Watts 1874

Watts 1874
In 1874, the architects George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner won the commission to design the new offices of the London School Board. As well as the building itself, the School Board also asked Bodley and Garner to provide the furnishings for the board room and the commissioners’ offices. The two architects saw an opportunity, quickly founding an interior furnishings company in partnership with George Gilbert Scott the Younger. This ‘money spinner’ on the side was a little too grubby for gentleman-architects unwilling to be directly associated with trade, and so the company was born as Watts and Co. While some have suggested that the name may have come from a pun ‘Watts in a name?’, the firm may also have been named after Scott’s landlord, R.R. Watts.
All three architects had been pupils of the grand old man of Victorian architecture, Sir George Gilbert Scott, and were initially steeped in his Gothic Revival aesthetic. By the 1870s, however, they had developed a new style, an eclectic mélange of Tudor, Elizabethan and 17th century neo-classical architecture, which came to be known as the ‘Queen Anne’ style. The London School Board was one of the first and most important buildings designed in this new mode. In the years following, Bodley largely took care of the practice’s ecclesiastical commissions, building them in an elegant neo-Gothic style, while Garner continued to design secular buildings in the language of the ‘Queen Anne’ movement.
The breadth of influences that underpinned the ‘Queen Anne’ movement also lay behind Watt’s early fabric and wallpaper designs. These drew inspiration from a variety of sources, including the geometric neo-Gothic wallpapers of Augustus Pugin, the sumptuous fabrics depicted in fifteenth-century paintings, the naturalism of William Morris, and grand late seventeenth-century damasks. Watts offered a full decoration service, including the option of a specialist painter, Mr Mole, and customers were able to buy ‘Embroidery and Textile Fabrics, such as Damasks, Silks, Velvets, Woollen and other Hangings…Wall Papers and Stained Glass, together with all the usual Articles of Household Furniture.’
The firm rapidly gained a reputation among leading architects and aristocratic cognoscenti, including the architectural firms of Basil Champneys, Somers Clarke, Paley and Austin and others, and members of London’s elite such as Marchioness Hastings, Lord Londonderry and Princess Federica of Hanover. The firm’s furnishings were also used within Bodley and Garner’s own commissions, as with Hewell Grange, designed by Garner, for which they created an entirely bespoke design reflecting the complex interplay of Italian and English Renaissance design at the house. Unsurprisingly given the mixture of creativity and business from which Watts had sprung, these bespoke designs were very often adapted and then sold by the firm.
As Watts entered the twentieth century, secular fashions began to change and the firm relied increasingly on ecclesiastical commissions. Because of this, Watts was able to survive even as purely secular firms like Morris and Co closed, preserving its unique archive of period design. In the 1980s as fashions changed interest in Watts secular furnishings revived, and in 1987 Watts of Westminster was launched to take care of this side of the business. Delving into the extensive Watts archive, design after design was re-introduced, often re-coloured or re-scaled to reflect contemporary trends. Since then, Watts has continued to flourish, building a formidable reputation through their work on prestigious private and public projects.