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‘A Stammering Bundle of Welsh Idealism’: Arthur Trystan Edwards and Principles of Civic Design in Interwar Britain

  • N.E. Shasore

This article provides the first account of key texts and concepts in the theory and criticism of Arthur Trystan Edwards. Edwards's notion of ‘civic design’, which emanated from the Liverpool School of Architecture in the second decade of the twentieth century, was part of a broader international trend (particularly in the US and Europe) towards formal, axial and monumental planning. Edwards imbued civic design with a philosophical and political sophistication that set him apart from many of his non-Modernist contemporaries. The article discusses the underlying precepts — such as ‘subject’, ‘form’, ‘urbanity’ and ‘manners’ — in some of Edwards's critical texts, including Good and Bad Manners in Architecture (1924). The final section traces his pioneering interest in high-density, low-rise housing, which culminated with the establishment of the Hundred New Towns Association in 1933–34.

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1 Andrew Saint revised the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, originally by Edwards's friend Gontran Goulden, in 2004, but a more detailed account has not yet been written. Edwards's entry in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography by Raymond Wallis Evans contains a small number of repeated inaccuracies from other sources.

2 Darling, Elizabeth, ‘“The star in the profession she invented for herself”: A Brief Biography of Elizabeth Denby, Housing Consultant’, Planning Perspectives, 20.3 (2005), pp. 271300; Pendlebury, John, ‘The urbanism of Thomas Sharp’, Planning Perspectives, 24.1 (2009), pp. 327; Christine Hui Lan Manley, ‘New Town Urbanity: Theory and Practice in Housing Design at Harlow’ (doctoral thesis, University of Glasgow, 2014); Swenarton, Mark, Cook’s Camden:The Making of Modern Housing (London, 2017).

3 The author is currently completing this study. A third article on Edwards's work as planning consultant to the Borough of Hastings — what he referred to as ‘The Second Battle of Hastings’ — is also intended.

4 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘Sir Reginald Blomfield’, Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 50.4 (1943), p. 88. The definitive account of Blomfield remains Fellows, Richard A., Sir Reginald Blomfield:An Edwardian Architect (London, 1985).

5 Batten, M.I., ‘Personalia III: A. Trystan Edwards, M.A. (Oxon), ARIBA’, Architectural Design and Construction (September 1931), pp. 469–70.

6 For an account of the establishment of the chair and department of civic design, see Richmond, Peter, Marketing Modernism:The Architecture and Influence of Charles Reilly (Liverpool, 2001), pp. 86105, and Crouch, Christopher, Design Culture in Liverpool,1880–1914: The Origins of the Liverpool School of Architecture (Liverpool, 2002), pp. 164–92.

7 Students could also gain a lower qualification, a ‘certificate’, in civic design.

8 The Transactions of the Royal Institute of British Architects Town Planning Conference,London,10–15 October 1910 (London, 2011), intro. William Whyte, unpaginated. See also Whyte, William, ‘The 1910 Royal Institute of British Architects' Conference: A Focus for International Town Planning?’, Urban History, 39.1 (2012), pp. 149–65.

9 Swenarton, Mark, Homes Fit For Heroes:The Politics and Architecture of Early State Housing in Britain (London, 1981), p. 5.

10 See Neal Shasore, ‘Architecture and the Public in Interwar Britain’ (doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, 2016), pp. 155–58.

11 See Beaufoy, Helena, ‘“Order out of chaos”: The London Society and the Planning of London 1912–1920’, Planning Perspectives, 12.2 (1997), pp. 135–64.

12 See Sonne, Wolfgang, ‘The Enduring Concept of Civic Art’, in Alternative Visions of Post-War Reconstruction:Creating the Modern Townscape, ed. Pendlebury, John, Erten, Erdem and Larkham, Peter J. (Abingdon, 2015), pp. 1431. Sonne is one of very few planning historians who gives Edwards due attention in his analyses. See also Sonne, Wolfgang, Representing the State:Capital City Planning in the Early Twentieth Century (London, 2003).

13 Robinson, Charles Mulford, Modern Civic Art,or The City Made Beautiful (New York, 1903), and The Improvement of Towns and Cities,or The Practical Basis of Civic Aesthetics (New York, 1901). Another key text is Mawson, Thomas, Civic Art:Studies in Town Planning,Parks,Boulevards and Open Spaces (London, 1911).

14 Transactions of the Royal Institute of British Architects Town Planning Conference. On the wider progressive political context, see Clarke, P.F., Lancashire and the New Liberalism (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 4552, and The Progressive Movement in England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 24 (1974), pp. 159–81. For Reilly's politics, see Reilly, C.H., Scaffolding in the Sky:A Semi-Architectural Autobiography (London, 1938), pp. 247, 249.

