BIDLAKE, William

Seven sketchbooks

n.p. n.p.. 1880-1934.

An archive collection of seven sketchbooks extensively illustrated with, in total, over 500 drawings, sketches and studies by the Arts and Craft architect William Bidlake (1861-1938). The drawings are in pen and ink or pencil. Most are highly worked, detailed drawings of buildings (particularly churches) either standing alone or in the context of more developed street scenes but there are numerous studies of architectural details such as gothic window tracery and column capitals. Landscape scenes also feature and there is a small number of sketches of the human form. The standard is uniformly high throughout and demonstrates Bidlake's mastery of the decorative detail of medieval architecture. The sketchbooks are in a variety of formats but all with hardcovers and, although the covers are worn, they are all in remarkably good condition and internally they are very good indeed with the drawings beautifully preserved.
1. 150x230mm (oblong). 36 leaves with 57 drawings and 2 poems. On the front pastedown is inscribed: W.H.Bidlake, 12 Houghton Place, Ampthill Sq. N.W. 1880-1882. This book has drawings of Cambridge where Bidlake studied at Christ's College: these include Pembroke College, Newton's Bridge and a sketch entitled "View from my Rooms". There are studies of buildings in Leicester (where Bidlake spent university vacations working in the offices of the architect James Tait), scenes from Cornwall and, towards the end, sketches from London including the Houses of Parliament. By 1882, Bidlake had moved to London where he studied at the Royal Academy and started his architectural training with R.W.Edis who is probably best known now for his work expanding and renewing Sandringham House.
2. 227x190mm. Upper cover has a paper label inscribed "The Pugin Tour 1885. W.H.Bidlake. May 21st-July24th". 50 leaves with more than 70 drawings, sketches and technical studies. These mainly cover Lincolnshire (including Lincoln Cathedral) and Nottinghamshire. At the back of the book are a few later sketches from 1890 and 1891. The front pastedown has the bookplate of the RIBA which has been scored through with a red pen and marked "Cancelled 10 Aug 86. Alex Beazeley Librarian". A number of blank pages have the RIBA library stamp marked cancelled in red ink. In 1885 Bidlake won the RIBA Pugin Travelling Fellowship for his draughtsmanship. This prize funded a study of cathedrals and churches in the East Midlands and East Anglia and also enabled him to undertake a study tour of France and Italy which is represented by the next sketchbook.
3. 227x190mm. Inscribed in the book are two addresses for Bidlake - 37 Waterloo St. Birmingham and 11 Calthorpe Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham. 62 leaves with over 90 drawings including, from the summer of 1886, Rouen, Genoa, Siena, Florence and Bologna. He also travelled to Sweden later that year and then the rest of the book contains drawings from Scotland (1887), the Midlands (1887), Yorkshire (1888) and a small number of later drawings from 1919. There are also three pages of Italian grammar and vocabulary. Shortly after winning the Pugin Fellowship, Bidlake moved to the leading firm of Gothic Revivalists, Bodley and Garner. Working in such a distinguished practice brought Bidlake into contact with the best architects, artists and designers of the day: G.F. Bodley had been a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott, was a friend of William Morris and closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites.
4. 283x218mm. Front pastedown has Bidlake's signature. 75 leaves with 145 drawings, sketches and architectural studies of French churches, cathedrals including Beauvais, Louviers, Evreux, Lisieux and Notre Dame at Grand-Andely. These are dated 1920 and 1921. In addition there are two nude studies (1913/14) and a drawing of a car and a horse-drawn carriage.
5. 228x178mm. Front pastedown is inscribed "W.H.Bidlake, Vespers, Wadhurst, Sussex". 57 leaves with 64 drawings and sketches dated from September 6 1930 to September 11 1933. The images are all of places in England and include the Cotswolds, Sussex and some fine studies of Ely Cathedral. There are also numerous landscapes which show another side of Bidlake's skill as an artist.
6. 228x178mm. Front pastedown inscribed W.H.Bidlake, Vespers, Wadhurst, Sussex. 56 leaves with 71 drawings dated 1933-1935. These are mostly of Sussex churches and landscapes but there are three sketches of human figures.
7. 228x178mm. Front pastedown is inscribed W.H.Bidlake, Vespers, Wadhurst, Sussex, Angleterre. 34 leaves with 36 detailed drawings and sketches and two drawings loosely inserted. This sketchbook records a trip to France in July -October 1934 and contains drawings of churches, street-scenes and landscapes. The principal town featured is Caudebec in Normandy.
These sketchbooks date from the early and late parts of Bidlake's career and show him to be, "influenced by Ruskin and heart a romantic idealist, whose creations were tempered by a fond attachment to past traditions". (Trevor Mitchell, ODNB). Medieval churches, cathedrals and houses lie at the heart of this collection and one is struck not just by the brilliance of the draughtsmanship but by the manner in which Bidlake absorbs the spirit of these stupendous buildings. Architectural drawings can, too easily, lapse into the merely technical but these have a lively directness and authenticity. Bidlake was an artist-architect whose interests encompassed craftwork and design which he taught at the Birmingham School of Art. As well as a running a successful architectural practice in Birmingham, he was a director of the city's School of Architecture and was instrumental in the creation of the Birmingham Guild of Handicraft in 1890 which was one of the country's leading institutions in fostering the development of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Bidlake designed numerous houses, including two for himself, the second of which Vespers (now Loth Lorien) was the home to which he retired. He was also a fine garden designer (he appears in Gertrude Jekyll's book on small country house gardens), ensuring, in the Arts and Crafts spirit, that the house and its landscape sit together as an organic whole. He designed ten churches firmly in the Gothic mode, unsurprising given the architectural drawings on display in these books. Bidlake was an important figure in the world of the Gothic Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Like many in those worlds (one thinks of Voysey, Lethaby and Prior to whom Bidlake has been compared) he was more than just an architect. He was as his biographer notes, and these sketchbooks attest, "an accomplished artist, an active promoter of craftwork, and an influential teacher".

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