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William Kent’s Arch In Bow

April 14, 2020
by the gentle author

The wisteria on William Kent’s spectacular arch in Bow is in flower this week

‘a poignant vestige from a catalogue of destruction’

Ever since I first discovered William Kent’s beautiful lonely arch in Bow, I wanted to go back to take a photograph of it when the wisteria was in bloom. For a couple of years circumstances conspired to prevent me, but eventually I was able to do so and here you can admire the result without needing to leave your home.

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. Today, only William Kent’s arch remains as a poignant vestige from a catalogue of destruction.

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

At St Mary Stratford Atte Bow

CR Ashbee in Bow

11 Responses leave one →
  1. April 14, 2020

    Another delightful tale to nourish the heart and soul during lockdown. In the face of destruction of so many fine buildings, thank heavens that there have always been saviours who care to conserve at least parts, and writers to record and tell the tales.

  2. Chris Webb permalink
    April 14, 2020

    The Canaletto appears to be looking south east from the base of where Nelson’s Column is now, so Northumberland House is now the site of Waterstones.

    I think the current building was used as the office of whatever shady organisation Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) worked for in The Ipcress File. Quite a grand Parisian looking building, honey coloured stone rather than the more usual Portland.

    I used to have a wisteria but the whole lot came crashing down under the weight of water during a thunderstorm, bringing bits of brick and gutter with it. Not happy!

  3. Mary permalink
    April 14, 2020

    The elegance of the wisteria complements the arch perfectly, although I am sure originally, it would have no such adornment.
    We have a white wisteria on the front of our house and it is just about to flower. I look forward to it every year as the perfume is wonderful, and will enjoy it even more this year.

  4. Ken permalink
    April 14, 2020

    Have often paused to admire / contemplate the arched entrance to the alms houses when passing..nice to view it thus


  5. JIll Wilson permalink
    April 14, 2020

    One of the books I have been reading during lockdown has been the excellent biography of C R Ashbee by Alan Crawford which gives a very good insight into all the different things that Ashbee was involved in, including the Watch Committee which became the Survey of London.

    His efforts to make people aware of all the great buildings which were being needlessly destroyed were vital in saving buildings like the Trinity Green Almshouses – and continues to be an inspiration to the East End Preservation Society today.

  6. April 14, 2020

    Thank you Gentle Author for this beautiful sight and for sharing it with us all, balm for the soul.
    I can almost smell the wisteria……..
    Please keep well and take care when out and about, you are a very important part of our ‘survival kit’ especially during isolation!

  7. April 14, 2020

    Northumberland House was a bit of a loss! I had no idea there had been a Kent house in the middle of London, despite the V&A exhibition I really only think of him in terms of gardens

  8. April 15, 2020

    Thank You for these Lovely Pictures. I would Love to walk through Them.????????

  9. April 15, 2020

    Thank you for this little gem and for the picture of the arch in bloom. I actually work at the Bromley by Bow Centre and so (until recently) passed through the arch daily. I’m working from home outside of London at the moment and feeling the poignancy of seeing these blooms as I first saw them exactly a year ago today.

  10. Robert permalink
    April 15, 2020


  11. Crystal permalink
    November 20, 2020

    Re: Colin Cohen remark: Northumberland House isn’t a William Kent house – he was responsible for the arch alone. The house was Jacobean, but went through several restylings, James Paine, the most known. It didn’t necessarily get better: if you compare the Canaletto with the photograph, by which time the house is sadly being encroached upon by commercial shopfronts, you’ll see that the cupolas at each end were once in happier proportion to the house’s immense frontage.

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