15 Batten, ‘A. Trystan Edwards’.

16 Richardson, A.E. and Gill, C.L., London Houses from 1660 to 1820 (London, 1911); Richardson, A.E., Monumental Classic Architecture in Great Britain and Ireland during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (London, 1914). For a good general introduction to Richardson, see Houfe, Simon, Powers, Alan and Wilton-Ely, John, eds, Sir Albert Richardson, 1880–1964 (London, 1999). Edwards may have been recommended to Richardson by Adshead: see in the same volume W.A. Downe, ‘Some Memories’, pp. 23–25. Downe gives reminiscences of working in Richardson and Gill's offices, and of the connection between Adshead and Richardson.

17 Richmond, Marketing Modernism, p. 122.

18 Alan Powers, ‘Architectural Education in Britain 1880–1914’ (doctoral thesis, University of Cambridge, 1982), p. 267.

19 ‘Obituary: Arthur Trystan Edwards’, Building, 9 February 1973, p. 71.

20 Forty-eighth Annual Report of the Local Government Board, 1918–1919 (HMSO, 1919), Cmd 413, p. 150. For an account of Unwin's work at the ministry, see Swenarton, Homes Fit For Heroes. For a general introduction to Unwin, see Miller, Mervyn, Raymond Unwin:Garden Cities and Town Planning (Leicester, 1992).

21 Robin Wallis Evans wrongly records that Lord Greenwood himself ‘had vivid memories of his arriving at the Ministry’. This is a mistranslation of Greenwood's addendum to The Times obituary for Edwards in which he records Edwards recalling his own memory of the event: see ‘Mr A. Trystan Edwards’, The Times, 3 February 1937, p. 16. Evans probably mistook Lord Greenwood for his father, Arthur Greenwood, who had served in the Ministry of Health during the first Labour government. See Raymond Wallis Evans, ‘Edwards, Arthur Trystan’, Dictionary of Welsh Biography, at (accessed on 12 September 2017).

22 Newcastle University, Thomas Sharp Archive [hereafter NU TSA], THS 1.79, letter from Edwards to Thomas Sharp, 13 January 1933.

23 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, The Things Which Are Seen:A Revaluation of the Visual Arts (London, 1921).

24 Ibid., p. 223.

25 Ibid., p. 1. T.G. Davies, a planner from Merthyr Tydfil who knew Edwards, supposes that he heard this sermon in the Hope Chapel, Merthyr. See Davies, T.G., ‘Arthur Trystan Edwards’, Year Book:Society of Architects in Wales, 4 (Macclesfield, 1982), pp. 3842.

26 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen, p. 355.

27 See Marion, Mathieu, ‘Oxford Realism: Knowledge and Perception I’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 8.2 (2000), pp. 299338. These ‘Realists’ were at the head of a growing body of opinion that ‘viewed the Idealists’ claims [those influenced by T.H. Green] with nothing but disapproval’: Walsh, W.H., ‘The Zenith of Greats’, in The History of the University of Oxford. Volume VII:Nineteenth-Century Oxford,Part 2, ed. Brock, M.G. and Curthoys, M.C. (Oxford, 2000), pp. 311–28 (p. 315).

28 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, The Things Which Are Seen:A Philosophy of Beauty, 2nd edn (London, 1947), p. xiii.

29 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, Style and Composition in Architecture: An Exposition of the Canon of Number, Punctuation and Inflection (London, 1944), p. 24. This work was first published in 1926 under the title Architectural Style.

30 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1921), p. 275.

31 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1947), p. xiv.

32 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1947), p. 136.

33 Edwards, Style and Composition, p. 33.

34 Ibid., p. 78.

35 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, Good and Bad Manners in Architecture (London, 1924).

36 Edwards, Style and Composition, p. 117.

37 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1947), p. 136. The phrase was used by Howard Robertson and in some of W.G. Newton's editorials for the Architectural Review. It was sufficiently well known that it was parodied by Patrick Abercrombie in a reworking of John Vanbrugh's 1696 play The Relapse for the RIBA's centenary celebrations in 1934. Abercrombie described it as ‘a Comedy, being one part of that Unresolved Duality entitled the Relapse (or Virtue in Danger), the two parts of which, moreover, form an unsymmetrical whole’.

38 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1921), p. 228.

