reaction to George Gammen Rutty’ s gift of the house as a cause of laughter, ridiculing such a gift and decrying the Rutty House as derelict and should be pulled down.
    NB: The spelling of My Great Grandfather’s surname seems to be somewhat conflicted. On a copy of his death certificate his name it is spelt as I have written it, and so said my Aunt Madelene. My Aunt died in 1988. She told me many things and was always positive ,succinct and truthful in the telling of her recollections of her family history.

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