39 Ibid., pp. 20, 65.

40 Ibid., p. 16.

41 Thompson, James, British Political Culture and the Idea of ‘Public Opinion’, 1867–1914 (Cambridge, 2013), pp. 1526. This was a common rhetorical motif at the time. See Robertson, Manning, Laymen and the New Architecture (London, 1925).

42 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1921), p. 16.

43 See Kelly, Jessica, “‘To Fan the Ardour of the Layman”: The Architectural Review, The MARS Group and the Cultivation of Middle Class Audiences for Modernism in Britain, 1933–1940’, Journal of Design History, 29.4 (2016), pp. 350–65.

44 McKibbin, Ross, ‘Class and Conventional Wisdom: The Conservative Party and the “Public” in Inter-war Britain’, in The Ideologies of Class:Social Relations in Britain, 1880–1950 (Oxford, 1994), pp. 259–93.

45 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1921), p. 130.

46 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, Good and Bad Manners in Architecture:An Essay on the Social Aspects of Civic Design, 2nd edn (London, 1944), p. 130.

47 Ibid., p. 154.

48 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, Three Rows of Tape: A Social Study of the Lower Deck (London, 1929), p. 2.

49 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1921), p. 7.

50 Scott, Geoffrey, The Architecture of Humanism: A Study in the History of Taste (London, 1914). See Wheeler, Katherine, Victorian Perceptions of Renaissance Architecture (Farnham, 2014), pp. 125–54, and Louise Durning, ‘The Architecture of Humanism: An Historical and Critical Analysis of Geoffrey Scott's Architectural Theory’ (doctoral thesis, University of Essex, 1990).

51 Edwards and Scott knew each other; they were the same age and almost exact contemporaries at Oxford. See Arthur Trystan Edwards, ‘The Architecture of Humanism’, Architectural Review (September 1914), p. 65, and ‘Geoffrey Scott’, Architectural Review (September 1929), p. 152. For Scott on Edwards, see Scott, Geoffrey, ‘On Humanism, Good Manners and Civic Values’, Architecture (Journal of the Society of Architects), 3.26 (1924), p. 83.

52 For narrative and analysis of the Quadrant debacle, see Saint, Andrew, Richard Norman Shaw (New Haven, 2010), pp. 397416, and Hobhouse, Hermione, A History of Regent Street (London, 1975), pp. 114–30.

53 Edwards, Good and Bad Manners in Architecture (1924), p. vi.

54 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘Some New Reflections upon Good and Bad Manners in Architecture: VI’, Architectural Design (October 1933), pp. 466–67 (p. 467).

55 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1947), p. 314.

56 Manley, ‘New Town Urbanity’, p. 93.

57 As emphasised by the subtitle of the second edition (see note 46): An Essay on the Social Aspects of Civic Design.

58 Edwards, Good and Bad Manners in Architecture (1944), p. 1.

59 Ibid., p. 2.

60 See Holder, Julian and McKellar, Elizabeth, eds, Neo-Georgian Architecture 1880–1970: A Reappraisal (Swindon, 2016).

61 Goldring cited in Stamp, Gavin, ‘How We Celebrated the Coronation: The Foundation and Early Years of the Georgian Group’, Georgian Group Journal, 20 (2012), pp. 122 (p. 2).

62 See Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘Modern Architects: Introduction’, Architects’ and Builders’ Journal, 1 April 1914, p. 229. The last published article was ‘Modern Architects: V. Karl Friedrich Schinkel’, 5 August 1914, pp. 96–99. The series typically featured two to three articles per architect with a focus on a particular project. Albert Richardson had also written and lectured on some of these architects in 1914.

63 Edwards, ‘Modern Architects: Introduction’, p. 229.

64 Ibid., p. 229.

65 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, Sir William Chambers (London, 1924). Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘John Wood and Bath’, Architect and Building News, 4 November 1927, pp. 713–18.

66 McKellar, Elizabeth, ‘Georgian London before Georgian London’, in Neo-Georgian Architecture, ed. Holder, and McKellar, , pp. 3851.

67 For example, see Richardson and Gill, London Houses from 1660 to 1820; Yerbury, F.R., Georgian Details of Domestic Architecture (London, 1926); Ramsey, Stanley C. and Harvey, J.D.M., Small Georgian Houses and Their Details,1750–1820, 2 vols (London, 1919; 1923).

68 See in particular Street, A.E., ‘London Street Architecture: II’, Architectural Review (May 1905), pp. 201–14. Street is cited in Scalzo, Julia, ‘All a Matter of Taste: The Problem of Victorian and Edwardian Shop Fronts’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 68.1 (2009), pp. 5273 (p. 67).

69 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘Book Review: Small Houses of the Late Georgian Period’, Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 30.18 (1923), p. 585.

70 See Forty, Adrian, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture (London, 2000), pp. 112–13. Forty attributes this particular understanding of urbanity, ‘denoting all that was commendable about the social life of cities’ to Lewis Mumford, much later in the 1950s. Edwards was using it in this way in the 1920s.

71 According to one of his obituarists: see Arthur Trystan Edwards’, Architectural Review (May 1973), pp. 343–44 (p. 344).

72 Manley, ‘New Town Urbanity’, p. 4.

73 Arthur Trystan Edwards, ‘Civic and Domestic Qualities in Architecture II’, Architects’ Journal, 2 July 1924, pp. 5–8 (p. 5). For context, see also Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘Civic and Domestic Qualities in Architecture I’, Architects’ Journal, 18 June 1924, pp. 1001–02. For contrasting interpretations, see Hussey, Christopher, The Picturesque: Studies in a Point of View (London, 1927) and Pevsner, Nikolaus, Visual Planning and the Picturesque, ed. Aitchison, Matthew (Los Angeles, 2010).

74 For the opposing view, and one that sets the anti-Tudoresque prejudice in wider context, see Stamp, Gavin, ‘Neo-Tudor and Its Enemies’, Architectural History, 69 (2006), pp. 133.

75 NU TSA, THS 1.79, letter from Edwards to Thomas Sharp, 13 January 1933.

76 Sharp, Thomas, Town and Countryside:Some Aspects of Urban and Rural Development (Oxford, 1932).

77 NU TSA, THS 1.73, letter from Edwards to Sharp, 22 January 1933.

78 NU TSA, THS 1.25, letter from Edwards to Sharp, 1 May 1933.

79 NU TSA, THS 1.73, letter from Edwards to Sharp, 22 January 1933.

80 Swenarton, Mark and Pepper, Simon, ‘Neo-Georgian maison-type’, in Swenarton, Mark, Building the New Jerusalem:Architecture,Housing and Politics 1900–1930 (Bracknell, 2008), pp. 2940 (p. 34).

81 Ibid., pp. 29–40, and Richmond, Peter, ‘The Call to Order: Neo-Georgian and the Liverpool School of Architecture’, in Neo-Georgian Architecture, ed. Holder, and McKellar, , pp. 2537 (p. 29).

82 Swenarton, Mark, Artisans and Architects:The Ruskinian Tradition in Architectural Thought (Basingstoke, 1989), p. xvi.

83 Edwards, A.T., ‘A Criticism of the Garden City Movement’, Town Planning Review, 4.2 (1913), pp. 150–57.

84 Ibid., p. 154.

85 Ibid., p. 155.

86 Ibid., p. 154.

87 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘Housing Principle and Practice’, Architects’ and Builders’ Journal, 49 (1919), p. 389.

88 Swenarton, Homes Fit For Heroes, p. 110.

89 Ibid., p. 42.

90 NU TSA, THS 1.79, letter from Edwards to Sharp, 13 January 1933.

91 Ibid.

92 Ibid.

93 The first article in Edwards's ‘Twentieth Century House’ series appeared in the Architect and Building News on 7 January 1927, pp. 5–6, then as follows: ‘II: The Aesthetics of Sanitation’, pp. 89–90; ‘III: The Aesthetics of Hygiene’, pp. 138–39; ‘IV: The Aesthetics of Hygiene’, pp. 180–81; ‘V: The Aesthetics of Hygiene’, pp. 238–39; ‘VI: Ventilation and Sunlight’, pp. 318–19; ‘VII: Sunlight and Ventilation’, pp. 354–55; (article VIII has not been located); ‘IX: Sunlight and Ventilation’, pp. 436–37; ‘X: An Urban Dwelling for a Large Family’, pp. 476–77; ‘XI: The Exclusion of Dust and Noise’, pp. 614–15; ‘XII: A Detached House. The Problem of the Garage’, pp. 654–55; ‘XIII: A Pair of Semi-Detached Cottages’, pp. 694–95.

94 Edwards, ‘II: The Aesthetics of Sanitation’, p. 90.

95 See Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘Sunlight in Streets’, Town Planning Review, 8.2 (April 1920), pp. 9398, and Sunlight in Streets II’, Town Planning Review, 9.1 (March 1921), pp. 2736.

96 Edwards, ‘XI: The Exclusion of Dust and Noise’, p. 614.

97 See the Architects’ Journal, 17 September 1930, p. 425.

98 ‘Real House of Peace’, Daily Mail, 10 March 1931, p. 5, and ‘“Hush-Hush!” House: Secrets of Silence’, Daily Mail, 2 April 1931, p. 4. For more on the Ideal Homes exhibition, see Ryan, Deborah Sugg, Ideal Homes, 1918–1939: Domestic Design and Suburban Modernism (Manchester, 2018).

99 Garside, P.L., ‘Central Government, Local Authorities and the Voluntary Housing Sector, 1919–1939’, in Government and Institutions in the Post-1832 United Kingdom, Studies in British History 34, ed. O'Day, A. (New York, 1995), pp. 85126 (p. 87). See also Yelling, J.A., Slums and Redevelopment: Policy and Practice in England, 1918–1945, With Particular Reference to London (London, 1992), p. 76.

100 Darling, Elizabeth, ‘“To induce humanitarian sentiments in prurient Londoners”: The Propaganda Activities of London's Voluntary Housing Associations in the Inter-War Period’, London Journal, 27.1 (2002), pp. 4262 (p. 50).

101 New Towns After the War:An Argument for Garden Cities (London, 1918), p. 53.

102 Ex-Serviceman J47485 [Arthur Trystan Edwards], A Hundred New Towns for Britain. An Appeal to the Electorate (London, 1933). The distribution and circulation of the pamphlet are not known.

103 See Pepper, Simon and Richmond, Peter, ‘Cottages, Flats and Reconditioning: Renewal Strategies in London after World War One’, Construction History, 23 (2008), pp. 99117.

104 Ex-Serviceman J47485 [Edwards, Arthur Trystan], A Hundred New Towns for Britain, 3rd edn (London, 1934), p. 39.

105 Ibid., p. 56.

106 Edwards, A Hundred New Towns for Britain (1934), p. 3.

107 Edwards, The Things Which Are Seen (1947), p. xi.

108 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, ‘Some New Reflections Upon Good and Bad Manners in Architecture’, Architectural Design (May 1933), pp. 276–81; (June 1933), pp. 311–15; (July 1933), pp. 354–60; (August 1933), pp. 395–99; (September 1933), pp. 423–27; (October 1933), pp. 466–67.

109 London, British Library Newspaper Collection, MLD56, Financial News, series of fourty-four articles entitled ‘Notable London Buildings’, printed weekly from 5 October 1929, then an occasional series of eight entitled ‘Progress in Modern Architecture’, ending 27 November 1931. The ‘Architecture To-Day’ column had started in the 1920s, but Edwards revived it, taking over from its 236th edition. His first column was ‘Rebuilding the City’, Financial Times, 29 August 1947, p. 2, and his final one seems to have been the 484th in the series, ‘Castrol House’, Financial News, 20 January 1960, p. 14.

110 See Parnell, Stephen, ‘AR's and AD’s Editorial Policies: The Making of Modern Architecture in Britain’, Journal of Architecture, 17.5 (2012), pp. 763–75; Kelly, “‘To Fan the Ardour of the Layman”’. For a general overview of architectural writing in this period, see Watkin, David, The Rise of Architectural History (Chicago, 1963), pp. 115–34, parts of which also appear in Watkin's Architectural Writing in the Thirties’, in AD Profiles:Britain in the Thirties, ed. Stamp, Gavin (London, 1979), pp. 8489. Alan Powers also provides a useful summary of theoretical works and teaching manuals: see his ‘Architectural Education in Britain 1880–1914’ (doctoral thesis, University of Cambridge, 1982), pp. 273–77. There has been a renewed interest and richness of approach to the contribution of architectural criticism in architectural history, fostered by the French research project ‘Mapping Architectural Criticism’ at (accessed on 23 May 2018).

111 Note 12 in Pendlebury, ‘The Urbanism of Thomas Sharp’, p. 24. NU TSA, THS 1.78, letter from Sharp to Edwards, 17 January 1933.

112 Hardingham, Samantha, Cedric Price Works,1952–2003: A Forward-Minded Retrospective, 2 vols (London, 2016), I, p. 31. The chapter from which this quotation is taken is tellingly entitled ‘Good and Bad Manners: The Education of an Architect, 1934–1957’.

113 Jackson, Iain and Holland, Jessica, The Architecture of Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew:Twentieth Century Architecture,Pioneer Modernism and the Tropics (Farnham, 2014), pp. 2324 (p. 39). Brett, Lionel, Our Selves Unknown:An Autobiography (London, 1985), p. 64.

114 Edwards, Arthur Trystan, Towards Tomorrow’s Architecture:The Triple Approach (London, 1968).

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